Scripture: Philippians 3:17-21
God intends for our eyes to continually see examples of Christ-likeness in our fellow church members so that we will stand strong as citizens of heaven in our world today.
I’m going to very quickly tell you about three people in my life. The first is a man named Larry Zink. Larry is a good friend of mine. He is an elder at the church that I planted in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Doxa Church. Larry and his wife, Gloria, are a wonderful older couple who have been married for 65 years. And when you meet them, you cannot help but love these two folks. They are just some of the sweetest, most encouraging people on Earth. Larry came to faith in his forties reading R.C. Sproul books on his own. That’ll do it. He has a unique perspective on Christian growth and vitality that I have appreciated over the years. He’s the kind of elder who really cares about the spiritual growth of the church. And if he has something, he needs to speak into your life. If he sees something and wants to speak into your life and come from a biblical perspective, he will, he has the courage to do that. He’s fantastic in that way. Watching Larry and Gloria interact makes you want to work on your marriage so that you can be there someday too. That’s just how sweet they are.
The second guy I want to tell you about is a guy named John Buikema, who is now a pastor of a church in Texas but was my senior pastor when I was an outreach pastor down in Pennsylvania when Rachel and I moved to Pennsylvania. I actually had another opportunity that was available to me that I could have taken. But I chose to work with John because of what I saw during the interview process at that time. John had qualities as a leader that I felt at the time that I had lacked, and I knew if I worked closely with him I would grow in my understanding of how to lead teams and how to organize the structure of a large church. And that’s exactly what happened. I spent time with him, learned these things. He helped me in areas where I could grow and he helped me to become a better pastor.
And the third guy I want to mention to you is, is Dennis Magary. Many of you had the blessing to hear him preach here at Calvary back in January. Dr. Magary is a professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I had the privilege of God guiding me into his classes, where I had an opportunity to learn my first Hebrew. And with Dr. Magary, I didn’t just fall in love with the Hebrew language. I was inspired to become a very careful reader of Scripture, looking carefully at what the Lord is telling us in His Word. Now, not one of the three guys that I just mentioned would tell you that they are perfect. Far from it, actually. As we heard Paul say last week, not that I have obtained this or am already perfect, these three guys would say the exact same thing. They would be quick to tell you I have not arrived. I am not already complete. They would tell you about their sin struggles. I’ve heard them speak about their sin struggles. But what these three men have in common for me is that there are examples I have looked to during my walk with Christ, to learn how to walk more closely with Christ. In other words, I’ve grown as a follower of Jesus by looking to their example, they displayed some aspect of Christian growth to me, and I became more like Jesus by conforming to their example. In these cases, these three cases that I just gave you, I could summarize their unique contribution to me personally with the words character, leadership, and love and skill in reading the Bible. And of course, each one of those guys invested more than that in me. But those were the unique areas where they spoke into my life.
We’re going to talk about the particular aspect of Christian growth this morning that requires other people. It’s not just built up by other people. It actually requires other people. Someone asked me this week if I timed this passage to be preached on the day that we would also have the special meeting about the shepherding model, where we were going to carefully talk about how much we needed to care for each other and speaking to each other’s lives. Ah, nope, that’s not what happened. That is just a happy bit of God’s sovereignty at work. Actually, this I planned this sermon well before I knew that meeting was going to be happening. But I am very happy to say, in advance of our church-wide lunch and learn today that God intends for our eyes to continually see examples of Christ’s likeness in our fellow church members so that we will stand strong as citizens of heaven in our world today. Being in community where you can see examples of Christ at work is vital to your Christian growth. In fact, you will not grow in Christ without them. You need them. All that striving for Christ-likeness that we talked about last week, it’s impossible without Holy Spirit brothers and sisters in Christ around you, using their spiritual gifts to build you up, and to set an example for you to walk in. So if you have your Bibles, go ahead and open them to Philippians chapter 3. We’re going to be in verse 17 today. I will have it on the screen as well. But you might want to turn there, Philippians 3:17. It’s here that Paul describes the importance of looking to fellow Christians for examples of Christ’s likeness so that we can strive for the prize successfully. He starts with telling us that we need to find examples. And then he tells us why we need them first, from a worldly perspective and then from a heavenly perspective.
