Resolving Conflict, part 4 (Philippians 4:6-8)

Over last four weeks, as we’ve been looking at the opening section of Philippians 4, we’ve noticed that Paul is trying to help two women (and possibly others) to resolve whatever was dividing them and be reconciled.

As we looked at this passage we found seven principles so far about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Fourth, we have to seek common ground with the other person.  As Christians, we have a great advantage.  Since both of us are “in Christ” and can have “the mind of Christ” we have a great opportunity to lay aside our own ideas to entertain the ideas of the person we disagree with.  Because we are both “in Christ” as believers, it makes it possible for us to “agree in the Lord.”  Notice that Paul used the word “Lord” to re-emphasize their submission to Him even in the midst of interpersonal conflict.

Fifth, we saw the importance of recruiting outside help to guide us in negotiating conflict and pursuing reconciliation.  Paul asked others to get involved because he knew that the conflict had grown to the point that it was affecting others in the congregation and just not getting anywhere.

Sixth, and this is the goal, we have to get back to the ministry of the gospel, working side by side.  These women had done so before, but right now they were letting their personal rights and feelings get in the way of what was of utmost importance—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers.

The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude.  We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”  When you have an issue with someone, when they have hurt you, take your minds off of them and focus upon Jesus Christ.  Feast upon Him and find your joy in Him.

Spurgeon says…

People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. 

Then, eighth, practice gentleness.  This word meant to not press our rights.  Usually we get angry at someone because they are violating our rights—our right to privacy, to quiet, to punctuality, to a pay raise, to unburnt toast.

Whenever we get angry, we need to ask ourselves, “What did I expect to happen?”  Then I can query whether my expectations were selfish.

Today we’re going to look at two more principles, found in vv. 6-8.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Did you see them?  The two principles in these verses are (1) refuse to worry and (2) control your thinking.

So the eighth principle for defusing conflict is “don’t worry about it.”  Don’t fret.

When you have gotten into an argument, or someone has hurt you, betrayed you, it is so easy to play that event over and over in your mind.  As you do, you might imagine how you should have responded to them (usually in aggressiveness and anger) or you might be anxious about what they might be doing or saying to further undermine you or hurt you.  You might imagine that they are infecting everyone else with “their side of the story.”

I had this happen to me.  While walking and praying, all of a sudden my mind would be bombarded by thoughts of an event which had happened months before, when I had been fired by a jealous senior pastor. 

I was tempted to replay that event and those conversations in my mind, imagining how I would come back with a choice retort, or how I should have defended myself.

But I would quickly catch myself, and remind myself that I had forgiven that person.  I had chosen to forgive this man and I would then consciously refuse to keep thinking about those things.

Conflict does cause anxieties.

That is why Paul says “do not be anxious about anything.”  Now, this command extends beyond interpersonal conflict into every area of life, but this week I want to focus on how worry and interpersonal conflict often go together.

You see, worry can be both a cause and a result of conflict.  Insecurities can cause conflict, especially among women.  It causes on to be on edge and very sensitive, thus increasing the likelihood of conflict.

But if we are rejoicing in the Lord, staying focused on Him and receiving His gifts to us, we will feel less anxious and insecure.

On the other hand, worry and anxiety are also a result of conflict.  We worry about whether we are going to be able to mend the relationship.  We worry over what they might be thinking or saying about us behind our backs.

Ray Ortlund speaks to this issue in a blog post entitled “And a Time to Turn Away.”

Where once there was trust, with joy, honesty and spontaneity, now there might be aloofness, guardedness, even resentment.  To make matters worse, attempts at reconciliation can be ignored or even refused.  That is when, it seems to me, it is time to turn away.  Turning away is not our first response, of course.  But it must be a valid, if undesirable, option.  After all, we can’t force people to be open, to talk, to reconsider.  Until the Holy Spirit changes hearts — I have reluctantly concluded that there really is a time to turn away.  Yes, it is a defeat for the gospel.  But what else can one do?  All that’s left is trusting the Lord, referring the matter to the judgment seat of Christ, who alone sees all things perfectly… Sometimes all one can do is not make a situation worse.  That’s hard.  But the Lord can do amazing things with brokenhearted people who have nothing left but a longing for His glory in this messy world.

If we’ve attempted to resolve a problem through gentleness, by being willing to yield our rights, we might be worried about being trampled over, or wondering, “Who’s going to look after me (and my rights)?”

Well again, if we are rejoicing in the Lord, then we will be receiving from Him all we need.

Paul is encouraging Euodia and Synteche to relax and give all their concerns to God.  Gaining that peace from God would help them relax, be willing to surrender their personal rights, and be reconciled.

Experiencing God’s peace will enable us then to extend peace to the person we are quarreling with.

Now, we will dive deeper into these verses about worry and peace next week.  I just wanted to connect it to the conflict between Euodia and Synteche and help us to see how it is connected to conflict resolution.

Instead of worrying, relax.  Let God’s peace guide you to make peace with one another.  As both of you “settle down,” you can resolve the issue more quickly and reconcile the relationship.

By the way, I think it is important to distinguish the issue from the relationship.  We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, that we fight because we value an issue (or a right) more than the relationship.

So when we fight, to become friends again, we must do two things: (1) resolve the issue, and (2) reconcile the relationship.

We resolve the issue by defining it, discussing our attempts at solving it, finding some common ground, and then accepting a resolution that is mutually agreeable.

But if, in the process of disagreeing, we say or do something that wounds the other person, we have to go a step beyond merely resolving the issue, we have to ask for and grant forgiveness.

If we have hurt someone, reconciliation involves one of two actions, or both.  That is, we must confront the other person with their sin, and then grant them forgiveness.  Or, we must examine our own hearts and ask for forgiveness when we know we have hurt them.

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago how, it doesn’t really matter who is the perpetrator and who is the victim, BOTH sides are responsible to initiate reconciliation.  That comes from Matthew 5:21-26 and 18:15-18.

Jay Adams has said:

Jesus won’t allow the unreconciled condition to continue among believers.  In Matthew 5, if another considers you to have wronged him, Jesus says that you must go.   In Matthew 18, He says that if the other person has done something wrong to you, you must go.  There is never a time when you can sit and wait for your brother to come to you.  Jesus doesn’t allow for that.  He gives no opportunity for that.   It is always your obligation to go.

So if you are aware, if the Holy Spirit makes you aware, that you have wounded someone, or the sting of being wounded is smarting, either way you need to take the first step and go to that person to start the process of reconciliation.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas have written a book called The 5 Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships.  I think what they say is instructive.  Of course, they are saying that one or two of these is your own personal language of apology, but I think all five of them are necessary to make a whole reconciliation.

His five languages are:

  • Expressing regret.  This is expressing how sorry we are that we hurt them.  You might say something like, “I’m sorry that I forgot to call to tell you I would be late.”
  • Second is accepting responsibility.  This is where you say, “I was wrong.”  In what you said or what you did, you admit that you were at fault.
  • The third language is requesting forgiveness.  You need to ask, “Will you forgive me?”  It’s not enough just to say, “I’m sorry.”  An interpersonal transaction has to take place where the other person makes the decision to forgive.
  • Fourth is genuinely repenting.  Here you say, “I’ll try not to do that again.”  You make an about-face with regard to your behavior or your language and encourage that person that you intend to change.
  • Finally, is making restitution.  Ask, “How can I make it up to you?  What can I do to make it right?”

As you can see, these are practical ways to break down the interaction that needs to take place in order to restore the relationship.

Conversation can resolve the issue, but it takes confrontation and confession to reconcile the relationship.

Now let me also say that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.  Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, but it doesn’t guarantee it.  You see, it takes two to reconcile.  One must ask forgiveness and the other grant it.

So, if someone hurts you, forgive them, whether or not they ask for it.  You cannot cancel their sin.  Only God can do that, and He will only do that if they repent.  But what you can do is to set aside your own anger, bitterness and resentment towards them.

That is often the first step towards reconciliation, that you have already forgiven them in your heart and you are waiting for them to ask forgiveness so reconciliation can be accomplished.

The reason this distinction is important is that we can get stuck in a cycle of bitterness and resentment that is never healthy and often leaves a person in a spiritual rut.  It is important to forgive others for what they have done.

But it is also important to distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation because in some cases you do need to forgive, but you should not be reconciled.  A person who is in an abusive relationship can and should forgive, but it may be unwise to be reconciled.

The ninth principle that Paul mentions in this passage is to control your thinking.

It is so important to control our thinking both in the midst of a conflict and in the aftermath of a conflict.

In the midst of a conflict we may not be thinking, just reacting, and in the aftermath of a conflict we may be thinking too much, but the wrong things.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

“Think about these things,” Paul says.  Concentrate on this.

More than likely, when we are fighting with someone, we are playing lightly with the truth.  We believe things about our opponent that aren’t true, sometimes fed by the gossip of others.  We also believe things about ourselves that aren’t true.

Are your thoughts about your mate honorable when you are having a conflict.  More than likely they are not if you are calling them names or making claims about their character or motives.

Alex Kendrick, producer and actor in Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous . . . and author of The Love Dare, spoke recently on the FamilyLife “Love Like You Mean It” Cruise and shared this story.

He had been feeling unloved by his wife because she hadn’t been adequately meeting his love language.  Kendrick says…

“Four months ago, I’m studying and getting ready to do our ramp up and do our next movie and stuff—as I’m with the Lord, and I remember I’m in His Word—and it was like He just kick-boxed me in the head: ‘Alex, you are running your wife down in your mind. She is not your enemy. The enemy wants to distract you, deceive you, and divide you. Your wife and you are one unit. Both of you are sinners, and both of you are in need of My grace.”

Feeling the Lord leading him to remember that his wife, Christina, is God’s gift to him and designed by God to have strengths which he lacked . . . Kendrick began to make a list of whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—about Christina!

He knew that list was what he should dwell on about Christina. He said, “The list for her—the positive list—was very long. Guys—don’t run your spouse down, in your mind. . . If you are in Christ, what do you do? Follow Philippians 4:8. Your spouse is a sinner, but they are not your enemy.”

Hopefully she will be thinking the same things about you.  As both of you do, it will be a lot easier to resolve your conflicts and reconcile your relationship.

Resolving Conflict, part 3 (Revelation 4:4-5)

Over the last two weeks we have been looking at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 where he is helping two women in the church at Philippi to resolve their conflict and be reconciled.  That is found in Philippians 4:1-9…

1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We all know that relationships can fall apart, either through neglect or through conflict.  Even in churches people can get on one another’s nerves and start bickering.

As we looked at this passage we found five principles so far about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Fourth, we have to seek common ground with the other person.  As Christians, we have a great advantage.  Since both of us are “in Christ” and can have “the mind of Christ” we have a great opportunity to lay aside our own ideas to entertain the ideas of the person we disagree with.  Because we are both “in Christ” as believers, it makes it possible for us to “agree in the Lord.”  Notice that Paul used the word “Lord” to re-emphasize their submission to Him even in the midst of interpersonal conflict.

Fifth, we saw the importance of recruiting outside help to guide us in negotiating conflict and pursuing reconciliation.  Paul asked others to get involved because he knew that the conflict had grown to the point that it was affecting others in the congregation and just not getting anywhere.

Sixth, and this is the goal, we have to get back to the ministry of the gospel, working side by side.  These women had done so before, but right now they were letting their personal rights and feelings get in the way of what was of utmost importance—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with unbelievers.

Sadly, it is often conflicts in churches that drive people away from Jesus Christ.

Today we want to look at some more principles for resolving conflicts in verses 4 and 5.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand;

The seventh principle we see here is that we must maintain a positive attitude.  We must continue to “rejoice in the Lord.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m fighting with someone, it is hard for me to rejoice.  I naturally want to gripe and complain, or just feel grumpy.

Paul emphasizes how important this command is by repeating it twice: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  There is possibly no other attitude that has greater capacity to alter our lives and our relationships than this one.

Gordon Fee hits the nail on the head when he writes, “Joy…lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit’s presence” (The Epistle to the Philippians, 81).  He goes onto say that, “Unmitigated, untrammeled joy is . . . the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus” (ibid., 404).

The great British expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that, “Nothing was more characteristic of the first Christians than this element of joy” (Life of Peace, 143).  Elsewhere he said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful church” (Spiritual Depression, 5).

