The Maturing Christian (Philippians 3:12-21)
Chasing After a Clear Goal (verses 12-16)
Paul’s pursuit of the goal begins with the recognition that he hasn’t “already obtained it” or “laid hold of it yet.” He’s still pressing on to obtain the state of perfection that he will be given when He receives the upward call of God in Christ at the time of the resurrection. But rather than fatalistically dwelling on the fact that he hasn’t yet obtained it, he determines to press on toward greater and greater Christ-likeness now, confident that Christ has laid hold of him for that very purpose (Rom 8:29). Rather than dwelling either on past successes or past failures, Paul forgets all that lies behind him in order to set his eyes only on what is in front of him. What mattered most for him was not what happened yesterday, but what he ought to do this day in pursuit of the prize of Christ-likeness. Using the same word for “perfect” from verse 12, in verse 15 Paul says that this is the attitude that a “perfect” Christian has. In other words, the perfect (i.e. mature) Christian has the attitude that says, “I’m not perfect, but I press on toward that perfection for which I’ve been called.”
Do you tend to dwell on the past too much? Do you think too much about yourself and your own failures or successes? Why is it important to focus on what lies ahead, rather than on what lies behind? How does the gospel enable us to do that?
Following Good Examples (verses 17-19)
Though Paul is still imperfect, he still exhorts the Philippians to follow his imperfect example of one who is pursuing greater and greater conformity to Christ. He also exhorts us to “observe” those who walk according to the same pattern. While this refers primarily to church leaders, who are called to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), it also reminds us of the need to follow the Christ-like examples we see in all other believers. When the entire body at Christ Church—Radford is pursuing obedience to Christ, each of us is surrounded by more than 100 Christians giving us an example to imitate. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to be deeply involved in the life of a local church, especially in light of the many bad examples that would attempt to lead us astray (vv. 18-19). Though we have been rescued from the destruction we deserve and set on a course of grace and sanctification, there are still many enemies of the cross, who by their self-indulgent lifestyles, provide us with an example of worldliness that appeals to our sinful flesh. The greatest way to steer clear of the influence of such examples is by being intentional about living in fellowship with those that lead us into deeper imitation of Christ.
What kinds of examples do you tend to be influenced most by? Are you intentional about identifying and imitating the areas in others’ lives where Christ-likeness is seen? Or are you more prone to criticize other Christians for the areas where Christ-likeness is lacking?
Knowing Your Citizenship (verses 20-21)
For the Christians who lived in the Roman colony of Philippi, the idea of citizenship would have been very important. Though most, if not all, of the Philippian Christians lacked Roman citizenship, they would have been surrounded by people that enjoyed the privilege and prestige of those who had been granted such citizenship. Here, Paul is reminding the Philippian believers, and us, that the citizenship they possess as Christians is far greater than any earthly citizenship. First, it’s greater because our King is infinitely greater. Although Caesar would have been recognized as both savior and lord, Paul reminds us that the only true Savior and Lord is Jesus Christ, who has power not just to rule over an earthly empire, but possesses power even to subject everything to Himself. Second, it’s greater because it means we will be gloriously transformed at His return. Knowing who this King is and our privileges as citizens of His kingdom, we should be eagerly waiting for the day when He returns.
How is your life affected by the certainty of your heavenly citizenship? Does the thought of Christ’s return make you eagerly long for Him to come?