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The Power of Examples in Pursuing Christ
Everyone knows in order to reach your goals, you must have commitment. If you’re not committed, nothing great happens in life–that includes living for Christ as an everyday Christian. Commitment is part of being saved. Commitment is essential to please Christ. And the Church is commanded to be committed in order to make an impact for Christ.
Yet today, commitment in the Church and with Christians is at an all-time low. Why? One reason is humanistic psychology has crept its way into the Church. Christians often think more about their own satisfaction than serving others. Attendees are more concerned about having their own desires met by a church. They say things like, “We’re too busy” or, “The kids are too demanding.”
But what they really mean is, “I am too busy with my agenda for God’s agenda. I will meet my desires first. What I’m committed to is far more important than serving Christ. In many places, Jesus is presented like a powerful genie who grants Christians whatever they want to make them happy. Self-satisfaction is the priority and the main goal of today’s Church is to make people feel good. In other words, the focus is on people–not on Christ. It’s very man-centered.
In contrast, the Bible teaches the goal of salvation is not to meet your needs, but to grow you to be more like Christ. This is why Paul said in Galatians 4:19 that he “labored until Christ was formed in” the Galatians, or wanted the Colossians, in 1:28, to be “complete in Christ,” or John in 1 John 2:6 prayed his readers would “walk in the same manner Christ walked.”
But being biblical today is not popular. There are three main reasons why FBC is not packed with people every single Sunday. One is the providence of God. Two is our parking lot is too small. And three, we teach the Word of God as is, in a God-centered, Christ-focused, Holy Spirit-dependent salvation and sanctification.
We do not teach a comfortable, man-centered Christianity. We teach a God-centered, life-transforming Christianity. The goal of the Christian life is not your satisfaction, but God’s satisfaction. True believers are in a genuine pursuit, and they actually flourish in that pursuit when they’re overwhelmed by their own weaknesses. True Christians are weak and needy, desperate and dependent, dying to self and living to Christ.
Listen carefully. Only in a biblical environment, where believers embrace their own life is not about them but about becoming like Christ–only in that environment would Christians ever value the example of a believer who is becoming like Christ. This morning we’re about to exposit a passage which describes good and bad examples. But good examples will only ever be sought after in an environment where becoming like Christ is treasured above all.
If you’re in an environment where Christianity is all about you, why would you want to follow the example of someone who is all about Christ? This is a big problem for Cali Christians–only those who know the Word in genuine faith understand the struggle. If your entire goal is to satisfy yourself, then why would you value imitating someone who lived denying himself by following Christ? You wouldn’t.
But if your goal was Christ above all, and you knew of others who passionately lived to become like Christ, then their example would be as valuable as diamonds. I personally treasure my many examples. Most of them are here at FBC, and many are at GCC and elsewhere. And I am thankful I’ve had very few bad examples–there have been some, but they were rare and didn’t damage me too severely. But this was not the case with the Philippians.
The Philippians were being assaulted by two bad example extremes. We already know the Jewish Judaizers, those legalists called dogs back in verse 2 were adding to the Gospel. They taught that to be a Christian, you first had to be a Jew who kept the Law, followed traditions and got circumcised in order to be saved. They’re heretics and thus a bad example.
There were also Gentile libertines who took away from the Gospel with an early form of Gnosticism. They taught Spirit was good and flesh was evil and since we’re still in the flesh awaiting a new body, it didn’t matter how you lived now in the flesh–so satisfy every desire of your flesh sexually and bodily, since it doesn’t matter in this life, because the body will be redone later. They turned liberty into license and Paul considered them also a bad example.
Both groups, legalists and libertines, were badgering the church in Philippi. In chapter 3, Paul has been pleading with the Philippians to pursue Christ, and has been warning believers not to get off track. Verses 1 to 8, don’t have confidence in your ministry or your religion–only have confidence in knowing Christ. Verses 9 to 14, with all the resources given to us by Christ, exercise your will in dependence upon the Lord and press on after Christ. Never give up.
Last week, verses 15 to 16 Paul warned the Philippians against complacent, unteachable and indifferent attitudes. So today in verses 17 to 19, Paul teaches believers to pursue the motivating power of godly examples to fire up your growth in Christ and to avoid the debilitating impact of bad examples which will stifle your growth in Christ.
