The Lord God took Abram outside and said: "Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so," he added, "shall your descendants be," Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. He then said to him, "I am the Lord, who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession." "O Lord God," he asked, "how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He answered him, "Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.
When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I give this land from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates."(P) The word of the Lord.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid? (R)
Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me. Of you my heart speaks; you may glance seeks. (R)
Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant. You are my helper: cast me not off. (R)
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (R)
Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus took Peter, John and James, and went up onto a mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzlingly white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
One day, a man known for his great wit and wisdom, dressed in long brown robes like a monk was walking through a bazaar; and a large group of people were following behind him. As he walked, he stopped after every few steps, waved his right hand in the air, touched his feet and, then, jumped up yelling as loud as he could, "hu! hu! hu!" And at each time he did so, the crowd would also do exactly the same thing.
One of the merchants, who had known the man well, asked him, "My friend! How come all of a sudden you have started wearing brown robes and besides, you have so many people following you and imitating everything you do?" "I have become a spiritual master. All these people are modern - day spiritual seekers. And I am teaching them the path to enlightenment!" the man replied with a wry smile. The merchant said, "Oh! That's wonderful. But tell me how are you to know for sure they have been enlightened." Sarcastically, the man replied, "That's the easy part. Every morning I count them. All of those missing are enlightened."
After his conversion to the Christian faith, the apostle Paul travelled widely throughout the eastern part of the Roman Empire, which included modern - day Syria, Turkey, Greece, Malta and Italy, to spread the teachings of Jesus. For about seven years, he eagerly preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, and established churches. In addition to preaching, Paul is thought to have written Letters or Epistles to these churches, to help them keep their new faith growing, alive, and true.
He wrote his letter to the church of Philippi in Greece while he was in a prison, probably in Rome about 62 AD, Philippians (1:13). As new converts, the believers in Philippi needed help and even warnings about the danger of being misled by false teachers. So, after having exhorted them concerning the need for humility, unity and sacrificial service for the advance of the gospel in the first two chapters of his letter, Paul enjoined them to imitate him. This is what we read in today's text, Philippians (3:17-4:1).
At first reading of the text, Paul's exhortation to imitate him may sound strange to our ears. Some might raise questions like, "Was Paul trying to put himself on a pedestal or even above Christ?" or "Was he trying to establish a position for himself?" or "Did he want to be thought of by every believer as the ultimate example of a godly person?" No, not at all. Of course, those who are familiar with Paul's writings would agree that Saint Paul was truly the greatest example of a Christian who ever lived. It wasn't because of what Paul was, in and of himself, that he called on other believers to imitate him but, rather, he was more than any other sinner who ever walked the earth; yet, he willingly and diligently followed the exemplar of Christ.
Paul himself admitted in his letter to Timothy that he was the "worst" of sinners because of his life before his conversion, 1 Timothy (1:13). As a matter of fact, he had also exhorted the early Christians to follow the example of other godly elders in the church, Hebrews (13). So, Paul's purpose in calling the Philippi Christians to imitate him was to spur them to think carefully about how they lived for God.
Paul writes, "Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us", Philippians (3:17). Paul hoped the Philippians would look at other Christians and imitate them; but only to so imitate them as far as they were imitating Christ, just as Paul was doing. Thus, he just acted as their elder brother or godly father in faith. Moreover, Paul not only admonished them to be united in their imitation of him but also reminded them to keep their eyes alert on others who could fool them into thinking that they were worthy examples of Christian life. Apparently, it was something that Paul had warned them about before - not just once, but several times.
Paul writes, "For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ", Philippians (3:18). Paul pointed out to them that, in their church, which was as good as any, there were many false teachers and false believers, who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were in fact the enemies of the cross of Christ. Here, he was not just referring to his enemies or those who were enemies of the Christian faith or even of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, but to those who were enemies of the cross of Christ.
What does "the cross of Christ" really mean? It is not the material cross that is made of wood, metal or fiberglass to which Paul alludes, but it is Christ's passion and death on the cross. By the cross, we, Christians, believe that Son of God, Jesus Christ, actually and literally died for us; and that we are made completely righteous in God's sight by faith in Christ's atonement for our sins on the cross. He calls those who belittle or ignore or depreciate the doctrine of the cross, that is, Christ's atoning sacrifice for our sins, as enemies of the cross of Christ. Thus, the enemies of the cross of Christ can be categorized as the people who may even speak favourably of the Lord, commending His exemplary life and benevolent influence but teaching that Jesus Christ died not to atone for the sins of men or to bear our guilt and stand beneath the judgment of God as our Substitute and Sacrifice for sin, but simply that He might inspire us to live a similar life of sacrifice for others.
In this connection, Paul further identifies four characteristics and consequences of these enemies of the cross of Christ:
In other words, Paul described the enemies of the cross of Christ in the ancient Philippi church as the people who seemed to be heading for eternal life but in fact were heading for eternal destruction; who were preoccupied with food laws and dietary restrictions required by the Jewish Law; who were pursuing glory in things which should have been considered shameful, such as circumcision demanded by the Jews but considered shameful by the non-Jews in the Greco-Roman world; and who were focusing on the life and practices relevant only to this world.
Thus, there were many Philippi Christians who were not following the example of Christ or refusing to conform to the exemplar of Christ, as modelled by Paul. It was against this backdrop that Paul reminded the believers of their prestigious citizenship in heaven. He writes, "Our citizenship is heaven, and from it we also await a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself", Luke (3:20-21).
Here, Paul uses a political concept, "citizenship". Remember, at the time of Paul, Philippi was a city in the region of Macedonia, but it was a Roman colony and that meant Roman citizenship for the inhabitants of Philippi; and they were proud of the fact. Paul also knew the power and privilege of being a Roman citizen. So, he kept reminding them of a very important, but often overlooked fact - that they were citizens of heaven. Since they had trusted Christ and put their faith in Him, they had to remember who they were: they were not citizens of this earth but rather citizens of heaven. While they were citizens of Philippi, where they were growing up and living all their life, they needed to remember that they were actually sojourners on earth; therefore, their home would never be on this earth but rather, as citizens of heaven, heaven is where they belong and where also the Lord Jesus Christ lives.
Moreover, Paul reminded them that they were to live with an eager anticipation of the day when they would meet the Lord because when He comes, He will transform their present "lowly" bodies - that were subject to pain, temptation, imperfection, and ultimately death - to "His glorious body", which refers to Jesus' resurrected body. In addition, knowing that some believers might wonder how such a thing could be possible, Paul said that it will be done by "the power that enables Him also to bring all things into subjection to Himself", Philippians (3:21).
Finally, Paul spoke of the deep feeling he had in his heart toward the Philippi Christians. He told them that they were his joy and crown; and that he loved them and longed for them to do well by "standing firm in the Lord", Philippians (4:1). In other words, they were not to let themselves be knocked-off the path that God had laid out for them. They were to hold fast to their faith in the sacrifice that Jesus made for them on the cross.
What is the message for us?
We must think carefully about the examples we follow in life. Because there are many enemies of the cross of Christ, such as those who preach contrary to what is taught in the Bible and those who are hostile to the atonement Jesus made for us on the cross. To follow these "enemies of the cross" is to follow the path to destruction and loss. So, we must pay careful attention to those of whom we imitate. Otherwise, we might also become an enemy of the cross of Christ.
Imitation is good, but we must be careful to imitate godly examples and to check out the doctrine of those who seek to lead us. We should not imitate the one who merely claims to be but imitate a person who really is a Christian. We should imitate the way of those who, like Paul, "count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus", and reject ungodly examples, Philippians (3:8).
God Bless You!