Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Philippians 3:17-21 Devotional

Philippians 3:17-21 Devotional

Philippians 3:17-21. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.

Reflection. We have already seen Paul calling on Christians to imitate himself, as well as Epaphroditus and Timothy. So the opening verse of this passage - both “following my example” and “keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (3:17) - is neither novel nor surprising. But one aspect of application previously not explored is whether we could do the same. Is your faith an example that you think others should imitate? Would you refer to your Christian life as a “model” or “example” for others? In answering those questions, I will say a few things from these verses.

Firstly, there is no fundamental difference between you and Paul. Sure he was an apostle. But the only significant difference between the two of you, in addition to him seeing the resurrected Lord, is that his writing was inspired by the Spirit (2 Peter 3:15-16). He was an ordinary human, despite his extraordinary calling. His life and faith was not so much extraordinary as it was empowered by the same Spirit at work in every believer.

Paul had his faults too. In Acts 15:39 we see him arguing with Barnabas before they agree to disagree, going their separate ways. In Romans 7:21-25 we read about his struggle with sin. As with many Old Testament characters, Paul was imperfect. However his life and faith was an example for others—a model. Therefore this can be true of us too.

Secondly, we should be self-aware enough to distinguish between calling on others to imitate a façade and who we are fundamentally. It is inevitable that there will be some disjunction between these; between our public and private persons. I’m not excusing hypocrisy here but, rather, making room for our humanity. Given our observation that Paul was flawed - a sinner who wasn’t always agreeable - means that all human models will be imperfect.

That being said, it’s important that while we admit our faults and sins there should not be a gaping disparity between our public and private faith. If there is, then you probably shouldn’t be calling on others to imitate you. Superficial, skin-deep faith is not something you should accept in your own life. Nor is it something you should call on others to follow.

Thirdly, 3:18 begins with the conjunction “for,” linking Paul’s call to emulate the faith of some (3:17) with his warning about certain “enemies of the cross” (3:18). This suggests a contrast. Paul has two groups in mind as he writes. And he is simply saying this: ‘pick your examples carefully.’ It is a call for discernment around who we follow.

But few people, at least not in our churches, will openly identify as enemies of the cross. Fewer still bow down before stomach statues or outwardly glory in shame—whatever that means. The clue to understanding this hostility to the cross is that, “Their mind is set on earthly things” (3:19). They clutch this world and life too tightly, pursing comfort, and living as if there is no heaven. They grasp after everything this world can offer, from adventure to the latest Apple product. Their consumerism is indistinguishable from the world’s. They spend money freely and themselves sparingly. As Jesus warned: ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Finally, notice the “our” after the “but” (3:20). This doesn’t only contrast Paul’s way of living with the enemies of Christ’s cross; it also invites Paul’s readers to identify with him as citizens of heaven who “eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Unlike those whose eyes are fixed on this world, Christians worth imitating are those who live for the world to come. They will be those who forgo comfort for others. Their lives will be marked by Christlike selflessness rather than consumerism. Properly anticipating God’s glorious transformation will issue in pursuits, desires, and lifestyles that are otherworldly (3:21). Imitate men and women who embody this.

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