PRESSING TOWARDS THE MARK
Philippians 3:1 — 4:9
Good morning once again. We are grateful that you are here for our Thanksgiving service. Today we are looking at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi chapter 3:1 to 4:9. It is quite a long passage but has much to teach us as we press towards the mark of pleasing the Lord in all areas of our lives. God has wonderful blessings for us as we live according to his will. And that is certainly something for which we give thanks today.
In the first two chapters Paul has been challenging the Philippian believers to move on towards spiritual maturity. His prayer for them was that their “love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (1:9-11). He also challenged them that “whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”(1:27). In the first five verses of chapter two, Paul told them that their attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, which would lead them to go deeper in their spiritual lives. He mentions such things as “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but humbly considering others better than themselves. They were also to look after the interests of others as they did for their own interests.
Paul challenged them with the example of Jesus Christ. Paul also challenged them to live like he did. Then he challenged them with the examples of Timothy or Epaphroditus. Using different terms and wording, he was always wanting them and us to be moving with all out effort to become spiritually mature.
And now, as we look at chapter three, he begins by telling us to rejoice in the Lord. That is a good way to celebrate thanksgiving. Do you have any rejoicing in the Lord that you would like to share with us this morning?
As I said, Paul begins by telling us to rejoice in the Lord. Not just on Thanksgiving but every day in every situation. Then he lets us know that he doesn’t mind repeating himself as a safeguard for us. And having given us this warning, he actually does repeat some of what he has already taught us but expressing it in different ways. Of course, he also adds in new thoughts to encourage and challenge us.
Firstly, we are to avoid Dogs, Evil Men, who will mislead us. (3:2-8)
In this verse Paul tells us to avoid people who will be demanding that we meet some religious protocol that is not necessary or even wrong or sinful. He is talking about the Jewish teachers who, although believers in Jesus, bothered the early church by telling them they could not be true followers of God unless they were circumcised. That is, they had to become followers of all the rites and rules of Judaism before they could know the fullness of being Christian. Of course, that is not true. That is probably not a problem for any of us here today. But there are always people who have some non-biblical requirement that for them takes precedence over simple faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. Or they may take one biblical experience and say we must all experience it or we are not really saved. They may teach that you need to be baptized or join a church or speak in tongues to really be Christian. Paul uses some rather harsh language when referring to these Judaizers, but they were disturbing the early church and discouraging some who listened to their unnecessary demands.
Paul reminds them that the followers of Christ are the truly righteous ones, not those who put their trust in themselves and their works. Paul had been like that and persecuted the church. But he had to stop trusting in himself and his works and standing. And we must learn not to trust in ourselves nor the extraneous demands of religious leaders whoever they may be.
It is important to remember that Paul was not putting down the Jewish people or their way of life. His problem was with those who said they believed in Jesus but were trusting in their Jewish religious credentials for their salvation and demanded all non-Jewish believers do the same.
Secondly, we are to seek a growing relationship with Christ Jesus, our Lord (3:7-14)
All that Paul was proud of in his following the rules of Judaism have become useless to Paul. His heritage was important to him. His circumcision, his lineage, his life as a pharisee, his zeal even persecuting the church and his legal righteousness; all of this was left behind him as he sought to know Christ. He considers all his accomplishments as rubbish, that he may gain Christ.
He tells us that what he wants is to have a righteousness not from his law keeping, but that which comes from God and is by faith. This has become his great passion. To know Christ and then to experience Christ more and more. He wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. He even wants to share in Christ’s suffering and become like him in his death as well as in his resurrection.
This is the clearest statement from Paul in all his letters regarding what he desires in his pursuit of Jesus. And he sets a truly high example for us to imitate. Though he already knows God he presses on to have everything that Christ has provided for him. And this is said to show us how we should desire to know God. We should join Paul in pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward. What is God’s ultimate purpose for us? That should be our passion and our goal.
Thirdly, we are to live up to what we have already attained 3:16-4:1
However far we have come in getting to know and love and serve Jesus, Paul encourages us to continue to live up to what we have already attained. Some of us have known Jesus for many, many years and we should never become less than we have been in our commitment to knowing God better. We must always be pressing on to know and serve God better. Have you worked out your salvation into every area of your life? Keep it up. A good beginning is really important, continuing well is even more important, but finishing well is even more important. Let us continue to seek Jesus with all our heart and mind.
Paul encourages us to join in with others who are living according to the pattern he set out for the churches. Even though there are many who live in ways that are destructive for themselves and others, we are to continue to obey the commands of God. Unlike these others Paul declares his position. He writes in verses 20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” And he continues in 4:1, “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends.”
