When the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs, it was a big surprise. After the game, a reporter asked Giannis Antetokounmpo if he felt like a failure. Giannis was not happy with the question and told the reporter that his success wasn’t tied to one game. Sure, everyone wants to win the championship, but every day provides an opportunity to work hard and do better.
Sometimes the Christian life is much the same. There are ups and downs, victories and defeats, and emotions of all kinds. But through it all, we seek to grow in our relationship with the Lord and hope to do better each day. However, it is easy to talk about things like this but not have a plan to accomplish them. So, what can a Christian do to be successful for the Lord? As we read through Philippians 3:15-21, we will see three things that can help us to stay on the right track.
- Think like a mature believer (Philippians 3:15-16).
Nancy Gallion’s mother was known for clever sayings. One of them was, “One junior high boy, half a brain. Two junior high boys, no brains.” We all understand what it was like at that age. Boys tend to be impulsive daredevils who act first and then think. The problem is that this often ends in trouble.
Christians who wish to be mature must also learn to think before acting. One of the ways to find God’s wisdom is to read the Bible. The Book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings that will help any person to gain discernment and wisdom. As you read the Bible and understand God’s way of thinking, it will change your mind. This is what Paul wanted for the Philippian believers.
What mind should we have? (15a)
Paul called on the mature believers to have a certain mindset or way of thinking. But what is this mind? Look back to what Paul said in verses 12-14. He talked about pressing on and wanting to hear the “well done” of God upon his entrance into heaven. This is the mindset he was referring to. We should let these same goals be what controls our thinking.
How will God correct our thinking? (15b)
Notice what Paul says at the end of verse 15. If anyone thought differently, he stated that God would eventually reveal the truth of what he was saying to that believer. I have heard people say things like this before in an arrogant way. But I don’t think that is what Paul was saying. He knew that there could be some immature believers who were not yet convinced of the wisdom of this mindset. But he also knew that God was able to teach them and mature them in His good time.
Can you think back to when you were a young Christian? There were times when I was young that my mouth talked before I thought. Sometimes I thought that I was smarter than my teachers. There are times when we are not very teachable but there are also times when we finally understand what God wants us to learn.
What have each of us attained? (16)
Paul begins verse 16 with a big “nevertheless.” This was his way of giving room to those who were not yet convinced. As we grow as Christians, we are all at different levels of maturity. Some have learned to trust the Lord for their needs while others have not. Some have learned to pray while others have not. Some are good at speaking for the Lord while others are not. Some have learned to control their temper while others have not. We are all striving to become better for the Lord, but we are all at different levels in various areas.
So, wherever you find yourself today, thank God for what has been attained. Thank Him for what He has taught you, where He has brought you, and what He is currently doing in your life. Wherever you are as a Christian today, keep working at it. “The principle — namely ‘We are still far from perfect, but in Christ we should strive to become perfect’ — has been enunciated and exemplified. Let our lives be regulated by the consistent application of this principle. It must never be surrendered” (Hendriksen 177).
In verses 15-16, Paul tells us to develop a proper way of thinking. We need to be motivated in our minds to press on and seek God’s “well done.” And as we seek to do that, we need to allow God to change our minds and develop our thinking so that we think as we should.
- Live like a mature believer (Philippians 3:17-19).
Now that Paul has talked about having the right mindset, he moves on to the right way of walking. He uses the idea of walking to describe the way that we should live our lives. Our lifestyle will always be affected by the way that we think. If our thinking is right, we have a much greater likelihood of making good choices. But there is another factor involved in right living. It is the examples set before us. We must follow the examples of mature believers.
Who is a good example to follow? (17)
Paul was an apostle. He was a mature believer whom God had saved years ago. Over the years, he had taken the time to study the Bible, to get involved in the leadership of his church, and was eventually sent out by God to spread the gospel of Jesus across the Roman empire. So, Paul was not an immature believer telling people to follow his example. He was a mature believer who had earned the respect of those he was writing to.
But as you read earlier in the chapter, Paul didn’t consider himself to be perfect or that he had finally retired from maturing as a Christian. “The apostle was not placing himself on a pedestal, as if he were perfect, but, quite the contrary, was urging his friends to strive after perfection, in the full realization that they were still far removed from the ideal, as was he himself” (Hendriksen 179). He continued pushing forward showing himself to be a good example to follow.
But notice something else. “When Paul urged the Philippians to imitate him, he was not thinking of himself alone but of himself in company with others…. Note the pronoun we instead of I in the continuation” (Hendriksen 180). Paul usually traveled with other Christians on his missionary journeys. The lives of his travel companions were also an example to those to whom they ministered. This is a good time to think about your own example. It is not just the one in the pulpit who should be an example. Let’s all be an example for others to follow.