As you read aloud what Paul says in verses 17 to 19 from your outline, notice the good, then bad examples. “Brethren, 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.”
#1 PURSUING the PATTERN of GOOD Examples Verse 17
The pattern of good examples involves imitating, investigating and illustrating the right models. Do you have the right models? Paul begins verse 17 with imitating.
“Brethren, join in following my example.” The first word is brethren, reminding them for the third time Paul is family. And subtly reminding you–you function as family in order for you to have examples. You can’t imitate anyone you’re not close to in some manner. The true impact of godly examples only happens with intimacy, not distance.
This has been killed by the convenient Cali church, where people show up then leave, with no ministry and no relationship. Paul challenges his intimate family in Philippi to imitate his example with, “join in following my example.” Literally, it’s “Brothers, become fellow imitators with me.” Paul is bold. He commands the Philippian Christians, as a church, all of them, to act upon themselves (middle voice) to be co-imitators with Paul–to imitate Christ with me.
Like a commander in battle, Paul commands, “Follow me!” This isn’t optional–it’s essential. The Greek words “join in following my example” come from two Greek words “with mimic”–mimic with me. Paul commands the church together to imitate Christ together. Studying the Word is crucial, praying is essential, weekly worshiping Christ central–but so is modeling examples–imitating those who imitate Christ. If you’re 60 or 6, you must have examples. And Christian, imitation is an essential New Testament command.
1 Corinthians 4:16, “Be imitators of me”
Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children”
1 Thessalonians 1:6, “became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit”
1 Thessalonians 2:14, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus”
2 Thessalonians 3:7, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example”
2 Thessalonians 3:9, “in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example”
Hebrews 6:12, “Be . . . imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”
But did you catch the crazy truth in Philippians 3:17? The imitation Paul commands is uniquely a together modeling. The command is plural, calling the Church as a group together to imitate Paul as he pursues Christ. We need each other to imitate Christ.
You’re to follow the examples of the mature as you imitate Christ together. Jesus is no longer visible on Earth, so we are to imitate His body. Here is another huge leap for Cali-Christians. First, Cali’s think, “God exists for us” instead of we exist for Him. Second, Cali’s think “I do this on my own” instead of we imitate Christ together.
Once again, Paul is challenging you to serve in ministry to grow in community groups and join in membership. As you use your gifts, Christ is seen more in our midst allowing you to imitate Christ more effectively together–not merely looking at one example, but a body of examples.
Don’t be a Cali Christian, be a biblical believer and follow your examples together as Hebrews 13:7 commands, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their [plural] conduct, imitate their [plural] faith.” Again, not just one example, but model the conduct and faith of many examples.
Now, as Paul commands the Philippians, “join in following my example”–he is not putting himself on a pedestal of spiritual perfection. Instead, Paul was encouraging the Philippians to follow him as an imperfect sinner as he pursues growing more like Christ. Paul commands it again in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
Parents freak out over saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Pastors are overwhelmed by preaching truths they don’t live perfectly. Disciplers often tell those they influence, “I am exhorting you in an area where I’m weak.” All that must not stop you from being an imperfect example. Paul was an imperfect example. Paul repeatedly reveals his own failures and sins.
Do you remember in Acts 23:3 when he lashed out at the High Priest, then immediately apologized? Or how Paul described himself first in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “For I am the least of the apostles.” And then later in Ephesians 3:8, “the very least of all the saints.” Then finally in 1 Timothy 1:15, “to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
John MacArthur writes this with his normal insightfulness. “Had [Paul] been perfect, [he] would not have been an example believers could follow. We need to follow someone who is not perfect so we can see how to overcome our imperfections; someone who can show us how to handle the struggles of life, its disappointments, and its trials; someone who can show us how to handle pride, resist temptation, and put sin to death.
“Christ is the perfect standard, model, and pattern for believers to emulate. But Christ never pursued perfection; He has always been perfect.
“Paul was a fellow traveler on the path toward the unattainable spiritual perfection, and thus a model for believers to follow. He modeled virtue, morality, overcoming the flesh, victory over temptation, worship, service to God, patient endurance of suffering, handling possessions, and handling relationships.”
