Summary: Do you have good spiritual balance? Where we look can certainly affect our spiritual balance. Paul reminds us of where TO look and where NOT TO look to help us keep good spiritual balance.
Do you have good balance? I suppose that we could find out by testing your balance this morning. I could have all of you stand up. Then ask you to hold out your hands as I push against them one by one. Then ask you to stand on one foot and then to stand on the other foot without falling over. And finally to close your eyes. Uh oh. It’s amazing how such a simple little thing like closing your eyes can so significantly affect your sense of balance. With your eyes open you might have felt pretty steady, but with your eyes closed, not so steady. With your eyes closed, you lose that focal point that perspective that helps you steady yourself and maintain your balance.
This morning the Lord asks us to check what we might call our “spiritual balance.” Through the words of the Apostle Paul we receive this encouragement, “Stand firm in the Lord.” How do we make sure that we are standing firm and steady in the Lord, that we have good spiritual balance? Just as our physical balance can be significantly affected by where we are looking, so also our spiritual balance is affected by where we are looking. The words of the Apostle Paul found in Philippians 3 and 4 remind us of where to and where NOT to look to keep that good spiritual balance, so that we continue to “Stand firm in the Lord.”
I think it helps us to better understand these words if you understand the place and people to whom this letter was written. The first century city of Philippi was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. Its importance came from its location. It was located at a mountain pass where a literal highway called the “Ignatian Way” connected the Easter and Western worlds. The city of Philippi was in many ways the gateway to the Roman Empire and therefore had been heavily fortified by the Roman government. There were a large number of active duty Roman soldiers stationed there as well as a large number of retired Roman soldiers who lived there. Philippi turned into a miniature Rome – its citizenship, architecture and culture thoroughly Roman.
Paul had first travelled to Philippi on his second missionary journey around 50 AD. He had met a number of memorable people such as wealthy woman named Lydia, a fortune-telling slave girl, and a suicidal jailer – all of whom came to faith in Jesus as their Savior. Paul was very aware of the struggles that would be ever present for these Christians living in the city of Philippi. He had heard good things of how they continued to live their Christian faith even after he left to travel to other people and places to proclaim the message of Christ. Paul knew that it was going to be a constant struggle for these Philippian Christians, to do as he encouraged with these words, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (Philippians 4:1). Keeping that spiritual balance would require them opening their eyes and being fully aware of the world in which they lived.
Listen again to what Paul writes, “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you 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 set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18,19). Let’s take a couple of minutes to consider what Paul is saying here and how it applies to us.
Notice that this isn’t the first time, and probably would not be the last time, that Paul warned them about those things that could have a negative affect on their spiritual balance, their standing firm in the Lord. Why the repeated the warning? Because he understood the seriousness of the struggle and its eternal ramifications. The same is true for us today. To think, “I’ve heard that all before” is to play right into the hands of the devil and to set yourself up for a big fall. Appreciate the repeated warnings that come from God through the Christians in our lives.
Next, notice Paul’s REACTION when he sees what is taking place in the world. He is not angry at the world. He is seriously sad for people. He sees people who, “live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” notice that Paul does not just say, “enemies of Christ,” but, “enemies of the CROSS of Christ.” These are not necessarily the people that are out there saying that they hate Christ and all those who follow him. These are people who see no need for the CROSS of Christ. They do not appreciate what the CROSS of Christ has accomplished for them. And even sadder, they see no NEED for the salvation from sin’s eternal punishment that Christ gave his life at the cross to win for them. And why is that?