Living Up to What You’ve Attained

Philippians 3:15-21

 

There are a few rules of common decency that I think all of society ought to maintain.  I’m not really talking about biblical commands here.

I’d say these are really more common courtesy and common sense concepts.

For example, I’m always amazed at what some people would rather have than money.  In fact, a lot of these have to do with spending money.

Here’s a good rule of thumb.  Never go grocery shopping when hungry.  Everything looks good.  You’ll end up spending a whole lot of money on a whole lot of junk.

 

A lot of these rules deal with social interactions.  You should always make eye contact with the person with whom you are having a conversation.

Eye contact shows that you are attentive—that you respect the other person.

And a great majority of these rules deal with the words we say.  The Bible is always very clear that the tongue—or the words we say—can be a two-edged sword.

There’s an Adele song, titled “Rumour Has It”.  In that song, she sings the words, “Just ‘cause I said it don’t mean that I meant it.”

Look, I really like Adele’s music, but that’s a load of bull.  Many of you probably know the difficulty in wondering what another person means.

“Well, when so-and-so says this, what he really means is that.”  That kind of logic and that kind of interaction could drive a person crazy.

 

One rule that I think is always applicable in regard to our speech is this:  if you say you will do something, you darn well better do it.

I shudder to think how many times in my life I’ve told someone I’ll pray for them, only to realize days later that I forgot.

I’m extremely cautious as to what I’ll commit to.  I’m regularly barraged with requests—or, better put—demands.  I need you to do this.  I need that done.

My boys moan and groan when they hear me say the words, “We’ll see.”  They probably think that always means, “No.”  A lot of times, it does.

 

But, in truth, it’s me being cautious so that I don’t commit to something on which I cannot deliver.  Nothing stings quite like a broken word or promise.

Our words and speech help make up who we are.  If our actions don’t back up those words, then we aren’t being true to ourselves or to others.

We are creating a false self.  And no one wants to be around a fraud.  We could even take this notion a little bit farther.

If we aren’t being true to ourselves, we might find that we have difficulty in knowing who we truly are.  That’s where we get into our passage for this morning.

 

It’s found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  We’ll be in the third chapter, and I invite you to join me there.  This is a morning when we will recognize our soon-to-be college grads.  I think this passage definitely has a word for them—but it also speaks to the larger group of us as well.

 

We will look at most of this chapter, but we will focus on the last third.  Of course, we will reference the first two-thirds to gain some context.

For now, though, let’s begin our reading with verse 15.  (Read Philippians 3:15-21.)

 

Paul begins this passage by stating that all who are mature should take such a view of things.  Well, what sort of view are we talking about?

To explore that, we have to make mention of Paul’s words at the beginning of the chapter.  Earlier in the chapter, Paul wrote some pretty famous statements.

He warned the folks in the church at Philippi to beware of Jewish imposters, who might try to throw a false and diluted gospel their way.

They put a lot of stock in their traditions and their standing and their accomplishments.  But Paul will hear nothing of that.

 

He states that we must boast in Christ and His accomplishments, for those are all that matter.  But, Paul says, if anyone could boast, it’s him.

Paul then goes on to list out his pedigree.  And it’s quite the impressive one.  He was a good Jew—all good Jews were circumcised on the eighth day.

He hailed from the elite tribe of Benjamin.  He was a Pharisee—knew the law, inside and out.  No one was more zealous for the Jewish faith.

His persecutions of Christians under the name Saul attested to that fact.  By all Jewish and Pharisaical standards, he was upright, righteous, and as good as it gets.

 

You’ve got to love the word Paul uses after this list of achievements.  “But,” he states.

“However,” might be another way of putting it.  In spite of all the so-called good that he did, he counts it all to be a loss now.

In fact, he considers everything a loss compared to knowing Jesus Christ.  And then he goes even farther.  He considers everything rubbish compared to gaining Jesus.

The actual translation might better be “garbage” or even “dung”.  Paul knows that, no matter what he accomplishes in this life, it will not stand.

Only the righteousness and goodness and good standing that comes from Christ matters.  Through Him we are declared right with God.

So Paul has resolved to let everything else go for the sake of knowing Jesus, deeper and deeper.  He wants to know the person of Christ.

He wants to know the power of Christ.  He wants to be united with Christ in His sufferings, as well as in His resurrection.

 

Now, just before our passage, Paul states that he’s not there yet.  But he’s pressing on, nonetheless.  He will forget his past.

Lots of folks look at that verse that mentions forgetting what is behind, and they take it to mean they ought to forget about their past sin and guilt.

