I want to speak to you this morning from these verses [Philippians 3:15-21] on: 'Orientating Our Obedience', orientating our obedience. As I've already said in our reading, we must keep in mind everything that Paul has said in the previous verses about pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He has exhorted us to forget that which is behind, both bad and good, and press forward for the prize of the calling of God in Christ Jesus, and indeed to seek Christ alone, to win Christ, to be found in Christ, and to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, in the fellowship of His sufferings, and being conformed unto His death. So our duty, we have already seen, as Christians, is to look to the future days, and by looking to the future it will regulate the present.
By implication that means that, as we have learned this last week and the previous weeks in our studies, that we come today to Paul exhorting us that we must now obey these truths that he has revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. In fact, he is saying to us literally in verse 16: "Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained", or as some translations put it, "Nevertheless, whereto we have already learned, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing". We must start to obey the things that we have learned. I think, perhaps, in the whole sphere of Christian existence, that this is probably the most difficult thing to do. It's hard to study the word of God, to learn it, to imbibe knowledge, it's hard but it's not impossible - but one thing that seems almost, by observation, to be nigh impossible to many believers in this day and age is to obey the word of God, to move on from this head knowledge of what we ought to do, and to get down to actually doing it.
I think the reason that Paul gives why we have to obey what we have already learned is: because it is the characteristic of a citizen of heaven. It is by this, your appetite for Christ, your pressing toward the goal and the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, it is by this that people in this world will recognise that you are a child of God and a citizen of heaven. You live in the Spirit, you live in the Lord and with the Lord, and are living and waiting for the Lord in person, as He will burst from the clouds and come back again at His advent. It is by these things, obeying the word of God, that people will recognise that you are pressing toward the mark, that you're a citizen of heaven, that your purposes, goals and desires are Christ. That is why obedience is so necessary when we learn truths from the Scriptures.
I'm going to break it down for you this morning into four reasons why obedience is so necessary, and I believe by meditating on these reasons we will be able, by the Spirit's help, to orientate - our, if necessary, reorientate - our obedience towards God's Word. The first reason why Paul says that obedience is necessary is because you have and are an example. You have been given an example, and as a child of God you are to be an example to those around you - verses 15 to 17: 'Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you'. This is God's opinion, and even if you're not convinced of what you're about hear this morning, if you were to go to God and say: 'Lord, I want to know firsthand from Yourself', you would get exactly the same answer from God as the Philippians are getting from Paul. 'Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule', verse 17, 'Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example', rather than 'ensample'.
So Paul is saying: 'You've got to be obedient to what I've just said, because you have an example in me, and you are an example to those around you'. What he is saying is that the present duty of every believer is to obey the light that God has given him. I wonder if I were to ask you today what light has God given you in regards to the teaching and the truths of the word of God, I'm sure a great many of you could testify that God has been very good to you in that regard. We thank God for the heritage of Bible teaching that we have known in this assembly all down the years, and perhaps the assembly that you have frequented, but what Paul is addressing now is that we have a duty as believers to walk and obey the light that God has given to us. As an assembly that responsibility is collective also: we have a duty to be of one mind in the light that God has given to us.
Of course, we're not advocating that we're all clones of each other, and we don't have our individual minds and opinions on the secondary things of spiritual life - but what we are saying: on the things that really matter, the essential things, we must be of one mind in the light that God has revealed to us. He's telling us not to get sidetracked off the course that leads to the prize, that's his point. The only way for that not to happen is if we follow Paul's example and those around us that are godly. That's what he says in verse 17: 'Be followers together of me, and mark those that walk as ye have an example that are walking after me too'. John Newton, the slave trader converted who wrote the hymn 'Amazing Grace', was reported to have said: 'I have ever to confess with sorrow that I'm far from being what I ought to be, and far from what I wish to be, but also - blessed be God's name - to testify that I'm far, very far, from what I once was'. Isn't that many of our testimony? That we're not what we used to be, we know we're not what we should be, but we need to reassess ourselves as John Newton did, and I believe Paul was doing in this passage. It shows that the practice of self-examination is a worthy one, and it's a good thing to keep check on your spiritual progress - not just for your own sake and for your own striving toward the prize, but also, Paul is saying here, for the sake of others. We've got to see today that as well as us having an example in the apostle and our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to be an example for those around us.
