What is the Meaning of Philippians 3.17-21

“Imitate the Godly”

Philippians 3:17-4:1

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Philippians 3.17-21

Philippians 3. You stand at a fork on a well worn path. To the right is a rugged path leading up to a majestic but very difficult mountain; you can see it off in the distance. To the left is an easy, well-worn path …but the discerning eye can see that it leads to a cliff.

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What is striking is the people filing past you as you consider which way to go. Millions scramble past you on the easy path. There is no climb, it’s straight and easy on the body.

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However, few are on the way to the majestic mountain. It’s difficult and seems too good to be true. Your guidebook says that the difficult path leads to everlasting joy and the easy path toward the cliff leads to destruction.

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For you, it’s a no brainer. You pick the difficult path, though there are few who are on it. But along the way, you get discouraged. It is difficult; you can’t seem to get your bearings and you too easily fall off the path.

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And that’s when you realize that the King of this country is standing at the top of the mountain saying, “Here is the top! Find your way here!” That’s a little more encouraging!

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But even though you have a map, it’s very difficult terrain to navigate. You think to yourself, “I’m all the way down here.” “How am I supposed to get up there?” And just then, a citizen of this mountain approaches and says, “Follow me, I’ll lead you there. Just do what I do, step where I step.”

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How much easier your way is now!

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That’s how it is with life. We see millions heading down the path of destruction down the easy path toward the cliff. There are few on the path up the difficult and majestic mountain of life in Christ.

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On this path we see Christ at the top of the mountain, beckoning us to be like him! And at times we can become discouraged because we sin and fall off the path so easily.

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But the Christian life is not simply having our eyes on Christ to be like him; it is also observing those who follow Him. Carefully observing those who follow Him!

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And either you’ll follow people who are going up the mountain or you’re following people who are going over the cliff.

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That’s Paul’s point in Philippians 3:17-4:1 … let’s read it.

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Philippians 3:17–4:1 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. 1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.

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Paul says verse 17, “follow my example.” Paul’s on his way up the mountain toward Christlikeness, too! Follow him up the mountain. You say, “But that’s quite a challenge. I mean, he’s the great apostle Paul!” Ok, Paul says verse 17, “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Follow me and follow those who follow me!

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Well, what example in particular are we to follow? That’s back into verse 12…

Philippians 3:12–17 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 [or complete], 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. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

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He’s reaching forward toward being like Christ. That’s his goal, his prize in life!

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You need to follow Paul who follows Christ and follow Christians follow Paul…follow Christians who follow Paul who follows Christ …be like Paul in his pursuit of living like Christ lived. Be like those who live like Paul lived.

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How do you know whom to follow? Well, what is their behavior? Their behaviour is evidence of what spiritual path they’re on, whether up the mountain toward Christ, or with the masses of humanity toward the cliff.

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Your behaviour is the evidence of your spiritual citizenship so follow those of heavenly citizenship.

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There are two paths in life: one walks up the mountain toward the celestial city; the other toward the cliff of eternal destruction. Which path are you on? I’m preaching this morning that you urgently need to “Imitate the godly.” If you imitate the godly, you’ll give evidence that you’re headed down the right path. Imitation of godliness is one way to grow in being like Christ.

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I. Imitate the godly Christian

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A. Follow Paul

First, follow Paul. He says verse 17, “brethren, join in following my example.”

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To join in following… Is the word to imitate together, or mimic.

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This is not the only time Paul calls upon God’s people to imitate him. 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:1 he exhorts you, “be imitators of me”

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Also again in this very letter, he says Philippians 4:9 he says, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Be like Paul!

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Not just Paul, but leaders in the church are to be examples to the flock too… Because we’re all like sheep and we all blindly follow someone. Leaders like myself are to be examples for you to follow.

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1 Peter 5:3 … Elders are not to “lord it over those allotted to their charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”

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The same with 1 Timothy 4:12 the pastor, like Timothy, is to “show himself an example of those who believe.” So, to the degree that you see Paul and Christ in your pastor, follow him.

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Why should leaders be examples and why should we follow there are godly examples? Because we all learn by imitating!

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ILL: When I was growing up, I loved professional basketball. As the commercial went, everyone wanted to be like Mike… Michael Jordan. To try to be like him, I’d watch him and go out and try to do his moves.

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And sure enough, I wasn’t the only one. A generation of ball players were doing the same thing and when they made it to the NBA, you could see Jordan in them.

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They learned by watching and imitating the master.

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Just like that, watch and imitate godly men and women! Caleb’s faith in Joshua 14 or young David’s courage and trust in God in 1 Samuel 17 or Job’s endurance in the book of Job as described in James 5.

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And imitate Paul! Verse 13 … Watch Paul in the book of Acts and see his resolve of the “one thing” that he does… Forgetting what lies behind pressing on straining forward to what lies ahead… The upward call of God in Christ.

