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How do you learn to live the Christian life? Philippians 3:17-4:1 August 17, 2008

Posted by roberttalley in Philippians, Religion, Sermons, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Leadership.


Philippians 3:17-4:1


Sometimes I am asked a certain type of question. “How do you overcome fear?” How do you learn to develop faith?” “How do you conquer sin and bad habits in your life?” “How do you gain assurance of salvation?” “How do I get filled with the Holy Spirit?”

There are a variety ways to go about answering that type of question but Paul gives us through three different commands, some often ignored keys that will help us to answer these questions and any other question that comes under the category of “How do you learn to live the Christian life?”

Imitation Together (verse 17). Six different times in the New Testament Paul says, “Follow me.”

“But of all mere men, no one is so often particularly set forth in the Scripture, as a pattern for Christians to follow, as the apostle Paul. Our observing his holy conversation as our example, is not only insisted on in the text, but also 1 Cor. 4:16, ‘Wherefore I beseech you, be followers of me’ [to be fools for Christ’s sake, verse 10]. And chap. 11:1, ‘Be ye followers of me as I also am of Christ’ [in that I seek the salvation of other people, 12:33]. And 1 Thes. 1:6. Where the apostle commends the Christian Thessalonians for imitating his example; ‘and ye became followers of us’ [because of the way we lived before you]. And 2 Thes. 3:7, he insists on this as their duty, ‘For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us’ [in that we worked rather than taking advantage of you financially] (Jonathan Edwards).”

This command is to the church not to individuals. This command is to the church as a body because Paul wanted them to function as a body. They were a good church that Paul loved but they were some who had problems accepting others because they were overvaluing themselves and devaluing other (2:2-4). There were friendships that were suffering (4:2). For this reason, Paul reminds them repeatedly that they are fellow-workers, that they are to be of one mind and one accord. They are to “join in following” Paul, they are fellow imitators.

Now this brings up a very important part to learning to live the Christian life: “…the Christian life involves more than just believing – it also includes belonging [to Christ and each other as the body of Christ]” (Rick Warren, emphases are his).

Paul was an example to them specifically in the areas of…

…suffering to advance the gospel (1:29-30).

…humility to advance other believers (2:17-18).

…focusing to advance His knowledge of Christ (3:12-16). Paul in his command to follow him was not intimating that he was perfect. He was intimating that he was on the right path and that if you followed the path on which he was traveling, you would end up at the right destination.

Result – the God of peace will be with you (compare Philippians 4:9 with Psalm 37:7-8). Now they needed peace in two areas. Peace among themselves and they needed peace in the midst of persecution. Paul makes it clear to them that if they imitate him, they will have the God of peace with them. They will be able to be rejoice because their suffering is advancing the gospel, advancing the growth of other believers, and advancing their knowledge of Christ.

Paying Attention (verses 18-21): Paul is not commanding blind or slavish imitation but rather thoughtful imitation. This is the same word that is used in Philippians 2:4, which is translated “look out…for the interests of others.”

The Negative Examples (verses 18-19): the reasons their example is negative (verses 18-21). Paul is contrasting these people with those who we are to follow. He does not explain exactly who they are except to say that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. He does not explain because he had repeatedly in the past warned them and was still repeatedly warning them against these people. He does, however, underline some specific characteristics of these people, generally they set their mind on earthly things as opposed to setting their mind on Christ (verses 15-16).

They serve the wrong god, their belly, glorying in their own shame (see also Jude 1:13), raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame. Now the picture is not necessarily of a glutton, although that certainly could be part of it. Paul may have been thinking of a Cyclops in Euripedes who says, “My flocks which I sacrifice to no one but myself, and not to the gods, and to this my belly, the greatest of the gods: for to each and drink each day, and to give one’s self no trouble, this is the god of the wise men” (with thanks to Wuest). In other words living for one’s self.

They have the wrong end, destruction, as opposed to transformation. Now Paul does not explain here why their end is destruction but there are two similar passages of Scripture that help us to understand why they end the way the do. The first is 2 Corinthians 11:15 where it talks about Satan’s ministers transforming their outward appearance into ministers of righteousness but that their end is according to their works. The second is Hebrews 6:6-8 where it talks about the apostates who fall away from Christ by rejecting Him. The writer says they are like thorns and briars, whose end is to be burned.

The Positive Examples (compare verse 18 with Philippians 2:20-30, especially verses 20-22 and 29; and with 1 Timothy 4:12): the reason their example is positive (compare verses 14 with verse 18 and 1 Thessalonians 1-2). They were like-minded with Paul. Their lives corresponded to their gospel.

Now it is important that we as leaders in the church be examples to be imitated. Not that it is preferable or that it is positive. It is essential for leaders to be examples. According to Titus 2:6-8, if we are examples of good works, our young men will learn how to think wisely and the unbeliever will have nothing to say against us. According to Hebrews 13:7, our people should follow our faith because it is obvious what the outcome of our conduct will be, eternal life.

Determination (4:1). This determination like the imitation is a group effort (See Philippians 1:27). God wants us to stand together.

Determined based on our current and future position (3:20-21).

We do not serve our belly but rather are citizens of heaven (see again Philippians 1:27). We stand together for God and against evil and we continue to stand together because we are Christian patriots. We are the body of Christ. We are on this earth for the advance of the gospel and for the advance of spiritual growth in our fellow solders and for the knowledge of Christ. For that reason we can stand and we do stand.

We do not have destruction as our end but rather the coming of Christ and the transformation of our body. There are two kinds of transformations. The one is transformation where what is new comes out of what was old. This is a metamorphosis, what a caterpillar undergoes when it becomes a butterfly. On the inside it was a butterfly the whole time. This, however, is a different meaning for transformation. It is more like taking an earthworm and transforming him into a butterfly. Although the two have some minor similarities, the difference is so great that it is obvious that the only way to get from an earthworm to a butterfly is through a miraculous transformation, the working (the energy) of the capabilities of God in our lives. The authority that allows God to control the earth is what will bring His purpose in our lives to fruition. This is our whole purpose, that we would be conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) and because that is His purpose for us, we stand gladly together firm for Him because we know the glory that He has predestined us, for it is the glorious image of the Son of God Himself.

Determined to imitate together and to pay attention (3:17). Paul uses one little word to tie these commands together. In English it is translated “so”. Imitate me and so, in the same manner, pay attention to others who imitate me and imitate them also and so, in the same manner stand firm with us in the Lord.

What are you following and who is following you?

Next Week: Philippians 4:2-9; Mind Melding




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