Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 10 (“Pressing On”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 09 June 2019)]
- SCRIPTURE READING:
Phil.3:8-21- (ESV) ~ “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”
August 1992. Derrick Redmond from Great Britain was favoured to win the 400-meter race during the summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, but as he powered around the backstretch, his hamstring snapped. Redmond tried desperately to finish the race, but he still had half the distance to go. Because he couldn’t walk, he began to hop. Jim Redmond (Derrick’s father) had to get to his struggling son. He doesn’t remember all the steps down from Section 131, Row 22, Seat 25 of the Olympic Stadium. He doesn’t really remember leaping over the railing or pushing off security guards who were too stunned to stop him. He was not just a spectator at the Olympics anymore; Jim Redmond was a father, and he had to get to his son. “Dad,” Derrick said, “Dad…Get me back to lane five. I want to finish.” And leaning on his father, Derrick Redmond made his way around the track as the crowd, with the whole world watching, rose to their feet cheering.
Our outline for today’s teaching is as follow:
- Paul’s Past (3:1-11);
- Paul’s Present (3:12-16);
- Paul’s Future (3:17-21).
- PAUL’S PAST (3:1-11):
The previous time we looked at Phil.3:1-11, we learned that, this paragraph is one of the most profound and theologically rich passages in the Bible. There we have a clear description of the doctrine of justification based on the fact that we receive imputed righteousness from Christ without doing any good deeds of the law.
We also saw in the previous paragraph (i.e. Phil.3:1-11), one of the harshest and most serious judgments and condemnations on false preachers found in the Bible. Paul judged false preachers and teachers and calls them dogs and evil workers. These false preachers were Judaizers who did not openly deny Christ but who said that salvation by Christ was not complete. They claimed that salvation must be supplemented or completed by the believer’s efforts (i.e. works) as well as the act of circumcision.
Circumcision of the flesh in the Old Testament was designed as a sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham. It physically signified that a man was a natural descendant of Abraham and a member of the nation of Israel (i.e. God’s chosen people). The problem was that the Jews had perverted the physical symbol of circumcision and made it a sign of God’s eternal favour and blessing as if to say that it was an automatic sign of salvation and of being a child of God. God sent them prophet after prophet to show them the error of their ways pointing them to Christ for eternal salvation. These false prophets in Philippi were promoting false teaching based on works. Therefore, Paul calls them the “false circumcision.”
Believers however, are the “true circumcision.”Paul speaks of an inward, spiritual circumcision of the heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s elect which is the fruit and effect of Christ’s righteousness. It takes place when a sinner is born again by the Spirit of God (Rom.2:28-29). A true child of God is one who has been born again. This includes regeneration by the Spirit of God who immediately then brings the regenerated sinner to faith in Christ and repentance in the preaching of the Gospel (2 Thes.2:13-14). A person who has been circumcised spiritually knows that physical circumcision has nothing to do with salvation or any part of it (Gal.6:12-16). He knows that Christ and His righteousness makes the only difference between saved and lost, holy and unholy, fit and unfit, certain blessedness and certain destruction (Col.3:9-11).
Paul also makes it clear in Phil. 3:1-11 that the righteousness which is our only ground of salvation is no inherent or imparted righteousness. It is nothing we do, it is a righteousness imputed to us by God and which we receive by God-given faith.
What exactly is this righteousness? It is the entire merit (virtue and worth) of Christ’s whole work of satisfaction to God’s law and justice by His obedience unto death for God’s elect, given to Him before the foundation of the world.
- PAUL’S PRESENT (3:12-16):
In verses 12 -16 Paul talks about things that he has not obtained yet and pressing on to make this mysterious thing or things his own – what is he talking about?
When we look at the context of our Scripture reading for today, Phil.3:10 draws our attention to and gives us an answer to what these “things” are, that he has not yet obtained ~ “…that I may know Himand the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death.”The four things mentioned in 3:10 are:
- Knowing God;
- Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection;
- Sharing in Christ’s sufferings’ and
- Becoming like Christ in His death.
Though Paul was a spiritual giant in the eyes of the Philippian saints, he wanted them
to know that he had not yet attained the goals stated in 3:10. According to 3:12b, he was still actively pressing on toward these goals, in other words, he had by no means reached the final stage of his “sanctification.”
What is “sanctification”? The Greek word translated “sanctification”(ἁγιασμός[“hagiasmos”]) means “holiness”– to sanctify therefore, means “to make holy.”In a sense, only God is holy (Is.6:3). God is separate, distinct, the other. No human being or thing shares the holiness of God’s essential nature. There is only one God. Yet Scripture speaks about holy things. Moreover, God calls human beings to be holy – as holy as He is (Lev.11:44; Matt.5:48; 1 Pet.1:15-16).
