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Brothers Join In Imitating Me

November 18, 2017 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler

Verse: Philippians 3:17–3:21

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Philippians 3:17-21 ~ “Brother’s join in imitating me…”        23rdTrinity – CELC, Cleveland, OH

INI(Philippians 3:17) Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.In the name of the Father and of the (X ) Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Dear beloved of the Lord:

                This is a unique engaging text because St. Paul is addressing a congregation to which he is cordially and joyously related.  We do not have a similar account in his other epistles.              

                Paul had just finished saying that he wasn’t perfect (i.e., he had not reached the fullness of salvation that takes place on the Last Day).  But Paul also recognized that from God’s eternal perspective, Christians are perfect, living out the “now” and “not yet” of their life in Christ.Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained(Phil 3:13-16) i.e., the best is yet to come.              Paul next exhorts the Philippians to imitate him.You are familiar with the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  But that is not the kind of imitation Paul is encouraging here—he’s not looking for adulation.  It’s more the imitation of “Like Father like son…Like Mother like Daughter…Like Parent like Child…Like Christ like Disciple.”      

Imitate Paul …  really? Among the many things God called Paul to endure, we remember: shipwreck, imprisonment, beatings, stoning, threats, and so on.  Shall we imitate these also?  Well, it’s not our call, is it?  If such trials and sufferings come to us, it is by God’s inscrutable wisdom and not ours.  Paul finds the necessary wisdom to bear the crosses of life only in the one who is wisdom personified, Jesus Christ.  Heinvites his beloved Philippians: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5)                                  

When Paul offers himself as an example and role model for the Philippians, he isn’t boasting.  The Philippians recognized the Apostle Paul and Pastor Timothy as spiritually mature believers—men qualified by the Lord to serve as examples to the Philippians.  Models of faithful followers of Jesus are significant aides to the Holy Spirit’s calling and training of God’s children in the way they should walk in their life on earth.      

Paul, joined by Pastor Timothy, said: “be co-imitators.” “Co-imitators” is a word that appears nowhere else in the New Testament.  Paul may have coined that term to emphasize imitation as a communal activity.  We never are to imitate alone since God saw that it was not good for us human creatures to be alone.  Rather, we are to follow Paul’s guidance and join the community of believers; not act alone when walking Christ’s way.  Be joined to the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, the true congregation of Christ’s people gathered here at the Lamb’s altar being prepared for the Bridegroom’s heavenly feast.  Understand you collaborate with sinner-saints in the ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC witness wherein the Holy Spirit has gathered true believers together.                             

Paul develops this encouragement a bit more.  He then says, “Observe those who live according to the model you have in us.”  That is, imitate one another as they followed Paul’s way of imitating Christ.  The plural “us” emphasizes that Paul was not the only model.  Thus, as Christians, we learn from and imitate others when they are faithful—fathers, mothers, teachers, Pastors, et al.       

Next Paul completes a line of thinking he beganin chapter one(Phil 1: 27-30.)Only let your manner of lifebe worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.(Phil 1:27-30)                                    

Paul continued, telling the Philippians that they were citizens of the Gospel, not simply people who willed to choose to live a certain way.  He encouraged them to exercise their “citizenship”) For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”(Phil 3:18-21)         

Paul contrasts the true Christian mindset, which looks toward heaven with those who have their mind set on their sinful lusts.  Paul now harvests the seed planted earlier in chapter 1.  The source of their security and identity is the risen Messiah, whom they worship as Lord and Savior, not Caesar or the world and certainly not the “God of their belly.”          

Today we join ourselves with Paul’s dear Philippian congregation and the challenge Paul sets before them and us.  We are to learn to lament and cry as soldiers and not as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Evidence of the enemies of the cross of Christ drowns us in 24-7 news broadcasts.  I need not remind you of the specifics.  We need to learn to cry because of—and even on behalf of—our enemies.  Paul shed tears not in anger, not in disgust, nor indignation, but in outright sorrow for people whose God is their belly.  And that from a man who appears to us unlikely to shed tears.  The enemies of the cross glory in their own shame. This is so because of the way they think about reality which focuses their lives on what they experience on earth.  Imitators of Paul have learned to think about reality in a mature fashion, that is, a fashion that fulfills God’s goal for His earthly creatures.  Our tears are a gift from God expressed for those who do not think Christ’s way.  They flow from hearts and minds freed by Christ’s death and resurrection to imitate Paul and the Lord Himself.   Our Lord cried at the tomb of Lazarus and He cried overlooking Jerusalem.  Who knows how many other times He cried when confronted with the evil of sin, death devil and hell. He cried for the people ready to crucify Him, people for whom he would die, and yet He remained their enemy.  How tragic and damning!  They cheered: “Let His blood be upon us and our people!”                                          

The tears of our Lord, of St. Paul and his co-imitators are also a reality in our life.  Our society seems to specialize in ever new ways to oppose the Cross of Christ as a way of life for sinners become saints.  Our temptation is to get defensive and mad at unbelievers, to rise up and rail against them and seek to punish them.  We think it’s our place to show them who’s boss.  But we don’t need to. …  The boss will! He’s shown us who is the Lord of life—the one subjecting all things to Himself.  He is the God who turns our mourning into laughter.  We trust that He free us that we be able to weep on behalf of the enemies of His Cross and rejoice to pray with those tears—tears that flow into Baptismal waters joined with His Word that executes the perfect vengeance on enemies of the Cross and turns them into people like us—disciples of the Lord.  Disciples who bow and pray before His presence…who look up to His Cross…who approach His table to receive His True Body and Blood.  Here we cry out for ourselves and our neighbors; “Lord have mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy.”  We join our voices to sing:  “Holy, Holy, Holy…Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna…Blessed is  He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”      

From His altar we go forth seeing reality from a heavenly perspective.The earth (where we are now planted) is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,…”(Ps 24:1) and God shares it with us.  We dare never abandon country or culture to those whose end is destruction.  We must continually bear witness that this world is the Lord’s vineyard which belongs to our Father in heaven.               

Nevertheless, Paul tempers our love for this place by reminding us that our citizenship is in heaven.  God our Creator has planted our feet here, but He wants us to have our heads in the clouds; that is to have the mind of Christ.  For our identity papers were issued in Holy Baptism, and our orientation is toward God’s throne.  He commands our ultimate loyalty.  He is coming from heaven to reclaim us as His own.  Today He reclaims us to live on His earth, in the callings to which He has called us, and does not want us to be longing for escape from the privilege of serving Him by serving our neighbors here on earth.But He does want us to be longing for Him, and for His return, which will consummate all His plans for us.

                The hymn of the day, which we just sung, properly sums up this message.

Who trust in God a strong abode                                             In Heaven and earth possesses;

Who looks in love to Christ above,                                         No fear his heart oppresses.

In Thee alone, dear Lord, we own                                           Sweet hope and consolation,

Our shield from foes, our balm for woes,                            Our great and sure salvation. 

(TLH #437, “Who Trust in God, a Strong Abode”)AmenThe peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
S. D. G.