“Standing Firm in Christ”
Lesson Text: Philippians 3:12-16
Background Scripture: Philippians 3:12-4:1
Devotional Reading: Matthew 25:14-29
Philippians 3:12-21 (KJV)
12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
16Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
17Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
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:
19Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
Philippians 4:1 (KJV)
1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
To learn to how to move ahead and mature as Christians.
To maintain a single-minded determination to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us.
To stand firm by living a life that mirrors Christ’s.
No Walk in the Park
Living a life worthy of our calling in Christ is not a walk in the park. We dare not promote the idea that coming to Christ means that one's problems will be solved magically, life will be much better instantly, and all will be well going forward.
In fact, the opposite often happens: new problems and challenges crop up as Satan works feverishly to thwart God's work (Matthew 13:37-39). The Christian life is a continuous journey, many times with two steps forward and one step back. What keeps us going? The goal!
Time: A.D. 60-61
In last week's lesson, we examined the interplay between Paul's exhortation to rejoice and his warning regarding false teachers. Paul reminded his readers that if right standing before God were based on personal pedigree and accomplishments, then he (Paul) would be at the head of the line.
Indeed, Paul's personal background is vital to the power of his argument. Paul, as Saul in his younger days (Acts 7:58), had been sent from Tarsus to Jerusalem to study under the famous rabbi Gamaliel (22:3). That man was a leading teacher of the day among the Pharisees (5:34). By today's standards, Pharisees were highly educated laypersons. To study successfully under a great teacher such as Gamaliel was the equivalent of doing doctoral work at a famous university. We surmise that Paul was one of the most educated people in all of Judaism, even in the entire Roman world (see Acts 26:24).
Yet Paul declared that he considered all he had accomplished to be loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). Paul was no fool. He gave up certain things so the way could be clear to gain something better. That “something” to be gained demands special attention.
Pressing On to Christlike Maturity (Philippians 3:12-14)
1. What was it that Paul wanted to attain (Philippians 3:12-13a)?
That which Paul wishes to attain is stated in the two verses just before this one (Philippians 3:10, 11, last week's lesson): “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
Paul seems to think that his current status in regard to those two verses deserves more explanation, so verse 12 is his clarification. His readers should understand that he does not see himself as having already attained everything set forth in verses 10, 11. Rather, Paul continues to keep those goals in front of him.
Paul makes his point with a play on words by the repeated use of apprehended. This word has the sense of “make something one's possession.” In saying that he is apprehended of Christ Jesus, Paul therefore is affirming that he is Christ's own, Christ's possession. That is a fact, a done deal. But part of this process is Paul's apprehension, or capture of, himself. He knows that his own efforts in that regard are not complete. His job is not done, and his life is not perfect. He still has some race yet to run.
Sanctification is a lifelong process; it is something we should aspire to and work toward each day. Paul wants the Philippian church to see him as one of their own—broken and sinful, but forgiven and striving to live the Christian life.
What Do You Think?
What most impedes your own growth in Christ? How will you address this obstacle?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Inadequate knowledge of God's Word (Hosea 4:6) | Addictions (Ephesians 5:18)
Pursuit of worldly approval (John 12:42, 43) |Other
2. What was the “one thing” Paul knew he had to do in order to move forward in his work and life for Christ? (Philippians 3:13b, 14)
Paul repeated his statement that he had not yet attained the spiritual perfection that comes only with the final resurrection. Moreover, the apostle emphasized to the Philippians that human credentials are powerless in meriting God’s favor. They must forget what is behind and strive toward what lies ahead. We too may be tempted to rest on the work we have done for God and simply say, “I am where I need to be, and this is good enough.” On the other hand, some folks shackle themselves with the guilt of their life before Christ.
There is no forward movement in either case. Both play right into Satan's desires. If he can convince us that the kingdom work we have accomplished is good enough, he will do so. If he can stop our progress by reminding us of our past shortcomings, he will do that too.
We can't let Satan win! We defeat him by forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. For us to forget does not mean we can erase our memories as if erasing a computer's hard drive. Rather, it means we no longer dwell on the past. It is good to forget all that hinders and to remember all that helps. The best way to do that is to keep our attention on what is to come. We must move forward. Our high calling is to be conformed every day into the likeness of Christ and to do the work God has called us to perform.
God has been working His plan of redemption throughout history. He works through us to accomplish His purpose. We must be willing to serve and be used with the understanding that our lives will be transformed in the process. Our hearts will become broken with the sin that so permeates the world and the needs of people who are lost. We will sacrifice time and relationships, even suffer opposition, as we do God's work.