And perhaps the great Puritan Richard Baxter said it best when he said, “Delighting in God, and in his word and ways, is the flower and life of true religion” (The Cure of Melancholy, 257).

Rejoicing in the Lord is both curative to relationships and it maintains healthy relationships.

“Rejoicing is the Lord” is an action.  It involves our hearts and minds and voices.  It means to speak aloud our joy in the Lord, our delight in Him.

You know the difference between joy and happiness.  Happiness is dependent upon what happens, on whether circumstances turn out by my favor.  That is unlikely to happen when you are fighting.  You will naturally identify those statements and actions that are not in your favor, and complain.

Joy doesn’t depend upon changing circumstances, but upon unchanging realities—the love and grace and presence of God through Christ to us.

Joy then depends upon staying focused on Jesus Christ, not on ourselves and our situation.

The fact that Paul is commanding it shows that it is not dependent upon our circumstances.  We can rejoice always, even if we are not happy.  We keep our eyes on Christ and rejoice in Him, in all He has done and all He is.

And Paul is not innovating here. There are numerous other places in Scripture where God’s people are commanded to rejoice.

  • Psalm 33:1 – “Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones.”
  • Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the LORD…”
  • Psalm 97:12 – “Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones, and give thanks to His holy name.”
  • In Matthew 5:12, the Lord Jesus Himself commands us to “Rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
  • And in a very similar fashion, the Apostle Peter commands the churches under his care, “…to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” (1 Pet 4:13).

I love the comment Spurgeon makes on this:

“Do you not think that this [repetition] was intended also to impress upon them the importance of the duty? ‘Again I say, Rejoice.’ Some of you will go and say, ‘I do not think that it matters much whether I am happy or not, I shall get to heaven, however gloomy I am, if I am sincere.’ ‘No,’ says Paul, ‘that kind of talk will not do; I cannot have you speak like that. Come, I must have you rejoice, I do really conceive it to be a Christian’s bounden duty, and so, ‘Again, I say, Rejoice!’”

I love what John MacArthur says about this. He says, “Christian joy is not an emotion on top of an emotion.  It is not a feeling on top of a feeling.  It is a feeling on top of a fact.  It is an emotional response to what I know to be true about my God.”  That’s so helpful.  Joy is not an emotion driven by a flurry of emotions.  That would be emotionalism.  But joy is indeed an emotion; it is an emotion on top of a fact—an emotion experienced in response to the truth of God beheld by the eyes of faith.

Joy is the affection that is produced in the soul when one finds delight, pleasure, or satisfaction in God Himself or the truth about Him, and then responds in gladness.

Spurgeon takes us home with these words:

“Come, brothers and sisters, I am inviting you now to no distasteful duty when, in the name of my Master, I say to you, as Paul said to the Philippians under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!’”

It is that joy which celebrates the gospel that changes our attitudes towards one another.

Karl Barth, in a brief survey of the commands to rejoice in the book of Philippians, noted that we meet the command first in 2:18 where Paul tells the Philippians that they “should be glad and rejoice” with him, and then again in 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”  And, lastly, here in 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

From the force of these three commands, Barth concludes that “‘joy’ in Philippians is a defiant ‘Nevertheless!’” — nevertheless “Rejoice.”  Paul’s unqualified “Rejoice” certainly does defy the thankless, complaining nature of humanity and human custom through all of history.

Also, remember that Paul wasn’t writing while he lounged in a Roman bath or sipped espresso in Café Roma.  We must never forget that Paul delivered his defiant command to rejoice whatever the circumstances when it was unsure whether he would live or die and while he was confined to helplessly watching his competitors and enemies make advances among the churches of Rome and Philippi.  As if to answer any question from those who might ask incredulously, “Should we really rejoice during afflictions?” he stated twice, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Get it?

Paul’s imprisonment, Ephaproditus’ illness, opposition of the “enemies of the cross” and now internal fighting, all could make this command seem absurd.

Paul was not urging us to be unrealistic.  He was not saying that we should never feel sad.  Even Jesus wept (John 11:35).  However, he was advocating focusing on the blessings we have in Christ, and being grateful for these regardless of how sad we may feel at any particular time.  He had set a good example by singing when he was in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25).

Note also that the apostle’s words allow for no loopholes — “always” permits no exceptions regardless of how humiliating or painful things might be. Similarly, the readers are commanded to find their joy “in the Lord” rather than in their circumstances.  As such, Christian “joy is a basic and constant orientation of the Christian life, the fruit and evidence of a relationship with the Lord” (Bockmuehl). 

It comes from what the Lord has done in the past, from what he is doing now, and from the hope of what he will do in the future.

Nehemiah tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).  Rejoicing in God gives us strength to do what we could never do in the flesh.

So, when you are fighting with someone, take your mind off of them and what they have said or done, and what they might be saying (to others) now, and focus on Jesus Christ.  Verbally thank him and bless Him for all that He has done for you.  Remind yourself of all the benefits you have in Christ.

Spurgeon says…

People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. 

Such a vital attitude.

Then, eighth, practice gentleness.

Whenever you have your next interaction with the person you are fighting with, practice gentleness in the way you deal with them.

Paul mentions that this attitude and way of behaving should be “known to everyone,” believer and unbeliever alike.

But what does Paul mean?

The ESV translates this “reasonableness.”  It is a word that means “willingness to yield.”  The forbearing person does not insist on his or her own rights or privileges.  This person not only looks for common ground, but is willing to yield to the other person.

We live in a day that emphasizes our personal rights to do or get whatever we want.  The most common reason we get angry with someone is that they violated our rights—to privacy, or quiet, or punctuality, or a tasty meal every night, or coming home on time.

Being “gentle” means holding these rights loosely, with the willingness to keep on rejoicing in the Lord even when those rights are violated.

Having this attitude would help us in any conflict.  It reminds us of the “soft” and “pleasant” words mentioned in Proverbs.

Aristotle contrasted this word with the concept of akribodikaois, “strict justice.”  “For him it meant a generous treatment of others which, wile demanding equity, does not insist upon the letter of the law.  Willing to admit limitations, it is prepared to make allowances so that justice does not injure.  It is a quality, therefore, that keeps one from insisting on his full right…or from making a rigid and obstinate stand for what is justly due him” (Hawthorne, Philippians, p. ___).

To be gentle means to admit when you’re wrong and not to rub it in when you are right.

In fact, to be gentle means to be willing to lay down your right to be right, even when you are right.  As someone has said: “He who stays flexible won’t be bent out of shape.”

Gentleness holds these rights loosely, not because they are wrong to expect, but because we can trust God to make things right.

You see, being gentle is as strong an act of trust in God as “not being anxious about anything” in verse 6.

We can surrender our rights because “the Lord is near.”  This statement could mean “nearby” or “about to come.”  It was a reference to Paul’s expectation, as ours, that the Rapture could occur at any moment.

With that in mind, we know that He will take care of us and right every wrong.

Jesus was the extreme example of gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) and humility (Phil. 2:6-8).  He showed it to the woman caught in adultery.

He was totally righteous and didn’t deserve to be treated as He was, and who, as Lord, had every right to expect total loyalty and love from His creation, yet in 1 Peter 2 we read…

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Jesus was cruelly treated and crucified, but he did not assert His rights.  He did not call down 10,000 angels.  On the cross He asked His Father to forgive His persecutors.

And He could do this because he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

We don’t have to get what we deserve here and now.  We can lay aside our rights because we trust that eventually justice will be served.

Now, when I’ve turned over my rights to God and I stop being demanding and pushy, two temptations surface: one is the tendency to grumble (which we’ve already addressed in v. 4) and the other is to get worried.

What is the other person thinking about us?  What are they doing that might bring harm to me?  What are they telling others?  We have all these anxieties, especially when we are at war with someone.

But again, Paul encourages us to trust in God.  Rejoice in Him and trust in Him.  I guarantee you that if you do these things, you will thrive in life and you will be able to repair relationships.

Resolving Conflict, part 2 (Philippians 4:2-3)

Last week we began looking at Paul’s teaching in Philippians 4 where he is helping two women in the church at Philippi to resolve their conflict and be reconciled.  That is found in Philippians 4:1-9…

1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As we looked at this passage we found three principles about resolving conflict.  First, conflict has to be addressed, not ignored.  Paul does this by naming names and getting it out into the open so it could be resolved.

Second, Paul treats both the women, as well as everyone else, with high value.  He respects them as people, even though they had problems.  He placed a high value on the person and the relationship, something that we have to remind ourselves to do.

Thirdly, whether we are the offender or the victim, it is our responsibility to take the initiative to pursue reconciliation.  We can’t hide behind the fact that the other person “did it to me” and wait for them to come forward and confess.  Nor can we hope the other person didn’t notice.  Either way we must take the first step.

Today we will continue with the fourth step. 

Fourth, seek common ground with the other person.

Generally, when we are disagreeing about some issue, it is possible to find common ground to work from and find a mutually agreeable solution.

Paul encouraged both women to “agree in the Lord.”  He asks that they literally “think the same thing in the Lord.”

It refers to more than merely being “like minded.”  Is speaks of sharing like thoughts and feelings for each other.

The word “harmony” is a good one because it reminds us that, as in music, we don’t have to be playing the same note, just playing ones that correspond to the other, producing harmony.

Peter, in 1 Peter 3:8 puts it like this:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

And Paul had already told them back in chapter 2…

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Now, the only way we can do this is to “agree in the Lord.”  This little phrase makes all the difference.  Because we are united together into the body of Christ because we are united with Christ through the Spirit’s baptism.

This little phrase indicates that no matter what might be our circumstances in the world, being “in the Lord” gives us a strength and wisdom that are not our own.

In verse 4 Paul will command them to “rejoice in the Lord,” which can be done no matter how bad one’s struggles might be.

We “agree in the Lord” by living out of our union with Christ and submitting to Him and His will moment-by-moment.

Whatever the dispute was about, Euodia and Syntyche had forgotten that they have a greater common ground in Jesus Christ.  They forgot that everything else was less important than that common ground.

You’ve seen the illustration of the triangle before, where when people move up the sides, drawing closer to Jesus Christ at the apex of the triangle, they also grow closer to one another.

That means that generally speaking, the presence of conflict in a marriage, or a church, shows that one or both are not spending much time with God.

So, when you’re arguing over something, stop and ask, “On what can we agree?”  “How does our common relationship with Jesus give us things to agree on?”  “Where is the common ground?”

If you can’t find any, then you’re probably too attached to your own agenda and need to stop and pray and ask God to help you see and seek His will, instead of your own.

Fifth, seek outside help, or intervention.

Ideally, we should be able to resolve our own problems; realistically we need help more often than we would like to admit.

Paul, in verse 3, says…

3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Paul calls on his “true companion” (“loyal yokefellow,” NIV) to help these women.  Again, Paul is referring to someone who has worked alongside him in the ministry. 

We don’t know who this is.  Some suggest Syzygus, which is simply a transliteration of the Greek word “companion.”  Others suggest that maybe it was Epaphroditus.  But whoever it was, we can learn that it sometimes it is necessary for an outside party to help two factions resolve a conflict.

What kind of person is needed to intervene and help others resolve conflict?

First of all, that person needs to be spiritually minded.  In Galatians 6:1 Paul identifies this quality when he says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

Secondly, that person must be objective.  Paul’s objectivity is hinted at in his double use of the verb, “I urge … I urge.”  He doesn’t take sides or imply that one person is right and the other is wrong.  The outside party needs to hear both sides before he makes any judgments about who is most at fault.

Proverbs 18:17 reveals this bit of wisdom: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” So, don’t jump to hasty conclusions.  Listen to both sides of the story.

Third, that person must be direct and honest.  Beating around the bush doesn’t accomplish anything.

Can you imagine how these two women felt when this letter was read in the assembly?  Here they are, known in church history for one thing, the quarrel they had!  But Paul didn’t beat around the bush.  He named names.

In several other places he corrects people by name or directly names his source of information: “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Col. 4:17).

“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Cor. 1:11). (See also 1 Tim. 1:202 Tim. 2:17; 4:10, 14).

Sometimes we are so careful to tiptoe around so as not to offend anyone that we end up being vague and confusing.  Paul didn’t drop hints.  He was direct, specific, and truthful.

