A Worthy Ambition (Part Three)

In his letter to the first century church in Philippi, Paul described the kind of people we should seek to emulate if we are serious disciples of Jesus Christ. In sum, Paul wrote that he tried to live his own life in a way that would be worthy of our emulation. Here’s what he said in Philippians 4:9—

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.

That instruction simply echoes what he had earlier written, even more succinctly, to the Corinthians:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)

But Paul isn’t here with us in the flesh. So, to assist us in patterning our lives after him, Paul told us what to do. Here’s what he wrote in Philippians 3:17.

 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

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!

In my last post, I briefly discussed the first three of these characteristics. They are—

1. We should follow the example of people who are concerned about the welfare of others more than the advancement of their own interests.

2. We should follow the example of those who have proven themselves through hardship.

3. We should follow the example of those who “glory in Christ Jesus” and not in themselves.

In this post, I want to consider the final two characteristics we should look for in people whose lives we want to emulate and whose leadership we want to follow.

Number four, we should follow the example of people who are “pressing on” (that is, growing spiritually), not those who are living on past experience.

Here’s the way Paul put it in Philippians 3:10-16.

10 that I may know Him (Jesus Christ) and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.

Paul had been miraculously converted on the Damascus road (Acts 9), had worked miracles in the power of Christ, had even been taken up into the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12).  He could have spent his life just “giving his testimony.”  But he was never satisfied to rely on past experiences or to rest on past accomplishments.

I’m thinking right now of a pastor I know, whom I have heard preach many times.  He believes in the power of God and the personal reality of Jesus Christ.  But the examples he draws on to illustrate his own experience with that power and his own encounter with that reality all happened years ago.  I’ve heard the same three or four stories countless times, and I want to say to him, “Yes, but what has God done for you lately.”

Paul says, in effect, “When you’re looking for an example to follow, look for somebody whose experience with God is fresh and growing.  Look for somebody whose face, like that of Moses when he came down from Sinai, is still glowing the residual effects of having been with Jesus.”

Finally, we should follow the example of people who live like they are citizens of heaven, not those whose minds are preoccupied with “earthly things.”

Or, as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:17-21—

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Paul was a legal citizen of the Roman empire, and he put that citizenship to good use in the cause of Christ.  But, preeminently, he was a citizen of heaven, a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  And we know that the values and priorities of heaven are the same as those in the Kingdom of God on earth since Jesus Himself said, “When you pray, say ‘Our Father… may Your Kingdom come, and may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul wrote, in effect, “When you are looking for an example to follow, look for somebody whose life reflects the values of the Kingdom of God. Somebody who, although he (or she) is at home on this earth, knows that his (or her) real and most important citizenship is in heaven.

Look for somebody who is committed to the idea that those principles which govern life in the very presence of God in heaven should be, as much as possible, translated into the way we live life in the here and now.  Look for somebody who is homesick for heaven, not because he wants to escape this “mortal coil,” but because he longs to experience the reality of Christ’s presence in his life right now… in his family… in his church.

So, there we have it.  Five characteristics to look for in people whose lives we choose to emulate… whose example we choose to follow… whose worthy ambition we choose to make our own.

We should follow the example of those…

  1. Who are concerned about the welfare of others more than the advancement of their own interests.
  2. Who have proven themselves through hardship.
  3. Who “glory in Christ Jesus” and not in themselves.
  4. Who are “pressing on” (growing spiritually), not living on past experience.
  5. Who live like they are citizens of heaven, not those whose minds are preoccupied with “earthly things.”

All this instruction about following good examples is not merely for our own individual benefit.  It is as much, if not more, to encourage us to live lives that are, themselves, worthy of being emulated. It should stir up our desire to be examples that those who come after us can follow as they pursue the worthy ambition of “knowing Christ.”

Or, in the words of that great song by Steve Green—

We’re pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us line the way.
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary—
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace.

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race not only for the prize.
But as those who’ve gone before us, let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone,
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.

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