We have three more weeks in our study of Philippians. As we start to wind it down we’re going to
hear Paul again and again encourage the faithful in Philippi toward Godly
things. We mentioned at the beginning of
this study that perhaps this letter reads a bit like a manual for living a
Godly life. If you want to know what it
looks like to be a faithful Christian, read Philippians. This letter is full of encouragement, driving
readers to pursue God-things. As we finish
chapter 3, it is no different.
Paul has been talking about the “how” of getting to know
Jesus better. Last week we discussed the
idea of pressing forward in order to know Christ better. On Easter we talked about laying aside
everything that might hinder us in our pursuit of Jesus. Paul mentioned earlier in chapter 3 that
everything that once was considered “gain” to Paul he now counted as
“loss.” His previous life experiences
were worthless compared with knowing Jesus.
The how is important. How do we
know Jesus better? In this passage Paul
talks about imitating those in whom we find a good example.
Like so many times, however, we go forward by first going
back. Before we get into our passage
today, I’d like to take us back to the verse we read at the end of the message
last week. Paul has just spent the first
15 verses describing in detail his past and all the wonderful things he had
done. Then he tells of his pursuit of
Jesus and how that takes precedence over everything else, in fact he strains
toward that goal, with the end of knowing Jesus better. In previous chapters, Paul encouraged his
readers to have the humility of Jesus and to put their salvation to work.
There is all this build-up and then we hear Paul say these
words: “Only let us hold true to what we
have attained.” Paul was on a roll here
and then he stops for just a moment.
“Let us hold true to what we have attained.”
So many times we as Christians want more revelation. We want a new truth, something new to
encourage us. We long to hear something
that will surprise us and make us think.
We always want to hear something new.
Why? Newness is exciting. Newness is exhilarating. Newness is what keeps us going. Why would we want to simply hear the same old
thing week after week? Why would we want
to be confronted with the same truth over and over? But Paul seems to think that what we have
learned is at least as important as what we might learn. Why is this?
Because growing in truth is inseparably connected to practicing the truth
that we already know. Jesus himself
tells the parable of the servant who had what he was given taken away because
he hadn’t been faithful with it.
Meanwhile those faithful servants who had taken the Master’s money and
increased it were given even more. They
were faithful with what they had so the Master gave them more. Why do we expect any different?
But we want new revelation.
Either that or we want to be encouraged that we’re already living pretty
good lives. Paul declares that before we
go any further, we must be obedient to what we’ve already learned. Last week we learned that obedience is the
first act of love. Before we go forward,
we must be faithful to what we have already been given.
In what areas are you not being obedient? In what areas are you not being
faithful? How can you be more obedient
than you already are? Paul is talking
about pressing toward the goal of knowing Jesus better. How can you expect to know him better if you
aren’t doing what he’s already told you to do?
Jesus wants to poke us and prod us forward, never satisfied with where
we already are. He wants us to know him
more. He wants us to live for him more. Paul is telling us how to accomplish
that. We press on. We have the goal in sight and we focus on
that one thing. We have Jesus in mind as
we go through life. We live in such a
way as to draw attention to Jesus, that we might know him better and that
others might know him at all. We press
on. We remain focused. We are obedient to what we have already learned.
Then Paul goes on to continue this discussion of how we can
follow Jesus better.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those
who walk according to the example you have in us.” What is Paul saying here? Is this an arrogance thing? I don’t think it is. I think what Paul is saying is more akin to
this: “Find those who are living out a
good example. Find those who are
imitating Christ and imitate them.” He
is telling us to look at those who are already living a faithful life and follow
their lead. What does this require from
us, then? It requires what Paul already
talked about in chapter 2. It requires
us to have some humility. For us to take
this seriously it means that we must be humble enough to admit that we don’t
already have it all figured out. We must
humble ourselves and admit that there are others who know better than we
do. Hear me: all of us have someone who knows more than we
do. It doesn’t matter how old we are or
how experienced we are. Paul says to
“keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
There are those who live better than we do, who have better
theology than we do. We must do the hard
work of finding these people and watching their example, that we might grow
more in our own faith. I think it’s easy
for those of us who have been followers of Jesus for a while to become
complacent in our faith. I’ve been a
Christian for 26 years. I have to fight
the idea that I’ve got it all together.
I’ve got to fight the idea that I don’t have more to learn. I can tell you, however, that sitting at the
men’s Bible study last week, I was overwhelmed at the insight I received about
life. It was a wonderful time and I
learned a lot about myself and about faith in general.
That’s what we’re supposed to do. Find those who are an example to everyone
else and watch them. Love like they
do. Follow their example. If you want to learn how to be generous with
your money or if you want to see passion in discipleship, look at Joe
McDaniel. If you want to see an example
of wisdom and grace, watch Matthew Prosser.
If you want to see what a lifetime of faithfulness looks like, look at
Helen Capps. There are people all in this
room who have been faithful, these are just three examples. Watch them.
Learn from them. Do what they
do. It’s always dangerous to single
people out because invariably there are countless others I could also
mention. My purpose is not to puff
anyone up or to offend anyone because I didn’t say their name. My purpose is simply to point out some
specific examples you can look at right now.
Why all this discussion of good examples? He follows in verse 18, “For many, of whom I
have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the
cross of Christ.” There have been, and
are, false teachers in the church. Paul
is pleading with the Philippians to recognize the true teachers from the false
ones. Recognize the good from the bad. I would also encourage you to do the
same. How do we do this? How do we recognize falsehood?