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Follow Paul or he says, “observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Follow those who follow someone who’s following Paul who’s leading us toward Christ-likeness!

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ILL: It’s like we’re all in a rope team hiking up the mountain toward Christ! Christ is at the top, Paul leads our team and roped to him are godly pastors, elders, deacons, and leaders as well as every other Christian. Are you following behind someone who’s following Paul toward Christ?

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If the men and women in our church passionately pursue Christ, the young in Christ will follow,…many of them, if encouraged to imitate the godly, will passionately pursue Christ. If we expose them to the godly influences and lift up the ideals of the Christian life in our homes, the next generation of believers will rise to that standard.

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Set a good example in Bible reading and prayer, pursuing godliness, hatred of sin and stiff arm the world! If by your actions you are demonstrating that this world is all there is, your children and other believers will follow you.

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TRANS: But the problem is that there are too many godless examples! So, why should you be diligent to imitate godly behaviour? The first reason why we should imitate the godly is because there are so many false Christian examples to follow who, frankly, are on their way to hell! Don’t be in danger of following hell-bound so-called Christians!

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II. Because there are many false Christian examples

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Philippians 3:18–19 18 [why imitate godly examples? For…because] many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

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EXP: Who is Paul talking about? “For many walk or many live their lives….I tell you even weeping.” It’s sad! Grievous! Heart-breaking! They don’t walk like Paul walked; they don’t live like he lived at all; evidently, they left the sheepfold. These weren’t people Paul was unfamiliar with; he knew them and their apostasy. Though they once lived as Christians, they are now enemies of the cross. They still confess Christ, but they have a behaviour that demonstrates that they aren’t Christian.

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EXP: He says that they are “enemies of the cross.” They are enemies of the atonement. They are enemies of the work that Christ did on the cross. Earlier in the chapter, Paul was concerned to discredit the Judaizers. They were the legalists. They said they trusted Jesus, but they added doing good things or obeying God’s law to faith which they believed helped them to be saved because Jesus’ work was not enough. That’s the legalists.

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On the other side of that, however, you have what’s called the antinomians. They are they who live as without any law. Legalists think that doing good works helps save them; antinomians think there is no reason for good works at all! They live however they want to, thinking “since Jesus paid it all and I don’t contribute to my own salvation, why live godly?” And it’s the antinomians, those who live however they want, that are in focus here. Paul rebukes them in Romans 6, “Shall we continue living in sin so that when we sin, grace may increase? Because it will, right? Paul says… may it never be! How shall we, who died to sin, still live in it?” If you died to sin, you don’t live in it! You’re dead to it!

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The legalists are enemies of cross, those who think that their righteousness plus Christ equals salvation; they are enemies of the cross.

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Also the antinomians are enemies of the cross. They are they think that since Christ did it all, that they then can live however they want and live in sin. They are enemies of the cross, too.

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Paul is talking about the antinomians in this passage.

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James calls them out in James 4:4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

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Jude has no mercy for them either, when he says in Jude 1:4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

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They deny him by their behaviour. Don’t follow them! They are enemies of the cross!

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EXP: “Their end is destruction!”

The place where they’re headed is the cliff! The path that they are on leads to the cliff, the pit! It’s an eternal punishment that does not end. It is the place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, the furnace of eternal fire… On that day Jesus will deal out retribution to those who do not know God and do not obey his gospel and will pay them the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power.

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The smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever.

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This is the end for those who say they are Christians… And call Jesus “Lord” but who by their works they deny him, turning God’s grace into licentiousness, immorality and loose living.

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So make no mistake: the bad tree produces the bad apple which spoils the bunch. The blind will lead the blind and they will both fall over the eternal cliff!

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TRANS: Speaking of food, these so-called Christians god is their appetite.

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god is their appetite: lit. Their god is their stomach. The word appetite is literally the word belly or stomach. It is used of the womb or the physical stomach many times and it is used symbolically here and in Ro. 16:18 to refer to the self centered, those who appeal to and live for the pleasures of this world.

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Romans 16:17–18 17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

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Their speech betrays there real intentions … but their speech deceives the hearts of the unsuspecting. Smooth and flattering speech deceives people.

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ILL: The largest churches today have preachers who teach the unsuspecting to live for health and wealth and prosperity, physical material prosperity; they teach that so-called Christians should have large bank accounts, that God doesn’t want them to be poor and that their lives should be filled with pleasure, and material possessions. And so you have so-called Christians who learn to fulfill their appetites whether for food, money, immorality, clothing, or material things and they seek to get more and more simply because they feel like it. And so-called Christians teach others to do the same.

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Micah 3:11–12 comments on leaders like this …11 Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price and her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the Lord saying, “Is not the Lord in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.” 12 Therefore, on account of you Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.

