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……… 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.

Run to Win, part 1 (Philippians 3:10, 12)

Benjamin Franklin was the quintessential self-made man.  His autobiography is his account of “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.”  Franklin started this project after trying out religion and finding it not to his taste.  He made a list of twelve virtues that he thought desirable, then added a thirteenth—humility—when a friend kindly informed him that he had left something important off his list.

Knowing he would be unable to attain them all at once, he set out to master one after the other, setting up a chart with the days of the week so he could mark his progress.  He would ask himself every morning: “What good shall I do this day?”  And every night he would again ask himself, “What good have a done this day?”  At one point, he dryly noted, “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined.”

He found that pride was, indeed, his biggest fault.  He wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it.”

Like Franklin, we more often don’t really want to be perfect, just appear so.

Franklin went on to say about pride:

“There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride; disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will ever now and then peep out and show itself.”

He even acknowledged:

“You will see it perhaps often in this history.  For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility.”

We all struggle with faults, even sins, and intuitively we know that we are not perfect.  But there are those who promote this very idea within Christianity.

John Wesley, a contemporary of Franklin and founder of Methodism, taught that perfection could be pursued and attained in this life.  “Perfect love” is Wesley’s favorite term and he believed it could be attained this side of heaven.

Wesley, who was a prolific preacher, found that quite of a few of his converts reverted back to their pre-conversion sins.  It befuddled him.  Ultimately he came up with a second work of grace (actually the second baptism that is so prominent in Charismatic and Pentecostal teachings) that promised purity in the life of a believer.

In their view, there are two classes of Christians, some on the higher plane experiencing victory in Jesus and another class wallowing below.

I make reference to perfectionism because in our passage before us today, Philippians 3:12, Paul admits,

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…

We see here that Paul denies perfection.

Now, we must be clear.  There is a sense in which we are “complete in Christ” and possess the righteousness of Christ so that when God looks at me He sees me clothed in Christ and His righteousness.  That is what is called positional sanctification, because it is mine only on the basis of being united with Christ.  It is also called definitive sanctification because once it occurs it cannot be undone.

But there is also progressive sanctification.  This is the ordinary, day to day practice of spiritual disciplines and responding to Christ in both the ups and downs of life.  This is “becoming conformed to the image of his son” (Rom. 8:29) as we move “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Then, ultimate sanctification happens at that moment we see Christ, whether in death or at the rapture, because when we see Him we will become like Him (1 John 3:2).

It seems to me that, like Paul, we need to be honest about ourselves—that we have not achieved perfection in this life, but continue to strive for it.

The portion of Scripture we will be looking at over the next several weeks is Philippians 3:12-21.  After expressing his intense passion and obsession in v. 10

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

This passionate declaration meant that every day witnessed the apostle’s relentless pursuit of an ever-deepening, ever-widening personal knowledge of the Christ whom he had already known intimately for over thirty years. 

Had Paul attained it?

Paul says…

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 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.

This text has two main paragraphs, verses 12-16 and verses 17-21.

In general terms, verses 12-16 explain Paul’s perspective on the past, the present, and the future. The Christian does not live in the past, but with an eye to the future.

Verses 17-21 contrast Paul’s perspective on the past, the present, and the future with that of the enemies of the cross.  They pride themselves in their past accomplishments and live for the present, ignoring the future.  Paul does not take the saints who erred in verse 15 nearly as seriously as he does these unbelievers in verses 18-19.

Together, these two paragraphs sharpen our focus on the goal toward which every Christian should be striving.  Let us carefully listen and learn from these divinely inspired words, which are as applicable to us today as they were to the Philippians centuries ago.

In verses 12-16 Paul uses athletic imagery, something he was very fond of because he knew that people around the Mediterranean had experience with the races and fighting bouts connected with these early athletic competitions.

He advocates in this passage, as well as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and 2 Timothy 2:5 that we should run to win.  When it comes to life in general, we get more out of it the more we put in.  That applies to business, to relationships, and also to our spiritual lives.