By the way, the word “help” here in verse 3 is actually a more aggressive word.  I think he is urging his co-worker in Philippi to “take hold of” these women and to “put a stop” to their unfruitful bickering.  The help for which Paul is calling is aggressive, because the sin seems to be affecting the entire church (see 1 Corinthians 5:6).

Fourth, the outside party should be affirming and positive whenever possible.

Paul didn’t scold or berate these women.  He affirms them by mentioning how they had shared in his struggle in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and others not named (we know nothing more about Clement).  He acknowledges that the names of all these dear people are known to God, written in the book of life, that book in heaven that contains the names of all of God’s elect (see Exod. 32:32Ps. 69:28Dan. 12:1Luke 10:20Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27).

He does this so that the person who will intervene to help carries a positive attitude towards each of the women.

Sixth, get back to the work of the gospel side by side.

When Paul says that these women have shared his struggle in the gospel, the word he uses means to be on the same team in an athletic contest.  Team members have to work together; if they start fighting each other, the other team will make easy work of them.

Lord Nelson once came on deck and found two of his officers quarreling.  He whirled them about, pointed to the enemy ships, and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, there are your enemies!” 

We’ve got to remember that our struggle is “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Maybe you’ve heard this story, and it emphasizes just how tragically easy it is for us to find something to fight over.

I was walking across a bridge recently.  I spied this fellow who looked like he was ready to jump off.  So, I thought I’d try to stall him until the authorities showed up.  “Don’t jump!” I said.  “Why not?” he said.  “Nobody loves me.”

“God loves you,” I said.  “You believe in God, don’t you?”

“Yes, I believe in God,” he said.

“Good,” I said. “Are you Christian or Jewish?”

“Christian,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Protestant or Catholic?”

“Neither,” he said.

“What then?” I said.

“Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Independent Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

“Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “New Evangelical/Moderate Independent Baptist or Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Lose-Your-Salvation Armenian Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said. “Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Historical Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or For Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Strict Separation of Church and State Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Anti-Disney Boycott Pro-Choice Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.  “KJV Only Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist or Modern Versions Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist?”

“MODERN VERSIONS Pro-Disney Boycott Pro-Life Unashamed Fundamentalist Against Women in Ministry Dispensational Premillennial Calvinistic Conservative Independent Baptist” he said.

“Auugghh!!!  You heretic!” I said.  And I pushed him over.

No doubt most of you have read or heard this story, and hopefully you laughed.  And yet as I laugh, I realize that this fictional conversation and its outcome is repeated time after time in churches across our land and around the world.  Christians seem more inclined to attack their fellow-saints than they do to evangelize the lost. 

Paul wanted these ladies to get back to the mission, to the main reason that God has left us here on earth—to evangelize and disciple our neighbors and friends and the people we do business with.

Paul had expressed this back in the theme verses in chapter 1, verse 27:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

We will get to vv. 4 and 5 next week.  Although many preachers use these verses to preach against worry (which vv. 6 and 7 definitely bring up), I think that they are still addressing the attitudes of people in conflict.

These people should stay positive and practice gentleness towards one another.

So I hope you will join me again next week.  Until then, soak yourself in the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

Resolving Conflict, part 1 (Philippians 4:1-2)

We are starting the final chapter of Philippians today, Philippians 4.  Many preachers believe the focus here is on worry and how to give our worries to God.  But I believe that the first nine verses have to do with conflict, and how to resolve conflict. 

What Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9 is pretty relevant.  When we have conflict with others, our minds naturally gripe and complain and get anxious and worried.

A man had taken his secretary home early because she had a headache.  Realizing that it might not go over so well with his wife, he didn’t mention it to her.  That night, as he was taking his wife out to eat, he noticed a high-heeled shoe in the car on the floorboard.  Panicking, he got his wife to look out the window and quickly picked the shoe up and threw it out his window.  Whew!  But when they got to the restaurant and started to get out of the car, his wife asked, “Honey, where’s my shoe?”  UH OH!  TROUBLE!

Conflict happens.  It happens in families, among friends…even in churches.  It can happen in the best of families.

Perhaps trite but true,

To live above with the saints we love,
Oh, that will be glory.
But to live below with the saints we know,
Well, that’s another story.

William Barclay writes:

“It is significant that when there was a quarrel at Philippia, Paul mobilized the whole resources of the Church to mend it.  He thought no effort too great to maintain the peace of the church.  (Unity is a precious gift of God that we are called to “maintain” in Ephesians 4:2-3.)  A quarrelling church is no church at all, for it is one from which Christ has been shut out.  No man can be at peace with God and at variance with his fellow-men.”

Disunity “stinks.”  Sometimes we in the church can’t smell the stink, but others can.  Dee Duke, in a series of messages on prayer, illustrated this reality by recounting how a church in a dairy community would meet, everyone having taken care of milking their cows that morning and cleaning up best they could before they came to church.  They, being used to the smell, thought everything was normal, but a newcomer entering the church would still think, “What is that smell?”

And that’s the way it is with conflict.  We might think we have it under wraps, treating one another civilly, but newcomers can tell that something is wrong.

When Christians are in conflict, God’s reputation is harmed, the church’s ministries are hampered and, of course, people’s personal peace is affected.

Again, Barclay strikes this warning: “It is a grim thought that all we know about Yoda (Euodia) and Syntyche is that they were two women who had quarreled!  It makes us think: Suppose our lives were to be summed up in one sentence, what would that sentence be?  Hopefully not that we were quarrelling.

We don’t know much about these women, or even the particular issue they were fighting about.  We know their names and we know that it was a serious issue to Paul.

Gordon Fee states:

“For the Pauline letters, this is a remarkable moment indeed, since Paul does here what he seldom does elsewhere in ‘conflict’ settings—he names names!”

I’m sure that everyone was aroused from their drowsiness and sat up when they heard names.

I like to call these two women “You’re Odious” and “Soon Touchy.”

“You’re Odious” is the person who deals with anger by exploding, getting verbally aggressive and putting down the other person by calling them names or exaggerating their offense.

“Soon Touchy” is the overly sensitive, moody person.  Everything bothers them, but instead of getting mad, they just pout.  This person uses the silent treatment and just grows bitter.  They internalize their anger.

When it comes to conflict, some people are like Teflon—nothing sticks—they can easily overlook minor offenses.

And the Bible does encourage that.  For example, Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Other people are like Velcro—everything sticks.  Even little things get under their skin and bother them.

By the way, the name Euodia actually means “prosperous journey” and Syntyche means “pleasant acquaintance.”  They had great names, they just weren’t living up to them.  They should both have been a pleasure to be around, but they weren’t talking to each other…and everyone knew it!

Here is what Paul says in Philippians 4:1-9…

1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So how does this passage help us resolve conflicts?

First, conflict must be addressed, and that is what Paul does here.

You can’t just ignore conflict and hope it goes away, although many of us try to do that.

You may have heard of the philosophy professor who, on the day of the final exam, set a chair up on his desk and said, “Using all that you’ve learned about philosophy this year, I want you to write an essay proving that this chair does not exist.”

His students went right for it, writing furiously, scratching their heads, filling page after page.

All except for one student.  He wrote one sentence down, closed his blue book and turned it in.

A week later, the grades came out and there was one “A,” given to the student with the one-line answer.  Everyone wanted to know what he had written………..do you?

His answer: “What chair?”

Unfortunately, while that might pass a philosophy exam, it doesn’t work with conflict.

What conflict?

When we ignore conflict it just goes underground and rears its ugly head again later, just adding another issue and morphing into something more complex to deal with.

It’s like the couple who went for marital counseling.  The counselor asked the husband what the problem was, and he said, “My wife gets upset with me and just gets historical.”  “You mean hysterical,” said the counselor.  “No, historical, she brings up every mistake I’ve ever made.”

One reason we need to address conflict is so that we can stay current.  Another reason is that it won’t morph into something more complex and harder to deal with.

Apparently the issue had gone on for some time at Philippi without being dealt with, so Paul takes the initiative to bring about reconciliation between these two women.

Paul’s willingness to call out two women when he knew the letter would be read to the whole congregation demonstrates the fact that he cared more about the unity of the church than about the church having a superficial, “everything is going to be alright” sentimental warmth.

Second, to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships, we must value the other person.

Notice how Paul speaks positively of everyone involved.  He calls them “beloved brothers” in verse 1, “my joy and crown.”  While he may be referring only to the men in the church, it expresses his love for them all, not just some.

He wants them to “stand firm in the Lord.”  He doesn’t want them to fall away like those he mentioned back in 3:18-19 who had become “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

As for the women, he noted that they “have labored side by side with me.”  He valued them for working alongside him in the ministry of the gospel.  And this merely shows that conflict can happen for anyone, even those who have been involved in significant ministry.

This term is a gladiatorial term, more accurately translated “fought alongside me.”  They had been in “the same conflict” as Paul (1:30) in the battle for the gospel, which placed them amidst the fellowship of the gospel (cf. 1:5) —gospel comradeship in the quest to proclaim the good news to the pagan world. 

Sometimes being involved in an important mission can keep us together, but there are always obstacles.

It’s like the story Max Lucado relates in his book In the Eye of the Storm.  He talks about a time when he and his buddies were going on a fishing trip.  However, the weather didn’t cooperate and for several days they were holed up in the cabin, playing cards and watching the weather.  They grew grumpy and started getting angry with one another.  His conclusion: “when those who are called to fish, don’t fish, they fight.”

Likewise, when we don’t involve ourselves in a mission that matters, like evangelism and discipleship, we can allow little things to make us angry with one another.

Paul doesn’t take sides in this conflict, but encourages both Euodia and Synteche to “agree in the Lord.”

He doesn’t doubt their relationship to Jesus Christ.  He acknowledges that they are both believers, submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  They are both “in the Lord” positionally, and they need to act like it.

It is important to place a high value in the other person when you are in conflict.  Generally, we start to fight when some “issue” comes up that aggravates us.  It might be small or serious, but we starting fighting because that “issue” has importance to us.

One question we must ask ourselves is: am I placing a higher value on the issue than the person?

Sometimes the issue is very important.  Jude tells us that we must “contend for the faith.”  Paul reproved Peter to his face for acting out of sync with the gospel of grace.  Like Jesus, we must balance grace and truth in our relationships.

However, even if the issue is highly important, we still should value relationships.  As believers in Christ, we are to love even our enemies.

These two women, along with a certain Clement and other fellow workers, all had their names in the “book of life” — the great book that will be opened on the Day of Judgment, when only those found in its pages will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Revelation 21:27).  Euodia and Syntyche were elect warriors. 

Thirdly, we must take personal responsibility for reconciliation.

We can’t say, “It’s his fault.  He has to come to me.”

Notice that Paul addresses and urges both women to “agree in the Lord.”  Paul addresses the principle women involved in the conflict and encourages them both to pursue reconciliation.

Although Paul is asking others to get involved, he is not encouraging “triangling.”  Triangling occurs when person A has a problem with person B but instead of going to person B and talking about the issue with them, they take it to person C (and possibly D and E).  We also call this gossip.

Basically, it is trying to relieve the stress I feel because of the conflict by talking to someone about it, but it would be harder to go to the person I am in conflict with and instead go to someone else, usually someone I know with be sympathetic to my side of the story.

Triangling is the easy thing to do, it passes some of the tension from me to you.  However, it does nothing to resolve the problem.  In fact, it merely increases and complicates the problem.  Now person C has to take sides, likely mine.

Triangling is a big problem in churches.  It is so easy to go to people I know will sympathize with me, instead of those who would challenge me to see my own faults or encourage me to go directly to the person I have conflict with.

By the way, if someone comes to you, telling you how upset they are with someone, instead of listening and automatically sympathizing, encourage them (no, plead with them, like Paul did) to meet face-to-face with the person they are upset with.

The Scriptures are clear that no matter whether you are the offender or the victim, you are responsible to take the first step towards reconciliation.

In both of these passages it is Jesus that is speaking.

In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus says…

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Notice in verse 23 that Jesus is saying that when we are worshipping and we remember that our “brother has something against” us, that is, we have done something to offend or wound him, that we are to immediately go and “be reconciled” to that brother.

We aren’t to wait until they come to us.  Hopefully our conscience and God’s Spirit will convict our hearts that we need to go and be reconciled to someone.

Then, in Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus says…

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

In this case, we are not the one who committed the offense or wound, but sin has happened against us.

