Faithlife Sermons

Gospel Goals: Humility and Maturity

Philippians: Joy in the Lord  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

Have you ever gone to the eye doctor in order to check your vision? As a Type 1 diabetic, this is a yearly stop for myself and Lindsey in Springfield each June as I go in and they dilate my eyes to see how my vision is and if I have any cataracts growing in them. After you finally get called back, one of the first things they have you do is put a piece of equipment up to one of your eyes and try to read letters on a screen from a long distance in order to see how your vision is. Depending on how this goes, the doctor might prescribe something to help your vision such as glasses or contacts. We know that our vision matters and if you’ve ever been to see the eye doctor you know how frustrating it can be to see those tiny letters and not be able to make them out. Whenever our vision is fuzzy or blurry we get frustrated and upset because we cannot focus on the task at hand.
One of the things that Paul has been talking about a lot in the book of Philippians up to this point has been to have joy in the Lord at all times. Even when things are bad, have joy in the Lord. Even when things don’t go your way, have joy in the Lord. Even when we are growing and experiencing some growing pains, have joy in the Lord! Paul left us off in Philippians 3:1-11 by mentioning how we are called to have a proper perspective of our life. We are to prioritize eternal things more than earthly ones because temporary things are rubbish when compared with Jesus Christ! This was Paul’s exhortation to his audience in our previous section, but what he does in verses 12-21 is further his original point and note that he himself is still growing in this regard. It would have been easy to listen to Paul talk about having this perspective where he counted his past life as rubbish compared to Christ and think that Paul is some super-Christian that has it all figured out! We think this about some people today as well.
Rather than having everything figured out, though, Paul is still maturing in his own walk with the Lord. He is still adjusting his lens and pursuing Jesus Christ. Even though he might be more mature, he has not arrived and he encourages his audience to press on and not take their eye off the prize.
This is a call for us tonight as well, church. In a world of confusion and division, there exists a temptation to fix our eyes on the here and now and to stop growing and to not be humble in our conversations with others and with our actions. Paul nips those ideas in the bud here. We as Christians must continue to grow in our walk with the Lord and as we do we are to become more and more humble and to become more and more mature. We adjust our lens and we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. This is a call for each and every one of us this evening: die to self and follow Jesus.
Philippians 3:12–21 NASB95
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Humble ourselves (12-14)

We mentioned last week that Paul knew a lot about the Old Testament and he knew a lot about Jesus Christ. He was knowledgeable and he was mature, but just because he was those things he acknowledged that he still had a ways to go! He says in verse 12 that he must press on and this must be our response to the Gospel message tonight. We too must press on. Whenever Paul became a Christian, there was a fire lit inside of him and nothing could blow that fire out. On the 4th of July people like to shoot of fireworks late into the night and in many cases until 2-3am. I have learned over my years of shooting off fireworks that there is an art to lighting fireworks. There are several different options when it comes to lighting the firework itself: there are wooden “punks” that the firework stand will give you and they do a fine job for the most part but there are better options out there. There are the basic cigarette lighter which is nice but can also burn your finger if you’re not careful. Then there’s the absolute best option out there: the really long lighters that allow you to stay shoot off your fireworks from a reasonably safe distance away!
The nice thing about these long lighters is that you can get right next to the firework so that the flame will not fizzle out. Other lighters, though, can be dangerous and unreliable whenever there is a gust of wind or a rain drop. Something small can cause a serious problem if you’re unprepared or if you take the easy way out. Therefore we persevere and press on. There are some teachers out there who preach a doctrine called sinless perfectionism which is the idea that once you’re a Christian then you are perfect - as in you never sin again. We learned about this in the 2nd American Gospel film and sadly many Christians believe that this is a real thing that we are perfect and never sin after we become a part of the kingdom of God. Paul does not advocate this view in Philippians 3:12-13. In fact, Paul notes that he has not become perfect and that he has not yet arrived. He still has room to grow and learn and this is true of all of us tonight! None of us are perfect and that’s ok. Think of the burden that would fall on you as a Christian if you had to live a perfect life. Where is the hope in that? We fall short daily. As we grow in our faith, we also grow in humility because we recognize our flaws and mistakes and we extend grace to others along the way.
Where is Paul’s focus in verses 13 and 14? It’s not on the here and now but rather on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. What does this mean? This means that Paul is focused on eternity and being resurrected and being with Jesus in heaven. That is the prize awaiting us if we are Christians this evening! Sadly, we fail to follow through with verse 13. We focus on what lies behind and we forget what lies ahead. This is easy in our culture and society because we are enamored with temporary things like titles, wealth, possessions and relationships. We spend much of our time on the present, but we are always tempted to look back. We are tempted to play the “what-if” game. This is a running metaphor, as Paul uses a lot in Philippians. The next time you’re on YouTube you need to search runner loses race because he looks backwards. There’s a video of a runner who is winning a distance race by a substantial margin but he starts to get nervous and he looks backwards on the final straightaway. As he looks backwards he naturally slows down because his eye is taken off his goal. The 2nd place runner does not take his eye off the prize and narrows the gap and eventually wins the race simply because the leader looked behind.
Friends, don’t look behind in the past. What’s done is done. Jesus redeems all of our life! What is our duty as Christians? To rejoice and press on in life towards our goal which is heavenward. To focus on the things above and have humility along the way because we realize that we have a ways to go ourselves. Peter O’Brien puts it well in his commentary on Ephesians, “Paul forgets as he runs.” Let us forget the failures of our past as we run towards our hope in Christ.

