Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 2, Philippians 3:12-4:1, Hebrews 13:7
The Basics Of MaturityRev. Philip Miller | November 7, 2021
Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 2, Philippians 3:12-4:1, Hebrews 13:7
Selected highlights from this sermon
If God has given us new birth by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and if God has then filled us with his Holy Spirit, and if every moment of every day is an opportunity to be with Jesus and learn from Him, then it stands to reason that we are all, in fact, still growing up—with a lot of maturing ahead of us.
As Pastor Miller walks us through this passage from Philippians, he shows us Paul’s insights into what growing into spiritual maturity looks like while living here on Earth and awaiting our future home in heaven.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question we sometimes ask children and they respond with the obligatory, “I want to be a fire fighter,” “I want to be a veterinarian,” “I want to be a teacher,” or whatever, right?
But it’s not just a question for children. It’s a question for all of us, whether we’re 43 or 93. “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Because, friends, if God has given us new birth by grace through faith in Christ, in His substituted life on our behalf on the cross; if God has filled us with His Holy Spirit so that He is teaching us to walk in His ways; if every moment of every day is an opportunity to be with Jesus and learn from Him how to do life so that we are increasingly transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus; and if one day we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is, then we are all, in fact, still growing up. No matter how old we are, we have a long way to go in terms of maturation if we are to be gloriously like Jesus in the end. And friends, all of us, every moment of every day we’re becoming someone. So the question is, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
Today we come to Philippians, chapter 3, verse 12 down to Chapter 4, verse 1. You’ll find our reading in the pew Bible there on page 981 over to 982. And in this text before us this morning the Apostle Paul is going to focus in on what spiritual maturity looks like with three vital insights for us this morning. We’re going to see together:
- The Pursuit Of Maturity,
- The Pattern Of Maturity, and
- The Prospect Of Maturity.
The pursuit, pattern, and prospect of maturity, and if we are ever to grow up into who we were meant to be in Jesus Christ, we need to pay attention to this text this morning. We need the Word of God to guide us. So would you bow your heads? Let’s pray and ask the Lord to be our teacher as we open His Word.
Father, we’re about to open up your inerrant, all-truthful Word that is sufficient for life and godliness, and we pray that you would teach us how to live, and how to be godly today. We want more than anything to live as we were meant to live, to be and become more like your glorious Son, Jesus Christ. He has enfolded us into His eternal life, He has given us the Spirit to lead and guide us, and will one day take us home and make us like Himself. Father, we long for this. Change us we pray, in Christ’s name and for His sake, Amen. Amen.
So, first of all, The Pursuit Of Maturity. The Pursuit Of Maturity. Philippians 3:12: “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.”
Just pause for a moment here. It’s obvious that we’re picking up in the middle of a train of thought, right? It’s sort of in the middle of a sequence of ideas. “Not that I’ve already obtained this…” What’s “this”? “What have you not obtained, Paul?” Well, remember the context, if you can think back to the last time we were together. Paul said, “I have suffered the loss of all things and I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I might know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain (There’s our word) the resurrection of the dead.” And then he says in verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.”
So, what have you not attained, Paul? It’s what he refers to in verse 11: the resurrection of the dead. He says, “Look, I’ve laid down my righteousness here, my religious résumé. I laid it all down that I might have Christ, and His righteousness alone. And I would do whatever it takes to know Him and the power of His resurrection life. And I will do it, whatever it takes, even if it means suffering, even if it means dying like Jesus. If, in the end, I get more of Jesus, that’s a win. If I get more of His resurrection life, that’s what I’m all about. And yet I want to be clear. I haven’t arrived yet. I’m not already perfect. I haven’t attained the resurrection from the dead. I’m a work in progress, but progress I shall. I press on to make it my own (What? The resurrection life of Christ.), my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. I press on, growing in Christ.
Day by day I press on. I share in His sufferings. I’m in chains for Jesus Christ. I press on. One day I may face death. I will be buried with Christ in His final baptism in order that I might be raised to walk in newness of life forever with Him in glory. I press on!
Jesus Christ laid down His life to make me His own, so I press on that I might make His life my own as well.
Now verse 13, “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.”
He says again, “Just to be clear, I haven’t made it my own yet, this resurrection life. This fullness of the resurrection life of Christ is something I’m still running after, pursuing, and it will not be fully mine until I am standing with Christ in glory. But one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind…” (What lies behind in the context? What lies behind? His religious résumé, his self-righteousness?) He says, “Look, I wasted so much time in my life trying to prove to God that I was good enough. I wasted my time on wasted efforts, but I don’t have time to pay attention. Forget all that! Forget it all, and straining forward to what lies ahead.” What lies ahead? Well, the rest of his life, all of his days, the suffering he’s going through, eventually his death. And then resurrection glory in the presence of Christ forever. He says, “One day I will be pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Remember that prayer from chapter 1, verses 10 and 11?
