Independence Day 2011, Philippians 3:17-4:1

On this Independence Day, what do you grieve for?  That may sound like a funny thing to ask on a day of national celebration, but really it makes perfect sense.  235 years ago on this very day 56 men met and signed the Declaration of Independence after much grieving about the predicament that Great Britain had forced upon them.  These men grieved the ‘abuses and usurpations’ of the crown, the ‘absolute despotism’ of King George, they grieved the loss of natural law and their unalienable rights and so they sought to establish a system of government where their grief would be minimized and their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness would be maximized.

235 years ago these men ‘appeal[ed] to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions’ and they declared ‘a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [and]…mutually pledge[d] to each other [their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.’ The consequences of their grief and subsequent actions plunged the 13 colonies into a war of independence that lasted until 1783 and cost our country 25,000 lives.

So let me ask you again, what brings you great grief?  For what are you in need of freedom and what kind of freedom do you desire for your fellow humanity?

 

Paul grieved for those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil 3:18).  He grieved for those who were selfishly independent.  We don’t think about it often, but those opposed to the gospel brought the great missionary and apostle Paul emotional angst and distress.  He wept bitterly for the lost and dying.  When the NIV says even with tears (v18), the translation isn’t strong enough for the angst and grief Paul feels.  The same root Paul uses of tears is also translated in Matthew 2:18 of the slaughter of the innocents which Jeremiah prophesied, This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jer. 31:15).

 

Paul grieves the eternal destination of the lost.  He grieves like a parent who has lost a child?  He weeps like a spouse who has experienced the death of their best friend.  Paul grieves that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  [And] their destiny is destruction (Phil 3:18b-19a).  There are those in our world who are strategically aligned against the gospel.  They repudiate the concept of an afterlife and consider this life as the sum total of all living.  And consequently, they focus on temporal enjoyment and the accumulation of things.  These secularists, these atheists, these people who subscribe to a worldview that extends no further than scientifically verifiable fact are enemies of the gospel.

 

Their philosophy of living makes no room for the spiritual, the heavenly, and the supernatural and consequently, it repudiates the very idea of sin and divine wrath.  Throughout history there have always been men and women who lived as though the only thing that matters is the present experience of life.  They have gone by various names – hedonists, stoics, cynics, scientists, free thinkers, liberals and conservatives or motivational speakers, but their mantra is always the same “Carpe diem”, seize the day.

I find it fascinating that when Paul speaks about enemies of the cross of Christ he doesn’t go on to list a group of people whose words are an affront to the preaching of the crucified Christ but whose actions fail to confess Christ in daily life.

 

The way Paul is speaking about the enemies of the cross would cause every believer in Philippi to stop and consider their life?  Are their physical actions being driven by their lust and desires?  Are they living for things that have no lasting value but simply pass through the body only to be excreted a short time later? Are the things that bring them pride really worthless?  How does their lifestyle, the things they buy, the people they socialize with, the people they help reveal what they truly value?

 

Paul describes a people whose physical, spiritual and mental way of life are all in opposition to the gospel call to repentance and belief.   He describes a person or group of people who live completely oriented toward the here and now regardless of what they say. And this brings him grief, tears and sadness.

 

On Independence Day, Paul bids us to consider, “Am I an enemy of the cross of Christ?   Are the things that drive me a result of wanting to be comfortable, secure, and loved in this world?  Is my need for sexual gratification driving me to pornography?  Is my need for financial security driving me to ignore the poor?  Is my need for strength driving me to align with political powers bearing no resemblance to the humble Christ?” Paul asks us if our appetites for acceptance, love, security, permanence, relevance or anything else are being met in this world?  Are we trying to feed our need and placate our desires with temporal things? Isn’t this the root of all forms of addiction – eating, shopping, sexual, alcohol, drugs, etc…  If this is so, then the mind is focused on earthly things and the apostle John reminds us that everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. Furthermore (1John 2:16), The mind of sinful man is death (Rom. 8:6a).

