Devotional # 135. 5/4/15. Philippians 3:17-21.
Intro. Last week we talked about maturity. Paul told us that we were to “have this mind”, to “press on” towards being “mature.” Having said that, what’s next? This week Paul is going to remind us what it looks like to live in immaturity and even without a relationship with Jesus. He also will go over the guarantee of heaven for the Christian!
v. 17. Just as Paul started this chapter, he titles this section to the “brothers” (and sisters) there in Philippi. We can tell that this is close to his heart. Paul says to follow his example in the way that he walks in the Christian life. Many great pastors, evangelists and missionaries have said they could never tell someone to follow their example. I agree! I feel like I don’t represent Jesus well most of the time. If I were to say “use my life as an example for your own life”, it would be hypocritical. And yet Paul was confident enough to tell people to model themselves after him. It wasn’t that he lacked humility, after all he called himself “the chief sinner” (1 Timothy 1:15), he just knew that he had matured to a point where newer Christians could use him as an example. I think it does a lot for people to realize that it is possible to live a godly life. Often times the church has demanded an impossible life from people. But what is it that God has asked us to do? To love others as much as we love ourselves, to share Jesus with others, and to continue to grow in Him. All of this can only be done with the Lord’s help.
I think in order to be a good leader you have to be able to cast vision and be a good storyteller. Paul doesn’t just say to follow his example alone but emphasizes that there are others like him (“who so walk“). Paul excites the immature Christians, telling them that there are others who have been in the same places as you, and they have risen above, they’ve made it through difficulties and they have attained maturity. We can take a lot of comfort in this and we also can be excited by Paul’s exultation. For me personally it’s really cool to think about the hundreds of thousands and millions of Christians throughout the centuries who’ve gone through the same things I’m going through, more or less and they have sustained, they have endured. Do you think you’re the only one to go through this issue? The roots of difficulties in sin haven’t changed since the beginning of time. Have you ever read Ecclesiastes? There’s nothing new under the sun. Literally. The pursuit of money, fame, power and self-glorification drive most difficulties in our lives. Whether it’s someone else pursuing those things or us pursuing them. But these Christians have fought through these and have made it. Not to perfection but to a maturity where some of those things aren’t as difficult anymore. They have learned lessons and life isn’t so hard. Because they seek God’s will and not their own.
vv 18-19. When you first read this verse it sounds like Paul is continuing his exhortation like he was doing in verse 17 but he doesn’t. Paul shows us the other side: what immaturity looks like. The people Paul is talking about here consider themselves to be Christians. They were the opposite of legalists because they took full advantage of their liberty. These are the kinds of people Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and Romans 6. And it makes Paul weep because he knows that each time they say “my soul is saved so I can live like hell” they make themselves “enemies of the cross.”
These “libertarians” have no physical or spiritual self-control. Instead of having a single serving steak they eat the whole cow. They’ve never headed the saying “everything in moderation.”
Just as legalists take portions of the Bible to the extreme on denying themselves everything and practicing ritualistic religion; here, these gluttons of freedom don’t deny themselves anything and only cling to verses about God’s mercy and forgiveness. Paul wrote Romans chapter 14, giving us great understanding on how to walk the middle-ground of legalism and freedom. If a Christian is not committing a sin and doesn’t feel convicted by the Holy Spirit about what they are doing then they have the freedom to do it in their home. There are several hot button issues for Christians nowadays (and, to be honest, they have existed for many centuries) such as worship music, drinking alcohol, homosexuality and evolution*. Romans 14 tells us how to live with our freedom (more for the immature) but it’s surprising how much it says to the Christian who wants to force their beliefs on other Christians (more for the mature). If one Christian has created a stumbling block to another Christian by exercising their freedom than that is an issue. It doesn’t mean that the Christian who has the freedom needs to stop, it just means that they should respect the other Christian by not doing it (or discussing it) around the other Christian. It’s called respect and it’s how we stay united. Christians can be very different from each other but they should be united in Christ, as we’ve discussed many times before.
