The Humility of Discipleship (Philippians 3:17-21)

Sermon Manuscript . . .

The Humility of Discipleship

Philippians 3:17–21

We must live in transparent community with one another. Why risk opening your life to others? 1) You are called to community, verse 17, 2) You can live self-deceived, verses 18 to 19, 3) You know this is not home, verses 20 to 21.

Last year, the New York Times newspaper reported on Sylvia Bloom, an older lady who died at age 96, just two years after retiring as a legal secretary. She worked for 67 years at the same law firm–she was one of their first hires. She lived in an inexpensive apartment and always took the subway–even when looking for an assisted living home because she wanted to play more bridge (!).

What made the newspaper write a story on her life was not the amazingly long, stable career she had, but the fact that when she died, she granted more than $6 million dollars to a scholarship fund for needy students. Nobody–not friends or family had any idea that she was rich. She lived frugally and never told a soul about the more than $9 million she had saved and invested. It was only after she died that anyone knew.

Are there secrets in your life that nobody knows about? Are there things you do now that you intentionally hide from others?

When someone puts their hope in Jesus and his death on the cross for their sins, something amazing happens. You receive the Spirit of God, who indwells you and transforms you. And even before you attend a local church, you immediately join the universal church, composed of all genuine believers in Jesus Christ.

When you believe, you are adopted into the family of God. First Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body.” You join a community of believers. And you are called to plug into a local church family. Every Christian is called to live in community with one another. And you know, if you read the weekly church email this week, I think that FBC is one of the very best, most healthy places to do that.

But do any of you have a kid who’s two to three years old? Raise your hands… These are the tired, the weary, the ones who love the time change, because their kid sleeps in longer–hard-working parents. Their children are at one of my favorite ages. Two to three is a really fun time to play games with little kids. This is the time when they think that if their eyes are closed, you can’t see them. Anyone who closes their eyes becomes invisible. All you have to do to disappear is shut your eyes. Which would be amazing, if it worked.

Comically, there are Christians who act this way. They believe that if nobody can see what’s going on in their life, then it isn’t that bad. Some people think that if nobody at church knows what’s happening, then nothing really needs to change. Sometimes the reason is that they love sin and don’t want to change. But often it’s that Christians fear what others will think of them.

You worry about what others will think, about what others will say. You assume that relationships would change if they knew what was going on. You believe that your sin is bigger, worse and more unstoppable than what others have experienced. You think that nobody could really understand all that’s going on. So you pray for help, you go to church, and you stay silent. You keep acting as if nothing is wrong.

Some of you know exactly the life I’m describing. And I’ll be transparent in my intentions. I want to convince you this morning, from the Word of God, that a Christian must humbly open up their lives to others. If you can own this and live it out, it will make FBC a healthier church.

If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, if you hope in Christ’s death to cover your sins, then you are made, you are called, you are commanded to live in community with others. It’s throughout Scripture and it’s the focus of our text today. Open up your Bibles to Philippians 3.

It’s been a couple years since we were last in Philippians, so let me remind you what’s going on. Philippians is written by Paul while he’s in jail in Rome. The church in Philippi was the first church he established in Europe. It’s in modern Greece. He was there on his second missionary journey, and there were less than ten Jewish men in the whole city, so there was no synagogue.

Because of this, he and Silas go outside the city on a Saturday and find some Jews gathered by a river praying. Paul shares the Gospel and one of the first people to believe is Lydia. She is a well-off textile importer and she invites the church to meet in her home. And that same generosity characterizes the whole church over time. They were a major supporter of Paul. They had sent him financial assistance in Thessalonica. They had helped the needy in Jerusalem. With Paul in prison in Rome, they sent money to help him there and Epaphroditus to minister to him.

Philippians is, at the core, a thank you letter–updating them on what’s happening, explaining why Paul is sending Epaphroditus back, encouraging them to pursue Christ with joy and unity, and to stand firm against false teachers. You’ll see a lot of that at the very beginning of chapter 3. “Receive Epaphroditus with all joy” (2:29), “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (3:1),  “Beware the dogs, beware of the evil workers and false circumcision” (3:2).

