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Jesus, came to the lake edge of the Sea of Galilee, Fisherman Simon and Andrew were at work casting their nets and Jesus says to them “come follow me, I will make you fishers of men” *and scripture records what happens next: “at once…they left their nets and followed him”. I have this circled and underlined in my bible, why? It reminds me of the priority, the urgency of what it means to follow Christ.
I want to encourage you, right at the outset, push back on all complacency, apathy and she’ll be right attitude, misguided priorities with regard to your Christian walk. If we call him Lord, let’s follow him “at once” leaving behind lesser and distracting “priorities”.
Church, we cannot afford to go soft on our worship and our obedience to Christ. We don’t want to cruise to the finish line, the Christian walk is not a take-it-easy, optional, half-pie, she’ll be a right stroll in the park, it is a pursuit of Christ, which means heaven is my home, my heart is inclined to his and my attitude is aligning with Jesus’
Here’s a starting place, 6 words in today’s text that “are” a revelation to me and I trust to you too, today! They should so impact us that they immediately bring effect to our relationship with Christ and the way we live this Christian life: “but our citizenship is in heaven”…
As committed Christ-followers, that we’ll get to the ‘finish line’ is not in question, it’s how we will, how we do, and why, why we must pursue Jesus that we are discussing today.
We have before us the opportunity, motivated by the fact we are citizens of heaven, to pick up from where we are today and move forward in Christ.
*To that end today’s verses provide a spiritual measure of our true love, devotion and pursuit of Christ. If I have Jesus, evidence of that is I want more of Jesus. If I love him, it follows that there is no other thing, person or activity on this planet that receives my greatest affection; my greatest love is reserved for Christ. And that is evidenced by my commitment to serve him and others; to dispense of my rights and what I think are my priorities in deference for what is a privilege, and is evidenced in my giving away of everything I want to do, for what Christ wants to do in me and through me.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 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.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
(Philippians 4:1) Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
In essence, Pauls teaching addresses any misunderstanding that when a person comes to faith in Christ it means they have automatically “arrived” spiritually. As if there’s no more to do?
*I like what Tozer said in relation to this: “how tragic …it is we have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him”, he goes on to say “… “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart“
“Children of the burning heart” are: Christians who love Christ (bizarre?), “until ‘adoration’ has become the new word and they do not have to be entertained or amused” Christians for whom Christ is everything… “Their all in all…men and women who are lost in worship”
So Paul looks at what the Christian life looks now, but also now, in light of the last day/s, all pivoting around “our citizenship is in heaven”.
So today I want to encourage you in this pursuit of God, persuade you to press on for today and what is to come.
Christian life for now
Aside from here in Philippians the picture of the Christian life being like a race is referred to a number of times in scripture, note these references: 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1…and here in Philippians 3: 13
When we collect up some of the images and words across these few passages (read) they give us a good idea of how God wants us to view and live out this Christian life: with effort, intent, focus and perseverance. Therefore we put everything into pursuing Christ. Why? Because Christ has made us his own.
Paul said (v.12)…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me
When we have committed to Christ, means he has apprehended us/taken hold of us, called us, our response then is to live the Christian life with all we’ve got, press on! Christian growth then is a product of the knowledge, the experience and revelation of being apprehended/taken hold of by Christ. That’s Paul’s point.
If I have him, evidence of that is I want more of him
Why is this important?
We can easily fall into being static, the “easily satisfied religionist”. Caught up seemingly doing all the right things, giving all the appearance/s of following Christ, living a good life, when in fact our lives far from reflect what being Christian actually means. How we get to the end matters!
Paul was apprehended by Jesus, his life turned around, and then Paul in response took hold of serving God with his life. If we’ve been “apprehended by Christ”, as Paul was, the scales have fallen off our eyes, we see (revelation) what we need to do, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and we’re getting amongst it! If I have him, evidence of that is I want more of him
To grow, we are committed for life
Paul obviously liked to use race/athletic analogy – relevant to the culture he was writing into – and I think today we have a good understanding of the same. Paul had probably been a Christian for about 25 years when he wrote this letter. The sort of Christian he was is well-documented.
Despite his total commitment to Jesus, his Christian walk was still in process. He was always humble enough to say there was always room for continued growth.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (verse13). What did Paul mean with “this”, the “goal” and “it”? Look at verse 10 and 11.
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection…”
“I want to know Christ”. He’s been running the race for 25 years, and still he says he’s not arrived!
*We’ve heard it said many times, the Christian life isn’t a 100-metre sprint; it’s a lifelong marathon. It’s the mentality of a long-distance athlete we require, spiritually speaking, to grow, to be committed to the life-long process of knowing Christ. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been a Christian, 5 minutes or 50 years, our thinking should never be, “I don’t need to grow any more”, I’ve made it, I can stop ‘running now’. God wants us to complete the course…we strain, we work hard, we press on…till death parts us from this place!
To grow we engage the right attitude/s
(v. 15) And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. In other words: “Stay teachable and God will show you where you need to grow”.
Many of us who have watched and/or participated in sports over the years, will know that a person or a team who turns up with their attitude in check, and are 100% dedicated to the cause but lacks the raw talent can easily outperform a person or team who have all the skill and raw talent. We’ve heard coaches make comments like: the most important aspect of an athlete is the top two inches.
So the important question to ask ourselves is: ‘Am I actively involved in the growth process?’ Looking at where I need to grow, what I need to change and translate that into action. Having the same attitude as Jesus (ch. 2), and for growth, translates into effort and action.
In verse 13 Paul gives us a strategy for growth: what Paul did in light of the incompleteness of his spiritual journey  (v.13) Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead
To grow, we move on from the past and look forward
I remember teaching our son Daniel to drive and saying you just need to glance in the mirror to see what’s happening behind, every now and again to help you make good decisions for what’s happening in front of you. Out front is where the bulk of your attention needs to be.
There are schools of thought that suggest digging up the past is the only way of moving forward…or forget the past, sweep it under the carpet…completely ignore everything that’s happened yesterday, today is a new day…not sure any of these are entirely biblically accurate.
Memories of failure can make you feel hopeless and paralyzed in your pursuit of God. Conversely, memories of successes can leave us smug and self-satisfied.
However, I want to suggest there is a biblical case for self-examination, which means evaluating things that have happened in the past, positively or otherwise, as a means of growing now. This means taking periodic glances backward for the purposes of moving forward and growing.
Reflecting, getting right with God and others where we need to, accepting God’s grace and enabling for the present, and move on with what He is calling us to do in the present. We cannot affect any change in the past, but only for what’s in front of us.
Remaining within the control of past events that we cannot control is a hindrance to growth. Paul’s teaching, therefore, is that our moving (straining) forward in Jesus ought not to be controlled by past events, nor can rest on past success and obedience’s. The decisions we make today affect our spiritual growth today.
*Christian life now, for the future (yet to come)
Having used the analogy of an athlete in verses 12-17 to demonstrate that we are to not to look back but to press on in Christ, in verses 18 to 21 Paul uses the analogy of citizenship to show that for Christians our life now is informed, motivated and inspired by the fact we are citizens of heaven, and as such should look different than those who are citizens of this earth.
The relevant verses again…
(v.19) Their (enemies of the cross) mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
*Everything Paul has said in today’s verses ties into these 6 words: “but our citizenship is in heaven…”. To the Christians in Philippi, who lived in a city that took pride in its Roman citizenship, Paul was, in essence, saying, “You have a higher / greater citizenship than that of Rome. You are citizens of heaven.
We are first and foremost not citizens of Hamilton, NZ…we are first and foremost citizens of heaven
Let’s note that Paul is addressing people in love with themselves, the ways of the world; “enemies of the cross”, people who had likely professed Christ but who certainly did not live as Christians. Paul wept over there choices and conduct. To hear of people claiming one thing but doing the opposite was what grieved him…not least because for the person who is opposed to the cross their “destiny” is separation from God (v.19).
Staying on this for a moment: let’s be clear on who are enemies of the cross of Christ, they will diminish the place and value of the cross “by emphasizing human worth or merit in addition to what Christ did on the cross” That’s the thinking that Paul was addressing.
