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14. Pursuing Spiritual Maturity—Part Two

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Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say 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 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 3:17-21)

How should we pursue Christ? How should we pursue spiritual maturity? In this text Paul calls for the Philippians to follow his example (Phil 3:17). In the context, he has just shared his testimony with the Philippians. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, from the tribe of Benjamin. He was zealous for the law, and yet when he found Christ, he counted everything a loss in order to gain Christ (v. 4-9). He gave up his religion, culture, career, and family to gain Christ and to be found with a righteousness that comes only from God. Paul spoke as an accountant—everything else was a loss in order to gain Christ (v. 8). But Paul’s pursuit of Christ did not stop at salvation. For many Christians, salvation is just a profession of their belief in Christ, but that was not true for Paul. Paul said this:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11)

Paul was utterly consumed with knowing Christ. The word “know” is not a word used simply for head knowledge but an experiential knowledge. The Greek word was used in the Septuagint to refer to marital relations between a husband and a wife. Genesis 4:1 said, “Adam knew Eve and she conceived.” Paul wanted to continue to grow in intimacy with Christ for the rest of his life. He then left the accounting terminology and used athletic terminology in Philippians 3:12-16. He said, “I press” or run after, to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (v. 12). Paul saw himself running a race, giving all his energy, in order to know Christ and be like him.

Here in this text, he calls for the Philippians, and us, to follow his example (v. 17). He calls us to pursue Christ in the same way that he did. Christianity is not only the profession of a creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and he died for my sins.” No, it is more than that. Christianity is a relationship with Christ that will be ever deepening for the rest of our lives. When Christ spoke about those who “professed” to know him in Matthew 7:21-23, they called him, “Lord, Lord,” however he responded to them, “I never knew you.” Christianity is a relationship. These people had doctrine, but they had never experienced what Paul had—a desire to be a disciple, to be just like the Master in every way. That is what true Christianity is.

In this text, we will continue with the theme from Philippians 3:12-16, the pursuit of spiritual maturity. How do we grow in spiritual maturity?

Big Question: How should we pursue spiritual maturity according to Philippians 3:17-21?

In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Focus on Godly Models

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (Philippians 3:17)

Paul commands the Philippians to follow his example in pursuing Christ. This is not the first time Paul has taught this. He said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (ESV). Now this may sound strange to many people. Is Paul trying to say he is perfect and that is why we should model him? Absolutely not! He already said that he wasn’t perfect in Philippians 3:12. He said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect.” Paul called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9), and less than least of all God’s people (Eph 3:8). Paul was imperfect, and he would be the first to say that. However, it is his imperfections that make him a perfect model of how to pursue Christ. Consider what John MacArthur said about imitating Paul:

Had he been perfect, Paul would not have been an example believers could follow. We need to follow someone who is not perfect so we can see how to overcome our imperfections; someone who can show us how to handle the struggles of life, its disappointments, and its trials; someone who can show us how to handle pride, resist temptation, and put sin to death. Christ is the perfect standard, model, and pattern for believers to emulate. But Christ never pursued perfection; He has always been perfect.1

Listen, we need to follow somebody imperfect so we can learn how to overcome imperfections. That’s what makes Paul such a great model. We need to learn from somebody who struggles with pride, anger, lust, and insecurity. We need to see somebody else’s path to spiritual maturity. Christ is our perfect standard and model, but he never had to pursue perfection because he was always perfect.  We need to study people who are pursuing that perfect standard and being successful. What do I do when I fail and make a mistake? In one sense, I can’t learn that from Christ’s example in the Scripture because he never had to get back up after falling to lust or anger. He was always perfect and therefore is our model to pursue. But, we also need to pattern our lives after people who are imperfect and yet pursuing perfection to look like Christ.

