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Who Do We Follow? | Philippians 3:17-21

Today we’re jumping back into Jesus Our JOY, our series in Philippians, and we’re going to read Phil. 3:17-21. It’s on page 101 of the blue New Testaments in the seatback in front of you. 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. 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.

If you remember back to a few weeks ago, just before this text Paul is writing about straining toward the prize. In particular, he’s talking about maturity, Christ-likeness, straining for the day that we will be resurrected from the dead! We learned from Paul that probably the best way to summarize our goal now as believers, saved by God’s grace, is that we are becoming more and more like Christ. That’s what we’re doing here on the earth. That’s our direction.

And Paul makes clear in verses 12-16 that this is a process! This takes time. Even he hasn’t arrived yet, but he is striving forward, aiming for Christlikeness, letting the Spirit of God change him and mold him. It’s in that context that Paul writes this section we just read.

When he says, “Brothers, join in imitating me,” that may sound a bit like he’s being arrogant—“Really, Paul, follow you?” What about following Jesus? But the truth of it is that he’s not being arrogant, he’s being practical! We know from Paul’s other writings that he wants us to follow Christ: In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, as I imitate Christ.” So, he does want us to follow Christ, but…

Sometimes it’s easy to look at Jesus, as we read about his life in the Bible, it’s easy to look at him and be a bit overwhelmed by the thought of trying to be like Him. I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels that way occasionally. We saw back in Philippians chapter 2 just how perfect of an example Christ is! He, of all people, so humbled himself to become a servant. The King of the universe became a man, and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross! What an example!

He is the ultimate example, the ultimate holiness, the ultimate picture of what pleases God. But, thankfully, God has given us other examples that also help us on our way toward being more like Jesus. He gave us other human beings. When Paul says, “join in imitating me,” he’s not trying to replace Jesus, he’s actually telling us to pursue Christ like he is! He’s fervently straining forward (that’s the language used right before this), and we, like Paul, should strain forward toward Christ also.

But Paul doesn’t only use himself as the example, he also says, “and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” So not only should we look to Paul, which we can do even today, because we know so much about his life and teaching from the New Testament, but we also can look toward others who walk in this way! He’s putting flesh-and-blood to this command to become more like Jesus.

How do we continue maturing? How do we keep straining forward? Well we saw back on February 4th, four marks of maturity from the verses right before this. I put those marks in your notes in your bulletin so you can be reminded. But today we see one more mark of maturity. One more way that Christians can really pursue spiritual growth! And that is this:

 

  1. Maturing Christians follow other maturing Christians.

I’m convinced that this mark, maybe even over all the others we gave last time, might be the most ignored one. Generally speaking, we have so individualized the Christian faith to make it all about your own personal walks with Jesus, which is great and sounds good, but we’ve left out God’s strategy in seeing us grow in our personal walks with Christ. What is that strategy? What’s one of God’s greatest tools of spiritual growth in the lives of his children? Other children of God. Other people!

The nature of the Christian faith is one that involves biblical community, coming together with other people in different places on their journey toward maturity, and spurring one another on! We don’t do this alone! In fact, we really can’t do this alone! God has provided flesh-and-blood examples to follow in our midst! Isn’t that awesome? Hopefully this includes all our church leaders and teachers. I guarantee it includes the elders. They have their personality querks, but they are Godly men seeking to be more like Christ. And hopefully that’s true of many others in this room.

This is why we want to treat this time that we have together a bit more like a gathering of believers than like a program that you sit and experience up here. Or at least we hope it’s more than that to you. I hope you stick around and meet people, even if you have to just go up to someone and meet them. Because one of the greatest ways that you’ll be able to grow in your faith is by interacting with other Christians in this room, and even following and learning from them!

God designed the Christian faith in such a way that we have flesh-and-blood examples of what we’re aiming for! That doesn’t mean that the people around you are more mature than you in every way. It means that different people have different ways in which they’ve matured, that maybe we haven’t. Yes, Jesus is our ultimate example, but God is so kind in giving us examples of people closer to us in holiness and maturity! We don’t just have the perfect example which is our ultimate goal; we have imperfect examples to kind-of fill the gap and show us what it looks like to be just a little farther ahead in maturity.

Maturing Christians follow other maturing Christians. Now, after Paul writes this in verse 17, he goes on and gives some specifics of the types of people to follow vs. the types of people not to follow.

