“Our starting point must always be, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God,’ and by the power of God. A Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else. No man can make himself a Christian; God alone makes Christians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 395
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” —Philippians 3:17
It is said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and while this may be said in an innocent and even a good way, the fuller quote speaks to the fuller reality. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and he continued, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That comes off the tongue a bit more sharply and grates on the ears. You sense the arrogance; yet it is a game the masses play along with.
The imitation that this world knows isn’t simply flattery; it is idolatry. We worship the gods, hoping to become one, or a demigod at least. We act as gods, desiring such “flattery.” Image is valued over integrity; coolness over character. Such is the imitation of this world. In contrast, Christian imitation, imitation as it is meant to be, is worship. This is because Christian imitation is an intentional imitation of imitators.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, emphasis mine). We don’t imitate others so that others will want to imitate us. At least we shouldn’t do it for that reason. Sometime we do play the Pharisee, playing pious for self promotion, but in our best moments we imitate imitators because we want to look like the Jesus they want to look like. Christian imitation isn’t about idolatry committed and desired. It is about worship and sanctification.
All the imitations of this world, are cheap imitations. We were created in the image of God to image forth God. We were created as mirrors. We were created imitators. Imitation is. Because of sin, the image of God is marred. Man, in the words of Augustine, is “homo incurvatus in se,” that is, “curved in on himself.” Man has created gods in his own image and he is becoming like them—deaf, dumb, and dead.
But the saints have been renewed in Christ and are being conformed to His image as we imitate our elder Brother. A critical and commanded way in which this happens is by looking to those who imitate Him. Look to Jesus and look to those who are looking to Jesus.
Wilde was on to something; Imitation is a high form of worship that sinners pay to Greatness. The difference is that Jesus stoops to conform us to His glorious image and the saints would never dare to try to usurp or outshine their Savior. We want to be like Jesus, and we will be, but we would never dream of trying to be Jesus. Our goal is not to idolized in hope of becoming an idol, but to imitate as an act of worship. We are mirrors, and when it is Jesus who is reflected, no one is talking about the mirror, and this is just as we want it. So when you’re picking out a mirror, pick one that neither impresses you with the mirror nor yourself. Pick one that helps you look like Jesus.
“The Apostle also prays that the Ephesian Christians may have ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation,’ that they may come to such a knowledge of God. This is something beyond believing, beyond trusting, even beyond being sealed with the Spirit. The difference is that in the sealing with the Spirit we are given to know that we are His; the Holy Spirit ‘bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Romans 8 :16). It is God saying to us, ‘Thou art my son, my child.’ Is there anything beyond that? Yes; to know God Himself! That is the summit, the ‘summum bonum.’ It is wonderful to know that I belong to God; it is an infinitely greater privilege and blessing to know God Himself. Such is the knowledge which the Apostle desires for these Ephesian Christians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 347
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” —Philippians 3:1
Perfectionism is a peculiar heresy. It is also a perpetual heresy. Part of its peculiarity is its perpetuity. How does this thing live on? A number of variations have afflicted the church throughout the years. All mutations of this virus are strains of Pelagianism.
Pelagius was that British monk who balked at Augustine’s prayer from his Confessions, “My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command and command what you will” Augustine confessed that man was bankrupt and dependent entirely on grace. Pelagius said man has what it takes in himself. There is grace to help, but it is not necessary.
Charles Finney, who is lauded by many evangelicals as a hero of the Second Great Awakening, was a rank heretic whose perfectionism had a strong Pelagian flavor. He denied original sin and total depravity. In contrast and yet developing from Finney, the most infectious forms of perfectionism today are semi-pelagian. They are an attempt to make pelagianism palatable, but pelagianism dressed in garb of grace is still the whore of works underneath.
Full blown pelagianism is the greater evil, but let’s give it this much, at least in pelagianism man may fully take responsibility for his delusion of perfection. Whereas in much perfectionism, man essentially “blames” God for the delusion.
Perfection may be redefined as not “knowingly sinning” as Wesley did. Since Wesley, most perfectionist theology has a strong experiential flavor as in the Keswick, Higher Life, Holiness, and second-blessing theologies. Through some “crisis experience” one comes to “entire sanctification.” Faith is often stressed in this, in contrast to Pelagius’ works.
But the most dangerous form of perfectionism for many is incipient perfectionism, perfectionism in the bud. You must realize that perfectionism finds prepped soil in the heart of every depraved sinner. In unearthing the origins of Finney’s perfectionism, B.B. Warfield, tracing it to New Haven, meaning Yale, and the professor N.W. Taylor, writes, “Pelagianism, unfortunately does not wait to be imported from New Haven, and does not require inculcating—it is the instinctive thought of the natural man.” Pelagianism is the instinctive thought of natural man.
Now if you don’t realize how subtle the danger can be and if you’re unable to identify this heresy as a sapling, consider this: you haven’t arrived even when you realize the flesh profits nothing and you count all as loss for Christ. You haven’t arrived when you realize you won’t arrive in this life.