Who is a bad example to follow? (18-19)
We all know that there are two types of examples: good and bad. In verses 18-19, Paul noted that there were some who had become such bad examples that he considered them “enemies of the cross of Christ.” We are not told whether these were former church members but remembering them caused Paul to weep. Perhaps they were.
These spiritual enemies had given in to earthly pleasures and were not seeking to please the Lord. Their description shows that they did not have the same mindset that Paul wanted for the Philippian believers.
• They were enemies of the cross of Christ.
• They were headed for destruction.
• They were living for their appetites.
• They were seeking glory in shameful things.
• They were thinking about earthly things instead of heavenly.
It seems that “the basic cause of it is that they have their hearts and minds on earthly things” (McGee 317). Their focus was on what would bring them pleasure now instead of what would gain them the Lord’s commendation in heaven in the future. Sadly, this is not something that only affected the early church. It is still something affecting people today. History is filled with accounts of religious leaders who stopped adding virtue to their faith, who became satisfied with the status quo, and who became enamored with worldly pleasures. The end result of such living is never good.
Let us seek to follow the good examples of those who have been faithful to the Lord. As we read the biographies of great missionaries of the past, we must realize that they were not perfect. Many biographies only record the victories these people had and we sometimes get the idea that they were perfect. Let us also seek to be a good example ourselves. All of us have people within our sphere of influence whom we can help to become mature in the Lord. Just remember that we aren’t perfect and shouldn’t make ourselves look better than we actually are. Let’s also be wary of those who are bad examples. We need to mark these people and warn others of their bad influence so that the people we love are not tempted to veer away from what pleases the Lord.
- Wait like a mature believer (Philippians 3:20-21).
Paul was a good example of someone who was living for the Lord. The enemies of Christ were bad examples because they were living for their own lusts. But what was it that made the difference between Paul (a mature believer) and the enemies of Christ? It was not only the mindset and lifestyle but the ability to patiently wait for the future. In verses 20-21, Paul shows that mature believers should not be infatuated with what they can get now, but that they should wait for what God has prepared for them in the future.
Why should we wait? (20a)
Paul uses the idea of citizenship to describe how a Christian should view this life as compared to the future. “The city of Philippi was a Roman colony. In Philippi the laws of Rome were enforced. The people wore the same kind of styles that were worn in Rome. They spoke Latin. Everything in Philippi was like Rome because it was a colonial city. Today, believers… should be a colony of heaven, and they ought to act like they act in heaven and speak the language of heaven. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, but it should be our goal” (McGee 318).
Do you remember this old song?
This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
This is a good explanation of how mature believers think about our time on earth. It is a temporary assignment which shouldn’t have our full attention. We shouldn’t get to the place where we are living for here and now. We should instead be thinking about where we will spend eternity. I must admit that this is difficult at times. We enjoy our lives. We enjoy the relationships, experiences, and the things we own. But when compared with eternity, are these things really that important? Shouldn’t we be thinking about the future?
What should we be waiting for? (20b-21)
Paul lists two things that we should be waiting for. First, he says that we are to wait for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. After all our years on earth, there will come a time when Jesus will return in the sky and call each of us to be with Him forever. That should make you smile. We will finally meet the One who loved us and gave His life for us. What a meeting that will be!
Second, he says that we are to wait for the transformation of our earthly bodies. Some of you are especially ready for this because of aches and pains. The Bible tells us that our bodies will be changed for the good.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
But think also of what it will be like to be in a body that has no temptation to sin. There will be no more lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. That, too, is something that should motivate us to be patient. We should patiently wait realizing that the sinful desires we have now don’t please the Lord and will be an embarrassment when He appears.
There are many who tell us to enjoy our lives now. You only live once, so live well. Paul tells us to be patient. Our time of joy will come in the place where our actual citizenship is. Be patient and listen for the trumpet of God when all believers will be taken up to heaven to be with the Lord forever.
During our study of Philippians 3:15-21, we have seen a number of things. We need to think like a mature believer. Our mindset should be to press on toward pleasing the Lord. We need to live like a mature believer. Our lifestyle should be an example for other Christians to follow. We need to wait like a mature believer. Our focus should be on what God had in store for us in the future.
As we have considered these Bible verses, how has God spoken to your heart? Perhaps you have not been thinking like a mature believer. Will you repent of this and ask God to change your mind and to help you think the way He desires? Perhaps you have not been living like a mature believer. Will you repent of this and ask God for the help you need to live rightly? Perhaps you have not been waiting for Jesus. Will you repent of this and renew your focus on the future. If you will, the Lord will graciously forgive you and bring back that joy that you have been missing.
Hendriksen, William, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994, pp. 175-85.
Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 662-63.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, pp. 316-19.