This then is our passion and objective. This is how we stand firm. We are to live up to what we have already attained and then move forward and deeper into our knowledge of God. We should always be satisfied and enjoying our life with God and yet always pressing forward into His will for us. We should always be full, enjoying the good things of life in God and yet always hungering for more of Him. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that she would never thirst again because she would always have a spring of water welling up in her. Yet we know we always want to be more faithful and fruitful in life and service. This is how we press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Finally, we are to stand firm in the Lord (4:1-9)
Here Paul begins by telling us that to stand firm we must have unity in the body. He calls on two ladies in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, who had laboured together with him earlier, to agree with each other in the Lord. The fact that it is in the Lord that they are to agree reminds us again that there is nothing we are asked to do that God is not involved in by enabling us by the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn’t spend much time on this issue, but it is important enough to mention these ladies by name and ask his co-worker, who is close enough to Paul to be called his “loyal yoke-fellow,” to help them achieve unity.
We must be united in the body of Christ if we are going to stand firm. As always, Paul an encourager, also mentions Clement as another one who had been part of the team working together in Philippi.
Paul then returns to a favourite theme in the book with another call to “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Verse 4 just has a period after that call, but I automatically typed it with an exclamation mark. This is important to Paul Maybe it is one of the reasons why he was so effective in service and always pressing forward. There is great joy in being in Christ Jesus. In fact, Paul repeats himself with “I will say it again: Rejoice!” And there the translators do have an exclamation mark.
We are called to be gentle because the Lord is near us. And because he is near us, we do not need to be anxious about anything. Are there some things that make you anxious? It doesn’t need to be that way because we have a Lord who is near us and he invites us to pray, to petition him in every situation. Got a tiny problem you don’t think you need to bother God with? He invites you to ask for help, for rescue, for freedom or whatever you need. As the hymn writer put it, “O what needs we often forfeit because we do not bring everything to God in prayer.”
Do you have a need that just seems too big? So big that you doubt that even with God’s help you will be able to conquer it? Paul’s challenge is, “don’t be anxious about anything but with prayer and thanksgiving present your requests to God.” And what is the result? The peace of God, rather than anxiety, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Remember again, there is nothing we are required to do on our own. God works together with us to accomplish what ever we need. Whatever God asks us to do.
In reading from 2 Peter 1 for yesterday’s Daily Bread devotional, I saw another way of saying that we are never on our own when serving God. Verse three reads, “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him … .”
And the fact that God’s peace guards our hearts and minds enables to meet the next challenge in standing firm in the Lord. That is to think right. And Paul, typically, gives us a high standard to live up to in our thinking. Often spiritual battles are fought in our minds. We need to be thinking believers. And we need to think on a better level. Paul gives us a list of things to think about, and then somethings to put into practice.
“Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put into practice, and the God of peace will be with you.” (4:8-9)
In a previous sermon I suggested that it would be good to memorize chapter 2:1-11 or at least 6-11. It might also be a good idea to memorize these two verses from 4:8-9. Then you can remember the things you are supposed to think about.
The world that surrounds us and influences so much of life, which almost dictates what you are allowed to think, promotes a thought life that is the opposite of what Paul lists here. But by trusting God and allowing him to guard our hearts and minds because we pray with thanksgiving in every situation, we can indeed think properly.
We are responsible for what we think. Have you ever gone through a mental scripting of what you are going to say in a conversation you are not really looking forward to having? And we always write a script in which we outwit the other person. And we waste time thinking in ways that are not profitable.
We need to take this list seriously in this day of social media and vested interests and taboos and things we are told we must not think or say if we want to be accepted. Truth was a feature in John’s message two weeks ago. It is always important!
Think about what is noble in a world where being abusive is often allowed or promoted. Think about what is right in a world where right and wrong are often topsy turvy. Think about what is pure when so much corruption is the norm. Think about what is lovely when often what is ugly and mean is highlighted. Think about things that are admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.
That is how we should think. Most of us really need to work on this.
Paul then challenges the folks in Philippi to act in the way they have learned from Paul or that he demonstrated for them to copy. And he includes another promise as we do so; the peace of God will be with us.
So much to be thankful for. Think of God’s great provision for us and all our needs in life and service. Remember his sacrifice for us and the great salvation that it has provided. Enjoy his love, his peace, his protection of our hearts and minds. Flourish in his presence and his answers to your prayers. Remember his provision of peace rather than anxiety in times that are trying or difficult. The list goes on and on as God blesses us as we grow in our relationship to him and seek to be more like Jesus. We, like Paul, should be pressing on to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward. O how greatly we should desire to be like Jesus and make use of every opportunity to grow and develop to the full measure of God’s purpose in our lives.
And, as Paul reminds us, let us rejoice in the Lord always. Amen