"Living On Earth As If in Heaven"
(Delivered Sunday, February 4, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
The apostle Paul was one of the greatest theologians in all the history of the church. But he wasn't a dry and dusty scholar. He was a people-person—and deeply passionate and emotional in his concern for the precious people that Jesus shed His blood to save. We can see this emotion and passion in our passage this morning.
First, we find in it the indications of how Paul deeply loved the people to whom he wrote. As I read this passage to you in a moment, you'll notice that he doesn't consider himself above them, because he called them “my brethren” twice in it. He identified himself with them as sharing the heavenly Father in common with them. What's more, he called them “my beloved and longed-for brethren”. He was a pastor and preacher who had a great love for the people under his care; and it bothered him that he was not able to be with them at the time that he wrote to them. He even expresses a personal investment of love in them; because he calls them “my joy and crown”. He considered their welfare and their own glorification in Christ to be his own.
Second, we find that Paul was very emotional and passionate about the things he wrote to them. That's what happens when a preacher such as Paul loves the people God had placed in his life; he can't keep a 'professional distance' toward them, but is emotional about them. And Paul was a man of tremendous passion and powerful emotion about the things he taught. It's a very unusual passage, because Paul was literally crying when he wrote it. He wrote these words because some people he had loved, and for whom he had great hopes, had proven themselves to be untrue to the faith. They had demonstrated by their behavior that they were not what they had professed themselves to be; and it broke his heart when he thought about them. He expresses his burdens in this morning's passage by saying that he spoke these words “even weeping”.
And finally, because he was writing these words in love, and because he was profoundly emotional about what he wrote—even letting his readers know that he wept as he wrote these words—he was demonstrating that he was in dead earnest about what he had to say. He was calling his readers to do some things in this morning's passage; and there is a feeling of urgency in his call to do them. There is a sense of great seriousness and concern in these words for those he loved.
Well; with all of that in mind, let's now read our passge. It's clearly a passage that we need to pay attention to. Please listen carefully to what Paul says in Philippians 3:17-4:1;
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This morning's passage is a call for us to grow in our faith. That's the normal experience of a man or women in whom Christ has taken up residence; that they not remain in the condition that they were in when He saved them, but that they grow and mature into His image—and continually grow and mature throughout their lives.
Earlier in this letter, Paul gives us great reason to expct that such growth and maturity would happen. In 1:6, he affirmed a wonderful truth that every redeemed man or woman can absolutely count on. Paul wrote this encouraging letter to the Philippian believers; “. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
That's a promise that has God's own authority behind it! If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ and trusted Him for your salvation, then you should know that your “faith” is a work that God Himself had begun in you (Ephesians 2:8-9). And you can be assured that the heavenly Father will Himself carry on the divine work He began in you—perfecting you and helping you to grow increasingly into the man or woman He wants you to be. And what's more, you can be assured that He will not stop doing that work until it is fully completed—and until you finally stand before Him as one who shares completely in the glory of His own precious Son. It's not a work that you “complete”, because you could not even start it. But it is a work that will be fully “completed”, because the Father Himself began it, and is Himself wonderfully able to finish it, and absolutely commits Himself to doing so.
The sure and certain expectation of that promised glorification of the believer thrilled Paul's heart. He not only looked forward to the full completion of the work that God had begun in himself, but he also looked forward to seeing it completed in his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. He was so thrilled with that prospect, that he considered it to be his own “crown” and “glory”to see them crowned and glorified in heavenly glory in Christ.
And so, it was this expectation that moved him to issue the very serious and emotionally-charged call to his brothers and sisters that we read in this morning's passage—a call to them to so share in this heavenly expectation that they would give themselves over to continual growth in Christ while on earth. Elsewhere in the letter, Paul tells them,
The confidence that the Father had called them to Himself, and had predestined them for glory in Christ His Son—along with the confidence that the Father Himself was at work in them, and would complete that good work that He had started in them—was to be a 'spiritual spur' to them. It was to motivate them to join in the Father's work toward them—relying on His power to enable them to grow and strive forward into increasing conformity to the image of Christ in their daily lives.