Grow in Maturity (15-19)

In Philippians 2:19-30, as we looked at during our online services a couple months ago, Paul brought up examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus. We know that Paul was a mentor of sorts for these believers and he encouraged them to grow in their walk and follow his example. Paul by no means was claiming to have it all figured out, as verses 12-14 mention, but Paul’s goal was to be like Christ and he encouraged others to follow that same example of making Christ the most important thing in life.
Paul gives a call to unity in verse 15 and the Greek carries the meaning of all who are mature should be like minded. What is this attitude that we should have? What should we be like minded in? The essentials found in Philippians 2:1-11. We are to be united, have love, have no selfishness, be humble, look out for others and be compassionate! These are some of the essentials to being a Christian. Just because we are mature, though, doesn’t mean that we are now perfect. There were some teachers in Philippi, again, teaching sinless perfectionism and Paul is saying that if you subscribe to these false teachers/if you have a different attitude then God will correct those false teachings. We humble ourselves, knowing that we fall short, and we press on towards the goal of maturing in our faith to be more like Jesus.
Verse 16 gives us an exhortation to remain steadfast in this pursuit. We are to remain true to our standard and we encourage others to keep that standard as well. I love what Paul writes in Colossians 2 as he implores the church in Colossae
Colossians 2:6 NASB95
6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,
This is our call today! Don’t move on from Jesus, continue to walk in Him. Remain in Him. Abide in Him. Our world would love for us to move away from Jesus Christ and on to other things, but as Christians we know that we must keep Christ as the center and we must stay focused on the central truth of our faith in Jesus. As we grow in our faith and in maturity, we thank God even more for what He has done. Are you thanking God tonight for all He has done for you and in your life?
Verses 17-19 talk more about following the example of those who have gone before us in order to stand firm against false teachers and false teaching. Part of being mature in our faith means that we do not fall astray to false doctrine and false teaching. This has been a recurrent theme throughout the history of the church - there are always going to be false teachers and it is the job of the church, both pastors and churchgoers, to stay true to what the Bible says, nothing more and nothing less. This is the pattern set before us by others and this is the pattern for us to walk in today. We share the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and tell others to be reconciled to Him by repenting of our sin and believing that Jesus Christ paid the punishment of our sins in full on the cross.
Sadly, people today preach a different message just as people did in Paul’s day. There are people today who preach a message that says you don’t need to repent, you’re already good enough! There’s another message preached by the church that says that the Bible isn’t enough on its own, we need to look at other resources in order to deal with the problems in our world effectively. Back in Paul’s day there were people preaching a false Gospel as well. What are we supposed to do whenever someone is preaching a false Gospel? We join in following what the Bible says. We call out false teachers as 1 Timothy 5:19-20 tells us. If we believe in a place called heaven and a place called hell, and if we believe that those are the only 2 eternal destinations awaiting human beings then we must share what the Bible says and if someone believes that there is salvation in any other form or fashion other than through faith in Jesus Christ then we have to address that! As Spurgeon put it, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies.
We grow in our maturity. As we do this, Paul notes to follow his example. This sounds a little narcissistic, doesn’t it? We don’t like being told to follow someone that’s not us! A Biblical example: Ezekiel was a prophet for over 20 years to the nation of Israel and they absolutely were stuck in their ways and wouldn’t listen to him even though he was called by God. If you look at Ezekiel’s call in Ezekiel chapter 3, you see that the people of Israel were hardened towards God but God hardened Ezekiel so that he could minister to these hardened people! They did not want to follow him but he remained faithful to share what God called him to share.
Paul tells the people to imitate him - this isn’t a bad thing as he is called by God as an apostle. He knows that he is a follower of Jesus Christ and if people follow him then they will grow in their faith of Jesus as well. As we know from the context of this letter, though, Paul is in prison and he makes note that the people should observe those who are like minded and imitate them as well. Paul was not physically there with them but there were other solid leaders there at this time and Paul tells these believers to follow faithful leaders. As Tony Merida puts it, “Find people who have been captured by the Gospel and pass along the heart of what it means to follow Jesus.”

