Some Will Fall Away

Phil 3:17–19

Series:

Philippians

Bible References

Phil 3:17–19

Sermon Notes

Some Will Fall Away, 8.3.20

Introduction

During my childhood, I had certain spiritual experiences that really shaped my theology and who I am today. The story begins at the church I grew up at in Brandon, FL—Bell Shoals Baptist Church. The setting was an event our youth ministry would put on every year. It was called, “Straight Up Weekend.” I think I was in middle school at the time, so maybe I was 12. “Straight Up Weekend” was a lot of fun. The youth of the church would spend Friday and Saturday nights at someone’s house, along with all of their classmates. We would attend worship services with singing and preaching. On this specific Saturday night, it was almost like a revival broke out. Everyone—myself and all of my friends—were crying and weeping over our sins. In that moment, we all wanted to live for Jesus. This went on for like over an hour. There was confession of sin and the praising of God. It was like a revival. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life since then.

Fast forward to today, many of my friends who I remember weeping and confessing their sins are no longer waking with the Lord. Some of them might claim the name of Christ, but there is no evidence there of a relationship with Christ. Others completely reject the name of Christ.

What happened from point A (this specific night at “Straight Up Weekend”) to point B (today)? What happened? What happened was that these people have fallen away from the faith. Whether because of their rejection of biblical teaching or their explicit rejection of the faith, some people do not persevere. Some people fall away.

What happened was what was described in the passage that Pastor Jesse just read. Mark 4:5–6:

Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.

Jesus spoke of it in his day, I’ve witnessed it my life, and I imagine that you, too, have seen this reality. I know that I’ve had conversation with some of you about this topic, and you have mentioned to me that you’ve seen this happened and you’ve really struggled understanding this issue. Sooner or later, we will all see examples of this. This is a reality that has happened and will continue to happen until our Lord returns.

As a church, as Christians we need to be prepared so that this does not happen to us. Any of us could fall away, dear friend. Any of us could. Therefore, we must head what the Word of God says to us so that we do not fall away. The goal of my sermon this morning is the help you in your perseverance by providing you points of application so that you might not fall away. We might think of this morning’s sermon considering the common maxim, “An ounce of preventions is worth a pound of cure.” I will give you three points of application for you to apply in your life so that you stay faithful to Jesus Christ.

Let us go ahead and turn to the passage that we will study this morning. The passage is Phil 3:17–19. Paul says this,

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.

For each verse, I will have one point. So, there are three verses, and there are three points.

Emphasize Godly Role Models

In order to stay faithful to the Lord, in order for us as a church to persevere individually and corporately, we must first “emphasize godly role models.” This is my first point this morning. Emphasize godly role models. I get this point from v. 17.

Looking at the passage again, Paul says,

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Imitation

Paul gives two commands here in this passage. The first is,

Join in imitating me.

Imitation is a central NT motif for understanding the Christian life. The purpose of the Christian life is to imitate Jesus. If you want to know how you should live your life, all you need to do is to follow Jesus. Simple in theory, though difficult in application. Jesus says in Matt 16:24,

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

What Jesus is talking about here is imitation.

Imitation goes beyond Jesus, though. As we see in this passage, it extends to the Apostle Paul. Paul commands (this is a command) the Philippians to imitate him, to follow him.

Nuance

This notion of imitation, though, is not total. Paul can and did sin and make mistakes. As he already alluded to in 3:12, Paul is not perfect. Paul is still a work in progress. There is still much more work that Paul realizes God must do in Paul’s life. Paul knows that. What this means for imitation is that the imitation is not total. The Philippians are not commanded to follow Paul in everything Paul does.

Further, there are certain aspects about Paul that we should not try to imitate. For example, it is said in early church history that Paul was short and bald—something of a mixture between Pastor Jesse and me.

Rather, they are to follow Paul in accordance with the degree to which Paul follows Christ. That’s the idea. God doesn’t want you to be someone else’s clone. (This is what I argue in this week’s FP&P. Have a look at that for more discussion on this matter.)

Keep Your Eyes On

The second command that Paul gives in v. 17 is this,

Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

What does this mean? Paul is saying this. “Keep a close watch, watch carefully those who live like we do.” The idea to look intently at, focus on, notice, pay careful attention to.

An illustration of this comes from our family’s puppy, Paws. Paws is about 6 months old. He’s a black lab. A very hyper and rambunctious dog. I tell you what, though, when I get his food out or his dog treats out, I have his full attention. He’s not looking at anything other than the food. The way my dog is with his food is how we should be with godly examples. That’s what Paul is saying.

