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Stand Firm In The Lord With Joy

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Stand Firm In The Lord With Joy

Philippians 3:15-4:1 (NIV)

(Read: Philippians 3:15-4:1…) I read an article titled, “Let’s learn from the elephants.” The article was an interesting story about a herd of African elephants. In an attempt to thin out this herd, the authorities killed off a number of the older males and moved a group of females and young bulls to another area. It was not too long after the move that white rhinos in that area were being killed, not by poachers, but by the young bulls that were trying to prove their elephant-hood. One elephant even organized a gang that began attacking tourist buses.

To solve the problem, the authorities shot some of the troublemakers but then came up with a better solution. They released a few old males from another area into the troubled neighborhood. The older males immediately began to bring the young bulls into line. It would appear that the young elephants did not know how to act in their day-to-day living without the example of the older elephants to teach them. Learning by example is not restricted to just the animal kingdom.

Just as the elephants needed an example to follow so that they knew how to behave in their day-to-day living, so also we need an example to follow in our day-to-day Christian living. In the word of God before us this morning, Paul encourages us to follow his example in our Christian living. He tells us to; Do as I say and Do as I do. Do not be focused on earthly things, but to be focused on Jesus and heavenly things.

The Apostle Paul said to his fellow Christians in Philippi, “Join with others in following my example” (Philippians 3:17). Can you even imagine being able to say that to people without sounding conceited?

I would never say, “Follow my example.” After all, I know me. I know enough about me that I do not even feel comfortable having people watch me closely enough to see what kind of example I might set.

            Paul was not conceited. He was not being proud, when he said, “Follow my example.” He could say it sincerely, because what he meant was: “Follow my example, as long as I am following the example of Christ”.

The congregation in Philippi was new to Christianity and they were growing in faith and knowledge of Christ. They were free from the doctrinal errors that had surfaced in the congregations around them but Satan never takes a day off, and he came after them, too.

A group of people called Judiaizers were trying worm their way into the congregation and undermine the gospel message that Paul had brought to Philippi. Judaizers were Jew or Gentile converts to Christianity who claimed to believe in Jesus as their Savior, but they also taught that in addition to believing in Jesus it was necessary to keep certain ceremonial laws that God had given to Israel. Basically the Judaizers confused law and gospel, and Paul appealed to the Philippians to choose the right example to follow in their Christian living.

Paul said, “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17). God blessed the Philippians with some wonderful examples. God had given them Timothy and other Christian leaders to follow. These men whom God appointed as apostles and pastors would be the only example the congregation needed to learn about Christian living because they lived according to the word of God. Anybody teaching something other than the gospel was an enemy to be avoided; because they were not living for Christ.

The very thought of people who claimed to be followers of Jesus but who lived contrary to the gospel brought tears to Paul’s eyes. Paul writes, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

Throughout the Scriptures, we are told repeatedly not to be caught up in the things of this world. The world teaches that we are to be selfish and self-centered. Just look at the commercials you see on the T.V. “You deserve a break today,” or how about, “You only go around once in this life so grab all the gusto you can get.” Then there are the mottos that people claim to live by like, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” If Jesus would have thought this way, you and I would still be lost in our sins and heading straight for hell!

Anyone who subscribes to this way of thinking has placed his or her own desires above God. Money, possessions, and pleasure have become their god. They have made, as Paul said, their stomach their god and their only wish is to fill their sinful appetites. Gluttony, greed, drunkenness, and sexual immorality are the appetites that the sinful nature demands to be satisfied.

Just look around you. What do you see? You see people who find glory in their shame. You find adultery being committed and then these people boast about their sexual conquest. You see people commit adultery and act as if it’s acceptable. Homosexuality, abortion, fornication, and indecent behavior are considered nothing but different strokes for different folks. They are not condemned as sins that God expressly forbids because people think of the Bible as old fashioned and out of date. But everyone who chooses to live this way is an enemy of Christ.

