Sermon: Philippians 3:12-21
Pentecost 20 - October 22, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
In just about any pursuit in life the goal that you’re aiming for is going to affect what you do now. If you want to be a great musician you’re going to follow the example of other well-known musicians, and you’re going to spend a good deal of time practicing.
This principle is especially true in regard to athletics. Those of you who are baseball fans know that over the last couple of weeks teams have been involved in the playoffs that have determined the two teams that will play in the World Series. Their goal of winning the world championship has encouraged them to practice hard beginning way back in spring and to play their best all summer to get to the World Series and hopefully win the championship.
There’s a really important spiritual principle that parallels the athletic world. The Apostle Paul tells about it in our text today. He has the goal of heaven in mind. And this eternal goal of heaven affects how he lives his life right now on earth.
The same ought to be true of us. Today we’re going to consider that
ETERNITY AFFECTS TODAY
Paul was obviously aware that he was not in heaven yet. He wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
It’s interesting that Paul says that Christ took hold of him. We can almost visualize Jesus literally taking hold of Paul to save him from his sin and unbelief. Most of you know the story pretty well. Paul was a Pharisee who hated the gospel, hated Christians, and hated Christ. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians and put them in prison. But on the way Jesus appeared to Paul and told him that he was now going to follow him. We’re not told that Jesus grabbed Paul by his collar and said, “Now you’re going to follow me,” but we can almost imagine it.
Jesus did very graciously take hold of Paul and save him from his sins. And in that expression “to take hold of” we have a good reminder of how God saved you and me. God took hold of you and me. We didn’t take hold of God. God the Father sent Jesus to this world long before we were born to save us. He lived a holy life. He died an innocent death to atone for our sins. And then one day, just like Paul, Jesus took hold of us and gave us the eternal goal of heaven.
Has Jesus taken hold of you? When did Jesus take hold of you and give you the eternal goal of heaven? It might have been at your baptism. It might have been long ago in a Sunday school class. It might have been when you heard a certain sermon or read a special portion of the Bible. The Holy Spirit caused you to believe in Jesus, and Jesus took hold of you for his kingdom.
However it happened, don’t miss the point that God took hold of you. God did everything to save you. On the day that God took hold of Paul, there wasn’t an ounce of his being or will that wanted to love Jesus or follow him. But Jesus in pure compassion, mercy, and love took hold of him, turned him into a believer, and saved him. When we were born into this world we were spiritually dead like Paul. There wasn’t an ounce of our being or will that wanted to love Jesus or follow him. But Jesus in pure compassion, mercy, and love took hold of us, turned us into believers, and saved us.
But Paul wasn’t in heaven yet. And he knew it, and he knew he wasn’t perfect yet - “not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect . . . .” In his letter to the Romans he wrote, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.”
You and I aren’t perfect either. Not even close. That’s not exactly a news flash. Like Paul we still live with a sinful nature, and that sinful nature leads us to sin. We have sins of weakness that we often commit. We continually fail to love God with our whole heart and to willingly serve our neighbor. And there are times when we willfully give into temptation and commit sin. We regularly need to repent of all these sins, confess them to God, and be assured of his forgiveness in Christ.
Until we reach the eternity of heaven we will be imperfect and struggle with sin. But Paul has a way of struggling against that sinful nature: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Putting it simply, eternity affects today. The eternal goal of heaven affects us today. It affects how we live our life today.
Paul is not saying that what we do in this life earns forgiveness or wins eternal life for us. Jesus already did all that for us. But Paul is saying that knowing that Jesus has won heaven for us is going to affect how we think, how we speak, and how we act now in this life.
Paul writes, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” In other words if you and I are mature Christians, if we’re serious about our Christian faith, we’re going to take Paul’s view on this matter. The goal of heaven is going to affect how we think and live. We’re going to keep our mind and heart focused on heaven.
And Paul adds, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only live up to what we have already attained.” Apparently Paul knew there were some in Philippi who didn’t want him to be their apostle, who didn’t agree with him completely on this issue, or didn’t understand him, or were not as mature in their Christian faith as Paul. God would teach them, God would cause them to become more mature and understand how important it was to allow the goal of heaven to affect how they lived their lives. But they needed right now to live up to the gospel, to live up to the faith and eternal hope they had. They needed to make their faith evident, to let eternity affect today, to let goal of heaven affect their life today.
And Paul told them, and he tells us, how to do that, how to let eternity affect today. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Do you understand what Paul is saying? He’s telling the Philippian Christians to follow his example and live like him, to live like others who live according to the pattern or morality that Paul gave them.
Imagine that. Paul was telling them to follow his example. Don’t you think that’s a little arrogant of Paul, a little self-righteous? “Follow my example.” You might argue, though, that Paul was such a strong Christian. He was called directly by Jesus to be his apostle. Most certainly Paul set a godly example that could be followed by others.
Would you ever tell someone else to follow your example of Christian living? Could you do that? Do you live in such a way that people should follow your example? The truth is we don’t have a choice in the matter. We are supposed to live in such a way that we set an example for others. Jesus once said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Parents, mothers, fathers, you have a huge responsibility to set an example for your children. You want to, you must, live in a way that your children will follow. Whatever example you set, they’re going to follow.
To all of us - whatever example we set, the people around us are going to follow. How important it is then that we let eternity affect today, that we let our faith and hope of heaven affect how we think, speak, and act. The people around us, our family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers will be influenced by us.
Paul teaches us how to do that. He gives us a bad example and a good example. First the bad example: “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory in in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”
Heaven doesn’t affect today for these people. They maybe think they’re going to heaven, or hope to go to heaven. But they don’t worship God. They use God’s name by cursing. They’re apathetic about God. They’re not thankful to God. They’re immoral. They’re more concerned about pursuing life in this world than pressing on to heaven. They set a terrible example, and many people, including their children, follow them.
Don’t be one of them. Don’t follow their example. Let eternity affect today. Listen to what Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.”
We are citizens of two places, earth and heaven. We’re citizens of a nation in this world. We stand up for The Star Spangled Banner because we’re citizens and residents of a nation that has blessed us abundantly, and we appreciate those who keep us safe in our borders and in our communities. What a blessing we have here in this world.
But we have a blessing that’s millions of times better. We’re also citizens of heaven. We’re not there yet, but God already calls us citizens of heaven. Jesus has done whatever was necessary for us to be citizens of heaven. And Paul is telling us to live here on earth like citizens of heaven. We stand up for God too. In our service we stand to sing our first hymn. We stand for the gospel. We stand to pray and speak to God. We stand out of respect for God and all that he’s done for us.
Stand up for God each day of your life. In your thoughts, words, and actions stand up for God and live like one of his people. Live like you’re headed for heaven. Like Paul, “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Let eternity affect today. Amen.