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(020) Philippians XIV: Who Do You Imitate

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Philippians XIV: Who Do You Imitate?

Philippians 3:17-4:1

February 17, 2008

Opening prayer

·         Dave Bishop.

·         Marc’s grandparents: Don & Vi.

·         Speak to us through your word, that it might not simply be information, but that you speak to us where we are.  

Active or passive reader?

Normally, I begin my sermons with a history lesson to give you some background to the passage. It also satiates my professor personality.

·         But my biggest passion as a “professor,” is equipping students to carefully and accurately study and understand the Bible.

So instead of a history lesson, you are getting an exegesis lesson. As I said in an earlier sermon, exegesis is the study of how to study the Bible.

·         The goal of exegesis is to find the clear meaning to the original audience.

·         The goal of hermeneutics is to apply that meaning within our context.

This morning I want to teach you a little exegetical technique that I find very helpful. The reason I want to teach it to you is I am going to use it to help us understand today’s passage.

Q   Have you ever spent time reading the Bible but realized you can’t remember what you just read?

·         It said something about Jesus, I think.

That happens to me all the time. The reason is that I did not absorb or understand what I read – it just washed over me. The solution is engaging what we read, interacting with it.

Reading the Bible is not like watching TV, where you just sit and absorb. It is far more like a conversation. It means:

·         Asking questions: Why did the author say it? What did it mean?

·         Look for application: What does this passage tell me about God, about myself, and about how I should live

The more effectively we engage the Bible, the better we will understand it, and the more it will become a part of our life, which is the real goal.

Graphical outline

So this tool that I want to teach you will help you actively engage the Bible. It is very helpful, but fairly simple. It consists of making a graphical outline of the passage.

This technique is especially helpful for following the writer’s line of reasoning, so it is great for Paul’s writings, because he does a lot of back and forth.

I am going to start with a shorter passage to describe the idea, and then we will use it with today’s passage. I chose what seems to be a very appropriate post-Valentine passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27 NASB

·         That’s a pretty long sentence!

Notice that I am using NASB for this. The NIV is a great, readable translation, but sometimes loses some detail for the sake of readability, so I use NASB.

1. Copy and paste the passage into my word processor. You can use a Bible program, or else go to

2. Divide it up into each phrase, which is typically where commas and periods are.

3. Look for connecting words showing how each phrase relates to the next, typically at the beginning of the phrase.

4. Finally, indent passages show how they are related:

·         If phrase supports or explains the previous phrase, it is indented, usually words like “so that” “because” or “for.”

·         If the phrases are parallel, then they are not indented, shown by words such as “and” or “or.”

Now we can put it all together and read this passage, not as a bunch of and’s and that’s, but seeing Paul’s point:

Husbands, love your wives,

just as Christ also loved the church

and gave Himself up for her,

so that He might sanctify her,

having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory,

having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing;

but that she would be holy and blameless.

Next time you study a passage, especially one of the epistles, I really encourage you to try this out. It can be a huge help.

Still striving

Now let’s turn to today’s passage. We are continuing our series on Philippians; we are now in Philippians 3:17-4:1.

Picking up where we left off last week, Paul continues to tell the Philippians how to strive and grow in righteousness, never content to stay the same, but always growing.

·         This will be in NASB, but we will read from NIV for the rest of the sermon.

Brethren, join in following my example,

and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 

For many walk (of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 

whose end is destruction,

whose god is their appetite,

and whose glory is in their shame,

who set their minds on earthly things. 

For our citizenship is in heaven,

from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 

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. 

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 3:17 - 4:1 NASB

A good act to follow

Paul begins by pleading with the readers to follow Paul’s example and the example of those like him.

These aren’t perfect examples, because in last week’s passage, Paul is quite clear that he is not perfect and that he has not arrived, but Paul says that we should follow his example of always striving ahead.

·         But it’s not a question of if we’ll follow someone’s example.

We are imitative creatures, which makes having kids so much fun, but so embarrassing. It’s really funny when someone else’s kid swears in public, but horrifying when it’s yours.

The question is who we will imitate. Paul says there are plenty of bad examples to follow. As we saw in the diagram this entire passage contrasts to two possible examples:

1. The enemies of the cross in verse 18-19.

2. The citizens of heaven in verse 20-21.

Warn with tears

It’s obvious which example Paul wants us to follow. He warned the Philippians frequently and with tears to avoid the enemies of the cross.  

·         This is the only time we read of Paul crying, which makes us wonder if these enemies had once been allies of the cross.

·         Or perhaps it demonstrates just how desperate Paul is for them to keep safe.

An enemy of the cross is more than a person who doesn’t believe in Jesus, they actively oppose and work against Christ, and have the power to pull us away from Christ.

Given the bigger context of warnings against the false teachers, the “enemies of the cross” probably includes the Judaizers who wanted Christians to follow legalistic Jewish laws.

Additionally, there are also godless enemies, which see in how Paul describes the enemies of the cross.

·         Legalism and godlessness is Paul’s axis of evil.

A clear description

Their destiny is destruction: The word for destiny is “telos,” which means end goal or purpose. This isn’t a good crowd to hang with – they are headed for trouble, to H-E-double hockey sticks.

Despite the fronts these guys put up, they want nothing to do with God and he will honor that wish.