Let’s start in verse 17. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” How scary would it be right now? Let’s say this was the assignment I gave you for this week. Not that you do my assignments, but you know what I’m saying. What if I gave you (how scary would it be if I said) that this week I want you to go to some people, and I want you to tell them to imitate you. Okay, so you have to go (let’s just pick four), let’s say you have to go to someone in your family. You need to go to someone at work. You need to go someone here in church and you need to pick somebody out of your Facebook list. Right. And you need to tell them to to watch you. Watch your behavior and your language and your attitude and closely as they can. Why? So that they can become like you. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? That sounds terrifying. You’re probably thinking you’re not ready for that. I’m not ready for that. I got some changes to make if I’m going to do that. Especially that Facebook friend. right? Oh, the things I have posted. Oh. If you’re like me, the real problem with an assignment like that is you are very aware of you. Right? You know yourself very, very well. You know how far you fall short of complete obedience to Lord. And the last thing that you want is someone to become a little you, in that sense. And so a lot of times in the Evangelical Christian world, we will say something that we think sounds very humble and sounds very helpful. We will say, Don’t follow me. follow Jesus. Don’t look at me, look to Jesus. We say that stuff all the time. And then we come to a passage like this and we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know what to do with it. We think maybe Paul can say this because he’s an apostle. Maybe because he’s an above average Christian, because he’s a special kind of person.
Except here’s the problem. Paul doesn’t just say imitate me, does he? He says, Imitate me and those who are like us. Do you see how he switches from the singular to the plural? Beginning to the end of this verse. Imitate me, example you have in us. He’s probably referring to the people like Timothy and Epaphroditus and a person he’s going to call in the very next chapter, someone he calls his true companion. He’s probably referring to these people in his life, sort of in his entourage, and his associates. But he knows there are also people in the Philippine church because he’s telling them to find them. Follow the people in the Philippine church who are worthy of invitation to. See, Paul wants the church to keep their eyes on these people, and they’ll be able to identify them because they’re going to walk in the example that were set by Paul and his friends. In other words, Paul left behind in Philippians little copies of himself. Little copies of Paul. And in a minute, we’ll see what those copies look like. But before we look at that Calvary, let’s just pause here and consider how interesting and challenging the whole idea of this is to the church. Faithfulness comes by example. Discipleship, growing in Christ, is actually a group project where people are built up in their faithfulness to Christ by carefully observing the faithfulness of other people. So much so, in fact, that we could actually imitate one another. That we would look and go, I’m going to be like you. And I don’t mean just kind of like about you, sort of sort of in the way that you are. I’m actually going to walk the way you walk. I’m going to imitate what it is you do. I think we get this at a parent level, so it’s easy. If I switch this over to parents. We get this understanding at a parent level. The minute you start hearing your phrases come out of your children’s mouths, you realize how much imitation is actually going on, right? When you see your kids get mad and they handle that exactly the way you do, you’re like, Oh no, what have I done right? They are imitating you. You know that your behavior is shaping theirs. Whether that’s positive or horrific, it’s shaping, right? Because we know this, because we learn this, most of us take modeling this walk very seriously. We embrace the idea that our kids are going to walk in our footsteps. And so we watch our behavior. But Calvary, that’s what our church is called to be for each other too. That’s what a church is supposed to be as well. When Paul tells the tells us in Ephesians 4 to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called, that’s not just so that we can individually be faithful to Jesus. It’s so that we can corporately model the love of Christ to each other. We should regularly and consistently be looking to imitate the faithfulness that we see in our Calvary brothers and sisters. And we should be working to set an example of faithfulness that can be imitated by those around us. We should be thinking about how to help other people imitate us as they learn more about Jesus through us. There should be some people in this church to whom you can say, follow me as I follow Christ. Imitate my faithfulness. See my sins and my struggles and my failures and watch me confess and repent and turn to Christ.
See if you are struggling in your marriage, if your marriage is in hard times right now, you should have a whole bunch of people in this church who are around you, who can set an example of what it means to walk stronger in Christ. They’ve been there. They know what’s going on. They understand what’s happening, and they can help you come out of that valley because they’ve been there before and they’re going to help guide you out. If you’re anxious or feeling depressed, or if you’re angry and hurt about something, you should be surrounded in this church by people who can walk through that valley with you as a shepherd. Of course led by the great shepherd. Of course. Of course we’re all following after Christ. But someone there who’s following Jesus, they can help you follow Jesus more closely yourself. We should have these people. We need to imitate them. Now, perhaps you feel like, well, I could really use some of these examples, Kyle, but I could never really be one of these examples for others. We need to remember the sort of example that Paul himself set in Christ. He was an imperfect one. He was imperfect. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. We just heard him say how imperfectly he lives this out right now. Paul knew when people looked at him they weren’t going to see a perfect example of following Jesus. But what they would see is a man who was striving for the prize of Christ. They will see him striving in the right direction, focused on the right things. They would see a man getting to know Jesus more and more every day, and striving to grow in his love and knowledge of Jesus. That’s the example, Church. That’s the example that we’re called to be for each other. We’re not called to put on a mask of false perfection. I knew a pastor at one time actually was in a conversation with a pastor one time who said that he had searched his heart and found that he was no longer in any sin, that he had conquered all of his sins. I thought maybe pride might be still an issue. I was a little too young, too scared to say something like that at the time, but. Church, we are examples of faithfulness to each other as we strive for Christ; live lives of repentance and thankfulness for Christ; help each other with our struggles, and walk carefully through temptations in this world.
