Session 13

Philippians Study – Session 13

(Philippians 3:12-21)

 

      In our previous session, we talked about the two things we must do to satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts – the need to live in relationship with the One who created us.  We saw that to restore our broken relationship with God we essentially have to do two things:

·         Let go of the idea that we are capable of doing anything to earn our way back into  that relationship

·         Accept God’s free gift of salvation made possible for us through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf

In Philippians 3:1-11 Paul tells us how that process worked out in his life.

·         In verses 1-7 he lists some things of which he had to let go in order to restore his relationship with God.  Essentially, he says that the very things he was counting on to make him right with God were actually barriers to that relationship.  Those things focused on self-righteousness and the reality is that no one can be righteous enough to earn right relationship with God. 

·         In verses 8-11 he speaks of the things he gained by accepting that right relationship with God is possible only through faith in Christ.  We enter that relationship by casting ourselves on God’s mercy and allowing God to make us righteous, which He can do because Jesus paid the price for our sin.

      Having described the process of entering right relationship with God in the first part of chapter 3, beginning in verse 12 Paul begins to describe what our lives should look like as we live in that relationship.  In verses 12-21 I see five characteristics that should be in the lives of those people who have been made right with God through Jesus.

 

1.      Be characterized by perseverance

1.   Three times in verses 12-16 the Scripture makes specific reference to the importance of perseverance, endurance in the lives of Christians.  Twice, once in v.12 and again in v.14, Paul makes the statement “I press on...”   The word translated press on carries idea of pursuing something with dogged determination.  It was used to describe a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey.  And then in v.16 is the admonition, “...let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”   The word translated “living” in that statement is not the normal word translated living in New Testament.  This word carries the idea of “following in line” or “staying on course.”  Sum total of all that is that perseverance, staying on track and not giving up, is a necessary element of the life to which God has called us.

2.   Underlying this part of Philippians 3 is the image of a footrace.  That is an image Paul often uses in his writings.  Many people seem to approach the Christian life as if coming to faith in Christ is the finish line of the race.  They seem to believe that once a person comes to faith in Christ, nothing else is required.  But the truth is, coming to faith in Christ is not the finish line, it is the beginning point, the starting block of the Christian life. 

3.   It is possible that someone could look at those things listed in vv.8-11 which we have gained as Christians—

--personal relationship with Jesus...

--rightness with God...

 --the power of the resurrection...

And conclude that we have made it...that the race is over...that we have crossed the finish line.  But Paul says, “Not so!”...notice what he says in v.12 - “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect...”  The thrust of that statement is, “I haven’t reached the finish line yet...I’m still moving toward it...”

4.      There’s an important truth here about the nature of the Christian life which is vital for us to understand...the Christian life is a pilgrimage, a journey, a process...it’s a life with a goal, a purpose, a destination...in v.12 and again in v.15 Paul uses a special word to describe the goal, the destination of the Christian life...the word is translated “perfect” in most English bibles, but that’s an unfortunate translation...the word is “teleios” and it doesn’t mean what we normally mean when we use the word perfect... 

5.      We use the word perfect to mean “without flaw, sinless, lacking in nothing”...but that’s not the meaning of “teleios”...doesn’t mean abstract or philosophical perfection...instead, carries idea of reaching one’s purpose, of being complete or mature...the word has been translated as full grown, ripe in understanding, mature in faith, spiritually adult...

6.      In relation to the Christian life to be “perfect” means to be full-grown, completely mature as a Christian...and Paul makes it clear that he understood he wasn’t their yet...that he was still on the journey...that the race wasn’t over...that he still had a lot of maturing to do...and if Paul, the leading theologian, missionary, church planter in all of Christendom, had not yet fully mature or reached the finish line, certainly none of us should think that we have!

 

2.      Balance the past and the present

1.      Verses 13-14 contain one of the great statements of the Bible... and they certainly provide us insight into the incredible life of Paul...look at what these verses say...”Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”...

