Summary: How do we become the Christian that Christ wants us to be? Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to follow his example. And we today can walk in Paul's footsteps as we learn from his writings. But we can also learn from those around us who are exemplary mod
Walk This Way – A Sermon on Philippians 3:17
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit.
When we’re born, we don’t know how to do anything. We can’t walk or talk or even chew gum. As an infant, the only behaviors that we are able to do on our own is just the basic bodily functions: breathing, swallowing, and, well, other less pleasant things. Everything is done for us by someone who cares for us. As we grow, we begin to be able to do other more complex things. We learn to crawl and then to walk. Later we learn to climb, to throw, to tie our shoes, to ride a bike, to swim. But how do we learn to these things?
We learn by having someone teach us. Mom holds our hand as we take those first few steps as she encourages us. Dad shows us how to throw a ball like a big-leaguer. Big brother shows us how to ride a bike without training wheels. We learn how to read by having Mom and Dad read to us and teaching us the alphabet and the sounds the letters make. A teacher at school teaches us to multiply and divide when we go to school. We learn how to do things by having someone who knows more than us show us what to do. Without that help, we couldn’t ever become all that we can be.
And when you don’t have someone to show you how to do things the right way, then you may develop some bad habits of doing things the wrong way. When our youngest son and daughter were just a few years old, we had a little table for them where they would eat their meals. Because of the way the house was arranged, their table was out of sight of the main dining table. We weren’t able to see them and they weren’t able to see us. It was helpful for them to have the little table with the little seats that were just the right size for them, but it turned out to be extremely unhelpful in teaching our son the proper way to eat. We didn’t eat out very often so we went a long time without recognizing his atrocious eating habits. When he did begin eating with us, his table manners might have disgusted a pig. Think of Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story”. He may have been shown the correct way to eat at some time but he hadn’t been disciplined by us to make sure that he stayed on the right path of using a spoon and fork correctly. Without that oversight and correction, he just did things the way that he thought was easiest and best. We learn how to behave appropriately by imitating others and by being corrected when we do the wrong things.
Just as we need a long period of learning to do things when we are born as an infant and grow into an adult, we also need to learn new ways when we are born again into the new life with Christ. And the way to learn the proper ways is the same as when a child learns – we learn by following the example of someone who knows the truth and follows in the ways of the Lord. Paul understands this and so he writes to the church at Philippi “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” He wants us to follow his example and learn from others who closely follow the example he sets for us. He wants us to walk in the way of the Lord by following others whose feet are firmly on the right path.
Paul is not claiming to be a perfect follower of Christ. He has just written “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul knows that he has not attained the perfection of living a completely righteous life nor does he believe that would ever be possible but he is holding himself up as an example of one who strives to live a God-pleasing life. He himself constantly struggles with temptation and sin as he says in Romans 7 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” But his eye is on the prize. He presses on toward the goal even though he’ll never attain perfection.
Although we are all disciples of Christ alone, we can learn from someone who is not perfect so we can learn how to overcome our imperfections, who can show us how to handle the struggles of life, how to handle pride, and resist temptation. Christ is the model of perfection, the perfect standard, and the pattern for believers to emulate. But Christ never pursued perfection, having always been perfect. Paul was a fellow traveler on the path toward the unattainable goal of spiritual perfection and thus a model for believers to follow.