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5. The Focus Of The Cross: Standing Firm In The Lord (Phil. 3:17-4:1)

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In our passage today, Paul urges us to carefully choose whom we follow and be certain of where we’re going. The title of this message is “The Focus of the Cross: Standing Firm in the Lord” and the subject is “our heavenly citizenship.” What we learn from this passage is that whoever you follow will influence where you end up, so be sure to follow those who point you to Christ.

Having urged us to follow Christ’s example of humility (2:3-11) and his own example of whole-hearted commitment to Christ (3:1-14), Paul now urges the Philippians to be steadfast in their discipleship, to be absolutely sure of who they are following and where they’re going so that they do not go astray – not following the Judaizers (3:1-2) but following Christ (3:7-11); not following false apostles but imitating the apostle Paul himself (3:3-14); not being influenced by those who might lead them astray but being steadfast in their Christian discipleship; not attracted by earthly things (3:18-19) but heavenly (3:20-21).

We all want to stand firm for our beliefs, ideals, goals, dreams, and convictions, but sometimes we get pushed off course by people and circumstances in our workplace, our school, our homes. Sometimes other people influence us to act or think in a way that is contrary to our Christian values and goals. Sometimes we fail to live up to our own expectations. Sometimes we are influenced by friends at school (and we start to run with the wrong crowd) or colleagues at work (and get involved with bad habits and wrong relationships). Sometimes disunity in the church can push us off course such that we become cynical and lose interest. Sometimes material possessions can get ahold of our hearts and distract us from our calling in Christ.

It’s so easy to be pushed off course, to lose sight of where we’re going, to not be discerning about who we’re following. Most of us have had other people in our lives who have influenced us, either for good or for bad. You can think of people whose influence on you was so profound that it changed the rest of your life. Perhaps, it was someone who told you the gospel and you trusted Christ as Savior and your life was changed. Perhaps it was an older person whose life motivated you to be like them – always steady, never wavering in their faith, always ready with a word of encouragement, always standing firm for the truth. You can probably identify those about whom you can say: “That’s who I followed. I trusted them. They led me in the right direction. They stood firm in Christ.”

Here Paul reminds us that to stand firm in the Lord, you need discernment about who you are following and you need direction about where you are going, because the truth is, as our thesis states, that whoever you follow will influence where you end up, so be sure to follow those who point you to Christ.

Notice first that if you want to stand firm in Christ...

I. You Need Discernment About Who You’re Following (3:17-19)

In his book, “Everyday Discipleship for Ordinary People,” Stuart Briscoe wrote: “One of my young colleagues was officiating at the funeral of a war veteran. The dead man's military friends wished to have a part in the service at the funeral home, so they requested the pastor to lead them down to the casket, stand with them for a solemn moment of remembrance, and then lead them out through the side door. This he proceeded to do, but unfortunately the effect was somewhat marred when he picked the wrong door. The result was that they marched with military precision into a broom closet, in full view of the mourners, and had to beat a hasty retreat covered with confusion. This true story illustrates a cardinal rule or two. First, if you're going to lead, make sure you know where you're going. Second, if you're going to follow, make sure that you are following someone who knows what he is doing!" (cited in

You need discernment about who you’re following. Paul’s advice is ...

1. Follow those who push you toward Christ (3:17). “Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us.”

We are brothers and sisters in Christ; we are in the same family and have the same likeness, values, objectives. As fellow believers, Paul urges us to follow his example. Why does he want us to follow his example? Because his example is that of someone who follows Christ.

In 2:5-11 he has pointed us to Christ as the primary and perfect model of humility and self-sacrifice, and in 3:7-14 he has described how he has devoted his life to following Christ, imitating Christ, standing firm in Christ. In urging us to imitate him, Paul isn’t trying to form an egotistical fan club. This is not a call to imitate his religious success or his personal advantages as he defined them in 3:4-6. This is not a self-serving exhortation, not egocentric. No, this is a call to imitate his self-denial, his suffering, and the all-consuming pursuit of his life that he has just described in the earlier part of the chapter. He isn’t urging us to follow him as opposed to following Christ. Rather, he is pushing us toward Christ because that’s what his life has been devoted to. That’s why he says, “Join in imitating me.” This is a community effort. As a body of believers there should be one, joint imitation of a genuine Christian life as exemplified first in Christ himself (2:5-11) and also in the apostle Paul (3:7-14). “Incorporate into your life,” Paul says, “the same priorities, values, and goals that you have seen in my life.”