Then as you move towards our passage, he gets personal–in 3:4 to 6 he describes his credentials as a Jew. It’s like he’s saying, “Here’s where I graduated from.” Then in 3:7 to 11, “All my past is garbage compared to gaining Christ.” And 3:12 to 16, “I haven’t arrived, but am a work in progress.”

The Philippians had been visited by Paul three times and they knew him well. What he says was not a surprise to them. His life had been an open book before them. They had heard him preach and they had seen him in the local jail. They had seen him hungry and they had seen him sick. And he knew their ups and downs. They knew one another well. Euodia and Syntyche had worked alongside him, and he knew they weren’t getting along now. He knew the elders and deacons there. And he knew the opposition they were now facing.

Some of you may be facing opposition at work, or at home. Some of you may be in conflict with past friends, or feeling distant from people you thought were friends. In Philippians 3:17 to 21, Paul tells us why you should open your life to others. Really, he answers the question we all ask–“Why risk opening up about my life to someone?” If you are someone hiding, he’s going to tell you why you need to change. If you are someone who got hurt by being public, he’s going to tell you why you need to endure. If you are someone who is an open book, transparent about life, he’s going to tell us all why we need you. Why risk opening your life to others?

Look at Philippians 3:17 to 21, “Brothers, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

In this passage, Paul gives three reasons why you must be transparent about your life to others. The first is found in verse 17.

1)  You are called to community  Verse 17

In verse 17, there are two commands which govern everything that follows.

First  “Join in following my example” or “join in imitating me” (ESV). The literal meaning is, become my co-imitators. What he means is join me in imitating Christ. There are many parallels, one being in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” The focus is not on Paul so much as on Paul’s imitation of Christ. He tells the Philippians, “Follow Christ as I do.”

Second  “Observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul basically adds, “Don’t just watch me, but watch and learn from other faithful believers also.” Focus–look for faithful believers and learn from them.

These twin commands are very related. Both are focused on sanctification via imitation. And that theme is throughout Scripture. First Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”

First Corinthians 4:17, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”

First Thessalonians 1:6, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Hebrews 6:12, “Do not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 13:7, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

There are people who profess Christ, but wish to be hidden in life–even at church. Paul is charging you to live in community with one another. As a Christian, you are called to be known by others. So when I say you are called to community, I don’t mean you need a clique like in junior high. And I don’t mean you need to belong to the church like a gym membership, where you pay dues and show up occasionally.

What I mean is you need to work at transparent relationships with other believers. What Paul commands requires knowing other people at church, letting other Christians into your life, being transparent about the ups and downs, the good and bad. And you gotta know–before Paul says “imitate me,” he deliberately confesses his own imperfections.

“I haven’t already attained full righteousness, or have already become perfect–I am striving to forget my past and press forward towards Christ” (Philippians 3:12 and 13). Paul sees himself as a brother–someone still in the race, not perfect at all.

How do you present yourself to others? Do you show up to church or to CG and act like all of life is perfect? This call to community begins with humble transparency about life. You need to open up your life to others so that they can see in. Is there anyone here who you could say to, “My kids are driving me nuts”? Or, “My wife and I got into a big fight yesterday . . . I don’t read the Bible because it’s doesn’t make sense to me . . . I’ve been looking at pornography and I want to change.” Or maybe, “I have cancer and am trying to trust God, but I’m scared.” People need to see you pursuing Christ in the midst of challenge.

A church is not healthy when we all look to the preacher as the example. We need to be transparent with one another. We are called to live in community, transparent about our lives. In this letter, Paul doesn’t claim to be doing it right or the only one to follow. Throughout Philippians, he calls out five different people by name . . . Timothy, Epaphroditus (2:29), Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement. He affirms that others are running hard as well–he is not alone or best.

Earlier, in Philippians 2:29, “Receive [Epaphroditus] then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard.” Let me tell you about Epaphroditus. He was a member of the church in Philippi, but wasn’t a church leader. He was trustworthy, because the church gave him a good amount of money to deliver to Paul. He then took time off of work to deliver it, and intended to stay for awhile to be a helper to Paul. But he got really sick on the journey. He took a longer time to recover. He was struggling with anxiety and wanted to go back home.

Paul released him and sent him back to Philippians with Timothy. And he esteems him in the letter and tells the church to honor him. He was a normal guy who was faithful. These are the kind of people we need around us. This is the type of person Paul intends for us to learn from. He wasn’t perfect. He was anxious. He got sick. But he was trying. He was serving. He was pursuing Christ.