Maturityand Clarity (Philippians 3:15, 16)
3. How does Paul characterize the spiritual mature Christian? (Philippians 3:15)
In verse 15 Paul also uses the word “perfect.” Paul is referring not to those who have attained Christian perfection (which is not possible on this side of Heaven), but to believers who are spiritually mature.
Mature should be “thus minded” 1. The love of Christ, faith, humility, are essentials. All Christians alike must set the knowledge of Christ high above all other objects of desire (the desire to grow in Him). All must seek that righteousness which is through the faith of Christ; all must strive to win Christ, to be found in Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. 2. In this all must agree.
In smaller matters there may be differences. Paul seems to imply that there will be differences (Philippians 3:15b). “If in anything ye be otherwise minded,” he says; otherwise than is right, he seems to mean. Believers may not see eye to eye, but if a believer is rooted in the faith of Christ, the Lord will help him to see the truth respecting minor matters.
What Do You Think?
How has most of your spiritual growth come about so far? What is your plan for continued growth?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Personal mentoring by a more mature believer | Group service and interaction
Personal Bible study | Group Bible study | Time spent in prayer|Worship| Other
4. What does Paul mean when he asks that we live up to what “we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16)?
Paul was confident that in time the Father would graciously help His spiritual children advance in their comprehension of what it means to know and serve the Son. This included all believers pressing on to spiritual maturity in light of what they already understood. We need to continue in the same straight path in which we have been walking, guided by the same divine truths and the unchanging principles of faith. We need to hold on to what we have and then strive to go higher.
The apostle’s main point is that we must not quit. Neither should we give up our pursuit of conforming to the Son’s glorious image. In short, the race goes on, one Spirit-empowered step at a time. As we live in obedient faith, the Son makes clear to us the full scope of why He has called us to Himself.
Good and Bad Examples (Philippians 3:17-19)
5. What examples can we use from Paul, and what pitfalls does he tell us to avoid on our Christian journey? (Philippians 3:17-21)
v. 17. Paul already has compared his credibility with those who teach error (Philippians 3:2-6, last week's lesson). The closer the Philippians examine Paul's life, the clearer it will be that it is he they should follow (compare 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). But his example is not the only one available (next verse).
We are commanded to follow good examples (1 Cor. 11:1). The lives of many saints are expressly recorded for our imitation (Jas. 5:10, 11, 17; Phil. 4:9.) However, the imitation is limited by several circumstances. (1) By the example of Christ: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). (2) By the graces for which they are most distinguished (Numb. 12:3; 1 Sam. 3:18; Job 1:21; Acts 5:41). (3) By giving greater glory to God. (Matt. 5:16; Rom. 7:4.)
Don’t Be A Counterfeit!
The story is told about a certain family that attended church regularly. One Sunday, the minister preached about family life. After the service, little Johnny began sobbing. He cried all the way home. His father asked him several times what was wrong. At last, Johnny blurted out, “The minister said every child ought to be raised in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you and Mom!” Addressing also the point of counterfeit Christians, Samuel M. Shoemaker, who helped originate the concept of Alcoholic Anonymous, said, “When I find people who have all their lives been coming to church, and have never mastered a quick tongue, a disagreeable spirit, the touchiness which resents the slightest interference with one's own desires, and which makes one hard to get along with, I do not say that Christianity has failed. I say that we Christians have simply not surrendered our whole hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ.” There will always be those whose Christianity is counterfeit. We must make sure we aren't following them. We must make sure also that we are not being one of them! The genuine follower of Christ will not only choose godly models to emulate, but will be such a model as well. —C. R. B.
vs. 18-19. Nothing will keep our minds spiritual more than looking for the coming of Christ. "Watch out for the worldly crowd!" Paul warns his readers. He expresses here great sorrow in a letter filled otherwise with joy. While we cannot be sure, it is likely that Philippians 3:18-19 describe the Judaizers and their followers. Certainly Paul is writing about professed (so-called) Christians and not people outside the church. The Judaizers were the "enemies of the cross of Christ" in that they added the Law of Moses to the work of redemption that Christ wrought on the cross. He describes them as enemies of the Cross of Christ. The enemies are identified by four characteristics.
First, their end is destruction. This characteristic is not immediately observable since it points to end results. Even so, it is a warning: this is a finish line you don't want to cross. Second, their God is their belly. This means the enemies are not controlled by the Holy Spirit, but by the appetites of the flesh. If our life goal is gratification of carnal desires, we sink deeper and deeper into depravity (see Romans 7:18; 16:18).
Third, their glory is in their shame in that the enemies celebrate that which should embarrass them. How true this rings today in our celebrity culture, where people become (in)famous for strident immorality! To mind earthly things is not a criticism of dealing with issues of everyday life. Rather, it is the idea of losing any sense of spirituality as one lives selfishly and materialistically. The enemies are oblivious to the danger of the destructive life they choose and celebrate (Romans 8:5, 6). The Cross defeated the world and the flesh; the Cross speaks of sacrifice and suffering, yet these people live for the world and seek only to please themselves. What an awful thing, to be an enemy of the Cross, yet professing to be a Christian!
