Read: Philippians 3:17-21
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Phil. 3:17 ESV)
The church at Philippi was in a unique situation. The city was a Roman colony located in Macedonia (modern Greece), about 800 miles from Rome, the capital of the dominant world power. Rome had conquered most of the known world and her armies had built roads to connect the various conquered nations.
Philippi had a legal status that few other cities had: it was a Roman colony. It practiced Roman customs, was governed by Roman law, and therefore most of its inhabitants enjoyed Roman citizenship. A Roman could go to Philippi and feel right at home.
Paul is writing to the Christians living in Philippi and telling them, “As much as you value your Roman citizenship, you have a higher status than that—You are citizens of heaven! (3:20) Just as your Roman citizenship greatly affects the way you live, even more should your heavenly citizenship affect how you live. Don’t give way to the temptation to live like the people around you. Instead, pick out the people who properly model the Christian life and follow their example of Christian living.”
Pick out the people who properly model the Christian life and follow their example of Christian living.
In the passage under consideration, Paul commands believers to choose godly examples as models (3:17). He then exhorts them not to live as people of this world live (3:18-19). Then Paul reminds the believers at Philippi of their future hope as citizens of heaven: receiving resurrected bodies just like Jesus’ glorious body (3:20-21).
A Command to Pick Godly Examples to Follow (Phil. 3:17)
Paul gives a two-fold command:
- “be imitators of me,” and
- “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
Paul is urging the Christians of Philippi to mimic his values and lifestyle, and to identify other Christians who model the truths Paul is teaching in his letter. This is not the first time in his letters that Paul urged believers to imitate his life (see 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thes. 3:7-9). Of course, Paul’s emphasis is on imitating his life as he imitates Christ—no egotism intended, for he says clearly that there are other good examples available.
Who qualifies as a godly example to imitate? To find an answer, one need not look further than the chapters and verses that precede this command.
A brief review of what Paul has written up to this point reveals at least 15 desirable qualities. One should look for a person:
- Whose love for God and others abounds yet more and more in knowledge and discernment (1:9).
- Whose life is pure and blameless (1:10). (Please understand that “blameless” is not identical to “faultless.” Everyone has flaws and faults. “Blameless” means that from God’s point-of-view the person’s motives are pure, and from a human point-of-view no one can rightly say, “You did me wrong and never attempted to make it right.”)
- Who is filled with the fruit of righteousness (1:11).
- Whose sincere goal is for Christ to be magnified (exalted) in his body by the way that he lives (1:20).
- Who would rather die than to disobey or disappoint Christ (1:21).
- Who is not self-willed or contentious, able to get along harmoniously with other Christians (1:27).
- Who is not intimidated or terrified by worldly opposition (1:28).
- Who is not afraid to suffer for Jesus because of his obedience to Scripture (1:29).
- Who is of the same mind, maintaining the same love, and united in spirit with the other members of the church (2:2).
- Who is not motivated by selfish ambition or conceit, but regards others as better (more important) than himself (2:3-4).
- Who seeks to think like Christ in reference to himself and in service to others (2:5-11).
- Who lives without complaining (grumbling) or arguing (2:14).
- Who is blameless and pure, a child of God without blemish though living in a crooked and perverse society (2:15).
- Who holds fast to (obey) God’s Word no matter what happens (2:16).
- Who continually walks in the light God has given him (3:16).
If, as you read the criteria, you feel that you do not measure up to one or more of them, don’t be discouraged. Rather, encourage yourself by realizing that you now have one or more biblical goals to pray about and clearly defined attitudes and behaviors for which to strive.
Purpose that, by God’s grace, you will become a godly example whom others can safely imitate!
Any Scriptural description of how a Christian is to think or behave is more than just a “target” to shoot for! By the power of the Holy Spirit, by the discipline of engrafting God’s Word in your heart, and by fasting and prayer, one can be assured that they are attainable in this life. Purpose that, by God’s grace, you will become a godly example whom others can safely imitate!
An Exhortation Not to Live as People of This World Live (Phil. 3:18-19)
To live like the world is to be an enemy of the cross of Christ (3:18)
The “cross of Christ” speaks to us of forgiveness of sins and of the necessity of death to self-centeredness. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In the first century, the “cross” was not understood as a “burden” to bear, but as an instrument the Romans used to execute people brutally. When Jesus spoke of taking up His cross daily and following Him, He was speaking of the absolute requirement of total obedience to God’s Word. From the moment of our conversion and new birth until we breathe our final breath, following Jesus requires our obedience.
A person who deliberately chooses not to obey parts of Scripture he or she does not like or feels are optional is choosing to be disobedient and so becomes an enemy of the cross of Christ.
To live like the world is to face spiritual destruction (3:19)
The phrase “their god is their belly” can be confusing. Is Paul speaking of Judiazers who were insisting on the food laws and circumcision to be saved or focusing on the sin of gluttony? The majority of commentaries do not believe so.
Perhaps it would be best to understand the phrase “their god is their belly” as a reference to the fleshly appetites that allure people to adopt worldly (unbiblical) lifestyles. This view would not only encompass the allure of food, but would also include the appetites of our mind and emotions.
Anything can become a “god” to us if it supplants the place in our schedules, recreational pursuits, or priorities that rightfully belongs to God. We must take Paul’s warning seriously and allow God to show us any corrections we need to make to our schedules, our goals, or our behavior.
We must allow God to show us any corrections we need to make to our schedules, our goals, or our behavior.
As Citizens of Heaven We Have a Future Hope (Phil. 3:20-21)
Our citizenship is in heaven (3:20a)
Paul reminds the Christians at Philippi that their citizenship is in heaven. This truth, as already stated, would have rich meaning to the Philippians. It would remind them that their ultimate loyalty is to King Jesus.
He expects His people to live by Kingdom truth and to keep their spiritual perspective focused on obeying in all things.
When Jesus returns, He will transform our bodies to be like His glorious resurrected body (3:20b-21)
Paul reminds the Philippian Christians that their body is destined for eternity. When Jesus returns, He will transform the bodies of believers into the likeness of His glorious body! This truth should help Christians in their struggle against the fleshly appetites that war against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11).
The problem is that too many Christians, when asked, “Do you consider yourself to be a godly example for others to use as a model for their attitudes and actions?” demur by saying, “You had better keep your eyes on Jesus and use Him as your model! I’m only human, a broken and flawed human at that, so don’t use me as your model!”
Dear reader, don’t you know that if someone professes to be a Christian, people around them, whether Christian or non-Christian, expect different behavior from them? God wants each Christian to align his or her life to the teaching of Scripture and learn how to be a godly example for others to follow.
May God help each of us to be a godly example for others to follow.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.