You need relationships with others who will model this walk with Christ. If you know people at church, that’s good. If you are in a CG, that’s great. If you serve in ministry, that’s wonderful. But do you know people? You can be in church, in CG, even in ministry, but remain disconnected. Are you close enough to watch how others pursue Christ? Are you able to see and learn from believers who are pressing on for the prize of Christ? Are you open enough to share what’s really going on in your life?

One of the sweetest things I enjoy about our eldership is the fact that I know these men so well. Each year, we spend a couple days away on an elder retreat, plus biweekly meetings, plus phone calls, plus we’re occasionally in one another’s homes. I know their strengths and their struggles, their families and jobs, their joys and their trials. I continue to learn about pursuing Christ from them, because of the enduring relationship we have together.

Do you know other believers who model Christ for you? And on the flipside, do others really know you? Are you transparent about your life–about your ups and downs? Do you let people in to know what’s really going on? The command is that we watch and learn from other faithful believers. You can’t do that, or become that, until you are transparent about your life. You have to let others in!

There are churches that want to know how much you make. There are people who want to tell others what to do. That is not what I’m talking about. That is not what Scripture is calling for. There is always risk in opening up your lives to others. But knowing Christ is worth the risk.

Here is how we get it wrong. We think, “If I let people in, they will hurt me. If I share my struggles, they will think less of me. If I am vulnerable, they will take advantage of me.” The chief concern in all this is me. The humble person realizes that self-protection is a dead end road.

Philippians 2:3 to 5, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Psalm 56:9 and 11, “This I know, that God is for me… 11 What can man to do me?” If you are a Christian, you are called, commanded, to live in close community to others, so that you can watch and learn from other faithful Christians. Why risk opening your life to others? Because you’re commanded to.

2)  You can live self-deceived  Verses 18 to 19

Philippians 3:18 to 19, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”

The thing I didn’t understand when I first read this is that Paul appears to be describing people who profess Christ. They are not enemies because of their outright rejection of Christ. They are enemies because of their lifestyle. Their problem is not theological, but one of lifestyle and practice. When Paul weeps over the lost, he does so for the self-deceived religious.

Romans 9:1 to 3, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Ordinarily, we’d think that he is referring to self-righteous Jews. But Philippi had very few Jews–it was a very Greek town. So he may be describing people who had been in the Philippian church for a time, who might still be bearing the name of Christ, but living apart from Him.

Verses 18 and 19 describe the self-deceived who live self-indulgently. He gives four descriptions of them, starting with the worst.

A) “Their end is destruction

The enemy of Christ is destined for judgment. He says this so that we have no doubt about their eternal state. If there is no change, their eternal destiny will be Hell.

B) “Their god is their appetite

The focus on appetite is not on food, but on wants. He is not as concerned about how much they love Chick-Fil-A as how much they delight in their social media. The enemy of Christ is self-centered and self-seeking.

Appetite/belly designates lower abdomen and describes fleshly impulses–not a specific kind of misconduct, but the seat of what drives you, whether emotions, wants, need for love, etc. It has a close relation to what we’d call the heart today. This person has no self-control, but they pursue whatever pleases them. They covet and they consume and they always want more. Like an insecure teenager, life is always about them.

C) “They glory in their shame

The conscience that might have produced guilt is either abused or gone. No matter what they do, they are pleased with themselves. They see nothing wrong with their lives. There are no longer external standards they conform to. They have become the determiner of what is right and wrong. No one can tell them any different. They are self-deceived, happy and proud of what they now enjoy.

There are people who have been at our church and they’ve professed Christ and walked with Him for a time. And now they glory in what’s shameful. They post it on social media without a twinge of guilt. We hear from extended family of how they believe we’re the problem. Their conscience is gone. They are self-deceived. They glory in things that Christ paid for on the cross.

D) “[They] set their mind on earthly things”

In contrast to what comes, this person is fixated on this life right now. Their stress is entirely dependent on the day ahead of them. Their hope is in what’s happening next and in the days to come. Their joy is entirely contingent on their circumstances. Eternity is only a whisper of a dream. Today is all they think of. And Paul’s great concern is that you can be self-deceived. The life he describes is easy, it’s alluring, it’s attractive and it is fatal.