We can’t be lazy, just sit around or distract ourselves with life, and expect to win the prize in the spiritual race.  And we shouldn’t have the attitude that because we got our ticket punched to go to heaven, that that is all there is to it.

Paul tells us that we need to passionately pursue the prize, that we need to run the race with purpose, focus and persistence.

Now, in Philippians 3 Paul has been sharing his personal testimony about how he came to value Jesus Christ above all the religious pedigree and performances that made him such a shining example of goodness under Judaism.

He was a really good guy!  Every mother would want their daughter to marry him.

But he doesn’t stop with that experience in which he threw all those accolades and accomplishments in the trash for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as His Lord.  He wants to really know Christ personally and for the last 30 years he has been doing that, diligently.

Some might assume that after 30 years of fellowship with Christ and living out the righteousness of Christ within him, that he would be reaching that place where he could claim perfection

Possibly Paul is intentionally countering the Judaizer’s claims that adding circumcision and Sabbaths and religious works to Jesus Christ would make them perfect; or the Gnostics who believed that reaching a mystic knowledge would make one perfect.

So if we want to pursue the prize and gain it, what do we have to do?

Well, the first thing we have to do, which we have talked about in the past two weeks, is that we must desire it passionately, being willing to lose everything else for the sake of gaining it.

That is what we found in vv. 4-11.  Paul was totally sold out for Jesus Christ.  Everything that was once important to him was thrown in the trash.  Why? Because Jesus Christ is worth it.

We are aware that Olympic athletes put themselves through tremendous deprivations and agonizing disciplines for several years because they want to win the prize.

The farthest thing from Paul’s mind was retirement, just resting on his laurels.

He did NOT have the attitude of the ditty that says:

I wake up each morning and dust off my wits,

I take up the paper and read the obits,

If my name is missing, then I know I’m not dead,

So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

The reason Paul did not have a retirement attitude or go on vacation is because he valued Jesus Christ, and His relationship with Christ, far too much.  He was willing to sacrifice everything because he had found a treasure worth sacrificing everything for.

Wilbur Rees once wrote the following describing the average man’s view of God:

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 dollars worth of God please.”

But Paul wasn’t the average man, and we don’t have to be the average person either.  We can optimally value and passionately pursue Jesus Christ as well.

So, first we must desire it passionately, being willing to lose everything else for the sake of gaining Christ.

Second, we must be consistently dissatisfied with our present condition.

We are not dissatisfied with Christ or the spiritual blessings we possess in him.  Rather, we are dissatisfied with our current enjoyment of Christ and those blessings.  We come to recognize that although we valued Christ enough to be saved, since then we have been looking to other things to satisfy our desires.

In fact, far too many Christians today are satisfied with themselves and dissatisfied with Christ.  They imagine that Christ is not enough, that the world has better things to offer, and they imagine that they are good enough to merit God’s favor even though they are doing nothing to deserve it.

Let me make clear, obedience does not merit God’s love or forgiveness, but obedience does win God’s favor.  And to enjoy God’s favor we have to continue to pursue Christ, reaching with all our might to the finish line to win the prize.

Also, when I say “dissatisfied with our present condition” I don’t mean we should be dissatisfied with our position in Christ.  Our position in Christ is complete and perfect.  Being in Christ we are completely accepted.  Positionally we are complete and mature and righteous in Christ.  Nothing could be better.

But we are called to pursue Christlikeness and deepen our relationship with Christ.  Warren Wiersbe states:

“A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress.”

Our position is perfect, but our condition needs progress.

George Muller put it like this:

“Just as a little child is a perfect human being, but still is far from perfect in all his development as man, so the true child of God is also perfect in all parts, although not yet perfect in all the stages of his development in faith.”

And Charles Spurgeon pointed out the value of reading biographies of the great saints of the past:

“Brethren, it is a very healthy thing for us who are ministers to read a biography like that of M’Cheyne.  Read that through, if you are a minister, and it will burst many of your windbags.  You will find yourselves collapse most terribly.  Take the life of Brainerd amongst the Indians, or of Baxter in our own land.  Think of the holiness of George Herbert, the devoutness of Fletcher, or the zeal of Whitfield.  Where do you find yourself after reading their lives?  Might you not peep about to find a hiding-place for your insignificance?”