Let me tell we de-glorify God, we de-deify Christ, we grossly undermine the work of Christ and the cross the moment we think, we can humanly do anything to bridge the divide that Christ did for us.
“He wants us to be citizens and servants of heaven, not citizens and servants of self — to see the world as purchased, but unconquered real estate for Christ and his kingdom, not as a playground for our selfish desires”
This is an encouragement to look at ourselves. What is the place of the cross in my life? Do I live truly as a citizen of heaven?
*To assist us in that quest, as citizens of heaven, we can follow godly examples
(v. 17) Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do
This is not about Paul having an inflated ego, or pretending he’s perfect. He is not seeking glory of any kind. He admitted he hadn’t arrived yet, still in process, but he knew he lived with integrity before God and could say his life was an example of how Christians should live.
There were others too: Timothy, Epaphroditus, those in Hebrews 11, etc
Even Paul would say however follow his example, or anyone else’s example insofar as they are following the example of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6).
Citizens of heaven eagerly anticipate the coming of the Lord
…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (v.20).
Let me tell you: how specifically this will happen, when it will happen (clues, best guess)…should never override that it will.
In faith be ready, prepared…what there is little debate about (?), is that he is coming again! “Concern yourselves with that!”
What I’d love for us to see is that these 2 verses (20-21) are packed full of the majesty of Christ, sovereignty (“everything under his control”), of anticipation of Christ (“eagerly await…”), and that when He comes, it will be in power to rule and reign…
Two things will happen:
Firstly, he will transform our “lowly bodies,” which are subject to disease and death and prone to sin…no longer to be sick, disabled, frail, mentally ill, addicted, weary or tempted, but rather they will be like his glorious body
How will God do this? V. 21 Paul says: by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control
…this is the 2nd thing: he will subject all things to Himself
…every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, that he is Lord
As C. S. Lewis has said, when we stand before God on the final day, all external advantages and disadvantages will dissolve, and our true selves, the part of us that chooses good or ill, obedience or disobedience, will remain. Then we will see ourselves as we really are, and this moment of revelation will contain surprises
When we depart this life we will be with him forever in a new and glorious life, where our worship and joy will never cease. This is the great promise, the goal of citizenship in heaven that drives and motivates all we do in this Christian life now for the not-yet…
Therefore as citizens of heaven, we long for, we pray for and we prepare for, his coming again. Be certain now, today that you are living in right relationship with God, submitted to him so that when he comes, he does so as your Saviour.
Back in the day when Dad worked for Telecom – pre-post hole borers – they used to dig 1800mm (more) deep holes for telegraph poles, by hand. When those things went in the hole and the earth packed strategically around them in layers, they (for the most part) were not moving again.
One great skill Dad passed on to me…it’s the image of those Totara poles I think of when Paul says stand firm (4:1) Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!“
In light of our being citizens of heaven, the truth of His coming again, we pursue Christ, with everything we’ve got. We stand firm in the Lord. Not loose, swayed or influenced by worldly ways and sinful habits, not deviating from the truth of God’s word, focussed on our goal: “to know Christ” (3:10)
If I have him, evidence of that is I want more of him
Grow in your Christian walk
Gear-up for his coming again
 Christian life is not in a vacuum, not motivated by nothing…
 Thielman, Frank. “Paul Forestalls a Misunderstanding (3:12 – 16)” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Philippians. By Frank Thielman, 195. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1995.
 We cannot ask God to release us and heal us of past events yet determinedly hold onto them
 As we know Philippi was a Roman colony, 1300 km’s east of Rome, governed by Roman law, whose residents lacked Roman citizenship but had the legal status as Roman citizens. A Roman could go to Philippi and feel right at home, just as a British citizen in the last century could have gone to Australia, or New Zealand and felt quite comfortable because those places were British colonies. https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-20-right-and-wrong-way-live-philippians-317-41
 see Mark 9:42-48; John 3:16; Rev. 20:10, 15.
 “I will cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down…”
 Last days – (Luke 24:31, 36, 37, 39-43; John 20:15b, 17, 19, 26; cf. 1 Cor. 15:42 – 44)
 – C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity, 86