Paul is expecting that we ought to be able to look to those around us and be able to see them as examples in godliness and holiness. Now you may not know this, but it's important that it's brought to your attention today that your obedience or disobedience is an example to someone who is looking to you this very day. It might be your child, it might be your husband or your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, it might be a work colleague, it might be a fellow deacon or a fellow elder or a fellow member - I don't know who it is, but you need to be aware that all of us as Christians have people who look to us as examples.
If a sailor set his course, as he does, by the stars, but sets it on the wrong star, he will never reach his intended destination. If the pilot starts flying and tunes into the wrong radio beacon, he will never reach the right airport. What Paul is saying is: 'Choose your examples very carefully, follow me and follow all those like me', and by implication, 'Be like me because others will follow you, others will look to you as an example'. Of course in Corinthians, and we'll come to this in our later studies, but Paul is not setting himself up here as some kind of Ayatollah and advertising himself, he's only asking these believers to follow him insomuch as he follows Christ himself. That's what he says in 1 Corinthians 11:1: 'Be ye followers', the word is imitators, 'of me, even as I also am of Christ'. You see Christ is the goal, chapters 2 and 3 of this book have told us that the joy of the believer is to follow, to thirst, and to have an appetite after Christ. Therefore, when you're looking for an example, when you're going to be an example, look for that one - that man or woman - in whom you see Christ, and be a man or woman in whom Christ can be seen.
Example is a powerful force in spiritual things. You know you can read the Bible from cover to cover, and theological books until the truths are coming out your ears, and you can read about what you ought to do, and then set down the book and think: 'Well, I ought to do this, or I ought to do that', but when you lift up the life story of someone who has done it, or you see an example of someone who is doing it, you conclude not 'I know I ought to do this', but 'I can do it'! More than that, they might even inspire you to say: 'I want to do it'!
Example is powerful, for example puts life, I believe, into truth - and that's why Christian biographies have been so powerful in my life and in the life of many other believers who testify of it, missionaries and great Christian leaders down all the annals of history - to see in men and women the possibility of following hard after God and winning the prize! It's when you see it in a man or a woman you say: 'I can do it too!'. You may even be led to say: 'I want to do it'. It makes the truth alive, it is living truth - and if you think for a moment, that's exactly what it was in the life of the Lord Jesus. Do you ever ponder how God, unlike what the Mormons teach us, did not give a revelation from heaven on tablets of stone or gold or whatever. He didn't just float down a book from Genesis to Revelation from the sky, but when He wanted to give a revelation to you and to me, the Bible says: 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us'. For if He had not dwelt among us, we would not have beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is God's pattern: not just to give us truth, but to personify truth, to make truth alive in personality!
One writer put it like this: 'Paul was not just a life-sized model, but a Christ-sized model. He was not showcase religion, but laboratory experience. He had lived it in the silence of Arabia, the synagogue of Antioch, the stoning at Lystra, the maelstrom of Ephesus, and now the incarceration at Rome'. Paul, from behind the bars of prison, is saying: 'Be followers of me, and follow all them that follow Christ also'. Parents, do you underestimate the impact that you're having on your children? Elders, deacons, do you underestimate the impact that you have on the church? Sunday School teacher, on your pupils; Young People's leaders, on the young people? Whether consciously or unconsciously there are people looking to us, following us as an example.
Verse 17, 'example' there is the word 'tapor' (sp?) in Greek, and it primarily was used of an impression or a mark that was made by a blow, like a stamp, a seal. Thomas, you remember, he came doubting and all the rest, the disciples told him of the Lord's revelation in the Upper Room and His resurrection, and Thomas said these words: 'Except I shall see in His hands the print', there's that word 'tapor', 'the impression of the nails, and put my fingers into the print of the nails, I will not believe'. What Thomas was really saying was: 'The marks of crucifixion are all I have to go on, and I want to see them!'. Anything else, any other impression, to Thomas was a false impression.
Now what Paul is saying to us is: we have got to be impressions of Christlikeness to the world around, leaving not a false impression. Paul could say in Galatians: 'From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks', or the brands, 'of the Lord Jesus'. Sure that's tremendous! Because of that, Paul tells us that we need to follow him as an example, but we need to be examples to follow - and surely the Philippians knew that. Didn't we look at Timothy, Epaphroditus, Silas was with them, and it's amazing: they knew what it was like to see a man in the flesh who was a man of God, who was Christ-like, whom they could point to and say: 'I'll follow him because he's following Christ'.