That pursuit starts with the dissatisfaction of an honest confession contained in that first line of verse 12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…”

His language here is arresting because he literally said, “Not that I have already received” (without referencing the object), so that the sense is much the same as in English when we say, “Not that I have arrived,” stressing the incompleteness of his spiritual journey.

Paul had not “received,” and neither was he “perfect.”  This was conscious reality for the apostle.  Paul was under no illusions about his attainments and would not promote fictions about his having become “perfect.”  So we immediately observe that Paul’s magnificent quest to know Christ fully was matched by a magnificent humility.

Paul’s enemies claimed to have reached a state of perfection that made them possessors of all the blessings of salvation, in effect the arrival of Heaven itself.  Heavenly perfection was theirs now, they argued. If we imagine that “we have Heaven now” is a far-fetched notion, we must understand that certain groups today claim the same thing — namely, that “mature” Christians will stay healthy and enjoy material prosperity and wholly overcome sin.  TV preacher Kenneth Copeland, who preaches freedom from sickness and poverty, proclaims, “The world’s shortages have no effect on someone who has already gone to heaven.  Therefore, they should have no effect on us here who have made Jesus Lord of our lives.”

But Paul’s confession allowed no such thinking, then or now.  Here the Apostle Paul, the most spectacular Christian who ever lived, confessed that he had not arrived or become “perfect.”  Paul admitted his own need to grow into maturity.

His confession stands as a warning against a super-spiritual kind of Christianity that imagines that the blessings of the age to come can be had now before the resurrection.

The reality is, the more we come to know Christ, the more we will come to sense our need to grow.  And when we imagine that we have arrived, stagnation sets in.

We must understand that Paul’s prayer — “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” — is a prayer of humble dissatisfaction that opens us to the blessing of God — and to a sublime cycle of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and dissatisfaction and satisfaction. . . . It brings on a life that knows more and more of Christ and then desperately wants to know more and indeed does know more and more and more and more.  Spiritual dissatisfaction is a blessed state.  When we are hungry we know we need to eat, when we are thirsty we know we need to drink.  We should experience spiritual dissatisfaction so that it moves us to pursue Christ.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). 

A Life that Counts, part 6 (Philippians 3:10-11)

Last week we began looking at one of the great benefits that comes from having a personal relationship with Christ through faith, and that is that we get “know Him.”  That knowledge, patterned after the Old Testament “Adam knew his wife Eve” indicates that this knowledge is much more than mere information about a person, much deeper than mere acquaintance, but rather a deep, interactive, interpersonal relationship that comes from time spent together.

We noted that in order to know Christ we have to first admit how little we do know of him, then ask God to help us want to know him, then spend time in His presence.  But a fourth way of knowing Christ intimately comes through experiencing difficulties and struggles.  That is picked up in the remainder of Philippians 3:10-11:

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

In pursuing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, Paul was willing to experience both the power and the pain—the power of his resurrection and the pain of his sufferings.

Kent Hughes writes:

Two thousand years ago on the first day of the week, Christ’s cold body lay on chilled stone in the arms of death.  His heart was stilled in the icy grip of the grave, whatever blood remained was congealed in his veins, his eyes were fixed and dilated, and his body was bound tightly with spices and graveclothes.  Then, before dawn, his vacant eyes blinked open and coursed with light, focused and glittering life.  And with the ease of omnipotence, his body left the wrappings like an empty cocoon.

That is the power of the resurrection.  It is able to overcome death.  Death could not hold Jesus Christ.  In Acts 2:24 Peter preached:

24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

That power that raised Christ from the dead is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.

Paul was not content to know Christ merely as a historical footnote, but wanted to know Him personally as the resurrected ever-living Lord!  That power ushers us into a new life.

Thus, t takes his resurrecting power to make us alive when we were dead in our sins.  In Ephesians 2 Paul says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-6).

It takes nothing less than God’s creational power to effect such a change in us.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ [when he created the world], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

But God’s resurrection power is also available to us for our sanctification.

Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would come to realize this power that was available to them through Christ:

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:16-21)

This is more powerful than multiple atomic bombs, more powerful than a hurricane or lightning strikes.  It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and know Paul wants them to know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…”

Indeed, this is the way Paul lived — with resurrection power.

Squeezed but not squashed;

bewildered but not befuddled;

pursued but not abandoned;

knocked down but not knocked out.


Again, this was resurrection power, as Paul immediately explains: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).

Gordon Fee writes:

Paul knows nothing of the rather gloomy stoicism that is so often exhibited in historic Christianity, where the lot of the believer is basically that of “slugging it out in the trenches,” with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power.  On the contrary, the power of Christ’s resurrection was the greater reality for him.  So certain was Paul that it had happened — after all, he had been accosted and claimed by the Risen Lord on the Damascus Road — and that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed his own, that he could throw himself into the present with a kind of holy abandon, full of rejoicing and thanksgiving.

I believe that one way we enter into the power of the resurrection is that we count ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God” in Romans 6.  Paul had said in Romans 5:21, “where sin increases grace super abounds.”  Naturally, someone mistook that to mean, “Let’s go out and keep on sinning so we can get more grace.”

Here is Paul’s response in Romans 6:1-7

1 What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul doesn’t say we should stop sinning because we might lose our salvation, or because we might be punished.  He says that we stop sinning because we are new creatures.  We died to sin and are alive to God.  You cannot tempt a dead person. 

As long as we reckon ourselves dead to sin we have the power to say “No!” to temptation.  And as long as we reckon ourselves alive in God we have the power to say “Yes” to greater joy in Jesus Christ.

Where do we get the power to be kind, to love the unlovely, to forgive the unforgivable?  You get that power through the resurrection power that is activated in our lives through union with Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s no question that most of us want to experience that power, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and to conquer sin in our lives.

But do we truly want to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”?

Sure, we want to have fellowship with Jesus, but why does it have to be in his sufferings?

And why does Paul reverse the order of these?  Shouldn’t death come before resurrection?

We love power and avoid pain.  Nobody is going to say, “That church suffers with Christ, let’s join!”  No, we’ve swallowed the shallow gospel that knowing Christ really means life on easy street, with no pain or suffering or sickness or poverty.  We believe that God owes us “health and wealth.”  It’s our birthright.

The spiritual reality is this: suffering is the lot of every true believer, a fact that Paul referenced frequently. Luke tells us that he and Paul returned to the churches of Asia Minor, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul told the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3, 4).

Paul also informed the Romans that suffering is a prerequisite to being glorified with Christ: . . . and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).

Most significantly, the apostle told the Philippians explicitly in 1:29, “For it has been granted [literally, graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

Suffering for Christ then is a divine gift.  It is a sign of sacred intimacy with Christ.

Karl Barth explained of this text, “The grace of being permitted to believe in Christ is surpassed by the grace of being permitted to suffer for him, of being permitted to walk the way of Christ with Christ himself to the perfection of fellowship with him” (Epistle to the Philippians , trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 49).

The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings moves the believer beyond the role of beneficiary of Christ’s death to a sharer in his sufferings (cf. Colossians 1:24).  The suffering that comes to a Christian (as a Christian) is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather proof that grace is at work in his or her life — sacred intimacy.

Suffering had been a part of Paul’s lot from the very beginning.  When Ananias balked at helping Paul, God said to him…

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

There is breathtaking beauty here — namely, that the more a believer becomes like Christ, the more he or she will suffer.  Simply put, the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is the fellowship of elevated souls who are growing in their knowledge of Christ.  It is a fellowship of continual resurrection and the display of God’s power.  It is a fellowship of ascent.

Because we love the power over the pain we are unlikely to go this far with Christ and our relationship with Him will remain shallow.  Again, we must pray that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for fellowship with Christ that will encourage us to move into suffering instead of away from it.

Many have testified how their dependence upon, and trust in, and indeed their knowledge of Christ grew during times of testing and trouble.  Pain causes us to turn to Christ, and that is probably why we feel like we know Him better after sufferings than after successes.

