Philippians 3:17-4:1: An Example Worth Following
The quick fix market is at the same time the most stable and unstable industry in America. At any given time, the market is saturated with countless new products that promise a fast and easy solution to your problem—whether it’s losing weight, building muscle, getting rich, digging out of debt, or finding the love of your life. They’re unstable because it doesn’t take long for each “magic bullet” to be exposed for the sham (or even scam) that it is. But despite this cycle of false promises and dashed hopes, this industry pulls in billions of dollars every year, always reinventing itself with new products for new problems holding out a new hope.
But we have to ask the question—if we know that life doesn’t really work this way, that problems are rarely fixable over night, and that promises that sound too good to be true almost always are, then why do so many people flock to buy these products and following their promoters with such devotion and zeal? Because this unstable industry is built on a stable feature of fallen humanity: the desire to get everything we want in the least possible time, effort, and pain. Or to put it in the language of Philippians 3:17-4:1, we face the constant temptation to follow people who promise the glory of the resurrection without the suffering of the cross.
Philippians 3:17-4:1 rounds out Paul’s extended exhortation for the people of God to be joyfully satisfied in the Lord Jesus (cf. 3:1). For the church to walk faithfully as a community shaped by the gospel in their own relationships and serving faithfully toward its advance, it is absolutely necessary that Christ be all our hope. So Paul tells us in 3:17 to imitate examples worth following—the kinds of people who are satisfied in Jesus and who hope fully in the resurrection to come.
The urgency of Paul’s instruction comes from the fact that the world (and sadly the church) is filled with leaders and examples who feed on our fallen desire for instant gratification. As Paul concludes his description of them in 3:18-19, “their mind is set on earthly things,” and with their earth-bound perspective they supply a constant threat to the health and faithfulness of God’s people.
These “enemies of the cross,” as Paul calls them, stand in direct contrast to both the church’s identity and hope in Christ. Paul continues in v. 20: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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” (3:20-21).
The tragic reality is that those who look to this world and the seemingly immediate satisfaction it can provide are in fact living as enemies of the cross. By their words or their lives, they deny the fact that the cross comes before the crown. But there is no hope of sharing in Christ’s resurrection apart from sharing in his suffering on the cross. Thankfully Christ has borne the cross in our place and fully exhausted God’s wrath against our sin by taking it on himself (cf. Rom. 3:21-26). Yet it remains our joyful privilege in this meantime, while we wait for his return and the glory to come, to know and serve him by sharing not only in the power of his resurrection, but following the pattern of his cross in order to make the gospel known and be changed by his grace (Phil. 3:10-11; cf. Rom. 8:16-18).
To do this, we need faithful examples to follow. We need others who can walk before us and along side us, helping us grow in our knowledge of God and make sense of how to walk with him in this fallen world. The Christian life is not to be lived in solo—we are partners in the gospel, part of a community. And part of walking faithfully as a community is following examples who are satisfied in Jesus and whose hope is fully in the resurrection to come.
These are exhilarating things to think about—and even more exhilarating to try to live out. If you live in the MetroWest suburbs of Boston, I invite you to join us at Westgate Church this Sunday (Feb. 5) to think more deeply about what Paul is saying here, and to come with us as we seek to live it out in joyful satisfaction in Jesus.
Update: The sermon text and discussion questions are available here: Phil 3.17-4.1 Westgate 2.5.12