Having just described how he had abandoned all trust and pride in human lineage or achievements (vs1-7) so that he could place all his trust in Jesus Christ and progress in knowing Him better (vs7-11).
Paul then clarifies that he knows that he hasn’t arrived yet. He knows that he hasn’t finished his faith journey but is pressing on to lay hold of all that Jesus laid hold of him for (vs12-16).
Then he says some thing which can sound out of place to the modern ear; “Brothers, join in imitating me” (vs17).
He urges the Philippian believers to imitate him in all that he has just described regarding his personal faith journey.
This is not the only place Paul says things like this;
- Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
- to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. (2 Thessalonians 3:9)
- What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
Paul unashamedly calls people to imitate his followership of Jesus. Essentially he says, imitate me, don’t be like those who ‘walk as enemies of the cross of Christ’ (vs18) who’s god is their desires, who glory in their shameful acts & who’s minds are fixated on earthly temporal things (vs18-19).
There are plenty of examples of people around us who deny the power of the cross. They live as though Jesus never died for them, they live as though Jesus is not the King of kings or that He ought to be loved, worshipped and obeyed.
As a result, such people live to satisfy their own desires and so celebrate whatever feels good to them regardless of how shameful such things might be. Because they deny the truth about God, they can only see the present (vs19b), but in so doing, they fail to see where the path they are on is leafing – destruction (vs19a).
Paul doesn’t want the Philippian believers; God doesn’t want you and I to be like such people. And so we are called to imitate Paul, to imitate his faith and his walk with Jesus.
All around us, people are looking for a sense of identity and belonging. But we who have believed in Jesus can be secure knowing that we belong already, that our identity was secured the moment we believed in Jesus.
We who have believed in Jesus all have dual citizenship. We belong to the country of our birth or our adopted country & we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (vs20).
This world, therefore, is not our home forever. We are visitors here; we are passing through. However, the best is yet to come. We have incredible hope in Jesus; we have something to live for! We belong to God and His kingdom.
We know that Jesus is coming back and His second coming will usher in a new era. There is a day when God will declare; ‘behold I am making all things new’ (Revelation 21:5) and that bright future is ours as believers in Jesus (vs20-21)
So don’t lose heart. Remember who you are and who’s you are. Remember that this life is just the dress rehearsal for the main event – eternity. Don’t undervalue eternity and in so doing make some monumentally bad decisions because your timeframe was way too short.
Find someone to imitate. We shouldn’t place people on pedestals but we ought to imitate the faith we see in others so that we can learn how to have robust faith and so that we don’t walk alone.
Who are you going to imitate? Why don’t you speak to someone today? Or who are you going to say; ‘imitate me’ to? Who are you going to invest your life and faith journey into? This doesn’t mean you’ve arrived, just that you have made some progress and if you want others to mentor you, you should be willing to mentor others too maybe.
As believers, we have an ancient faith with a modern face! Even though this letter is nearly 2000yrs old, the contents of it still apply today, and the practices and problems of these early Christ Followers are still essentially the same for us today in 2019.
So, what can we learn about our ancient faith from these 6verses? And what is God speaking to you about from them today for your life?
In vs2 we read that Paul and his team were constantly in prayer for these believers. He had shared the Gospel with them but then after only 2-3 weeks had to leave Thessalonica.
So now, separated from them, he continued with what he could do – Paul kept on praying for them. An incredible amount of impact can be made simply through being on our knees in prayer!
Paul knew that he could not assist these believers physically, but he knew that prayer was not just some blessed thoughts but essential for their growth in God and their protection in what was a hostile situation.
Paul was, therefore, constant in prayer for them. How about your life? Is prayer a constant in your life? Prayer is ‘weakness leaning on omnipotence’ – WS Boyd. Are you leaning on God through prayer for others who’s life situations vitally need you praying for them?
“Prayer is an ordinary means to accomplish supernatural ends.” – Mark Dever
Paul goes on to recount how these believers in Thessalonica responded to the Gospel (vs3-5)
The Gospel didn’t leave them unchanged; rather it resulted in three things;
- Work/effort that resulted from their faith in Jesus
- Labour motivated by love for God & people
- And steadfastness inspired by their hope in Jesus
When we are genuinely saved, we are not left unchanged. Thorough changes begin from deep within us but in time become evident to ourselves and to others.