Next we're going to see in just a moment that Paul talks about those whom we ought to avoid. Do you know something, I think we here are great experts in knowing whom to avoid, but who is there among us that we can follow? Paul believed, we haven't time to look at it, 1 Timothy 1, that he had been saved as a pattern to those who would be saved after him, an outline of how we ought to live. We haven't just got Paul, how many men of God have you known, and women of God? He could say in Hebrews 12: 'We have a great cloud of witnesses that are egging us on, that are encouraging us with their lives and their testimony to race toward the prize looking on to Jesus'. So, we ought to be obedient because we have great examples, but we're also to be a great example.
Second: obedience is necessary because disobedience is characteristic of Christ's enemies, verses 18 and 19. He tells us: '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: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things'. You see, you have to be obedient to all that Paul has said, and all in fact that you know in the word of God, because disobedience is characteristic of Christ's enemies. Those who do not obey the word of God or follow the example of Christ even in other people around us, are the enemies of Christ. He's not talking about drunkards or harlots that made him weep, he's talking about people in Philippi who claimed to be the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ! Preaching and teaching, it may have been falsehood, but they were taking Christ's name.
I believe what Paul is implying here is: 'You are in danger, Philippians, of following the wrong examples, of being disobedient and being marked by the characteristics of those who are the enemies of the cross itself. You're following the example of the opposite of those who are following the goal toward heaven', and here are their characteristics, and Paul is saying to us today: make sure you don't imitate them, because they're heading for hell. Yes, they name the name of Christ, they come to church, they even preach and teach, but Paul says they're heading to hell - 'whose end', verse 19, 'is destruction', the word is 'perdition'.
Here's the three marks, and brethren please make sure that none of these marks are in your life. One: they feed fleshly appetites rather than spiritual ones. 'Whose glory is their belly', verse 19. The principal goal of their gratification, their desire, their purpose, their object in life is pleasure and pampering their earthly appetites - not heavenly ones! Their god is their belly! Paul says in Romans: 'For they that are such serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple'. I don't care what you say, I don't care where you go, Paul says that those whose god is their belly need to beware that they're not following the example of those who are on their way to hell, and that they're not on the way to hell themselves.
Really what we're asking you today is: do you live for the things of the earth? Come on now! Do you live for food? Do you live for clothes? Do you live for gadgets? Your car, a new car; your bike, a new bike; your holiday, a new holiday - two holidays, three holidays - what do you live for? What is your appetite for? Or is your appetite for heavenly things? Mr Herring, a great writer, said: 'The golden calf has been cast into a different form today'. Oh, if we were all worshipping and bowing down to a piece of gold or a piece of wood, we could condemn that outright - but what is the purpose of our lives? How is the golden calf cast today? Could Aaron say to us as he did to ancient Israel who worshipped the calf: 'These be thy gods'? F.B. Meyer said: 'There is no chapel in their life, only kitchen. Their god is their belly, there is no chapel in their life, only kitchen'. What he means is: a man's god is that which he gives himself to - what are you giving yourself to? Come on now! Is it your employment, is that what your life moves and revolves through? Well, your god is your belly! You are not living for God, you're not striving for the prize, and you're going to lose out! I'm not saying you're going to hell, but you're following the example of those who are going to hell because you're no different than them. What are you giving yourself to? They feed the flesh, the fleshly appetites rather than spiritual.
Secondly, they boast of sin rather than Christ: 'whose glory is in their shame'. Really what that means is that the heart of a man, you will find this, always must glory in something or other. He must have glory in some existence, and Paul is implying that if you don't glory alone in the cross, you'll glory in something else other than the cross. That's why he said in Galatians 6:14: 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world'. What do you glory in? Education? Position? Prestige? Or Christ?