And what are we to do?  Again, we are to “go” with the objective of seeking reconciliation.  We do this by “telling him his fault” privately, so that possibly we might gain our brother, we might be reconciled.

It’s easy to say, “No, she started it,” Or, “she’s the one who hurt me.”  We might expect them to take the first step towards reconciliation, but as soon as God’s Spirit nudges you to take that step, whether you are the victim or the offender, you are responsible to take that first step towards reconciliation.

Taking that first step does not guarantee reconciliation, but it does make that option possible.

A Higher Calling, part 3 (Philippians 3:20-21)

In the last paragraph of Philippians 3 Paul has been encouraging the Philippian church that if they want to follow Christ they must follow him (v. 17), not the “enemies of the cross” (vv. 18-19), Finally, in vv. 20-21 Paul indicates the characteristics of Christ followers…

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.

Having identified the characteristics of unbelievers, who were citizens of an earthly kingdom, Rome, he now turns to talk about the dual citizenship that we Christians have.  Yes, we are citizens of an earthly country, but also citizens of heaven.

That is an important thing to remember in an election year.  We cannot and should not divorce our faith from our political positions or the candidates we vote for.  As Christians we are responsible to live out and promote the values of another kingdom, a kingdom where God and His truth rule.

That will often be out of step with our culture, which is declining into moral corruption.

This up-front declaration “But our citizenship is in heaven” references a reality already mentioned by Paul in the pivotal text of 1:27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  “Manner of life” is more exactly “manner of life as citizens” (and thus implicitly, “of heaven”).  The same root word that is used there is used here in 3:20 for “citizenship.”

You can hear the similarity in the Greek.  In 1:27 it is the verb politeúesthe, and here in 3:20 it is the noun políteuma.  Both are built on the noun polis,which means “city.”  All kinds of English words come from this: policemetropolispolitics, politicalpolitician.

The reality behind both references is that the Philippians were citizens of the commonwealth of Heaven—they belonged to another polis, apart from PhilippiThis was particularly poignant for the Philippians because Philippi was a singularly self-conscious little Roman polis (legally Italian soil), which kept the locals at a distance while at the same time intruding into their lives.

The Roman citizenship the Philippians enjoyed meant a great deal to them (Acts 16:12, 21).  It enabled them, though living in Macedonia, to say, “My citizenship is in Rome.”

We need to appreciate all this would have meant to the Philippians, who greatly valued their Roman citizenship.  Just as the Philippians could consider themselves citizens of Rome and were under Roman laws and customs (even though they were in fact far from Rome) so Christians should consider themselves citizens of heaven and under our Lord’s laws and customs.

Thus William Barclay notes:

 “Just as the Roman colonists never forgot that they belong to Rome, you must never forget that you are citizens of heaven; and your conduct must match your citizenship.”

Our heavenly citizenship and destiny are far more important than our brief earthly sojourn (cf. Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10).

Even though we live on earth, our citizenship is in heaven.  We are thus foreigners and aliens, actually ambassadors representing our real country.

Because heaven is our destiny and our real home, we are to “eagerly await” a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  The Greek word apekdechometha, translated “look for,” is a strong compound.  It speaks of an intense yearning for the coming of Christ.

As Philippians would eagerly await a visit from the emperor in Rome, even more so should Christians eagerly await the coming of their King – Jesus Christ.

James Montgomery Boice mentioned how

“The expectation of the Lord’s personal and imminent return gave joy and power to the early Christians and to the Christian communities.”

It was that confident expectation that filled them with joy, with hope, with an urgency to preach the gospel and maintain holy lives.

Paul uses this same term in Romans 8:19

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Right now, we (8:23), and all of creation groan (8:22) because of the curse.  Paul presents creation eagerly awaiting the revealing of the sons of God because when we are being revealed in glory (v. 18), creation will be freed from the curse and God will re-create heaven and earth (Rev. 21).

I picture it as like a young child, knowing his father is about to come home from work, stands at the window or the door in eager anticipation of that door opening and his father coming home.

Or, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:22, it is like childbirth.  The process itself is painful, but the result is full of joy.  So Paul concludes:

23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Here again, Paul is saying that when Christ returns (at the rapture), we will experience the fullness of our adoption as sons (receiving our inheritance) and we will have a redeemed body.  It will be changed into glory.

While the Judaizers always lived in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to the Mosaic law, true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Savior.

As citizens of heaven, we should desire and pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

As Christ followers we should be committed to the rule of Jesus Christ over all our lives.

Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper proclaims:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

It is interesting how much Paul has emphasized the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We cannot separate His ability to save from his right to rule.  If He is your Savior, He is your Lord.

In Philippians 1:2 grace and peace come from “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This title is the highest of all names, the name already proclaimed in Christ’s super-exaltation in 2:9-11:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The ultimate confession of the universe will be that Jesus, Messiah, is Yahweh, the awesome God who created the heavens and the earth, the one who sets up kings and takes them down (cf. Isaiah 45:5, 6, 14, 18, 22, 23)—the Savior.

Earlier in chapter 3, verse 8, Paul had said:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

What Paul means is the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.”

And here we “wait eagerly for our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, this was a big deal for Christians in the first two centuries.  To proclaim anyone else “Lord” other than Caesar was treason against the state.  It wasn’t long after Paul wrote these words that Christians were being martyred for calling Jesus “Lord.”

It costs us far less these days and in this country, yet we hesitate to call Him Lord because we don’t want to give up the right to control our own lives, our own bodies, our own desires.

When Christ returns for us at the Rapture, He will “transform” our present mortal bodies into immortal bodies to be like our Lord’s resurrected body.

Right now, our body is a “lowly body,” meaning that it is weak and susceptible to all kinds of infirmities both physical and spiritual.

By the way, this does not mean that we should be satisfied with a weakened, unhealthy body.  We should do all we can to maintain our health.  But regardless of what we do to strengthen or improve this body, it will grow weaker and eventually die.

But the new body we will receive at the Rapture will be “glorious,” and it will be like the body of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was not merely resuscitated from the dead in the same body.  He was resurrected in a new body, patterned after the old yet equipped and fitted for heaven.

Christ’s resurrected body is the prototype of what awaits each of us.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:49, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

Murray Harris writes in his classic study Raised Immortal:

Paul is saying, then, that in place of an earthly body that is always characterized by physical decay, indignity, and weakness, the resurrected believer will have a heavenly body that is incapable of deterioration, beautiful in form and appearance, and with limitless energy and perfect health.  Once he experiences a resurrection transformation, man will know perennial rejuvenation, since he will have a perfect vehicle for God’s deathless Spirit, a body that is invariably responsive to his transformed personality. (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 121.)

The change will be necessary because our weak, mortal bodies are in­sufficient to receive and participate in the glorious state.  Also, because Paul says in Romans 7 that a “sin principle” still exists in the “mortal body” of believers, and we need a new body in order to be rid of our inclination to sin.

Our new bodies will be glorious.  Listen to Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44:

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Then, in vv. 51-57 Paul describes the timing of this change:

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We will be changed in a moment.  We will be taken to heaven and given a new body fit for heaven, full of power and glory, and will never perish.

Notice that in Philippians 3:21 It is the “Lord Jesus Christ who will transform” us and here in 1 Corinthians 15 the victory comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As Harris says, “To summarise: just as the event of spiritual resurrection is founded exclusively on the resurrection of Christ, so the ensuing state of spiritual resurrection is totally dependent on the risen life of Christ.” (Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), p. 108.)

Paul concluded his thoughts here about Christ’s power by stating explicitly that Christ does this “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself ” (v. 21).  This is an allusion to Psalm 8:6, which speaks of God’s intention to subject all creation to mankind.

In its context, Psalm 8:6 says…

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

So here Christ fulfills mankind’s destiny, and in doing so he makes the universe subject to himself.  Everything is of Christ!

The power that enables him even to subject all things to himself is the same power that transforms our lowly bodies into bodies of glory.

Again, this is described back in 2:9-11

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We get the opportunity to willingly bow our knee to Jesus now, so that He can save us from our sins and slavery to sin, death and Satan.

If you are not willingly subject to Him, you will be forced into subjection to Him. His enemies will bow before Him.  He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, do you live as if you are members of another kingdom, a heavenly kingdom?

The Christian knows that his true “home” is in heaven, and not on earth. Even the Old Testament saints knew this:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Christians look to the future, put more stock in the future and the promises God has given to us.  Living in the future tense means letting Christ arrange things in life in the proper rank now!

C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, writes this:

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise […] If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Lewis continues, “Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

– C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, pp. 135-137. Published by HarperCollins.

Do you live for the eternal realities of heaven, or the passing pleasures of this world?

Lewis also reminds us that it is precisely those who think most about heaven and about their future destiny who have made the greatest impact on this present world.  “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

A Higher Calling, part 2 (Philippians 3:18-19)

A major part of Christian discipleship is finding the right people to imitate and avoiding patterning your life after the wrong people.  Paul says in Philippians 3:17-19

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Then Paul mentions why they needed to imitate him and not others…

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.

We can follow godly men like Paul, or ungodly “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Our world is all about following.  Everybody follows something.  Whether it is your favorite sports team, blog or friend; we follow things we care about and that matter to us.

In the early Church times, people wanted someone to follow.  One of the great leaders was the Apostle Paul, who experienced an amazing transformation as he went from an angry murderer to a passionate follower of Jesus.  People saw his passion and wanted what he had. They wanted someone to follow and Paul knew they would, so he said to them, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Paul wanted them to know that he was also a follower and that if they truly wanted to follow him then they would have to know that he got his strength from being a follower first.  Paul understood that Jesus was the reason for his changed life because he had tasted forgiveness, grace and a fresh start through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.

But it is dangerous to follow some people.  Paul tells the Philippian believers that some people are not worth following.  Paul was careful to remind them “often.”  Like a parent who knows that their child needs repeated instructions or warnings, Paul regularly reminded them that some religious leaders are not worth following.

But Paul also told them “even with tears.”  It certainly didn’t delight Paul to call these people “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  He wasn’t a heresy hunter.  As a spiritual parent he did stay on the alert for false doctrine, but he did not gladly call people out for their errors.

What was even more sad, is that there were “many” who were trading in the preciousness of their faith in Jesus Christ.

We don’t exactly know who these people are.  Some believe that they were Judaizers—that adding legal requirements to Christ made them “enemies of the cross” and their dependence on Old Testament dietary laws made a “god” out of their bellies and their emphasis on circumcision would be “glorying in their shame,” all of which showed that they were not spiritually minded, but earthly minded.

Others believe that they were false teachers who promoted lawlessness, particularly sensuality.  This was very common among false teachers of that age. Their lifestyles repudiated all that the cross stands for, specifically the passionate pursuit of Christ and a cross-centered life of suffering.  That pursuit was all foolishness to them.

Now, in these two verses Paul first gives a distinctive identifying title “enemies of the cross of Christ,” then gives four descriptive statements identifying the end and characteristics of these “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

So, what does it mean to be an “enemy of the cross of Christ”?  Well, if these are Judaizers that Paul is talking about, they were “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they valued their own works in procuring their salvation rather than valuing and trusting in Christ’s work for them on the cross.

You can either try to work for your own salvation, or you can wholly trust in Jesus’ work for your salvation.  His work was the work of the cross, dying in the place of sinners.

Judaizers were unbelievers not because they loved to sin, but because they depended upon their own righteousness.

Enemies of the cross diminish its value by emphasizing human worth or merit in addition to what Christ did on the cross.  They lift up fallen man and bring down the holy God, thus shortening the “mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.” 

If, on the other hand, the people Paul was talking about were libertines, then to be an “enemy of the cross” means that one values their sins more than they value what Christ did for them on the cross.  Libertines love their sin and they are unwilling to give them up, even though Christ died for their sins and is offering them forgiveness and eternal joy.

These people are unbelievers because they are unwilling to confess that they are sinners and have no desire to be saved.  They love their sins and thus despise the cross.

Warren Wiersbe writes:

“The cross of Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible, the heart of the gospel, and the chief source of praise in heaven (Rev. 5:8-10).  The cross is the proof of God’s love for sinners (Rom. 5:8) and God’s hatred for sin.  The cross condemns what the world values.  It judges mankind and pronounces the true verdict: ‘Guilty!’”

