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Philippians - #6

Philippians - Message #6

Over the past few Sundays, we have been on a journey through the New Testament Book of Philippians. A letter written by Paul to Christians in the city of Philippi.

So far we have thought about chapters 1, 2, and most of 3. Today we will finish chapter 3 and begin chapter 4.

To lead up to that, let’s briefly remember what Paul wrote in the first part of Philippians 3. What he wrote about some challenges, a warning, and an example.

The first challenge is in verse 1. “Rejoice in the Lord.” That is what Paul challenged the Philippian Christians to do. Since it is in the Bible, it is what we who are Christians today are to do.

Other challenges are presented later in the chapter.

We are to “forget what lies behind,” allowing neither past mistakes nor past successes to stunt our spiritual growth now and in the future. Concerning mistakes, that we never consider ourselves beyond Jesus’ forgiveness. Concerning successes, that we never get the idea we have arrived at spiritual perfection.

We are also challenged to “strain forward” and “press on” toward the goal of getting closer and closer to Jesus, all the way into Heaven.

And we are challenged to work together as fellow Christians so we all can please Jesus with our service and our worship.

The warning in the first part of chapter 3 is against false teachers. Any teachers who try to steal, change, or dilute the teachings of Jesus given to us in the Bible. Paul teaches us to beware of such teachers.

The example Paul gives is himself, who started out as a very important, influential, and respected Jewish leader, but who allowed himself to be changed by Jesus into an important, influential, respected minister for Jesus. A minister known for straining forward and pressing on in his faith in Jesus.

That is in the first part of Philippians 3. Today we start with verse 17 of the chapter, where Paul makes an interesting claim. The claim of being worthy of imitation. Paul writes, “Brethren, join in imitating me.”

There was a point made in last week’s message that can be repeated concerning verse 17. The point was that when Paul listed his Jewish credentials, which were very impressive, and when he claimed he did not care about his credentials any more, it could be interpreted he was bragging to the point he thought he was just about as perfect as he or anyone else could be.

As mentioned last Sunday, Paul argued against such an interpretation, writing that he was certain he was not perfect.

It is with that same realization Paul writes verse 17. So what does he mean when he invites the Philippian Christians to imitate him?

Yes, it seems a bit arrogant. However, what Paul is inviting Christians to do is imitate his zeal for the Christian faith and his spiritual discipline in wanting to spiritually grow so that together they could - and we can - strain forward and press on toward spiritual perfection. Not that he or they or we will ever reach perfection this side of Heaven, but that we will all be enthusiastic about moving that direction.

Paul writes, “Join in imitating me.” In imitating his zeal and discipline for Jesus. He then points out it is not just him who can be an example. So, too, can others who are already imitating him. Paul writes, “Mark those” - notice them - gaze upon those who do live as Paul lives. They, too, can be examples. Again, examples of zeal and spiritual discipline.

Verse 18. Paul then acknowledges not everyone - it seems he is referring not only to society in general, but also some in the Philippian congregation who claim the Christian faith - lives properly spiritually. Paul says there are many such people. He had warned about them many previous times. He is sad about them, to the point of “tears.” They are, Paul writes, “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Enemies who teach other than the true word of God.

No specifics are given by Paul, but historically, there were, at that time, some who were called gnostics, who had a number of false teachings. They claimed to be Christians, but their teachings were not according to the true word of God.

One of the false teachings was that the body is evil. The teaching was that the body always has been evil and always will be. Since the body cannot be controlled, it should, according to gnostics, be excused from whatever is done, including evil things.

We know that is a false teaching because the Lord promises to give us the power and the wisdom to use our bodies for what is good. However, some in the Philippian church argued otherwise. They were some of the ones for whom Paul shed tears.

Another false teaching was that a person was not complete until he or she had experienced everything life has to offer. Including all the bad things life has to offer. That became a free pass to engage in any and all sins. The more the better according to the false teachers, directly disobeying the teachings of God. The list is seemingly endless, but it includes gluttony, drunkenness, and all forms for immorality, which we know are wrong.