When Paul said to follow him as a model, he did not point to himself alone. He says, “and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” “Take note” can also be translated “observe” or “fix your gaze on.”2 We need to fix our gaze on people that are demonstrating the same apostolic pattern of pursuing Christ. They are pressing—working with all their energy to pursue Christ. They are single minded—saying this “one thing” I do. They are not double-minded in their pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness. When he says take note of those who live according to the pattern “we” gave you, he is probably referring not only to himself but to Timothy and Epaphroditus who were mentioned in chapter 2. He said of Timothy that he had no one else like him who cared about the interests of Christ (v.20-21). He said of Epaphroditus to honor men like him for he almost died for the work of Christ (v. 30). But, also some commentators believe that he may be referring to the elders and deacons in the church of Philippi who the letter was originally addressed to (Phil 1:1).3 These people were put into spiritual leadership positions not only to lead but to be examples to the flock. Listen to what Peter said to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2-3:

Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (emphasis mine)

These leaders were selected by the Holy Spirit to be examples to the flock. They were to be examples in how they led their families, handled money and conflict, cared for others, etc. Paul taught this in 1 Timothy 3 when he gave the qualifications of elders and deacons. Therefore, these leaders should be people worth modeling.

This is important to hear not only so we can fix our “gaze on them” in our churches, but also because in many church models we might have a part in the selection of these people. It also should be a large consideration when selecting a new church to serve in the future. Are the leaders in the church handling themselves in a way worth modeling? How do they handle their own imperfection? Are they like Paul in being transparent and humble in their own failures? Do they handle their own families well? Are they people of the Word and prayer?

Moreover, these potential models go much farther than our pastors and deacons. They refer to anybody demonstrating a Christian walk worth imitating. Paul says we should fix our gaze on these people; we should observe them in order to grow.

Certainly, this method of growth is true in any field. A child observes his parents in order to learn how to walk and talk. When a person gets hired at a job, many times he has to shadow the person being replaced in order to learn how to do the job. Many of us read books and articles about people we want to model in some endeavor whether that be sports, business, art, or even cooking. Modeling is a necessary part of growing.

With that said, we learn the very reason that many people are not growing. They are not modeling anybody. They have no true models for their spiritual growth. As we consider this principle, we should ask ourselves, “Who am I observing?” “Who are the people that God placed around me that I should fix my gaze on?”

Application Question: How can we practice the discipline of modeling in order to grow spiritually?

1. We must find people who are good models.

Obviously, in order to practice modeling we must find people to observe and fix our gaze on. Since this is one of the ways God commanded us to pursue spiritual growth, we can assume that he has already placed people around us to model. It may be an elder, a deacon, a small group leader, an older man, an older woman, etc. We must find these people and get around them so we can learn. Now we should be aware that these people are not perfect; they are people who are zealous in seeking to get rid of their imperfections and are being successful in that pursuit. They are people for whom Christ is their “one thing,” and they are pressing to be like him.

2. We must be humble and teachable to learn from someone spiritually mature.

For many people, pride keeps them from being able to learn from others. Mankind has a competitive spirit. The apostle John called this the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16). This pride many times keeps us from seeking or being able to learn from the examples God has surrounded us with. To learn from somebody is a humbling experience. It requires accepting that we don’t know everything and others know better than us. The pride of life is a work of the flesh and a hindrance to spiritual growth. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).Those who humble themselves and follow somebody else’s model will receive God’s grace to grow.

Are you humble and willing to be taught?

3. We must be willing to develop intimate relationships with people who are spiritually mature.

The fact that we are called to “observe” does not mean that all we need to do is look. To really have a focused look, the implication is that you need to get close to these models. You need to develop intimate relationships with them so you can learn how they deal with their imperfections and pursue maturity in Christ. You may also need to confess some issues or problems that you have in order to get help. “Observe” is an intimate endeavor. The Philippians had an intimate relationship with Paul. That is why he could say, “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (v. 17). They knew Paul’s lifestyle intimately and therefore would be able to recognize those who modeled it. If you are not willing to be intimate, then you will probably stay stagnant in your growth.

Are you willing to develop intimate relationships with those who are spiritually mature?

