Sunday, October 4, 2020

Keep Your Eye on the Prize! Living as a Kingdom Citizen - Philippians 3:12-4:1


Keep Your Eye on the Prize! Living as a Kingdom Citizen

Philippians 3:12-4:1

Introduction: As we are getting to the end of Philippians, we see an emphasis, in these final admonitions, on Paul’s concern for practical Christian living. Perilous times will come! In the light of the Gospel, how then should we live? The Bible repeatedly uses metaphors, parallels between eternal truth and our day to day experience to teach us. Jesus frequently did that in the parables. We like some of them, a sower going out to sow, a shepherd leading his flock… Paul uses several “athletic metaphors,” like “fighting the good fight” or “running a race with endurance.” I find that language a little convicting since I have hardly exercised lately (other than bringing loads of paper to the dump!).  The paragraph today uses the imagery of a runner, pushing toward the finish line, striving with every fiber to win the race set before him. I picture Eric Liddell, in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, as pictured in the movie Chariots of Fire, running to the gold in the 400 meters.

Context: Paul has just urged the Philippians to guard the truth of the Gospel and to not fall into the trap of thinking we need to somehow earn our salvation.  But we shouldn’t be content in just thinking, “I’m saved.” We need to honestly look within, and then, because of his grace, look ahead toward the prize, seeking to live out God’s plan for us.

The Maine* Idea: Stand firm in the Lord, as you strive to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our sure hope.

I. Strive to grow in Christ (3:12-16)! If Paul needed to, don’t we?

3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

       The language of striving, running hard to complete the race, is interesting language when we think of the Christian life. We’ve spoken a lot about grace over the last ten years, is this a contradiction? Here he says, “…but I press on…”  It is not just, “let go and let God.”  This implies effort and commitment.  Remember the language of 2:12-13…

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Warren Wiersbe said that “a sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.” This is not talking about a lack of contentment in Christ, that question will come up in chapter 4. Rather it is warning us against complacency. We need to regularly take a hard look in the mirror, which will expose our need to grow in obedience. The language here is of a runner in a race, a marathon, someone who pushes on and looks toward the goal. Justin looked at Hebrews 12:1-2 a couple of weeks ago, where the writer uses similar imagery:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

One summer during seminary I worked with a rail gang, which was going up the coast, working on the railroad tracks. We were replacing the segmented rails with solid, welded rails which would allow the trains to run faster more safely. My job as a loader operator was essentially to run back and forth from the back of the rail gang, which stretched out about a quarter mile I think, to the front. I would pick up the cradles that the rails were sliding on in the back, and run them up to the front. Wherever the railroad tracks went, we obviously had to go. Occasionally that meant driving over railroad bridges that were made for trains, not wheel loaders. Some of you know that I really don’t like heights. And when I would drive over those bridges, if I looked down, all I would see is space. NOT GOOD! I would stop right there! As long as I looked ahead, and fixed my attention on the rails in front me, and looked ahead to the other side of the bridge, I could move on and get to the other side. There are things we encounter as we live as pilgrims in a fallen world that can paralyze us. Like Peter when he saw the wind and waves got his eyes off Jesus, and started to sink! We need to look ahead, we need to remember where we are going, fixing our eyes on the goal, looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith! And so we press on…

       forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” Don’t look down, and don’t look back, look ahead! Don’t stay hung up on the past! (3:13). Now wait a minute, doesn’t the Bible have a lot to say about remembering? It is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures where the people are repeatedly urged to remember God’s mighty works, how He brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Today we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Table, didn’t Jesus say, “Do this in remembrance of me”? Of course, we have to remember what God has done for us, and even where we have stumbled or struggled so that we can learn from our mistakes. So in one sense, we “move on” from the past, instead of being hung up on things we cannot change, we accept God’s forgiveness, we lean on his grace, and we move ahead, stronger, and closer to him. But it may be that something else is more central to Paul’s point here. All of history had been pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus came and fulfilled that hope. He is the promised one. As the writer to the Hebrews said, “In different ways and at different times God  spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken in the Son…” (Heb 1:1,2). And we don’t return to the Law which could only expose our sin and condemn, but we turn to Christ, who bore our sin so that we could have life.

       Fix your heart on God (14). “I press toward the goal for the prize…” The word “press toward,” also in verse 12 is often translated in a negative sense as “pursue or persecute.”  Jesus asked Paul on the Damascus road, “Why do you persecute me?” It can also be used as here with a more positive sense, indicating “intense effort.” Is hunting season coming? Some Greek texts used the word to describe a hunter “pursuing” his prey.  We are to “pursue” intimacy with God with the same passion, with the same zeal. 

       But what is the prize Paul has in view? “…the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…” God has a plan for us, a goal, a direction both now and for eternity.  We are already citizens of heaven – but he has us here in this world because there is work for us to do.

       Maturity leads to stability (15-16). Pursuing the prize requires a recognizing the truth: “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…”  Paul here is not implying that anyone can be practically perfect.  We certainly are positionally perfect in that since we are “in Christ,” His righteousness is imputed to our account.  The word can also be translated “mature” and that might fit better in this context.  True maturity will propel us to greater commitment, and a desire to walk more closely with Christ.  Paul is saying if you are really mature in Christ, whether or not you want to listen to me, the Holy Spirit will convict you, and reveal to you the need to grow closer to Him.

       Pursing the Prize Requires a Proper Conformity: “…however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained…” (3:16).  Remember Jesus is our model, Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. As we learn to think more like Jesus we grow in our faith, standing firm in the Lord, not “settling,” but striving to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our sure hope.