Now; Paul was not merely speaking platitudes in all this. He himself was setting the example of continual growth for his believing friends. He expressed his own passion that God's work would be accomplished in himself when he wrote,
Paul was confident that God was 'working in' him “both to will and do for His good pleasure”. But Paul didn't simply sit back and watch it all happen passively. He put this belief into practice. He sought actively and diligently to cooperate actively with the work of God in his life; and strove to 'work out' his own salvation “with fear and trembling”. He wrote,
That was the example Paul set in the Christian life—the example of continually growing; the example of faithfully trusting in Jesus' power at work in him, and of diligently striving to be all that Jesus died to make him to be. And for that reason, he calls his dear brothers and sisters in Christ to do just as he himself was doing. He wrote,
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So, that's the context of the very passionate, very emotional appeal that Paul makes to his brothers and sisters in this morning's passage. He wrote it so that they would not fail to 'lay hold' of that for which they had been 'laid hold of' by Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; take it for fact: There is absolutely nothing that Jesus Christ has died to make us into, that He does not also provide all the spiritual power and resources we need to become that which He died to make us to be! That is a spiritual absolute that you can count on. You can fully believe what the apostle Peter says, that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4). You can fully count on what Paul has said; that God the Father “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
That doesn't mean, of course, that we wont suffer times of temptation and trial. The Bible gives us no promise that we will live without difficult circumstances. And there's no promise that we wont, at times, be tempted and fail. But the promise from God's word is that—no matter what the circumstances may be—we will nevertheless always have all that we really need, in order to be all that God truly calls us to be, in the midst of those difficult circumstances. At the end of the letter to the Philippians, Paul himself—who often suffered greatly—was able to say, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
My wife and I were given a wonderful illustration of this last week. There is a dear friend who we often write to; a dear Christian who suffers greatly. I never wish to minimize the suffering of anyone else; but I know that this person suffers far more, and on a regular basis, than most folks—and yet, this person never complains. We received a note from them last week, telling us that one of their favorite verses is Romans 8:28; where it assures us that “all things work together for good to those who love God”. This faithful Christian friend accepts the suffering they undergo as God's call for them right now in their life; and their prayer is that God be glorified in it all.
That kind of attitude is the sort of attitude Paul was seeking to see expressed in his dear brothers and sisters. He wanted them to see that every trial that came into their lives was a trial permitted by a good heavenly Father; and that it was an opportunity for Christ to be perfected in them. He wanted them to learn to rely on the spiritual resources that have been given them in Christ for those trials; and through those rescources, to press-onward faithfully to maturity in Christ.
I like to call this a matter of 'living on earth as if in heaven'. In heaven, we all expect to be free from our trials. We expect that, then, we will be fully delivered from all the sins and the failings that plague us. But it's a mistake to think that we should 'postpone' the life of victory until then! We are to work hard at growing and maturing in the trials that God permits to come our way; so that we are living the life of victory in Christ that we will experience in heaven . . . but live it now, while we are on earth!
Let me put it another way. We are, positionally, already in the heavenlies in Christ, and are already heirs with Christ of His glorious inheritance. We are already as sure for heaven as if we were already there. But that fact is not only supposed to make a difference in 'the sweet by and by'; but also in 'the nasty now and now'. That fact obligates us, right now and even in the midst of our trials, to continue striving and growing and maturing into all that Jesus died to make us to be.
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Now; how do we do this? I believe Paul suggests some things that we are to do—some practices that we are to embrace—that will help us to 'live on earth as if in heaven'.
First, we do so . . .
1. BY FOLLOWING GODLY EXAMPLES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH (3:17-19).
One of the great principles about the book of Philippians—a principle that, frankly, hits us in the face on every page—is that we need to be careful who we look to for examples in life. So often, because of the ungodly values of the culture we live in, we tend to make 'heroes' out of people whose lives provide the worst possible role model to follow. We tend to elevate people for all the wrong reasons—their fame, their natural talents and abilities, their financial prosperity, their accomplishments in worldly things—but not for their example in the things that really matter for eternity. Paul calls us to be very careful and discriminating about the examples we follow; and to make sure that we follow the example of those who are living models of how to follow Jesus Christ.
Look at our passage. Paul says, “Brethren, join in following my example . . .” (v. 17). Paul wasn't being arrogant or conceited in saying this. He called his believing friends to follow his example because he was careful to follow the example of Jesus. He said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He sought diligently to follow Jesus and to rely on the spiritual resources of Christ in dealing with the many trials and troubles he faced. That's why he was able to say later on in this letter, in Philippians 4:9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” What he said wasn't out of conceit, but rather out of love for them and concern for their souls.