4. We must be ready to change in order to follow somebody spiritually mature.

If you are not ready to change, if you are not ready to get rid of sin, then you will not develop intimate relationships with spiritually mature people in order to grow. This is what Christ said:

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:20-21)

When Christ was talking about “the light” in this context, he was referring to himself. However, this reality is true with others who are spiritually mature as well. If you are not ready to get rid of sin in your life, then you won’t develop intimate relationships with those living in the light for fear that it will expose your sin. Personally, I remember when I was in high school, even though I was a Christian, I didn’t hang around Christians who were too sold out for God. I needed to be around people who had a little bit of compromise in their life, because I was compromised. The light would expose too much of what I was not yet willing to give up. John also said this in his epistle: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). If we walk in the light we have fellowship with one another. Because I wasn’t always walking in the light, it hindered my fellowship with those in the light. I didn’t want the light shining on my life.

If you are going to walk in intimate relationships with those who are mature, you must be willing to change. Otherwise, you will not come to the light for fear that your sinful deeds will be exposed.

5. We must be willing to be models.

Another application we can take from Paul’s call to imitate him and others who are mature is being willing to be models ourselves. I remember when I was in high school, a Nike commercial came out with a very famous professional basketball player named Charles Barkley. In the commercial Charles exclaimed, “I am not a role model!” He essentially was saying that he should not be expected to live at a higher standard simply because he played professional sports. Similarly, this is how many Christians live their lives. They think that just because they are a Christian, it doesn’t mean that they should be role models for others to follow. However, that is not true. For Charles Barkley, just because he played professional sports and was in the spotlight, people were going to see him and model him, especially children. Therefore, he was accountable. This is also true for Christians. Because you profess Christ, people are always watching you. And your life will either push people towards Christ or push people away. There is no in between. Christ said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30).

You are either gathering or scattering. Essentially, he says that if you profess Christ and yet scatter by your lifestyle, then you are against him. You are either his disciple—imitating him and seeking to be an example to others—or you are not. It’s very simple. Are you willing to be a model? This is something we can gain from Paul’s challenge to imitate other godly models. We are called to be godly models as well. This means asking such questions as: “Could what I am doing (even though it may not be sin) cause another brother or sister to stumble?” Paul said “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:21). This is the type of question we must be willing to ask ourselves if we are going to be the models God called us to be.

If we are going to pursue Christ, we must have the right models.

Application Question: What Christian models outside of Scripture have had the most effect on you and in what ways? In what ways is God calling you to be a model for others?

In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Recognize and Stay Away from Wrong Models

For, as I have often told you before and now say 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 on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

The next thing we must do in order to pursue spiritual maturity is to recognize and stay away from wrong models. This text is very interesting. It is the only time Paul ever mentions his tears in the present tense.4 This means he was crying even as he wrote the passage. Essentially, he says watch out for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. The implication is that these people are not outside of the church but inside it. They are those who profess faith in Christ but are not truly born again. Their witness and lifestyle actually lead people away from the Lord they profess. They are dangers to one’s spiritual growth.

We see this reality taught throughout Scripture. Jesus taught in Matthew 13 that there are tares and wheat in the church (v. 24-30, 36-44). They may look very similar to true believers on the outside but their internal make up is very different. If somebody mistakenly ate a tare thinking it was wheat, they would get very sick.  Again, they may look similar but their chemical makeup is different; a tare was not created to be eaten.

In fact, in the parable Christ taught that an enemy came and planted tares among the wheat. This was a common practice in ancient times. There was actually a Roman law against it. If somebody was angry with his neighbor or a competitor, he would plant tares among that person’s wheat. The purpose of doing this was to negatively affect the harvest—to stop it from being productive. If the owner tried to pluck the tares out before the harvest, they would lose the wheat as well.