The highest priority and value that we can have is knowing Christ and living close to his cross, keeping the cross central in our lives. And you can do that by renouncing everything of worldly value in order to “gain Christ” (3:7-8), by not relying on your own righteousness but on the righteousness of Christ (3:9), by deepening your intimacy with Christ through identification with his sufferings and conformity to his death (3:10), by striving to attain to the resurrection from the dead (3:11), and by pursuing Christ’s goals for your life and not your own (3:12-14).

Paul wants us to imitate his example of “striving toward the goal” of being with and like Christ (3:14), of living on earth as a citizen of heaven (3:20), of seeking to be the presence of Christ on earth, of hating the world and all it stands for. “Be it far from me,” he says in Galatians 6, “to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which (or, by whom) the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Paul is not suggesting that he is the exclusive role model. There are others as well who live as he does: “Pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us” (3:17). He says: “Just use discernment concerning those whom you follow. Join together with those whose lives have the same priorities and values, convictions, teaching, purposes, and goals as mine. Follow those who are pursuing Christ-likeness in their lives. Don’t be confused or sidetracked by those who are pursuing other goals but follow and imitate those who are genuine, godly role models, who live on earth as citizens of heaven, who live the same pattern of life as I do.”

The basic principle here is that whoever you follow will influence where you end up, so be sure to follow those who point you to Christ. So, who are your role models? Who are you imitating? Who are you following? Is it celebrities - is that who you want to be like? Is it powerful people - is that who you are attracted to? Is it older kids at school - is that who you are imitating? Or, are you following someone who points you to Christ? Someone who generates in you a love for God's Word, who stimulates in you a desire for holiness, who encourages you in the Lord, who loves to talk about God's word with you. Make sure you use discernment concerning those whom you follow. Make sure you follow those who model Christ-likeness, whose values, goals, and conduct radiate the presence of Christ on earth, those who stand firm in the Lord.

If you use discernment about who you follow, you will follow those who push you toward Christ and you’ll...

2. Avoid those who pull you toward the world (3:18-19). 18 For many, about whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, are enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame; their mind is set on earthly things.”

Paul’s warning is repeated and passionate: Don’t follow those who masquerade as Christians but who underneath are really anything but Christian. Don’t naively follow anyone who comes into your church, for not everyone is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Some people are religious frauds. They are religious but wrong - zealous propagandists who promote a false gospel and turn others away from Christ. To them, the gospel is foolishness, a scandal (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17-2:5).

Not everyone is living a Christ-centred, cross-focused, heaven-directed life. And don’t think this is a small problem or rare occurrence. There are “many” of them - many apostates who identify with the church, who look like Christians and want to be accepted as Christians but who are deceivers. They come to church from time to time; may even be vocal about their opinions; might even become leaders in the church; some even have large ministries of their own with glitz and glamour. But when you examine their lives closely, you’ll see that they aren’t Christians at all. They are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” You can detect it in their behavior, their lifestyle, their habits, associations, values, and priorities. It isn’t what they say that condemns them (for what they believe is often cleverly concealed) but it’s what they do.

How much more deceitful can they be? How much more injurious to the cause of Christ can they be? They actually put people off Christianity because of how they live. They turn people away from following Christ by tempting them with material and sensual incentives. They are enemies of the cross of Christ. They don’t want others to think they are enemies but their lifestyle indicates that they are. They are the opposite of those who stand firm in the Lord and live close to the cross. Enemies of the cross of Christ are those who oppose all that is true of Christ (2:5-11) and oppose those who follow Christ (3:5-14).

For Paul, the cross of Christ divides the world. Either you are for the cross (you submit to it in repentance, accept it for salvation, live by it in faithfulness) or you are against the cross (you refuse to submit to it, won’t conform to it or be identified with it). For Paul, anyone who does not live in conformity to Christ and his cross is an enemy of the cross; there is no middle ground. So, how do you recognize such people? 3:19 gives us a list of characteristics…

First, you recognize them by their self-condemnation: “Their end is destruction” (3:19a). Instead of counting present things loss in order to gain Christ, these people have their priorities reversed. Instead of living with an eye to the future glory, these people live only with an eye for this present world. They count present possessions to be gain but their end will be the judgement of God - destruction not glorification! (Matt. 25:46; cf. 2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Cor. 11:15; Rom. 6:21, 23). So, first, you recognize them by their self-condemnation.

