I was preaching in SIBKL (sibkl.org.my) recently and Pastor Chew, the senior pastor, gave me a warm and generous introduction. He ended his introduction by saying that though I was now based in Singapore, I was still a Malaysian. It felt good to be reminded that I was still a citizen of Malaysia. I have a confession to make though. I hold dual citizenship. No, I am not simultaneously holding Canadian/British/American citizenship. I am a citizen of Malaysia. I am also a citizen of heaven.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20–21 NIV).
September 16th was the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia. It seemed a good time to be reminded of my dual citizenship. In particular it was good to remind myself that I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven. G. Walter Hansen reminds us of what this means:
Paul’s use of the word (politeuma, citizenship) emphasizes the membership of Christians in the heavenly kingdom governed by Christ. Our governing power, our executive authority is in heaven. The implication of asserting our citizenship in the heavenly state is that we are a “colony of heavenly citizens” here on earth. (G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009], 268–269).
I needed to be reminded that I am a citizen of a “state” that will never fail. I needed to be reminded that the only Saviour that will never fail me does not belong to any political party here on earth. I needed to be reminded of all these because there is much in my citizenship of Malaysia that saddens me.
A few days prior to national day, our Prime Minister pledged mega bucks for the Malay community as a reward for their support in the recent general election. Not only has such an approach not worked all these years, it has encouraged a corruption that has benefited a small connected elite. In choosing to reward one community with the resources of the country, the Prime Minister betrays the spirit behind the formation of Malaysia. No more here the rhetoric of 1Malaysia where all races and communities are full members of the nation. No more here the pretence of a government committed to the progress of the country, but one that uses the machinery of government to serve party and personal interests.
On Malaysia day, feeble promises that Sabah and Sarawak will not be neglected in the nation’s progress only begs the question: How do you justify the gross neglect of these full partners of Malaysia all these years? Indeed, every time I hear any government communication that talks about “Malays, Chinese and Indians” I am reminded that we are still Semenanjung (West Malaysia)-centric and not really acknowledging the membership of the Orang Asli and the many different tribes and peoples in Sabah and Sarawak, as full members of the nation. As one commentator summarizes:
. . . political mobilisation along racial lines and race based policies have resulted in income inequalities and poverty for the minorities in this country particularly the Indigenous People of Sabah and Sarawak and the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia.
The political elite and their business cronies accrued benefits from the coming together as one economic block, the elite amassed wealth, sustained power and positions. (Josie Fernandez, “50 years on, Sabah and S’wak still unequal partners,” Malaysiakini September 16, 2013).
On our 50th birthday as a nation, I find it hard to celebrate. But because my citizenship is in a kingdom that will never fail, led by a perfect leader who will never fail, I find the strength to continue to live out the values of the heavenly kingdom on earth.
I think followers of Christ fall into two extremes where their earthly citizenship is concerned. On one extreme are those who do not care for nation building. They see their only or primary contribution to the nation as preaching the gospel. Their only loyalty is to their heavenly kingdom. They do not see socio-political involvement as a Christian concern. And because they do not have a clear theology of commitment to nation, they find it easy to emigrate when they no longer feel comfortable in their land of origin. After all, your loyalty is to your heavenly kingdom and you can live out your heavenly citizenship in any country.
At the other extreme are Christians who want to see their countries grow and mature. They may also be doing evangelism but they want to be salt and light as well (Matthew 5:13–17) and believe that as Christians we must be in the thick of political engagement. They believe that the only way for the country to improve is for good people to be in government. I remember a Christian political activist who told me that if I really wanted to help Malaysia, I should leave church-related work and run for parliament.
I think those who seek salvation in the political process are too optimistic. No political leader or party will save the nation. In Paul’s time the Roman emperors saw themselves in such Messianic terms. Paul is clear that he trusted in no earthly saviour. He trusted only in Jesus and eagerly awaited His return to transform a fallen world (Acts 3:21) and usher in the new heaven and the new earth. Our ultimate hope is in this in-breaking kingdom and we must never compromise the invitation for people to follow this King.
Yet, if we are called to be salt and light in the world and if we desire to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, we must also seek to see the values of the heavenly kingdom transform society. We are to maximise good and minimise evil where we can. God recognises earthly governments as one way that society is organised (Romans 13:1–2). Surely followers of Christ would want to do whatever they can to see leaders in power who are righteous, just and compassionate. In doing this we also flesh out the values of the heavenly kingdom.
We will have mixed results both in our evangelistic efforts and in any socio-political involvement. There will be times when we will be discouraged. But we can continue to work for what is right and good because our final hope is in the return of the King and we know that righteousness will triumph in the end.
I am a citizen of two nations. Help me O Lord to be faithful to both.