Living in the Future (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
6. What does Paul mean by “our conversation is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20)?
Our citizenship ("conversation") is in heaven (v. 20). When people become members of God's family, their names are written down in heaven (Luke 10:20). They become citizens of heaven. This means that they live for the glory of heaven and not for the praise of this earth. Citizens should honor their own countries, and surely the Christian will honor heaven! Heavenly conduct should mark the Christian. Our allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
7. What are the promises that Paul tells us to embrace until Christ returns? (Philippians 3:21)
What a blessed future the citizen of heaven has! Paul offers two promises his readers can embrace until Christ returns. First, Christ will make our current bodies like unto his glorious body. What a remarkable promise for our future existence in Heaven! Our new bodies will be spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44), fit for the spiritual universe; they will be imperishable and immortal (15:53). The limitations of our fragile, earthly bodies will be set aside. Reminding ourselves of this daily helps keep our focus off of “earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Read 1 Thess. 4:13-18 to see what a happy event the return of Christ will be for the believer.
A second, related promise is that Christ will subdue all things unto himself. All enemies will be vanquished, including the enemy of death (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26). Christ will be the complete master of all things (Philippians 2:10, 11).
There is tremendous energy in the present power of a future hope. Because Abraham looked for a city, he was content to live in a tent (Heb. 11:13-16). Because Moses looked for the rewards of heaven, he was willing to forsake the treasures of earth (Heb. 11:24-26). Because of the "joy that was set before Him" (Heb. 12:2), Jesus was willing to endure the cross. The fact that Jesus Christ is returning is a powerful motive for dedicated living and devoted service today. "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (read 1 John 2:28-3:3).
The citizen of heaven, living on earth, is never discouraged because he knows that his Lord is one day going to return. He faithfully keeps on doing his job lest his Lord return and find him disobedient (Luke 12:40-48). The spiritually minded believer does not live for the things of this world; he anticipates the blessings of the world to come. This does not mean that he ignores or neglects his daily obligations; but it does mean that what he does today is governed by what Christ will do in the future.
8.How does Paul express his love to the Philippians and how did this serve as a motivation to obedience? (Philippians 4:1)
The apostle takes great satisfaction in the Philippians' continued faithfulness and good works. He is able to pray about them with joy (see Philippians 1:3-6), believing they will endure to the end. They are his crown in the sense that we might say righteous children are jewels on the crown of faithful parents (compare Proverbs 17:6). This is not the crown of power or dominion, but of reward for a job well done. It is the award crown given to the victor in athletic contests, the laurel of honor (see also 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20).
Everything Paul has said should give his readers reason to stand fast in the Lord. However, he knows the only way that will happen is for the people to maintain unity. To stand fast is a unifying act because the Philippians all have the same Lord. The result of this is to give them security in their fellowship, the “safety in numbers” effect. Paul is not telling them to “go along with the crowd,” but to stand together with others who follow Christ.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Make a single-minded determination to ever grow in Christ. (Philippians 3:12-14)
2.Having the mind of Christ puts brothers and sisters in Christ on one accord. (Philippians 3:15-16)
3.The Christian life should be a model for others to live by. (Philippians 3:17-19)
4.Remember this world is not our home. The Christian should have heavenly hopes as well (Philippians 3:20-4:1)
A Worthwhile Goal
The Christian life as lived in a fallen world is not easy on the best of days. We are placed in a position where we need to take a stand for Christ against the wisdom of the world and the norms of the culture we live in. Just as the Philippian church discovered, “enemies of the cross of Christ” are alive and active in our world. The lure of earthly things is simply a few keystrokes away on a computer, or the simple turning on a television. Access is easy, and accountability is nearly a foreign concept.
Our ability to communicate in various forms of media and in speeds that have never been seen before is a double-edged sword for our Christian maturity. On the one hand, it allows us to get nearly instant help from many fellow believers scattered all over the world. On the other hand, such access exposes us to false doctrine and immorality with unprecedented speed and scope; this deepens the challenge we face in staying firm in the faith.
The continuing challenge is to take Paul's words to heart and remember that we are called to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. In doing so, we must follow the examples set forth by Christ, Paul, and the mature believers around us. Sanctification is a goal we keep in front of us, relentlessly pursuing it each day of our lives.
HeavenlyFather, use today's lesson to remind us that Christian maturity is a worthy goal to pursue with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Help us to be examples of maturity. In Christ's name, amen.