Second, you recognize them by their self-indulgence: “Their god is their stomach (3:19b). Perhaps this is a reference to Jewish dietary laws and traditions which they elevated above all, making such laws and traditions not only their objective in life but the means of salvation - they replaced God with religious rituals. They were characterized by unrestrained pursuit of physical pleasure, carousing, uncontrolled eating and drinking (cf. James 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:18; Rom. 16:18), but they had no appetite for spiritual truth.

Third, you recognize them by their self-glorification: “Their glory is in their shame” (3:19c). Perhaps this is a reference to circumcision (cf. 3:2) which in itself is private and somewhat embarrassing, but in which they glory (boast) and demand as a condition of salvation. Whatever this refers to, clearly what would cause others to be ashamed is for them a point of pride, of boasting. They have no conscience of sin, no sense of shame. Perhaps it’s verbal vulgarity (which, they often consider funny, something to be proud of), or deceitfulness (cheating, lying, untrustworthiness), or sexual immorality (adultery, fornication, pornography), about which they boast for “their glory is in their shame.”

Four, you recognize them by their self-gratification: Their mind is set on earthly things” (3:19d). They aren’t citizens of heaven at all. Their focus in life is the opposite of Paul’s - their minds are set on earthly, temporal, material things not on heavenly, eternal, spiritual things. They live for the here-and-now, for things that give temporal gratification not eternal (cf. Rom. 8:7; Col. 3:2, 5, 8). They are more interested in present possessions than in spiritual conversions. They are more concerned about living now than living eternally. They are focused on physical realities not spiritual. They hold a laissez faire philosophy of life - live-and-let-live. They say: “If others want homosexual relationships, then let them - it’s their personal preference. If others want abortions, then let them – it’s their body, their personal choice. If others want no-fault divorce, then let them – it’s their life, easy-come-easy-go. If others want voluntary euthanasia, then let them – it’s their right to die with dignity. If others want extra-marital affairs, then let them – it’s strictly between consenting adults.”

In other words, enemies of the cross of Christ are thoroughly worldly in their thinking and lifestyle. They do what is right in their own eyes. “Morals are all relative anyway,” they argue, “so don’t pass judgement on others. What may be evil for you is not evil for someone else” (cf. Rom. 3:8). It all seems to tolerant, doesn’t it, so nice, so compromising, so self-giving, so culturally acceptable. But here’s the rub in today’s society: Any standards, practices, and beliefs are acceptable except those that are biblical, Christian.

The big problem with this attitude towards life is that, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12). The big problem is that, “It is appointed for people to die once, and after this the judgement” (Heb. 9:27). The big problem is that, “God has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31). The big problem is that “Their end is destruction,” Paul says. They have no hope; they will be cut off from God with no prospect of salvation. Their destiny is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire.

You see, you can’t be a Christian and live any way you want. Don’t think that if you agree to a certain creed, constitution, or theology that you are necessarily a Christian. A true Christian is one in belief and behavior, and your behavior signifies what you really believe. Don’t think that you can practice any kind of morality and still be a Christian. You can’t live without the fear of God before your eyes and still be a Christian. So, don’t follow people who live religious, legalistic lives but with no evidence of Christianity.

Be sure to look around you and check people out. Find out what their goals are in life. Are they temporal or eternal? Are they accumulating earthly or heavenly rewards? Is sensual pleasure and sexual freedom a priority for them? Are they undisciplined in their appetites for food and drink? Paul says: “The people you should follow are those whose standards, goals, practices, beliefs, and desires are like mine, “standing firm in the Lord” (4:1) as Christ’s disciples, whose focus is on the cross and whose goal is heaven.