Similarly, in the church Satan has planted tares among the wheat. In the church there are good examples and bad examples. If you model somebody who is a tare, the consequences could be drastic. Listen to what Paul told Timothy about God’s household in 2 Timothy 2:20-21:

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

Paul says in a large house there are objects used for noble purposes and also for ignoble. Certain objects are honored like a pearl necklace or a person’s framed graduation certificate. We treat these objects with great honor, but other objects are not honored such as the trash can and the toilet. This house metaphor is a picture of God’s house. Paul tells Timothy that both exist in God’s house, and if he cleansed himself from the objects of dishonor, he would be a noble vessel, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. What are the objects of dishonor that we must rid ourselves of if we are going to be objects prepared for any good work—mature servants of Christ? Listen to the context:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

In 2 Timothy 2:16-18, he talked about those who have godless chatter and consequently become more ungodly. He names two false teachers who wandered from the faith and were destroying the faith of some. Paul told Timothy to stay away from these types of people—these vessels of dishonor. Their talk is ungodly, and consequently, they become more and more ungodly. Their teachings spread like gangrene, destroying the faith of some. They are tares among the wheat. They were planted by the enemy to destroy the harvest of God. It is these types of ungodly models that Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:18.

Some commentators think Paul is again referring to the Judaizers who had infiltrated the church. Paul previously warned the church of them in Philippians 3:2. He called them dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh. They taught the need for Gentiles to follow the Jewish law in order to be saved. However, it doesn’t seem that Paul is only referring to these teachers. The Judaizers focused on a legalistic righteousness and taught strict adherence to the law. They were more like the Pharisees—legalists. However, the group Paul addressed here seemed to be people that were following no law at all. They would say, “Since Christ is my Savior and he paid for my sins, I can live any way I want.” That’s why Paul said their god is their belly (v. 19).

We must be aware that ungodly models are in the church. There are those that should not be followed. Like Paul said to Timothy, if we cleanse ourselves from such, we will be vessels of honor suitable for every good work. God can’t use some Christians for every good work because they have areas of compromise in their lives. Many times this compromise is compounded by their relationships with those who are not truly following Christ. This is a hard and difficult teaching, but we must be aware of it.

Paul describes these professed believers so we can recognize them and have nothing to do with them in the sense of following and partnering with them. Paul said this to the Corinthians: “Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor 15:33).

Observation Question: In what ways does Paul describe these wrong models—these false professors—and what do these descriptors mean practically?

For, as I have often told you before and now say 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 on earthly things. (Philippians 3:18-19)

1. They are enemies of the cross of Christ.

Paul calls them enemies of the cross of Christ. What does he mean by this?

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by enemies of the cross?

John MacArthur said, “The term cross is not limited to the actual wooden instrument of death (1 Cor. 1:17–18, 23; 2:2; Gal. 3:1; 6:14; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20; 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24), but signifies Christ’s atoning death in all its aspects.”5 It, therefore, could have many meanings since Christ’s atoning death has many aspects to it.

  • “Enemies of the cross” could mean that they deny the need for us to take up our cross daily and live sacrificial lives for Christ.

Christ taught that we must take up our cross to follow him (Luke 14:27); however, many would deny our need to take up the cross. Some deny it by teaching that believers should always be prosperous. They would say Christ died so we would not have to suffer. Christ died so we could be free of problems and have healthy and wealthy lives. However, taking up our cross is not just spiritual, it meant literally being willing to suffer and die for Christ. Others deny it by teaching that there is no need to take up one’s cross in order to be saved. Some believe that at salvation one takes Christ as Savior and then later takes him as Lord—meaning to take up our cross. They see discipleship as secondary to salvation, instead of necessary for it (cf. Lk 14:26-33). Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this type of theology “cheap grace.” Others deny the cross not necessarily by their teaching, but by their lives. They will not sacrifice for him or others; they will not put to death sin. There is no cross in their lives. Christ is often viewed as a virtual genie who supplies all our wants and desires, and all we have to do is claim it. In these congregations, the necessity of the cross has affectively been removed. Maybe Paul was referring to this when he warned the Philippians of those who were enemies of the cross.

What else could enemies of the cross mean?

  • “Enemies of the cross” could mean that by their lives they deny the power that comes through the cross of Christ.