The last phrase in this verse modifies the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.  Complete dedication to the will of God, which resulted in Jesus’ sufferings and which will result in the believer’s suffering, means “death” ultimately.  First, it means death of own’s one agenda, and it can mean physical martyrdom as well.  That was certainly true of the apostles.

Death is a grim prospect, but Paul did not have a morbid, unhealthy fascination with suffering and death for its own sake.  He so loved Jesus Christ that he wished to share all aspects of His life, to know Him as intimately as he could. He even was willing to follow Him into the valley of the shadow of death.

The bottom line is, Paul wanted to take up his cross and follow Christ; he wanted God to conform him to Christ’s death. Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and Paul understood that taking up his cross like this is part of knowing the Master.

Paul concluded his desire to know Christ by expressing enigmatically, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11).

Was Paul uncertain about his participation in the resurrection?  Not at all.  The resurrection was certain, but the intervening events were uncertain as to timing and circumstances.

Would he die and later rise from the dead?  Or would he remain alive and undergo transformation to his new resurrection body?

Probably Paul meant that he hoped he would live to experience the Rapture, the “out-resurrection from among the dead,” before he died.  He did share the expectation that the rapture could happen in his lifetime (1 Thess. 4:16-17).  That would be when he received his new, resurrection body.

What he did know emphatically is that he would experience resurrection “out from among the dead” (literal translation).  And what would be his great prize?  Certainly a new body and certainly everlasting life.  But that is not the prize that he so coveted.  The prize he wanted was Christ himself.

That is what Paul gave up everything for, gladly, to know Jesus Christ.

Kent Henry concludes:

“That I may know him” (v. 10) describes Paul’s day-in, day-out, unremitting, relentless, defining pursuit.  Paul set his brilliant mind to learning everything about Jesus that he could, seeking him in all the Old Testament Scriptures.  Before he came to Christ, Paul was already an expert in the Torah and the sacred writings.  Likely he had them in his head!  Thus during his early years in Arabia he sought Christ in all the Scriptures, as we see so deftly illustrated in his epistles.

Paul also learned all he could from the apostolic band about Christ. Certainly he and Luke talked incessantly about Christ on the long days and nights of their travels.  But it was never knowledge about Christ that he sought as an end in itself.

All the apostle’s powers were concentrated on knowing Christ personally.  The power of the resurrection had dazzled him on the road to Damascus, and he never got over it.  Every day was his personal resurrection day, an affirmation that he had been raised with Christ.  So, Paul kept seeking the power of the resurrection as an avenue for knowing Christ more deeply.

This in turn enabled Paul to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and further increase his intimacy and knowledge of him. Indeed, Paul passionately sought the fellowship of his sufferings as a grace for his soul. Therefore, the apostle was continually being conformed to Christ’s death by God himself.  His life was stamped with the divine imprint of the cross and a growing knowledge of Christ.  This meant that Paul looked with confidence to the indeterminate day of the great resurrection when the full knowledge of Christ would fill his horizon for all eternity.

There is no doubt that if any of us knew today to be the final day of our lives, we would wish that we had made Christ the passion of our existence.  But as it is, there is time right now to pray, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Will you pray that prayer with me?

A Life that Counts, part 5 (Philippians 3:10)

So far in Philippians 3 Paul has expressed what happened to him when he was converted on the road to Damascus, the thought process that led him to conversion.  He took all his accolades and accomplishments from his stellar life in Judaism, and chunked it all into the garbage can because he came to realize the surpassing value of what he would receive in Christ.

In verse 8 he expresses the surpassing value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord.  In verse 9 he talks about his union with Christ, being “found in him,” which forms the backbone of Paul’s teaching about salvation and the Christian life, and then also in verse 9 he speaks of the benefit of being justified by faith.

Now, in verses 10-11 Paul circles back to that initial benefit—fellowship with Jesus Christ, the risen, living Savior, the God-man.  So let’s read verse 8-11 again:

We are going to focus this morning on v. 10.