Do you remember what I mentioned in Devotional #93, how there are three different categories that Christian thought can be put into? Dogma, Doctrine and Opinion. Dogma is the stuff that is absolute truth, that can’t be compromised on. Doctrine is developed within denominations that help to guide. And opinion is interesting but not essential to the faith. An example of Dogma would be that Jesus is the only One who can save us from our sins, and the only way to Heaven. An example of Doctrine would be predestination. And an example of Opinion is that electric guitar worship music is OK.
But the issue here in Philippians 3 was certainly one that couldn’t be ignored. People whose “glory is in their shame” are definitely not looking at, or living life as Jesus desires them to. They are bearing fruit but it’s rotten and full of deception towards a world looking for hope and being deceived into thinking that Jesus is just another dead end since His followers aren’t any different from the rest of the world.
v. 20. Paul jerks our heads towards home! We spend so much time worrying about the things on earth, even though we only have temporary visas, that we forget we’re citizens of heaven. If anyone tries to tell you that Christians don’t go to heaven, or that they end up in Purgatory or that heaven is only reserved for a certain 144,000 or that the Bible doesn’t talk about a literal heaven you can point them to this verse.
Paul has more than us just trying to have a heaven-centric mindset or even simply looking forward to going to heaven. Both of those are good things and encouraged for us to do, since it lays the foundation for what Paul is getting at. His main point here is “to eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” For us to “eagerly wait” for Jesus means that we are expectant. That we never let that belief stray too far from our mind. Since Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts and we filter every action and decision through Him, then it makes sense that we can’t wait to be with Him in person.
This doesn’t mean that we lay around doing nothing like the Thessalonians that Paul had to deal with (2 Thess. 3:10-12) and it doesn’t mean that we are so focused on waiting for Jesus that we never actually do anything for Him. But as I just mentioned that we are expectant and looking forward to His return and our homecoming.
v. 21. This is the culmination of the point Paul was making about “eagerly awaiting” Jesus’ return! Paul gives us some insight towards what will happen to our physical bodies: we will be “confirmed to His glorious body.” Many call this our “glorified body.” We have great examples from the Gospels about what Jesus’ body was like and therefore our body will be like. We’ll be able to eat (as Jesus ate fish in Luke 24:40-43) but also be able to walk through walls (as Jesus did in John 20:19). This shouldn’t be exciting just because it’s like we’ll all have superpowers but ask yourself why our bodies would be designed like this. Because the physical body was created to be perfect and knowing that we can walk through walls ultimately means that the physical world will not stand in our way. There won’t be wheelchairs or a fear of heights. We won’t be hindered by a material world any longer. And we can eat! Not because food is so great but because God gave us taste buds and our other senses to enjoy life. We won’t be worried about our “god being our belly” (v. 19) because God will have given us the control that we were always meant to have since Adam and Eve were first placed in the Garden. What a glorious thing it is to consider what it will be like to be made like Jesus.
Conclusion. This study has encouraged me to walk as a mature Christian. I want to benefit other immature Christians. I don’t want my glory to be shame. I want to be free to look forward to going to heaven and what being made like Christ will be. Doesn’t that sound awesome to you? Doesn’t it give you the strength to ask God to be put through the difficulties that we talked about earlier in this chapter? I suggest you pray right now for God’s will to be done in your life and for you to mature in your faith. As I’m writing this even now I’ve stopped to pray that prayer. Pray something like this: “Jesus, I can’t wait for the day for my body to become like your body, but until that happens I pray that you would make me more like you in my spirit. Please give me the strength to endure “the fellowship of Your sufferings” and to become “conformed to Your death.” I truly want to mature in You and be Your disciple. Lord may your will be done in my life. Amen.”
*Issues Christians Disagree On: Relevant Magazine has an article on their “Top 6”, read it here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/features/26607-the-6-things-that-divide-christians