No one is neutral. Either you are for Him, or you are against Him. There is no straddling the fence. And what is the end of those who are His enemies? Paul tells us, “Their destiny is destruction” (Philippians 3:19).

            Focusing on earthly things only leads to destruction. Satan uses the things of this world to draw us away form Christ and the way Jesus wants us to live. Jesus wants us to live according to his will. The only way we can do this to be focused on Jesus and heavenly things.

Focusing on Jesus and heavenly things is a major part of our Christian living. The enemies of the cross live for this world and its pleasures and sin. They are earth bound and world orientated. This is not the way Christians live in this world because the world is not our permanent home. As Paul reminds us, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

“Citizens of heaven” is more than a pious phrase that has a pleasing sound. It is term of the great honor which God is pleased to bestow on us for Jesus’ sake. Citizenship in Israel was highly prized in Old Testament times. Roman citizenship was highly prized in New Testament times. American citizenship is highly prized in our day. But nothing is more glorious than citizenship in heaven!  

The kingdoms of this world come to an end. Citizens of this world have to switch allegiance as their rulers and governments change. But the citizen of heaven belongs to a kingdom that will never end and never change. It stands firm and sure, for Jesus is defending it and those in it. The citizen of heaven will not have his citizenship taken from him, nor will his citizenship end when he dies. The Apostle Peter tells us that our citizenship is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4).

            The blessing of citizenship in heaven is that its citizens are the redeemed people of God. They are the people to whom God has granted his mercy in Jesus Christ. They are people who have been delivered from the condemnation and destruction that will fall upon to the enemies of the cross. Rather than being separated from God as foreigners and strangers, because of Christ we have become fellow citizens with the saints and members of his family.

We ought to prize our citizenship highly. It is not something we can achieve or merit by our own efforts, but it is a citizenship awarded by the grace of God. We are citizens of heaven because Jesus won a place for us there by his atoning death on the cross. He sealed our citizenship in heaven by his resurrection from the dead. And he ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us there until he returns.

Through the gospel invitation the Holy Spirit led us to believe these wonderful truths concerning Christ. By the powerful promises of God in the Scriptures, we are assured that we belong to Christ and that heaven belongs to us. Men may steal our earthly life, but God tells us, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Keeping focused on Jesus and heavenly things while we live in a world that wallows in sin and is opposed to God’s word is a difficult task. So to help us to keep focused Paul reminds us that we are really only waiting for Jesus to return. Paul writes, “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 3:20-21).

Because of sin the world will one day come to a crashing halt and Christ, the great King and Judge, will appear. He will deal righteously with a sinful and rebellious mankind. And only those will escape who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, that is, only the ones who believe in Jesus as God’s appointed sacrifice for their sins.

Jesus will appear to all believers not as a fearful Judge, but as our Savior and glorious Lord. He will rescue us from this world; he will take us with him to that land which we have never seen but which is our home.

And this will be a complete deliverance, not only from the evil influences of this world, but also from its evil effects. Each day we remain here we feel those effects: the quarrelling and strife, the disappointments and frustrations, the worries and fears, the sickness and pain and weakness. But when Jesus comes to deliver us, all that will be changed. The final episode in his plan of salvation will be to bring us out of this place into a marvelous place of joy, happiness and glory.

            Even our bodies will be changed for our new life there. Our present bodies corrupted by sin will be glorified at our resurrection, even as Jesus’ body was at his resurrection. They will be cleansed from all weakness, from all sinful inclinations and from all death forever.

But for the present we are still on earth. And God has a reason for keeping us here for a while. It is our time of grace, during which God has graciously called us to a life of repentance and faith. It is also a time of opportunity. A time to bring that same gospel invitation to those still in darkness. But while we work and wait here, we turn our thoughts heavenward, keeping focused on Jesus and heavenly things. Then when God calls us home or Jesus returns in all his glory we can stand before our righteous judge confident that we have stood firm in the Lord, dear friends!

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