Today’s passage Philippians 3:15-21
Throughout the letter of Philippians, Paul is encouraging us to live a joy-filled life, and as he is addressing the heart issues and giving us Kingdom perspectives he is also helping us with practical bits of advice to reach our goal, the goal to know Christ and live the kind of life God intended for us to live – Blessed, Joyful, Satisfactory and Wonderful.
The passage we are looking at today is one such portion where Paul is giving us helpful, practical advice and therefore I urge you to pay close attention and receive it with an open heart because who knows this could be a life-changing moment for you today.
Practical Advice #1: Seek to be Mature in your Faith
In verse 15, Paul writes “Let those of us who are mature”, in KJV version it says “those of us who are perfect”.
In this statement, Paul is addressing to those who are mature because he intends that some in the church are mature, but what exactly does Paul mean when he uses the word ‘mature’ or ‘perfect’.
In the worldly sense, the word mature & perfect would in relation to a person who has achieved the highest level of intellect and maybe the highest level of perfection in everything he does.
But that’s not what Paul would define it, because he would not claim to have achieved that level of perfection himself. In 3v12, Paul writes “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.”
Here’s how Paul explains maturity in 1 Corinthians 13:11, he says “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
According to Paul, to be mature is to move out of the baby state and continue growing from being a baby to a man.
To Paul a mature person is not baby Christians, they are not the ones who stopped growing in their faith after they first became a believer, instead, they are the once who continue to grow in their knowledge of the Gospel.
As per Paul’s statement in v15 “they are the one’s who think this way”, in saying so he is referring to what he said earlier in 2v5-8 saying “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
According to Paul, a mature Christian is the one who has the mindset of Jesus; one who is continually emptying himself at the throne of God’s grace and one who continues to stay humble and obedient to the point of death.
Paul is expecting us to be found mature as we grow in our Christian life and in verse 16 he says “let us hold fast to what we have attained”.
Paul also refers to those who think otherwise in v15, those who are immature. They are men who are still babies; they can maybe articulate the Gospel in words but are far away from real heart transformation.
Brothers and sisters, here’s how we know we are still baby Christians.
Baby Christians are Lazy – Hebrews 5:11 “We have so much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”
“Slow to learn” is the translation of the Greek word, “Lazy.”
Baby Christians know little about the content of the Bible – They fail to meditate and investigate the Scriptures that has the power to set us free from all our bondages. Psalms 119:36 – He inclines our heart to his word, Psalms 119:18 – He opens our eyes of understanding, Psalms 90:14 – He satisfies our souls. These are all nutritious food for the nourishment of our spiritual being to grow to be a man.
Baby Christians Handle the Word of God Poorly –
2 Corinthians 2:17 – For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God, we speak in Christ.
They read the word just like everyone else but misapplies it by adding human understanding and even go about teaching the same to others.
Baby Christians have inadequate knowledge of Christ – As Paul mentions in Philippians 3:10-12, they know not the power of His resurrection, and they fail to participate in the sufferings of Christ.
Baby Christians are Christians whose attention is still dominated by earthly things – Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on the things above, not on earthly things.”
Baby Christians are those who are unwilling to pay the cost of being a follower of Jesus – Luke 14:33 “those of you who do not give up everything cannot be my disciple.”
Yes, it is possible to attain joy-filled Christian life but not if we are failing to grow in maturity and hold fast to who we have received. And we grow in maturity when we grow into an intimate relationship with Christ and the church.
Practical advice #2: Imitate those who imitate Christ
In verse 17, Paul goes on to say “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
As you all must have already figured out, it is not easy to live a Christian life; there will be challenges along the way, there will be doubts and confusion in our mind, there will be circumstances that will pull us down, there will be persecution as a follower of Christ.
God is not unaware of all that we go through; in fact, his grace and providence (help) are always with us. With full confidence, we can join with King David and say “Even though I walk through the valley of shadows of death, I will fear no evil, for he is with me” “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
One such providence that God has given us to combat fear, doubts, challenges and confusion are the faithful men and women of God he’s placed in our lives.
And that is why Paul is saying “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”, and “imitate those who walk according to the example you have in me”. Like the example of Timothy & Epapharaditus as we learned from their lives in the earlier passages.
In difficult times, it could be hard sometimes to see Christ and follow his example at all times, in our wretchedness, pride, frustrations and sadness we can fail to Christ in our situation. And what Paul is suggesting, which I don’t see as unbiblical, is that in such cases imitate Godly and faithful men who are imitating Christ.
In doing so, we are not looking at people as an authority but as examples who follow the real authority. Not for authority but for inspiration.
Which means we don’t make an idol out of the person we are imitating, but we are watching them respond to fear, doubt, frustration, confusion, suffering and disaster that honours Christ, and we do the same.
- Imitate the men and women in the Bible.
- Imitate the men and women in Church history who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Gospel, who trusted God in their hard circumstances and honoured him. Read their stories and find your inspiration.
- Imitate you immediate Church leaders who God has placed over you as shepherds
- Imitate you fellow brother & sister who walk faithfully alongside you.
We can attain a joy-filled life if we seek and imitate Godly men.
Practical Advice #3: Watch out for the enemies of the cross of Christ
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.
And finally, in this passage, Paul also advises us to watch out for the enemies of the cross of Christ. And just as sorrowful is Paul as he is saying these words, I am sad too in telling you that Yes, there exist, men who seem to be godly men from outside, who seem to say the right things, quote scriptures, pray earth-shattering prayers, but they are enemies of God. Jesus calls them “ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing”, the agents of the devil himself, Jesus said you would know them by their fruits.
Here’s how Paul helps us identify such men:
- Their God is their belly – People who believe that this life on earth is all about eating, drinking, and being merry and become gluttons, alcoholics, and seekers of pleasure rather than seekers of God.
- They glory in their shame – People who boast of those things of which they ought to be ashamed.
- Their minds are set on earthly things – People who are taken up in the pursuit of their sensual and earthly enjoyments rather than in Christ.
Paul is urging that we chose wisely the men whom we imitate.
And finally, Paul closes this chapter with a word of encouragement and giving us hope for the future.
As we walk faithfully as mature Christians, ones who’ve been transformed by the Gospel of Jesus. Pressing on in all circumstances, imitating one another in the Lord, be watchful of wolves.
Our final destiny is going to be even more glorious and mind-blowing.
We will be citizens in heaven, transformed into glorious bodies.
It’s up to us what choice we make to get us there.