In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul old us what constituted his highest goal in life, his most noble and worthy ambition. Here’s how he sid it in verse 10.
That I may know Him (Christ Jesus) and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
That’s the goal we should pursue, as well. Paul’s worthy ambition should become ours, since, in Philippians 4:9, he told us to emulate him. But Paul isn’t here with us in the flesh. So, to assist us in following his example, Paul has told us what to do:
3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
That is, we are to follow people who look like Paul. He was willing to set himself up as a pattern by which the quality of our “models” can be measured.
And so, in an extended passage (Philippians 2:19-3:21), Paul described at least five categories of people we should try to be like. Five characteristics which should mark the people we emulate, especially our leaders!
First of all, we should follow the example of people who are concerned about the welfare of others more than the advancement of their own interests.
Here’s the way he put it in 2:19-21.
19 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.
We all know people in both of these categories—those whose lives are devoted to others and those whose every move is calculated to further their own interests. Paul’s counsel–“Be like the first group, not like the second.”
Second, we should follow the example of those who have proven themselves through hardship.
This is how he said it in 2:22-30.
22 But you know of his (Timothy’s) proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26 because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
Paul’s point is that Epaphroditus became ill as a result of doing something of spiritual service (v. 30), i.e. carrying out what the Philippians wanted to do for Paul but, for some reason, could not.
When we choose leaders to follow—people to emulate—look for those with battle scars. Follow the example of those who show signs of being knocked around a bit for the work of Christ and who have suffered real pain for the sake of the kingdom.
The operative terms here are “for the work of Christ” and “for the sake of the kingdom.” Many “leaders” show battle scars and talk about the pain they have suffered. Most of those scars have come from fights they have started, however, and most of their pain is self-inflicted.
I remember hearing a prominent pastor once complain about how he was being challenged by people who disagreed with him on a particular matter. “I guess I shouldn’t complain,” he told me. “After all, they persecuted Jesus too.”
“Yes,” I thought (and should have said). “But there is one difference. Jesus was persecuted because He pointed out ‘their’ hypocrisy. You are being ‘persecuted’ because you are an obnoxious jerk.”
So, the second category of people (especially leaders) we should emulate are those who have suffered for the sake of the kingdom. Those whose dedication to the cause of Christ has actually cost them something.
Third, we should follow the example of those who “glory in Christ Jesus” and not in themselves.
Paul described this category of people we should emulate in 3:1-9.
3 1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
This is an especially important point for Paul, since (in 3:1) he noted that he was (apparently) repeating, in writing, something that he had previously emphasized when he was with them in person. Then, in 3:2 he told them three times to “beware“… of “dogs”, of “evil workers,” and of “the false circumcision.”
This is stern language, and these are all terms that refer to the influence and effects of false teachers—people who misinterpret and misrepresent the genuine Gospel of Christ.
Remember, Paul’s ultimate ambition (and ours) was “to know Christ…” (3:10). And although it is clear, from the particular word that Paul used in that statement, that this is a knowledge which comes from experience, right teaching (doctrine) is still vital to that knowledge.
So Paul, ever the pastor at heart, did the work of guarding and protecting his “flock” by reminding them that false teachers and false teaching impede our progress toward a full and complete “knowledge of Christ.”
Nothing distinguishes truth from error more than the way the teacher “lifts up Jesus.” “When you’re looking for an example to follow,” Paul wrote, “follow the person who is more interested in exalting Christ than in promoting himself or his pedigree.”
And again remember—these words came from a man whose own pedigree was flawless, but altogether inadequate and irrelevant by comparison to the One whose character he wanted to emulate.
There are two more characteristics we should look for in the people whom we follow. I’ll address them in the next post. Thanks for reading, and as always…
Soli Deo Gloria