Philippians 3:17 to 21 The pattern a Christian needs to follow

Philippians 3:17-21

(17) Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. (18) For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their mind on earthly things. (20) For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, (21) who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

This is in its own way a very sad section of Philippians, and much to our shame, an indictment too on our own world, and people that we have met on the way. It is also a strong passage, with Paul offering the best advice for avoiding the traps that others have fallen into. It demonstrates the dichotomy that exists where truths always have opponents, and God's enemies always exist to attack. It is a passage that enables us to see what Christ has done for us, by His death on the cross, and His resurrection, seated at God's right hand. In a few verses we can see the best and worst, where man can go, and where God would prefer man to be.

I have been following our dear sister's [name purposefully obscured] blog, and have seen the struggles, the turmoil, and the triumphs that she has been having since the death of her husband. I have watched the supporting messages diminish as time passes, as people forget, and I see, also, a few faithful continue. This type of behaviour is a pity; the responses being strong when the incident, or episode is strong, then as time goes, we revert back to from whence we came. I note this as the starting point in looking at this passage, as to meet these verses of today, people need to have someone upon which they can see the pattern Paul is talking of, the Christian way. The support one Christian needs to give another is ongoing, a continuing responsibility. Satan attacks wherever Satan can. Satan seems to think that he can be a winner in these attacks, and he could, and he does, as we have just read, but if we are truly Christ's, and if we have those fellow Christians - the support network - who through their experiences offers us a pattern we can model our response to Satan on, God will always prevail. We can see this in our sister's struggles to a point, if one follows her ups and downs through her blog and those that have reached out, modelling a pattern of caring that enables the love of Christ to be felt even when the entire world that surrounds you appears to have collapsed. The openness that our sister has about her feelings is at times daunting to the reader, especially someone as myself who is very private, but it is a testament to God's power in a medium that I am sure Paul wishes he had at the time. You can reach many, and if used with the right example, can change others, or bring even bring them to Christ.

This modern example, is one of the struggles we all face throughout our lives, and the need for each of us to have people we can lean on in times of trouble, and, I add most strongly, most of all during the good times when we let our defences down as we go into cruise mode. We need what Paul is stating - having a pattern, that is a pattern of Godliness, humbleness, holiness, and a willingness to share and uphold those they are supporting, and to have others upon which we can lean.

As I look back on what I have just said, I speed on to reinforce what was spoken as it were, in saying that none of this is possible without the Holy Spirit within, and the Word in our right hand as the Sword of Truth. And Paul is willing to say to the Philippians - join in following my example (v17). He makes it personal. He has the way, as it was called, imbued in his entire being, his life, and his thoughts. Model yourself on me, he says - who of us can say this. Paul is also stating that there are others that have the pattern, the way as well, that will help the individual walk a pathway of light . Lehman Strauss (as quoted in the Believer's Commentary) comments:

Paul considered himself the recipient of God's mercy that he might be a "pattern"; thus his whole life, subsequent to his conversion, was dedicated to presenting to others an outline sketch of what a Christian should be. God saved Paul in order that he might show by the example of his conversion that what Jesus Christ did for him He can and will do for others. Was not this the special object our Lord had in view in extending His mercy to you and me? I believe He has saved us to be a pattern to all future believers. Are we serving as examples of those who have been saved by His grace? May it be so ! [1]

How well are we holding to that responsibility. I hesitate to even speak of myself, the holes in my life, my walk, - they are big enough to drive a semi (trailer) through, to my shame, and disgrace. Life is a struggle, especially working Monday to Friday in the world. The world is a tough place to hold the torch, to allow oneself to be "different", to be a Christian. This is especially so when Christianity has had so many bad eggs recently, with many (TV) programs highlighting the Exclusive Brethren (or that sect that the media calls same), the "pastor" from last week's news living a life of deceit and lies. Let us re-read verse 18 & 19- For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their mind on earthly things. Are these not the things Paul is writing about, and we have a very savvy media; they love to find these charlatans and expose them and in doing so, tarnish Christianity, as they have no insight or do not reflect on the difference between the Christian, and those who have abused this name.

But there is more to these verses, and interestingly this week we have read a number of readings that all fit with the text of today. I doubt that this is a coincidence, God has a way of working, even in the most fickle of people, myself, seemingly to so often swing back and forth in the breeze.

The first I will share was in Jude:

But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: 18 how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. 19 These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. 22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction, 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. 24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, 25 To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.

Is this not very much like our Philippians' text. Jude draws our attention to those who are not of God, then reminds us of how we need to be, using the terms, " love of God " " mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ " as the keys to building ourselves up in the faith. One cannot be a pattern without structure. Jude, the same as Paul, reminds us of our end place, Jude stating that we will be " present [ed] .faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" I will read an excerpt from the Believer's Bible Commentary:

The believer's resource, of course, is to stay close to the Lord and live in unbroken fellowship with Him. But how is this done? Jude gives four steps.

The first is building yourselves up on your most holy faith , that is, the Christian faith. We build up ourselves on it by studying and obeying the Bible. Constant familiarity with the word guides us positively in the way of righteousness, and warns us against the perils along the way. "Men may decry doctrine," H. Pickering says, "but it is creed that produces character and not character that produces creed."

The second step is praying in the Holy Spirit . This means to pray as guided by the Spirit , in accordance with the will of God as revealed in the Bible or as privately revealed by the Spirit in a subjective way to the believer. It is in contrast to prayers which are recited mechanically or spun off without any real spiritual involvement.