 

When our goal for life is no greater than the temporal and physical pleasures of this world we have lost sight of the gospel and its powerful proclamation.  Each and every one of the things I mentioned: sexuality, acceptance, security, wealth, strength, etc. are good in their proper place and exercised within their proper bounds but when their pursuit controls every aspect our life, or when one of them grows so large that it performs a flanking move and unseats Christ from the throne of our heart then war has been declared and enemy status has been taken. Do we grieve these tendencies and realities in our life and in the lives of others?  I hope we do.

 

But we don’t have to live in selfish independence and experience destruction and utter defeat.  Paul articulates a gigantic contrast between the enemies and the friends of the cross.  He reminds the church that they do not belong to the world but to heaven and he does it by appealing to the concept of Citizenship.  In the Roman world, there were military colonies established across the empire to promote Roman culture, values, habits and customs.  Some of these colonies had the special honor of being called ‘free cities.’  What this meant was that anyone born in these cities was considered a citizen of the Mother city, Rome, herself and they were entitled to all the rights, privileges and protections of a roman citizen but they were also expected to further the rule and customs of Rome as well.

 

And it just so happened that Philippi was one such city.  The Philippian church would have understood the contrast Paul was making with being totally temporally focused and being a citizen of heaven. As citizens of heaven our eyes, our actions, our posture is directed not to the physical and earthly but to the heavenly and spiritual.  Our persons are awaiting Jesus Christ and our life in this world exists to further the customs and culture of Christ’s kingdom.

 

Listen to how Paul expresses this in his Ephesian Letter, Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22).

 

As citizens of heaven, we are called to live life in conformity to the cross of Christ and that means living a life of selfless freedom.  On this day of Independence, we grieve selfish independence and with the Apostle Paul we desire lives of freedom patterned on Christ.  At the beginning of today’s verses Paul invites the church to follow his example and to live life like those who are following the gospel pattern.

 

Specifically Paul urges the church to take note, or in other words, pay attention to, keep looking at or stare at those who are living heavenly centered lives.  Paul didn’t know about automobiles, but if he did, he would have used this analogy.  When we teach young people how to drive what do we tell them?  Look at the horizon; keep your eyes on the road way out in front of you.  Why do we do this?  For a number of reasons, first it is just safer if you are looking at the road than at the floor, but beyond that, it helps you to track and continue moving in the proper direction.  There is a funny thing that happens when we drive, we tend to steer in the very direction of what we are looking at.  If that is out the side window, amazingly we find ourselves drifting into the other lane or onto the shoulder, but if it is at the road in front of us, the car keeps going.

 

Paul is urging Christians to keep their eyes on those people who have a heavenly focus, keep looking at them and your life will continue to be shaped and molded into their life.  And God willing, their life and eyes are looking toward Christ. Ultimately the goal is to be looking and waiting for Christ in order to be conformed to his image in the world.

 

Paul encourages folks to follow his example and live according to the pattern he gave, a pattern that we can assume would be focused upon Christ.  So what pattern did Paul give, which the Philippians should be looking out for and emulating?  If we constrain ourselves only to the Philippian letter there are 9 things that Paul notes.  First is a life of prayer.  Paul begins his letter by saying that heavenly oriented people are people of prayer. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Phil. 1:4).  Is there a person of prayer who you admire and can seek to learn how to pray by emulating them?  For me, Alvin VG and Dennis Fuqua have become mentors.  Their word centered, Christ exalting prayers challenge me to think beyond my small box of ask for this and that.  To whom do you look up?

 

Secondly, the life worth emulating is a life of defending and confirming the gospel (Phil 1:7).  People worth emulating are ready and willing to speak about the truth and veracity of Jesus Christ, human sin, salvation and judgment.  The Gospel includes all three.  They have an ability to gently bring the gospel to bear upon many conversations and to do it in a way that gently challenges unbelief and calls for greater commitment.  Mitch  and Ben DeReqt have been great encouragers for me.  Who is that for you?

