Summary: Paul offers another example for the church to follow, guiding their faith. He offers a word of caution, seeking to guard them from apostasy. Finally he offers a word of comfort regarding the Lord's return, a guarantee for the believer.
Guided, Guarded, and Guaranteed
Philippians 3: 17-21
A young boy looked up at his grandfather and wondered aloud, "Grandpa, how do you live for Jesus?"
The respected grandfather stooped down and quietly told the boy, "Just watch."
As the years went by the grandfather was an example to the boy of how to follow Jesus. He stayed rock-steady in living for Him. Yet the grandson often lived in a way that was not pleasing to God.
One day the young man visited his grandfather for what both knew would be the last time. As the older man lay dying, his grandson leaned over the bed and heard his grandpa whisper, "Did you watch?"
That was the turning point in the boy's life. He understood that when his grandpa had said, "Just watch," he meant, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." He vowed that from then on he would live as his grandfather did - striving to please Jesus. He had watched, and now he knew how to live. (i)
At this point in his letter, Paul has shared much with the Philippian church. He has spoken at length about the believer’s obligation to live a life of complete surrender to Christ, and offered many examples of those who have lived a life of submission, including Christ Himself. These closing verses of chapter three continue to deal with our examples in the faith and the responsibility we have to imitate the examples set before us. Let’s discuss the challenges within the text as we consider: Guided, Guarded, and Guaranteed.
I. A Pattern to Follow (17) – Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Paul speaks of the godly pattern they are to follow. Consider:
A. The Audience – I know it seems elementary, but I think it profound that he addressed them as brethren. He has proven his love and devotion to the church. His care and compassion for them cannot be denied, and yet he takes another opportunity to embrace them, affirming their closeness in Christ. Nothing compares to the bond believers share in the faith.
We can also sense the expectation of Paul within this address. He is not writing to the world at large; he is writing to the body of Christ. While he doesn’t expect the world to live for Christ, he does expect that of the church. The words to follow are given specifically with the church in mind.
B. The Appeal (17a) – Brethren, be followers together of me. Paul unashamedly appeals to the church to follow the example he had faithfully lived before them. He genuinely desired them to imitate the life he had lived for Christ. He longed for them to develop the same commitment and passion he had for the Lord and the church. He doesn’t imply that he had lived a life of sinless perfection, but he knew his life had been lived pleasing to the Lord. There is a great difference in arrogance and confidence. While none need to be arrogant, healthy confidence is beneficial.
This posed a great challenge for me. What type of character and commitment would be revealed in our congregation if others imitated the life I lived for Christ? What if they imitated your walk with the Lord? Are we setting a godly example and leaving anything of lasting value behind?
C. The Attention (17b) – and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. Paul conveyed he is not the only one who had been faithful to the Lord within the church. Others in the church were worthy of their attention and imitation. They were challenged to mark those who walked by faith in the Lord. This has the idea of “spying out; looking toward; contemplating; or giving attention to.” The church was to look for those who walked with the Lord, studying their lives, while contemplating their faithfulness and commitment.
I know that Christ is our supreme example, and that ultimately we are to imitate Him, but I am thankful for some heroes in the faith. There are many who have made a tremendous impact on my life and ministry. Granted some are preachers, but many are lay-people who humbly and faithfully live their lives for the Lord. I have marked many who have walked the path ahead of me!
II. A Posture to Resist (18-19) – After speaking of the example they were to follow, Paul dealt with the defiant posture of some and the need for believers to resist such activity. Notice:
A. Their Defiance (18) – For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. There were those who were defiant to the very fundamentals of the faith. It appears these were possibly members of the church, professed believers. They were not merely opposed to the church and her work, but also the Gospel itself. They rejected the sacrificial atonement of Christ for the remission of sins. These may have enjoyed the sense of community within the church, but they rejected its core doctrine.