Our Citizenship is in Heaven: The Joy of Maturity (Phil. 3:15-19)
Our Citizenship is in Heaven
“The Joy of Maturity”
When I was in junior high school, my dad was discouraged in his preaching and had quit for a few months, maybe a year. We lived in north Georgia at the time; we worshipped at one congregation on Sunday morning and another congregation on Sunday evening.
In the Bible class room in our Wednesday night Bible class, there was this poster on the wall that read: “I know I’m somebody ‘cause God don’t make no junk!” It was an important reminder to young teenagers that we are all important in the eyes of God. A similar aphorism that you have seen over the years says: “Be patient. God’s not finished with me yet.”
In fact, there’s a children’s song that we sang in VBS and Bible class when I was young. I won’t lead it but it goes like this (If I were to lead the song, you would say, “Wow, Paul. God’s got a lot of work to do with you!): “He’s still working on me. To make me what I ought to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars, the sun, and the earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient He must be… ‘Cause He’s still working on me.”
When I was in 4-H in junior high school, I did some rock climbing. My 4-H advisor was very much an outdoor kind of person. We went rock climbing 2-3 times. One time, we went climbing on a rock face called the “Big O” at Mount Yonah near Cleveland, GA. Nobody climbed this rock face successfully the first time. My advisor had a friend who was there with us to help and he climbed it that day for the first time. The rock face leaned out and there was one point where you had to stand on a rock ledge and when you reached your arms as high as you could - I’m 5’6” - the next ledge was just a few inches higher than my finger tips. You actually had to jump and hold on to the ledge with your fingertips and then move hand-over-hand until you got to the next ledge for your feet, which was a 4-5’ away. That’s usually when you would fall, but you were on a rope the whole time so if you fell, you weren’t injured. I enjoyed that experience. What was the most exhilarating though, was getting to the top of a rock face, above the treetops, and look around from that vantage point. That’s part of the thrill of rock climbing.
There have been many attempts to climb Mount Everest. It was first successfully climbed in 1953. In one of the nine unsuccessful attempts before 1953, almost a whole team of mountain climbers failed and were buried beneath the snow. One of their team members had stayed at the bottom and did not die with the rest of his team. He returned to London.
One day he was lecturing on mountain climbing when he stood before a magnificent picture of the mountain. At the end of the lecture, he turned to the mountain and said, “We have tried to conquer you and failed; we tried again and you beat us; but we will beat you, for you cannot grow bigger, but we can!”
You and I cannot give up on ourselves when we fall into sin and temptation. When we do not perform as Christians as well as we know we could and should. Paul did not want the Philippian Christians to give up before they reached spiritual maturity. He challenged them to keep walking, keep growing, keep climbing until they reached their potential in Christ Jesus. There are four things in our text that are needed if we are to keep maturing in our Christianity.
Let’s feed on God’s word together…
GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT WITHIN US - 3:15-16:
While Paul was not perfect in being an encourager - remember our sermon a few weeks ago about Paul refusing, at first, to give John Mark a second chance - he did believe in being an encourager.
In verse 12, Paul had said that he was not yet perfect. But here in verse 15, he says Christians need to reach toward perfection. How could Paul expect out of these Christians what he had not yet achieved?
Let me share with you something about the word translated “perfect.” You see, some translations translate that word as “mature.” In verse 12, Paul used a verb form in the perfect tense, which denotes absolute spiritual maturity; you might even say “sinless perfection.” In this verse (ver. 15), it refers to spiritual maturity. It’s the type of “completeness” in maturity level that we see contrasted between an adult and a baby.
If you are on the track and you want to run 100 yards in 10 seconds, then someone has a stopwatch in their hands and they note that you run 10 yards in 1 second. That is not ultimate perfection, but you are on your way. You are “perfect” for that stage of your race. If you run the next 10 yards in 1 second, then you are “perfect” for that stage of your race. If you can go on, consistently, then you will run 100 yards in 10 seconds.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48 that we need to be perfect (mature) as His heavenly Father - God the Father - is mature. Jesus does not mean we are to be sinlessly holy as God is. But, we are to be “mature” in our stage, our sphere, as God is in His. Paul suggests two responses to this challenge:
First, “have this attitude.” Your translation might say, “have this mind.” This applies to those of us who have decided that growth and maturity are important goals for us. We recognize that we need to keep pressing toward the goal (ver. 14). In the context, Paul is referring to leaving behind the idea that one can be right in the eyes of God based on the law of Moses (ver. 7-9) - we might even say leaving behind the effort to be “right” in the eyes of other people. We just need to seek maturity in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, those who have a different attitude - who think they are already mature or if they think they can be spiritually mature aside from Christ - God will reveal that. If they are willing to see the truth. If you and I want to know the truth, God will reveal the truth to us. We can know the truth if we want to know the truth.
