Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Overview: In the reading today Paul talks about citizenship. Earlier in chapter 3 and in other epistles he shares the complexities of his many identities. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He values these identities. But he finds a new one IN CHRIST.
There is a great story of a wealthy businessman who went tramping and got lost. While making his way through the thick growth of the forest he came across a local man who was quite protective of his patch. The local man called out to him: “who are you and where are you going?”. After getting help from this man, and reaching the end of the clearing he said, “would you like to come and live in the city?” The man replied – “no thanks I’m fine here. In any case how would I live there? I have no work.” The wealthy man replied: “I’ll give you a job. I’ll put you in an office next to mine.” The local was surprised at that. “What would I do there?” he asked.
“Every day” said the wealthy man “your job will be to come into my office and ask me that question: ‘who are you, and where are you going?’”
It’s a great question. It’s about identity and it’s about destiny.
In our reading today we see the shaping of Paul’s new identity. The Christian identity is firstly:
- A CLEAR IDENTITY
Who are you? asks the woodsman, the local in the story. It helps to be sure. Certain.
The Christian identity is described in a number of foundational ways including the new birth (John 3) and adoption by God as children (Romans 815; Ephesians 1:5). A key one is this:
- 2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
- Rom_8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
It’s a significant term because “in Christ” we participate in his act of salvation. We die with him (he dies in our place) and we are raised with him (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us).
With this in mind, let’s look at what Paul writes in the first verse of our reading from Philippians today:
Php 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
If we are copy or imitate Paul’s example here as he suggests, everything else becomes secondary to this one thing of being “in Christ” and of knowing this Jesus.
“in Christ” we find ourselves safe too in our Christian identity.
Paul’s other identities are surrendered to this single identity as a Christian. We see this as we read earlier in chapter 3: Php 3:7 “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Includes his Jewish pedigree. And then there’s the next verse: Php 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ
The Philippian context us useful here. The people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens. They valued that but did not want to go back to Rome. They stayed in the colony called Philippi -and wanted it to be like Rome. They liked the security and stability, the infrastructure etc. There were SAFE in Caesar’s province. He was in charge of their world and they were safe in that knowledge.
But now the Philippians were becoming believers. Just as the peace of Rome and its privileges extended to the Roman citizens in Philippi (many of whom were the equivalent of today’s army veterans) God’s Kingdom on earth is the peace – the shalom of God on earth lining us up with the perfection of heaven.
This is supported by the Lord’s prayer where this realignment is reflected in the key part of the prayer: Mat 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Mat 6:10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Paul’s new and clear Christian identity is such an all-consuming thing that he describes it like this: We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27).
So to summarise: Heaven sends Christ – Christ calls us and commissions us to work on his behalf. We are as his body an extension of Jesus who ushered in the Kingdom. It happens through us when we are in him and he in us as the will of God becomes a reality on earth. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 5 where we are “in Christ” and therefore a new creation we are also called his “ambassadors.”
All of this is part of our identity.
We know who we are and where we are going. Our identity and our destiny.
- A CLEAR DESTINY
It’s clear from the whole of his letter to the Philippians that Paul had a passion for doing Jesus’ will on earth AND a desire to be with the Lord.
After writing that for Him to live was Christ and to die gain, he has more to say. Look at the whole passage:
Php 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Php 1:22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Php 1:23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Also remember what he says in 2 Corinthians 5: 2Co 5:6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 2Co 5:7 We live by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Clearly Paul understands his identity and his ultimate destiny. In fact there is a tension between the present and the better future to come in all these passages. There is a longing for what is better.
But it is dangerous to have our priorities reversed. When Paul admonishes those who don’t follow his example, he is quite concerned about this failure. If we return to Philippians 3 we read:
Php 3:18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Php 3:19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
He shares this often and with tears, mourning the fact that these people are missing the boat as it were. Instead of a longing for a better destiny, seeking God’s kingdom, being ambassadors of this new creation in Christ, some of his readers are like this:
- They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
- Their god is the stomach, or their belly
- Their glory is in their shame (GNB …proud of what they should be ashamed of)
- Their mind is on earthly (or worldly) things.
The description Paul gives here is that of pagan behaviour focusing on physical pleasure and appetites. This is a warning to the Philippians of the day and to us that our lives should not be conditioned by the world of the senses. These are people who seem self obsessed and whose priorities are inverted.
More than that, to live as an “enemy of the cross” is to deny God’s sacrificial way of rescuing his people. The cross involves self-denial as Philippians 2 reminds us. We too should be like Jesus who gives up power. Terror and violence and the use of power to prove a point is the exact opposite of jesus’ way.
The consequence of living like this is clear in verse 19:
Php 3:19 Their destiny is destruction
It’s a sober warning. But for those who don’t go that route, there are great benefits.