In fact, he starts with who not to follow because this is a present danger! There are those who are like these described in verses 18-19, probably even in our midst! And I’m saying this humbly: we’re all like this in some ways. This will always be a struggle for us, even as Christians, the pull between these two paths. But Paul is very sobering with his language here: This isn’t just a soft plea: “Hey guys, it might be helpful if you look to these people and not these others.” No! This is a warning! Paul loves these believers in Philippi enough to say, “follow these and NOT these.”

He says, “keep your eyes on those who live as we do, because (verse 18) as I have often told you before and now tell you again with tears, many lives as enemies of the cross of Christ.” So, clearly, we’re not to follow after these enemies of the cross. And Paul gives us four characteristics of these enemies:

 

Enemies of the Cross of Christ

  1. Their destiny is destruction.

That’s pretty straightforward. Their end is destruction. There’s no Greek word or deeper explanation needed for this one. The English language communicates exactly what it means. The fate of these enemies of the cross is the same fate as that of the beast in Revelation. Revelation chapter 19, what was the fate of the beast? The lake of fire. Eternal separation from God: at least separation from God’s redemptive benefits, his salvation. Maybe not separation from God’s wrath. Their destiny is destruction. Why? Well, the 2nd characteristic of these enemies of the cross:

 

  1. They worship themselves.

These enemies of the cross, who is their god? Who is their Lord? It says it right there! “Their god is their belly.” What does that mean? It means that for them there is no authority higher than their own self-indulgence! That’s what determines everything for them. Whatever I desire, whatever will bring me pleasure, that is what I will do! “Their god is their belly.” Literally, they are no longer in charge of their desires or emotions or appetites. Instead, their own appetite has become lord over them. Virtually every decision is made based on pleasing the body, the flesh.

I love how Paul doesn’t give us specifics here as far as what sins he has in mind. He doesn’t talk specifically about lust or greed. He doesn’t go into details. Do you know why I think it’s probably a good thing that he didn’t go into the specifics? Because it’d probably be so easy to just assume that what he’s talking about doesn’t apply to me. “Oh, he’s talking about sexual sin. Well I don’t struggle with that.” I’m glad Paul didn’t get specific because none of us can pretend like this doesn’t apply to us!

I have a feeling many of us have pet sins that we have not given over to the LORD! And in that way, we may not be enemies of the cross because we’ve been redeemed, but in that way we are following after these enemies of the cross. Maybe we feel as if we just have to have this little pet sin. And maybe we think we have control over it, and we could just drop it at anytime.

But if that’s your thinking this morning, whether you know it or not, your god may be your belly. Your god may be whatever it is that you desire! Motyer puts it like this: “The warning is not against particular sins, but against the underlying sin of pandering to self.” Do we struggle with the sin of self-pandering. Making decisions based on whatever our appetite desires in the moment. Even serving your family can be self-pandering if you’re just doing it so they don’t get mad at you.

The applications here are endless. So, here’s the question. How do you get out of this sin? First, you just plain need to confess and repent. Give this area over to Christ. And yes, I really do mean that you should confess it! Tell someone. Yes, it may mess up parts of your life right now for you to tell someone. But it will be far worse if you keep this underlying pet sin, and let it eventually destroy you. So, confess and repent; give it over to the Lord, then follow after others around you who are doing the same thing. Confide in these people. We’ll talk about that more momentarily. The 3rd characteristic that Paul gives, and this is really like a progression:

 

  1. They find pride in shameful things.

Paul says, “they glory in their shame.” In other words, things that should be shameful or at least things they shouldn’t be proud of, they in fact brag about! That’s what it means to glory in our shame. Our moral standards have turned upside down. This makes perfect sense coming after Paul says, “Their god is their belly.” This is the progression: Once our own desires and appetites become our gods, what comes next? Trying to justify it! We turn moral standards around to make ourselves feel better about what we’re doing!

Yet again Paul doesn’t give specific examples. It seems like he’s really trying to avoid us being able to excuse ourselves because, “Oh, well, I don’t struggle with that sin.” Instead, he gets right to the heart of it. My god is my belly, which really just means I am my own god. I’m my own king. And so, in order to justify my decisions to do as I please, I’m going to turn God’s clear standard for obedience on its head. I’m going to adjust it to fit my life. I mean, even changing one little bit of how God has defined holiness really turns all of it on its head! Why? Because it’s no longer God’s gift of holiness to us, this holiness that we can strive after in Christ. Instead, it becomes our gift to ourselves. Any pet sin that we have as Christians, and that we’re trying to justify, is an example of glorying in our shame. things.

God desires so much MORE for us. Look around to those who glory in Jesus, like Paul himself, like many in this room; see their joy and contentment even in the midst of great pain and going through hard things. Let the Lord Jesus define what is glorious. Don’t take that upon yourself. Like a child who trusts his parents’ discernment on what is best (which is pretty rare), trust in God’s wisdom, which is perfect. The 4th characteristic that Paul gives:

 

  1. Their minds are set on earthly things. 

This is the last description Paul gives: “minds set on earthly things.” This is a big deal. You heard from Joe two weeks ago, preaching on chapter 4—he talked about the importance of our thought life. Paul thought it was important enough to put it in some of the last things he wanted to say to the Philippians, something he really wanted them to remember as they put the letter down after reading it. Chapter 4, verse 8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Obedience to God in our actions doesn’t start with our actions, but with our hearts and minds. Love for God, listen, doesn’t start with our actions, but with our hearts and minds. This is why Paul sums up these enemies of the Cross as those who have their minds set on earthly things. Think about it: our minds, where our hearts and minds are set, that determines everything! Where we’re headed in life, our direction. Our attitudes, what we like, what we don’t like, what we prefer—ALL of it is determined by what has our attention! What we are thinking about. Instead of setting our minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, many of us have our hearts and minds right here.

You know, these enemies of the Cross, that sounds like the worst of the worst. That’s who it sounds like Paul is talking about here. Just the worst of the worst kind of people who are hostile to Jesus and everything he stands for. And maybe you think, “Oh I know someone like that.” But I want us to realize that this included all of us before God saved us… Enemies of the cross of Christ includes every single person in their natural state! Romans 8:7- “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.”

Those who do not want Jesus reigning over them, as their King, they are enemies of Christ and enemies of the cross. Even you and I, before we turned to Jesus our King, we were enemies of the cross of Christ. No matter how nice you were to Christians, or how indifferent you were. You know, maybe you thought like this: “Well, I was never against God or anything, I just didn’t know him.” I know you may not have felt like you were an enemy, but you were, according to Scripture.

Why do I say all of that? I want to clarify, because our goal is to follow after Christians who reflect less and less of this old nature of hostility toward being ruled. We want to follow after those who more and more are willing to submit themselves to Jesus, instead of following after those who blur the lines, or who aren’t pursuing holiness, or just don’t really think that’s a big deal. In other words, as Christians, there are at least some ways we can be enemies of the Cross. To quote Motyer:

“On the Cross Christ identified himself with all our self-pleasings, reckoned as his own all our shady moral compromises and open moral lapses, and became in himself the sin which anchored us to earth and destined us for hell. By bearing our sin in his own body on the cross, he discharged our debt before God, wiped away our past and re-created us in his own image. To continue in sin as if he had never died, to value sinful practices as if he had not exposed and discredited them, to live within earthly horizons as if the Son of God had not opened before our eyes a vision of heaven, and to remain bound by the trammels of the old life when he has achieved new life for sinners—is not this to oppose all that that the cross means? Is it not enmity?”

Those are some heavy words. This isn’t just about becoming a Christian, like our conversion. This is also about living more and more within the reality of our new identities in Christ. Instead of following after people who are their own Kings, or who try and do some kind of meet-Jesus-halfway as far as who rules their lives, we should follow those who really understand the weight of the Cross. When we understand the weight of the Gospel, and when we understand the weight of the fact that he’s coming again, we will live differently. Paul goes into this in verses 20-21. 3 characteristics, now, that Paul gives of those who grasp the weight of the cross and the urgency of his coming.

 

Those Who Grasp the Urgency of His Coming

  1. Their destiny is heaven.

The first part of v. 20, Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven.” This is heart of why we should be completely opposite in many ways to those who are enemies of the cross. Our citizenship, our identity is in heaven. You might remember back to chapter 1, verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” If you remember, I told you that the words “conduct yourselves” really carry with it this meaning of citizenship: “Conduct yourselves as citizens worthy of the gospel.”

There is no greater identity we have than as children of God, citizens of heaven. We’re here, and at times it’s hard, but our destiny is heaven! This was a very effective point for the Philippians especially because Philippi was a Roman colony. They considered themselves a little Rome, and they found pride and identity in that. They even considered themselves to have responsibilities that went along with that!