If we want to be spiritually mature, the simple fact is, that we need to follow the same standard, the gospel of Jesus Christ (ver. 16). Sometimes a QB in a football game has a bad time in the post-season. But often, the coach will say something like: “We’re going to stay with the man who brought us here.” In other words, “this QB is the one who got us to this point; we’re not going to replace him just because he is having a bad day.”
That is kind of what Paul is saying here. The gospel got us to this point of maturity. The gospel is what brought us from unbeliever to believer, from being in sin to being in Christ. We cannot and should not allow other teachings or other principles or other people to change the way we approach the Christian life and Christian maturity. It’s like what Paul said to the Christians in Galatia: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:13)
Paul is encouraging the Christians in their pursuit of spiritual maturity. Christians are to continue walking the same walk and thinking the same thoughts. The sentiments in verse 16 are military imagery. Christians are to stay in line behind the principles of the word of God. We are to walk in line with God’s word toward spiritual maturity. Jesus wants to see us through to perfection!
The second thing we need to progress toward spiritual maturity is:
GODLY EXAMPLES AROUND US - 3:17:
Notice Paul writes in verse 17: “join in following my example.” Literally, Paul says, “be fellow-imitators of me.” The Greek word gives us the English word mimic. As Paul mimicked Christ, he says Christians should mimic him.
Notice also at the end of the verse, Paul writes Christians should observe those “who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” First, as to the “pattern…” The word refers to a piece of metal imprinting its image into something else, like coins. Paul followed Christ as closely as possible and, in doing so, he gave a pattern for other people to follow as well. In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul wrote to Timothy: “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
So when Paul wrote “us” in verse 17, he broadened the pattern beyond just himself. Just in the letter of Philippians, Paul has mentioned other Christians, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom he discussed extensively in chapter 2.
It is not possible to overemphasize how important a godly example is to each one of us. I need to hear how you are living your Christian faith at work. That’s why fellowship is so important for us. Your example, your pattern of faithfulness inspires and encourages me. I need that.
An immoral person at the factory can put together a good Chevy. A salesperson can go to the Soaring Eagle Casino without jeopardizing his or her relationship with their clients. But a school teacher is teaching 24-hours a day. His or her contacts with students outside of class may, in fact, be more important than what they are teaching inside the classroom. A student will judge a teacher based on a wide variety of assessments.
The teacher himself or herself is often times more influential than what they actually teach. In fact, the attitude of a student toward a subject and the benefit he or she gets from a subject is often times impacted by their view of the teacher.
I don’t remember a whole lot from my world history class in the 8th grade in Hiawassee, GA, but I certainly remember the impact Mr. Flanagan had on me.
If we are going to reach spiritual maturity, we need godly examples around us.
Third, if we are going to reach spiritual maturity, we need godless enemies away from us!
GODLESS ENEMIES AWAY FROM US - 3:18-19:
We began talking about Mount Everest. The “enemies” of a mountain climber are avalanches, unexpected blizzards, high winds, and uncertain footing. The enemies of our efforts to be spiritually mature are people. In the same way we need positive examples and influences in our lives, we also need to avoid or limit negative influences in our lives, especially those who are not teaching and living the gospel of Christ in their own lives.
Paul had already written in Philippians, in 3:2, about avoiding “dogs and evil workers.” These were wolves in sheep’s clothing. They were those who “perverted the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:7). They look like friends and sound like friends but in actuality, they are not teaching the gospel of Christ correctly, so they are enemies of the cross. Paul mourned as he talked about them.
Let us observe their description:
The goal: “Their end is destruction.”
The word “destruction” is the word “perdition” used of Judas Iscariot - the “son of perdition” (John 17:12). The mature Christian glories in the cross (Gal. 6:14). But these enemies of the cross have the same destiny as Satan himself. They are headed for the lake of fire, the second death. The mature Christian’s destination is the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. Their destination is destruction. We need to keep our eyes wide open to see where people are going and not follow them if they are not walking in step with the Spirit.
Their god: “their god is their appetite.”
There are certain things I want to eat. I like Rachel’s homemade biscuits. I like white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. I like red velvet cake. I like hamburgers and french fries. I like pecan pie and peanut butter pie (notice that fruit and vegetables are not at the top of my list!). I like Skittles. They’re a fruit, right? But I’ve got to eat what is healthy for me, if I want to “mature physically” in a way that is healthy. These enemies of the cross of Christ just want to see and hear what is pleasing to the flesh and whatever of the gospel of Christ that doesn’t appeal to them, they reject.
They are not in control of their senses. Their appetites control them. They pander to themselves, like those in 2 Timothy 4:3, whom Paul described as wanting to have their “ears tickled.” To that purpose, they sought out religious teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear.
