Summary: Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The February edition of the Forward / Northwestern Lutheran had an article in it titled, “Let’s learn from the elephants.” The article was an interesting story about a herd of African elephants. In an attempt to thin out this herd, the authorities killed off a number of the older males and moved a group of females and young bulls to another area. It was not too long after the move that white rhinos in that area were being killed, not by poachers, but by the young bulls that were trying to prove their elephant-hood. One elephant even organized a gang that began attacking tourist buses.
To solve the problem, the authorities shot some of the troublemakers but then came up with a better solution. They released a few old males from another area into the troubled neighborhood. The older males immediately began to bring the young bulls into line.
It would appear that the young elephants did not know how to act in their day-to-day living without the example of the older elephants to teach them. Learning by example is not restricted to just the animal kingdom.
Just as the elephants needed an example to follow so that they knew how to behave in their day-to-day living, so also we need an example to follow in our day-to-day Christian living. In the word of God before us this morning, St. Paul encourages us to follow his example in our Christian living. He tells us to; Do as I say and Do as I do. Do not be focused on earthly things, but to be focused on Jesus and heavenly things.
The Apostle Paul said to his fellow Christians in Philippi, “Join with others in following my example” (Philippians 3:17). Can you even imagine being able to say that to people without sounding conceited?
I would never say, “Follow my example.” After all, I know me. I know enough about me that I do not even feel comfortable having people watch me closely enough to see what kind of example I might set.
Paul was not conceited. He was not being proud, when he said, “Follow my example.” He could say it sincerely, because what he meant was: “Follow my example, as long as I am following the example of Christ”.
The congregation in Philippi was new to Christianity and they were growing in faith and knowledge of Christ. They were free from the doctrinal errors that had surfaced in the congregations around them but Satan never takes a day off, and he came after them, too.
A group of people called Judiaizers were trying worm their way into the congregation and undermine the gospel message that Paul had brought to Philippi. Judaizers were Jew or Gentile converts to Christianity who claimed to believe in Jesus as their Savior, but they also taught that in addition to believing in Jesus it was necessary to keep certain ceremonial laws that God had given to Israel. Basically the Judaizers confused law and gospel, and Paul appealed to the Philippians to choose the right example to follow in their Christian living.
Paul said, “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Philippians 3:17). God blessed the Philippians with some wonderful examples. God had given them Timothy and other Christian leaders to follow. These men whom God appointed as apostles and pastors would be the only example the congregation needed to learn about Christian living because they lived according to the word of God. Anybody teaching something other than the gospel was an enemy to be avoided; because they were not living for Christ.
The very thought of people who claimed to be followers of Jesus but who lived contrary to the gospel brought tears to Paul’s eyes. Paul writes, “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).
Throughout the Scriptures, we are told repeatedly not to be caught up in the things of this world. The world teaches that we are to be selfish and self-centered. Just look at the commercials you see on the T.V. “You deserve a break today,” or how about, “You only go around once in this life so grab all the gusto you can get.” Then there are the mottos that people claim to live by like, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” If Jesus would have thought this way, you and I would still be lost in our sins and heading straight for hell!
Anyone who subscribes to this way of thinking has placed his or her own desires above God. Money, possessions, and pleasure have become their god. They have made, as Paul said, their stomach their god and their only wish is to fill their sinful appetites. Gluttony, greed, drunkenness, and sexual immorality are the appetites that the sinful nature demands to be satisfied.