Verse 17, “join in following my example.” Example is where we get our English word mimic–like following a friend through deep snow and stepping where they step. Mimic their steps, follow their routine–imitate their style. Paul already offered himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples, and here Paul tells the Philippians, everyone together ought to be following Christ just like he is.
But Paul is clear, it is only as someone imitates Christ should you mimic them. The only good example is a Christ-like example. Which is why Paul tells the Philippians to be imitating, and now . . .
The process of imitation–verse 17 continues with this phrase, “and observe those who walk”. Observe is the Greek word skopeo, where we get scope, meaning to fix your gaze on–to be continually looking, watching and investigating their lives. To scope in on models, keep your eye on these examples.
But what are you supposed to scope in on? What are you looking at? Easy–their incredible good looks, winning personality, infectious charm, and hulking manliness? No–that’s not it. Why? Because there are so few of us left. Rod Shackelford, me, Shawn, Robert—no. No! You’re supposed to imitate their walk. See it? Observe those who walk. Scope in on their walk. Walk means lifestyle, daily pattern–the example of their behavior.
In fact, watch out for GQ looks, personality, infectious charm, or intimidating manliness–don’t be drawn in or manipulated by that. But do allow their doctrinal daily pattern to be your model. Scope in on their biblical lifestyle-choices and have that be your example. Focus in on their lifestyle–Ephesians 4 and 5 describes a worthy walk, a uniquely biblical walk, a loving walk and a wise walk.
Paul uses walk to describe lifestyle. Not the legalistic lifestyle of adding to the Scripture, nor a libertine lifestyle of minimizing the Scripture, but a biblical lifestyle. John agrees in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” Paul is calling you to model a lifestyle which follows the Word of God.
Find examples who live regular life according to the Bible. Mimic those who live doctrinally Monday through Saturday. Observe and follow those who speak according to biblical truth, drive according to verses, school by Scripture, parent by principle, work by the Word, do housework in holiness and act reflecting sound doctrine.
Paul is not talking about public image, but how they live private reality–not smiles on Sunday, but routines on Monday. Walk is 9 to 5 and 6 to 11pm lifestyle–not at community group, but driving, working, schooling, talking, friend-ing or playing by the Bible. You need to have everyday lifestyle models you can fix your eyes upon. Pick your models carefully.
Verse 17 says, “Observe those who walk.” Don’t be lured in by those who talk but don’t live. Don’t be deceived by those who know but don’t live truth. Why? Your models should be illustrating the truth. The goal of imitation is in the final phrase of verse 17, “according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul points out two main keys in this final phrase.
Look for patterns to follow. The Greek word for pattern was originally used to describe the mark left by a blow–it was used to describe the impression the nails left on Christ’s hands and feet. Then the word pattern was used of the impression left by a metal stamp. A pattern shows you how the original looked. Models are to show you how Christ looked.
Your life is to be seen enough for others to be able to follow a pattern. We must be able to show, not just tell others what the Scripture teaches. Parents are to be patterns for their children. You can’t declare, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Discipleship is first a pattern to follow. It’s both doctrine and direction, Bible and behavior, principles and patterns.
Elders are to be stamped patterns for the church to follow–their character and unique giftedness and strengths, both separately and together provide stamped patterns for others to see how Christ would live in everyday life. And these patterns are plural–we as a church are to be His body, a giant pattern of Christ to follow, filled with individual patterns to follow. Really? Yes.
Look at the end of verse 17, “according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul clarifies–he said at the beginning of the verse all of us together will follow Christ. Then he repeats again, “follow the pattern you have in all of us.” You know Ephesians 4:16, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
The functioning of each individual part of the church together causes the growth of the entire church and each of you who function in it–not attend, but function. Along with Bible study, prayer, service and the other means of grace, good examples are crucial to your growth in Christ. Those who are isolationists, separatists, individualists, the powerful and intimate impact of examples will be the only thing which will move you to grow in Christ.
Look for those of the same sex, a couple, a ministry team to serve in or a community group to belong to, filled with those who seek to live sound doctrine. Allow those who hold the authority of the Word of God in everyday life to impact you to pursue Christ and grow you to mature as a Christian. But beware of and stay away from bad examples.
#2 Avoiding the PRESSURE of BAD Examples Verses 18 to 19
In pursuing Christ, there are examples to be avoided. You say, “Chris, nobody is perfect. This is not a serious issue.” But Paul says it is.
