David Jeremiah - The Joy of Maturity
Here, in Philippians chapter 3, in verses 15 through 21, Paul is going to give us four motivations and reasons and helpful ideas about how growth happens and how we should cooperate with it. He begins in verses 15 and 16 with what I call great encouragement within us. Here's what those verses say: "Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind".
Paul loved the Philippian church. As you remember, I told you, he's writing this letter to them while he's under house arrest in Rome. This little church that he was a part of starting, that started in the unique way that it did, was really heavy on his heart and he loved them so much that when he saw something happening that could deter their growth and keep them from maturity, he wrote about it very seriously. He wanted them to know that growth was paramount and anything that got in the way of that from any outside source should be called out and dealt with. In this little paragraph he has two different expressions. He calls the responses to his words, "this mind," and, "think otherwise".
The people of this mind are those who have decided that growth and maturity are important goals for believers. They acknowledge with Paul that they need to keep pressing toward the mark of spiritual maturity. They have left behind the idea of becoming mature through obeying the law or doing works in the flesh. They are going on to seek maturity in Jesus Christ. They've come to the conclusion that we must come to as we come to faith that our salvation is not of works lest any man should boast. And then Paul said, "But there are some who think otherwise, probably they assume that they've already arrived at maturity, they don't need any help".
Maybe they wanted to grow but they won't pay the price that was necessary for them to take forward steps. Whatever the situation, Paul is reminding these believers that their spiritual progress up to this point had come from following the standards set down in God's Word and he encourages them to go forward in the same way. If they were saved by grace through faith and not by their own works, they're to mature and progress according to the same standards. They're to continue to grow, knowing that faith in Jesus Christ and walking with him daily is the routine that is set up for them.
Occasionally, during basketball or football playoffs, you will hear a sports announcer talking about a star player who's having a bad day. As the sportscaster explains why this athlete has been allowed to continue, even though he is playing very badly, he may say something like this: "The coach has decided to stay with the man who brought him here". Or often, they will say, "We're gonna stay with the guy who brought us to the dance". In other words, since this athlete was very responsible for his team's qualifying for the playoffs, it does not make sense to remove him from the game now, even though he's not performing well.
That was Paul's message. What these believers had attained spiritually had come through certain principles and procedures. They were not to let the legalists change the way they approached the Christian life. Paul's words to the churches in Galatia carried a similar challenge. Here's what he said: "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh"? In other words, however, we start out in the faith, that's how we go forward in the faith. Paul's encouragement was straightforward. The Philippians were to keep on walking the same walk and thinking the same thoughts and the language here is military. In other words, get behind the leader and stay in your lane. They were to walk toward maturity.
Let me just tell you something, friends. God has, as his goal for each one of us, that we become mature believers. I mean, not that we just become Christians. That's good. That's the starting place. But God wants us to grow up. He wants us to be Christians who are maturing so that we look back on our lives at the end of one year and we can see that we have grown some in our faith over the year before. You know, one of the things I love about Paul? He reminds me of something that my father said to me when I was getting ready to go into the ministry. He said, "David, let me just tell you something I've learned". He said, "If you preach to discouraged people and you bring the encouragement of the Bible, you will always have a congregation". In other words, if you come to your people every week with the encouragement of the Scriptures.
One of my friends says, "If you nourish them up in the Word of the Lord they will come because all of us, we live a life that is filled with reasons to be discouraged and we need every hope we can". Perhaps the greatest example of that kind of ministry was the Apostle Paul. I never realized until I set out to study it what an incredibly encouraging teacher he was. He was always encouraging others. And even though it sometimes looked like there was nothing to encourage, he found a way. Listen to these words from Paul. He said, "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your heart and strengthen you in every good deed and word".
Paul understood the importance of encouragement and did you know that in the book of Hebrews it says when we come to church every Sunday we're to bring with us a word of encouragement that we can share with someone that we might meet along the way. One of the "one anothers" in the Bible is, "encourage one another". And in the church today, we need to follow the example of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul and be ambassadors of encouragement. You say, "Well, I can't find anything in that person that I can encourage". Find a way to say something good and encourage them. Encouragement goes so much farther than criticism in helping us to grow. And Paul emphasizes that in these verses. Great encouragement within us. And then, he adds in verse 17 godly examples around us: "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern".
Paul invited the Philippians to join in following his example. Actually, the phrase could be translated, "become fellow imitators of me". And the word is related to our English word "mimic". Just as Paul was mimicking Christ, he asked his followers to mimic him. This has always been a hard thing for me to comprehend, and I can't imagine having the spiritual courage and confidence to say to other people, "I want you to follow me whatever I do". But the fact of the matter is, that's what happens whether we ask people to do it or not. And the last phrase in this verse is a phrase that has the word "tupos" in it. That's a Greek word which is translated by our word, "pattern". And Paul is asking those to follow him. He said, "You have us for a pattern".