That’s what we’re called to be. And here’s why we need these examples. For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk is enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their belly and they glory in their shame with mindset on earthly things. Why do we need to imitate those who walk according to the example of faithfulness? Well, it’s because there are people who walk in a different way. But who are just as influential. Even though they’re not walking after Christ, they are enemies of the cross of Christ. They are examples of a life lived in a direction that leads you away from Jesus, specifically in this case, away from the work of obedience to Jesus that might lead to suffering, which is why the cross is mentioned here. Paul doesn’t say specifically who these people are. But as enemies of the Cross of Christ, they would be anyone who would lead you away from the Gospel, anybody that would lead you away from Jesus, away from salvation.
These enemies of the cross are found everywhere. They’re in the community of people who would disparage Christ, who would be openly hostile to Jesus. They’re in the ex-evangelical community, people who used to be part of the church, who have pulled away from the church and now try to drag Christians away from Christ. The man who preached the sermon that led me to put my faith in Christ is now an enemy of the cross. He openly attacks Christians, and makes fun of them, and belittles our faith. They’re among the church’s wolves and false teachers. They’re outside the church as well, as critics and scoffers. And here’s how you’ll spot them. Their God is their belly. So their appetites, their pleasures, their self indulgences are the God that they worship. Immediately that makes us think of food. Some of you look nervous. This is Paul’s really visual way of saying that their false God, what they pursue and worship, is comfort and indulgence, consuming. The image here is of a person who looks at the suffering of Christ and the cross and says, You know what? No, thank you. I don’t want that discomfort. I don’t want that suffering. I’d rather make my God my own pleasure. I’m going to give to myself, I’m going to serve myself, I’m going to give myself everything that I want. And so, yes, that can be found in food, but that can be found in lots of things. The choices of pleasure pursuits to fill the place of God in this culture are endless. The amount of advice given today that has happiness and pleasure at its center is very upsetting to me. I’m blown away about how much advice, so-called, is given away that has only happiness at its center. And it makes me sad and angry, especially if it comes from the mouths of misled Christians, as it so often does. If someone tells you to make choices that will violate God’s Word but will lead to your happiness, you are not hearing from a friend. You are hearing from a well meaning, often, enemy of the cross of Christ. God would have you go after the pleasures in your pursuit of Jesus, not the pleasures found in the world that are apart from Jesus. How else will you spot these enemies? Well they glory in their shame. Let me clarify this. They champion, they uphold and worship those things in this world that are actually shameful. But they don’t feel that shame because they don’t know Christ. Right? In Romans Chapter 1, Paul describes the idolatry of the world, and then he ends his whole description by saying this, though they know God’s righteous decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them. So the the internal compass of God’s righteousness is in all of us, and it’s broken. It’s in us and it’s broken. Those who don’t have Christ know that their behavior is shameful, but they suppress that truth. And then what they do is they surround themselves with people who will help them glorify their shame so that they don’t feel the shame of that sin. When I hear Paul describe this desire for covering over shame with glory, I can’t help but think of Pride Month. And the LGBT community. There is a deep longing to feel accepted. To cover over shame with sin, or cover over the sin with shame. But the way they’ve chosen to do that is to glorify this. They chose to glorify it. They’ve chosen to raise their defiance of God to the place of prominence. To worship self, and choices, and identity. And to spurn Christ. And I don’t think we have as a church come close to the level of compassion and love that we should have for these folks who walk as enemies of Jesus. I don’t think we’ve come close to it. See, what we often bring is anger or disgust or jokes or judgmentalism when what we should be bringing is tears. Paul says here, knowing full well that were it not for God’s grace in our lives, we would be glorifying in whatever shameful thing we are prone to. Enemies of the cross of Christ worship their bellies. They glorify their shame. And it’s because their minds are set on earthly things. Their hearts and their minds long for some type of purpose, some type of pleasure or value. And having fully rejected the only true value that there is, they have to look around here on Earth for a replacement. They’ve got to find something. I know it is cliché to say that there is a God-shaped hole in all of us. I know that. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. There’s a longing for eternity. There’s a need to worship inside of us. And if you don’t have the true God of the universe, you will have to find a false God of the earth.