A disciple of Christ does everything to enhance and promote the gospel, wants to know more of Christ and the cross - his atonement for sin, his grace, his love, his forgiveness. A disciple of Christ mirrors the presence of Christ on earth. The life-long pursuit of a disciple of Christ is to love him more deeply, follow him more closely, trust him more fully, and know him more intimately. Whereas, enemies of the cross of Christ show by their lifestyle, priorities, attitude, and thinking that they are focused on self not Christ. They want personal pleasure not Christ’s sufferings; they depend on their own good works not on Christ’s righteousness; they want their personal safety not Christ’s death. And by infiltrating the ranks of God's people under false pretenses they influence others away from Christ to follow their example, their practices, and their goals.

So, first, if you want to stand firm in the Lord you need discernment about who you’re following, who you are imitating, who you associate with, who you want to be like, for whoever you follow will influence where you end up, so be sure to follow those who point you to Christ. And, notice second, if you want to stand firm in the Lord...

II. You Need Direction About Where You’re Going (3:20-21)

Trail magazine is one of the most widely distributed magazines for climbers. In the February 2004 issue, they provided directions for climbers descending Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Returning from the 4,409 foot peak in bad weather requires explicit instructions. The article gave step by step advice on navigating the trail down. But the directions were wrong. Roger Wild, the mountain safety adviser for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, discovered the mistake and immediately contacted the magazine, advising them that anyone following their directions would be taken directly over the north face. “I find it incredible,” he wrote, “that Trail has published advice which is so obviously and dangerously wrong.” Trail magazine admitted that a crucial step in the instructions was inadvertently omitted. Those following the article would pay a high price for the missing information. In poor visibility, climbers depending upon the directions would walk off the edge into Gardyloo Gully, a drop of 1,000 feet (“Directions Take Climbers over Cliff,” in Preaching Today, March 2004).

If you want to stand firm in Christ, you need direction about where you’re going, to know where you are headed and what the future holds. For those who stand firm in the Lord the truth is that...

1. Our present address may be on earth but our eternal home is in heaven (3:20a). “For our citizenship is in heaven from where we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here is the focus of the cross on display in our lives: “Keep your eyes on heaven” for that is where we belong, that’s where our Savior is now, that’s where he is coming from, and that’s where we are going.

This is the second and ultimate reason for following Paul’s example. The first is because “many are enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18). The second is because “our citizenship (like Paul’s) is in heaven.” In contrast with those who are citizens of earth, those who stand firm in the Lord are citizens of heaven. That’s where we are going; that’s where we belong. Our right and title are there, not here. Our inheritance is there, not here. Our true, lasting, eternal home is there, not here. We live in the reality of our heavenly home and destiny.

Here Paul connects back to 3:17 by returning to “our...we” instead of “their…they.” On earth, we are pilgrims, strangers, and foreigners (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 11:13). “Pilgrims” because we’re just passing through; we are temporary residents - “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 11:14). “Strangers” because we’re unknown - our culture, our language, our behavior, and traditions are all different. “Foreigners” (exiles) because this is not where we belong; this is not our home country (cf. Eph. 2:19; Heb. 11:13; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Our eternal home is in heaven – that’s where we belong; that’s where we’re going; that’s where our conduct and character are derived from. We are “born from above” (Jn. 3:3). Our names are “written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20), in “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). We live for heaven, in the light of heaven, in accordance with the objectives and standards of heaven. We long for heaven where we will meet Jesus face to face and enter into our eternal inheritance (cf. Jn. 14:1-4; Rom. 8:17). From heaven “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” to take us there, to our eternal home. We are already citizens of that country even though we are not there yet.

Our motivation to imitate Paul’s example is that our lives on earth would reflect our true citizenship, that our conduct would be consistent with our heavenly destiny. And we do this by living the same style of life as Paul, a life that is focused on the cross, a life lived in the power of the resurrection, a life lived in fellowship with Christ’s sufferings, a life lived in conformity to Christ’s death. This is an “already-but-not-yet” kind of life. We are already citizens of heaven but we are not there yet - the full realization of what is already true still remains in the future. That’s why “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20b) to come from heaven.

Our pursuit of the heavenly prize will conclude with the coming of our Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s who we are eagerly looking for because he will take us to where he is now. The enemies of the cross of Christ look for an earthly savior, someone to bring them earthly peace and happiness, and such a person will come, the man of sin (2 Thess. 2:3ff.), the antichrist (1 Jn. 2:18). But our Savior is the “Lord,” the sovereign of the universe; “Jesus,” who saves his people from their sins; the “Christ,” the messiah of God (Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5).

