Even More Danger and Cause to Hope, 3:17—21

So far in chapter 3, Paul had confronted the threat of the Judaizers; self-appointed experts in salvation who taught that salvation included two components: Jesus Christ plus the Law of Moses. We don’t call them Judaizers anymore, but make no mistake they are still around, deceiving hapless believers into believing that their salvation depends on a confession of faith in Christ and other things; a litany of rules and church regulations. Their mantra: Follow our “constitution” for we are part of the “true church.” If you don’t, you aren’t.

The great Apostle also spent a few verses discussing his past as an example of why he is living the way he is living in his present.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (verses 13, 14)

In spite of his glorious past, Paul completely disregards it—he does not disown it—preferring to focus on Christ and the future.

In the early years of the Church, there was no New Testament and copies of the Old Testament were not generally found in people’s homes! So believers needed practical guides for conduct. With that in mind, Paul offers himself as an example to follow.

1. An example, 3:15—17

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (verse 17)

This was not the first time Paul urged other believers to follow his example. He wrote this to the Corinthians—

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

When we read such things, are they consistent with Christian humility? Would a truly humble person make such a request? Consider the following facts:

  • Before urging the Philippians the imitate him, Paul had spent considerable time reminding the Philippians that Christ is the supreme example to follow;
  • Paul was not telling his friends that he had achieved perfection in any way! He was urging them to work towards perfection, even as he was;
  • Paul had every right to point to himself as an example of a Christian who was at the very least was trying to live up to his high calling. Remember, these Philippians were living in a place and at a time where they were surrounded by immorality, amorality, and nominal Christians. They needed a solid example they could trust.
  • He not only cites himself as a good example to follow, but there were also others, telling to “keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

Note that Paul used “we” not “I.” This is important; instead of fixing their attention of individual teachers and preachers who have confused ideas about salvation, these Philippians (as well as modern believers) ought to pay attention to the many genuine believers who were living in complete conformity to the Word of God.

Verse 15 gives us Paul’s idea of what a mature Christian looks like—

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Mature Christians are Christians who think the way Paul thought. Those who have different ideas will eventually see the light if their hearts are right. The Greek word translated “mature” in the TNIV is sometimes seen as “perfect” in older translations carries with it the idea of “complete.” Paul is in no way suggesting “mature” is synonymous with “sinless.” He is continuing his argument of growth; a Christian cannot remain like an infant, he must grow and mature. Just like a human being who remains an infant would be considered abnormal, so a Christian who never grows in grace. Christians who exhibit growth are mature Christians and think the way Paul thought because Paul was functioning with the mind of Christ.

What are some of the marks of a mature Christian?

  • Discernment; the ability to recognize true from false teaching
  • Knowledge of God’s Word; the ability to take the truths of the Bible and reasonably apply them to his life
  • Knows what his obligations to the Kingdom of Heaven are and attempts to fulfill them;
  • He forgets his past, as Paul did;
  • Is able to focus his attention on Christ and channels his energies in Heaven’s direction.

Naturally success in Christian growth is tied to our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live as Paul admonished his friends to live. But the key is verse 16—

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Some may be discouraged at the get-go when they consider their own Christian growth, or lack thereof. And so Paul makes it clear that no believer should wait around for God pour all the knowledge of Heaven into his head before beginning his maturing process. We should all, to the best of our abilities, press on in growth. We are individuals and God views us that way. We all may possess different degrees of maturity; God understands that and so must we. To “live up to” may also be translated “in accordance to,” meaning each of us needs to live as best we can with the knowledge we have at the time.

Nobody can as for more than that! God is nothing if He is not reasonable.

2. Another threat, 3:18—19

As if watching out for the slippery Judaizers wasn’t enough, there was another group of false teachers making the rounds in Paul’s day: the libertines. These are antinomians who preached the polar opposite of the Judaizers. Where they taught strict adherance to man-made codes, the antinomians preached complete freedom from all earthly restraints. By living lives of complete anarchy, they were “enemies of the cross” and therefore of the Church.