But I’m not sure that’s exactly what Paul means.  He’s even forgetting about his past “good”—his accomplishments, his standing, and his reputation.

He’s pressing on toward a goal, the only goal—knowing Jesus Christ, His Savior.

 

Now, let’s get back to our passage for the morning.  As we mentioned, Paul stated that all who are mature should take such a view of things.

What sort of view are we talking about?  It’s that view that Paul laid out at the beginning of the chapter.  It’s the view that our own achievements mean nothing.

It’s the view that, no matter how much “good” we’ve done, it won’t measure up at the end of the day.  Only Christ and what He has done will measure up.

It’s the view that we must pursue Christ over all else—knowing Him, loving Him, seeking Him, and worshipping Him.

It’s the view that everything else is the worst kind of filth compared to Jesus Christ.

It’s the view that, though we may not yet be there, we will continue to press on so that we might one day lay hold of such a blessing.

 

Paul writes that those who are mature will have such a view.  There’s an interesting concept—maturity.  We’ve probably misconstrued that word over time.

For some, it means that you stop being goofy or silly. You get a real job.  You know what terms such as “IRA” or “portfolio” mean.

You stop cussing—at least, around other people.  You aren’t reckless or wild.  And we could go on an on.  And some of these are good indicators of maturity.

But Paul lays out a great indicator of maturity for us today.  And I’m talking about the only sort of maturity that matters—spiritual maturity, maturity in Christ.

Do you have this sort of view on life—this view that everything else is rubbish compared to knowing Christ?  And you may say that is truly your view on life.

But, sometimes what we mean by that is that we agree with the principle laid out in scripture.  The real question is:  do we live as though we view life that way?

 

Unfortunately, we all too often take a rather immature attitude toward spiritual things.  That’s why Paul included the second half of verse 15.

We Christians will differ on “some point”, from time to time.  The very language Paul uses here—“some point”—indicates something to us.

He’s not talking about the major foundations of the faith.  Look, I believe that it is best to think rightly about everything in life.

But that’s not within my ability, outside of God’s wisdom filling me, through and through.  I’m going to make mistakes in judgment.

I’m going to read some things incorrectly.  But I must be accurate and true and sound in what matters.  And Paul has already laid out what matters.

 

Sometimes I wonder if there are Christians who think God will ask us what we think about gun control when we get to heaven.

And we could go on and on with different topics—immigration, the Constitution, homosexuality, and so forth.  I don’t know exactly what we’ll be asked.

But I bet it has something to do with Jesus.  I bet it’s something along the lines of what Jesus asked the disciples:  What do you say about Me?

We Christians are going to differ on a lot of things.  Only the mature ones will keep the priority and supremacy of Jesus Christ at the forefront.

Only the mature ones will spend more time talking about Him—His glory, His accomplishments, and His presence—than about these other topics.

 

Paul then makes a rather odd statement, based on what we’ve just covered.  In verse 16, he states, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

But didn’t he just spend the better part of a chapter showing us that we, in our own meager accomplishments, have really attained nothing?

But that’s just it.  In Christ, we have attained everything.  If we are truly “in Christ”, meaning that our lives and futures and “everythings” have been entrusted to Him, then we have attained everything we could ever truly need.

So, Paul pretty much says, “Act like it.”  Don’t live like the person you want to be.  Live like the person you are, in Jesus Christ.

 

For some of our college students, this is the last time we’ll see them until next year.

For some of our college students, this is the last time we will see them, as college students.  They are about to graduate.

In a matter of days, they will be college graduates.  So they ought to start living like it.  Pursue higher education.  Get a job.  Make a difference in the world.

Reach out to the younger ones.  Be a mature example to others who are following in their footsteps.  They must live up to what they have attained.

 

Likewise, we must live up to what we have attained.  Christ has purchased a better way for us—and He did it through His blood shed on the cross.

It’s a way of self-sacrifice, of selfless love, and of wholehearted, devout worship of God.  We must live up to it, for His glory.

Paul encourages the Philippians, in verse 17, to live up to his example.  This is not say that Paul is inflating himself above all others.

After all, he refers to them as brothers and sisters—not his minions or servants.

Rather, Paul is drawing our attention to the common need we all have of seeing something lived out before us.

 

Other people don’t provide the standard of living and of holiness for us.  Christ alone provides that.  But it always helps to see examples before us.

You all have had someone such as that in this life—a parent, a grandparent, another family member, a family friend, a boss, a teacher, or what have you.

Paul is essentially telling these folks, “Have the same attitude within you that was in Jesus Christ!”  (Incidentally, that’s a quote from the second chapter of Philippians.)