2.      One of the fundamentals of running a race, especially a sprint, is to fix your eyes on the finish line...certainly can’t look backward and run effectively at the same time...Paul says that he runs “...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead...”...the image is that of an athlete leaning toward, even straining toward the finish line...with all of his strength, he is focused on the goal...

3.      The point of that statement is that there is no way we will live fully today if constantly trying to relive the past...as one writer put it, "No one can move forward while he is hitched to the past!"...

4.   Must have been temptation for Paul...when wrote this  letter was in prison...along with Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians this is one of Paul’s prison epistles...no doubt had lot time to think...could  have used that time look back...

--could have thought about his mistakes such as time consented to killing of Stephen...

--could have thought about the many people along the way who had betrayed him and persecuted him...

--could have thought about his many successes...

And think significant he didn't do that...he didn't try to re-live the past...instead, he looked toward the future...

5.   There are a number of things we can learn from that...

--"forgetting what lies behind" means forgetting the mistakes you have made...every person has some things in their past which they regret.  Paul certainly did...hands were bloody at expense of  some early Christians...could have tortured himself  over that...but confessed sins to God, received forgiveness, dug a mental grave, and buried his past in  it...all need learn do that....

--"forgetting what lies behind" means forgetting how you may have been wronged...many people had persecuted Paul...as wrote was in jail because some made false accusations against them...but refused spend time resenting and brooding about what others had done to him...if go through life keeping record of every wrong/slight/ hurt will end up pathetic, bitter person...Dale Foster wrote:  "Travel light. Shed excess baggage, such as failures, disappointments, worries, griefs, and resentments of the past.  Stop opening old sores and bad memories." [Pulpit Helps, Vol.22,No.1]

--"forgetting what lies behind" means forgetting the successes you may have had...won't get much accomplished today if constantly reliving the successes of yesterday...

6.   Point all that is to live fully today, the orientation of life must be on what lies ahead not on what lies behind...Paul Powell wrote:  "To live a victorious life you can't rest on yesterday's laurels and you can't harbor yesterday’s hurts.  As someone has said, 'The rewards in life go to those who are willing to give up the past.'" [Sermons for Special Days, p.6]

 

3.      Be a good example for others

1.      Paul makes amazing statement in first part of v.17...”...join in following my example...”...the phrase “join in following” renders a single Greek word...it’s the word from which our word “mimic” or “imitate” comes...in other words Paul is saying, “Look at how I live...examine my life...you would do well to pattern your life after mine.”

2.      At first glance, sounds like rather brash and arrogant thing for Paul to say...but this statement must be read in the context of what Paul said in the preceding paragraph...Paul just said that he did not consider himself to be a fully mature Christian...he certainly did not glory in his own achievements... his only desire was to be like Christ...and with all his might he was striving to do that...

3.      Paul understood that he wasn’t perfect...understood had a long way to go...but because of his genuine commitment to being like Christ, could say with integrity to his friends in Philippi, “Look at my life...follow my example...live as I live!”...and last part of v.17 makes clear that Paul understood he wasn’t the only example worth following...he says, “There are others who live the same kind of life after whom you would do well to pattern your lives.”

4.      Listen to what one person wrote about the being an example for others:  “Can we offer ourselves as a pattern, asking others to follow our lifestyles?  There are no bibles like human bibles.  There are all kinds of bibles: pulpit bibles, teachers’ bibles, children’s bibles, women’s bibles--all kinds of bibles.  But there is only one bible the unsaved are taking time to read and that is the bible characterized in your life and mine.  If our unsaved neighbors and friends do not see the Lord Jesus Christ in us, in all probability they will never see Him.  What do they read when they look at our lives?  What do they see?  Are we examples of the God of grace and glory who has sacrificed everything for us?” [From sermon by John Stensrud, “The Characteristics of Christian Citizenship” - SermonCentral.com]

 

4.      Resist the ever present temptation of being self-centered

1.      In v.18 with a broken heart Paul refers to some of the people in Philippi as “...enemies of the cross of Christ”...from what Paul says about these people in v.19, it seems to me he is referring to professing Christians in Philippi who were more influenced by the prevailing secular philosophy of the day than they were by the gospel of Christ...