Christ’s death on the cross did not just pay the penalty for our sins; it also broke the power of sin over our lives. It delivered us from being slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness. Christ said, “He who sins is a slave of sin but he who the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). Paul taught this specifically about Christ’s death:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

Paul said our old self, our sin nature, was crucified with him on the cross and that we have been freed from sin. This doesn’t mean that we won’t sin as believers. It just means that sin is no longer our master. It no longer should control us. These “professed” believers denied the power of the cross through their lifestyle and possibly their teaching. They claimed the cross for salvation but denied its power to change their lives.

Paul talked about this elsewhere also. He told Timothy that in the last days there would be “terrible times” in the church (2 Tim 3:1). In describing the character of the people, he said they would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim 3:4-5). These people would only have the “form”—the outward appearance. They would come to church and say the right things, but there was no power in their lives. Their living effectively denied the power of the cross as they chose to indulge in sin and worldliness. However, Scripture says, “He who be in Christ is a new creation all things have passed away, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17, paraphrase). True believers are new creations because of the cross, not in spite of it.

Paul said to Timothy, “have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim 3:5). He says the same thing to the Philippians. With tears in his eyes, he says, “There are some people among you that you must not model.” Jesus Christ taught us that in the church there would be tares and wheat, true and false. You will be able to tell them apart by their fruit (Matt 5:20).

What else could this mean?

  • “Enemies of the cross” could mean that they deny the sufficiency of the cross.

This was true of both those Judaizers and the Gnostics—two early cults who attacked the early church. The Judaizers said the cross was not enough for salvation. One needed to practice the law and circumcision to be saved. The Gnostics said that in order for a person to be saved they needed some lofty experience of knowledge where one became closer to the deity. They both said the cross was not enough. The cross was not sufficient. And, many today teach the same thing. You need baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church membership, etc., in order to be saved, they say. However, those who teach such things are enemies of the cross. They deny its power by teaching the need for something else. There is no other way for people to be saved other than the cross. The cross is enough. Christ’s death was enough. He provided a way for us to the Father. Let no one teach you anything different. Paul wrote this with tears dripping on the page. They dripped because of his concern for the Philippians and also us. We must be careful of bad examples who are enemies of the cross.

How else does Paul describe these believers?

2. Their destiny is destruction.

The word destruction can be translated “waste.” It was translated waste in Mark 14:4 when the woman with the alabaster box poured the expensive perfume on Christ’s head. The people said, “Why this waste…?” These professors in the church lived a wasted life on earth, and they will live a wasted eternity.6  The word “destruction” does not mean annihilation— that these people will cease to exist—as some would teach. No, the Bible teaches something much different than that. God made each person in the image of God, and because of that, each person will live eternally in one of two places. Some will spend eternity in heaven and others will spend eternity suffering in a burning fire in hell (Matt 5:29-30, Matt 25:41). Matthew 25:41 describes people being sent into an “everlasting fire” prepared for the devil and his angels. If it were simply annihilation—simply ceasing to exist—that would be much more bearable. No, the clear teaching of Scripture is that this will be an eternal punishment. That is the destiny of these believers who professed Christ but truly did not live for him. In fact, Scripture teaches that there will be varying degrees of reward and punishment in eternity. Listen to what Christ said in Luke 12:47-48:

“That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

This is the lot for these professed believers. They will be beaten with many blows throughout eternity. Their torment will be greater than others because they knew the Word of God and thus were more accountable for it. Their life was a waste and their eternity will be one as well. Saints, be careful of those you partner with and model in the church.

