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Philippians 3:12-4:1: Instructions for Perseverance Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 August 2008

Surely the Apostle Paul could take it easy.  Surely he was a person who could put it on cruise control.  Of all the people we read and know about, surely he was one who would just let go and let God.  Well, actually, no, nothing could be further from the truth.  Paul is consistently calling us to perseverance.  He is over and over again telling us to hold fast to the faith.  He tells us to never let our guard down, but to keep going hard after Christ.

After giving his personal testimony in the first half of chapter 3 (verses 1-11) and talking about the righteousness that he has through faith in Christ (v. 9) and the importance of gaining Christ by sharing in his suffering and death (v. 10-11), he begins our passage with a strong statement that we might not expect: Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on…  The idea of ‘pressing on’ or persevering in the faith is dominant in these verses.  He tells the Philippians (and us) clearly in verse 17 that we too should press on in the faith, following his and others’ example of such perseverance.  Look at that verse with me.  So then, pressing on to the prize of Christ is the repeated call.  Yet, how do we do this?  Paul gives us some instructions in this passage.  Let’s consider these together.

First, remember the work of Christ (and who you are in Him) (v. 12).

I want us to go back and look at exactly what Paul says in verse 12.  Look at it again with me.  As we said, he begins with his clear confession that he is not already perfect and that he is therefore going to press on to make it my on.  Again, this is the real focus of the passage.  Yet, the next phrase shows us an important reality about such perseverance.  Paul writes: I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Where does Paul ground his hope for persevering in the faith?  The work of Christ!!  If were not for the fact that Christ has already made him his own, Paul would not have much hope for ever gaining Christ, which is his prize.  But, precisely because Christ has indeed made him his own, through his death, burial, and resurrection, Paul presses on to know Him more and to attain the resurrection from the dead (v. 11).  Paul’s hope for perseverance is that the good work that Christ has started will be brought to a completion.  Such is great hope indeed.

It is so vital that we remember such truth as we labor to press on to the prize of Christ.  We must remember that He has first humbled Himself as we seek to count others more significant than yourselves (2:1-10).  We must remember that He is at work in us as we labor to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (2:12-13).  The imperative, or the command, is based upon the indicative, or the statement of fact.  As we said a couple of weeks ago, we have great hope in keeping the commands of God because of what Christ has already done for us, because He has made us His own.  Thus, do not simply look to yourselves, but look to Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  Remember His work in us as we labor to press on to Him.  Take hold of Him because He has taken hold of you.  As we come to the table today, may you be remembering what Christ has done so as to take hold of Him.

Second, never think you have arrived (v. 13-16).

After the testimony that Paul gives us in verses 1-11, we might be tempted to conclude that he thinks a lot of himself.  Likewise, he tells the Philippians (and us) to imitate him in verse 17.  Yet, this is not Paul thinking too highly of himself.  We know this because of what he says in verses 13-16.  Look at those with me.  Paul has already told the Philippians to be humble as Christ was humble (see 2:1-11).  He told them about Timothy and Epaphroditus and their humility in serving him.  Here, he is saying of himself, ‘I have not arrived.  I have not gained Christ enough so that I can now take it easy.  No, I press on.  I keep striving.  I keep doing all that I can to know Christ more with my hope continually on that Final Day when I will know Him fully.  Until then, though, I keep pressing on.’ 

We must learn this lesson from Paul and never think that we have arrived.  We are constantly tempted to think that we have learned enough, served enough, grown in the faith enough.  The Enemy wants us to make such conclusions.  Yet, with Paul, we need to press on.  We need to press on in our learning.  We need to always be teachable and never think that our interpretation or understanding of Scripture is beyond improvement.  We need to press on in our service.  Our service will not always look the same through the years, but we need to always be looking for ways to serve the Lord by serving others.  And we need to press on in the faith.  We need to walk with the Lord each and every day.  Yes, we belong to Christ (see above), but that is never an excuse for laziness.  No, it is just the opposite.  It should serve to continually call us to press on and to never think that we have arrived, until, in glory, we indeed, arrive.

We have just finished our softball league this summer and there is a lesson from the field that applies this morning.  When you are running the bases, it is always tempting to follow the ball.  The problem with that is that it slows you down as you run.  Rather, you should keep your eyes focused on wherever you are going (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or home).  Paul says that instead of focusing on where he has already been.  Instead of focusing on past accomplishments or past failures, he is going to focus on what is ahead.  We must do the same.

