Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: How should Gospel Partners Walk?
Scripture Text: Philippians 3:12-21
The bible tells us that there are ultimately only two ways to live. One way leads to glory, and the other to destruction. How can we ensure we are on the right path? Paul shows us what our walk should and should not look like, and how we press on by walking with the end in mind
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 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. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
How should Gospel Partners Walk?
Big Idea: Gospel Partners walk towards the prize Christ, and not as enemies of the Cross of Christ.
A tourist on the 57th Street in New York City was trying to find his way to the famous concert venue, Carnegie Hall. And he happened to see a man with a violin step out of a cab. Figuring that he’s a musician, the tourist asked him, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The musician looked at him and said, “Practice, practice, practice”.
It illustrates what Stephen Covey said was Habit #2, in his book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #2 was “Begin with the end in mind”.
“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” – Stephen Covey
In a nutshell, where you want to go must determine how you walk. Your destination directs your steps. Your destination shapes your decisions.
And Christians believe there is only ultimately two ways to live. Or two ways to walk. It’s summarized well in Psalm 1.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
In all that he does, he prospers.
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Two ways to live. Two ways of walking. You will prosper in one, and perish in the other. So Paul instructs us:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph 5:15=16)
So, how should Gospel Partners walk?
We who are partners with one another in the Gospel,
“because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (1:5)
We who are partners with one another in the Spirit,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit” (2:1)
We who are partners with one another in the sufferings of Christ,
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings” (3:10)
How should we walk? What directs the orientation of our life? When we decided to follow Jesus, how will our lifestyle differ from those who haven’t?
This is the subject that deals with in our text today. So let us pray and we’ll get into it.
Gracious heavenly Father, by your Holy Spirit, reveal to us your Son, Jesus Christ, that we might follow him. And in so doing, walk as those who are wise, and in humility, walk the path of life.
In Jesus name,
There are three things that characterizes our walk in this passage.
The are three main directions to take as we walk towards our prize in Christ: Downwards, Forwards and Upwards.
Paul doesn’t use the word explicitly in this verses, but it is everywhere implied, especially when our walk is meant to imitate the walk of Christ, who came from heaven down to earth, who was brought down from a position of absolute glory, to suffer abject humility. This downward direction, this attitude of humility which marked the life and ministry of Christ on earth, must mark our ours as well.
The same thing goes for Paul:
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10).
Paul recognizes that there is no following Christ without carrying a Cross. There is no gain without pain. To press upwards in Christ is to walk downwards in life.
So let me ask: how big does humility feature as a character trait in your life today? Humility means counting others more significant than yourself. It means putting the interests of others ahead of yourself. It means yourself and your interests beneath them. It means deliberately positioning yourself downwards.
If there was an unedited Wikipedia page of your life, would the article describe a life marked by rivalry and enmity and envy, or by sacrifice, humility and generosity? Where will the needle lean?
Or put it this way, are you a Kiasu Singaporean? Are you afraid of losing out, are you afraid you are not getting as much as others, not doing as well as others around you? As we have seen last week, the fear of losing out must be replaced by a fear of holding on things which simply do not matter at all in the ultimate scheme of things.
You see, Paul is trying to destroy the Singaporean way of life. He firsts asks us not to complain, which is our national pastime. Then he tells us to not to place our hope in our resumes, which most Singaporean students do, and now he asking us no to be kiasu, which is the only thing resembling a culture that we have.
It seems like to be Christian is to be so un-Singaporean. And perhaps that is because our true citizenship belongs somewhere else.
In a society, in a meritocratic, capitalistic, world that is scrambling to be on the top of the pile, to be first in everything, to keep climbing the socio-economic ladder, are you willing to walk downwards? Are you willing to embrace humility and sacrifice as a way of life?
Because that is the way of Christ. And to know him is to be like him. Is your life characterized by a downwardness that puts others before yourself, because to move forwards and upwards in the Christian life is to walk downwards just like Christ.
And the reason we can live this counter-cultural, self-abasing, Christ-following way is because of Christ.
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. (3:12)
The reason we can take hold of how Christ walked and make it our own walk. Is because Christ has made us his own. Our life is now bound up with his life, when we decided to follow Jesus, our path converges with his and God is working in us to will, to work, and walk in the footsteps of Christ.
It is not merely necessary for us to walk downwards, it is also possible for us to do so, because Christ has our life his own, that we might make his life our own.
Next, we press Forward
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (3:13)
You walk downwards to walk forward. You have to sacrifice ambitions and pride and possessions to follow Jesus. And to keep moving forward, you have to keep your eyes on the prize, you have to forget what you have left behind. A friend of mine gave up her job as a lawyer when her second kid arrived. She said that while she considers it a blessing to be able play a key role in the spiritual development of her girls, she can’t help but feel a tinge of regret when she hears about how the friends she graduated with are now partners in their respective law firms. That could have been her too!