Paul, on the other hand, said that he had no confidence in the flesh (3:3-4). He did not believe that he had already arrived at spiritual maturity. He could only follow the gospel of Christ. The enemies of the cross of Christ took as their god whatever felt good, sounded good, and looked good on the outside. Paul described those kind of people in Romans 16:18 in these words: “such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
Their glory: “is in their shame.”
These people indulge in themselves and they justify their behavior and proclaim that what they do is right and lawful. Like the people in Isaiah’s day, they “call evil good, and good evil; they put darkness for light, and light for darkness; they put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (5:20).
Rather than simply following the true gospel of Jesus Christ - book, chapter, and verse - they contrive their own set of rules, their own code, which endorses everything they are already doing. Their sense of values is perverted so they boast in things in which they really ought to be ashamed. Paul tells us in 3:7-12 that he gloried in Christ. They glory in their shame. People brag about things they ought to be ashamed of.
Now, in the context, these are not distant enemies - in fact, they are not even non-Christians! In the context, these people Paul is talking about are Christians! They were members, or at least they were known to, the church of Christ in Philippi! We have far too many “role models” for ourselves and our kids who are not honoring the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives!
Their perspective: “they set their mind on earthly things.”
We all have a perspective, a “world-view,” a lens through which we look at the world. It is our frame of reference through which we make major decisions. That “world view” determines the life we live, the decisions we make. Paul’s “world-view” was God’s - that we’re going to stand before God on the day of judgment and he wanted to live in heaven (3:11); he wanted to experience the resurrection of the dead.
But for too many people, their “world-view” is simply the physical view of the world; Paul warned against that in Romans 12:2. Their minds are not renewed in Jesus Christ. They could not think the things they ought to think. As one person wrote, their view was “all soil and no sky.”
But there is no fence-straddling in Christianity. There is no middle ground. There is no halfway zone where we may be partial in our dedication to Jesus Christ. “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4). So Paul tells Christians in Colossians 3:2, to “set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth.”
If we are worried too much about what is happening in this world, even in our country, that we are stressed out over it, I wonder if it’s because we have dropped the truths of eternity and immortality, and heaven out of our thinking.
To become spiritually mature, we need to avoid godless enemies around us.
Finally, to become spiritually mature, we need grand expectations before us!
GRAND EXPECTATIONS BEFORE US - 3:20-21:
When I look back at the sinful things I’ve done in the past, at that time I thought it was fun, exciting, important. But as I have matured in the faith, I know they were really futile, absurd, even stupid. Family, self-gratification is pure fantasy. It’s ultimately as satisfying as eating a mud pie.
The apostle Paul had set his past behind him and was determined to leave it in the past. He had a clear view of his future and he kept it in front of him. Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that effective people stay focused by keeping the end, the purpose, in mind.
Nothing was more important to the apostle Paul than being prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ and waiting eagerly for that event. He writes in Titus 2:13 that he was “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every book of the NT except Galatians, 2 and 3 John, and Philemon. The verb “eagerly wait” (ver. 20) expresses a strong expectation and total concentration. We are not looking at or for anything else except the coming of Jesus Christ. The official price tag of the 2020 (2021) olympics in Tokyo, Japan was $15.4 billion! An article in the U. S. News and World Report states that Tokyo could have built 300 300-bed hospitals for that money! They could have built 1,200 elementary schools for that money! Cities spend money like that in anticipation of all these athletes from around the world coming to their country.
The church has something even more glorious to anticipate - the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s “hope” was confident expectation! But it wasn’t only for the coming of Christ but also for the redemption of his body! Notice that Paul writes that when Jesus returns, He will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (ver. 21). My fleshly body is what causes me often to sin. But one day, this body with its passions is going to be changed and my spirit will no longer follow the desires of the flesh! What about that!?
To the Corinthians Paul said that our bodies will be buried in decay and raised without decay; they will be sown in humiliation and raised in splendor; they will be sown in weakness and raised in strength; they will be sown a physical body and raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:42–44).
As we see in the resurrections Jesus performed, whenever Jesus meets death, death loses. When Jesus comes again, death will receive its final blow: “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).
In verse 21, Paul says that Jesus has the power to accomplish all this work. Jesus 1) by the exertion of 2) His power that He has even to 3) subject all things to Himself. Think about the powers we experience in this world: the forces of nature, the power of fire, gravitation force. The power of death. All of these forces will be nullified by Jesus Christ at His second coming.
To enjoy spiritual maturity family, we need: great encouragement within us, godly examples around us, godless enemies away from us, and grand expectations before us. With this information in front of us, what are we to do?
Take home message: “Stand firm in the Lord, beloved!” (Phil. 4:1). This is how you will reach spiritual maturity.