The cross humbles human pride, because it shows us that our good works are not able to make us right with a holy God.  It shows us that we cannot save ourselves from God’s righteous judgment.  It shows that we cannot even help God out, because we are not saved by our merit, but only by the worthiness of the Lord Jesus and His shed blood.  To come to the cross for salvation means that we must abandon all hope in our ability to commend ourselves to God and we must trust completely in the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A genuine Christian’s approach to the cross is expressed by Paul in these glorious words:

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Paul says that “their end is destruction.”  That word “destruction” is the Greek word apoleia.  It speaks of “ruin” and “loss.”  It presents the picture of a wasted life.

The same Greek word (apoleia) occurs in 1:28, where it probably refers to unbelievers and eternal destruction.

It is used in Matthew 7:13 where Jesus speaks of the easy way “that leads to destruction,” as opposed to the narrow way that leads to life.

Judas is called the “son of destruction” (perdition) in John 17:12, as is the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 where he is called “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”  Revelation 17:8 and 11 also speak of the destruction of the Antichrist.

Peter, speaking of the end of the world, and the creation of a new heaven and earth, says this:

7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

That clearly links this destruction to the casting of these people into the lake of fire, as presented in Revelation 20:11-15…

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Thus, what Paul is saying is that these “enemies of the cross” will be those who experience eternal destruction in the lake of fire.  According to Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

If you struggle with this, I encourage you to read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:668-679), where he argues that sin against God is a violation of infinite obligations and therefore is an infinitely heinous crime, deserving of infinite punishment.

This does not mean, however, that unbelievers “go out of existence.”  Scripture is unambiguous when it describes the fate of the devil, Beast, and False Prophet in the lake of fire: “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).  So, the Beast’s “destruction” is everlasting torment in the lake of fire and it is likely that this is the same for all unbelievers in the lake of fire as well.  Matthew 25:46 says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Both destinies are everlasting; they do not cease.

Although these people had names and faces, and the believers in Philippi knew them, their destiny is eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

Gerald Hawthorne comments on apoleia saying:

…the precise meaning of apoleia is difficult to pin down. Hence, as is often the case it is best explained in terms of its opposites: soteria (“salvation,” Phil 1:28); peripoiesis psuches (“the preserving of one’s soul,” Heb 10:39); zoe aionios (“eternal life” John 3:16).

For Paul, then, to reject the crucified Christ as the sole means of salvation is in effect to reject salvation. It is to lose one’s soul and thus to forfeit life.  Elsewhere he says of such people, to telos ekeinon thanatos (“their end is death,” Rom 6:21), a condition in which the destiny of life outside of Christ is turned to its opposite, i.e., corruption (Gal 6:8) or destruction (Rom 9:22 in the active sense of the word), ‘the absolute antithesis of the life intended by God and saved by Christ.”

We will see an entirely different destiny for believers down in verse 21.

This is why I don’t believe that Paul is talking here about believers.  A Christian’s “end” is NOT destruction, but rather life.

Paul then explains that this destiny was deserved because “their god is their belly.”  In other words, they make their “belly,” these bodily desires, an idol to serve.  Instead of being in control of their passions, they willingly give themselves over to any and every bodily desire.

These people give free rein to the satisfaction of their sensual “appetite[s],” and do not restrain the flesh (cf. Rom. 16:18; 1 Cor. 6:13; Jude 11).  “Belly” here has a broader reference to sensual indulgence in general.  They live to serve their lusts.

Paul warned the Roman Christians about divisive people, saying “such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.”

If Judaizers, this would point to their dependence upon dietary laws to save them.  Paul reminded the Colossian Christians:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink” (Col. 2:16)

If libertines, it points to those who follow their own passions to the point of being enslaved by them.  They are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).  The priority of their lives is to serve their sensual needs.

Kent Hughes remarks:

It was not merely the pleasures of the stomach that was their god, but the bodily desires and sensual delights that displaced the divine and became their god.  The Philippian apostates were digging their graves with their own teeth as they chewed upon their earthbound impulses and the cud of personal pleasure.  The pursuit of creature comforts displaced the pursuit of Christ and the cross. 

And David Guzik notes:

Paul had to contend with people like this in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and Romans 6, who thought that salvation comes without repentance and conversion, and who thought that as long as your soul was saved, it didn’t matter what you did with your body.

The Bible does not promote asceticism, the self-imposed denial of all pleasure as a means of purifying oneself and getting right with God.  Rather, it teaches that God has richly supplied us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).  But if we remove God from the center as the chief object of our joy and replace it with some earthly pleasure, we are guilty of idolatry.

Another characteristic of these doomed people is that they “glory in their shame.”  In other words, “they find satisfaction and take pride in things that they do that should cause them “shame” (cf. Eph. 5:12).  They boasted in their supposed “freedom,” when in reality they were slaves to their lusts. 

This refers to sensual excesses, especially sexual ones, the immoral practices of pagan, pre-Christian lives. This is how many of today’s neo-pagans live and glory. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote:

Sex is the mysticism of a materialist society, with its own mysteries . . . and its own sacred texts and scripture—the erotica that fall like black atomic rain on the just and unjust alike, drenching us, blinding us, stupefying us. To be carnally minded is life!

Again, if the “enemies of the cross” were Judaizers, it likely refers to their boasting about circumcision as a means of God’s approval.  Remember that earlier in this chapter Paul had said:

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

If the enemies were the libertines then they were boasting about their abilities to indulge in any sensual behaviors without repercussion, possibility believing it was “God’s job to forgive.”  Many false prophets in that age, as today, promised their followers maximum happiness in this life, appealing to their fleshly desires.

Finally, Paul says that these people have their minds “set on earthly things.”  They give heaven little or no thought, because their focus is entirely upon the things of this life.

Instead of thinking about spiritual things, they only think of physical realities.  Instead of thinking about heaven, they focus on the earth.  Instead of exalting God, they exalt man.  They leave God out of everything.

The effect of these four terse descriptions is to show that the enemies of the cross had come full circle.  By abandoning the pursuit of Christ and the cross, their minds once again were set on pre-Christian things rather than on “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14).  “They stand diametrically opposed to those whose commonwealth is in heaven.”

If these enemies were Judaizers, this description means that they place more value on earthly rituals that God had given to Israel, than the heavenly blessings that they would have in Christ.

If libertines, this refers to the foolish characteristic of never giving a thought to eternity, of their mortality and what happens after death, or even of God himself.  They take none of that seriously.  Their attitude was the same as the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.

Now, I think it is entirely possible for believers to live this way, at least at times.  True believers, however, are not characterized by these attitudes.       Unbelievers are characterized by these attitudes.

For these people, Paul says that their “end is destruction.”  Their life is wasted both now and for eternity.  They will experience ultimate loss in eternity.  They will experience eternal punishment.

I love what Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon “The Wailing of Risca”:

Spurgeon said, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay….If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”

A Higher Calling, part 1 (Philippians 3:17)

In our discussion of Philippians 3, Paul has been speaking of his own pursuit of Christ.  Paul wanted to know Christ and to become like Him.  That should be our desire as well.

Sometimes when trying to comfort a child who is afraid, we as parents want to remind them that God is with them.  But far too often, our children want (and need) a “god with skin on.”  They want a real, flesh-and-blood person right there with them.

And that is why Jesus Christ became flesh.  He came so we could see what God was like and so imitate him.  He was Immanuel, “God with us.”  He came and dwelt among us to show us the glory of God.

The reality is, for us to grow in faith, we need other people.  We need their presence, their support, their encouragement, their prayers, and we need them to show us the way.

Unfortunately, in our digital age, we sometimes forget that the essence of discipleship goes beyond merely informing and instructing.  People need a model to imitate.  That is what made Dawson Trotman’s discipleship of men so powerful.  He invited men into his home to see how he lived, and how he and his wife Lila lived together.  He knew that discipleship is more caught than taught.

Paul says in Philippians 3:17-21

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Then Paul mentions why they needed to imitate him…

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.

Then he concludes by saying…

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.

Notice that first verse, “imitate me.”  What seems like the height of arrogance is really one of the key factors of effective discipleship.  Before we can teach someone else how to walk with Christ, we must walk with Christ.

Imitation is an important part of Paul’s ministry to others.

The Apostle Paul hit this theme a number of times in his letters. For example:

1 Cor. 4:15-17: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”

Phil 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

2 Thess. 3:7-9: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

2 Tim. 3:10-11: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra. . . .”

John Piper comments on two additional verses:

1 Cor. 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Phil. 3:17: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and fix your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

Piper writes:

Notice the sequence:

  1. Jesus lives the perfect life for imitation.
  2. Paul imitates Jesus.
  3. Others “walk according to the example they have in us.”
  4. Finally, we fix our eyes on those who follow Paul’s example.

What makes this so remarkable is that Paul says it is spiritually wise to consider not just Jesus’ life, and not just the lives of those who follow him, but also the lives of those who follow those who follow him.

This seems to imply that the line of inspiration and imitation goes on and on.

Paul recognizes, first of all, that imitation is part of what it means to be human.  For our earliest years we learn by imitation.  We imitate parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, friends, and basically anyone that we spend much time around.  Paul is simply being open about a basic fact of human experience: we learn through imitation.

We all know that we learn by watching others.  Young Johann Sebastian Bach was a studied observer of the great organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude.  Bach made repeated long trips on foot to Buxtehude’s church to observe and hear the master, even copying the composer’s scores by hand—all of which had a marked effect on Bach’s style and vitality and the shaping of his brilliance.  Bach, surpassing genius that he was, rode on the lesser genius and example of his mentor.

Whether through apprenticeships in trades or through coaching in athletics, we learn by watching others.  It’s part of human nature.

That’s why, in 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul draws the explicit parallel between imitating him and imitating your parent.

In our culture which emphasizes individualism and “finding yourself,” it seems out of kilter to say that children should imitate their parents.  But it is just reflecting the reality of human nature.

You probably don’t need a fancy science experiment to see that kids imitate their parents. You probably notice it every day.

When you’re sweeping the floor, you might notice your little one pretending to sweep too. Or, you might hear your preschooler put her stuffed bear to bed the same way you tuck her in at night. Kids repeat what they hear, and they imitate what they see. For this reason, you need to be mindful of the things you’re inadvertently teaching your child.

Some of us are old enough to remember seeing Jaws when it first came out.  It was pretty scary.  But there was another scene from the movie which, for an adult, might have made a deeper impression.

There is a wonderful moment between Sheriff Brody and his son at the dinner table.

As his wife clears plates off of the table, Brody sits staring off into the distance, clearly deep in thought.  He doesn’t notice his young son watching his every move from a foot away.  When he takes a drink, his son takes a drink.  When he folds his hands, his son folds his hands.  Finally, he sees his son mirroring him.  He starts to playfully make movements and faces for his son to copy–ending with a kiss.  The most powerful role models for children sit across from them at the dinner table.  It’s you.

Recognize that and build upon it.

“Join in imitating me” is an invitation to a relationship in which through spending time together in personal relationship, in study, in ministry and in everyday life, Paul’s life and faith would be rubbing off on them.

Secondly, Paul is not calling them to focus only upon him.  Paul nowhere suggests that we should imitate him because he’s such an amazing person.  Instead, he sees himself as a signpost pointing toward a more important reality.  Thus, his appeal is not merely to “Follow my example,” but to do so because Paul also strives to “follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Even when it sounds like Paul is highlighting his own accomplishments, his greater purpose to direct our attention to what God can do in and through us.  Thus, writing to Timothy he draws attention to “my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured” (2 Tim. 3:10).  

That sounds rather impressive.  And it could also be pretty self-centered. “Hey look at me.  Aren’t I awesome!  You should be just like me.”  But Paul quickly directs our attention away from himself, focusing instead on the Lord who rescued him from this persecution and who will similarly bless and protect all who strive to live godly lives in Christ (v. 11).

Thirdly, Paul doesn’t make imitation exclusive.  He is not encouraging them to imitate him alone, but any others who walk this same way.  In the rest of verse 17 Paul says…

and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Paul wasn’t so proud to think that he was the only one who could be such an example. 

Doubtless he had in mind Timothy and Epaphroditus, as well as any others who pursued Christ like he did.  The Philippians had “us,” not just Paul, as an example to follow.