Now, those feelings are always going to be there. I sometimes wonder where I’d be, had I not heeded the call of Christ into full-time ministry. Maybe unemployed, I dunno. But there is always a temptation to look back upon what you have given up and think, “what if”? It’s tempting to look back on the career you left behind, or the promotion you passed up, of the prestige you have given up, the money you have given away, or the hundred little things you have sacrificed for the sake of the gospel and think, “what if I had held on to them”?
Well, if we think we have reasons to feel that way, Paul has more. In his social context, he had the world at his feet. As a respected Pharisee, he was at the upper echelons of Jewish society. Given his pedigree, reputation and discipline, the sky was the limit for him.
He power and prestige and possessions that Paul once had, he gave it all up. And he says he lost nothing, he gave up nothing, it was all gain. All he did was give up rubbish.
As the songs goes, “all he once held dear, built my life upon, all this world reveres, all l I once thought gain I have counted loss, spent and worthless now, compared to knowing Christ.”
And you don’t feel regret when you throw rubbish down the chute, you feel relief that the trash is finally out of the house. There is nothing sacrificial about flushing the toilet, you’re glad it’s down the drain. That’s the analogy that Paul uses.
Paul encourages Christians to forget that. Don’t think that way. Forget what lies behind. Forget what you have given up for Christ. Count them as loss, look forward to Christ, consider him as your prize. Carry your cross, but do not focus on it, focus on Christ. The cross is not your reward, Christ is your reward. Fix your eyes on the prize and move forward towards it.
So gospel partners, move forward by forgetting. Forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead. Move downward, and move forward.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:14)
This is what we’re after. We press on for this. The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Bring to mind the Christ Hymn of chapter 2. Christ moved downwards in humility to move forward in obedience and as a result God raised him upward, to be the name above all names.
It is the same for Paul. Paul wants to “share Christ’s sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (3:10-11).
Paul is willing to move downwards so that he can move upwards. He wants to share in the humiliation of Christ because it is the means by which he participates in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ.
Paul echoes this in Romans 8.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:16-17)
Do you see, the way of sacrifice and suffering leads to glory. Our journey downwards leads upwards. We bear the cross to wear a crown. It is no loss; it is gain.
And again in 2 Corinthians 4.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)
What is unseen and eternal is Jesus Christ and his kingdom. So lift up your eyes of faith and fix them upon the unseen prize. Press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
And here’s the encouragement. This way of life might seem risky, it might feel unwise, it will look counter-cultural. And we’ll need a radical transformation of the way we think.
“Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (3:15-16)
The encouragement is that God will help us. He will reveal the mind of Christ to us, he will show the true worth and value of Christ that will make everything in the world seem like loss in comparison. We just need to live up to what we know, we just need to hold true to what we have attained, and not let go, not look back, and not give up.
Hold on, and press on, move downwards, forwards and upwards. Walk towards your prize in Christ.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
The phrase “join in imitating me” is literally be “fellow-imitators” of me. Paul exhorts the church to be fellow imitators of him and his gospel partners. Because as he has proven in his life, and men such as Timothy and Epaphroditus has proven in their lives to be imitators of Christ. These men have walked the talk. They have walked the way of Christ.
Why is it important to keep our eyes on those who walk that way? Because there two ways to live. Two ways to walk.
You either walk as a bearer of the cross, or as an enemy of the cross. You either embrace the cross or refuse it. You either follow Jesus into glory or follow the world into destruction.
Two ways to live, the first is the way of Paul, the way of Jesus, who bore the cross, and the other is to walk as an enemy of the cross.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (3:17-18)
The striking thing about these enemies of the Cross is that Paul does not at all attack their theology, he only focuses on their lifestyle. And knows them and he weeps for them, which seems to suggest that they are not the dogs, the evil-doers and the mutilators of the flesh that he mentions at the opening of chapter 3.
It appears that these enemies of the cross are men who are known to the church, who are supposed to imitate Paul, but do not. Their talk may be alright, but their walk is not. They walk a different way than the way of the cross.
So what characterizes the walk of the these enemies of the cross?
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (3:19)
Their walk is characterized by three things:
And their walk leads to destruction.
Now, what does it mean that your god is your belly. It does not strictly mean gluttony (although it does include that). To have your stomach as your god, means that you obey your appetites. Your so obey your appetites – sexual appetites, over-eating, appetite for power over men, for attention and approval from men, it can be an insatiable appetite for money and possessions. The appetite of the flesh – that’s what the belly symbolizes.
For your belly to be your God means that you slavishly obey your appetites, your obedience to your appetites is so profound, it has become worship. It means that your life is characterized by consumption, by consuming, rather than by giving. It means that self-indulgence, rather than self-denial is your way of life. Self-gratification rather than self-sacrifice is your goal in life. Self-centeredness rather than other -centeredness is your orientation of life.