This is the exchange that so many people in your life and in my life have made. Perhaps it’s the exchange that you have made. If you’ve made anyone or anything other than Jesus, the direction, the purpose of your life, you are going the wrong way. You are heading in the wrong direction. You may not consider yourself an enemy of the cross. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say I am an enemy of the cross. Nobody uses that phrase of themselves. But if you’re not following Jesus, that’s exactly what you are. And the way you’ve chosen ends, but it ends in destruction. It doesn’t end in resurrection and new life in eternity with Christ. It ends in God’s judgment. Whatever earthly God you’ve chosen cannot save you. It can’t save you, even if it makes you feel good. It can’t save you. And it gives you purpose. It can’t save you; that God can’t save you; can’t forgive your sins. It can’t change your heart; can’t give you purpose. It cannot lead you into an eternity with the Lord. It can’t do any of those things. And if you’re watching someone else who’s walking that path. They are not a reliable guide. They’re not helping you. Here’s what you need.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.” (Philippians 3:20-21). If enemies of the cross leads us to destruction, what we need in our lives are fellow citizens of heaven who will lead us to the Savior, to the return of Christ to eternity with Him in our resurrected bodies. We may be here on this earth, but we are not ultimately citizens of it. Our citizenship is in heaven.
If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you know exactly what this looks like. You know, you may be physically in Ethiopia, you may be physically in Thailand, but your passport says United States. Just because you’re in a place doesn’t make you legally a part of that place, legally where you reside. Friends, if you follow Jesus, you are here but you are not home, right? We’re actually traveling home. Where we’re going can we can expect some things. We can expect that the savior who forgave us and redeemed us and made us new is going to return. And when he does, that’s the end of our time away from home. Our imperfect earthly bodies will be perfected. Now, I don’t know exactly what that looks like. I don’t know how that exactly goes down, what all that will entail. But we know it will result in our bodies being like Jesus resurrected and glorious body that’s no longer subject to pain and death. Because pain and death are the results of sin. Eternity in the New Earth won’t include anyone or anything that does not glorify Jesus. It will no longer include anything that isn’t giving all glory to Christ. And so when sin goes away, the results of sin go away. And what we’re left with is a world where everything is subjected to the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, just like it was intended to be. That isn’t just our future destination, though. Church. I know that’s easier for us to put out there in the future because it’s hard for us to picture now. But understand it is not just our future. That’s our present reality. We are citizens of the kingdom under God’s reign. The reign of King Jesus. We’re there right now. We’re called to follow Jesus’ commands in a world that isn’t obedient. We’re called to hold the values of the Kingdom of God in a world that doesn’t hold those values. How are we supposed to do that? We’re supposed to do that together. We’re supposed to do it together.
Can you see how important it is to have people in your life who are examples of Christ? Because we do this together, we can’t do this on our own, and we’re not meant to do this on our own. If you’re not seeing the values of the Kingdom of God lived out in front of you through the the brothers and sisters in Christ around you, then what happens is if you don’t have those examples around you, the only examples you could possibly have are worldly ones, and they’re all leading you astray. They’re all taking you to either grotesquely different places or slightly different places. But they’re not taking you to Christ. The 15th century, Augustinian monk Thomas à Kempis wrote a spiritual classic called The Imitation of Christ. And in that book he writes a section where he reflects back on what he calls the Holy Fathers, referring to all of the early leaders of the church, especially those who suffered and were martyred. Now, Thomas à Kempis, he kind of fixates on how strict these guys were with their lives and how they abstain from a lot of really good things because monks like to roll like that, you know what I mean? It’s just kind of how they it’s what they get into. But despite this overemphasis, in my opinion, on depriving yourself of good things, what Thomas à Kempis, says about these Holy fathers, I find to be very, very inspiring. And I want to leave with these thoughts today on the importance of looking to each other for guidance. He writes this: “To the world, they were strangers, but near familiar friends to God. They seem to themselves as nothing, and to this present world as despicable; but they were precious and beloved to the eyes of God. They stood firm in true humility, lived in simple obedience, walked in love and patience; and therefore they profited daily in the Spirit, and obtained great favor with God. They were given for an example to all religious men; and they should more provoke us to profit well, than the number of the lukewarm to make us remiss.” What he’s saying is God has given us the church, and the whole history of the church, and the people and the church to give us glimpses of Christ lived out. And so, yes, we can study Jesus. We have to; we have four gospels. We have a whole Bible that points us to Christ. And so we can learn about Jesus and see what he did and what he said and the choices that he made. We can see the path of Christ himself so that we can live as citizens of Heaven this side of eternity. And we can look to history as Thomas à Kempis does here. And we can read about men and women who walk the path of Christ in the midst of an evil world, and that will inspire and equip us to be able to do the same. But church, we’re called to look around at each other too. We’re to look at each other. We have been blessed with a great church full of people who love the Lord, and imperfectly show us the glory of Jesus. Would you pray with me?