Like the Judaizers, these men were professing Christians and possibly even members of the Philippian church. And like the Judaizers, they were tearing at the fabric of the unity that existed in that congregation. This was something that Paul could not tolerate.

It’s all well and good and commended to pattern our lives after other believers, but we must make sure the believers we watching are true believers and charlatans seeking to ruin us. How can you tell if one is a genuine believer?

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (verse 19)

It should be obvious just from watching how they live. A person’s true characters is not always revealed in what they say, but it is always evident from how they live! These libertines have inverted the true scale of values so that they actually glory from their shame. Writing about such people, Thomas Manton remarked:

Fallen man is but man inverted; his love is where his hatred should be, and his hatred where his love love should be; his glory where his shame should be and his shame where his glory.

These men are like the men spoken of by John: they claim to live in the light but walk in the darkness, 1 John 1:16. Elsewhere, Paul wrote about the attitude of these kind of people—

Let us do evil that good may result” (Romans 3:8)

These people don’t stand a chance for their destiny is sealed. And yet, over such, Paul weeps.

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (verse 18)

3. Looking Ahead, not behind. 3:20—21

In contrast to the false teachers whose minds are always focused on earthly things, the true believer is carried far above them and empowered to set his mind toward Christ.

There are two things Paul wanted his Philippian friends to keep in mind, and it would do us well to also remember them:

  • Our citizenship is in heaven. The “our” is in the emphatic position, which means Paul is stressing the difference between the libertines and true believers. The most important relationships of our lives must relate to the heavenly sphere, whereas the false teachers primary concern is this world. The word “citizenship” (TNIV) can also mean “commonwealth” or “colony.” Even though the Christian is at present a citizen of Heaven, he lives here on Earth; he belongs to set-apart colony of other citizens of Heaven, temporarily located on Earth. This is a singular truth that, if we can own it, will revolutionize our whole way of relating to the world around us. Because we are here only temporarily, how involved should we be in worldly pursuits that have no eternal value? For that matter, do we really want any part of this world? We have more in common with Abraham than we do with anybody else on Earth!

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)

  • We eagerly await a Savior from there. The hope of Christ’s return is one element that keeps the believer holy! Of this, John wrote—

All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:3)

If the only thing a person ever runs after are the things of this world, how can ever hope to be welcomed with open arms into the next? Remembering that Christ can return at any moment is a compelling reason to live right! We surely don’t want to be caught sinning when He returns for His own.

But is there not something else that seems to be missing in most modern believer’s lives? Paul used the word “eagerly” to describe how we ought to waiting for the Savior to come. Are we really “eagerly” awaiting the return of Christ? Is that consideration even a small part of our daily thinking? If it isn’t, that may explain why you find holiness so elusive and the riches of this world so attractive.

Finally Paul concludes this section of his letter with this verse, which may seem out of place, but really serves to buttress everything he has just written—

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. (verse 21)

The prevailing notion among the Greeks at this time was that the body was essentially a thing that burdened the soul and poisoned it, from which the soul would be set free at death. But to Paul, the body was the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). At the moment, though, because of the ravages of sin, our human bodies are suffering immeasurably; we face sickness, weakness, and eventually death; yet none of those things are the fault of our bodies. Our bodies are not evil; they will be transformed when Christ returns. Christ is our complete Savior! He saves our souls, our spirits and our bodies!

Through the incredible power of Jesus Christ, our future state will be highly exalted; we will be completely changed, even as Christ was changed when He rose from the dead. Our new bodies will be wholly appropriate to our new inner spiritual character.

Indeed, we all struggle with holy living, and we will continue to struggle as long as we are living on this earth. Sometimes in the struggle we emerge victorious, having successfully resisted temptation. Other times, no matter how determined we are, we are betrayed by the weakness of both body and soul. But there is hope, and this is Paul’s point. Don’t put so much stock in the things of this world—including our bodies—that we miss out on eternal blessings and the comfort and strength that comes from thinking about them.

(c) 2010 WitzEnd

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