A believer grows in holiness (sanctification) by living according to his or her new identity – his identity in Christ Jesus. Before being “in Christ”the believer was “in Adam”(Rom.5:12-21). To be “in Adam”is to be spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person is separated from God, and as such a person who is in Adam is standing in a relationship with the world, the flesh, and the devil, which is damnable.
In 3:13 we see that Paul emphasises the fact that he is not sitting back and waiting for the day when he will meet his Lord. No, he is doing two things:
- He’s not looking back – he forgets about what lies behind.
- He is stretching forward to what lies ahead.
Why is he not looking back and to what is he not looking back? Here he refers to 3:1-9, where he said that he cannot base his salvation on previous credentials (things that he achieved) or good works, but only on grace and faith alone… ~“…the righteousness from God that depends on faith”(3:9).
There is another reason why we must not look back and that is to ponder on our past sins, hurts and unwise decisions and acts. If we have confessed our past sins and wrong doings and forgave people that hurt us, etc., then we must believe that Christ has forgiven us and freed us from those sinful and hurtful things. We should not keep on thinking back to it. The problem with that, is that such memories are a motion of no confidence in God’s grace and forgiveness – saying, “Lord., I don’t think You have forgiven me.”
Thinking back of past sins and unwise decisions and acts, are also like playing in drift sand. The longer you play there, the deeper you sink into the mud and eventually you cannot get out of it. If you keep on entertaining negative thoughts, you will not and cannot progress in your faith and sanctification. We must always remember that we who are saved; are new creatures; we are forgiven; we are washed in the blood of Christ.
Instead of pondering on the past, Paul knew that he was forgiven, he fully accepted that and was pressing on towards the end goal when he would receive his crown of glory… ~ “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”(1 Pet.5:4).
Paul wasn’t perfect in his walk with the Lord, but he looked toward that day when he would be in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. This fact must encourage us. While we know that perfection is not possible in this life, we should strive for spiritual maturity, like Paul did.
3.3 PAUL’S FUTURE (3:17-21):
In 3:17 Paul gives two imperatives (i.e. commands/instructions):
- The first thing that they had to do, was to be imitators of Paul. Is this, Paul’s Jewish achievements? No! It was his self-denying and self-giving acts. He said in 1 Cor.10:33-11:1 ~ “…just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”It was his willingness to suffer for others ~ “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate”(2 Thes.3:7-9). It was Paul losing everything for Christ while also imitating Christ (Phil.3:5-9). This refers to Paul’s desire to follow Christ as it was described in Phil.3:7-14.
- The second thing that Paul told the Philippian believers to do, was that they must alsofollow the example of other exemplary saints. Paul did not say here, “Follow me and only me.”Instead he reminded the Philippians that in addition to the example of his own life, there are others who arealsowalking the right path that Paul had instructed. Paul wants the Philippians to follow his example while also looking to other people who are walking on the right path. This right path is the path that Jesus walked while He was on earth.
On the other hand, in 3:18 Paul warns his brothers in Philippi that they must be careful who they follow, because there are many people who are “enemies of the cross”– people who are not worthy of following. On the contrary, these people will lead them astray.
There is something else that the readers of Paul’s letter can learn from in this verse. Paul’s broken heart and his tears for these enemies of the cross – because of their lost state. Paul has a zeal for the Gospel and at the same time he has a deep zeal for lost souls. The end destination of these enemies of Christ, is “destruction”[ἀπώλεια -“apoleia”]which literally means, to destroy or kill (e.g. in battle), by means of torture (Matt.2:13; 27:20; Mk. 3:6). This same loss applies to the soul of the enemies of Christ – their final destination is eternal damnation in hell ~ “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt.7:13).
The words in 3:19 is a reflection, of Paul’s words to the Galatian believers in Gal.6:7-8 ~ “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
We see in 3:20-21 the motivation and reward for pressing on (3:14). Together with him, the Philippian brothers are citizens of heaven and need therefore, to press on to the end – to the finishing line. A great prize awaits them, namely the “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,”which means an eternal life with a transformed body without any scars or pain. A “glorious body”which will be transformed by the same power that raised Christ from death to life, by the almighty King of this universe – the only living and eternal Triune God!
- CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:
What are you living for in your few fleeting years here on this earth? Anything other than fame, wealth, or influence?
When Thomas Naylor was teaching business management at Duke University, he asked his students to draft a personal strategic plan. He reported that “with few exceptions, what they wanted fell into three categories: money, power, and things— very big things, including vacation homes, expensive foreign automobiles, yachts, and even airplanes.”This was their request of the faculty: “Teach me how to be a money-making machine.”
That’s not what Paul had in mind when he encouraged his brothers to ~ “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”Paul’s overriding ambition was totally different. His consuming desire was to know Jesus and become increasingly conformed to His holy example (Phil.3:10). He wanted to serve Him by proclaiming the life-changing Good News of God’s grace.
What is your highest goal? Do we only want to make money, which can never buy lasting happiness? Or do you want to become more like Jesus, which results in ultimate satisfaction?