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

These verses reinforce that coming to faith in Christ and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not the end of Paul’s experience with Christ.  It was just the beginning!  This relationship would continue throughout the rest of Paul’s life.

That personal relationship is initiated at the moment of faith in Christ, and the continuation of it in vv. 10-11 is what we call sanctification.  It is the lifelong process of relating to Christ through faith and becoming like him in practice.  This is where the righteousness of Christ that was deposited into our account by God when we put our trust in Christ starts being expressed through our behavior and life.

When it comes to the process of sanctification, the focus is not upon us or our disciplines, but on Jesus Christ.  That is why Paul starts with the statement, “I want to know Christ.”

In Genesis 4:1, we read that Adam “knew” his wife Eve.  The Hebrew expression used is “yada.”  Even in the Old Testament it was a word for knowing intimately.  Here the New Testament term is ginoskein and it almost always speaks of a personal knowledge.  This is not an intellectual knowledge but a personal experience of another person.  It actually speaks of a most intimate knowledge of another.

That should be the ambition of our hearts, our first cry every morning: “I want to know Christ.”

Too often our focus gets on ourselves in sanctification.  We are more or less successful in practicing spiritual disciplines.  We are more or less happy about our Christian experience.  We long for the times when we experienced more ecstasy.  All in all, our focus is upon ourselves.

But that is a dead end road.

We only make progress in our Christian lives when our focus is upon Christ.

Think about your daily devotions.  What is your goal or purpose in doing them?  Is it to gain mastery over Scripture?  Is it to get more from God?  Is it to improve our relationships, get a better handle on our finances or overcome some temptation?

Our daily devotions should be about Jesus Christ.  Our time in the Word and in prayer should be focused on growing in our knowledge of Jesus and enjoying Him.

Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) left us with one quote that has become quite famous, and for good reason. It goes like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” The quote is short, sticky, and it helps to both keep our focus on Christ and protect us from the trap of over-introspection with our own sins.

The line is taken from a letter published in Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne [(Edinburgh, 1894), 293]. Here’s a little more of the context:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

Here is the punchline to the entire thought.  The excellency of Christ is both the brilliant contrast to the sin in our hearts, and the remedy to the sin we find there. McCheyne was well aware that we battle indwelling sin by filling our hearts with “the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.”  Communion with Christ is the key to sanctification.  This is the expulsive power of a new affection.  This is to be changed from one degree of glory to another by beholding the brilliance of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

If we focus our attention and affection on Jesus Christ, all the other matters having to do with our Christian experience will be shaped by it.  Not only will our temptations and sins be expelled, but our relationships will take on a new sweetness and our experiences will be laced with expressions of His love.

Interestingly, in this statement, “I want to know Christ,” Paul uses the aorist tense instead of what we might expect, the present tense.  While the present tense would express a continuous desire, the aorist tense likely just summarizes a lifetime desire.

Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus began a special intimacy with Christ that was on-going throughout Paul’s life.

This should be the great, the primary, longing of every Christian—“I want to know Christ.”  Is it yours?

Is it not amazing that Paul, some thirty years after his conversion experience, and having accomplished some pretty phenomenal ministry results, would still find the primary beat of his heart to be knowing Christ?  If Paul thought he needed to, and wanted to know Christ better, how much more should we?

This was Paul’s all-consuming passion, his magnificent obsession.

The more we know Him, the more we will love and trust Him.  The more we know Him, the less this world will distract us and the less temptations will seduce us.

So I need to ask myself, “Why don’t I want to know Christ more…like Paul did?”

Well, first it might be because we have confused facts about Christ with an intimate relationship with Christ and that gets dull and boring after a while.

John Piper says:

In life, true education precedes true exultation.  Learning truth precedes loving truth.  Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God.  Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ.  Good theology is the foundation of great doxology.  That’s the order of life.

Knowledge is utterly crucial.  But it is not an end in itself.  It serves faith and love.  And if it doesn’t, it only puffs up, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:1

Where education does not produce heartfelt exultation in God, it degenerates into proud intellectualism.  And where exultation is not sustained and shared by solid Biblical education, it degenerates into proud emotionalism.  God means to be known and loved.  Seen and savored.  Pondered and praised.