He says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul says, “Look, you want to know what my life goal is? Do you want to know where I see myself in ten years? You want to know what my greatest prize is, my highest calling? My highest calling, my greatest prize, my life’s aim is to stand before the throne of God, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, transformed into His likeness as a radiant, splendid, glorious child of God forever. I’m not there yet but one day, one day I will be there, and so I press on. I press on.”
Verse 15-16, “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.” He says, “Look, if you’re spiritually mature, you’re going to think this way. You’re going to be humble. You’ll acknowledge that you’re not there yet, that you’ve got a long way to go. But you’re also going to be confident. You’re going to press on for the resurrection glory that is yours in Jesus Christ. It’s the strange pairing of humility and confidence at once. This is spiritual maturity, humbly acknowledging that you’re not there, you are a work in progress, and yet confident in the work of Christ that you will one day stand in glory until you pursue it with white hot passion and everything you’ve got.
Those who think they’ve arrived, Paul would say, “Well God will set them straight.” Our job is to progress forward, holding true to the real progress we’ve made, however incomplete that is, confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion at the day of Jesus Christ because spiritual maturity, friends, is not a destination but a pursuit.
Spiritual maturity is not a destination but a pursuit. This is counterintuitive, isn’t it? When we think of maturity we think of arriving, of completion, of an end point. But Paul is saying maturity is not a destination. It is a pursuit, that this side of glory we will never actually arrive, that we are all works in progress. Oh, we’ve been justified, declared righteous in Jesus Christ by grace through faith in Him alone. Amen? And one day we will be glorified. We will be made perfect in His presence forever when we see Jesus face to face. When He returns or calls us home we will be glorified, but in the mean time, we are being sanctified. We are in process of progressively being conformed to the image of Christ.
And friends, Jesus is changing our lives. There are four key relationships, dimensions of our life that are being transformed through His power. We are being changed up, around, in, and out. Up, around, in, and out. We know God through Jesus Christ. It’s a transforming relationship. We are experiencing healing within the family of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ who love us. We are growing in love in inner transformation by the Spirit, and we are going out into the world to change our world with Jesus. To know God, experience healing, grow in love and change our world. This is what God is doing, and in all four of those dimensions, spiritual maturity is not a destination. It’s a pursuit. It’s a pursuit.
Let me just share this with you, friends. It is a spiritual red flag whenever someone postures themselves as if they’ve arrived. By definition that person is spiritually immature. Do you see that? So they’re not worth following. Follow someone else. This is The Pursuit Of Maturity, number one.
Number two: The Pattern Of Maturity. The Pattern Of Maturity. Verse 17: “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.”
He says, “Join in imitating me. Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Who is the “us”? Who’s the “us”? Well, obviously Paul. Right? This is our first person. As he says in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1, he says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
“Follow me as I follow Christ. I haven’t arrived, but you follow me because I’m in process and I’m following Christ; and so if I am following Christ, you can safely follow me.” So Paul is the first one in the “us”. Who else? Well, remember Timothy, right? Timothy’s the co-author of the letter, and so he’s certainly included in the “us”. Remember this is the same Timothy that Paul intends to send to Philippi because, chapter 2, verse 20, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.” Remember, he’s sending Timothy as one who embodies the love and life of Christ, the selflessness to which Paul is calling the Philippian believers, so he’s saying, “Look, I want you to keep your eyes on Timothy. I want you to watch his selflessness. I want you to observe his humility. I want you to imitate his genuine love. Follow Timothy as he follows Christ.”
So, follow Paul, follow Timothy, and then probably he also means Epaphroditus. Remember in chapter 2? He’s the one who is bearing the letter, carrying it to Philippi, and Paul sends him with this endorsement, chapter 2, verse 30, “He risked his life, nearly dying in service to you and to Christ.” He says, “Keep your eyes on people like Epaphroditus. Honor men like him. Watch his devotion. Observe his sacrifice. Imitate his service and sacrifice. Follow Epaphroditis as he follows Christ.”