Third, avoid being distracted by the stuff of earth (v. 18-19).

There are many things that can distract us as we seek to press on to the prize of Christ.  We have already mentioned past failures or past achievements.  Yet, there is more.  Paul describes how many have been distracted by the stuff of earth.  Look at verses 18-19.  Who are these people and what exactly have they been distracted by?  It is hard to be completely certain, but from Paul’s description I think we can conclude that they were people who at least professed Christ (otherwise why would they be tempting to follow and why would Paul weep over them).  They would have called themselves Christians, but their behavior demonstrated that they were in fact not followers of Christ.  Instead of taking up their cross and denying self, they walked as enemies of the cross and their god is their belly.  They were more concerned with physical pleasures than they were with self-denial.  Instead of setting their minds on eternal things, they were focused on earthly things.  They wanted their pleasure and their joy completely in the here and now.  They were distracted by the stuff of earth.

Brothers and sisters, we need to heed this warning.  Paul is not talking about obvious outsiders.  These are people that he cared for deeply.  They would have claimed to follow Christ.  Yet, their profession was not enough.  Their lifestyles and their pursuits showed that they were not true followers of Christ.  So then, what does your lifestyle and pursuits show?  Are you a ‘Christian’ in profession only, or are you avoiding these errors and following hard after Christ?  How do we avoid these distractions?  Our final instruction should help us.

Fourth, focus on your heavenly citizenship (v. 20-21).

Paul describes the contrast to those who are distracted by the stuff of earth in verses 20-21.  Look at those with me.  In order to avoid being distracted by the earthly things, we need to keep our focus on the fact that we are, even now, citizens of heaven through faith in Christ.  We must maintain an eternal perspective.  If we forget that we belong to a heavenly Kingdom, then it will be easy for the Enemy to distract us with the fleeting pleasures of earth.  If we forget that our goal is not ‘the good life,’ but eternal life with Christ, then we will live as enemies of the cross and serve the false god of pleasure and comfort.  Yet, when we remember that this is not our home, that Christ is coming to transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, then we will not be easily distracted by the pleasures that this world has to offer.  Paul is telling us that in order to press on to the prize of Christ Jesus, we must see clearly the great prize that He is.  We must avoid trading our Outback steak for maggot infested grass.  When Paul uses such terms to describe what our futures hold in Christ, I cannot help but think about the fact that one day my pancreas will not be broken, for diabetes cannot hold me beyond the grave.  The very power that guarantees that all will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord will transform this sin infested body into one that is glorious and that can enjoy eternal pleasures forever. 

Do not get distracted by fleeting pleasures.  Do not believe that the greatest joy is found in earthly things.  Do not think that the pleasures that this body and this world offer can even compare with what Christ will give to His people when He comes.  Rather, focus on your heavenly citizenship and say with the John: Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20).  Practically speaking, take some time and simply write out the goal of your existence.  Ask yourself, ‘Does this goal revolve around heavenly or earthly things?’  As others have noted, only those who are heavenly minded can do any earthly good.  Once you have this goal, let it influence all your decisions.  Let it constantly remind you of your future in Christ.  May it indeed keep your focus on your heavenly citizenship so that you will not be distracted by the stuff of earth.

In one sense you can see the past, present, and future of our salvation in this passage.  We were justified by the work of Christ at Calvary when He made us His own.  Our present sanctification involves never thinking that we have arrived and avoiding the constant distractions of the world.  And our future holds a glorious transformation of our lowly bodies to be with Christ forever.  Yet, in another sense, these are all present instructions.  We are to continually remember what Christ has done, that he took on the form of a servant so that one day we might be transformed to be like Him.  We are to never think that we have arrived in our sanctification.  Every day we must avoid being distracted by the passing pleasures of this world and one of the ways that we do this is by focusing on our heavenly citizenship and the eternal pleasures to come.

Paul equips us with all of this instruction so that we might press on to the prize of Christ and so that we might stand firm in the Lord (4:1).  Thus, by God’s grace, may we indeed persevere in our pursuit of Christ our Savior.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 August 2008 )

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