So we need to learn more about Christ, but we don’t stop there.  We want to use that knowledge to help us worship Him more fully.

The American writer Joan Didion took her six-year-old daughter around an exhibition of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe.  The little girl stared at those vast colorful paintings of flowers, and after a while she said to her mother, “Mommy, I want to meet her.”

That should be our desire—the more we learn about Christ the more we should want to get to know Him personally through fellowship.

In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris you can see the tattered remains of a document that was discovered at the time of the death of one of the world’s great intellects, sewn into the lining of his coat.

Blaise Pascal, founder of projective geometry, devisor of the first calculating machine, discoverer of atmospheric physics, inventor of the barometer and the hydraulic press, became a man desperate for God and for His truth.  He turned to the Bible, and during the night of November 23, 1654, God came very near to him, and he wrote down on a piece of paper his impression of those hours:

In the year of Grace 1654

On Monday, 23rd of November

From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve: FIRE

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars

Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.

My God…

Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.

He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

I have fallen away.  I have fled from Him…

We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Total submission to Jesus Christ…

Eternally in joy…

I will not forget Your word. Amen.

Those are the famous words Pascal wrote down.  How limited words are to express our experience.  They reflect Pascal’s stream of consciousness looking back over those hours and trying to recapture a profound Christian experience.

I’m not trying to say that our experience will be, or needs to be, similar to Pascal’s, only that knowing Christ is more than just knowing about Him.  It is a personal experience with Him.

More than likely, another reason we don’t pursue knowing Christ is that we get distracted from that by the busyness of life and ministry.

This is a particular hazard for those in ministry—mistaking ministry effectiveness for a real, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is quite possible to have spent years in ministry and not really know Christ, or not growing in the knowledge and love for Christ.

Jesus dealt with this with Mary and Martha.  Martha was so busy getting a meal ready, and quite peeved at her sister for not helping, but Jesus told her that Mary was doing the most important thing—sitting at his feet listening to Him teach.

Thirdly, we often confuse religious experiences with knowing Christ.  We think we’re going deeper in our relationship with Jesus because we can speak in tongues, or because we are able to do great things in ministry.

Jesus pointed out the danger of this misdirection in the Sermon on the Mount when he said:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

These people were doing, and experiencing, amazing miracles!  They were the celebrity pastors of the day.  They would certainly have had their own television program, touting their ministries.  And they had good hearts, everything was being done, “in your name,” to glorify Christ.

Here’s the problem:  Jesus says, “I never knew you.”  They had never established a personal relationship with Jesus by trusting in Him.

So these are some of the common obstacles to really knowing Christ—being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, and being confused by ministry results or fantastic experiences.

So how do we come to know Him?

Well, first we have to admit to ourselves how little we do know of him.  We have to repent of being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, or substituting ministry results for genuine relationship.

Second, we must want to know Him.  That is what Paul says, “I want to know Christ.”  It was for him a consuming passion.  If it does not become our passion, our highest desire, it will merely be a passing fancy.

David was a man who pursued God.

In Psalm 42 David cries out:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?

David was longing to go to God’s house and experience God’s presence and beauty.  He expresses it again in Psalm 63:1-2…

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

And again, in Psalm 27:4

4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

We need to pray, like these men of old, “Lord, put within my heart a deep hunger and thirst for you.”

Tozer says

Hunger is a pain.  It is God’s merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food.  If food-hunger is a pain, thirst, which is water-hunger, is a hundredfold worse, and the more critical the need becomes within the living organism the more acute the pain.  It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to renew itself.  A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire. 

So ask God to make you hungry and thirsty for Him.

Third, in order to know Him relationally and experientially, we must spend time in His presence.  Just like we get to know a person by spending time with them, listening to them and talking with them, so we get to know God by spending time, listening to His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.

It takes time, so you have to intentionally allot time to make this happen.

Fourth, coming to know Christ deeply will involve going through struggles and difficulties, and that is the subject of the rest of verse 10, which we will tackle next week.