“And if you don’t have an idea what that looks like or how it’s carried out, I’m doing my best with what God’s given me.  Turn your attention to me.”

 

Unfortunately, we are too often easily swayed by people who set another sort of example for us.  Paul mentions them as enemies of Christ in verse 18.

There are many who live as enemies of Jesus and His message of the cross.  There are even some in the midst of the Philippians, it would seem.

And Paul gives us a description of these enemies, whose destiny is destruction.  This is an interesting contrast Paul develops.

Those who walk in—who are mature in—the ways of Christ, as Paul was, know what awaits at the end.  They haven’t reached it yet.

But they press on toward the prize.  On the other hand, we see that these others walk in—or are mature in—the ways of Christ’s enemies.

Neither have their reached their end, but their final goal is equally sure—destruction.  That’s what awaits these others.

 

The first description of the lifestyle of these enemies of the cross is that their god is their stomach—their desires, their appetites.

G. Walter Hansen states that their highest authority is the dictates of their bodily appetites.  And I know what you might well be thinking.

We’re going to talk about lust and sexual immorality.  To be sure, this is a key component of those appetites that drive us away from God.

But really, we could be talking about any overwhelming desire—gluttony, anger, hatred, or bitterness.  These things quickly consume us.

When we allow them to, they become our gods.  Furthermore, we start living and walking as enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.

 

Secondly, Paul writes that these enemies begin to glory in their shame.  This means that, what should be shameful to them, they take pride in.

They broadcast it.  Their sinfulness becomes a battle cry, a punchline, and a badge of honor.  Once again, this goes beyond locker room boastings of sexual conquests.

Enemies of the cross embrace the notion of “this is who I am”.  They are proud of the choices they make, because—as we said—their god is their own desires.

They drive the bus, so they are proud when the bus arrives where they told it to go.

Perhaps that bus arrived at immorality, indecency, bigotry, hard-heartedness, jealousy, rage, hatred, or even violence.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

These are the folks who say, “This is who I am.”  These are the folks who say, “I just couldn’t get past that, so I gave in.”

These are the folks who say, “I will allow no one else to give me any direction toward my life.  I am captain of my fate and master of my soul.”

These are the folks who live and walk and talk as enemies of Jesus and His cross.

 

Finally, these folks have minds that are set on earthly things.  Let’s make one thing perfectly clear here.  Earthly things are not bad things.

God made the earth and all that’s in it.  He saw it all and declared it to be good.

When we speak of minds being set on earthly things, we are talking about the way we think.  These folks think merely in the earthly sense.

Their minds work according to the rhythms and impulses of the world.  They think according to earthly standards, rather than spiritual or godly ones.

Sometimes those standards intersect.  Often, they do not.  These folks have been seduced by what the world holds dear—influence, security, and pleasure.

 

Our passage states that their minds are set on these things.  That’s where their minds naturally lean toward.  That’s where they wander.

Earthly values such as wealth, popularity, competition and conquest, and doing what feels good consume these people.

Their minds are set—firmly entrenched in these ways of thinking.

We like to get upset at people who live this way.  We feel justifiably angry with them.

There are two problems with that.  First of all, we’ve all been there.  Some of us are still there.  On certain days and certain seasons of life, we all go back there.

Secondly, look at how Paul reacted to these enemies of Jesus and His cross.  In verse 18, he tells the Philippians—with tears—that many live as Jesus’ enemies.

Anger over sin must be balanced by sorrow over sin.  Yes, the world may well reject the gospel and mock our God.  Understandably, that would make us angry.

But also, it should deeply sadden us.  It should deeply sadden us that those who do such things are God’s enemies and have no future with Him.

It should deeply sadden us—perhaps even more so—that some such enemies even call our churches home.

 

That’s the better way to handle things.  That’s the heavenly way.  After all, as Paul states in verse 20, our citizenship is in heaven.

That’s what we’ve attained—not through our own efforts, but only through the blood of Jesus Christ.  So we must live up to it.

We must follow the example of Paul.  We must follow the example of Jesus, rather than living and thinking as His enemies do.

This is our charge—the charge for a disciple of Jesus Christ.  We reject the world at every turn.  We press on, striving toward the high calling of Jesus.

The world out there is full of difficulty, strife, and temptation.  But, as Paul says in wrapping up our chapter, we eagerly await the return of our Savior.

One day, we will be transformed.  One day, we will be like Him—free from the hassles of sin and the encumbrances of our weak-willed humanity.

 

Until then, we renew our commitment every day.  We pledge ourselves to Him anew, every morning.  And we press on to live up to what we’ve already attained.  (Pray.)