Paul knows there were and are enemies of the cross of Christ. He sheds tears because of what will happen to those enemies. Verse 19. “Their end is destruction” because they follow their bellies instead of Jesus. “They glory in their shame” rather than the purity of Jesus. Their minds are set on earthly things rather than the things of Jesus.

Avoid false teachers. Avoid followers of false teachers. Do that, knowing that staying true to Jesus has some wonderful rewards. Verses 20 and 21.

First, those who are true Christians are part of “a commonwealth” which is headquartered in Heaven. 

To help us understand that, we can note that Paul refers to the vast Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was headquartered in Rome. Even though the empire was vast, including the city of Philippi, everyone in the empire knew they were part of it. As such, everyone in the empire knew what laws needed to be followed, what types of clothes were acceptable, what language was official.

Christians live in a spiritual empire. A commonwealth headquartered in Heaven. No matter where any Christian is, he or she knows what teachings to follow, which are given to us in the Bible, and what language to use, which the language of love.

One reward for being a Christian who, like Paul, is zealous and disciplined, is being part of the commonwealth of God. We belong in that wonderful spiritual empire.

Another reward is the privilege of “awaiting a Savior.” 

Wait. What does Paul mean, “a” Savior? What does he mean “awaiting?” 

Paul goes on to identify the - the one and only - Savior. He is “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And he does not even suggest we who are Christians do not already have the Savior who is known to us and who helps us even now. “Awaiting” refers to what will happen in Heaven where our current lowly bodies will change. There is nothing wrong with our current bodies, except they sometimes get sick and they age. in Heaven, our lowly bodies will be changed into “glorious,” Christ-like bodies. I have no idea the full ramifications of that, as in what they will look like or what form they will have, but the promise is that there will be no more sickness or death or tears.

Chapter 4. “Therefore.” That is a word that connects what is before it to what is after it. “Therefore.” Since we who are Christians have the privileges of being in the commonwealth of Heaven, being with Jesus now, and looking forward to new bodies in Heaven - because of that - we are to show our joy and pleasure by “standing firm in the Lord.”

Listen to what that means. Paul was likely referring to what was expected of Roman soldiers, which were to stand firm for the Roman Empire, continuing to fight the enemy, even as the enemy surges forward in attack. There was to be no retreat. There was to be no surrender.

That is what the Philippian Christians were to do - it is what we are to do - against any spiritual enemies. Such as what? For the Christians in Philippi, there was persecution. That was a very strong enemy they were to stand against. For us, how about a society that at least seems, at least at times, to look down on the teachings of Jesus, calling them old-fashioned or irrelevant or not fair or too constraining or not inclusive of whatever anyone wants to think or do?

The challenge is clear. Stand firm in the Lord. “In” the Lord means “for” the Lord, using the strength “of” the Lord. That is a very clear, serious challenge, but consider how Paul presents it. He does so with words of encouragement. Words that prove how close he felt to those to whom he writes.

“My brethren.” That means Paul and the Philippian Christians had the same faith in Jesus. Yes, Paul was well-known, but he was not arrogant. He reminded them they in Philippi were just like him in having faith in Jesus.

“Whom I love and long for.” He did love them, as family. He craved their fellowship, which he had enjoyed before and hoped to enjoy again.

“My joy.” He felt good they had not only accepted Jesus, but were joining him in growing in their faith.

“My crown.” In the Roman Empire, crowns were given to victorious athletes. Crowns were also given to special guests at banquets. Being in a spiritual commonwealth was a special time. Since many of the Philippian Christians were believers because of Paul’s ministry, he felt victorious.

He also called them “my beloved.” That was another expression of spiritual affection.

*       *       *       *       *

To people very important to him, Paul writes, “Stand firm in the Lord.” He then changes the tune to correct two people in the Philippian congregation who were not standing firm. Two women. One named Euodia, the other named Syntyche.

Those two women, it appears, were at odds.

Paul does not give the specifics. Were they arguing between themselves or were they together in complaining about the church? Was it a religious difference of opinion or did it have to do with a civil dispute?