They have a clear identity and a clear destiny.
And we like them live in this in-between time and state where we shouldn’t want to escape the world because we are called to be ambassadors in it, extending his will and his Kingdom.
Our destiny does of course includes the certain hope of eternal life.
- A CERTAIN DESTINY (A CERTAIN HOPE ON EARTH AND IN “HEAVEN”)
Returning to the passage in Philippians 3 we read: Php 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 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.
This is not an escapist approach wanting to get to heaven ASAP. For now, we pray and act to bring God’s Kingdom into reality on earth. With the hope of the future in mind – the hope of the new heaven and new earth – the recreation of all things, we work NOW to bring God’s love to bear on the world.
As we do this it follows naturally that we have a solidarity and bond with our earthly citizens like the people of those mosques in Christchurch who were so tragically gunned down this week – not only because we abhor violence and hatred, but because love and compassion are essential to our Christian DNA. They are signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. And the Christian community is and was from its inception a multinational family, which goes against views that make any particularly ethnicity better than another. I love it that the followers of jesus were first called Christians in the very multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 13:1).
(See previous post on bbpsermons about the Chistchurch shootings on 15 February 2019) https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/reflections-on-the-christchurch-shootings-15-february-2019/?fbclid=IwAR2ig1yzAF4So7eQdKSTkV788sMiPI6vo9no03T04-C2VRSx6QJzjSI0Eno
In fact being the body of Christ – his hands and feet and voice who are his ambassadors urging people to be reconciled with God, we show compassion and care as an expression of his Kingdom and God’s character seen in Jesus and duplicated in us as his followers. After all Jesus’ new commandment is this: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).
But what about this heavenly citizenship? What do we make of this? Is Paul wanting to get out of here to a better place? A kind of Christian “beam me up Scotty” if you remember the Star Trek transporter.
No – he is IN CHRIST. His desire is also to be WITH THE LORD fully. Remember: Php 1:23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
He recognises that he is needed for ministry to them and others.
In the meantime – like us – he is Heaven’s citizen living on earth. The only really important dual citizenship.
He is like the Roman colonists in Philippi who remain Roman citizens but stay in the colony rather than going back to Rome.
And so are we. We are like colonials from heaven.
So he can declare: But our citizenship is in heaven
And I love the promise of what that means that follows in these verses
And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 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.
What a glorious day it will be! For the frail, the infirm, the amputee and the disabled. More than that, it will be glorious for the able-bodied too. I am so looking forward to my body being transformed! And being with the Lord.
In the meantime, we are citizens of heaven representing the Kingdom coming on earth. There is much work to be done:
Showing compassion in the face of terror and tragic deaths, modelling Jesus’ way by imitating Paul as he imitates Christ; praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and modelling his will and way of life for others to witness.
This is our identity and our destiny.
As a lovely end to this passage, Phil 4:1 records why Paul tells them these things: – they need this certainty to stand firm in difficult times:
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
Our identity and destiny certainly keep us steady in troubled times too.
Readings: Acts 11:19-26, Acts 13:1-3; Galatians 2:11-21
I once went to two mental asylums in one day. No – I was not looking for a bed or room. I was completing a Masters in Pastoral Counselling and Psychology, and it made sense to visit the places where people were locked away for their safety and ours. There were all kinds of people who thought they were prime ministers or famous heroes – one lady claimed to be Margaret Thatcher.
Which reminds me of the story of Margaret Thatcher visiting a retirement home – and introducing herself as the British Prime Minister. Thatcher spoke to one of the inmates and asked him: “do you know who I am?” The patient replied: “No, dear, but I should ask the nurse if I were you. She usually knows.”
I don’t think any of us really would know what it must be like to learn again from scratch who you are – say after an accident where you lose your memory. Amnesia is the word.
These lines from Paul’s letter to the Galatians are actually quite difficult to understand – precisely because they involve losing one identity and gaining another.
Refugees have to work on that don’t they – and oh my there are a lot of them trying to get to new countries at the moment. (Just by the way, Saturday was international refugees’ day – and the numbers are higher than they have ever been.) Emigrants also have to find a new identity. This many of us know.
Paul’s conflict in this letter is not just about other missionaries with a different point of view. Or a different interpretation of the gospel. It’s about fundamental Christian identity – who you are in the Messiah Jesus.
Paul’s conflict with Peter is over the same issue – and his conflict with the churches in Galatia.
Peter had had a vision – if you remember – a sheet coming down from heaven loaded with forbidden un-kosher food. He was convinced about the need to break out of that Jewish mould. He associated with gentiles and ate with them.
But here he changes his tune – and refuses to eat with non-Jews.