And so they know what Paul is saying here when he says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” That means this our great identifier, our great pride, and something that comes with responsibilities. The people we want to follow after, even in this very room, their destiny is heaven. And because of that, characteristic #2:

 

  1. Their minds await for the Savior, Jesus.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is where our minds are! Instead of having our minds and hearts consumed by the things of this earth, we look forward to the day when God will absolutely and completely finish his saving work. The redemption of all creation; that’s what we look forward to! That’s what we’re supposed to be excited about. And when we’re not excited about it, look around for those that are. Learn from them.

There’s several reasons we look forward to this day, the return of Christ, but Paul focuses in on one in verse 21: “the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” One of the greatest reasons we await Christ, and our minds and our hope is in him, is because he is going to fix our bodies.

And certainly this includes aches and pains and illnesses that come with age. Our debilitating physical bodies will be transformed to be like his glorious body. That’s pretty awesome. But this also means, maybe even a bigger deal, that we will no longer fight our sinful flesh. This is why he calls it our “lowly body” there in verse 21. We all know how difficult it is to truly fight sin and strain for holiness. If you don’t know how hard it is, then you probably aren’t in that fight to begin with.

But it’s hard to eradicate lust. It’s hard to control our anger. It’s difficult to kill pride and truly care for others more than ourselves. That’s not easy, is it? Of course not. But we look forward to a day, when our sinful flesh will be no more, because Christ will transform our lowly bodies.

And this is a guarantee! Christ’s second coming, our glorified bodies, it is absolutely going to happen! How do we know? Well, we can’t forget the second half of verse 21. By what power will Christ return and transform our bodies? “By the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Whoa. By what power? Who says your body will be transformed? Who says he’s going to return at all?! What certainty do we have? By what power?

The same power that literally holds all things together. Colossians 1:17- “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” If he has the power to hold all things in his hands—every sun and galaxy and every quark and lepton— he certainly has the power to return in glory and to transform our bodies to be like his glorious body. By what power? By the power of the Almighty God. Reminds me of a song, Jacob and Brydyn call it the “Daddy Song” because I love it:

“These acts of power are worthy of praise,

and if you want to question my God and his ways,

I’ll look you in the eyes and say,

My God is so big and so strong and so mighty,

there’s nothing my God cannot do.”

We look forward to Christ coming and being transformed. We look forward to it as an expectation. It will happen, by the power of Jesus who holds all things together. And if you don’t look forward to this, look around and learn from those that do.

This might be one of the biggest things that can change how we live! Not only this infinitely significant event of the past, Christ on the Cross, him purchasing for us our salvation, but also this other infinitely significant event to come! Christ is coming back! We await this! We long for this! Far more than we long for things on this earth! Or at least that’s the way it should be! That’s seeing things within reality.

This is why we desperately need to befriend and follow others in this room that are better at looking forward to those things than we are. Because, this is hard! It’s so easy to let the things of this earth and this life cloud out what is to come. The last characteristic, really just summing it up who we’re to follow, who we’re to imitate:

 

  1. They worship Jesus Christ.

The enemies of the cross worship themselves. Friends of the cross, however, worship Jesus Christ. They grasp and fully understand the weight of the gospel and what it is that Christ has done! The respond with worship! And this is why Paul calls him at the end of verse 20 “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Lord, meaning “Master,” “King.”

These people that look forward to that day; they recognize how futile it is to worship ourselves, and let our own appetites and desires determine everything we do. They recognize how worthless and unsatisfying that is. Instead, Christ is their LORD. They worship him, which means far more than just praising him with our mouths. It means we submit to Him as LORD. It means we obey joyfully, like a child who trusts his father. It means we LOVE him more than anything else. They worship Jesus Christ. Learn from them. Get to know them. Just be around them, and you will be encouraged and probably challenged.

 

Conclusion

Love the cross. Love the one who died on it. Grasp the weight of it. We’ve been rescued from this terrible cycle of spiritual decomposition. That’s really what this is. It’s the cycle of sin. Further and further and further decomposition. We’re enemies of the cross of Christ. We’re dead, and the only thing left to do is to continue decomposing! But, Ephesians 2 says God made us alive even when we were dead in our transgressions. We have new LIFE!

Don’t follow after those who are still dead; that makes no sense! And don’t follow after those who’ve been made alive but are acting like they’re still dead! Look to people who are alive and are living like they’re alive in Christ. Learn from them. Follow them. Maybe they’ve been spiritually alive now for decades. Maybe they’ve been alive now for only a little while. Either way, we can learn from them a bit more about what it means to be alive in Christ. About what it means to really long for heaven, long for and strive after maturity. If you want to be a maturing Christian, follow after other maturing Christians, as they also follow Christ.