Those Who Walk

Paul broadens the scope of imitation to include people other than just himself. He says, “Focus on anyone who walks according the godly example you see in us.

A quick note about the “us” at the of v. 17. The “us” likely refers to both Paul and Timothy. If you look at Phil 1:1, Paul says,

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus

Paul is saying in v. 17, “Keep your focus on those who walk according to the model of godliness you have in us.”

Application

Verse 17 is about having godly role models. Having role models is very important. We all need to have those who we look up to in the faith in order for us to follow. We all need this. And we need to locate those people, find them, and study their lives to see how we might follow Christ better. The most obvious role model we should have would be the Apostle Paul. Paul commands us to imitate him. We have to study his life, his writings to see how we should live. It’s not just Paul who we should study, though. Anyone who follows the pattern of godliness that Paul modeled we should follow. Many, many, many people who have followed the example of godliness set by Paul and Timothy are dead. Many of them are dead. Nevertheless, you can still access their lives through biographies. Reading Christian biographies should be a very important practice for every Christian. Dear friend, this is a command.

Also, all of us should seek to be this example of godliness. This point starts with the pastors/elders of the church. It starts with us. It starts with me and Jesse and the rest of the elders. We talked about this as elders this weekend at our elder retreat. It also starts with our deacons. As the leaders, you must model to the congregation what service, humility, and sacrifice look like. And then our other ministry leaders. You have a responsibility to this body to live your life in a way that you can say to others, “Follow me as a follow Christ.” We all have this responsibility. Whether to our children, our friends, our family members, etc. We should all aspire to be towards others an example.

Recognize the Temptation to Fall Away

Introduction

Now we turn to our second point. It’s this: “Recognize the temptation to falling away.” I get this point from v. 18. Look with me there. Paul says,

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Walk as Enemies

To start with the passage, I first want to tackle the identity of this group who Paul refers to here. I take it that this group were insiders within the church at one time but have now left the church and the Christian faith. I don’t think that this group is the false teachers, the Judiazers who Paul mentions in 3:2. Look with me there. Paul says,

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

I don’t think this group in 3:2 is the same group in 3:18. I don’t believe that the group in 3:18 are false teachers. Rather, I think that they are former “Christians” who no longer follow Jesus’ teaching. There are two reasons for this.

First, notice the verb “walk.” That’s a very important verb. The verb here is περιπατέω. This verb is often used by Paul to refer to how Christians should live. Here are a couple of passages that illumine that.

Look at 3:17. Paul says,

Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Romans 6:4 says,

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Galatians 5:16 reads,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

And lastly Col 2:6 states,

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.

These references demonstrate that περιπατέω is often used to refer to the pattern of Christians. Paul puts a spin on that verb here, though. This group no longer “walks” according to Christ’s teaching, but they walk as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They have this external appearance of “walking” but they’re not really “walking.” That’s what I take Paul to be saying with this verb περιπατέω.

The second reason why I take this group to be at one time formerly associate with the church is Paul’s reference to his tears. Paul says,

I now tell you even with tears, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

This is personal for Paul. Paul knew these people personally. He had relationships with them. That is why he spoke to the Philippians about these people. At one time, Paul would boast to the Philippians about these people, but now he is overcome with tears at their abhorrent lifestyle. It is saddened that they have not persevered. What truly breaks our hearts is when we see those we know and love forsake the way of Christ. That’s Paul’s situation. He knew these people as believers at one time. Now, though, he is overcome with grief at their sin.

To summarize who this group is. I take this group to be a set of “Christians” who do not walk according to Christ’s teaching but who walk as enemies of Christ’s teaching, they walk as enemies of the cross.

Illustration

A modern day example of this group could be Billy. Billy was raised in the church but now no longer goes to church. His life is filled with sin and immorality. However, he believes still believes in God, believes that Jesus died on the cross, is conservative politically, and revers the Bible. He has friends who are the same. He knows he’s living wrong, but he believes that Jesus’ forgiveness is unconditional. He has no concern for his life.

The church in America has “many,” to use Paul’s language, that live like that. Nothing changes, does it? What Paul observed in his day is a reality in our’s.

For

Now I want us to tackle the “for” at the beginning of v. 18. “Fors” are important words. When we see this “for” we need to ask the question, “What’s the “for” there for?” What’s it doing here? How is Paul using it?

This “for” makes a logical connection between verses 17 and 18. Verse 18 provides the reason why we need to obey v. 17. So, looking at the passage, v. 17. Paul says,

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Why, Paul, should we do this? Why?

