Stand Firm In the Lord

Sermon Guide – Philippians 3:12-21

May 18, 2016


"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

After outlining in remarkable detail what he believes is gain—the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ—and what he believes is loss—everything else—Paul now talks about what happens in the wake of that reality. If Jesus is everything and if the resurrection from the dead allows us to experience Jesus Christ in the deepest and most profound way imaginable, then how do we live right now? How do we live in the tension of our brokenness and sin?

First, Paul says: I press on to make the benefits of the resurrection my own. I press on to knowing Jesus as deeply and richly as possible on this earth. And he continues by giving us his motivation for this lifestyle: I make this my own because Jesus Christ has made me his own. He’s pointing to the cross, where Jesus paid for and forgave all of Paul’s shortcomings. With this in mind, Paul strains forward to the glory offered through this forgiveness. He refers to this glory as “the upward call of God”—this is the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11) where we become like Jesus in order to know him fully, the way he ought to be known (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 13:12).

"Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us."

Paul says that this is the kind of thinking mature Christians should be doing: hold true to the reality of the Gospel, hold on to Jesus Christ. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to think that once they trust Jesus and are given his righteousness (Philippians 3:9-11) everything is perfect. Life isn’t a cakewalk after the first heartbeat of faith in a believer’s soul. There’s still sin, there’s still pain. Nevertheless, Paul has a plan. Universal across all cultures and history is the act of imitation, an aspect of discipleship. Paul knows the Philippians (and us, many years later) will inevitably imitate someone, and so he redirects their attention to real, tangible people who have laid hold of the Gospel, never to let it go.

Paul’s concern hinges on that fact that there are many others out there headed for tragedy, a path he’d do anything to prevent the Philippians from following...

"Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us."

Here’s the warning for Philippi—not only to avoid imitating people of this kind, but recognizing the antithesis of everything he’s been talking about. Paul refers to them as enemies of the cross, people who are hostile to the only thing that can save them. This lifestyle is ultimately self-destructive, self-absorbed, and self-humiliating because it attempts to find fulfillment and joy in things that will never last, earthly things. Whether he’s speaking of Judaizers or all unbelievers, his warning is sincere: Don’t put your joy in earthly things, don’t make a god of something that will ultimately fail you.

We also need to note how Paul engages the brokenness in his culture. Heart broken and in anguish over those who have refused the cross, he implores the Philippians to never take this path. Why? The reason is that Paul knows the stakes all too well. These are human beings who have eternal destinies, and so he writes these words with tears streaming down his cheeks. He knows that it is the highest of costs to trade invincible joy for a cheap, momentary happiness that offers no hope.

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. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved."

Over and against the tragedy of those who have set their minds on things that will never last, Paul presents the reality for the believer: citizenship in heaven. Jesus Christ, Paul says, will come back for his people one day to transform their weak, temporary bodies into perfect and glorious bodies that will never taste sin or weakness or death again. How will he do this? What gives Jesus the ability to do this, and, in turn, us confidence in that he can? It’s this: The resurrected Jesus is the Lord of everything. Period. All things are subject to him. His name is unmatched and his lordship is eternally uncontested—no matter the time, no matter the adversary: Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).

The bottom line for Paul in this passage is that since Jesus has made us his own through cross, believers need to live the kind of way that displays and showcases that this world is not our home. What does this look like? It looks like standing firm (Philippians 4:1), holding true to what we’ve attained (Philippians 3:16), being rooted in Jesus Christ and his reckless love—living in the reality that the joy found in Jesus completely shames everything this world can offer (Philippians 3:1-11).


Do we find ourselves preoccupied with the joys encountered in this life and forgetful or even bored with the prospect of an eternity as citizens of heaven? Paul is saying that when we set our minds on earthly things over and above the joy found in Jesus Christ, we’re making a tragic and catastrophic mistake—we’re trading something immeasurably beautiful and eternally captivating, for cheap, fleeting pleasures. Paul’s final argument against this fatal exchange is to “stand firm in the Lord.”

How do we stand firm in Christ? We constantly behold the beauty of Jesus in the cross—that with unbelievably reckless love he has made me his own—and in seeing that, we recognize that our joy is tied up with a Man who is both intimately personal and infinitely powerful. Not only does he love us, but Jesus Christ reigns over all things and will never die, therefore, any and all joy experienced in him is both invincible and eternal. If we’ve encountered Jesus in the Gospel, we need to constantly stir our affections for him, seek him out in Scripture, trust him in prayer, and display a kind of enjoyment in him that pales our joy in everything else. Not as an act of the will, but as an authentic response to the Gospel. When we truly know Jesus and his reckless love, our joy becomes invincible.  


Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in a group:

  • Paul depicts the tension of living in the real world with sin, pain, and even mortality, even after having faith in Jesus. Why might God have structured the life of the Christian this way? What are practical implications that flow from living in this tension (Galatians 2:20)?
  • Some might claim that Paul’s preoccupation with a future glory is wishful escapism. Does this specific passage provide evidence to the contrary? What about the entire book?
  • Paul’s central focus on knowing the surpassing worth of Jesus (Philippians 3:8) culminates in his hope for the resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11), where he will one day receive a glorified body (Philippians 3:21). What is the connection between the resurrection and knowing Jesus? How might exploring and contemplating these connections in the Bible strengthen our hope?