The third characteristic of the enemy of Christ is that they concentrate on earthly things rather than heavenly: 'who mind earthly things'. It's like Bunyan's man, if you've read Pilgrim's Progress - there was a programme on last night about different books, and they're all voting in and Pilgrim's Progress I don't think has been mentioned - I felt mischievous enough almost to phone in and mention Pilgrim's Progress. There's a man in Pilgrim's Progress with a muckrake. He's raking up the muck, and Bunyan said he's quite unconscious of the heavenly messenger who comes along to him, holding over his head a golden crown of glory, because his eyes are on the ground completely occupied with the material task of sweeping together all the rubbish around him that is worthless! Is that what's happening to you? You're concentrating so much on earthly things that you're ignoring that which is heavenly? Can I remind you of James 4:4: 'The friendship of the world is enmity with God'.
If you're following Christ, mark this, if you are following hard after Christ that will not happen - it won't happen. If you're following Christ's example, Leeman Strauss says: 'The child of God who wants no more of the world than his Saviour had when He was on earth'. If you're following hard after Christ, you'll want as little of the earth as Christ wanted! He lived no earthbound materialistic life, His was an upward call, His was all spiritual motives, heavenly ideals - and Paul is saying to us today, with everything you've learned in this chapter 3: 'If ye then be risen with Christ, set your affections on things above, not on the things on the earth'. In the light of heaven's possessions, he's saying, there's no trait of character, no characteristic of conduct, no acquired habit is worth the possession or retention of, if you cannot translate it and take it with you into glory it's worthless. I'm not saying it serves no purpose, I'm saying it's eternally worthless - and be sure you're giving your time to that which is eternal.
The third reason: because we belong to heaven. He couldn't be clearer on this one, verse 20: 'For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ'. He's saying that obedience shows our heavenly mindedness. The word 'citizenship' should be replaced for 'conversation', or 'commonwealth'. It's the word that we get 'politics' from, and Paul is saying that our politics, our way of life, is in heaven. We belong to another country, a city which has foundations whose builder, or whose architect and maker, is God. This is God's way of encouraging our hearts to follow the goal, because we are heaven borne, because we are born again, because we have the life of God in us - he's saying we ought to therefore be heaven bound, we ought to be driving toward that goal, not pitching our tent deep on earth.
Let me be extremely serious to you today, because this is a two-edged sword that cuts through my heart. If you never have heaven on your mind, if it has no place in your thinking, in your decision-making, in how you spend your money, how you spend your time, how you invest your energy, the possibility is - only the possibility, but you must consider it - that you are not one of heaven's citizens. Paul's point is not just about the future, I think the main point is about the present: that our heavenly citizenship doesn't begin at death, or the rapture of the church, but at conversion, when we're converted and saved. It's meant to be our present-day reality - our conversation now, he is saying, is in heaven! As one said: 'It is because we are dropping the truths of eternity and immortality and heaven out of our thinking that we are fast becoming a generation of earthbound pagans' - but it was never meant to be the case! The children of God passing through this wilderness world have heaven as a home, for our Father's abode is in heaven, many of our loved ones have gone on to heaven, our interests and our prizes and our treasures ought to be in heaven - and Paul says our Saviour is in heaven, from where He will come to bring us to be with Himself in heaven - 'from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ'. What he's saying is, as we live down here on earth, it should be as if we're living in heaven. We should be dwelling daily on the thought of His return, and of what it will be like to live with Him. We must be living with Him in spirit, and if anything ought to orientate our obedience it ought to be this: that any moment we could literally be in heaven!
Because you have an example and you are an example, because disobedience is characteristic of the enemies of the cross, because we belong to heaven, and fourthly because soon Christ will change us. Verse 21: 'Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself'. This Saviour who has already delivered us from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin, one day soon is going to deliver us from the very presence of sin! The Revised Version says: 'Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation'. Imagine the ridiculous nature of trying to enter heaven in this body! You may think you've got a heavenly body, but you've nothing like the body that Jesus one day is going to give to you. This body, the way it is, could not enter heaven. It is subject to sin and suffering and numerous other indignities, but very soon - praise His glorious name - the trumpet will sound, the voice will cry, and we in Christ shall be changed! This corruptible will put on incorruption; this mortal will put on immortality; the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we that are alive and remain shall be caught up together to meet them in the air with the Lord, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
The sin principle, don't you hate it? Don't you strive with it day after day? It's so resident in our bodies, although we're saved and we have the new nature, on that day it will be gone! 'Who shall deliver me from this body of death', Paul says, 'Christ! Blessed be unto Him, Christ who giveth us the victory'. It is He! Now the question that we're posed is: are you looking to, and are you living for the redemption of the body? I'll tell you, if you are obedient to God's word, you will be living for this. If you're striving for the goal, you will be living for this. There's no middle ground or grey area. You will have that sentiment that John had: 'We know', the desirous heart, 'that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him'. We will be conformed to His body of glory.