For [or because] many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

There is an embedded assumption here that needs to be brought at to make the connection between vv. 17 and 18 crystal clear. It’s this. There are many who do not follow the apostle’s example of godliness and these ungodly examples entice us to follow them.

Application

There is a temptation in the Christian life towards following ungodly examples, towards modeling our life after those who reject the Christian faith. There is a temptation in the Christian life towards falling away. Listen to this verse in Hebrews. It’s Heb 3:12,

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

Dear friends, none of us are above falling away from Christ. The fact that many do fall away demonstrates that there is temptation towards forsaking Christ’s teaching. We must recognize this tendency in our hearts. None of us are above falling. None of us are immune from sin. So long as we are in this life, we must be vigilant to recognize this.

Do not be so proud to think that you’re good. That your above falling away. That your spiritual pedigree somehow protects you from falling away. That you can coast. That you can sit back and relax. No, dear friend. We must fight against the encroaching sin that is ever before us in this life. This life is war involves a war against sin. Rest is coming but it is in the future.

Deny Yourself Earthly Pleasures

Now we transition to our third point. What else are we supposed to do as Christians to avoid falling away? Do this: deny yourself earthly pleasures. What we are going to see in v. 19 is that the people who fell away from the faith are characterized by pleasure seeking and self-indulgence. We must deny ourselves those pleasures in this world, if we are to persevere. If we choose to indulge in earthly pleasures, we will find ourselves on the path of destruction.

Let’s look and read v. 19, the verse from where I get this point. Paul writes,

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

What Paul does in here, in v. 19, is he lays out the characteristics of this group who he dealt with in v. 18. Paul lays out four different characteristics of this group. We can break these characteristics down into two groups.

Where are they headed?

The first characteristic that Paul mentions has to do with their eternal destination. Paul says, “Their end is destruction.” This characteristic answers the question, “Where are they headed?” Paul does not mince words here. He does not beat around the bush. This group who walk as enemies of the cross are headed towards eternal destruction. They are headed to hell. Paul here describes their outcome.

What do they do?

The next three characteristics describe how this group acts. Let’s take these one by one. The first is,

Their god is their belly.

What does this mean? It could refer to two realities. It could refer to the sin of gluttony. This group of “Christians” would indulge in the pleasures of food with no ability to regulate or control their desires. The word for “belly” can also be understood as “womb” or uterus,” so there could be some overtones of sexual immorality. Or, it could just refer to bodily desires of all kinds. I’m not exactly sure. What it refers to, though, relates to the desire to indulge in earthly pleasure—whether it be food or sexual immorality or some other sinful urge.

The next characteristic of this group is that they,

They glory in their shame

The word for “shame” is used in the OT to refer to acts related to sexual immorality that bring shame upon the one who engages in them. This could be related to what we saw with the word “stomach.” That is, the previous statement—their God is their belly—might mean they indulge in sexual immorality and with this part of v. 19 Paul is saying the make that indulgence what it is they are proud of. I take it that they exult in some sinful activity that brings them pleasure. They glory in, are proud of, celebrate the things that they should be embarrassed and ashamed about.

Last characteristic is,

With minds set on earthly things

This last characteristic summarizes their behavior. Because they delight in sin and flaunt their indulgence, Paul says their mind is set on, infixed with the things of this world—matters that are transient, unimportant,

Application

I believe that I have said this before from the pulpit but it is worth repeating. To be a Christian is different than visiting Burger King. At Burger King, you can have it your way. To be a Christian, you can’t. Specifically, as it pertains to this point, to persevere in the Christian life you must deny yourself earthly pleasures. To persevere means that you must go against your natural inclinations. You cannot simultaneously hold onto both your love and pursuit of sinful pleasure and your relationship with Jesus Christ. To say yes to the pleasures of sin is to say no to the pleasures of Jesus Christ. Trying to hold onto both the pleasure of sin and the grace of Christ is like trying to mix oil and water. You can’t.

This false form of Christianity in the early church taught that it could happen. But Paul had harsh words. For those who follow this type of Christianity, Paul says this, “their end is destruction.” Do not go down that way. Forsake the pleasures of sins. Refuse to permit them reign in your life. The pleasures of sin are cheap and fake. They never satisfy, dear Christian. There is one that satisfies—always. His name is Jesus Christ. Forsake earthly pleasures for the pleasures that he offers—joy, peace, righteousness, goodness, and love.

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