I know that if I’m the only person discipling someone, that he is not only going to imitate my good example, but he will also imitate my flaws.  That is why discipleship is best done from within the body of Christ, which has many spiritual leaders to imitate and learn from.

And that kind of imitational diversity is wise for at least a couple of reasons.  First, it protects us again from the very real possibility that even our “best” models will eventually blow it.  It will still be devastating when a cherished leader fails, but less so when your identity isn’t built entirely around him or her.  Second, life is complex and its challenges legion.  A variety of godly models stands a better chance of giving you something to imitate across a range of difficult circumstances than any single model possibly could.

Imitating me might be good. Imitating us will always be better.

Fourth, imitation is for everyone.  Throughout our lives we will imitate others, and someone will be imitating us.  It may only be our children, our family.  But if we are intentional about it, we will find models to imitate and we will intentionally engage in discipleship relationships so that others can imitate us.

So Paul calls for us to be intentional models for imitation.  He appeals to Timothy to be an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).  Oh, is that all?

And Titus gets a similarly broad appeal to be an example in “everything” (Tit. 2:7).

Imitation isn’t a one-way street.  It’s not just that I imitate others, but they also imitate me.  Relationships work like that.  Paul’s appeal, then, is to be mindful of our own modeling so that, like Paul, we can be signposts, pointing people toward the One who is so much more.

Donald Carson writes:

You who are older should be looking out for younger people and saying in effect, ‘Watch me.’

Come—I’ll show you how to have family devotions.

Come—I’ll show you how to do Bible study.

Come on—let me take you through some of the fundamentals of the faith.

Come—I’ll show you how to pray.

Let me show you how to be a Christian husband and father, or wife and mother.

At a certain point in life, that older mentor should be saying other things, such as: Let me show you how to die. Watch me.

Fifth, we shouldn’t imitate everyone.  That is what verses 18 and 19 are about.  Not everyone is worthy of imitation.  Unfortunately, we live in an age of celebrities who are not worthy of imitating.

Life is all about finding the right models to imitate.  Children don’t automatically know how to choose good models.  They are impressionable and molded by anyone.

Hopefully you are a strong enough role model in their lives so that they want to follow your example, but you are going to have to continue to help them discern whether popular classmates, pop stars, or movie stars are worthy of emulation.

One thing you can do is to consistently expose them to good role models.  Find contemporary or historical persons and encourage them to research about them.

Another thing you can do is to continually emphasize character.  Sure, a person may have charm and charisma or immense talents, but what is most important is character.  Continue to teach them about good character qualities in their own life so that they will discern whether their models have good character and are worthy of imitating.

Keep the dialogue focused on values; ask kids which values they look for in a role model, and why.  And remind kids that it’s OK to choose more than one role model and to change role models as they grow up and expand their interests.

If you are serious about discipling others, then you need to live a life worth imitating.  Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:

1. Is my life worth imitating?  Why or Why not?

2. What areas of my life do I need to repent of and grow in?

3. What are ways in my life I can be more intentional in teaching my faith to my children?

4. When I look at my life, am I the person I want my children to be?

5. What are things in my life I need to ask forgiveness for from my children?

6. Am I reflecting Jesus to my family?

What is at stake for Paul in this command is that without a role model like him, we make ourselves vulnerable to becoming an enemy of the cross of Christ.  There are many people who sadly come to Paul’s mind as those who have forsaken his example and become enemies of Jesus.  They went a different route and it ended in destruction (Philippians 3:19).

Notice that Paul uses the same verb to describe them—they walk, too.  I highlight this to say that if we’re not walking in Paul’s example, then we are surely walking in someone’s.  Maybe we’re trying to blaze our own trail after the shadow of ego, or maybe we’re lining up behind a Pauline stranger, either way we are following and if it’s not in Paul’s example then it won’t turn out well.

A role model like Paul is not an optional add-on to our Firefox browser.  Following men and women like Paul is not like a scarf that accessorizes our Christian outfit.  This is life or death. Having a role model like Paul is indispensable to following Jesus.  As Paul imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), so do we by following Paul’s example and keeping our eyes on those who walk like him.

So I want to encourage you, find someone who is a Christ-follower and ask if you can spend some time with them, asking them questions, asking them to show you how they follow Christ, and learn from them.

If you are a Christ-follower, then spend some time with younger Christians, showing them the way.

Someone has said that to successfully live the Christian life we need three relationships.  We need a Paul, to disciple us, a Timothy to disciple, and a Barnabas, to encourage us.  Go out and find your Paul, your Timothy and your Barnabas.

Run to Win, part 4 (Philippians 3:13c-16)

We have been focusing on this wonderful passage in Philippians 3 where Paul talks about how he pursues knowing and becoming like Jesus Christ.  Paul has talked about how strongly he desired it (v. 10), how he knew he hadn’t yet attained it (v. 12), how he devoted maximum effort to this goal (v. 12) and how he gave focused determination in doing this “one thing” by forgetting past failures and successes, so he could stay focused on Jesus Christ (v. 13).

Today we’re going to continue to look at how Paul speaks of his focused determination.  Not only did he forget what lies behind but he was

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.

He refused to look behind him so that he could strain forward.  This word strain, or stretch, forward is a compound word consisting of the verb ekteino, meaning to stretch a muscle to its limit.  Then there is a prepositions attached to the front, which serves to intensify the action even more, to the uttermost.

Adam Clarke says:

“The Greek word points out the strong exertions made in the race; every muscle and nerve is exerted, and he puts forth every particle of his strength in running.  He was running for life, and running for his life.”

Peter O’Brien observes that this is “a vivid word, drawn from the games, and it pictures a runner with his eyes fixed on the goal, his hand stretching out towards it, and his body bent forward as he enters the last and decisive stages of the race. Again, the present tense of the participle is appropriate, for with this verb it powerfully describes the runner’s intense desire and utmost effort to reach his goal.”

You get the picture of a runner nearing the finish line with head bent forward and arms back in that last burst of energy to try to cross the finish line first.

So Paul is encouraging us: “Don’t get tired; don’t give in.  Keep on going and give it your last ounce of energy right up until the finish.”

C[harles]. Simeon, of Cambridge, says in one of his last letters, alluding to his still abundant toils, “I am so near the goal that I cannot help running with all my might.”

Yes, the Christian journey is difficult.  It requires focused and determined energies to make it to the finish line.

The way to go hard after God is with all the discipline and self-denial of an athlete.  I doubt that there has ever been a Christian who reached heights of knowledge and joy and obedience without a plan and discipline and self-denial.  God does not promise his riches to aimless people. Paul did not run aimlessly or beat the air.  He lived with spiritual goals in view and controlled his passions for the sake of those goals.

Here’s an example of how Jonathan Edwards followed Paul’s example. Sereno Dwight writes,

He carefully observed the effects of different sorts of good, and selected those which best suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labor . . . In this respect he lived by rule, and constantly practiced great self-denial; as he did also with regard to the time passed in sleep.  He accustomed himself to arise at four or between four and five in the morning: and in winter spent several of those hours in study which are commonly wasted in slumber.  In the evening he usually allowed himself a season of relaxation in the midst of his family [and then retired back to his study.]

Whether you follow Jonathan Edwards or not, I urge you, on the basis of Paul’s example, to be like an athlete.  Set yourself a goal to know more of the Word of God, to grasp more of the will of God, to love more of the wonder of God; and then make a plan of prayer and study and worship and go for it with all your might.

Develop a holy dissatisfaction with your spiritual attainments, put out of your mind anything in the past which hinders your pursuit of God, strain forward like an athlete in 2020.

Spurgeon concludes:

That is how the Christian should be; always throwing himself forward after something more than he has yet reached, not satisfied with the rate at which he advances, his soul always going at twenty times the pace of the flesh.

Why did Paul pursue holiness with such concentrated purpose?  Because he felt God had called him to it. He aimed at the prize of his high calling.

With the final clause, the goal (the finish line) comes in view as Paul concludes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). “It is the vision of the end of the race that ever directs and speeds his hastening feet” (J. H. Michael).  In terms of the modern athlete, he sees the yellow stripe fifty yards ahead, and his adrenaline jolts for the final last-gasp kick.  He runs faster, his arms pumping, pushing off his toes.

What keeps Paul striving and moving forward is a goal, to know and become like Jesus Christ.

Even though the word “heaven” is mentioned in verse 14, heaven is not the goal.  Heaven is already a done deal through justification, we just haven’t experienced it yet.  But heaven wouldn’t be heaven without Jesus Christ.  Heaven is not the goal, Jesus is.

The goal, then, is to be like Christ.  The prize is when it actually happens.

At some point we will experience the “upward call” (which may be the rapture), that call to “step up” to the winner’s podium and hear a hearty “well done” and receive the rewards of a life that was lived in pursuit of Jesus Christ.

God has called every believer to salvation so he or she may obtain that prize. However, only those who run the race as Paul did, namely, to gain an ever-increasing experiential knowledge of Christ, will obtain it (1 Cor. 9:24).

The rewards are not the prize, but they are given because we’ve pursued and finally receive the real prize—eternal communion with our bridegroom and finally becoming completely like Him (except for His divinity).

As John says in 1 John 3:2, “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

For Paul, the greatest reward was to know Christ fully and to experience perfect fellowship with him and to become like Him.

J. Sidlow Baxter notes:

“See how in this third chapter Christ is the believer’s goal in a threefold way: The goal of our faith — verse 9. The goal of our love —verse 10.  The goal of our hope — verses 11-14, etc. He is the goal of our faith for a heavenly righteousness.  He is the goal of our love for a heavenly fellowship. He is the goal of our hope for a heavenly blessedness.”

Notice also that Paul locates the power for pursuing this “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  As with every part of our life—from our justification, to our sanctification, to our eventual glorification—it is all done “in Christ Jesus.”

The legalists could have claimed to pursue God’s “well done” and eternal rewards, but they were making that pursuit in their own strength, not “in Christ Jesus.”

We saints “work out our salvation” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” only because God is “is working in us” (through our union with Christ Jesus) “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Paul didn’t depend upon his own willpower to keep him running, but rather God put the desire in him.

Paul didn’t depend upon his own efforts to keep him running, but rather God put the energy, the power, within him.

And God does the same for us!

A successful coach reported that he lived by a very simple creed he found one time.  Apparently it originates with Calvin Coolidge.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Of course, President Coolidge was only considering human willpower and determination, not divine desiring and doing like Paul meant.

Paul says, “Keep your eyes on the goal” and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

A young black teenager, age 13, was growing up in Cleveland, in a home which he later describe as “materially poor but spiritually rich.”

One day his junior high school coach, Charles Riley, who happened to develop quite a lot of good runners for the US, brought to his school, Fairmount Junior High School in Cleveland, Ohio, a man who at that time was known as the “World’s Fastest Human Being,” Charles Paddock, the great United States sprinter famous for his leaping lunge at the finish of every race.

Afterward the coach asked him, “Well, what do you think about him?”  He said, “Well, gee, coach, I sure would like to be known as the ‘World’s Fastest Human Being’ some day.”  So, then, Charles Riley told him something he never forgot.

“Everybody should have a dream,” he said. “Every man must remember that dreams are high and that you must climb a ladder to reach them.  Each rung of that ladder has a meaning of its own as you climb.  The first rung of that ladder, of course, goes back to one important point — just how dedicated are you?  How much of what you have are you willing to give to the dream?  And the next rung of the ladder is your determination to train yourself to reach the dream at the top.  And the third rung of that ladder is the self-discipline that you must display in order to accomplish all this.  The fourth rung, which is one of the most important rungs in that ladder to your dream, is the kind of attitude you have in going about all this.  By this I mean, are you capable of giving every moment that you possibly can to making this dream come true and of throwing your whole heart and soul into the effort?”

The result of that challenge is that this young man went on to win four goal medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, much to the chagrin of Adolph Hitler.  He won the 100 meter dash and broke the Olympic and world records for the 200 meter.  His broad jump record lasted for 22 years.  His name?  Jessie Owens.

Athletes continue to amaze us by breaking records as they train hard for years and then perform to their utmost ability.

Here is another example:

The year was 1923, and the competing track teams of Scotland and France were neck and neck.  But among the events remaining was the 440.  As the runners, clad in traditional 1920s white, came to the first turn, they were bunched tight, shoulder to shoulder, when one of them was pushed to the ground and off the track.  For a second he was down — and then up again, running (though twenty meters behind), his knees high, his head back —flying.  And as the leaders sprinted to the finish line, he emerged ahead to win! It was a famous win, by Eric Liddell, immortalized in the movie Chariots of Fire.