·         Our telos is heaven, theirs is destruction.

Their god is their stomach: The stomach is symbolic for desire, appetite.

Appetite is not bad. When we are master of our desires, they serve us well and may bring us joy. But when our desires master us, we find they are horrible tyrants.

·         Almost every sin started as a God-given desire, being pursued in at a time or in a way that God forbids.

It is a demonic deception that God want to deprive us of all things good. He wants to save us from pain that comes from desires wrongly pursued.

·         CS Lewis once noted that hell has never created a single pleasure; it only corrupts God’s pleasures.

Their glory is in their shame: They are proud of things they should be ashamed of, whether it is the arrogance of legalism or the depravity of godlessness.

Both groups place their glory is shameful things and will be ashamed when they stand before God face to face.

Their mind is on earthly things: Grammatically, we know that this is the biggest is Paul’s mind. He knows that what we believe about eternity dramatically affect the present.

·         Early in this series, we read that Paul has joy even in the midst of great hardships because of eternal perspective.

The enemies of the cross do all of these other things because their focus is only on earthly things, not eternal things.

Heavenly citizenship

But in contrast to that, Paul calls us to the follow the example to heavenly minded folks:

But our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 NIV

As you may remember from an earlier sermon, this word “citizenship” was particularly poignant for the Philippians, because of their special citizenship.

Even though Philippi was located in the middle of Greece, it had been given the rare and coveted distinction of being a Roman colony, which means Philippi was literally Roman soil.

The people of Philippi did everything they could to be Roman, from architecture, to legal code. They spoke in Latin, they dressed like Romans, acted like Romans. They were Romans.

·         Even though they lived in the middle of Greece, they considered themselves Romans first.

In the same way, Paul says, we are citizens of heaven, living in the middle of this world. This world is truly not our home, and we must not get too comfortable here.

Going home

And Paul gives an idea of what to look forward to:

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20b-21 NIV  

Paul looks forward to when these frail, sinful, broken bodies will be transformed into our glorified bodies. The Bible is not specific about what these bodies will be like, but it gives tantalizing hints in Christ’s post-resurrection body:

·         He was able to do physical things, such as eat or be touched, yet he walked through closed doors and was unbound by space.

Dual citizens?

By speaking of these heavenly realities, Paul reminds us that this world is not the end. He closed with this reminder:

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! Philippians 4:1 NIV

It is by following the example of citizens of heaven, not enemies of the cross that we will stay firm.

I have heard it said, and I’ve said it myself, that Christians are dual citizens – this world and heaven. I remember pledging allegiance to the Christian and American flag.

·         I don’t think that is correct anymore.

Citizenship implies allegiance. If you are a citizen you are obligated to obey those laws. But according to Paul, our true allegiance is to heaven alone, though we obey the laws here.

Rather than dual citizenship, a better picture is that we are like ambassadors in North Korea, with the secret mission of helping Koreans defect

·         We must be very careful in our rescue mission, because we are on a dangerous assignment and Paul warns to be careful.

Even while we’re called to live in this world, and to engage our community, we must be cautious. As we shine God’s love to this dark world, there is the danger of being drug in.

Unequally yoked

This is a warning Paul frequently made. If you grew up in youth group, then you’ve heard at least one message on this passage:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? ... “Therefore come out from them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty. Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. 2 Corinthians 6:14, 17-7:1 NIV

Contrary to what we were taught, this passage is not about dating or marrying non-Christians. Marriage does not occur anywhere in this passage, it is more open-ended.

Q   What is Paul saying? That we should have nothing to do with non-Christians?

·         No, that contradicts both what Paul says elsewhere and what he did, such as engaging the philosophers on Mars Hill.

Paul is saying we must not bind ourselves with unbelievers in relationships that pull us away from Christ. The picture is of two animals yoked together, heading in different directions.

·         One will end up pulling the other, or the bond will break.

Obviously, one example would be a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. Another would be a business partnership with a dishonest person.

I believe that if we can maintain relationship with non-Christians without endangering ourselves, we should. But we must avoid relationship that can pull us down.


To sum everything up: Whose example are we following? We will imitate someone, who will it be?

We need to look for people we want to imitate in some manner. One of cool things about living in community is that we all are examples to each other, we are helping each other out.

·         Look around and see who you want to lean on and learn from.

Also examine your life and see if you are unequally yoked in any of your relationships. Is there anyone who is pulling you down when you should be pulling them up?

Q   What do you need to do about that?

·         Some relationships should be broken off, but sometimes you need to make sure you have enough people support you.

Finally, are you sure that you are a citizen of heaven. You might even look the part, but you know that you are not truly living as a follower of Christ, and have not received forgiveness for your sins.

As we go into our time of worship, reflect on what God might be saying to you through these words. What might God be asking you to do differently? And if you need to talk to someone about any of this, grab me or any of the elders.

Children in service

Also, as we start worship, our kids will be joining us shortly.

The reason we do this is so that we can worship together as a family. In today’s fast-paced culture, families are becoming increasingly fragmented and torn apart. We want our worship time to bring us together.

·         We want this to be fun time for our kids as well, so we allow them to move around and make noise.

And on your way home, talk to them about what all this means, and about the sermon because they studied the same stuff in class.

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

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