See there’s this pattern that we see all throughout Scriptures. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” So again we see what we saw a few weeks ago in chapter 2 with Timothy and Epaphroditis. It’s now repeated here with Paul himself. If we want to mature in our walk with Christ, we need to go find someone who is following Jesus and apprentice our life to the way that they live, imitate them, find someone who has that blend of humility and confidence that we talked about, someone who knows they haven’t arrived, and yet is striving for Christ with everything they’ve got. Find someone like that and keep your eyes on him, because remember, association leads to admiration, and admiration leads to imitation, and imitation leads to habituation, and habituation leads to formation. In other words, we become what we behold. We become what we behold. And spiritual maturity is less taught and more caught. Do you realize that? Spiritual maturity is less taught and more caught, which is why Paul says, “You’ve got to be so careful because there are people out there that are not worth imitating. They’ll put themselves up as someone to imitate, but you’d better not look at them because they’re not worth it.
Verses 18 and 19 again: “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.” So these people, Paul says, look, there’s lots of bad examples out there. There’s lots of people that posture themselves as religious leaders, worthy of imitation, and you’d better not pay attention to them. Instead of following the way of the cross, these are people following their own way. Instead of pursuing joy in Christ in His resurrection life, they live for the temporary pleasures of this world here and now. Instead of glorying in all that is going to come to those who are children of God in Jesus Christ in the future, they live for this world, which is a shame in the end.
Friends, imitation is key to maturation. Imitation is key to maturation. And so Paul’s warning is “Be ever so careful who you keep your eyes on” because we become what we behold. In fact, this has huge implications for our social media use, our cable news habits, if we will but heed it. Huge.
So we have The Pursuit Of Maturity, The Pattern Of Maturity, now finally The Prospect Of Maturity. The Prospect Of Maturity. “There are those,” Paul says, “who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ, whose minds are set on earthly things.” “But (verse 20) 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.” He says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” It is hard to put into words just how radical this statement is.
Philippi had the rare distinction in the ancient world of being one of the official Roman colonies, one of the very few, and so to be born in Philippi was the equivalent of being born in the capital city of Rome itself. In other words, the citizens of Philippi were granted full Roman citizenship with all the rights and privileges thereof. In many ways the reason for this was that Philippi was home to a lot of retired military officers of the Roman Empire. It was a very patriotic city. They hailed Caesar who had declared himself the Savior of Rome, the lord of all the earth, who had subjected by his power all the known world to his rule. Philippi lived, breathed, and bled Roman Empire.
Now, go back and read these verses again. “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.” We see what’s happening here. This is a highly charged sentence here. The Gospel is reordering the allegiance of the hearts of the Philippian believers. Their citizenship in Rome used to be their greatest pride and joy, but now in the Gospel it has become secondary to their citizenship which is in heaven. Do you see that?
Their allegiance used to be to Caesar who proclaimed himself savior and lord of the empire, but their allegiance now is to their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. They used to bow before the one who had subjected all the known world to his rule and power, and now they bow before the One whose power enables Him to subject all things to Himself, not by conquest, you see, but by His self-sacrificing humility and utter sense of love.
Friends, we are citizens of heaven and we are awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will return and transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body forever. One day we will attain the resurrection of the dead. We will reach the goal, the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It will be ours forever. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, face to face, and we will become what we behold. Do you see this? (applause)
Friends, the Philippians loved the Roman Empire. They loved it! They fought and bled and died for her glory, but the Gospel changes everything. Their heavenly citizenship, you see, now outranks their Roman citizenship. Their heavenly Lord and Savior outranks their earthly lord and savior. Remember Paul had said, “Join in imitating me. Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Our minds are not fixed on earthly things. No, we know our citizenship is in heaven, which means spiritual maturity is living here while belonging there. Spiritual maturity is living here while belonging there.
We reside as citizens of Earth but we belong to the citizenship of heaven because we, as the people of God, friends, are like an embassy. We are an embassy. You know an embassy. There are embassies here (right?) in our country. It’s a little space but it is not under the jurisdiction of our country. It’s under the jurisdiction of a far-off land, of another rule. The church is, in a sense, an embassy, an embassy of heaven on Earth. We’re ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven, which means that we are fully here, and yet faithfully there. Fully here and yet faithfully there. We are in the world, but not of the world.
To be citizens of heaven means that we avoid two equal but opposite errors that are so prone to happen in the church. The first error is syncretism. Syncretism. This is the chameleon posture. This is when you try to go with the flow of the culture. We compromise little by little and we slowly become just like everyone else around us, and just sort of blend in. This is the history of theological liberalism, of so many progressive evangelical bloggers, or the Exvangelical Movement. We find that the teachings of Jesus are too at odds with the dominant popular cultural views, and so seek to accommodate them, reinterpret them, reinvent, and eventually are disloyal to the teachings of Jesus. This is a huge danger in our world, especially when we are young and we’re trying so desperately to fit in, and it’s a slow fade before we realize what’s happened, we find ourselves just like everyone else, seduced by the tyranny of majority opinion. Syncretism - we can’t go there.