The CRYING of Paul
Verse 18, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping.” This is scary! The people Paul tells you to avoid are not those with errant doctrine–Paul tells you to do that elsewhere. But because errant doctrine always results in immoral lifestyle, so Paul says stay away from those who live badly. He says, “For many walk”–walk is lifestyle. Avoid those who live badly. Those who live opposite of what the Bible says—un-Christlike, not like Jesus.
There is a walk, a lifestyle, which should never be imitated. On the Church scene, edgy guys will pop up and draw crowds. Then those who warn against them are called judgmental, until they finally implode. Then their followers go silent–embarrassed to have been a part of their fan club. Sadly, the explosion of their ministry usually provides the fertilizer to grow the next edgy crowd-pleaser.
It doesn’t matter what I think, only what God says. Paul says they walk and he weeps over their bad example. Paul says there are many of them. “For many walk.” There are more ungodly examples than godly examples, more un-Christlike models than Christlike models, many more unhealthy churches than healthy.
Students and seniors, if you have Christlike models to pattern after, you have a treasure worth more than gold. Christlike leaders worthy of modeling are rare. God says, “For the many walk badly.” And Paul reminds the Philippians he often taught them this–Paul often told you Philippians the reality of many bad examples. Verse 18 says, “of whom I often told you.”
Jesus said it too in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Paul said it elsewhere in Acts 20:28 and 29, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock,…29…after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” This is not a new truth. Many will teach badly and many more will live ungodly.
This fact didn’t make Paul mad, it made Paul sad, verse 18, “now tell you even weeping.” This is the crying of Paul over those who were in the church but now oppose the faith. When those who were seemingly a part of the family became hateful to the family, Paul became heartbroken. Paul wasn’t a dried up stoic. He wasn’t an unfeeling robot. Paul was not an inhuman ministry machine. He was an imperfect, redeemed man of God who showed deep emotions.
He lived for Christ and by the truth of God’s Word, but he was also emotional, sensitive, caring, merciful, and here, heartbroken. Not over a thing, but over people. Why is Paul crying? Paul is sad because of 1) the destructive impact their bad examples have upon a church full of people, 2) the reality of their eternal destination in Hell, and 3) the reproach it brought to the name of Christ. This caused Paul to weep–it broke his heart.
A man of God or a woman of God rejoices over that which God rejoices over and sorrows over that which God sorrows over. All true Christlike Christians desire God’s smile and dread God’s frown. So what was their bad example?
The CHARACTERISTICS of the Betrayers
Described at the end of verse 18 and 19, “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.” Paul gives us five characteristics of bad examples. These are the people you should avoid. Even if they’re funny, influential, good looking, engaging, or buff—avoid those who are:
Dedicated to their opposition of Christ, Destined for eternal hopelessness, Driven by sensual appetites, Dishonored by valuing the lesser things and valuing error, and also avoid those who are Dedicated to material things. Learn these characteristics to avoid.
Here in Philippi, these bad examples were either phony Christian Jews, who were pushing Law and ceremony but living fleshly. Or these were phony Christian Gentiles who were teaching that fleshing out with bodily sins didn’t matter, cause they were saved in Spirit. What does Paul say about them?
Bad examples are DEDICATED to their opposition of Christ
At the end of verse 18, Paul says, “they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” They probably were not openly hostile to Christ or to the Church–they claimed to be Christians, and quite possibly were leaders in the Church. But self-deceived or deceptive, these bad examples were opposed to the truth, undermining the person of Christ and in opposition to the true Gospel.
Their errant doctrine, heard through skewed instruction, evidenced by an ungodly lifestyle, caused them to become enemies of Christ. They warped justification by faith alone in Christ alone. If a Jew, they’d teach justification plus obey the traditions. If a Gentile, they’d teach justification does not result in obedience to the Word, turning liberty into license. Thus they became enemies of the cross of Christ.
Sadly, this is another challenge to Cali Christians–to know the Word deeply enough to gain the discernment to be able to filter what you hear, to discover the error. Do you know the Word comprehensively and deeply enough? Why must you know? Because bad examples are destined for eternal hopelessness.
