Those Who are Mature Think This Way
Topic: Default Passage: Philippians 3:12–3:21
Good morning! I hope you are all well today. If you have your Bibles, grab them or turn them on to Philippians 3. If you have been with us through this series, you know that Paul, the author, is writing in the midst of a life threatening imprisonment, likely in Rome, as he watches the churches he cares so much about attacked on every side. He’s writing to the Philippian church who is being persecuted for their faith, they are being manipulated by false teachers within the church and they themselves, it seems are beginning to fracture. They need help and the strongest emergency rip chord they have is to send someone to Paul.
So, Paul writes this letter to the Philippians about the joy Jesus Christ offers us in the midst of any trial that comes our way. And I get the feeling that Paul all of a sudden feels like he may have talked himself up too much. That maybe his message is lofty enough that it could have made someone feel like Paul just has this capacity that the ordinary Christian doesn’t. I’m sure we have all been around people who are so good at what they do, that we can feel there is no point to even trying because we are never going to be anywhere as good as them.
I was at an Orlando Magic game this week. And I’m convinced that NBA athletes are the all around best athletes in the world. And if I compare myself to them in the arena of athletics, they are so far above anything my genetics will ever allow, I might be tempted to just not try. I think Paul is concerned that he doesn’t create a similar dynamic in the spiritual realm.
That’s why he says, right off the bat, “Not that I have attained this or am already perfect, but I press on…” And Paul’s goes on to say in verse 17 Let those of us who are mature, think this way.
There is a way mature Christians think and that kind of thinking fuels joy in this life.
A couple years ago, I got the kids together and we talked about what to do in case there was a fire in the house. We practiced staying low, crawling to the front door, if you can’t get to the door, go to the window. And I when I thought I had covered everything, I asked if there were any questions. One hand went up and she asked, “Daddy, what if we can’t get out of the house?” I said, “I’ll get you out. You don’t have to have to worry about that?” Then another hand when up and he asked, “Yeah, dad, but if you only had time to save one of us, who would it be?”
And that’s when the whole conversation went downhill. They made cases why they should be the one saved. They wanted to know why the dog wasn’t high on my list of ‘people to save’. They wanted to know which stuffed animals they should prioritize in their escape. The fruitful part of the conversation had ended and they were literally talking nonsense. Why had this happened? Because they weren’t mature. They weren’t thinking maturely, and their immature thinking was causing the opposite of joy in their lives.
And in a similar way, Paul is laying before us a way mature Christians think. Paul says that mature Christians live with their eyes, minds and hearts on the prize. Mature Christians know the prize and strive for the prize and the more we see the prize and strive for the prize, we will experience the joy that the prize offers. So I want to look at this text and answer three questions: 1) What is the prize? 2) What is our motivation to pursue it? 3) What tools do we have in that pursuit?
- What is the prize?
So, there is a fair amount of disagreement in the Christian world about what exactly Paul has in mind when he speaks about this prize. Some say, well, he just finished talking about his longing to know Christ...that I may know him...so that must be the prize. Knowing Christ.
Others have have said that the price is Christ-likeness. They say that Paul is talking about perfection, sinlessness. He says, Not that I am perfect, but I press on for that perfection. He finishes the passage by talking about our glorified, sinless, Christ-like bodies upon His return.
And, to be fair, this is very much in line with what Paul says in Romans 8:28-30: 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… - Romans 8:28-29. The whole point of the Christian life, they say, is to be conformed into the image of Christ, to be sinless as Christ is sinless. So, that is the prize Paul is talking about.
So, which is it? Is the prize knowing Jesus or becoming like Jesus? Yes. It’s both. We can’t know Jesus unless we are made like Jesus. This is what Paul calls ‘the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ This is the whole message of the Bible. Why do you think the Old Testament tabernacle and, later, temple was constructed the way it was. God’s very presence, His meeting place with men was in the center of that structure. So, the more you move toward the center of the temple, the more holy you had to be. The less holy you were the farther away you had to be from the center.
And some people have this idea that poor old God can’t be around sin or He’ll get sick. Sin will do to God what water does to the Wicked Witch of the West. But, it’s the exact opposite. When holiness and unholiness converge, there is an explosion and when the dust settles, holiness is doing just fine. One of the main purposes of the whole temple structure is for us to see that our unholiness is the thing that puts us at odds with God.
So, what does God do about this, He comes up with a plan to take away our sin. So, first the price for our sin has to be paid. Jesus came and took on the legal penalty for our sin with His perfect life and we are declared legally holy! And then Jesus begins the process of making us like Himself so that we can stand eternally in the presence of God without any spot or blemish of any kind. That is the prize. We are made like Jesus so that we can fully know Jesus. And we press on for that prize by taking seriously our call to be conformed into His image. That is mature Christian thinking.