So much so that ought to be seen as shameful, dishonorable and vile, as become your source of pride and glory. Rather than feeling ashamed of not giving to the poor, rather than being ashamed for your lack of charity, you take pride that you have the latest gadgets, the finer things in life, the lavish holidays, they have become your badges of pride and glory, when it should have been shame.
Instead of feeling ashamed that you have not been able to forgive and show mercy to those who did you wrong, you take pride in gloating at the downfall of your “enemy”, you boast in your ability to exact your revenge, you glory in your “victory” over them.
It’s a topsy-turvy state of affairs, because of a mind that has exchanged heaven for earth.
The reason why these enemies of the cross worship their bellies, and why they glory in their shame is because they have exchanged the wisdom of heaven for the values of earth. As verse 19 states, “they have their minds set on earthly things.”
You see, in the kingdom of heaven, it is more blessed to give than to receive, the first will be last and the greatest will be the servant of all. It is those who lose their lives for the gospel that will save it. It is the meek who will inherit the earth.
But the world thinks differently. For those who do not have the reality of heaven in their minds, the cross is merely a symbol of pain, not gain. For those whose hope is found in this life and this world alone, then the belly is your master. Because the belly wants more and more of the world, and this world is all there is. If you win here, you win, period. If you gain the world, you gain everything.
But the Christian knows better. The Christian thinks differently. The Christian asks himself: “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, but lose your soul?”
And the reason for that is because we know that we are living for something better. We can afford to lose on earth if it means winning eternally. We can afford to humble ourselves if it means God will exalt us in the end.
It seems foolish to the world to live humbly, to forgive our enemies and to give away our money. But set your sights on heaven, set your minds on things above, fix your eyes on the prize of the upward call of God in Christ, and the way of the cross will make full sense.
You see, we commonly see the cross as a way to life. The cross of Christ has opened the way to eternal life. And that is true. But to Paul, the cross is not merely to life, it is a way of life.
We see it in Phil 3 that Paul sees the death of Christ as his righteousness. The death of Christ is the way to life. But then goes on to say that he wants to become like Christ in his death. The death of Christ is also a way of life.
So there are essentially two ways to live:
Bearers of the Cross: Self-emptying ending in exaltation.
Enemies of the Cross: Self-indulgence ending in destruction.
Let us choose our end. Let us choose wisely, and then let us walk with the end in mind.
And this is the end that awaits those who walk the way of Christ.
“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 end that awaits the gospel partner who walks the way of the cross is heaven, it’s the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s a transformation from humility to glory. That is our end.
So finally, let’s keep that end in mind and walk as citizens of heaven.
Most of you have gone on a holiday overseas. And while in that foreign land, you would have stayed in a tourist accommodation, a guesthouse, a hotel, an Airbnb. Has anyone of you ever bought furniture for your overseas accommodation? Replaced the mattress, bought a new sofa, upgraded the TV?
Why not? Because it is only temporary accommodation, it’s a short-term stay. Our real home is in Singapore. If we want to invest and refurbish and renovate a place, we do it in our real and permanent home. That’s the only way of living that makes any sense.
In fact, what do some of us do with our hotel rooms? We take the tea bags, we take the tissue boxes, we take the free combs and shampoos and toothbrushes, and we bring it back home to Singapore. We clear the place out. Because we don’t care. As little as possible remains behind, as much as possible we bring back home. That’s how we live when we’re overseas, we live like we belong somewhere else.
And that’s how it is for the Christian. The world is not our home, this earth is not our hope. It’s only temporary accommodation. Our true and lasting home is in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where we belong.
So live like we belong somewhere else. Live for another world. Live in a manner that proclaims that citizenship is not here, but in heaven.
Stop storing up treasure here on earth, store it up in heaven by giving it away.
Stop fearing that if you are too humble, you will lose out here on earth. Fear that if you are too proud, you lose the promise of heaven.
Don’t worry that you giving up the world. Worry that you have gained the world, but have lost your soul in exchange.
Choose to live for heaven and not earth.
Consider Noah, he packed it all up, he started building an ark. For months all of his time and effort and focus was on building an ark. Consider how foolish his lifestyle would have looked to his neighbours. That’s because he was preparing for an unseen reality, in faith, he was working towards a brand new world. He was living like he belong somewhere else.
Consider Abraham giving up his homeland, choosing to live in tents in a strange and foreign land. Why didn’t he settle down, why didn’t he settle in? Because he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
These men of faith had one thing in common. They lived as though they belonged somewhere else.
And the author of Hebrews records:
“These all died in faith… having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:13-16)
Friends, God has prepared for us a home. A better home, a greater city, where we shall live in a glorious body. Walk with that end in mind. Walk on home. Press on, as citizens of heaven, to take hold of our glorious prize in Christ.