What's more, Paul went on to say, “and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (v. 17). Paul wasn't the only one who was following Jesus faithfully. He wasn't the only example to follow. In this letter, he points to some of his co-workers—Timothy (3:19-24) and Epaphroditus (3:25-30)—as examples of faithful and sacrificial service to Christ, of love and devotion to the church body, and of outstanding Christian character. I believe that Paul would have meant by this for his readers to also remember the lives of the other apostles. He calls his readers to “note” those who so walk—using a word that meant “to watch carefully” or to “take special heed” of their manner of life.
Stop and ask yourself; do you have people in your life right now who exemplify a maturity of faith and of victory in Christ? Has God placed before you 'living examples' of what it looks like to 'live on earth as if in heaven'? Who are your 'heroes' in life? Do you examine them carefully? Do you “note” them and “follow” their example?
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This is a very important thing to consider; because Paul goes on to issue a very serious warning. He says, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18). I think it's very important to notice that he takes the time to say that they “walk”. The word “walk”, as it is used here, refers to the conduct of a professing Christian. In the verse just prior to this one, Paul said we should pay special attention to those who “so walk as you have us for a pattern”. But here, he speaks of those who “walk”—that is, as professing Christians—but who are, in reality, enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus did not save us from our sins to leave us in them. He died on the cross in order to bring about a radical transformation in the way that we live—so that we no longer live our lives in the power of our own frail human resources, or follow the examples of those who live ungodly lives; but that we should live lives of continual, ongoing, growing conformity to Christ Himself. But the sad fact is that there are people who profess a faith in Christ; and yet who, out of a love for sin, will not trust Him or live for Him as they should. They do not want what Christ died on the cross to bring about in their lives. They will not, as Paul said, forget what is behind and reach forth to what lies ahead. They willfully refuse to move on to maturity. And in that respect, they “walk” . . . but as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” He says, with dreadful frankness, that “their end is destruction” (v. 19).
Paul does not delight in telling his readers this. It caused him to weep. It should cause us to weep too. But even so, he was willing to warn his beloved brothers and sisters—not just once, but repeatedly—about such people. Paul warns us how we may recognize them, so as not to follow their example.
For one thing, he said that their “god is their belly” (v. 19). He says a similar thing in Romans 16:18 of those who cause divisions and offenses in the church, contrary to the doctrines that he had taught them; “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly”. For such people, the ruling principle in life is not what God says, but what they “feel”. Their own “feelings” and “passions” and “lusts” are the driving authority in their lives; and not the word of God. And we are not to follow the example of those who make a profession of faith in Christ, but who live by the dictates of their feelings.
For another thing, he said that their “glory is in their shame” (v. 19). This can refer to the fact that such people profess a faith in Christ within the church, and yet actively reverse God's moral instructions; so that what He calls sin is what they glory in as good, and so that what He declares good is what they reject as sin. Such people would be like those who are described in Isaiah 5:20—“who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” Such people would be like those Paul speaks of in Romans 1:30; people who know the righteous judgment of God regarding sin, yet who “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
But that they “glory” in their “shame” could also refer to the fact that such people wear their failures and defeats upon themselves as badges of honor. They become so wrapped up in their perpetual defeats and failures and sins, that the very things that Christ died to save them from actually become owned by them as their identity! We must not follow the example of such people.
And for yet another thing, Paul said that such people are those “who set their mind on earthly things” (v. 19). For them, its not about “living on earth as if in heaven”. For them, it's about living on earth and establishing their treasure there as comfortably as they can. For them, it's about living on earth as if that's their permanent home. And we are warned by Paul not to follow their example.
So; one of the great things we need to do is to examine who it is that we look to for as an example of how to live the life that God calls us to live. We need to choose our 'heroes' carefully and wisely; and to seek to follow Paul's example—along with that of others who provide godly illustrations of spiritual growth in Christ.
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The fact that some 'set their mind on earthly things' leads us to another practice that Paul sets before us. We learn to 'live on earth as if in heaven' . . .
