At university, I was fortunate enough to know an older bloke in my church called Paul. In his 40s, he was the most helpful guy I knew, always willing to give others a ride, to offer a sofa for the night, or to do the odd-jobs that needed doing around church, all the while gently speaking of the good news. At the last count, he had nine people living in his three-bedroom house . . . I remember thinking, “I wouldn’t mind ending up like Paul when I’m older.”
The Apostle Paul shows us in Philippians 3:10-15 that Jesus wants us to not settle for mediocrity but to strain towards knowing Christ more and more. Indeed, if we do not realize how much we have to grow, then we are not yet mature Christians. But do not worry; Paul assures us that we can just ask and “God will make [that] clear to you” (v. 15).
For that reason, in God’s kindness, He sends us the gospel wrapped up in human examples. What better way to demonstrate that Christianity really works in practice than to have it embodied in living, breathing messengers? That was the case for the Philippian church. They had seen the Apostle Paul’s life alongside his words and now he writes to them to keep “your eyes on those who live as we do” (v. 17) and follow these good examples.
There were plenty of people who followed in Paul’s example. Earlier in his letter, Paul names Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30) as two such examples. The key for the church was to keep following examples just like him, mature believers who were also striving for Jesus.
Presumably, the more we follow examples like these, the more we become an example to others! It’s a never-ending cycle, passing on the gospel from generation to generation through the witness of our lives. As we follow the example of Paul, whose first example was Jesus, and this great crowd of godly witnesses, we are all becoming more and more like Him.
Perhaps the reason Paul gives for this is surprising. We follow good examples because many others around us will be enemies of Jesus. It is sobering to think that Paul says “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18). The vast majority of people around us will not be godly examples to follow; quite the opposite. Being mature means knowing which examples to set our eyes on and which to ignore.
Is it a bit extreme of Paul to call these people “enemies of the cross of Christ”? Well, possibly not. Given that these people have set their mind “on earthly things” (v. 19), they are totally focused on the here and now. They are living for nothing more than satisfying their appetites and glorying in temporary thrills, not considering that there may be an eternity beyond this life (v. 19). To this mindset, the sacrificial and loving death of Jesus that buys humanity a heavenly future is simply ridiculous.
But to Christians, there is nothing more glorious than the cross! Nothing more wonderful than to think that He has bought us eternal joy and that we live to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:14).
Thank God He gives us good examples to follow—people who show us what it looks like to press on in our faith. Thank God for the privilege of being an example to others, knowing that younger Christians are watching the way we live. Thank God He will never leave His church without good examples, until He brings us all home to be with Him.
—By James Bunyan, England
Questions for reflection
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