3. Their god is their stomach.

As mentioned previously, these professed believers are not legalists; they are antinomian—meaning they believe Christ has given us a license to sin. When Paul says, “their god is their stomach,” he is saying that they live to feed every carnal desire. Even though Christ taught to not store up riches on this earth (Matt 6:19), they instead are consumed with the pursuit of wealth and the comforts of this life. When Paul said he buffeted his body and made it a slave (1 Cor 9:27), they instead live to give their bodies whatever it desires, even when it is outside the teaching of Scripture. Like the hypocrites Christ spoke of, the righteous deeds they practice are done for the applause of people instead of the applause of heaven (Matt 6:1-7). They are earthly instead of heavenly. Be aware of those who profess Christ and yet live for their belly. One commentator said this about these teachers: “There is no chapel in their life. It is all kitchen.”7 Their life is not about worship; it is about the fulfilling of their desires. They live for self and not for Christ. Beloved, beware of Christians like this. They are not to be modeled.

4. Their glory is their shame.

What does Paul mean by “their glory is their shame”? This simply means that they boast in the very things they should be ashamed of. We get a clear picture of this in the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 5, a man in the church was having sex with his father’s wife—his step mom. However, instead of disciplining this man, the church was boasting in his sin. Listen to what Paul said:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?... Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6)

This was the advertisement for their church, “We accept everybody. It doesn’t matter how you live. Christ has paid for our sins, and therefore, we can live however we want.” I remember studying at a coffee shop one day while visiting the States. A group of ladies were having a conversation at the table next to me, and it sounded like one of the ladies was looking for a church to attend. Another lady excitedly shared the name and denomination of her church and then added, “We accept homosexuality!” She boasted in the very thing that she should have been ashamed of. In addition, I remember preaching a series on purity at a university chapel, and after the service, an older gentleman from the audience approached me and shared that he was introduced to pornography at a church retreat. The church he grew up in was very liberal, and when he entered the retreat, there was a nude poster for all to see. At the retreat they taught that sex was great, and that it was a gift from God to be explored and enjoyed in various ways. That was his first exposure to pornography as a child. This is the characteristic of these bad models. They boast in the very things they should be ashamed of. They boast in their drunkenness, sexual immorality, greed, and deceit, and yet profess Christ. Beloved, we must be aware that this is in the church. There are many bad models.

5. Their mind is on earthly things.

Scripture teaches that the mind of the unregenerate is very different from a believer. Their minds are set on totally different things. Look at how Romans describes the mind of both the believer and the unbeliever.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:5-7)

The mind of the unbeliever is set on what the sinful nature desires. It is consumed with temporary things, earthly things—things that only pertain to this life. But those who are truly born again desire what the Spirit desires. They desire to know God more, to spread his Word, and to bring glory to God. Their mind is set on heavenly things. The unbeliever’s mind is death—meaning they are separated from the life of God. Their thoughts are without genuine consideration of God and his will. The believer’s mind is life—knowing God (John 17:3)—and knowing God brings peace.

For this reason, the unbeliever will constantly misjudge the believer because he can’t understand him. He cannot understand the believer’s thinking. It’s foolishness to him. This will bring constant conflict in the church. Sadly, this will often happen even between family members when one person is not truly born again. There will be conflicts between church leaders and parishioners and conflicts between the leaders themselves. The conflicts will be based on having different minds—one earthly and one spiritual. The “professed believer” in the church will constantly be in conflict with the thoughts and plans of the redeemed. If a believer is truly being led by the Spirit, then this will be met with animosity from those who are earthly. Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).  We must be aware of this reality in the church. There are those who are earthly and only consumed with earthly things within the church.

Christ taught this throughout the Scripture. There will be wolves in sheep’s clothing and tares amongst the wheat. If we are going to protect ourselves, we must be aware of the characteristics of bad models. They are enemies of the cross. Their belly is their god. Their destiny is destruction. Their boast is their shame, and their mind is set on earthly things. Beloved, beware.

Application Question: What are your thoughts about the dramatic imagery and description Paul gives of these bad models in the church? How have you seen this type of Christianity in the church?

In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Maintain a Heavenly Focus

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 3:20-21)

Observation Question: What are characteristics of citizens of heaven as stated or implied from the text (Phil 3:20-21)?