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Their end is destruction! But this isn’t surprising, because Paul told us that in the last times teachers will come who will be …2 Timothy 3:4 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

And Peter doesn’t hide it from us…

2 Peter 2:1–3 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

2 Corinthians 11:15 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

Jude 12–13 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

But they will sound so smooth and flattering the Bible says…., “Become a better you” “discover the champion in you” … that’s flattering and smooth and such teaching leads people toward the cliff of eternal destruction!

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TRANS: Next, Paul says in Philippians 3:19 … they

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glory in their shame: They glory in their shame … They boast in the sin that should make them be ashamed of themselves.

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In the spirit of Romans 1:32 they know the commandments of God that those who practice such sins of greed and sensuality are worthy of death but they not only do the same thing but they give hearty approval to those who practice them.

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Hearty approval…they boast in their sin.

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ILL: We’re surrounded with so-called Christians who are like this. The Church of England has signaled support for gay marriage. Just this year they rejected a report which would have stated that marriage is only between a man and a woman. And the reason for doing so is that they wanted to have a more welcoming attitude toward homosexuals.

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And of course many, many so-called Christian denominations are there like the United Church or are headed this way. Why?

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They glory in their shame and they are leading people straight to hell! And they…

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set mind on earthly things: they are men and women of this world. They’re mind set on this earth is revealed in their words and actions. You’ll know them by their fruit; they speak their mind and their actions betray them.

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Many of these so-called Christian leaders today divorce their spouse and remarry and stay in the ministry. They are not good examples!

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ILL: Don’t follow those who don’t have a good example of following and growing like Paul did! But as sheep, we all too easily follow the bad examples!

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“First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 other sheep followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported.

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In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those sheep who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned, Aksam reported.

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“There’s nothing we can do. They’re all wasted,” said a member of one of 26 families whose sheep were grazing together in the herd.

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The estimated loss to families in the town of Gevas, located in Van province in eastern Turkey, tops $100,000, a significant amount of money in a country where average GDP per head is around $2,700.”[1] The sheep just followed the sheep in front of them, and did what they did!

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APP: We can’t afford more casualties! Follow Christian examples, not so-called Christians whose end is destruction. Get your life on track with Christ, with Paul, and with godly … godly leaders who speak like Paul and live like Paul, lest you demonstrate you’re not really a Christian.

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TRANS: So why follow godly Christian examples? Because your two options will lead you, either to heaven or hell. You’re following someone. Follow godly Christian examples… first, because there are soo many so-called Christian examples that are evil and wicked and that’ll lead you over the cliff into hell. And you need to be sure your life is patterned after the New Testament example, what we have in Paul as found in Scripture.

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But secondly, you need to imitate the godly because it is they who will be glorified! And you want that, right? Wicked so-called Christians glory in their shame, but righteous Christ followers who follow godly examples will receive glory … a glorified body! Those who imitate godly example set their minds above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. So-called Christians set their minds on earthly things.

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So secondly, you need to imitate the godly because it is they who will be glorified!

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III. Because heavenly citizens will be glorified

Because the godly will be glorified, follow them. If you want to be glorified and share in the glory of heaven, you need to confirm, not earn, but confirm your righteous standing by delighting in godly living and rejecting ungodliness. Trust Christ alone for salvation … but work out that salvation you already have with fear and trembling! Grow in Christ!

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Be a Christian and follow those who are pursuing Christ.

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A. We are citizens of heaven.

Follow me, Paul says, verse 20 … for/because our citizenship is in heaven.

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You want to follow us because our citizenship is in heaven! That’s where were headed! And when it’s all said and done, we’ll be glorified.

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Philippians 3:21 21 [Christ Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

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Don’t you want to follow us?

ILL: [2]By saying that true Christian citizenship is in heaven, Paul is playing on the Philippians relationship to Rome. Philippi was a Roman colony, a miniature Rome so to speak. Through what’s called the ius is Italicum, Augustus gave Philippi the highest honor possible for a colony: to be governed by Roman law. Rights of purchase, transferring property and the right to lawsuits were all part of the package deal. Citizens of Philippi were Roman citizens even though they lived 800 miles away from Rome. They had all the rights and privileges of being a Roman citizen yet they were hundreds of miles away.

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Just like that, Christians are citizens of heaven. Christians… Those who are redeemed by Christ and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, these are they who have citizenship in heaven though heaven seems so far away!

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And so that would mean that Christians are sojourners upon the earth. This world is not my home! And my life as a Christ follower and in the rope team with Paul…my life will demonstrate that this world is not my home.

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I will use the things of the world, but not abuse them and I’ll be following after holiness, imitating those who through faith inherit the promises.

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B. we wait for the King of that country.

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And the godly, those who are of heavenly citizenship, will wait for the King of this heavenly country to come.

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Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;

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Perhaps Paul is thinking that sometimes emperors would make tours of their provinces. We Christians are waiting for Jesus the King to come and visit us.

