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Series:  Philippians:  A Letter of Life in Jesus - Part Seven

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
August 24, 2003

Please turn with me to Philippians 3:12.

In 1978 - during the firemen’s strike in England one of the greatest animal rescue attempts of all time took place. With the firefighters on strike - valiantly, the British Army had taken over emergency firefighting. On January 14th they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to rescue her cat. They arrived with impressive haste - very cleverly and carefully rescued the cat - and started to drive away. But the lady was so grateful she invited the squad of heroes in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and warm waving of hands, they ran over her cat and killed it. (1)

Last Sunday - when we looked at the earlier part of Philippians 3 - Paul wrote that the things he had achieved in life - things that he could place his confidence in - base his success on - were really trash - garbage to be thrown out - in comparison with having confidence in Jesus Christ. Which is a tremendous example to us - of a Christ centered - Spirit led - dynamic Christian life. A tremendous example - but frustrating. Because we know that we fall short.

At some point - as Christians - each of us has felt discouragement - disappointment - in ourselves. We’re living life in Christ - and yet despite our best desires and efforts - we realize that we live as sinners. The cat gets run over. How do we deal with that?

Look with me at Philippians 3:12 - Paul writes, Not that I have already obtained it - “it” being this Christ centered - Spirit led - dynamic Christian life - not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

Isn’t that great? The Apostle Paul - theologian - missionary - spiritual giant - admitting that he struggles just like we do. He’s not there yet. In verses 12 to 21 Paul is going to share with us three truths. Realizing that we fail - we fall short - how do we press on - getting there - to where God desires us to be in Christ Jesus.

First - we need to recognize that life with Jesus is a process.

Marathon runners talk about hitting a wall. At some point in the race - everything in them - mind - body - soul - everything in them says that they can’t go on. But, as they keep running - putting one foot in front of the other - they go on. They find that they can finish the race.

We hit a wall of failure and we’re tempted to think we can’t go on - tempted to become discouraged. But we’re in a process of life with Jesus.

Look at what Paul writes in verse 13 - describing this process: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Notice three encouraging things here. First - we can admit that we fall short. Paul writes, I haven’t laid hold of it yet. I don’t have it all together.

Where we live our lives - out there - it’s dangerous to admit failure. It’s a sign of weakness. Weak people get run over. The world around us tells us that you’re okay if you think you’re okay. Any struggles in our character are really our parent’s fault - or the environment we live in. We’re not responsible for them. Moral failure is okay - as long as you don’t hurt anyone else or get caught doing something really bad. Sexual promiscuity is a healthy lifestyle. Selfishness and pride are a strength of character. And on and on the world goes rationalizing away sin and failure.

But, as Christians we have the opportunity to honestly examine ourselves and open ourselves up for healing and growth. This may come a surprise to some of you. But, I’m not perfect. There are things in my life that I’m not proud of - that are wrong before God and others. And - be honest - that’s true of everyone in this room. Turn to the person next to you and tell them, “I’m not perfect.” Now doesn’t it feel good to admit that?

There was a church service where towards the end of the sermon a long time member of the church - convicted by the word - he stood up and shouted, “Forgive me. I’ve realized I’ve been a terrible sinner all my life.” And someone said, “Sit down brother. We’ve all known that for a long time.”

It’s okay to admit that we fall short. Paul goes on - admitting that I’m not there yet - one thing I do - I forget what lies behind. Which means that we’re not bound to our past failures.

Think about the conflict in the Middle East right now. Every time gas goes up it’s hard not to think about the Middle East. How much of the conflict over there has to do with deep seated hatred going back generations? Passed down from fathers to sons. We can’t let go of what’s happened. It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys. “We’re a feudin’. ‘Cause that’s what we does. Somebody done somebody wrong.”

The same is true of us spiritually. We spend so much time and effort beating ourselves up over sins and failures that God - in Christ - has forgiven us for and released us from.

One of the joys of being “in Christ” is that when we admit our failure - we can confess our sin - and be forgiven by the God who knows that we do fail and loves us anyway. The past doesn’t need to dictate how we’re going to live in the future. It’s gone. We need to let go.

Then Paul says, rather than dwelling on the past, I’m reaching forward to what lies ahead, I’m pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Reach forward. Look forward.

I’ve had the privilege of being there while each of our four children were born. There’s nothing in life like watching your child being born. I’m told there’s nothing in life like giving birth to your child. It’s a process - a painful - often long - process. The goal - holding that child for the first time - is a prize without equal.

Salvation is a gift. As we come to God trusting in Jesus as our Savior He gives us the gift of salvation. By life in Christ - “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” - is a prize to be run after. That’s where this process is going - our becoming the person God has created us.

Paul encourages us - don’t look back - don’t get stuck in the past - keep going. Life in Christ is a process of continuous improvement. We’re not there yet. But in Christ we will be.

Second - How do we press on to where we can be in Jesus? First process - second, we need to trust God.

Verses 15 and 16: Let us therefore, as many as are perfect - those who have been made right before God through faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior - Let us therefore, as many as are perfect have this attitude - realize that we’re in process - and if in anything you have a different attitude - if you’re not understanding this - God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

The great philosopher Junior Samples - speaking on the TV program Hee Haw - remember that? Junior Samples once said, “Size ain’t got nothing to do with it. If it did, a cow could outrun a rabbit.” Sometimes we get stuck on size - on what we think makes us adequate as Christians.