2.      In the ancient Greek world there was a popular philosophy which taught that the satisfaction of one’s physical appetites was the chief aim or goal of life...they were the original “If it feels good, do it” crowd...and apparently, there were some people in the Philippian church who had bought into that popular philosophy...

3.      In v.19 Paul describes them as people “...whose god is their appetite...”...literally the text says their god is their belly or stomach...that phrase may be a reference to a statement in classical Greek literature with which Paul and his readers would have been familiar...the Cyclops in Euripides makes this statement: “My flocks ... I sacrifice to no-one but myself ... not to the gods ... to the belly, the greatest of gods.  For to eat and drink each day, and to give one’s self no trouble, this is the god of wise men.”

4.      And in these verses Paul is chastising some of the Philippians for buying into and patterning their lives after that standard of self-centeredness...over and over again in this letter Paul argues against that kind of philosophy...the thesis statement of this letter is Philippians 2:3-4...I’ve read it to you so often you are probably tired of hearing it...but you can’t really understand the life to which God calls us without understanding the principle taught in these verses...”Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for you own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 

5.      The way of the world hasn’t really changed all that much in the nearly 2000 years since Paul wrote Philippians...while we may be more sophisticated in how we carry it out, the philosophy is basically the same...

--live for yourself...

--there are really no moral absolutes in the universe...

--if it works for you, it must be okay...

--if it feels good or right, then by all means do it...

6.      It is the philosophy which puts self, self-gratification, self-actualization above all else...if we can make that fit in with the teachings of Jesus, great, we’ll do it...but if not, we’re going to choose our way over His every time...

 

5.      Look to the future with optimism

1.         Many people don’t want to look to or even think about the future...they fear what may be out there...they are afraid they may have an experience like the frog I heard about...went to a fortune teller to find out about his future...fortune teller said, “Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news for you.”...frog asked for the good news first and fortune teller said, “I see that you are going to meet a beautiful young woman.  From the moment she sets eyes on you she will have an insatiable desire to learn more about you.  She will get to know you better than anyone ever has or will.”...frog said, “That’s great, but what’s the bad news?...fortune teller said, “The bad news is that you’re going to meet her in the biology lab.” 

2.         But Christians need not fear the future... in vv.20-21 Paul encourages his readers to take long look forward through eyes of optimism to what awaits them as citizens in God’s kingdom...in these verses Paul directs our attention toward two events...

--the return of Jesus from heaven...”...we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ...” (V.20)

--the resurrection/transformation of our earthly bodies which will take place at that time...”...who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory...” (V.21)

Point of all that is citizens of God’s kingdom have every reason to look forward to the future with confidence and optimism...

Conclusion

1.      Notice the phrase “…our citizenship is in heaven…” in verse 20.  That phrase would have had special meaning to the people in Philippi.  Philippi was a Roman colony and Roman colonies were amazing things...when we hear the word colony we tend to think of a remote outpost in an out-of-the-way part of the world, such as the original 13 colonies on the largely unexplored North American continent early in our nation’s history...

2.      But that’s not how Romans did colonies...they placed colonies at the strategic military and commercial centers of their ever expanding empire...the Roman colonies were populated mainly by Roman soldiers who had served the required 21 years in the Roman army to earn their citizenship...no matter how far away from Rome a colony was planted, the people in that colony remained fiercely loyal to Rome...

3.      Philippi was located in Macedonia in northern Greece about 600 miles from Rome...however, the people who lived there did not—

--view themselves as Greeks; they viewed themselves as Romans

--speak the language of Macedonia; spoke the language of Rome

--put their children to bed at night telling the stories of Macedonia; told them the stories of the glory of Rome...

4.   Living in a Roman colony, the Christians in Philippi could easily identify with the concept of living in one place and yet being a citizen of another place...and they understood the concept of living responsibly as a citizen of their true homeland…in these verses Paul tells us how to live in this world as citizens of the kingdom of God…

·         Be characterized by perseverance

·         Balance the past and the present

·         Be a good example for others

·         Resist the ever present temptation of being self-centered

·         Look to the future with optimism

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