 

Thirdly, a life worth replicating in this world and in the next is a life of rejoicing in the Christ.  Because of this I will rejoice.  Yes and I will continue to rejoice (Phil 1:18).  Joy and worship are part of the heavenly pattern along with prayer and speaking of Christ’s supremacy and magnificence.  These things will never cease, either in this world or in the world to come.  Who is joy filled in your life because of the good news of Christ?  Sonship taught me that and I look to the author of that discipleship program and thank God for his message of hope and joy.

 

Fourthly, the life focused on heaven is the life that does nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil 2:3a).  It doesn’t seek to further its own position or status.  It isn’t worried about temporal accolades or being recognized and lauded, on the contrary because of the very nature of where it is looking, towards Christ’s exalted status in the heavenly realms, it wouldn’t even fathom diverting any glory to the resurrected Son of God.  And that ties intimately with the fifth thing that describes those who understand their heavenly citizenship.  They are humble and consider others better than themselves (Phil 2:3b).  They are out to serve the needs of their fellow humanity instead of seeking to secure their own situation.  And they do it because that is precisely who and what Christ did for them in coming and dying on the cross.  Who are the servants that you know and would like to be like?  Orville VG in Colo. Springs was one of those men to me.  He was the church janitor and groundskeeper, but he gave of his heart, soul, mind and body to others.  From early in the morning, to late in the evening he worked and served w/o ever a complaint or discouraging word and his life called the same kind of sacrifice out in others.

 

Sixthly, in all their service, worship, prayer, evangelism they do everything without complaining or arguing (Phil 2:14).  And that is only possible because of a lack of concern for the present and a total focus on the eternal and lasting.  When we complain about our situation or find ourselves arguing for our rights we need to ask if our hearts are not more worried about this life than the next?  Are we afraid of being taken advantage of?  Are we concerned that there isn’t a judgment to correct the evils of this world and so we must fight for our rights now without a trust in God’s justice in the future.

 

But we can only live a life of joyous eternal perspective when we know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings (Phil 3:10).  The life that eagerly awaits Christ does so because it has intimately experienced the resurrected Lord.  It has communicated with, enjoyed, experienced the love of God, recognized the great suffering our Lord experienced for his life of love and so it can joyously enter into the same kind of living.  It is a life nourished and sustained by a loving Lord, understanding that suffering and hardship are to be endured and accepted in much the same way Christ walked through them.  Who has suffered and yet continues to remain faithful to Christ?  Are you following those people or are your heroes of the faith men and women who have walked an easy road and who seem victorious without any hint of struggle?  That life isn’t real.  Look to the lives of those who have remained faithful in struggle and follow them.

 

Eighth, the one who knows Christ, knows him become they have already learned that earthly, external habits mean nothing when relating to the holiest of the holies.  There is Put no confidence [we can put] in the flesh (Phil 3:3).  What we do on the outside cannot make us acceptable to God; rather it simply reveals the state of our heart and our utter need for a transplant and transformation.  Follow those who understand they have nothing to offer a holy God and there you have found a selfless servant clothed in the robes of Christ.  Emulate him; emulate her.  And all of this leads to the ninth and final quality of one gazing upon the heavenly city and that is perseverance in the things of God.  Phil 3:14 puts it this way, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Selfless freedom requires perseverance.  Without persevering, none of us could ever hope to see the fruit of transformation in our life.  None of those qualities: prayer, defending the gospel, joy, selflessness, humble service, lack of complaining, growing knowledge of Christ and suffering with him, growing awareness of the state of our flesh could ever occur without perseverance and then, only if Christ is alive via his Spirit in our heart.

 

So does selfish freedom grieve you? Citizens of heaven, on this Independence day we have been set free from the tyranny of sin, selfishness and the devil and we now belong to the King of Glory where our culture and life is one modeled on the life of Christ as seen in each and every one of these qualities worthy of emulating.  Isn’t this a truth worth celebrating, we are truly free.

So let me ask you:  What is your only comfort in Life and in death?  HC 1 Answer here.

As we come to communion today, I invite the elders to come forward and distribute the elements, as you take them, remember that the cup and the bread are a declaration from God himself that you have bee freed from sin and now belong to Christ and his kingdom, a kingdom you are called to expand…

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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