II. Be careful to follow good examples (17-19).

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  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.  19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

       Have you seen the bumper sticker, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too!” We need to be careful who we follow! Discern those who are walking with God (17). Paul was an apostle, he met the resurrected Jesus and was called and commissioned by Him.  When he had wrote this letter, he had probably been following the Lord for nearly 30 years. Even so, he wasn’t perfect. Yet he was confident in his faith, he had a clean conscience, he knew that Jesus was the center of his life. So, he could say, “…follow my example…” I think we can say that, as one sinner saved by grace, telling another sinner, one beggar telling another beggar, where to find bread. We can be an example – not prideful or arrogant, simply and humbly following Jesus, learning, and growing closer to him.

       Paul goes on, “…take note of those who walk according to the pattern we gave you…” Others who live in a way that exposes the authenticity of their faith.  Paul is not saying that we should put people on a pedestal – we are sinners saved by grace, and beyond question, we are all a work in progress. Jesus is ultimately our example, he is the one we follow who will never fail us.  But we can be encouraged by the example of sincere believers that God brings into our path. But beware of those who are walking in the flesh. Look again at verses 3:18-19…

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.  19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

God’s enemies, bound for destruction, living for their pleasures, focused on the world. Be careful who you follow! If you have read Pilgrim’s Progress you remember how Christian gets in trouble when he aligns himself with the wrong companions!

       3:18 begins, “For…” There was a reason that it was important to seek out good examples, godly mentors who reflected Jesus and helped guide us into a closer relationship with him…  The reason was simply this: there were many examples of false teachers and wrong theology and outright sinful examples that would pull us away from Jesus and the cross. We are in the world, but we should not be of the world.

       “…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…” Some were living in such a way, that either overtly or practically, they were opposing the message of the cross. Paul is “weeping” as he relates this painful truth. Notice the descriptors Paul uses…

       1) “…their end is destruction…” For those who reject the truth of the Gospel, the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus, salvation by grace through faith, their end, their eventual destiny, is destruction, eternal death, torment in hell separated from God. We can understand Paul’s weeping at their rejection of the Truth!

       2) “…whose god is their stomach…”  Paul uses “stomach” here to refer to the appetites of the flesh – unrestrained fleshly, bodily desires. Jude made reference to people like this when he said they were “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only master and lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4).

       3) “….whose glory is in their shame…” In some way, these false teachers were boasting in the very things that they ought to have been ashamed of.  We see a similar situation in the church in Corinth, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles -- that a man has his father's wife!  2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (I Cor 5:1,2).

      4) “…their mind is on earthly things…” One issue is that these people were focused merely and exclusively on the here and now, they didn’t consider the eternal, the big picture of God’s plan for us and his universe. John warned in his first letter that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him” (I Jn 2:15).  James said

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3,4).

Remember the Maine* Idea in these verses: Stand firm in the Lord, as you strive to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our sure hope.

III. Stand firm in our sure hope (3:20-4:1).

 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 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.  4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

       In contrast to the worldly, carnal false teachers, Paul says, “But our citizenship is in heaven…  We lived in Brazil as missionaries for a number of years, but we were always Americans. We had a passport to prove it! A baby born to American parents would normally have American citizenship, no matter where he was born.  We’ve not been to heaven, but we are citizens of heaven.  It is our birthright; it is our home!  Paul was a Roman citizen, and he was not afraid to avail himself of his rights when it was needed. We are thankful for the privileges of our American citizenship, but we also have another citizenship that has eternal value. That should impact how we live!

       “…and from it we await a Savior…”  This reminds us of a fundamental truth of our faith – Jesus is returning. This world is part of a story that God is writing, and the problem of sin and suffering, which was dealt with at the cross, will be resolved when Jesus returns in glory. He will judge the world in righteousness. The day is coming when every knee will bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord!

       Paul speaks of that day here: “…who by the power that enable him to bring everything under his control….” That sounds like the language of Psalm 2. The Father and His anointed reigning over all Creation!  Our transformation is a part of that plan: God “…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body….” I hope to do a series next year around Easter in I Cor 15, the resurrection chapter.  Just as surely as Jesus was raised from the dead and his body transformed, so will we!  Because our hope goes beyond this life, because we know that there is more to this story than this “veil of tears” in which we live, we live as citizens, confidently, waiting for the blessed hope of the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior.

       Therefore my brothers [and sisters]….” In light of the promise of his coming and the positive examples He has given us, this is how you should live, beloved. He exhorts them as his family, as his brothers and sister in Christ.  We are a family!

       “…in who I love and long for, my joy and my crown….” Paul had a heart for the people, he loved them, they were his family, he longed to see them.  They brought him joy, now, and they were his “crown”, the trophy, the goal and reason for his life and ministry.  The church is about people – as we love one another we show Jesus to the world! (Jn 13:33-35).

       “…that is how you should stand firm in the Lord my dear friends…”  Among evangelical believers in Brazil, a common greeting was simply a question, “Firme?” It was an abbreviated way of asking, “Are you standing firm in the Lord?” The text here makes a connection, it is in community, as God’s family, that we can stand firm.

What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea ties these verses together: Stand firm in the Lord, as you strive to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our sure hope.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? You remember the famous story, retold in “Chariots of Fire,” of the Olympic runner, Eric Liddel.  He was famous for passing up a chance for a metal in the 100 meters because he refused to run on the Sabbath.  He loved running, and said that when he ran, he felt “the pleasure of God.” He ran the 400, set a record, and won the gold. God is pleased with us as we run the race, as we seek Him diligently and whole-heartedly. Do you feel His pleasure today? Let’s run with endurance the race set before us. Or, as Paul says here, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.  AMEN.

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