Pursuing Christ (Philippians 3:12-21)
The text at hand is Philippians 3:12-21.
I find that iconic texts are often the hardest to preach for several reasons. First, because we tend to expect homerun sermons to come from iconic texts. Here we have a text that is full of passion, and we just expect the sermon to be full of passion as well. Second, because iconic texts are so familiar that we assume we know what they mean without ever really trying to articulate what makes them so profound and popular. Indeed this text is profound, and it will take significant mental exercise to discover its riches. Third, because iconic texts have often been pulled from their context and made to be stand alone truths. Thus we often understand them as being broad and all-inclusive because we do not have the guardrails of context to keep us from going off of a cliff.
So, for us to understand this text, I think it is important that we establish:
1. The major imperative of this text.
a. Verse 15 Let us THINK like this.
b. Verse 16 Let us HOLD TRUE TO what we have attained.
c. Verse 17 JOIN IN IMITATING me
d. Verse 17 KEEP YOUR EYES ON those who walk according to the example you have in us.
2. The context of this text.
a. This is a WARNING (polemic) against a false gospel being promoted by the Judaizers that teaches that one can please God by keeping the Law and the mark of true spirituality is attaining moral perfection.
b. This is a CONTRAST of this false gospel with the true gospel.
3. The major focus of this text.
What is the meaning of “this” and “it” in verse 12?
a. The closest antecedent is “the resurrection of the dead.”
b. But to make this about the resurrection of the dead is too narrow. Because pressing on to gain the resurrection from the dead, prizing it, and pursuing it is the same desire expressed by every other religion in the world. I’ll tell you, I am afraid that is true for much of “American Christianity.” We want pleasure, peace, and paradise, but we don’t care much for Christ. There is not much “Christ” in much of what is called “Christianity.”
c. The major focus here and the meaning of “this” and “it” is knowing and gaining Christ.
d. We see Paul Prizing and Pursuing Christ
But why? Why does Paul prize Christ and why does Paul pursue Christ? The answers to these questions will help us to prize and pursue Christ as he did.
Universal truths that form the basis of Paul’s command:
1. We have needs. This is what it means to be human (a creature).
2. We prize what meets our need.
3. We pursue what we prize.
4. We become like what we pursue.
TEST #1 Let’s test this in the PHYSICAL REALM of our life:
1. We have a real need for food, and we feel it.
2. We prize food because it satisfies our hunger.
3. We pursue food until our need is met.
4. We become like (reflect the worth of) the food that we pursue
a. If we eat healthy foods, we will be physically healthy.
b. If we eat unhealthy foods, we will be physically unhealthy.
TEST #2 Let’s test this in the EMOTIONAL REALM of our life:
1. We have a real need for love, and we feel it.
2. We prize relationships because they meet our need for love.
3. We pursue relationships until our need is met.
a. We receive love from those who give it to us willingly, like parents and family.
b. We pursue love by doing whatever it takes to get someone to love us.
4. We become like (reflect the worth of) the relationships that we pursue.
a. If we pursue love from healthy relationships, we will be emotionally healthy.
b. If we pursue love from unhealthy relationships, we will be emotionally unhealthy.
TEST #3 Let’s test this in the SPIRITUAL REALM of our life (that's what's happening in this text).
1. We NEED to be justified before God.
a. Every false gospel replaces faith with self-effort
b. Every false gospel replaces Christ with moral perfection.
2. Christians PRIZE Christ because knowing Him will justify us before God.
Reasons Christians prize Christ:
a. Because to know Christ is to gain His righteousness.
b. Because to know Christ is to experience the power of His resurrection.
3. Christians PURSUE Christ because knowing Him will justify us before God.
The Christian life is a constant and difficult pursuit... pressing on, forgetting what is behind, straining forward.
4. Christians will REFLECT THE WORTH OF Christ by being transforming by His power.
But the “enemies of the cross” prize and pursue something very different.
1. Enemies of the Cross need to be justified before God.
2. Enemies of the Cross prize the god of their belly.
3. Enemies of the Cross pursue earthly things.
4. Enemies of the Cross will reflect the worth of their moral perfection by being destroyed.
Now we know why Paul Prizes and Pursues Christ. Now we understand why Paul calls us to think like him, to imitate him, and to keep our eyes on those who walk this way. Now we know why Paul warns us of the grave dangers of false gospels.