By Sam E. Stone
In his personal letter to the church family at Philippi, the apostle Paul emphasized the importance of doing everything for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7). In addition to warning against false teachers, he spoke candidly about spiritual maturity, encouraging every Christian to remain faithful. Today’s text provides guidance for believers living in a hostile world.
Don’t Dwell on the Past
Philippians 3:12, 13
It is not wise to think that one has “arrived,” having done everything he needs to do. A good athlete can tell you the danger of complacency and the need to stay focused on the challenge of the moment.
Paul was realistic. He knew the disappointment of unfulfilled hope, unkept promises, and unanswered prayer. Still he determined to keep on. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. notes, “Paul’s goal is Christ’s goal for him, and Christ supplies the resources for him to ‘press on toward the goal.’” He was not losing all memory of his sinful past, but he left it behind as done with and settled.
After speaking about his upbringing, his experience, and his work, Paul affirmed his complete confidence in Christ (3:1-11). He wanted to be sure, however, that the Philippians did not misunderstand. This did not mean he had arrived at the goal of moral and spiritual perfection in Christ. Instead he kept pressing on.
Keep the Goal in Sight
All of us can learn from the past, but we must not live in the past. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 the apostle also uses the illustration of a race to make his point. Not the past but the future must consume our interest (2 Peter 2:20). Picture the scene Paul describes. The runner is bent forward, his body leaning even beyond his feet, as he reaches out for the goal ahead. He knows what awaits him—”the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:8). Mature Christians share in this effort, seeking to live up to what (they) have already attained. Keep traveling down the road you are on.
Follow the Right Examples
The way to avoid both wrong teaching and wrong living is to obey the apostle’s command. Join together in following my example. This theme comes up often in Paul’s writings (1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1). Pat Harrell notes, “This might appear as naked egotism were it not for the fact that elsewhere Paul qualifies similar statements by his own imitation of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6).”
A person’s choice is revealed by the way he lives. Some (both Jews and Gentiles) are enemies of the cross of Christ. They are marked by four characteristics: their destiny is destruction; their god is their stomach (appetites of the flesh; see Romans 7:18; 16:18); their glory is in their shame (oblivious to destructive results of their behavior; see Romans 8:5, 6); and they have their mind set on earthly things.
The ultimate end of all who live in sinful abandon will be shame and separation from God (Luke 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Hebrews 12:2). What they count as glory is really disgrace.
In contrast to these people, Paul considers himself and the other faithful Christians as part of a sec-
ond group. “Our citizenship is in Heaven.” Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12) and Roman citizenship was an important thing for the people who lived there. The Christian’s commonwealth is not found on earth, but rather in Heaven. It is both present and future (Romans 8:19, 23, 25). The Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming from there. Jesus is going to return and take us to be with him in Heaven forever. This world is not our home.
This truth is also found in Hebrews 12:1: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” How do you do this? Fix your eyes on Jesus! He has everything under his control. This even includes the transformation of our bodies. A. T. Robertson explains, “The body of our state of humiliation will be made suitable to associate with the body of Christ’s glory” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). In light of all of this, the apostle concludes: Stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.