If you are serious about pursuing Christ, then you have to risk being known. You have to humbly open your life to others. In Philippians 2, Paul presents Christ’s humility as the path of a servant. The enemies of the cross will not humble themselves. They avoid service. They avoid suffering. They are the opposite of humility. They may present themselves as weak, but they care only for themselves. They let no one else near the center of their worship. Their self-centeredness expresses itself in their appetite, their pride and their thinking.

And what’s most concerning is how blind they are to this truth. You can be self-deceived all the way to the day of your death. Matthew 7:21 to 23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

So hear me out–I am pleading with you. If you claim to be a follower of Christ, you must humbly open up your life to others. You don’t want to risk what’s described here. Don’t hide your sin. Don’t hide your life. Don’t hide your walk. Be known–let others in. Paul is putting a fork in the road right here. He is asking, “Will you be self-centered and self-indulgent? Will you risk eternity by keeping walls up to others?”

Choose today to tell someone on the patio what’s really going on in your life. Choose at CG this week to share about the real state of your marriage. Ask for help today to grow in Christ and say specifically how you need to grow. After the sermon, go tell the person you’ve been angry with that you need their forgiveness before you can take communion. You should risk opening your life to others.

Verse 17, Because you’re commanded to

Verses 18 to 19, Because you could be self-deceived, and . . .

3)  You know this is not home  Verses 20 to 21

Philippians 3:20 to 21, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

The ESV starts this section with a “but”–the NASB starts it with a “for”. There’s one word used and they’re both trying to get at what Paul means. But–in contrast to the self-deceived, our home is in Heaven. For–because we are saved and our home is eternal, we can live as open books. This section is the final explanation of what motivates a believer to open up their lives to others, and that motivation is Heaven.

Paul puts it in terms of citizenship–not a word we use much anymore. The only time I get asked about citizenship anymore is when I travel. Next month, I will head to Albania for the installation of Cory Cramer as a pastor in the Albanian church. This is a big deal. It’s been more than 20 years since they installed a foreign missionary as a pastor in a church. It’s a huge commendation by them of his ministry there.

As I fill out the forms to enter Albania, they will ask me–what country do I reside in, and what citizenship do I hold? Answers–U.S. and U.S. It always felt weird to me that the form asks both, but I finally understood. You may not belong to where you live.

Philippi was the city where the Roman Republic ended and the Roman Empire was launched. Because of its role in that, it had been made a Roman colony and was settled by many veterans of the Roman army. As a colony, it was exempt from most taxes, it functioned under Italian law and was free of regional control. Everyone who lived and was born there was granted Roman citizenship automatically.

Philippi prided itself on being a town of citizens in an empire of slaves. And here, Paul is saying, “Your country of residence may be the Roman Empire, but your actual citizenship is Heaven.” Or to us, “You may live in America and pay taxes here, but your actual citizenship is Heaven.” That wall is for you. You’re an alien, an expatriate, a missionary of sorts–because the right now citizenship of every Christian is Heaven. That is not just a future hope, but something stamped on your soul.

This world is not where you belong. This is not the home of any Christian. Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” There are people who profess Christ and deceive themselves because they love this world and have their minds set on it. In contrast to them, Paul says that true Christians eagerly wait for a Savior. You’ve probably never noticed, but Paul only uses the word Savior six times in all his writings. This is a rare and intentional description by Paul.

In the Roman Empire, Caesar Augustus was named the savior of the world because he restored peace and order in Italy and throughout the Empire. Paul doesn’t tend to use Savior because of how the Greeks had adopted it for both Caesar and the Greek gods. But now he forces a contrast to their citizenship and to their ruler.

Every four years, it seems like Christians have hope for some presidential candidate who will be a savior to believers in America. Paul redirects the Philippians’ focus from a political savior in Rome
to the true Savior in Heaven. The hope of unbelieving Philippians was in Caesar and Rome. The city was filled with citizens who lived in light of that reality. To the Church, he says that our citizenship in Heaven must affect how we live. Our hope is not in this world. Our home is not here. Our Savior is not here.