Paul says, “They are enemies of the cross of Christ,” verse 19a, “whose end is destruction.” These bad examples will certainly go to Hell. They share the fate of all false teachers. Why? Like Catholics or Seventh Day Adventists, the Jewish Judaizers add human effort to the Gospel. Or like so-called Christians who brag over their drunken freedom, these Gentile heretics stripped the cross of its power to transform lives. They promote a faith without works, which is dead.
Those who live a false gospel will end up in the eternal torment of Hell. The word destruction means perish or suffer loss, but does not mean one time. The Bible teaches this destruction is eternal. Matthew 25:46 calls it “eternal punishment” and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 calls it “the penalty of eternal destruction.” Hell is eternal. But how do I identify them as bad examples?
Bad examples are DRIVEN by sensual appetites
Paul says in verse 19b, “whose god is their appetite.” The Greek word for appetite anatomically describes the abdomen, particularly the stomach–but metaphorically, it refers to unrestrained bodily desires. These guys talk spiritual, but they live for sex, fantasy, food and pleasure. They don’t deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Christ–they worship their urges.
If Judaizers, they worship the Jewish dietary laws. If Gentiles, they are known for claiming Christ, but pursuing unrestrained pleasures in the name of freedom. Jude 4 describes them this way, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” They’ll shout, “We’re under grace,” then shove their freedoms in your face–justifying swear words, getting drunk, and speaking inappropriately. You also can identify bad examples because . . .
Bad examples are DISHONORED by valuing the lesser and error
Paul adds this statement in verse 19c, “and whose glory is in their shame.” You will identify a bad example when they glory in what is lesser and boast about error. They’re known for drinking, not discipleship. They’re proud of perversion, not pleasing Christ. They brag about their liberty, not loving the lost.
This is an example of extreme wickedness–sinful conduct before God is actually their greatest boast. They glory in their shame–because they CAN do something, they run after it, never asking whether they should. They rarely ask themselves whether it’s best–never would they ask whether their behavior would truly glorify God. Why? Because . . .
Bad examples are DEDICATED to material things
Paul ends verse 19d with, “who set their minds on earthly things.” Paul makes it clear these bad examples are not saved, because their priority is this world. Their focus is this earth. Their heart is not in Heaven with Christ, but with self on Earth.
James 4:4 is in your face clear, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” And 1 John 2:15 clarifies, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
The Judaizers set their minds on special ceremonies, special days and special sacrifices over Christ. And some Gentiles were setting their minds on the passing pleasures of this world and not Christ, making both these Jews and Gentiles bad examples and enemies of the cross of Christ. Bad examples are destructive. They’re found in every church.
That is why you should have more than one example–you must pursue good examples. You should belong to a church where there’re many good examples. To a great degree, what you become in Christ will be determined by your examples. So let me ask you . . .
1 WHO are your EXAMPLES?
Who are your favorite authors, the preachers you listen to, the Christians you ask advice from, the older saints you mimic, and those mature, doctrinally sound friends you check with when you have a question?
I have a couple I check with through every stage of life–their example has been stellar in every way. And I can’t even begin to describe the amazing wisdom and example of the FBC elders, ministry leaders and community group leaders. In fact . . .
2 Are you intimately INTERCONNECTED to FBC?
I can’t speak to other churches, but I can tell you, if you are in ministry here or in a community group, you have access to amazing examples. Let me be direct!
Friends, if you’re not going to plug in, then you should go to another church where you can. It is God’s will for you to be inter-related and inter-connected relationally to other Christians and to godly Christian leaders. Not to a pastor, but to an eldership and a people. It is time for some of you to become members, weekly serve in ministry and grow together in a community group. Stop remaining fringe and become family.
3 Do you treasure FOLLOWING Christ above all?
Maybe you’ve embraced the false gospel of convenience and self-fulfillment? Maybe you are more interested in your needs than God’s glory? Maybe you’ve not surrendered your will to Jesus Christ, so you don’t admire nor pursue relationship with anyone who has turned to Christ.
If you don’t value examples who are serving Christ with abandonment, it may be you don’t know the true Christ. Maybe today is the day–you need to express a heart which is willing to do anything in order to have Christ. Turn from your sin, surrender your heart, and follow Jesus Christ–for when you do, you will desire the examples of those who love Christ more than life. Let’s pray.