The paradoxical position of the children of God is that in this life they are to press on towards that which they acknowledge they will never arrive at until the next. While it is premature to think one may attain perfection in this life, it is immature not to press towards taking hold of that for which you were taken hold of. The late R.C. Sproul once warned, “Sanctification is a process. It is a gradual process. Run for your life from those who promise you instant sanctification.” As Douglas Wilson says, the poison is so often found in the -ism. So you must run from perfectionism, and yet you must run towards perfection.
You must in this life run towards what you will only have in the next. If you’re not running, and using God’s grace as an excuse, then while denying perfection, you’re acting as though you already are.
“Every preacher will, I am sure, agree that preaching is comparatively simple as compared with praying, because when one is preaching one is speaking to men, but when a man prays he is speaking to God. Many find it difficult to concentrate, others to know how to speak and how to form their petitions, and so on. The moment you take prayer seriously you begin to learn its profound character. Of course, those who ‘say their prayers’ mechanically are not aware of any difficulties; all seems so simple. They simply repeat the Lord’s Prayer and offer up a few petitions and they imagine that they have prayed. But such a person has not started praying. The moment you begin to face what really happens in prayer you find inevitably that it is the profoundest activity in which you have ever engaged. How little we have prayed, how little we know about prayer! It is not surprising that the disciples of our Lord turned to Him one day and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples’ (Luke 11 :i). But they were probably not only thinking at that moment of John and his disciples, they had been watching their Lord Himself and the way He repeatedly withdrew for prayer. I do not hesitate to assert that unless you have ever felt something of what those disciples felt, and offered that petition, it is certain that you have never prayed in your life. If you have never been aware of difficulties It is because you have never realized what prayer involves.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 326, 327
“[R]ejoice in the Lord…
Look out for the dogs…
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:1, 2, 8).
Rejoicing in the Lord corresponds to looking out for dogs in the same way that ridiculing the flesh corresponds to glorying in Christ. Steak at home makes the Slim Jim at the convenience store less appetizing. Joy in Christ not only frees you to not take false teaching seriously; it so liberates you that you can laugh at it—a gut-busting guffaw kind of laugh. If you used that emoji with the cocked head and tears in reply to false teaching, you wouldn’t be exaggerating.
Sometimes one ridicules in another what they lack in themselves. So it is that the geek mocks the jock for his lack of brain and the jock the geek for his lack of braun. The mockery is self-validating and the laughs are a thin attempt to hide jealously and insecurity. Paul, in contrast to this, holds up in himself everything they boast of and then laughs at his own refection. If these dogs are flexing in the mirror, Paul comes alongside them, demonstrates his superiority, and then laughs at how ridiculous he looks and how absurd such posing is.
Paul was no Gentile ridiculing Judaizers. Do you not see the wisdom of God in preeminently calling Paul to confessedly be “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11)? Yes, Matthew, Peter, and John were all Jews. Yes, they ministered to Gentiles too. But Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he was expressly an apostle to the Gentiles. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter and John were fisherman. Paul was a Pharisee. And here, he holds that up, and laughs at it.
You must see that this passage is dripping with sarcasm. If this passage were a dog and sarcasm were water, this dog has just had a bath and is now shaking and rubbing its body against the carpet and furniture. What Paul says they put no confidence in, he now ridicules, not because he is laughingly lacking, but because that in which they boast in is laughingly lacking. Paul says, “I’ll play your game,” he scores the most points (v. 4), and then he demonstrates that the game itself, the whole thing, is a loosing enterprise.
Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is like a doughboy hoping to win World War I by playing chess with a German commander at the Battle of the Somme in no man’s land. Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is nothing more than a good way to get killed. Thinking you could win that way is laughable and fully worthy of mockery. Paul writes off all his attempts at self-righteousness as nothing more than a steaming hot pile (v. 8). “Rubbish” pathetically fails to capture, the color, or rather the smell of the original language. What the Judaizers hold up as a trophy is that which Paul doesn’t want to step in. These dogs are like children playing with their own diaper deposits, creating a mural on the wall, thinking they’ve exceeded Michangelo. “Look Daddy!”
Three times Paul writes off as loss, loss, and crap what he previously boasted in as credit. Each time he does so, these things are reckoned such in comparison to Christ. This is why Paul’s laugh isn’t off putting like that of a bitter critic. His laugh is infectious. It is infectious because he is infatuated. And it is because he is infatuated with Christ, that he can laugh at the advertisements of the false teachers like they were some corny infomercial. When you’re curled up on the sofa with that quilt your Grandma made and reading Tolkien, you don’t even know the Snuggie infomercial is on. But if you were to divert your attention for a bit, you know what your response would be. Righteous laughter.
“So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” —Philippians 2:29–30
The first and only other time I’ve preached this text was eight years ago. A pastor-buddy had put together a preaching conference at a nearby church, going through the book of Philippians. Upon receiving my assignment, one of my first thoughts honestly was “Really! Out of all the texts in Philippians, you give me this one?” Pride. In not wanting to preach Philippians 2:19–30 I was disobeying Philippians 2:14. And 1:27. I was grumbling against God by way of an unspoken dispute with my brother who should have given me a glorious passage like 2:5–11 dealing with the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord.