Have you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can? In this
movie Leonardo DiCaprio plays real-life con artist Frank Abagnale. Before he was 19 he conned millions of
dollars worth of checks as a Pan-Am pilot, a doctor, and a prosecutor. He was pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty,
played by Tom Hanks. Eventually he was
caught and sent to prison. At the end of
the movie, however, Hanratty and the FBI see the need for someone to help them
catch other counterfeiters. They call on
Abagnale to help them. As he comes in to
help them he begins to tell them things they don’t know about fake currency and
checks. It’s interesting to note that
FBI agents who specialize in counterfeit money don’t spend time looking at
counterfeit money. Instead, they spend
time memorizing what legitimate currency is like. They know the look and feel of it
intimately. Then, when they see
something counterfeit, they immediately recognize it for what it is.
The same goes for us.
If we are going to imitate the right thing, we have to know what it
is. We have to study the truth so hard
and so long that when the lie comes we recognize it instantly. There are enemies of Christ. There is resistance to the true gospel. What’s dangerous is that it will often
masquerade as the truth. It will look
like the right thing. It’s when this
happens that we must be fully prepared to know the difference. We must search scripture. We must spend time in prayer. We must imitate other believers. Don’t be caught unaware because the enemy is
cunning and shrewd. To combat this we
must be “as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, NLT) Watch out for these people who seem to be
following Jesus, but in fact are seeking their own gain.
Paul goes on to tell us more about them. “Their end is destruction…” These are not true followers of Jesus. Destruction is their end. These are the goats that Jesus refers to in
Matthew 25. These are the people who
protest “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name,
and do many mighty works in your name?”
To whom Jesus will respond “I never knew you; depart from me, you
workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew
7:22-23) “…their god is their
belly…” These people we’re not supposed
to follow are driven by their appetites.
They pursue their own desires.
The things they seek are not the things of the Kingdom but are their own
particular lusts. “…and they glory in
their shame…” This is an odd
phrase. When I read this I immediately
think, “Who would glory in their shame?”
What I think Paul is saying though, is this: these people take pride in their lives. They look back at what they’ve accomplished
and say to themselves, “I’ve had a good life.
I’ve done well for myself. I
don’t need anything else.” Remember at
the beginning of this chapter when Paul talked about his past? To him, his previous accomplishments were
worthless. I think these people would
look at that list of accomplishments and feel pride. To Paul they were shame. To these people, they are something to gloat
Then he gives us one last characteristic of these
people. “…with minds set on earthly
things.” Several weeks ago we talked
about a man named Timothy who Paul writes about at the end of chapter 2. Paul says that there is no one like him for
everyone else “seek(s) their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” This implies that Timothy did seek the
interests of Jesus, to which we studied what the interests of Christ were. These false teachers seek earthly
things. They are not Kingdom-minded, but
earthly. They are not motivated to
follow Jesus, but their own pursuits.
Watch out for these. Don’t follow
Paul closes this chapter with a reminder that for those who
press on to know Christ, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a
Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his
glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to
himself.” Our citizenship is in heaven. What this could do for us is inspire us to
cloister together in little “holy huddles” and do nothing but talk about Jesus
things until he comes to take us home.
Indeed, it might seem this way until we remember verse 16, “let us hold
true to what we have attained.” This is
that pesky little reminder that, though we have been born again of heavenly,
royal blood, we still must be obedient.
What does Paul mean by this, then?
There is a tension inherent to following Jesus. There is an already-not yet sort of
frustration that permeates all of Christian life. We are saved, but we are continuing to be
sanctified in our salvation. We have
been made perfect and righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus, yet we are obviously
not perfect creatures who are still burdened with our fleshly natures. We have already been guaranteed our place in
eternity, yet we are not there yet. Our
citizenship is in heaven, but this carries with it a price tag, a motivation to
tell others about Jesus, a compelling to not be satisfied, but to live out our
salvation, to put it to work. I believe
this is an encouragement by Paul to do just that. Remember that our citizenship is in
heaven. We await our Savior, but we
don’t just wait around for him. We long
for our glorification but we know that it has not yet come. We “press on” to make Jesus our passion. We declare that we follow Jesus and then we
live like we say we believe. Our
citizenship is in heaven. Because of
that, we live differently than we would if it weren’t.
This is where I believe many Christians get hung up. We focus on salvation. We focus on leading people to Jesus. Then we stop.
We never go beyond that. If we
can just get people saved and then get them in a church we are satisfied. Paul, however, is not saying that. He is encouraging us to live like our citizenship
really is in heaven. Live like that’s
our future. Right now live that
way. Don’t wait to live like that until
you are there. Live it now!
Verse 1 of chapter 4 concludes this thought. “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long
for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” “Stand firm thus in the Lord.” It is not ok to sit around and talk about
heaven and not do anything about the countless number of people who know
nothing about it. It is not ok to smile
and talk about how wonderful it will be “when we all get to heaven” if you’re
not willing to make sure we “all” get to heaven. Imitate those who are following Jesus, whose
minds are set on the right things. In so
doing, you draw attention to Jesus. You
draw attention to his Kingdom.
That’s the “how” of pursuing Jesus. The next question is “when?” I can’t answer that for you. I can only answer it for me. When will you press on? When will you seek out faithful men and women
to follow? When will you lay aside every