Adjust your Lens (20-21)

The final 2 verses conclude this chapter with a call to live a different life because we are citizens of heaven. This church in Philippi was comprised of many Romans, Greeks and native Thracians as well as others. This was a diverse community but it tried to follow Rome’s model and it attempted to court the favor of the capitol. This was a tiny town when compared to the metropolis of Rome itself yet its citizens operated like Rome because they were Roman citizens. Paul encourages his audience in verse 20 to feel the same way about our citizenship in heaven. Being a Roman citizen carried with it some very helpful benefits: you could own property, attain political office, you could appeal to Caesar himself and you would not be crucified. These are some good benefits for the Roman citizens of Philippi. The point Paul is making is that as citizens of heaven living in Philippi, these Christians should be living differently too! They should be living not as citizens in the Roman empire, they should be living as citizens of heaven!
Whenever we take care of others, help the hurting, show honor and love to the least of these, put an end to senseless quarreling and put the needs of others above our own we give the world a glimpse of what awaits us in heaven. As one commentator puts it, “People should look at the words and deeds of believers and say, ‘you aren’t from around here, are you?’” To which we respond, “No, I’m just passing through.”
In the words of CS Lewis in his masterpiece Mere Christianity, “ If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Friends, we must adjust our lens as we live in this world. As Christians we are citizens of Conway, Missouri, yes. But we are first and foremost citizens of heaven and we await our entrance to our eternal home with anticipation and joy. But while we are here, we have a purpose and we cannot take our eyes off of it. Perhaps your vision isn’t exactly clear this evening and you find yourself struggling with the idea of living for heaven rather than living for the here and now. If this is you, it’s alright! Adjust your lens.
If time allows {Whenever you live as a citizen of heaven while on this earth, you will look different to the world. The world will oppose us and that’s ok, because we follow the example of those who have gone on before us. We follow Jesus Christ and we share in His resurrection and life - this doesn’t look like a victory to the world, in fact it looks like loss, but to those of us who understand the power of the cross we know that a cross meant to kill has become our ultimate victory.}

Conclusion

The hope and joy that the apostle Paul has cannot be shaken and our hope and joy cannot be shaken by any person, power or law today. We can unfortunately give up our hope and joy, but they cannot be taken away! How can we have this confidence? Because of the power of almighty God in subjecting all things to Himself. God’s got this - we must simply trust in Him along the way and trust in Romans 8:28. As we do this, we fulfill our purpose on this planet: To know Christ and to make Him known. Are you accomplishing your purpose today?
As we travel along in this process, we exhibit humility as we know that we still have room to grow and we have not arrived yet. We press on! We grow in our faith and mature to be more like Christ. And finally we live as citizens of heaven rather than citizens of Missouri. This world will pass away, our nation will not last for eternity and that’s ok! We’re just passing through and I pray that through the way we act and talk, that others might come to know Jesus Christ and spend eternity with Him as well.
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