Who or what are you hoping in? An enemy of the cross looks for earthly solutions to problems. He trusts that either himself or his government will solve problems, satisfy hungers and save from dangers. A true disciple’s hope and trust is in the One who is above all earthly powers. We eagerly await a Savior from Heaven who has the power to subject all things to Himself.

Do you understand what Paul is saying there at the end? Philippians 3:21, “[Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Jesus has the power to subject all things to Himself.

Your image of Jesus might be from the Sunday School pictures that show Him with long, flowing hair and a pearly-white smile. You may imagine Him walking the hills and children following Him laughing. That is not how He was when He walked the earth. And that is not how He will really be when He returns. When Jesus came 2,000 years ago, He was a relatively poor, hard-working, middle-eastern man. Though he lived a sinless, perfect life, it was not filled with walks in the hills and laughing children.

Instead, He was rejected, betrayed, condemned and killed. The Jews gave Him to the Romans and together they hung Him on a cross. And though He had the power to leave the cross and destroy all who attacked Him, He chose to stay and to die, so that our sins could be forgiven. Everyone who repents and believes in Him is forgiven. He has promised to return and judge those who continue to reject Him. But He is patiently waiting, giving time for you to repent.

Yet He has promised that a day is coming when He will judge and subject all things to Himself. That is the promise of verse 21 earlier stated. Philippians 2:10, “So that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” On that day when He returns, He will perfect every believer and wipe away every sin of their life. That is what verse 21 describes as transforming us to glory.

And right now, if your god has been your appetite . . . if your mind has been set on earthly things . . . if you have been coming to church and faking it . . . if you have lived as an enemy of the cross of Christ . . . God is calling you to repent. Acknowledge that you have been living in rebellion to God. Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that the Son of God was raised to life, soon to return and judge the earth.

If the blinders of self-deception have been uncovered today, repent while there’s time. The plea of this whole passage–will you admit you need help? If you are one facing God’s wrath, you require Christ. You need spiritual help.

If you are a believer waiting on Jesus’ return, you require the body of Christ (each other)–you need practical help, examples lived out. We await the one who will transform our bodies. We await the one who has absolute power over life and death. But until He returns, we are called to live transparently in community with other believers. Will you risk opening up your life to others?

If you are new to FBC, know that this is place where you can be open. We aren’t perfect. We mess up. We sin. We sometimes respond wrong. Maybe you even tried once here and got hurt. Don’t give up. Maybe one of our leaders failed you. Don’t give up. More than any church I’ve ever been to, this church is filled with compassionate, merciful people who love God’s Word and want to help you know Jesus personally and intimately.

Whether you are mature in Christ or just a new believer today, we need you to open up your life. The very best small groups I’ve ever been to always became that way when someone was willing to drop their guard and talk about what they were really struggling with. Whether you are newly married or an experienced grandparent, we need you to be open about what it’s like to pursue Christ in your situation. Some of us need to see you walk with Christ through hard times.

There are people in our church facing cancer, who need to find those who are currently being treated, but hoping in Jesus more than a cure. There are people in our church, whose adult children are bringing them incredible heartache, and they need to know those of you who have the same experience and refuse to let your joy be dependent on an earthly child. There are women in our church, who have lost and miscarried children, who need to meet other women who know that pain and have the hope of future.

There are young men pursuing Christ, who need to see a godly single man who lives in purity, and a godly husband who washes his wife with the Word. There are young women in our church who need to learn from older women, that their identity is not defined by what’s online or by their appearance, but by Jesus Christ.

The isolated, independent Christian is completely unknown in Scripture. Believers require humble, transparent relationships with one another. You will not find Heaven by living isolated from other believers. The twin charges of Philippians 3 are–Live for Christ and Follow Others.

You know this is not home (verses 20 to 21). You can live self-deceived (verses 18 to 19), so obey the command to live in community (verse 17). Spiritual growth is a team sport–there is no middle path, no middle ground. You either follow Christ or you are an enemy of the cross. Let’s pray.

About John Pleasnick

John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church


  1. Bill Tarin on March 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

    John, there was a Quote at the end of the Study Notes and wanted to find out this was from.

    In Christ,
    Bill Tarin

    • John Pleasnick on March 18, 2019 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Bill, the line at the end of the sermon notes was me, not a quote of someone else. Thanks, John

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