We’ve heard people say, “I can’t share Jesus with people at work because they might ask a question that I don’t have an answer to.” Or, “I can’t teach Sunday School. I haven’t been to seminary.” “I can’t work in the nursery. Little kids scare me.” Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders in their homes - that terrifies us. “Wives honor your husbands as you honor the Lord” opens a whole other can of struggles. “You need to seek the forgiveness of that person.” “You need to forgive so and so.”

Ever say this to yourself? “I’ve got this kind of a past and this kind of inadequacies. How can I be useful to God?

In my preparation time I ran across this quote. I have no idea who said this. But, I like what it says about trusting God. “Has the enemy come and swept away the trophies of remembrance of God’s good hand on you? Focus on what has been achieved, not on what has not.”

God has brought us this far. Think about that for a moment - about your life. Of what that reality includes. Where you’ve come from. The God who brought you here.

God isn’t hung up on our past. He isn’t caught off guard by our inadequacy. He’s not bothered by our feelings of failure. In fact - Paul writes in verse 15 - that same God is waiting to reveal these inadequacies to us. God knows where we’re at. That same God desires to lead us forward - revealing - correcting - healing - stretching - enabling.

So, Paul writes, don’t worry so much about where you fall short - but - verse 16 - keep living - keep trusting God - keep obeying God with your whole heart - according to what you do know - according to where you are in Him - and He will lead you forward. In trust to turn to God and say, “Here it is. You asked for it. Do what you need to do in my life.”

First - we’re in a process. Second, we need to trust in God. Third, Paul writes that we have choice of what influences us.

Verse 17: Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

Paul tells the Philippians to follow the example they saw in “us” - plural. When Paul was in Philippi he was accompanied by Timothy, Silas, and Luke. In Rome, Paul is with Epaphroditus - a leader in the Philippian church. “Us” means that - when we’re learning how to move forward in our Christian walk - there are Godly people - mature in Jesus - that we should choose to imitate. Not to be like them - little Paul and Epaphroditus clones. But, to follow their example - the pattern of their life - as they seek to follow Jesus - to move forward with Him.

A pattern involves repetition. A noticeable consistent behavior. We need to look for that pattern. There are people in this congregation that are worth imitating because they’re following Jesus and the evidence of maturity in Him is consistent - recognizable. We need to ask them, “How do you do that? What are you learning about moving forward with Jesus? How can I do that?”

The contrast comes in verse 18: For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

Its sad but these were probably people in the church. Maybe even people of position and influence and prestige. Maybe even educated in the things of God. Yet people who were living out lives influenced by the world.

Sometimes we look at what someone may have - things that we’d like - plasma TV's, a Winnebago, a nice house, a great portfolio. They might be living a life style that we might very easily see ourselves slipping into. They might look to us like they’re being blessed of God. The talk like Christians and for the most part act like Christians.

But inside where it counts - over the long haul - the pattern of their life - do they have a heart broken before God? Do they have a heart that seeks after the things that are close to heart of God? What’s the fruit of their lives?

Sadly, even in the Christian community there are enemies of the cross. They’re headed for destruction. “Be careful,” Paul writes. “Choose to be influenced - guided - by people who are worthy of having influence in your life.”

Verse 20: For our citizenship is in heaven - we’re headed in a completely different direction - our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Chuck Swindol shares about a man he met at a pastor’s conference - a man who had returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam. He served both as an infantryman in a mortar platoon and then as a chaplain. He said things were harder as a chaplain than they were in that mortar platoon because he was constantly on the front line. He just breathed the vapors of death continually for about six of seven months. Chuck Swindol says, I asked him, “How long were you over there?” He said, “Three-hundred sixty-six days.” I think he could have even told me the hours and seconds if I had pressed him on it. I said, “Toward the end, how was it?” He responded, “I longed for home like no one can imagine.” (2)

Philippi was a Roman colony. In Philippi they lived by Roman law. They dressed like Romans. Spoke Latin. Philippi was like Rome because Philippi was a Roman colony. When in Philippi do like the Romans. It’s not hard to imagine that the Philippians would have understood - we live here - but our citizenship is there.

The church lives here. But our citizenship is up there. We live in this world of death and destruction. But we long to go home. We’re longing for Jesus to come to take us there. To transform us - these bodies that are falling apart into bodies that never wear out. To realize our eternal life in Him. For Him to reign - to end all this failure and sin. To set right all that is wrong - even in us.

Ever hear someone say, “Get your mind out of the clouds”? In this case, “Get your mind in the clouds.” When we’re discouraged by personal failure think about Heaven - the big picture of what God is doing. That’s what God is preparing us for. That’s the life He’s working out in us today.

Keep that vision before you - long for it - desire it with all your heart - and it becomes so much easier to let go of the dead past - to trust God to deal with issues of our inadequacy - to make spiritually healthy choices of what or who influences us.

Paul ends with this conclusion - chapter 4:1: Therefore, my beloved brethren who I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. “In this way” - means by doing this it is possible. Don’t be discouraged. Choose to stand firmly trusting in Him.

Last thought - three questions.

First: What do you need to trust God with? To let go of and allow Him to lead you forward - to process you?

Second: We’ve been talking about our own failures. But what about the person sitting next to you? What about your wife or husband? A co-worker? Someone at school? A friend? Do they need encouragement? To be listened to? Someone to be honest with? Someone to remind them God’s love for them?

Third: It’s encouraging to us to realize that we’re in a process. Do we allow others the freedom - by the way we’re gracious and loving and patient towards them - do we allow them to be in God’s process?

1.  Charles Swindol, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life
2.  Charles Swindol, Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes - Finish Line

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.