2. BY KEEPING OUR MINDS ON OUR HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP (3:20-21).
Paul says something very remarkable. He says, “For our citizenship is in heaven . . .” If you're reading the old King James Version, it says that our “conversation” is in heaven. The word that is being translated is the one from which we get the English word “politics”. You can say that Paul is telling us that our primary “political affiliations” are not of this earth, but are of heaven.
This would have been particularly meaningful to the believers in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a very note-worthy Grecian city that had been awarded a special honor—that of Roman citizenship. Every citizen of Philippi was considered by the Caesar to be a citizen of Rome—with all the rights and privileges that pertain to Roman citizenship. When a citizen of Philippi walked about anywhere in the Roman empire, that citizen was careful to remember his or her identity. He or she wasn't just anyone—but rather, was a privileged citizen of Rome. That made them walk around and go about their daily business with a profound sense of dignity and honor.
And similarly, Paul is calling us to remember who we are. It's true that we live in this world; but it's also true that we are not of this world. We have our citizenship in heaven as a present reality. That's where our home is right now. That's where our treasure is kept even as we speak. Our Lord is not some earthly ruler sitting somewhere upon an earthly throne. Rather, our Lord is at the right hand of God the Father; and we are joint heirs of the Father's kingdom with Him. We need to remember where our citizenship is; and thus, “live on earth” as if our real home was heaven—which it is!
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What's more, because of our very real, very present heavenly citizenship, we live in hope in all the trials and tribulations of life. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven, “from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body . . .” (vv. 20-21).
As Christians, we are often used to saying, “One day, I'm going to shed this old body of mine; and God is going to give me a brand new body.” But did you know that the body you will receive will not be a different body? The body of Jesus that rose from the dead was not a different body than the body that died on the cross. It was the same body; but it was “glorified”. There was a continuity between the body of Jesus that died and the body of Jesus that was raised. And likewise, when He returns, He will not give us “different” bodies. Rather, our bodies—though for now, these bodies are “lowly” and humble because of our fallenness—will be transformed, so that they will be conformed to His glorious body. Someone might ask how such a thing could happen to the bodies of those Christians who were burned at the stake, or who were fed to the lions; but Paul assures us that this is no problem to God, who will conform our bodies to the glory of Christ, “according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (v. 21).
This is important to point out; because, in Paul's day, some people were holding to the wicked idea that, since these bodies will not last forever, it didn't matter what we do in them. But Paul is reminding us that these bodies that we are now living in will—at the return of Jesus—be “transformed”. They will be made fit for an eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ, so that we may be enabled to share in His glory with Him forever.
And so, since these bodies of ours will be transformed so that they conform to His own glory, then we ought to use these bodies to live diligently and faithfully for Him now. We ought all the more to 'live on earth as if in heaven'; because, as the apostle John wrote; “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
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So then; we are to 'live on earth as if in heaven'; first by seeking to follow godly examples of spiritual growth, and second by remembering that our citizenship is in heaven—from which we await our Lord's coming and our transformation to glory.
Paul mentions one more principle; and that is . . .
3. BY PURPOSING TO STAND FAST IN THE GRACE OF CHRIST (4:1).
Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved” (4:1). That's a command; and trusting in the truths that Paul has told us, we're to make up our mind to obey it.
Paul himself was an example of standing 'fixed' and 'unmovable' in the completed work that Jesus Christ accomplished for him on the cross. Paul was willing to forsake every other vain thing that he trusted in, so that he could rely solely on the grace of God through Christ. He said,
There's no joy or crown to be gained from trusting in the things that you and I might be able to do in the power of the flesh. But there is a sure crown, and there is sure joy, for those who trust completely and exclusively in what Jesus has done for us.
And once again, this is what we must do if we're going to 'live on earth as if in heaven.' We need to have our hopes fixed solely on Christ. Elsewhere, Paul has said,
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What hope we have, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Let's live in the light of it. Let's heed Paul's passionate plea for us to grow in our faith. Let's not allow ourselves remain where we were when we were saved by Jesus; but let's go on and strive diligently to maturity.
As we follow the godly example of other faithful servants of Christ who grew in maturity in Him—particularly the example of Paul himself; and as we keep ever before us our citizenship in heaven, from which our Lord will one day come for us; and as we set ourselves firmly to stand fast in the grace of Jesus Christ, forsaking all other human trusts; let's go on to grow increasingly, in Christ—living on earth as if in heaven!
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