And I know that this is a heavy item for most of us. We would like to say, "I do not want to be a role model for anybody". You get to a place of success or a place of influence, you're gonna influence other people, and if you don't understand that, you're going to just be frustrated your whole life. Paul said, "There's examples and you follow me". We may not wanna say that out loud to anybody, but we need to recognize they're doing it, whether we like it or not. Let's ask God to help us to live our lives in totality, live our lives for Christ. Not just sometime, but all the time. And you never have to look over your shoulder for somebody misunderstanding. Then he adds a third motivation: great encouragement within us, great examples around us. And this is godless enemies away from us.
Once again, Paul is going to sound a warning. He says, "There are many who walk, of whom I have told you often, and now I tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, and who set their mind on earthly things". You wanna know what Paul thinks about the teachers who have come into the church in Philippi with all of their false doctrine? Just look at the word "whose and who" and you will see the four things that he says about 'em. First of all, their goal. "Whose end is destruction". The word for destruction is perdition. It's the word that is used for Judas who was called the son of perdition. The true child of God glories in the cross but the enemies of the cross, according to Paul, are headed toward the lake of fire.
People who bring false doctrine and try to use it to corrupt people in the church don't have a very good future. Their goal is, "whose end is destruction". Their god is, "whose god is their belly". Their appetite is their god. I'm not just talking about food, but that's probably part of it. They're not in control of their appetites; their appetites are in control of them. Paul had no confidence in the flesh and he did not believe he had already arrived. But these enemies of the cross took as their god whatever felt good.
Romans 16:18 says: "For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple". Their goal is destruction. Their god is their own belly, their appetites. Their glory, this is unbelievable. Their glory is in their shame. First, they give themselves to indulgence, and then, they begin to justify their behavior and then they begin to proclaim it as if it was something to brag about. It reminds me of what Isaiah said. He said, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter"!
Just turn on your television this afternoon, and you will see that. You will see it on the news shows. Nothing is wrong anymore. In fact, the worst part of it is, people are bragging about things which are blatantly wrong. And anybody who's got a head on their shoulders knows they're wrong. What a world we live in. Please note these enemies weren't out somewhere outside of the church. They were in the church. They had wormed their way into the Philippian congregation and they were having little Small Group discussions with the believers, trying to get them off the path of righteousness and back onto the path of works. And I love Paul because he stands at the gateway to that church and he says, "Not here, not now, not while I'm involved". And he calls them out.
So, we have great encouragement within us to keep going. We have great examples around us to keep going. We have to watch out 'cause we got some enemies around us who will keep us from growing. But here's the great thing at the end of this passage: great expectation before us. Philippians 3:20-21, some of my favorite verses in this book: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself".
Paul says if you wanna stay on course and keep growing and keep moving toward the goal, don't lose sight of what the goal is. We're going to heaven someday, we're gonna be with the Lord someday. Our anticipation is glory. It's not this earth. It's something heavenly. It's really worth whatever sacrifice we have to make to stay on track and keep going in the right direction. Paul always set this before his followers, always reminded them heaven is our goal. I remember reading years ago something, I think it was C.S. Lewis, who said, "If you get heaven right, you get everything on this earth while you're on your way. If you get heaven wrong, not only do you miss heaven, you miss everything on this earth," because heaven is the goal and eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ is the promise when we put our trust in him.
Now, the one part about this passage of Scripture that all of us love is, we love this truth. We love the truth of the return of Christ. How many of you believe it could happen at any moment? There's nothing left to take place before Jesus comes back. And while we're all wrapped up in our daily experiences and we love life and we have some great goals, I'll be honest with you, I remember when Donna and I got engaged, I prayed that the Lord wouldn't come back 'til we got married. I guess that's all right to do but... So, here's what Paul was saying: Never lose sight of the goal. Stephen Covey who is from a different mentality than most of us, had some good things to say in his book that was such a bestseller. He said, "Always live your life with the end in view".
Live your life with the end in view. Paul is saying, "Listen, one day Jesus is gonna come back. You're gonna be so glad that you stayed on this growth pattern, that you didn't drop out along the way. And one of these days you're gonna stand with the Lord in heaven. Make sure that you don't forget what is waiting for you as a follower of Christ". And then he said, when that happens he's going to change our lowly body into a body like his resurrection body. Now, if I didn't say anything else in this service encouraging to you, move around just enough to feel the pains you have in your body this morning and remember that one day God's gonna take your lowly body and he's gonna change it into a body, a resurrection body like his own. That's gonna happen someday.
