July 28 – Philippians 3:17-21
Continuing off his thought in verse 16, “Let us hold true to what we have attained,” Paul encourages the Philippians to join in imitating him and the example of other faithful Christians. And right out the gate that encouragement might be a little irritating. At first glance it comes off pompous; it sure looks like Paul is telling us we should all just be more like him. We’re pretty well content to say all people are equally , but as soon as we say someone is following Jesus so well they’re worth imitating, our individualistic ideals raise their hackles. His encouragement can sound like a condemnation.
Or, perhaps this is a hard statement for us to read because we can’t imagine saying it ourselves. Maybe it feels foreign to say something like, “Here, read the Bible as consistently as I do; pray as fervently as I do; give as generously as I do; it’ll help you follow Jesus better.” Our lack of confidence, or consistency, in our own example of faith makes the idea of this exhortation seem foolish.
Lastly, we might spiritualize it and ask, why follow Paul when I can just follow Jesus directly? Isn’t imitating Paul instead of imitating Christ like a diluted version of Christianity? Imitating a man even sounds cultish or idolatrous, which is certainly what happens if you take this too far. But we might be so afraid of taking it too far that we won’t take it far enough. By refusing to hear Paul’s exhortation to imitate other followers out of fear of human worship (a legitimate concern) we handicap our access to encouragement in the faith (a tragic set back).
So, Paul tells the Philippians to look to the examples we have in faithful believers, not towards the enemies of the faith. He gives a couple defining characteristics about these enemies (v.19), which are helpful points of reflection for us, and reminds the Philippians what we believers are defined by: our heavenly citizenship. This raises our focus off the earthly and towards the eternal, setting our sights on the new life we’ve been given in Christ that will be fulfilled in us upon our glorification.(v.21)
Questions for Discussion
• Can someone read Philippians 3:17-21 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• Check out the section before this. Why do you think Paul is talking about imitating him here?
• How might imitating other believers help in following Jesus?
• Who has been really influential in your own faith, and what did you learn from them?
• How does Paul describe the distinction between being set on earthly things and on heavenly things?
• What do you think a heavenly citizenship means for your everyday life?
• Where do you think you need help in staying set on heavenly things?