William J. Bennett once said, “We—all of us, but especially the young—need around us individuals who possess a certain nobility, a largeness of soul, and qualities of human experience worth imitating and striving for.” The Apostle Paul understood the importance of imitation. He wrote:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 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. (Philippians 3:17-21 ESV)
1. Because we are citizens of heaven, We Have An Example to Follow After
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17)
The Greek word translated “join in imitating me” is interesting. It literally means, “be fellow imitators.” It is not found anywhere else in the NT or that we can find in other Greek Literature. Paul created a word under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can mean to “bring to the same form as someone or something” or “to be conformed unto.” It is a picture of “an imitator with others.”
Paul was not just calling others to be a copycat. He was saying, join me as fellow imitators, fellow copycats. You see, Paul was busy about the business of copying Christ. Therefore, he said, look at my example, and imitate me as I am imitating Christ.
“Keep your eyes on…” means to “regard attentively, to take heed, or to contemplate.” Attentively regard those who walk according to the example you have in us.
For you have an example…Literally a type, or a pattern. Paul is not being arrogant here. He is not bragging or boasting in his walk. Remember, he has told us he has not arrived. He has not attained all that he has set out to. He was still a work in progress. But having considered his own walk with Christ, Paul had placed himself in a position to be an example of all those who would come behind.
In 1 Cor. 4:16, Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, imitate me.”
In 1 Cor. 11:1 Paul wrote, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
In 2 Thess. 2:10, he said, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us…”
Later in this same book, he gives a broad appeal for imitation when he says in Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” This time, he urges a total lifestyle imitation – what you have learned, received, heard or seen. Paul was saying in a bold way, I am a model to follow and you can safely watch what I do and do it and you will be doing the right way.
How then are we to imitate Paul?
- Forgetting those things which are behind
- Reaching forward for those things which are ahead
- Pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s lifelong objective, and the objective for which you should dedicate your life, is to become more and more like Jesus Christ. Paul is saying, “Follow me! I know the way up. Walk in my footsteps. Climb where I have climbed already.” If we are to live such lives, it means that we can never let down our guard. What pressure to live perfect lives! If you live in a city or a small town, you sometimes notice that most people like to have their curtains drawn at night. Otherwise, people can drive by and see exactly what is going on inside. If you are going to live with your curtains open, your life must be lived in such a way that you don’t mind it being under constant inspection. If we are to say, “imitate me” our life must be lived in such a way that we don’t mind it being under constant inspection.
How can Paul say this? In some ways, this is the wrong question. The reality is that whether or not we accept it, our lives are a model. Whether we are conscious of it or not, people are imitating us. So it is not so much a question of whether or not we want to be a model, the question really is, am I bold enough to say that I will be a model deliberately. Am I committed enough to doing things Jesus’ way to make such a life a priority?
How did Paul do it? I Corinthians 11:1 is another passage in which he expresses the invitation to imitate him, but this time, he tells us the basis for this statement. He says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
2. Because we are citizens of heaven, We Have An Enemy to Flee From
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. (Philippians 3:18-19) There was a group of false converts who troubled the Philippian saints. This group wished to be regarded as Christians but their lives did not line up with their confession. In other words, they made certain claims to true Christianity but were teaching lies and not living for Christ but they lived for themselves.
There is a great gulf between God’s people and Satan’s people. Paul brings this out in this text. Satan’s people are enemies of the cross of Christ because they serve a different god.
Self-indulgence marks those who follow Satan and self-sacrificing marks those who follow Christ. Satan is only out for himself and so are his followers while Christ seeks the good of others and so do those who follow Him.
There is always an example…there is always a model. But not all are good examples and good models. Those who walk as enemies of the cross are more concerned with earthly things because their home is this world…for now. The believer’s home is not this earth and its pleasures but heaven and its pleasures. True believers must not get too comfortable in this life. We must not think that this world is to be heaven. It’s not comfortable or satisfying. Those things will be met when we enter into eternal life.
3. Because we are citizens of heaven, We Have An Expectation to Focus On
“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.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Christians should live as citizens of heaven, not as citizens of earth. Philippi was a Roman colony, some 800 miles east of Rome, surrounded by territory subject to Rome but whose residents lacked Roman citizenship. But those in Philippi had legal status as Roman citizens, so that the city was an outpost of Roman life. It was governed by Roman law. They practiced Roman customs. A Roman could go to Philippi and feel right at home.
To these Christians who lived in a city that took pride in its Roman citizenship, Paul is saying, “You have a higher citizenship than that of Rome. You are citizens of heaven. Just as your Roman citizenship greatly affects the way you live, even more so your heavenly citizenship should affect how you live. Don’t fall into the trap of living as those around you.” Apparently there were some, even in the church, who professed to be Christians, but whose lives revealed that they were not true citizens of heaven. So Paul warns the flock of this danger and urges them to stand firm in the Lord. The more we as believers realize these things the less we’ll be attached to this world. In heaven an inheritance awaits us…
1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,  obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Do you see how what Peter writes coincides with Paul? Peter tells us that we have an imperishable inheritance waiting for us, but it’s not here, it’s in heaven. We rejoice in our salvation which isn’t fully given yet because we’re not in heaven yet. We rejoice through various trials because we know that these earthly trials will in no way affect our standing with Christ or our eternal inheritance.”
This is the attitude of a true mature believer. This attitude is possible as we realize our citizenship is in heaven. Not only are we standing firm as we await our inheritance as Peter writes, but, as Paul tells us here, we stand firm awaiting our Savior to appear. We must remember that we will someday see Jesus. I’m not sure what he’ll look like. He will no doubt look like what John saw at the beginning of the Book of Revelation. We will see Jesus Christ.
So often, I believe, we can drift into theological theory instead of theological worship and adoration. As we learn more and more about Christ we must become better worshippers not simply fill our heads with facts. What is going to happen when we meet Christ who will come from heaven?  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.
On the basis that all this is true, Paul tells us to Stand Firm…
[Philippians 4:1] Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
When I read in the Bible these words, “stand firm,” I often think of the reporter on the Weather Channel as he tells about the hurricane. He’s trying his best to stand firm in the midst of 100 plus mph winds. That’s how we are to be as we endue trials of this life. At times we’ll need to zip up our raincoats and lean into the wind and endure. These Philippian believers found themselves in a storm of false teaching and a storm of Roman aggression. Paul told them that Jesus is the finish line. Heaven is our real home. Jesus is the Savior we wait for. Stand firm.
I pray we will also apply Paul’s words to our lives as well. Stand firm!
- Following a good example is a necessity. (Whom will you follow?)
- Being a good example is a responsibility. (Whom will I lead?)
- Maturity requires authenticity. (How will I live?)