But, there is an enemy that wants us to be thinking immaturely and Paul warns us about this kind of mindset. If mature thinking is keeping our eye on the prize, what is immature thinking? Immature Christian thinking generally takes one of two forms. The first form is pretty obvious. If mature thinking is striving for the prize, immature thinking is not striving. Immature thinking says, “Well, the prize doesn’t really come until after this life, so I’m not that motivated to pursue something I won’t receive in this life.”
The hard truth though is that where there is no motivation to pursue the prize, there likely is actually no prize to be had. And Paul talks about these people in verses 18 and 19: 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. - Philippians 3:18-19
Paul was surrounded by people who thought they had the prize, but their lack of pursuit of this prize showed that they were not sons and daughters, but enemies of Christ. This is as big of a win as our enemy could get. A people with no prize waiting on them, but thinking there is and making no effort to pursue it. And that is exactly where he has most of our culture.
That’s the first type of immature thinking, but there is another. The second type of immature thinking leads us to think we can fully attain the prize in this life. Again, Paul says, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own... - Philippians 3:12
There are those, mostly in the Methodist/holiness movements who have taught that perfection is something we can achieve in this life. The Judaizers we talked about last week likely fall into this camp. Subscribe to our law, keep the customs, be circumcised and then you’re good. You will have attained the prize of law follower. But the main problem with this kind of immature thinking is that it addresses the actions, but not the heart.
Now, in this church, I don’t think we have anyone really thinking we can achieve sinlessness in this life, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of the same kind of immature thinking. It just looks a little different. Our temptation is to know the right things and to do the right kinds of Reformedish church practices and in doing those things begin to place the hope of our future prize with the prize of doing church the right way now. And when this happens, we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to think too little of other Christians than we ought.
So, I want to give us a diagnostic. How might we know if we are given to this kind of immature thinking? Are we more aware now of our sin that when we began this journey? You see over the course of Paul’s writings this progressive journey of Paul becoming more and more aware of his sin. I’m not saying that Paul became more sinful, but we see a Paul early on who is remorseful of his actions. We see deep sorrow that he had a part in murdering Christians. But then we have Romans a bit later where Paul is wrestling with the condition of his heart. And then even later we have 1 Timothy where Paul calls himself the ‘chief of sinners.’ What we see is a Paul, striving for the prize and has he gets closer and closer to it, his awareness of his own sin becomes more and more profound. In our Christian walks, are we becoming more and more aware of the depth of our sin or are we tempted to think our hearts are pretty ok because our actions have changed for the better?
Ok, that’s what the prize is. Becoming like Christ so that we can know Him. But we still haven’t addressed an even larger question. Why should I care? What is our motivation to pursue the prize in this life?
- Motivation to pursue it.
Our core motivation is in verse 12: I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. - Philippians 3:12 We press on because Christ has already purchased us. Paul isn’t saying that we press on in hopes of getting a prize, we press on because we are guaranteed the prize. The more a human thinks he will get what he is pursuing, the more he will be motivated to pursue it. It’s how we are wired.
Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, tells a story of a high school girl in his church who was accepted into the AP English class. But she began to experience deep anxiety over of the rigor of the class. She had trouble sleeping and eating and then, finally, she asked her dad if she could get out of the class. Her dad said, “Fine.” And they went together to talk to the teacher. The teacher agreed to let her out if she wanted, but then asked, “What if I guarantee you an ‘A’ in the class?” Well, she said, “If I’m guaranteed an ‘A’, then, yes, I’d certainly stay in the class.”
So she took the class, now knowing there was no fear of failure and absolute certainty of an ‘A’. And once that shift happened in her head, she was freed up to enjoy the class and as her enjoyment increased, so did her effort and she ended up earning the highest grade in the class.
If we believe in Jesus, it is only because He has made us His own. And if He has made us His own, He will never let us go. So, now we pursue the prize of Christ-likeness knowing that two things are guaranteed. First, because Jesus has made us His own, we will get the prize. This is what Paul is talking about in verses 20 and 21: 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, 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. - Philippians 3:20-21
And it’s easy in church for the idea of Jesus’ return and our glorified bodies to become so familiar it doesn’t capture us anymore. It doesn’t carry us through our trials the way it should. So, just to remind you about how truly odd our view is, I want to tell you a story. I was on a plane over Spain with one of my best friends and he was talking to the guy next to him. My friend was asking him about his views on life and this guy finally said, “I actually have some pretty weird views.” My friend said, “Really, I’d love to hear it.” “Ok, so, I believe the moon is really a spaceship. And there are fourth dimensional beings inside that ship watching us.” And I later looked up this view and it’s a real thing.