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And when he comes, what is He going to do? Verse 21 he will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of his glory.”

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In other words, when Jesus comes back he will change our bodies to be make like unto his glorious body.

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1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

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1 Corinthians 15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

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When Jesus returns, He will transform your body to made like His glorious body! Are you looking forward to that? What will that be like? We know what His glorious body was like when he was raised from the dead. God’s word tells us about it!

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When Jesus was raised from the dead, He was raised from the dead in a physical material body. Jesus said in John 20:15 to Mary, “stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side…” (John 20:27).

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Jesus’ body was not only a physical body, but it was the same body that He had before the resurrection. An angel describes Jesus in Matthew 28:5 as “having been crucified.” Jesus’ glorious body still retained the marks of his crucifixion. And you remember that in John 21:12 that after Jesus’ resurrection, none of the disciples asked Jesus, “who are you?” Because all the disciples knew that he was the Lord Jesus. They took hold of his feet, they saw him eat food, Jesus testified that he had flesh and bones.

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His body was able to be touched and felt by those around him. Jesus glorified body

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And Jesus’ resurrection body is physical, the same body He had before the resurrection, but it was a glorified body. Luke records how Jesus had the ability to disappear and reappear. You remember the two on the road to Emmaus and how their eyes were closed until the breaking of bread and at that point their eyes were opened and then it says in Luke 24:31 that he vanished from their sight.

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Literally he “became invisible from them.” The emphasis there is that he was invisible. And you remember just a while later as those disciples went off to be with the other disciples, Jesus “stood in their midst.” Clearly he reappeared.

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John tells us in John 20:19 that Jesus “came and stood in their midst” and that “the doors were shut where the disciples were.” Jesus did not simply pass through the closed door, but simply that he appeared behind the closed door.

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Somehow Jesus’ physical body was at the same time a heavenly glorified body that is imperishable and is able to defy what seems to be basic laws of physics. And so it’s no surprise then that, after His earthly ministry was completed, He ascended up into glory.

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Daniel 12:2-3 and Matthew 13:43 both teach that “THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father.” The resurrection body will have similar glory even to the sun.

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Philippians 3:21 [Christ] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory…

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Our body will be made like his glorious body. From the study of Jesus’ glorified body resurrection body in the Gospels, we can understand that when we are raised from the dead on the last day, Jesus will reunite our spirits with our physical bodies. Our present physical bodies will be glorified. We will have the ability to appear and to reappear and to carry on life in that body.

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Since Jesus was able to eat food, Revelation 22:2 makes sense. Here we learn that in the New Jerusalem there will be a tree with leaves and 12 kinds of fruits. Those leaves are for the healing of the nations and the implication is that the fruit is for the enjoyment of the inhabitants of that new Jerusalem.

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And so the blessed eternal state for the believer will be in the new Jerusalem in a new heaven and a new earth. We will have a glorified body that has the ability to disappear and reappear … yes even to ascend as Jesus did at the last moments of his ministry on earth. And to ascend like Jesus did makes sense, since we all know that the New Jerusalem is 1500 miles wide and 1500 miles long and 1500 miles tall… And what would be the point of making that city that tall if believers do not have the ability to ascend like Jesus glorious body did!

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Somebody asked can this really be? This seems so fanciful!

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Answer, yes! It is the word of the Lord!

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Philippians 3:21 [Christ Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, [how?] by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

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ARG: Do you believe that he has the power to subject all things to himself? You believe that right? You believe that He has the power to submit everything to himself right? That’s the power he is going to use to change you …you who trust in Christ and have lost your life for His sake, that’s the power He is going to use to change you and your body to be in conformity to Christ!

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ARG: Dear friend, what cannot he do? He made the first man from the dust of the earth, and to that dust we shall return. But from that dust yet again he will build up our bodies into the likeness of his glorious resurrection body!

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He’s done it before, he’ll do it again.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Philippians 3.17-21

So, follow, imitate the godly! Model your life based on theirs; we who follow Paul who follows Christ, we are the ones who are citizens of the heavenly city and who one day will be changed body and spirit into Christ’s image.

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So model their prayer lives; model their Bible habits, model their family lives, model their work ethic, their devotion to Christ, patience, love and endurance in difficulty.

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Heb. 11:13-16; I close with Thomas Boston… he wrote, “Let the heirs of the kingdom behave themselves suitably to their character and dignity. Live as having the faith and hope of this glorious kingdom: Let your lifestyle be in heaven. Let your souls delight in communion with God while you are on earth, since you look for your happiness in communion with him in heaven. Let your speech and actions savor of heaven; and in your manner of life, look like the country to which you are going.

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#360 When We All Get To Heaven

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  1. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2005-07-08-sheep-suicide_x.htm

  2. NIGTC, Message commentary

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