The first lesson from our text on how to live as a citizens of heaven is to Imitate Model Citizens.
WE MUST IMITATE PAUL
Our ultimate model is Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5; 1 Cor. 11:1). But the excuse of many is that they are disadvantaged because Jesus is God. He is perfect. He cannot sin. We cannot really imitate him 100% because we are sinners and we are imperfect. So okay, in this text we have someone who struggles with sin as much as you do. We have someone who is imperfect as much as we are. He calls himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim.1:16). He says that nothing good lives in his sinful nature (Rom. 7:18). We have just eradicated the mismatch!
What are the things in Paul that we should imitate? Well, there are many things and aspects in his life that are worthy of imitation. But the problem is I do not have the time nor the skill to go through all the biblical data on Paul. So we have to limit our self to the immediate context of our text.
Verses 12-14: 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
To understand this, we have to be aware that Paul is using one of his favorite imageries: sports specifically running in a race. So we have to leave the citizenship imagery for a while and follow Paul's imagery from sports.
He runs with maximum effort
I surveyed the lexicons for the definition of the word translated as press on in verse 12.
BDAG defines it as: "to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective"
Louw & Nida defines it as: "to follow with haste, and presumably with intensity of effort, in order to catch up with, for friendly or hostile purpose"
I also check the word translated as “straining toward” in verse 13.
Louw & Nida: “In Php 3.13 is used figuratively to suggest intense effort as well as firm purpose”.
BDAG: “to exert oneself to the uttermost”
What’s common in these two words is maximum effort. He is very determined to win.
I Cor. 9:26-27 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave …
The Apostle had two events in mind from the Isthmian games: running & boxing.
How does he run? Not aimlessly/not uncertainly. He has a clear purpose and that is to win.
How does he fight? Not a man beating the air; not shadow boxing. In every punch he throws, he has a clear target.
"I beat my body and make it my slave" …. We must make this body a slave or else this body will enslave us. This body does not like pain. This body doesn’t like training. What this body wants is comfort.
We love sports heroes who give their all. Have you watched a boxing match where a fighter does nothing but move away from his opponent from round 1 to 12? Thirty six minutes of running away. He rarely punches. All he wants is the last sound of the bell. On the contrary, there are fighters who are bathing with their own blood, with one eye swollen and yet continues to attack as a warrior and in the end manages to secure a split decision.
You love players who are deprived of substitution by their coaches from 1st quarter onwards. Exhausted, yet when they hear the “last 2 minutes” announcement, they are renewed with fresh strength. You love those who would leap towards the benches even if they know they will be hurt just to save a ball out from being out of bounds.
Copying Paul's Mindset
That is how Paul plays. That is his mindset. All his strength is invested in one goal—that is the heavenly call. So in verse 15 he urges his readers to have the same mindset: "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things".(NIV). This mindset must not be for Paul alone but for every mature Christian. This is a call to imitate him in his principles. And in verse 17, he repeats his call to everybody to imitate him: "Join with others in following my example" (NIV). So the next time you read the Pauline letters or even the data in Acts, don’t just admire the man— we should imitate the man. Take note of his prayers, his priorities, his work ethic, even his theology. What makes him glad? What makes him cry? What makes him mad?
We must look closely at the life of Paul so that we could likewise say at the end of our lives: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:6-7)
OTHER MEN WORTHY OF IMITATION
“and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (verse 17).
Earlier in this epistle, Paul mentioned two other men who also serve as models in the faith.
Timothy in Phil.2:19-22: "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel."
Timothy in 1 Cor. 4:16-17: "Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."
Epaphroditus in Phil 2:29-30: "Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me."
When you find a few good men
Verse 17 says that we should take note of those who excel in the Christian life. We should observe their lives carefully for the purpose of following their footsteps.
Hebrews 13:17: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
Though they are not many, God by his grace provided enough of them.The writer of Hebrews spent some time recalling the lives of some of the Old Testament saints in chapter 11. By the time he arrives at verse 32, he says "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets..."
Likewise, I do not have enough time for this blog to write about the faith of Polycarp, Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, B.B.Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Walter Martin and other great saints in the history of Christianity.
Though we don't seek intercession from the dead as Roman Catholics do, we do treasure the contributions of those who walked in faith in ages past. The lives and the faith of those who have walk before us must inspire us to run, to persevere and to fix our eyes on Jesus.
BECOMING MODELS OURSELVES
1 Thess. 1:6-7: "You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia."
The text we read indicates that the ordinary folks in Thessalonica are models too.As they have imitated Paul’s gang, they became a model for other churches. I'm so glad to hear that. That means that we don't have to be in the league of the Spiritual elite in order to become models. Ordinary folks like us can live the Christian life and be models for others too.
The best thing about this race is that we are not competing to eliminate each other. Rather, someone’s good performance serves as an inspiration for others to persevere. When you excel in your Christian walk, you don’t only bring benefit upon yourself. Others will be encouraged and be inspired by of your Christian walk. And in that way you help others. Brethren, let us help one another by fixing our eyes upon Christ.
MINISTERING TO THE FUTURE GENERATIONS
The last time I checked, our life expectancy as Filipinos, is 70 years. Some of us may die earlier.
As much as possible we want to be with our kids. As much as possible we want to minister for a long time. But life is very short.
Sometimes by faith, I ask the Lord for things that require long term answers. But honestly, because of my physical condition, I don’t expect that I would last long. My life's longevity is in question.
"by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead" (Hebrews 11:4)
This verse is precious because it reveals that by living a life of faith, we can still minister to future generations.
John Macarthur comments on this verse: "The primary meaning of Hebrews 11:4, however, has to do with Abel’s speaking to later generations of believers and potential believers."
Leon Morris comments: "He is dead, but his faith is a living voice"
Let them say:”Nang buhay pa si Tatay, ganito yung pananampalataya niya. Gusto ko siang tularan."
Let them say: "Nang buhay pa si Ninang, ganito siya mamuhay, gusto ko siyang tularan."
>Nang buhay pa si Lolo, ganito yung paninindigan niya, kaya ganito rin ako.
By living as citizens of heaven today, we shall inspire others, even the generations not yet born.
Let us imitate model citizens of the kingdom, and be models for others too.