The other error is separatism. Separatism. This is the turtle posture. It sort of pulls in and isolates itself in self-protection, hoping the big, bad world will go away. This is the tendency of conservative churches. We have a tendency to form a Christian bubble, and we have our Christian music, and our Christian movies, and our Christian dentists, and our Christian mechanics, and our Christian coffee shops, and our Christian schools, and we create a world within a world without any real contact with the outside world.
So syncretism doesn’t work because it maintains presence but without holiness; and separatism maintains holiness but loses presence. You see this. But there is a better way. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s to live as citizens of Earth while belonging to the citizenship of heaven, to be in the world but not of the world. It is the way of the Incarnation, the Incarnation. That’s what Jesus showed us. It’s what He did for us.
When Jesus came to this world, He became human in every way, didn’t He? He became one with us, fully present, God in the flesh. And He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He was fully present, fully proximate, and yet He never gave up His holiness, did He? Fully God, utterly holy and divine, He never lost His purity. See, Jesus did not do syncretism where He blended in and lost His holiness, nor did He separate out where He preserved His holiness at the cost of being with us. No, He gave us an incarnation. He was present and holy at once. And friends, this is the path of what it means to be citizens of heaven and citizens of Earth. It is a risk-laden choice to maintain strong ranks with the world around us, while staying true to our identity as a holy people of God. It is the call to be in the world but not of the world, to be salt and light, to use Jesus’ language. Salt that loses its saltiness is useless, but it needs to maintain its saltiness while being scattered into the decaying world around it.
Light cannot lose its light. It needs to maintain its purity, but it is not to be hidden and sequestered and concealed. It is to be shining into the darkness. We are to let our little lights shine. This is the call to live as fully-engaged citizens of Earth whose real, true and ultimate home and allegiance belong to the citizenship of heaven. “This is how spiritually mature people live,” Paul says, “who don’t set their minds on earthly things. They set their hope on heaven itself. They know their citizenship is in heaven.”
Let me speak very directly to our world right now. Friends, as much as we love our nation, our citizenship is in heaven. Amen? We await a Savior and Lord from there. We do not live for Rome. We do not live for America. We live for the kingdom of heaven. (applause)
We do not hope in the coming of Caesar. These are military guys. They looked forward to the day when Caesar came to the battlefield with the rest of the troops, and they won the day. We do not hope for the coming of Caesar. We do not hope for the coming of our favorite politician. We hope in the coming of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who will return (applause) and transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like Him in glory, and by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. This is what we wait for.
Chapter 4, verse 1, “Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
“Stand firm thus in the Lord.” What is the “thus” in this way? What way, Paul? In the way of spiritual maturity that recognizes that spiritual maturity is not a destination, but a pursuit. It is filled with humility about our limited progress and confidence about the pursuit of all that we have in Jesus Christ, to know that spiritual maturity is less caught and more taught, and so we imitate the godly examples that God has given to us, following their lead and setting an example for those who are following after us. We live here knowing we belong there, living as citizens of heaven, and yet fully present and holy wherever we go, allowing the Gospel to reorder the allegiance of our hearts, to shape our politics, and we fix our hope on our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, our soon and coming King.
So the takeaway is simple: Brothers and sisters, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. Stand firm. Jesus is coming back soon.
Would you pray with me?
Father, teach us to follow you, to follow Christ, to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. Teach us to run after you with all that we have. Nothing matters more than becoming like Christ. This is the only glory that lasts. This is the only identity that keeps. This is the only hope that endures. Help us to look to you. Clear our minds from all the distractions, from all the competing allegiances, from all the things we could get ourselves wrapped up in. Father, fill our hearts and minds with the beauty of who you are, and what you are doing in the world, and the upward call that you have designed for us and called us toward, that we might be in glory with Christ forever in His image and glory. He’s coming back and He will take us to Himself. He is the victorious one. We’re in a battle here on Earth, soldiers in the kingdom of heaven, fighting as citizens of heaven on Earth, an embassy for you, and we cannot wait for the day when heaven will open up and our Savior and Lord, the Emperor of the universe, will come in glory [with] reinforcements to bring the victory to our lives. And we will be swept up in glory forever. We await you, Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to look for your coming. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.