Compared to Paul’s exclamation “To live is Christ, and to die is gain,” or the encompassing commands “live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27) and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12), and especially in comparison to that deep and majestic passage concerning the humiliation and exhalation of our Lord (2:6–11)—compared to these passages, this text seems so humble, plain, and modest. In Gordon Fee I found both confirmation and rebuke. “After the exalted language of the Christ story in 2:6-11 and the striking metaphors in 2:14-18 by which this was applied to the Philippians’ situation, it is easy to view this material as mundane—which in a sense it is—and to neglect it as of little import, which it is not.”
Frank Theilman is easier on the conscience, but he also fosters intrigue. “After the theologically rich language of 2:5–18, we are surprised suddenly to encounter two paragraphs whose primary concern seems to be the travel plans of Paul and his coworkers. Why would Paul include such mundane information at this point in his letter?”
Why? Now there is curiosity? Why saints? When you read, always ask “Why?” This is the kind of material you would expect Paul to close with. Why is it here? The first clue that this isn’t haphazard, that there is a purpose is invisible to you in the English Standard Version. The New American Standard has “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy;” likewise the New King James has “But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy” (all emphasis mine).
There is a connection then between all these visits Paul speaks of and what has preceded. What is the connection? Paul has just spoken of the possibility of his being poured out as a drink offering (2:17), that is, his death. Backing up further in 2:12 he speaks of their obedience whether or not he is present, which leads us back to 1:27 where Paul tells them to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ whether or not he comes to see them. All of this finds its explanation in 1:12–26 where we learn of Paul’s imprisonment and his hope to be released, but also of his preparedness should he face death. The travel itineraries relayed here relate to Paul’s absence and presence.
But is this the only connection? I believe upon study it becomes plain that 2:19–30 relate not only to Paul’s being present or absent, but also to everything that Paul has said to them in light of his possible presence or absence. What one sees is that the very apex of theological reflection and the ethical exhortation Paul brings you to in 2:5–11 with the humiliation of our Lord, is brought down and exemplified here. The humility of our Lord is high theology, high theology we are to imitate. Here this high theology is brought down and this is the kind of down that is then lifted up. This is not a humble text; it is a humbling text. But the humility it exemplifies is the humility that God exalts.
“At the heart and centre of the gospel stands the truth that there is no salvation at all apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Christianity is Christ.’ Anything which may represent itself as Christianity but which does not insist upon the absolute necessity and cruciality of Christ is not Christianity at all. Unless He is the heart and soul and centre, the beginning and the end of what is offered as salvation, it is not Christian salvation, whatever else it may be. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 149
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” —Philippians 2:14
This is now the third encompassing command we come to in Philippians, but whereas the first two were like verbs, this one is like an adverb. Let me splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
The first encompassing command opens the body of the letter: “live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27, my translation). Every other command in this letter falls under this one. It is encompassing. The second approaches the Christian life in general from another direction. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). The whole of the Christian life is encapsulated in both of these commands. They are encompassing as verbs; all you are to be doing as a saint is summed up in them.
But the third encompassing command functions like an adverb. The first two tell you what to do. This command tells you how to do it. How are you to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ? By not grumbling or disputing. How are you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Again, by not grumbling or disputing.
One thing this adverb-command does is show just how encompassing the first two encompassing commands are. Sometimes we try to compartmentalize the Christian life, discipleship, and piety, as though they were part of our lives. But here Paul calls on the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (emphasis mine). Working out your salvation means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. Living worthy of the gospel means doing all things without grumbling or disputing. All things. The adverb tells you that the verbs involve everything.
For those who have died with Christ and risen to newness of life, the Christian life is the only kind of life they are to live. Discipleship, following Christ, is to be all encompassing. Your life doesn’t have bins. To live is Christ. Prior to Christ, your living was death. Now you live, and all that living is to be a living worthy of the gospel, working out your salvation, doing all things without grumbling or disputing.
Grumbling is contrary to the gospel. Disputing is a failure of discipleship. If you want the fuller splanation, listen below.
“It is just here that we all tend to go astray. Although we have the open Bible before us we still tend to base our ideas of doctrine on our own thoughts instead of on the Bible. The Bible always starts with God the Father; and we must not start anywhere else, or with anyone else. The Bible is, ultimately, the revelation and the record and the explanation of what God has done for the salvation of man. The Bible is the revelation of God’s gracious purpose towards a world of sinful man; it claims to be such, and the revelation is in its every book. This is what accounts for its extraordinary unity. Its controlling theme is what God has done, what God has promised to do, what God began to do, what God has actually done, what He is going to do, and the amazing outcome of it all. And that is precisely what the Apostle is doing in this section of our Epistle. He is not giving expression to his own theories or ideas, but writing about what God has revealed to him.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41