If you wanna know what it's gonna be like when that happens, just go back and read everything after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and watch what he did. He went places without having to take the journey. He moved inside places without going through the door. He ate. That's good news. It was an amazing, the glorious resurrection body of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul holds that out as a high and glorious goal for us never to forget as we go through the discipline of walking with him and growing with him in a world which more and more doesn't want anything to do with Jesus Christ. While we don't know exactly how our bodies are going to be changed on that glorious day, we do know that pain and suffering and death will be forever gone.
To the Corinthians, Paul said that our bodies will be buried in decay and raised without decay. They will be sown in humiliation and raised in splendor. They will be sown in weakness and raised in strength. They will be sown a physical body and raised a spiritual body. Our new bodies will be like the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have the opportunity of being involved in that promise because Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life". If we believe in Jesus Christ, he promises us that one day when the resurrection comes, our human bodies that have decayed on us and stopped working for us in this life will be totally renovated so that we will have bodies like the Lord Jesus, perfected bodies, never again to have pain or sorrow or weakness, and I just thought about it this week: gyms will be out of business. Some of you wanna clap on that. I don't know if that's... yeah, right.
So, we have a lot to look forward to and we have a lot to be thankful for, and the Bible tells us that when this happens, the Lord God is gonna subdue all things to himself and we're going to be in heaven with him forever. Paul looks back over these moments that he has shared with his followers and he sort of, in his mind at least, makes this comparison: the enemies of the cross are heading for destruction; the champions of the cross are waiting for a Savior from heaven. The enemies of the cross worship their earthly bodies; the champions of the cross look for transformed bodies. The enemies of the cross have perverted values and glory in their shame; the champions of the cross have true values and look forward to the glory of the future. Whenever we compare the belief systems of two groups, it's always important to look at the end of the story. How does this story end?
So, let me do that as we close today. Back in the year 1899, two famous men died in America. One of them was an unbeliever who had made a career of debunking the Bible, arguing against the Christian doctrines, and the other was a Christian. Colonel Ingersoll, after whom the famous Ingersoll Lectures on Immortality at Harvard University are named, was an unbeliever. His death was sudden and it came as an unmitigated shock to his family. His body was kept in the home for several days because Ingersoll's wife could not bear to part with it. It was finally removed only because the corpse was decaying and the health of the family required it.
At length, the remains were cremated and the display at the crematorium was so dismal that some of the scene was even picked up by the newspapers and communicated to the nation at large. Ingersoll had used his great intellect to deny the resurrection and when death came there was no hope and the departure was received by his friends and his family as an uncompensated tragedy. In the same year, the evangelist Dwight L. Moody died and his death was triumphant for himself and his family. Moody had been declining for some time and his family had taken turns being with him. On the morning of his death, his son who was standing by the bedside heard him exclaim, "Earth is receding. Heaven is opening. God is calling". "You're dreaming, Father," his son said. Moody answered, "No, well, this is no dream. I have been within the gates. I have seen the children's faces".
For a while it seemed as if Moody was reviving but he began to slip away again. He said, "Is this death? This is not bad. There is no valley. There's just bliss. This is glorious". By this time, his daughter was present and she began to pray for his recovery. He said, "No, no. Emma, do not pray for that". He said, "God is calling. This is my coronation day. I've been looking forward to it". And shortly after that, Moody was received into heaven. At the funeral, his family and friends joined in the joyful service. They spoke and sang hymns. They heard the words proclaimed, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God. He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ".
Moody's death was part of that victory. I'm a pastor. I have watched over the congregation here in San Diego and in Fort Wayne, seen many, many people exit life. And those who know Christ are totally different than those who don't. If you know Christ, you have an anticipation. Death is sadness, not as others who have no hope. We still sorrow but not in the same way. It's different. It's sorrow with an ultimate hope. It's not despair. And so, what happens to us at the beginning of this journey is what determines to us at the end of the journey.
If you put your trust in Jesus Christ, what is the gift? The gift of God is what? Eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And that life begins the moment you believe, but it extends after you die. If you don't accept Jesus Christ, you don't have eternal life and you mess up the life you have, and you get to the end, like Ingersoll, with no hope, only despair. You wonder why I stand up here every week and sometimes get excited and go off on a tangent about becoming a Christian? It's because I know for a fact the only way you can ever have eternal life is through Jesus Christ and the only way you can ever make sense out of this life is through Jesus Christ.
So why wouldn't I stand up here and preach with all my heart, "Come to Jesus. Let him have your heart. Let him have your life. Get rid of the old way. Don't make fools out of yourselves by believing the lie that somehow you're gonna make it when the Bible says no one can without God". Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to the Father except through me". How many get to the Father except through Christ? None. You can't go to heaven without Jesus. "Well," you say, "I'll worry about that later". No, you won't. No, you won't. You won't have time to worry about it. You take care of that now while you have the opportunity.