Those who stand firm in the Lord aren’t lax about their faith. We aren’t uncertain about where we’re going. We aren’t distracted by the things of earth. But rather, we live in the eager expectation of Christ’s coming from heaven. We won’t be surprised when he calls us home. We won’t be frightened by the sound of his voice for he is our “Savior” (cf. Tit. 2:13; Eph. 5:23; 2 Tim. 1:10). We won’t be shocked when the dead in Christ arise from their graves because we who are alive at that time will join them to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). We are living on earth as citizens of heaven. We are “standing firm in the Lord,” longing to hear his voice and see his face, waiting to enter heaven. That’s where he is now, in heaven (Jn. 14:4), and that’s where he is coming from.

The second coming of Christ isn’t preached much anymore. Perhaps that’s an indication of where our focus is, so preoccupied with life here that we don’t have time for the life to come. Perhaps things on earth are so attractive and influential that the prospect of heaven has lost its appeal and power. Make sure as you look to the future, that you know the direction where you’re going.

For those who stand firm in the Lord, our present address may be on earth but our eternal home is in heaven. And...

2. Our present existence may be on earth but our eternal transformation is in heaven (3:21). “...20b the Lord Jesus Christ...21will transform our humble bodies into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” Those who stand firm in the Lord know where we’re going. We live with the expectation of redemption - that’s our eternal reality. And we await Christ’s transforming power, for the one who is our Savior is the one who will be our “transformer.”

Our transformation will be a glorious conformation. He will “transform our humble bodies” into conformity with “his glorious body.” Now, we have bodies that suffer from the effects of sin and death - they are “lowly / humble” bodies, bodies of humiliation. Now, we have bodies that age and decay but he will transform them in, what Gordon Fee calls, “the great eschatological reversal” (380) – the reversal of “lowly bodies” into “glorious bodies.”

He will transform our humble bodies “into the likeness of his glorious body.” Then our earthly bodies will be conformed to his glorious body. Then we will have a body suited for glory like his body, a body that is fully conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49, 51; 1 Jn. 3:2), a body that is free from all the effects of sin, a body that is incorruptible, immortal, so that we who even now are striving to be “conformed to his death” will be fully and finally conformed to his glorious likeness. The enemies of the cross of Christ now glory in their shame, but we look forward to being conformed to his glory. Our present suffering will end in future glory. Their present glory in self will end in their future eternal destruction.

But how is such transformation and conformation possible? How can saints who were fed to the lions be transformed? How can those burned at the stake be reconstituted? How can believers who have been dead for years and whose bodies have returned to dust be glorified? How can those who were drowned at sea be refashioned? It’s all possible by his cosmic power, “... by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.” That’s how it’s possible. The same power by which he is able to, and in fact will, “subdue all things to himself” (2:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:28) is the power by which he will also transform our humble bodies at the resurrection to be conformed to his body of glory. That’s his cosmic power - the same power that raised Christ from the dead and that created all things and sustains all things will also transform us. That’s when our redemption will be complete, when we will no longer live on earth but rejoice in heaven, when we will live where our citizenship is, when we will fully and finally and perfectly glorify God in thought, word, and deed, all by his sovereign grace and power.

Final Remarks

“Therefore, my dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (4:1). These Christians were Paul’s “joy” and “crown.” They were the fruit of his labors in the gospel. No wonder he wants them to know who they are following and where they are going. He doesn’t want them to follow those who might take them in the wrong direction. He wants them to stand firm in the same way that he stood firm. He wants them to imitate his lifestyle, attitude, beliefs, and practices, because whoever you follow will influence where you end up, so be sure to follow those who point you to Christ.

So, use discernment about who you follow. Follow those who push you toward Christ and not those who pull you toward the world. And know the direction where you’re going. Set your direction towards our eternal home and our eternal transformation, and, in so doing, “stand firm in the Lord, beloved.”

Are you standing firm for Christ? Are you more in love with him now than you were last year? Is your church a more vibrant testimony in your community now than it ever was? What is the purpose for your existence? Is it to manifest the presence of Christ on earth or to manifest your own sinful desires? Is it to find pleasure in God or in earthly things? Is it to achieve eternal goals or temporal? Christ’s coming is near, our home is prepared, and our salvation is secure. So, let me challenge you with this: “Stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”

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