Interestingly for us, the details are not given. That is probably because those in the Philippian church already knew the problem.

Plus - here is an interesting point - Paul’s intent may not have been to concentrate on the problem, but the solution.

Hence he writes, “I entreat.” He did more than ask. He begged. He pled that those two women will stop their division and “agree in the Lord” so that together, they can rejoin the congregation’s efforts to display God’s love, help other people accept Jesus, and help Christians grow in their faith.

Please, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul writes, solve your disagreement. And to the rest of the congregation, including a man named Clement, Paul writes, I ask the rest of you - “true yokefellow” - to help them.

It occurs to me that might not have been an easy assignment. I think this matches here. When I used to teach junior high school, I could handle the boy fights. The main issue was testosterone out of control. When that was expended, the fight was over  except for the talking. “Good thing for you Mr. Cook is holding me back.” Well, the energy was gone, so they could not have fought anyway.

But the girl fights. Wow. Those could be brutal and long-lasting. I really disliked it when they happened anywhere near me.

Euodia and Syntyche were at odds in some way. I doubt either of them was willing to come to terms. But Paul wanted them to do so, begging them to come to peace and asking the church to help them. Paul wanted that for the good of the Philippian congregation. he also wanted it because those two women had in the past labored with him in the ministry. Paul was sad at the prospect the good work they had done with him might not continue.

*       *       *       *       *

In next week’s part of our journey through the Book of Philippians, we will consider some very positive verses. Verses of joy and proper spiritual thinking. For today, let’s consider the question that has been asked since the beginning of the journey. “So what?” As in how can the things we have thought about today be applied in how we live as Christians?

As always, you can come up with a lot more applications, but I have three to share in this message.

Concerning the topic of imitating Paul, will we do that, concerning his zeal and discipline? We know we are called upon to pray and read the Bible and be faithful in worship and help one another. Let’s be determined to be excited about doing those things, and let’s be determined to be disciplined in achieving each of those things.

Let me add that this challenge is especially relevant for me in the area of prayer. I do quite a bit of praying with others, but not so much on the personal prayer times. That is something I need to continue to strive forward and press on to do. Recognizing, as Paul wrote earlier in the letter, that I and we all have areas in which we need to grow, will you join me in growing how you need to do so?

Concerning the topic of Euodia and Syntyche, how do you - how do I - want to be remembered? As a person of disunity? I think not. Or as a person like two others mentioned earlier in the letter?

Remember Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy is described as having a positive attitude and being interested in the welfare of fellow Christians. Epaphroditus is described as being a good worker and spiritual soldier. A good minister. A man deserving of honor because of his faithful Christian service.

I would like to be remembered the way Timothy and Epaphroditus are remembered, rather than the way Euodia and Syntyche are. Let’s all work toward that, including by being careful to avoid being divided.

On the topic of standing firm in the Lord, may we, too, heed the call to do that, doing so against whatever enemies we have. Not just the ones mentioned earlier from society seeming to be turning away from Christianity, but other things, including what we have experienced these past several weeks of the pandemic. Things like fear, isolation, frustration, economic turmoil, political fighting. Let’s continue to study and learn. Let’s continue to apply what we know, always relying on the Lord’s strength to give us the will to obey.

To help each of us be excited and disciplined in our faith, and get along as we work to stand firm in the Lord, we need to be bound together with love. Let’s sing about that. Bind Us Together.

Bind us together, Lord;

Bind us together 

with cords that cannot be broken.

Bind us together, Lord;

Bind us together, Lord, 

Bind us together with love.

There is only one Savior.

There is only one Lord.

We are a body of Christians.

That is why we can sing.

Bind us together, Lord;

Bind us together 

with cords that cannot be broken.

Bind us together, Lord;

Bind us together, Lord, 

Bind us together with love.

Yes, Lord, please bind us together with love. Your love, and the love we have for each other. As we are bound together, help us to stand firm in our faith in You. And help us to have unity. Maybe not agreement on every issue, but unity of purpose in making You known. Help us to be excited and serious about our faith. Amen.

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