In short, Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. The word means wearing a mask. And much to Paul’s horror, his partner Barnabus, known as the son of encouragement, went along with this. For some reason they were concerned about what the Jewish contingency would think about eating with non-Jews.
The point is – the church in Antioch we read about in Acts 11 and 13 – where Paul and Barnabus were sent out from – was a multicultural church, and they certainly weren’t all Jewish. This was where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The moment you identify with this label – and call yourself a Christian – your identity shifts from being a Torah-keeping Jew or a “Gentile sinner” excluded from God’s family – into the family of the New Covenant – your identity is in the Messiah Jesus.
We used to sing a song years back about this shift. “It’s no longer I that liveth – but Christ that liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20 from the KJV).
I’m not sure that I understood back then. The key verse is Galatians 2:20, which lines up exactly with Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6.
Gal 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He goes on to say: Gal 2:21- I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
If we have died to our old selves, then our new identity is “in Christ”. In fact that phrase “in Christ” is key to all of this. Listen to Paul elsewhere:
- Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
- Rom 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
- 1Co 1:30 It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
And probably my favourite:
- 2Co 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Those who are “in Christ” – Christians – are part of a new fellowship, a new covenant and a new family.
Tom Wright reminds us that the identity marker for Jews was circumcision. The identity marker for Christians is faith. He continues:
And if we are ‘in’ the crucified Jesus, that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. We are no longer defined by possession of the law, or by its detailed requirements that set Jew over against Gentile. ‘I died to the law, that I might live to God.’ We must now learn who we are in a whole new way. Who then are we? We are the Messiah’s people, with his life now at work in us. And, since the central thing about him is his loving faithfulness, the central thing about us, the only thing in fact that defines us, is our own loving faithfulness, the glad response of faith to the God who has sent his son to die for us. This is the very heart of Christian identity. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 26). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
And one of the sure signs of being together in this New Covenant is to eat together. Tom Wright put it this way: To have separate tables within the church is to spurn the generous love of the Messiah. One of the marks of Jesus’ public career was open table-fellowship. God intends it to be a mark of Jesus’ people from that day to this. Wright, Tom (p. 27).
Communion is one of the special meals with profound significance. Every meal together is an intimate sharing amongst those who are family in Christ. And like the church in Antioch – our background is irrelevant!
It’s a new identity that comes with being rescued from the evil age which we spoke about two weeks back: Gal 1:3 “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age …” reaches a climax in Galatians 2:20 – “And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Kingdom New Testament).
Readings: Philippians 4:4-8; John 13:1-5; I Peter 5:7
We are so very connected in this generation. The trouble is that we get so much bad news so quickly. By text, phone, email, skype, facebook, twitter and plane old TV it comes our way. Too much bad news is discouraging and can be depressing as well. Think about the news that we do get. Here are some examples.
PERSONAL NEWS – one man put a bumper sticker on his car that said: “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.” The Bible seems to back this up as Proverbs 5:11 says, “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.” A body that doesn’t cooperate is certainly depressing. A lot of personal news we receive is about people who are suffering in various ways.
INCOME TAXES for some people are depressing. I read that in a survey that most Americans would rather be mugged than audited by the IRS. Jesus did say of course, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
A story about taxes: A little boy wanted $100 badly for a new toy and prayed to the Lord for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord they decided to send it to President Bush. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. President Bush thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank‑you note to the Lord. It said: Dear Lord, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS create stress too. I often hear voice mails that go like this: “you know what to do”… One man put this message on his answering machine. “Hi. This is John: If you are the phone company, I already sent the money. If you are my parents, please send money. If you are my financial aid institution, you didn’t lend me enough money. If you are my friends, you owe me money. If you are a female, don’t worry I have plenty of money.”
Again the bible seems sympathetic. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” It is depressing be enslaved by debt. One man commented, “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”
The list goes on. And most of these things have been around for a long long time. Add to this PERSONAL FAILURE and BAD RELATIONSHIPS.
There are some challenges that are really disconcerting however in this generation. A LACK OF PURPOSE is a big one. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden one of the characters played by Brad Pitt says this:
“We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”
No purpose leads to depression. Purposeless in life is endemic. It’s a huge problem amongst our teenagers – New Zealand at present has the highest suicide rate amongst young men in the OECD countries. It’s no wonder we really area concerned about building good things into the lives of young men in this community.
The Bible reveals this kind of attitude too, as Solomon wrote, “Everything under the sun is meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). That’s a good reason not to use the bible as a kind of game of chance – opening it up randomly for help – you might land up at that verse! The truth is many Christians feel like life is like chasing the wind.
Strangely PERSONAL SUCCESS can be depressing. Elijah the prophet as an example had the greatest victory in his prophetic ministry, but a few days later was fleeing for his life. He then says: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Legend has it that Alexander the Great wept after he had conquered the world, saying, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” When you finally reach your goal after working hard, you can experience depression. We are not as famous as Alexander the Great! But if the project or job we do becomes more important than who we are in Christ, we will be in trouble.