Then again believers are to keep themselves in the love of God . Here the love of God can be compared to the sunshine. The sun is always shining. But when something comes between us and the sun, we are no longer in the sunshine. That's the way it is with the love of God . It is always beaming down upon us. But if sin comes between us and the Lord, then we are no longer enjoying His love in practice. We can keep ourselves in His love first of all by lives of holiness and godliness. And if sin should come between, then we should confess and forsake that sin immediately. The secret is to let nothing come between us and God.

Nothing between my soul and the Saviour, Naught of this world's delusive dream; Nothing preventing the least of His favor, Keep the way clear, let nothing between. - Charles A. Tindley

Finally , we should be eagerly looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. The mercy of our Lord here refers to His imminent return to take His people home to heaven. In days of darkness and apostasy, we are to keep the light of the blessed hope burning in our hearts. It will prove a comforting and purifying hope (1 Thess. 4:18; 1 Jn. 3:3).

The second reading this week that caught my eye as have great lessons and parallels in it to the Philippians text comes from Romans 15 1-7:

1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me." {#Ps 69:9} 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

What is our role? Here the words are strong and clear, to bear with the scruples of the weak, and to please our neighbour for their good, why? To lead them to edification. To be role models, to have a pattern. The reason Paul writes this is also clear, as when he wrote to the Philippians, because this is how Christ lived, and to do so will glorify Christ.

The third passage that struck me was that from Colossians 3:12-17:

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

And Philippians tells us as we have read that the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. So how can we have the word of Christ dwell richly in us, through the Lord Jesus transforming us, a process that will be complete when we reach heaven.

All these points, all these Scriptures we have at our finger tips, and the explanations are simple. As many have written or said, Christianity is not an elite club, it is not a special lifestyle for scholars and academics, Christianly is spelt out simply, and as we have seen, the Bible, Christianity's Word on the matter, gives plenty of instruction, good reasoning, sound arguments for the stances being made, and with built-in examples to model ourselves on. The Bible even gives us examples of bad behaviour, so we can see where others have been and failed, so we ourselves stay away from those paths. God offers us forgiveness freely, has already made the final sacrifice, a payment in advance for us of the 20 th and 21 st century. But, and this is the problem, there is the but.

Paul weeps when he speaks of the "but". We need to weep as well. Despite all of the instruction and wisdom afforded to us, people fall, and, some, need not stay down there, if we are willing to pick them up, brush them off, love them as Christ has loved us. Shall we read the first part of the Colossian selection again - put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another ! I ask a question here. In whose company need we do this? I will be nice to John, or Mary or whoever, when they have the same attitude towards me. A common exclamation of both the child and the adult alike. But look around these verses. There are no parenthesis. No rules of engagement, no pre-nuptials. It is a given; what the Christian life is about, discarding the old man and the old clothes, and putting on the new man and the new clothes, living a new life in Christ.

The "How" question now comes before us. How do we do this. Well, one can re-read what MacDonald and Farstad said as above in reference to Jude, but also I think that the parts of the text I have so far skipped is important to this. I refer to the statement on citizenship. Again, rather than using my own words, I turn to back the commentators that I have been using, MacDonald and Farstad and quote what they wrote on this portion of the passage. They write:

At the time the Epistle was written, Philippi was a colony of Rome (Acts 16:12). The Philippians were citizens of Rome , enjoying its protection and privileges. But they were also citizens of their local government. Against this backdrop, the apostle reminds the believers that their citizenship is in heaven . Moffat translates it: "But we are a colony of heaven."

This does not mean that Christians are not also citizens of earthly countries. Other Scriptures clearly teach that we are to be subject to governments because they are ordained by God ( Rom. 13:1-7). Indeed, believers should be obedient to the government in all matters not expressly forbidden by the Lord. The Philippians owed allegiance to the local magistrates, and also to the Emperor in Rome . So believers have responsibilities to earthly governments, but their first loyalty is to the Lord in heaven.

Not only are we citizens of heaven, but we also eagerly wait for the Saviour from heaven! Eagerly wait for is strong language (in the original) to express the earnest expectation of something believed to be imminent. It means literally to thrust forward the head and neck as in anxious expectation of hearing or seeing something. [2]

Citizenship of heaven enables us to have those privileges provided to us by the God of Heaven. One of these privileges is the Holy Spirit, who will teach and enable us to live a life that is worthy of heaven. The Holy Spirit though is not a forceful spirit, beating us into submission. The voice of God we read, is a still small voice. We must take time out to be quiet with God, to listen to His voice as he speaks to us, either from within our own hearts, where He is willing to inscribe his Word , or through his Word he gives each access to. As we read in 2 Corinthians 4:6: For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ . [3]

We must be willing to let that light shine, to walk humbly and holy in the Lord, to clothe ourselves with His love, meditate on and live His Word, and in doing so, become an example, that others may find us a support and help meet for them.

Paul tells us to keep to his example, the pattern God has produced for us in his life, and the patterns as shown to us through our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was perfect, though a man upon this earth. Jesus gave his all for us, we must be willing to do the same for others. Somehow we need to break through the selfishness of the Western culture, our materialism, our unwillingness to go the extra mile, to give the extra time, to care for and love our fellow Christian. To finish, I would like to repeat the benediction found in Jude, as read a few moments ago, the foundation of our faith can be found in it, and the answer to the "how" question:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, 25 To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen

[1] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

[2] MacDonald, W., & Farstad , op. cit.

[3]The New King James Version . 1996, c1982 . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Stephen B Simon (31 August 2008 CCC)
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