Oh, we'll be thinking about it in two Sunday's time, and what a glorious thought it is: that body which He rose from the dead with, that was transformed, John 20 says. His resurrection body that was not bound by time nor space nor substance, that was no longer subject to the laws by which the natural body is now controlled. Think of it, you people here that are suffering with your big toes and your earaches and your bad eyesight and all the rest, all that will be gone - and the millions upon millions who are suffering, little control over your body, suffering the effects of mortality in this natural existence that is broken by sin - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the transformation that Peter, James and John saw on the Mount of Transfiguration - as quick as that! You will be changed, isn't that a miracle? Isn't it wonderful? The miracle of God's divine power and omnipotence, according, look at verse 21: 'according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself'. That power with which He healed the sick, He raised the dead, He made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the same power will stop at nothing until you - you old sinner and backslider - are like Jesus!
He is able to make changes that you can't, and it is the knowledge of that that will make you obedient, and it is your obedience - strangely enough, ironically - that will motivate you to look for Christ's coming, because you're trying to obey the Lord but you know deep down in your heart that, though perfect, you're not perfected yet, and you have not apprehended, and you have not already attained. Isn't it wonderful to know that one day very soon, He's not only going to change us, but He's going to subdue everything unto Himself according to the working of His power. He's going to change our society, this evil, wicked reprobate society that we live in. This society that has torn this world that is broken and more, they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, the Bible says. Men are now living in this world by squatters rights on God's earth, men are ruling today in governments and presidencies and in monarchies by divine franchise - God is suffering them, but He's coming in Jesus, and then there'll be a government that never will be known: absolute justice, absolute equity, absolute righteousness, undisturbed security! That will be the ultimate solution of our problems, but personally it will be this: He shall change our vile body to be fashioned like unto His glorious body.
Now come on, are you obedient like this? That you follow Christlike examples, and you are a Christlike example to your son, to your daughter, to your grandchildren, to your husband, to your wife? Or does your disobedience, your feeding of fleshly and material appetites, your seeking after glorifying other things apart from Christ, your considering earthly things rather than heavenly - does it all speak that you are following those that don't even follow Christ at all, that are on their way to hell? Do you live as a citizen of heaven, and are you obedient to such an extent that you're looking for the glorious appearing and change that Christ will make in you when He comes again?
The following verses were written by Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice on January 12th 1918. It was his last night as the British Ambassador in Washington, USA, and he wrote these words - now you listen to them very carefully:
'I owe to thee my country,
All Earthly things above -
Entire and whole and perfect,
The service of my love;
The love that asks no question:
The love that stands the test:
That lays upon the altar,
The dearest and the best:
The love that never falters,
The love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted,
The final Sacrifice.
And there's another country,
I've heard of long ago
Most dear to them that loves her,
Most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies,
We may not see her King:
Her fortress is a faithful heart,
Her pride is suffering:
And soul by soul and silently
Her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness
And all her paths are peace'.
'Therefore my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown; so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved'.
Oh Father, we praise God if we are citizens of heaven. But oh, Father, if we are citizens, may our very lifestyle be of heaven down here. You said to the old Israelites that if they were to obey Thy word and walk in Thy promises and precepts, that it would be a heaven upon earth for them. Lord, that's what it ought to be for us. We ought not to see a great change when we pass from time to eternity, in the sense of our communion and fellowship with Thee and Thy Son, for we are as near to Thee now as we will ever be, for we are in Christ, and Christ is in God. Lord, help us. Lord, there are people in this meeting at this moment, and they are serving the god of their employment and their profession, and Christ is forgotten. Lord, we do not judge them for we forget Thee many many times ourselves. There are those who serve family and friends - oh, Father, would You deliver us - the dearest idol I have known, whate'er that idol be, help us to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee. To Thy glory we pray, and for Thy coming we look, Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the nineteenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "Orientating Our Obedience" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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