PESONAL SIN – of course also causes stress and anxiety. A personal struggle with SIN can be depressing. The Bible soberly reminds us in Titus 3:3 – “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.”
Perhaps you are enslaved by an addiction and the struggle never seems to end and its discouraging to battle the same old behaviours. No need to list those – we are all familiar with them!
Here’s a story to lighten things up a bit: A little boy’s mother had just baked some fresh cookies and placed them on the counter to cool. The little boy made the comment to his mother about how good the cookies smelled. The mother told him he was not to eat any of the cookies. A few minutes passed and the mother walked back into the kitchen and caught the little boy eating one of the cookies. She asked for an explanation to which the little boy replied. ” I climbed up on the counter to smell the cookies and my teeth got caught on one.”
If you find yourself constantly sinking your teeth into sin don’t be surprised if you are feeling down or even depressed. The Bible again reflects this reality in the life of David in Psalm 38, “I am troubled by my sin. O Lord do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.” David’s sin had caused him to be depressed.
DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION
So what is to be done? So many people struggle with an overwhelming sense of discouragement and even depression. Here are some ways through it:
1. Remember who God is.
PRAYER, PRAISE AND WORSHIP IS THE KEY
We’ve seen already that Bible people got depressed: Even Jesus sounded pretty bad in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34). He prayed the most intense prayer and of course his disciples fell asleep!
David! Listen to him: Psalm 42:5. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.” David knew that the way out of his depths was to worship. Most people think being on their own helps and they isolate themselves. We know that being together with Christians is a better plan! Pray and worship!
Of course a greater example is Paul and Silas singing Hymns at midnight in jail! There is power in praise!
Prayer, praise and worship put things into context, reminding us to see things from God’s perspective. And of course Paul in our reading from Phillipans 4 tells us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (v6)
2. Remember what God says!
SOAKING UP SCRIPTURE filling your life with the Bible is a brilliant solution. The Scripture are HUGELY encouraging as they affirm the faithfulness of God in the darkest situation. Even the most well known passages like Psalm 23 have secret keys that unlock our struggles:
23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The valley of DEEP DARKNESS! Even in the darkness God has promised to be with me!
Soaking up scripture TRANSFORMS our thinking – as we see how faithful God is!
JUST THINK OF JESUS: The ultimate example is Jesus! Success is not necessarily a sign of being on the right track in life! Being on the CROSS in those days was the sign of a curse! The Bible reminds us: Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But Jesus was on the right track. He was in the right place at the right time. Gethsemane. Before Pilate and Herod. Humiliation and rejection. All exactly right. Dying on the cross – crying out MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME. All perfect obedience.
Again read Philippians and 1 Peter 5:7 to put things into perspective. The Peace of God is promised in Scripture, and also Peter tells us to “cast all our anxiety upon him” for he cares for us!
3. Remember who you are!
Our identity and destiny is in our being children of God and co-heirs with Christ. As children of God we are heirs of his promises. That makes us secure just as Jesus was secure as he faced his crucifixion. He knew exactly who he was and what he was about. Today’s gospel reading helps us to see this. Listen to John 13:1-4
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
4. Remember what He has done!
GET CONNECTED WITH THE PAST. Why do I say this? I have often been branded as a modernist, charismatic, anti-establishment kind of person! People love to brand you of course. I am a traditional person actually. I value the TRADITION handed down to us!
I value the so called “main line” church – which includes the Roman Catholic tradition. What Bible would we have today without the meticulous care of the church through the centuries preserving these sacred pages. I value the reformed tradition. That same mother church needed correction – and the Luthers, Calvins, and other great men of God heard God and spoke a corrective word pertinent for their generation. The Bible! Faith! Grace! These are our foundations! I value the Presbyterian tradition! It is a tradition which has ELDERS govern the church. It’s in joint discernment as a community of overseers that we discern The Lord’s will – it prevents us from being mislead by any one individual.
I value especially what Paul tells us about the tradition – that which he passed down to us: I Corinthians 11 tells us:
(v23) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, (11:24) and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The Communion service is the one connection we have with the past! It’s through his death – his blood shed – that we find cleansing, healing, restoration and healing.
More than that we meet with Him and he with us in this special communion. Let’s do that now! We do it together – because we are strengthened by one another – by our joint commitment to each other in community. There is one loaf – one body! We belong – and that gives us courage when we are struggling!
And as you take the bread – hand over to God whatever it is that you need to give to him today. The verse we need to focus on is this one – Phillipians 4:6-7 again:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
May you be free from anxiety and discouragement and may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds!