Confident in the Lord and Suspicious of Myself
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 3:15-19
Read vv. 12–21
Last Sunday, we studied vv. 12–14, which is one of the best-known passages in the NT regarding how we must aggressively run the Christian race. We saw that Paul grasped for the prize with singular focus and 100% effort. However, we also saw he didn’t run to earn salvation or avoid God’s judgment. Rather, he ran hard, because Christ first laid hold of Paul and because Paul joyfully anticipated the day, he would stand before the Lord and receive the prize Christ had promised.
So, vv. 12–14 provide a simple, concise model of how we should approach the Christian life. But like any preacher, Paul always had a little more that he wanted to say. So, in 3:15–4:1 Paul ties up some loose ends regarding how we must run the Christian race. Today, we are going to study vv. 15–19. I’d like to break the passage down into 3 descriptions of how we must approach the Christian race. First, we must run the race with…
I. Confident Aggression (vv. 15–16)
If you follow sports, you know that winning teams always play with confident aggression. For one, when a team goes into a game expecting to lose, they probably will. They don’t play up to their potential. Instead, they are tentative, and they make unusual mistakes. So, confidence is essential to playing your best game. You have to believe you can win.
But confidence also has to translate into aggression, because it’s also hard to win if you are cocky and lazy. So, the best teams always play with confident aggression. And in vv. 15–16 Paul urges us to live the Christian life with the same mindset. We must play hard, because we believe we will win. Along these lines God gives 3 challenges in vv. 15–16. First…
Embrace the attitude. Verse 15 begins by stating, “Therefore, let as many as are mature, have this mind.” It’s worth noting that Paul uses the same word for mindset (phroneo) that he has used repeatedly in Philippians for a distinctly Christian attitude. Of particular significance is 2:5, where God urges us, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
Now in chapter 3, God urges us to embrace the mind of Paul as we pursue sanctification. So, Paul is looking back on everything he has said in chapter 3. Specifically, Paul has emphasized that the Christian life is summed up in Christ. He is my eternal hope, and he is the great prize. Therefore, my greatest ambition is to know him and to be conformed to his character today. So, I give everything I have to running toward Christ.
In light of this v. 15 urges every believer to embrace the mind/attitude that drove Paul. So, Christian, do you want to experience the full joy and blessing of Christ? Then heed the challenge of 3:15. Embrace the attitude of Paul. See the rest you have in Christ and the wonderful opportunity to know him. Then out of a position of confidence and hope, go after Christ with all of your strength. Then notice that Paul follows with a wonderfully encouraging promise, which I’d like to summarize with the challenge…
Trust in the Lord’s refining work (read). Paul says that he doesn’t feel the need to correct every minor error, because he believes that the Spirit will work in God’s children to progressively change their thinking and practice.
Now, Paul is not thinking of major theological errors. We know that, because Paul never holds back when fundamental truths are at stake. Afterall, he just called people who compromise the gospel dogs in 3:2.
Rather, in 3:15, he is addressing people who have a mature spirit. They feel the Spirit’s conviction, they want to grow, and they are growing. And Paul says that he is not going to freak out over every minor theological quirk in godly people. He doesn’t feel the need to fix every little conviction that could be better. Rather, he trusts the Spirit to work in his people.
This ought to be so encouraging as we think about our spiritual journeys. This is because sometimes we despair at how far we still have to go. We get anxious that we don’t have the perfect convictions, that we might be missing something in our relationships, or that we don’t fully comprehend every little doctrinal question. As a result, we play scared and tentative. We don’t play with confident aggression.
I want to be clear that we should care about the finer details, and we should strive, to “approve the things that are excellent” (1:10) in every area. But God also doesn’t want you to play scared. Instead, he wants you to trust the Spirit that he will do his sanctifying work, and to play with confident aggression.
So, don’t be overwhelmed with how far you have to go; instead, trust the Spirit to keep working. Rather than focusing on how far you have to go, just focus on what God calls you to do today. Keep practicing the spiritual disciplines, keep obeying what you know to be true, and keep learning. And leave the future in the Spirit’s hands.
As well, Paul sets an important example for discipling others. I say that because very often parents, pastors, youth workers, and spiritual mentors stress about every little problem in those they are trying to reach, and they spend all their time correcting every little error and lecturing on every little conviction. They become like that annoying boss who is always looking over your shoulder, and he has to have his fingers in every little detail.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t instruct others on the finer details of theology and Christian practice. We all benefit from loving, humble interaction over the finer details of our faith. But it is so important that we major on the majors and minor on the minors. Emphasize the big truths of God’s character and the gospel. Challenge people to love God, believe the gospel, and cultivate a tender heart toward Scripture. Because if those things are right, they are going to be okay.
We have to believe in the power of the Spirit, pray for him to work, and leave room for him to change people. Because when he does it, it is so much more impactful than our nagging, bickering, and manipulation ever could be. Trust the Lord’s refining work. The 3rd challenge in vv. 15–16 is…
Trust the process (v. 16). Frankly, that’s a very wordy, confusing translation, partly because of a variant in the Greek text. So, here’s my translation. “Nevertheless, let us keep walking by the same standard to which we have attained.”
Nevertheless indicates that Paul is summarizing the main point he has been making in vv. 12–15. So, to sum it all up, “Keep walking by the same standard to which we have attained.” That might sound contradictory. Specifically, “If I have already attained the standard, why keep pursuing it? That would be like a runner continuing to sprint after he won the gold medal.”
In response, what we have “already attained” in context is the promises of the gospel. We are eternally secure, we live in resurrection power, and we know Christ. But we have not yet received our full inheritance. We still must “lay hold of the (full) prize” that God has promised.
So how do we get there? We must “keep walking by (his) standard.” In other words, we must trust the process that is laid out in Scripture regarding spiritual growth and live it out.
For example, a good coach always has a plan to develop his players, and he has a strategy to make them a winning team. But many athletes fail (and parents freak out in the stands), because they get impatient. Everything is not perfect today, or we are down by 5 points after one quarter. Rather than trusting the process, they panic, and they ditch the game plan. Almost always, things get a lot worse, not better.
Similarly, Paul says that we must trust the means of grace that God has provided in gospel and the process of spiritual growth that is laid out in Scripture. Don’t panic and take matters into your own hands.
So many people fail right here. They are struggling, and they want it all to go away right now, so they look desperate quick fixes. They change churches, move to a new city, make new friends, seek an extreme emotional experience, or find some book that will fix it all. They don’t trust the process.
Instead, we just need to stay on the path that God has laid out in his Word. Every day, keep looking to Christ and keeping doing the ordinary things God calls you to do. Yes, be aggressive. Go after the prize! But do so with confidence in Christ, not yourself. Practice confident aggression. Then notice in v. 17 the 2nd description of how we must run the race. We must run in…
II. Dependence on Godly Examples (v. 17).
After spending all of chapter 3 reflecting on his own race, Paul now urges the Philippian congregation to join together and imitate Paul’s example of running the race.
Now, Paul is not claiming that he is a perfect example. Paul was a sinner like the rest of us. He just said that he had a long way to go. Instead, he is urging them to imitate how he ran—his confidence in the Lord, his effort, and his commitment to the disciplines of grace.
And then he urges them to identify other godly examples and to follow them as well. Paul already highlighted Timothy and Epaphroditus in chapter 2, and I’m sure there were other examples in Philippi or among those who travelled through the city. So, notice them and follow their example.
There is so much wisdom in this verse, because godly examples are such a valuable grace as we pursue godliness. This is because it’s one thing to read the Bible and to learn facts, commands, and principles, but it is also incredibly helpful to walk with people who embody what we learn—to see how they apply the gospel, how they trust the Lord, and how they obey his commands. They bring Scripture to life.
God has certainly used godly examples in my life. I’ve been helped immensely by watching mature believers pray, live out God’s Word, love their families, love the church, share the gospel, and trust the Lord. And they can also greatly benefit you and your children. The examples that come from intergenerational relationships are one of the greatest blessings of the church. In light of this I have 3 challenges. First…
Identify godly examples. I especially want to emphasize that you look for godly maturity, not charisma and trendy clothes. Afterall the goal is godliness, not coolness. And oftentimes the godliest people don’t stand out in the crowd. They are meek, humble, and usually in an older generation.
Therefore, I’d say especially to the teens and young adults, don’t come to church and just hang out with peers, because you are surrounded by a wealth of wisdom. If you are wise, you will cling to these people.
So, when you come to Life Point, look for godly models. Who are the people that are consistently walking with Christ and displaying the fruit of the Spirit? Who are the people who exude knowledge and practical wisdom? Who has God used and is God using to impact others? Identify these people. Then the 2nd challenge is…
Imitate godly examples. Get to know these people. Spend time with them. Invite them into your home. Ask them questions. Watch how they interact with others, how they worship, and how they serve in the church. Of course, no example is going to be perfect, so be discerning. But put into practice the practical examples of godliness you see.
I’d also challenge you to read biographies on godly men and women of the past. There are so many well-written, engaging, and powerful biographies available on the great pillars of the church. Take advantage. 3rd…
Be a godly example yourself. Every Christian should aspire to reach a point of consistent spiritual maturity, where he can sincerely say, “join in following my example.” This is because whether you want to be a role model or not, you are one. There are lots little eyes watching everyone in this room. They see your sincerity, humility, and joy, and they also see our hypocrisy, impatience, and selfishness.
And if you have kids at home or grandkids around, the call is especially urgent. They are learning what it means to be a Christian by looking at you, so make sure you display an accurate picture. In sum, the 2nd description of how we must run the race is in dependence on godly examples. Finally, the 3rd description is with…
III. Suspicion of Your Flesh (vv. 18–19)
These verses create an interesting contrast to what we have seen so far. First, Paul clearly intends a contrast with v. 17. Paul is saying, “Latch onto godly examples (v. 17), because there are a lot of ungodly ones (vv. 18–19).” But as well, notice the contrast between vv. 15–16 and vv. 18–19.
We talked earlier about how vv. 15–16 say that we must be confident in the grace that God has provided and pursue the prize aggressively. We must believe that we can win. But in vv. 18–19 Paul reminds his readers that we must also be suspicious of our flesh, because many people have dropped out of the race. Paul is “weeping” over some who, from every human appearances, are headed toward eternal destruction.
It want to emphasize that Paul is not describing pagans. Paul’s tears indicate that he is reflecting on people he knows and the Philippians know. At one point they were part of the Christian community, but they turned their backs on Christ and fell away from the faith.
As always, I want to emphasize that they did not lose their salvation. Rather, the fact that they fell away demonstrated that they never truly possessed the Spirit, because the Spirit always keeps his own. So, these are people that from a human perspective initially looked the part, but they proved to be “enemies of the cross of Christ.” So, what happened?
We can’t know all the specifics, but notice in v. 19 that “their god is their belly.” In the Greek world, this phrase described someone who is ruled by his bodily, sensual appetites rather than by eternal priorities. Therefore, these people chased their fleshly desires instead of remaining faithful to Christ.
Understand it doesn’t have to be something inherently wicked that draws us away from Christ. Any passion, hobby, or goal that rivals Christ can become a deadly threat if we aren’t careful. So, Paul weeps over people he loved that had become victims of their own fleshly desires.
He then adds, “Whose glory is in their shame.” If you glory in something, you take pride in it. But sadly these people boasted in activities that they should have considered shameful, because they dishonored the Lord. We can’t know exactly how they justified their sinful activity, but there are several examples in the NT of people who claimed a higher understanding of God’s grace that allowed them to disregard biblical ethics.
People do that in our day too. There are a lot of “Christians” who boast in their “freedom in Christ” to do things the Scriptures consider shameful. It betrays the fact that they grace they think they know is only a counterfeit, because God’s true grace “Teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:14). God’s true grace never excuses things Scripture condemns.
Then Paul adds, they “set their mind on earthly things.” Interestingly, this is the same word for mind that Paul used in v. 15, and earlier in 2:5. Here it describes the opposite of the mind of Christ and of Paul, because this is a mind driven by “earthly things.”
That’s a problem, because Jesus himself said you can’t serve God and man. So, when these people determined to pursue earthly priorities, there was no room left for Christ. It’s a powerful reminder that we need to always be careful to watch our hearts and to make sure that Christ always has first place, because you cannot serve God and man.
As a result, v. 18 states “They are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction.” Of course, we can never know another person’s heart perfectly, but from all human appearances, these people had abandoned Christ, because they never truly possessed Christ, so Paul assumed that they were headed toward eternal destruction. It’s such a tragedy.
I want to be careful, because some people really struggle with unfounded doubts about their salvation, but these verses demand that I challenge anyone who presumes on the grace of God. If you use your security in Christ to justify rebellion against of God’s commands, and your “belly” (i.e., sinful passions) is truly your god (you aren’t convicted over your sin and you are happy to pursue it), then you need to heed the warning of vv. 18–19.
God says that the end of that life is destruction. You need to repent of your rebellion, and you may even need to be saved. So, make it right today. Do not go on serving yourself, because you can only have one master.
That being said, what does God want those of us who are striving for godliness to learn from vv. 18–19? I’d like to emphasize 3 lessons.
Pay attention when others fall. It’s always devastating when a friend or a spiritual leader falls away from Christ. But Paul says that we need to heed the warning that is present in every failure, “That could be me but for the grace of God, and I need to guard my heart carefully.”
Don’t ever take your faith for granted, because 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Your heart is deceitful, and you need to always remain suspicious of your flesh.
Lean on godly examples. It’s so easy to lock in on the devastating stories, like the story of Joshua Harris’s apostasy last year. We can certainly learn from those stories, but we also need to see the incredible stories of God’s grace all around us. And there are many of them in this room. See all that God is doing and how he is changing lives. See that his grace is always greater and draw encouragement from what he is doing.
Lean on the grace of God. Again, it is very important that we cultivate a healthy suspicion of our flesh, but it should never lead to despair. This is because while vv. 18–19 are very dark, they are surrounded by hopeful statements and confidence that we will reach the prize by God’s grace.
So, see the prize very clearly. Verse 20 says “our citizenship is in heaven,” and v. 16 says that we have already attained so much in the gospel. God’s grace will always be greater in the life of a Christian. So believe that, and again, in the words of v. 16, “keep walking by the same standard to which we have attained.” To sum it all up, “Run the race aggressively with confidence in the Lord and suspicion of yourself.”