Finally, Paul says the last thing we must do if we are going to pursue spiritual maturity is maintain a heavenly focus. In comparing us to the “professing Christians” whose destiny is destruction, he says, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” This is the factor that should make us different than them and also affect the trajectory of our lives. It is all about citizenship—where our home is. The professors live like the world because the world is their home. In the same way, citizens of heaven live differently because heaven is their home. Paul spoke as an accountant as he counted everything loss to gain Christ (3:8). He spoke as an athlete, as he pressed to pursue a deeper relationship with him (3:12). Now he speaks as an alien, someone in a foreign land waiting to go home. This must be true of us as well.

The word “citizenship” Paul used here “refers to the place where one has official status, the commonwealth where one’s name is recorded on the register of citizens.”8 The word is related to the same word he used in Philippians 1:27. The New Living Translation says, “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” This would have struck a chord with the Philippian church. They understood the reality of being a citizen of another country while living abroad. Philippi was a Roman colony. They wore Roman clothes; their leaders had Roman titles, and they spoke Latin. Their Roman citizenship was coveted and opened many doors for them. However, as Christians they had an even greater citizenship, and therefore, a greater responsibility to uphold it.

As citizens of heaven, we should have a different language than everybody else. Paul said, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29). As citizens of heaven, we should have different values and a different thinking than those around us—a mind focused on what the Spirit desires instead of the flesh (Rom 8:5). As citizens of heaven, we should have different clothing. Paul commanded the women in Ephesus to dress modestly—to avoid the extremes (1 Tim 2:9). He said, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.” He challenges them to not be consumed with expensive clothes like worldly women. It also would be a challenge to stay away from the provocative dress, so common in Roman culture, as it flaunted the beauty of the naked body.

As citizens of heaven, we must be different. We must always seek to keep our identity and not conform to the world. To the Romans, he said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2). We must keep ourselves from being pressed into conformity by the world system. That is how citizens of heaven should live on this earth.

Observation Question: How does Paul describe the focus of a heavenly citizen?

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 3:20-21)

Heavenly citizens should be focused on their coming King. Paul says that as citizens of heaven we should eagerly await our Savior’s coming. The phrase “eagerly wait for is strong language (in the original) to express the earnest expectation of something believed to be imminent. It means literally to thrust forward the head and neck as in anxious expectation of hearing or seeing something.”9 This should be our daily passion and our daily prayer, ushering in the second coming of Christ.  Paul wrote this to Titus:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13)

Paul says, “we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” He said something similar in 1 Corinthians 1:7: “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” As citizens of heaven, we eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

One commentator said this about citizens waiting to see their sovereign:

"The greatest event in any country on earth is a visit from its chief emperor. History records the most elaborate preparations and memorials for such an event. Special coins have been minted, commemorative stamps issued, and highways built. Looking forward to the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is the highlight of Christian expectation. We should be dwelling daily in this thought of His return....Imagine how the residents in your neighborhood would feel if the President of the United States had announced that he was making a personal appearance in your community. I feel certain there would be some special preparations for his coming."10

I remember working as a Reserve chaplain in a Navy Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. One day at work, the President of the United States visited the hospital to talk to our injured veterans. Before he came, there was a buzz around the hospital as people awaited his arrival. At his arrival, everything shut down. People couldn’t leave the building; people couldn’t come in. Everything stopped because the POTUS came. There should be something of this in the lives of every believer. We should have an eager expectation for our Lord. Our heads should be pressed forward looking up awaiting his imminent return. It is the event that we should anxiously await and continually seek as citizens of heaven.

If we are honest, many of us lack an eager expectation for our coming Savior. How do we develop it and maintain it?

Application Question: How do we develop and maintain this eager expectation for the coming of Christ?

1. We develop and maintain an eager expectation for the second coming by practicing daily obedience to his commands.

A servant who is not obedient doesn’t want the master to return because of fear of judgment. It is the same with us. If we are not practicing holiness, we will not have an eager expectation for Christ to come. Worldliness will dampen the fires of our expectation.