Then my friend said, “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I have some unique views too. I believe that one day Jesus is going to return to earth. The whole earth with be consumed by fire and made new. Then all Jesus’ followers over the millenia will be raised from the dead and given perfect bodies and we will live here for eternity with Jesus.” And at this point, spaceship moon guy says, “Wow. Now that’s weird.”
The magnitude of what Jesus is going to do with us cannot be lost in its familiarity. He has made us His own for the purpose of one day removing all our hindrances so that we can live with Him for eternity. That’s the first implication of Him making us His own. Knowing the glory of what will be, brings the here and now into perspective. It’s now worth it to die to our sin. It is now worth it to give time to prayer and money to the mission. It is worth it to serve others and share this message with others that our future might also be theirs.
Second, though, because Jesus has made us His own, we can taste the prize now. This is one of those passages where we get a clear picture of God’s master plan. The Christian prize is not pie in the sky. Do you know that phrase was invented to make fun of Christians? It’s a parody of the song “The Sweet By And By.” The parody goes, “You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”
The Christian prize is not pie in the sky because we can taste the prize now. Remember the big picture here. God is conforming us into the image of Christ so we can stand in His presence for eternity. That process begins in this life and to the degree that we are conformed into the image of Christ in this life, to that degree we will know Christ more and experience the joy that awaits us now in this life. We strive for the prize now because we experience the fruit of that prize here and now. Not fully, again that will happen when we die or Jesus comes back, but we will taste that prize tangibly.
To the degree that we strive for the prize of Christ-likeness in this life, to that degree we will know Christ in this life. So, we strive.
Paul’s main motivation to strive for the prize is his knowledge that Jesus has made Paul His own. For Paul that happened very dramatically on the road to Damascus. Jesus made me His own in a similar ‘at this moment’ kind of way. That wasn’t my wife’s story though and it’s not all of yours either. For for you, you know that it happened, but you can’t put a day on it. You know that somewhere in this ten year period it happened. And that’s the story I hope my kids have. It doesn’t matter when and how He made us His own, it matter that He made us His own.
So, I can’t hit a passage like this and not ask, “Has Christ made you His own?” Are you sons and daughters or are you enemies? If you are His you will want the prize now. So, very practically, how do we pursue this prize? Third point.
III. How we pursue it.
Paul gives us three ways we pursue our prize. First, in verse 17, he says we are imitate others. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. - Philippians 3:17
It has always struck me the way Paul can humbly say, “Just watch me and act like me. I’m a good picture of the Christian life.” But that is what he is saying. There are people in our midst that we should be able to watch and benefit from. We should be able to see what it looks like to pursue the prize just from being around them.
There is a couple that has meant a lot to Angela and me over the years. They have invested in countless people over the years and we would both say they are two extremely gifted people, but he just lost his job as a pastor. Here you have couple who have given their lives to the gospel and this is what happens. But if all this is happening just so a handful of people (Angela and me included) can watch to see what gospel faithfulness in the midst of pain, loss and confusion look like, I think I could say it could be worth it. To see this couple trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness even when they don’t immediately see it, is actively changing Angela and me. It’s affecting our walks with the Lord and giving Orlando Grace Church a better pastor.
We are not going effectively strive for the prize if we don’t have people around us we can imitate. Second, we need to forget what is behind. Verse 13: But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind… - Philippians 3:13 The primary thing he’s saying, I think, is leaving behind the Old Covenant. Leaving behind what Christ has fulfilled. Don’t listen to the people who would say the Old Covenant rituals are the way to the prize. This is how he says the same thing to the church in Galatia: 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. - Galatians 4:9-11
I don’t know how many of you are truly tempted to turn back to the Old Mosaic Covenant, but I do know that we are all tempted to return to our old ways of living and thinking. Christ came that we should throw off our old selves, whatever that old self is and put on Christ. We can’t put on our new identity in Christ if we are holding on to our old one.
And then thirdly, if we are going to strive for the prize, we need to focus on what is ahead. Verses 13 and 14: 13 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. - Philippians 3:13-14. One pastor said that we need to make sure we are homesick. That we know the home that lies ahead and that there is a longing for that home that affects us now.
If you like sci-fi, movies, then this point is going to resonate with you. Do you know the common theme all sci-fi movies and tv shows have? Every single one. The main character has been taken somewhere or shown something that fundamentally changes the way they understand their current reality. Think about it, I have just described The Matrix, Back to the Future, Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games. Someone has been shown something and with that knowledge, they can no longer live the way they used to. That’s straining forward to what lies ahead. That’s pressing on toward the goal of the prize.
We know we have a sure hope, not of some disembodied ethereal heavenly existence, but of Jesus’ glory and reign coming here. We have the call to strain for that. To press on to see Jesus’ glory being realized more and more in every corner of society. To the degree that we long for home, to that degree we will see it realized even more on this earth.