What would most runners have done?  Most would have waved a fist, dusted themselves off, and watched the outcome.  Perhaps there would have been a few words exchanged after the race.  But the athlete in question was beyond the ordinary.  It was as if he had been reading this very passage — forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I focus all my energy on the race; and seeing the goal, I fly to the finish.

This is the way everyone who is in the grip of Christ’s grace must live. Listen to Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Apart from a failing mind or body, we are called to relentlessly press on toward the finish line for the full and complete gaining of Christ, the resurrection, and ultimate perfection.  Getting old and tired?  Put the pedal to the metal.  Young and full of boundless energy?  Be a man or woman of “one thing.”

Dr. Howard Hendricks used to tell about an elderly Christian woman he knew who would come into a social gathering, where everyone was chit-chatting about nothing significant, and say, “Tell me, Howie, what are the five best books you’ve read this past year?”

Even though she was up in years, she was still actively growing in the Lord.  When she died in her nineties, her daughter discovered on her desk that the night before she died in her sleep, she had written out her personal goals for the next five years!  Like Paul in prison, right up to the end she wanted to be growing!

I heard about a mountain climber whose epitaph was, “He died climbing.” That ought to be true of every Christian.

If you want grow as a Christian, make sure you’re in the race–that Christ has laid hold of your life and saved you from sin. Make sure you have the right attitude–that you haven’t arrived, but you’re in the lifelong process of moving ahead. And, give it the proper effort–focusing on the goal of being like Christ, and doing everything in light of that high calling.

Paul next turns to the mental framework that is necessary to pursue Christ:

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.

Now, back in 3:12 Paul said that he is not perfect, but in 3:15 he implies that he and some of his readers are perfect.  He isn’t contradicting himself within four verses.  Rather, in 3:12, he means that absolute perfection is not attainable in this life.  In 3:15, he uses the word in relative terms to mean “mature.”  We can become mature, and the mature Christian will share Paul’s view that he is setting forth here, that we haven’t arrived, but that we can and must keep growing.  Maybe a better way to say it is that we should always be “maturing.”

But Paul recognizes that some will not share his attitude because they are not mature.  To those who disagree with him, Paul says, “Stay teachable and God will show you where you need to grow” (see 3:15). 

A teachable heart is humble and submissive.

Paul knew that some would think they were already “perfect” and didn’t need to put any more effort into pursuing Christ.  That is dangerous and Paul will talk more about them in verse 17-21.

Paul doesn’t want them to lose ground, but to keep on running, pursuing the prize of knowing and becoming like Jesus Christ.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I pursuing the prize with all my energies, removing distractions, open to challenges and disciplining my life?
  2. What is one area that I need to grow in?
  3. Where is it in your life that you most need to forget something from your past?
  4. Where is it in your life that you want your future to be different?

Run to Win, part 3 (Philippians 3:13)

So, the last two weeks we’ve been looking at Paul’s pursuit of knowing Christ, his life’s ambition, his magnificent obsession.  First, he talked about desiring it strongly, so strongly that he had been willing to give up everything else.  That was in vv. 4-10.  “I want to know Christ” Paul cried.

Then, he points out that we must have a perpetual dissatisfaction with where we are in our pursuit of knowing Christ.  We aren’t dissatisfied with Christ, or the spiritual blessings we have in union with Him, but we are dissatisfied with the progress we’ve made in coming to know Christ Jesus as Lord.

A. W. Tozer has said: “to have found God and still to pursue him is the soul’s paradox of love.”

Or as St. Bernard sang it:

We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,

And long to feast upon Thee still:

We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead

And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Matthew Henry is right: “Wherever there is true grace there is a desire for more grace.”

Saving faith is an ongoing preference for Christ over all other values.  The pursuit of Christ is the evidence of genuine faith in Christ as our treasure. 

Third, we must devote maximum effort in pursuing this prize.  Paul said he “pressed on,” which speaks of chasing after and not giving up.  There is no half-hearted attempt if we want to have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  We must be all out.

Today we want to talk about Paul’s focused determination in reaching his goal of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Paul expresses this in verses 13-14 of Philippians 3:

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.

The writers of Scripture, and especially Paul, used the imagery of athletics to communicate the essence of Christian growth.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Also in 2 Timothy 2 Paul challenges Timothy:

5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

And the writer of Hebrews picks up this imagery in Hebrews 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Runners know that they cannot afford to pay attention to the scenery or the crowds or even the other runners if they expect to win.  Their concentration must remain focused.

Paul begins verse 13 by reiterating, “I do not consider that I have made it my own.”  By this repletion of the same message in verse 12 Paul is seeking to drive home the reality that this is a race that continues on.  In our microwave mentality we too often perceive the race to be a quick sprint when in fact it is a marathon.

“I haven’t made it to the finish line yet, so I keep on running.”

Paul had been converted for at least 30 years when he wrote Philippians.  There is no question that he is one of the outstanding believers of all times. Yet over and over he reveals his mind-set, that he was still in the process.  God was not finished with him yet.

This was not the subjective confession of an oversensitive, overwrought soul who is blinded to his own progress.  Rather, it was grounded in facts that are verifiable.  He had not yet attained to the perfection of the resurrection of the dead.

In other words, while I have life and breathe left in me, as long as I am left on this earth in this body, I keep running.

You may have been a Christian for 40 or 50 years, but you can’t start thinking, “I don’t need to grow any more” and stop running.  But the Christian life is not a sprint, but a long-distance race.

If we believe that the Christian life is a sprint, we will look for quick fixes that will only leave us disappointed.

Understanding that the Christian life is a marathon helps us to be patient with our progress.  We may not be totally satisfied with where we are—Paul wasn’t—but we can be patient with ourselves.

We can also be patient with others.  Because we know that the Christian life is a marathon, we can be more patient with the progress, or lack thereof, that others have made.

You expect babies to dirty their diapers and to burp in your face and to cry in the middle of the night.  Now, if your teenager is still dirtying his diapers and burping in your face and waking you up with his crying in the night, you’ve got a problem!  If a brother or sister is growing, we need to be patient and gracious, realizing that it is a lifelong process. 

The most important thing we need to be asking, first about our own growth progress and then with the growth progress of others is: “What can I do to keep growing?” or “How can I help you keep growing?”

You see this for Paul even in his final days, when he was in the dungeon in Rome, and he wrote to Timothy asking him to bring his coat, and then he adds, “and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).  Here he was facing execution, but he wanted his books so he could keep growing!

Paul never stopped, and neither should we.  No matter how old we are, or where we are in life, we can and should keep growing.

We can see Paul’s laser focus when he says, “But this one thing I do…”  Since the race is not over, he keeps focused on “one thing.”

In the 1991 film “City Slickers,” there’s an exchange between the resident cowboy, Curly (Jack Palance), and vacationing urban greenhorn Mitch (Billy Crystal).  Curly asks Mitch, “Do you know what the secret to life is?”  Then he holds up one finger, looks at it, and says, “This.” Mitch responds, “Your finger?” Curly shakes his head, then replies, “One thing.  Just one thing.  You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (anything).”

Giving Curly his full attention, Mitch asks, “That’s great, but what is the ‘one thing’?”  Then Curly smiles and answers, “That’s what you have to find out.”

While Curly doesn’t tell Mitch what the one thing is, he does point out the importance of being totally focused on what is important.

On a more serious note, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, wrote a book with the title Purity of Heart is to Will One thing and in it he had a prayer that went like this:

“So may Thou give to the intellect wisdom to comprehend that one thing.  To the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding.  To the will, purity that wills one thing.  In prosperity, may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing.  Amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing.  In suffering, patience to will one thing.”

In that prayer Kierkegaard reveals several of the chief culprits which sabotage most of our attempts at spiritual growth—prosperity, distractions and suffering.  In other words, there are so many things in life, both good and bad, that can steal away our attention for Christ.

In order to be single-minded, i.e., “this one thing I do, not these many things I dabble in,” the Christian must do two things: (1) forget what lies behind, and (2) strain forward to what lies ahead.

“Forgetting what lies behind” means first of all that we keep our focus on what lies ahead.  A runner cannot afford to be looking back, or looking around, or he or she will be passed by the other runners.

On August 7, 1954, during the British Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, the greatest mile-run matchup ever took place.  It was touted as the “miracle mile” because Britisher Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy were the only two sub-four-minute milers in the world.  Bannister had been the first man ever to run a four-minute mile.  Both runners were in peak condition.

Roger Bannister, M.D., who became Sir Roger Bannister and master of an Oxford college, strategized that he would relax during the third lap and save everything for his finishing drive.  But as they began that third lap, the Australian poured it on, stretching his already substantial lead.  Immediately Bannister adjusted his strategy, increasing his pace and gaining on Landy.

The lead was quickly cut in half, and at the bell for the final lap they were even.  Landy began running even faster, and Bannister followed suit.  Both men were flying.  Bannister felt he was going to lose if Landy did not slow down.

Then came the famous moment (replayed thousands of times in print and flickering black and white celluloid) as at the last stride before the home stretch the crowds roared.  Landy could not hear Bannister’s footfall and looked back, a fatal lapse of concentration.  Bannister launched his attack and won the Empire Games that day by five yards.

John Landy’s lapse was as old as antiquity.  The sports-knowledgeable Apostle Paul would have seen Landy’s mistake in a flash because he knew that to be successful a runner must not look back over his shoulder — he must “forget what lies behind” — because when a runner turns even slightly to glance back, there is a momentary loss of focus and rhythm, incurring the critical loss of a fraction of a second or even seconds.

There are several negative illustrations of looking back in the Scriptures:

Lot’s wife looked back to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:26; Luke 17:32).

The children of Israel looked back to Egypt in the wilderness wanderings, wishing they had the leeks and onions, thinking those were the “good ol’ days.” (Numbers)

Jesus also talked about the dangers of disciples looking back in Luke 9:62.

Paul had experienced Demas turning back to the world (2 Timothy 4:10)

Much of the book of Hebrews, and even Galatians, is about the danger of turning back to Judaism.

There are two things we cannot afford to be occupied with if we are to pursue a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ and a greater likeness to Christ.

That are past failures and past successes.

For most of us it is the bad things that we have done or have happened to us in the past that trip us up and leave us lying on the ground, wallowing in self-condemnation or self-pity instead of getting back up and running.

When we make mistakes, we incriminate ourselves, failing to believe that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Two of our hymns have these words:

My sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within- upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.

Also, when we have been wounded by others, we replay those wounds over and over in our minds rather than deciding to forgive that person for what they did to us.

I know that some have been wounded deeply, and you have experienced unfathomable trauma.  But your freedom comes in being willing to forgive.

A. W. Tozer has written:

“It is one of the devil’s oldest tricks to discourage Christian believers by causing them to look back at what they once were.  It is indeed the enemy of our souls who makes us forget that we are never at the end of God’s love.  No one will make progress with God until the eyes are lifted to the faithfulness of God and we stop looking at ourselves!  Our instructions in the New Testament all add up to the necessity of looking forward in faith and not spending our time looking back or just looking within.  Brethren, our Lord is more than able to take care of our past.  He pardons instantly and forgives completely, and his blood makes us worthy!  The goodness of God is infinitely more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend. “

In this context, it is probably not the negative things, the past sins and wounds, that Paul means us to “leave behind,” but rather the past successes—the victories, the things we are proud of.

It has been said that “success is the great enemy of future success.”

Remember that Paul had started out listing his accolades and achievements in relation to his commitment to Judaism.  All of those things were good things, things to be proud of, BUT they kept him from pursuing Christ.

If he kept those past successes, he would be proud of who he was, and would not have much impetus to pursue Christ.

So we not only have to leave behind the negative experiences, but also our positive experiences.

Some people have experienced some great experience with the Holy Spirit, which can be very dangerous if we point back to that and depend upon it, but do not run forward in pursuit of Christ.

Paul is saying, don’t let either your weaknesses and failures, or your victories and successes, keep you from pressing on to know Christ.

Now, let me just make something clear before we move on.  When Paul says “forgetting what lies behind” he means to not pay attention to anything which hinders your pursuit of God you should put out of your mind.