2. We develop and maintain an eager expectation for the second coming by praying for it.

The Lord’s Prayer contains a petition for the coming of Christ. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” essentially we are praying for Christ’s coming (Matt 6:10). It is at Christ’s second coming that his kingdom will fully come to the earth. Therefore, we should literally pray this daily. We should pray for our Savior to come. In fact, many believe the prayer at the end of the book of Revelation is a petition for Christ to come. It says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’” (Rev 22:17). Finally, Christ replies, “Yes, I am coming soon,” and John, a citizen of heaven living on earth, said, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20). This should be our daily prayer as well. The Spirit says come, the church says come, and the individual citizen says, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Are you praying for the coming of our Lord? Through prayer we develop an eager expectation.

3. We develop and maintain an eager expectation for the second coming by practicing the Lord’s Supper.

Often we take the Lord’s Supper and only think of Christ’s death on the cross, but it is also meant to help us have an expectation of his second coming. Look at what Paul said: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). As we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are not only looking back at his death, but we are also looking forward to his coming. It is meant to help us say, “Come, Lord, come!”

4. We develop and maintain an eager expectation for the second coming by focusing on the benefits of his coming.

Paul describes two of these benefits in this passage. He says,

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 3:21)

Observation Question: What are two benefits of the second coming of Christ as mentioned in Philippians 3:21?

  • When Christ comes, he will bring everything under his control.

The phrase “under his control” means “to arrange in ranks.”11  It is military terminology. This is the very problem with society. Christ is not first. There is corruption in our governments, the education system, the health care system, and even in the church. However, at his coming, everything will ultimately submit to the authority of Christ. He will arrange everything into ranks—everything will submit to him and his Lordship. He will remove the curse from all creation. There will be no earthquakes and no tsunamis. There will be peace between animals and men. Those who do not profess Christ now will ultimately be made to submit to him. Paul said this in Philippians 2:9-11:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul said that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. Everything in the universe, everything that is currently in a state of confusion and rebellion will arrange into ranks to give glory to Christ. When this happens, Christ will ultimately give all glory to the Father. First Corinthians 15:28 says, “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” The Father exalts the Son to the highest place and the Son in return exalts the Father so that he may be “all in all.” Amen.

As we focus on this reality, it should create an eager expectation in us. We should desire for Christ to be exalted throughout the earth and ultimately for God to be “all in all.” Lord, let it be so.

  • When Christ comes, he will make our lowly bodies like his glorious body.

It is at the second coming that Christ will transform our lowly bodies—our bodies of weakness, sickness, and infirmity— into a perfect resurrected body. We do not fully comprehend what this means or what this will look like. We do know that we will be without sickness, without sin, and that these bodies will be glorious. Paul gives us some understanding of the nature of our glorified bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. He says,

But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else… So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44)

He essentially describes it as a seed that is put into the ground and grows into a large, beautiful tree. He says that is the difference between our current lowly body and our future glorious body. They are comparable to the difference between a seed and a tree. They are sown perishable and raised imperishable. They are sown in dishonor and raised in glory. They are sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body. They will be glorious.

It has been my experience that as I continue through the aging process that I yearn more and more for the second coming and my new body. I handle many of my aches and pains by comforting myself with the fact that one day I will have a new body. One day I will not have knee problems, foot problems, back problems, etc. As we focus on the benefits of our King’s coming—which are many—it helps create an eager expectation in us. We begin to say, “Lord, come. Lord, come.”

Application Question: At what times have you most desired or had an eager expectation for the second coming of Christ? What are the benefits of maintaining this expectation?


How should we pursue spiritual maturity in Christ?

  1. In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Focus on Godly Models
  2. In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Recognize and Stay Away from Wrong Models
  3. In Order to Pursue Spiritual Maturity, We Must Maintain a Heavenly Focus

1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 254–255). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 255). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 255). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 257). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 257). Chicago: Moody Press.

6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 93). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

7 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1976). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 260–261). Chicago: Moody Press.

9 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1977). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

10 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

11 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 94). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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