The power of example
Devotional by David Niednagel, Pastor and Teacher, Evansville, IN. (David uses the S.O.A.P. method of study for his morning devotional time: study, observe, apply, pray)
3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. ESV
Paul has already written about the examples of Jesus, Himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and here again he exhorts the whole church to follow his example of diligently pressing forward to “know Christ” to the point of suffering and dying for Him. Most of us do all we can to avoid suffering, (and Paul too fled when he could) but Paul says we should make it our goal to be so much like Christ that we are treated like Him. Some will be touched by our love and others will be so jealous and resentful they will want to harm us.
He acknowledges that many who call themselves followers do not follow Jesus’ example. They may claim to believe in Jesus, but their lives have not been transformed. “Their god is their belly” – they live for comfort and pleasure. Their values and goals are like unsaved people – they live for earthly things. So they even boast about things they ought to be ashamed of. The world brags about money, position, extravagance, rising above others – even taking advantage of others – and so do these who claim to be believers. And that is because their friends live the same way. They are comparing themselves with one another, not with the Lord Jesus.
So Paul reminds them of a key truth that we would never know without the Holy Spirit. In Gal 2:20 he said “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our old “self” is dead. We are a new person with a new identity. It is no longer Jew or Gentile, male of female, rich or poor, white or black – it is CHRIST. We are in Him and He is in us. Jesus told us to “abide in Him and to make sure His Word abides in us” (John 15:5-7). We are only transformed when our minds are renewed by His words. (Rom 12:1-2) That explains why some who call themselves “believers” still live like the others in their culture. They don’t see themselves as “new people in Christ”.
Here Paul says it a little different way, but the same meaning – We are no longer citizens of earth, but we are citizens of heaven. In Paul’s day, citizenship was a big deal. If you were a Roman citizen you had special privileges and protections that others did not. Paul said we must not think that we are “home” and enjoy the privileges of the others around us. Don’t hope or expect to relax and have an easy life. We aren’t home yet, so don’t live for the values that everyone else around us does. Part of our problem is that Christianity is not a tiny minority like it was in Paul’s day. We tend to think we live in at least a “semi-Christian” culture and it is OK to live with a similar worldview and lifestyle that our friends do – at least like the other people in our churches. But that is what Paul is warning against! Our friends at church struggle and fail just like we do, and we don’t have the conviction or desperation to help one another. It is much easier to just live like all the other “believers“ do.
So what is the answer? Quit using the world as our example. Quit comparing ourselves with other people. Keep thinking about Jesus coming back. He will transform our physical bodies to make them like His – which was resurrected. So even if we are beaten and killed, it is not the end. We will get a new glorified body, so we don’t have to be afraid of death like non-believers. And not only will He transform our physical bodies, He will change us on the inside to have the same heart and character that He has. And that is why we need to follow examples like Paul.
Lord Jesus, thank You that You understand all we go through physically and emotionally. Thank You that we are new people in You! A new identity. Help us live with that mindset – of pleasing You so we hear You say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” when You return. Help me think more about Your return and what will be important then. Help me press on diligently to know you now so I “long for Your appearing”, and help me have no fear of suffering for You, but rather delight in anything I can do to honor You. And use me to help other believes live for the same purpose and values. Amen