Don’t take this to mean that memory has no place in our spiritual artillery.  It does.  Some battles are won by remembered mercies (Psalm 77:11; Hebrews 11).  The point is not: never look back.  The point is: only look back for the sake of pressing forward.

Memories of successes can make you smug and self-satisfied.  Memories of failure can make you hopeless and paralyzed in your pursuit of God.  Never look back like that.  Give humble thanks for successes; make humble confessions for failure; then turn to the future and go hard after God.

In almost every sport, to be successful, you have to focus your attention.  Runners have to keep their eyes looking ahead to the finish line.  Ball players have to “keep your eye on the ball.”

A Christian must keep his eye on the goal — fully surrender to and fellowship with Jesus Christ.  If our eyes slip to the temporal world, we lose focus on the spiritual world and lose our bearings.  Forget what lies behind.  Keep your eye on the goal!

As Paul ran, he shifted into the high gear of forgetfulness — forgetting his achievements and his failures. Paul ran in the liberating freedom of his “one thing” (v. 13).  He was flying in his forgetfulness.

There is instruction for everyone here across the spectrum of age and experience.  For those who have some miles on them and are battle-worn and perhaps have some striking accomplishments, God calls you to selective amnesia so that you will not be lulled from your stride.  For all, young and old, do not look back.  Lift up your eyes.  Look straight ahead.  Focus on Jesus Christ, for He is worthy of all of our attention and all our affection.

Run to Win, part 2 (Philippians 3:12)

As far as sanctification, the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, Paul started with this statement:

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Paul had an ardent desire, a deep hunger and thirst, to know Christ, and in knowing Him to become like Him.

But Paul, even after thirty years of intense and passionate pursuit, says in verse 12: “I’m still not what I ought to be.”  I’ll be coming up on 53 years this coming Summer, and I’m still not what I ought to be.

F. B. Meyer points out that: “Self-dissatisfaction lies at the root of our noblest achievements.”  And that is especially true in the spiritual realm.

A. W. Tozer remarked:

Get thoroughly dissatisfied with yourself.  Complacency is the deadly enemy of spiritual progress. . . . When speaking of earthly goods Paul could say, “I have learned to be content,” but when referring to his spiritual life he testified, “I press toward the mark.”  So stir up the gift of God that is in you.

One of our greatest dangers as a Christian is to grow complacent and self-satisfied.  It is described as lukewarmness in the letter to the Laodicean church.  In 1 Corinthians 10:12 Paul warned:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

When you are content, you become smug, and then you find yourself insensitive to sin in your life and you defend your godless choices when you ought to be admitting your weakness and sins and determined to pursue Jesus Christ and his righteousness.

So Paul begins Philippians 3:12 with the strong “not that…”, an instant disclaimer to correct any erroneous assumptions that may have come up when he spoke of his position in Christ in vv. 8-9 and said, “found in him…with a righteousness.”

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.

The repetition of the word “already” indicates that what would eventually be true—perfect spiritual maturity, complete likeness to Christ—is not yet a reality in his life.

And this ought to encourage us, for if Paul still felt like he wasn’t there yet after 30 years of striving for it, we don’t have to be discouraged that we haven’t reached spiritual perfection yet.

People could have said to Paul:

“Paul, you have the righteousness of Christ.”  And Paul would have responded, “Yes, but I still need to ‘perfect holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7:1) and ‘pursue righteousness’ (2 Tim. 2:22).

“But Paul, you’ve already come to know Christ.”  And he would have returned, “Yes, but right now I ‘know in part… then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ (1 Cor. 13:12).

“But Paul, don’t you have the resurrection power?”  And Paul would say, “Yes, but I also have weakness in which God shows his strength’ (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

“Don’t you have fellowship with Christ, Paul?” “Yes, but there are times that I don’t know how to pray as I ought and the Holy Spirit has to make intercession for me” (Romans 8:26-27).

“But Paul, what about the resurrection?”  And he would say, “That won’t be consummated until I receive my glorious body” (Phil. 3:20).

I mean, one of the things that makes perfectionist teaching so attractive is that it does take seriously the complete victory and dynamic resources we have at our disposal in Christ already.  We should be able to walk in holiness.

But it fails to recognize the equal reality that we still struggle against the sin principle within us (cf. Romans 7).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached:

So far as his acceptance with God is concerned a Christian is complete in Christ as soon as he believes. Those who have trusted themselves in the hands of the Lord Jesus are saved: and they may enjoy holy confidence upon the matter, for they have a divine warrant for so doing. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” To this salvation the apostle had attained. But while the work of Christ for us is perfect, and it were presumption to think of adding to it, the work of the Holy Spirit in us is not perfect, it is continually carried on from day to day, and will need to be continued throughout the whole of our lives. We are being “conformed to the image of Christ,” and that process is in operation, as we advance towards glory.

Paul is saying, I cannot be smug and satisfied with where I am, when there is so much of Christ to experience.

When we feel that way, we are in a dangerous position, pointed out by Spurgeon.  He wrote:

Shame, then, on any of us poor dwarfs if we are so vain as to count that we have apprehended! Shame upon the indecent self-conceit of any man who congratulates himself upon his own spiritual condition, when Paul himself said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” The injury which self-content will do a man it would be hard to measure, it is the readiest way to stunt him, and the surest method to keep him weak. I should be sorry indeed if I should be addressing one who imagines that he has apprehended, for his progress in grace is barred from this time forth. The moment a man says, “I have it,” he will no longer try to obtain it; the moment he cries, “It is enough,” he will not labour after more.

Again, he says…

I meet, I say, sometimes with brethren who feel contented with their spiritual condition. They do not ascribe their satisfactory character to themselves, but to the grace of God; but for all that, they do feel that they are what they ought to be, and what others ought to be but are not. They see in themselves a great deal that is good, very much that is commendable, and a large amount of excellence, which they can hold up for the admiration of others. They have reached the “higher life,” and are wonderfully fond of telling us so, and explaining the phenomena of their self-satisfied condition. Though Paul was compelled to say, “In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing,” their flesh appears to be of a better quality: whereas he had spiritual conflicts, and found that without were fightings, and within were fears, these very superior persons have already trodden Satan under their feet, and reached a state in which they have little else to do but to divide the spoil.

God wants you to be dissatisfied with your current spiritual condition.  You cannot improve upon your position in Christ, but you must improve upon your condition, your pursuit of knowing and experiencing Christ.

When Spain led the world (in the 15th century), her coins reflected her national arrogance and were inscribed Ne Plus Ultra which meant “Nothing Further” – meaning that Spain was the ultimate in all the world. After the discovery of the New World, she realized that she was not the end of the world, so Spain changed the inscription on her coinage to Plus Ultra meaning “More Beyond.” In the same pattern, some Christian lives say, “Nothing Further” and others say “More Beyond.” (David Guzik)

And that leads us to Paul’s third point.  Not only must we desire it strongly (“I want to know Christ) and not only must we be dissatisfied with where we are (“have not obtained, become perfect”), we must also devote maximum effort in pursuing this prize.

When Paul expresses this in verse 12 and 14 he uses the word dioko.  It was a term used for the military pursuit of an enemy and of the predator’s pursuit after its prey.  It is the same word Paul used back in verse 6 when he says he was a “persecutor” of the church.

When used in the athletic context, as Paul is here, it refers to the sprinter who exerts maximum effort and energy, running with all their might, or as football players say today, “leaving it all on the field.”

It is giving a 110% effort with the aim of winning.

And that’s what it takes.  You cannot win if you give a lazy effort.  You will not win if you’re only half-hearted about the training or the race itself.

John Haggai writes about John Wesley (I’ll use him as a positive example now):

“John Wesley traveled on horseback the equivalent of ten times around the earth’s equator.  He preached as often as 15 times a week for fifty years.  He authored more publications than any writer in the English language until contemporary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  He read books while making his horseback journeys.  When he was past eighty, he complained that he could not read and work more than fifteen hours a day.”

There was a man who gave maximum effort.  He gave it all he had.

The present tense of this verb describes an ongoing, grasping, strenuous pursuit.  It is a gritty, “I will not be denied,” rough-and-tumble pursuit — a sublime violence — which Christ approved and approves of.

He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).  This is how it was with John the Baptist when he burst from the wilderness clad in his leathers, fiercely heralding the kingdom.

So it was with the paralytic’s friends when they tore through the roof in Capernaum to get him to Jesus (cf. Mark 2:4).

At the end of verse 12 we have the first clue as to what Paul was pursuing.  He says, “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”  In other words, “I’m pursuing the very things for which Christ pursued me.”

When Paul said, “That I may lay hold,” he used strong language.  “The word ‘apprehend’ is from the same Greek word translated ‘attained,’ but with a preposition prefixed which means in its local force ‘down.’  He wants to catch hold of it and pull it down, like a football player who not only wants to catch his man, but wants to pull him down and make him his own.” (Wuest) so that the tackle is awarded to him.

I want you to notice two things about this last clause. 

First, it signals that my spiritual pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness was preceded by and initiated by Christ’s pursuit of me, with the aim that I become like Him.

Christ pursued me.  He grabbed me.  And thankfully He never lets go.

He is the “hound of heaven,” pursuing us not only for salvation, but for sanctification and ultimate glory.

Paul’s “language comes from the world of war and athletics” (Thielman).  In fact, in a battle report the ancient historian Herodotus used the same words Paul used to describe an army’s pursuit and seizure of the retreating columns of the enemy.

That’s significant on two levels.

For example, those who believe that they were the ones who sought out Christ and finally found Him, often feel like they are doing him a favor when they sacrifice their time and energies to pursue Christ.

He took the initiative.  He chased and caught me.  Now, Paul says, “I am pursuing Him.”

But those who know they were “grabbed,” “chased after and caught,” sometimes forcibly (like Paul was), know that they had nothing to do with it and it is all of grace, and they are then willing to devote their lives to the one who cared enough to come running after them.

Paul’s whole pursuit of Christ was Christ-originated, Christ-motivated, and Christ-propelled.

Paul has already expressed this once, back in chapter 2

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.

We merely work out what God is working in us, giving us both the desire and the power to pursue His good pleasure, His glory.

Brothers and sisters, if you have been seized by Christ and are in the grip of his grace, you must press on in your own hot, grasping pursuit of an ever-deeper knowledge of him. The gospel allows no room for a bland, middle-class ethic that strives to be neither hot nor cold (cf. Revelation 3:14-16). 

It is also significant in that once Christ grabs hold of us, He never lets go.

Jesus expressed this about Himself and the Father in John 10:27-30 when he said:

27 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

The Son and the Father have grabbed hold of us and “no one is able to snatch” us out of their all-powerful hands!  This communicates that we are completely secure in our salvation,  No one can snatch out of their hands and we cannot fall out or jump out.  He has us, forever!

We are not kept for salvation by our own holding onto Christ, but by His indefatigable holding on to us.  As Matthew Henry said: “Not our keeping hold of Christ, but his keeping hold of us, is our safety.”

But notice again that Paul is not content with merely Christ pursuing and holding onto him, but now, like any lover, he reciprocates by laying hold of Christ.

Also, as we look at this clause we need to start asking, “What does Christ want from me?”  “Why did He pursue me?”  “Why has he laid hold of me?”

David Guzik identifies these six reasons:

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a new man (Romans 6:4) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the converting work of Jesus completely carried out in himself.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to conform him into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) – so Paul would lay hold of that and wanted to see the nature of Jesus within himself.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him a witness (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of both the experience of Jesus and to testify of that experience.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to make him an instrument in the conversion of others (Acts 9:15) – so Paul would lay hold of the work of bringing others to Jesus.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul to bring him into suffering (Acts 9:16) – so Paul would lay hold of even that work of God in his life, wanting to know Jesus in the fellowship of His sufferings.

· Jesus laid hold of Paul that so that the Apostle might attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11) – so Paul would lay hold of that heavenly hope.

Jesus wants us to know Him, but also to become like Him.  The more time we spend in His presence the more we will become like Him.  In fact, the way we can know that we really know Him is precisely that we are in the process of becoming like Him.

When His desires become our desires, when His will becomes our will, when His ways become our ways, that is what shows that we really know Him.

We might claim to know Him, to be laid hold of by Him, but the truth of it lies in whether it lights a fire in us to pursue Him and devote ourselves to becoming like Him.