Our energy is diverted & directed towards the things of God. Our efforts become motivated by the new central love in our hearts – love for God. And our lives become secure and stable because our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Think about the Gospel’s impact on your life. How has the Gospel redirected your life’s energy? How has your life-motivation changed? And how has your vision of the future been impacted because of what you know about Jesus?
Lastly, (vs5) Paul knew that these believers were truly saved because of the way that the power of God broke out amongst them when they believed. As Christ followers they were filled with the Holy Spirit and also filled with conviction.
Pray for greater demonstrations of the power of God in your life and in the life of your church. And pray for a real sense of conviction regarding the truth of the Gospel.
Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far… Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’! Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.
Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day! The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.
In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple. However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus! They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.
All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John.
The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The Jewish council are dumbstruck! They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures. They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes. But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.
Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God! We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’
The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.
It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men! However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus. Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!
- What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
- What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
- What do you want to START doing more of?
- Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?
How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?
These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life. This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).
So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour? 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:
(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)
- The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
- The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s). Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14). The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
- The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church. Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
- The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2). In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
- The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent. John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.” We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!
I was just 12-13 at the time, Dave was probably 25. It’s strange but I can’t even remember especially how I got to youth each week (thanks Mom and Dad I am sure it was you!), but I do remember how I got home. It was Dave’s Kombi! That Kombi was a loud fun place to be, we used to get rowdy at times and even used to sneak up behind unsuspecting pedestrians on Main Road in Cape Town, going really close the the pavement and then suddenly at the right moment all hang out the windows bellowing out our best barking impersonations and then delighting in the heights people would jump to in their moments of sudden terror!
I have etched in my memory a moment driving in Dave’s car when he said something like; ‘I’d like to get to know you better…spend time with you and some other guys to help you grow in God.’
That moment, that short invitation changed my life forever!
Now, unlike the majority of young South African men today, there was nothing lacking in my family, no deficiency in my own dad but Dave’s invitation and the constant commitment to me and the intentional friendship that followed had both a formative and transformative impact on my life.
And so we started meeting as a discipleship group – normally about 4-5 guys and Dave. Our normal rhythm was to meet early in the morning before school and after school before varsity, once a week. We would most often gate-crash the Lautenbach families home, sometimes having to wake family members by knocking on their windows because Phil enjoyed his shuteye! We’d talk rubbish, make a noise, read the bible, pray and share life together often by answering Dave’s questions which often seemed to get right down to the marrow of life. The last question was often; “Have you just lied to me?”! We were mates, Dave was our mate although he was different, he was friend and a father in God.
We got drawn into whatever Dave was up to and loved to just watch him do it, do it with him, have him let us do it and in time feel the release and the encouragement from him to do it on our own. This happened as we became youth leaders, leaders at Summer Camp and on the men’s discipleship hikes that were so formative in all our lives. We read the books Dave had read, and ended up learning to fast and pray and grew in our desire to give our lives for something that would last forever.
I know that those years in Dave’s discipleship groups have been the single biggest reason why I believe that I am today at age 42 still walking in the purposes of God, those years formed me, formed my love for God, my desire to live for His purposes and formed my character.
In his letter to Titus Paul says; “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). When I read this I thought of Dave and how he could say to me, say to many like me; ‘my son in the faith’.
I’ll never forget the one meeting we had when Dave got a serious look on his face, opened the bible to 2 Timothy 2:2 and having read it declared that if we did not begin to pass on to others what He had been giving to us he would have to cease to meet with us! We were given 6months to find someone else, other younger guys or lease mature believers to then gather around our lives. Our assignment was to simply do what Dave had done with us again and again.
When I read Paul’s greeting to Titus I felt challenged again, and it’s a challenge that I believe every Christ follower who has known Christ for more than 2years should feel; “Who are your spiritual sons/daughters?” Who have you, who are you pouring your life into? Who would call you ‘Dad’ or ‘Mom’ in God?
Dave was that guy for me. But the challenge is who can say that I, that you have been that guy, that woman for them?
Discipleship is an intentional relationship, it requires effort to start and effort to keep going. Discipleship has aspects of friendship, teaching, imitation, accountability, equipping & release for the purpose of stimulating greater love & devotion to Jesus and His mission in the lives of others.
To disciple is to develop LOVE for Jesus, FAITH, CHARACTER, GIFTING in another and then RELEASING them to do as you have done with them.
At the moment I have three young guys who call me; ‘Dad’. Two of them have their own dad’s, but it is my joy to know that Dave’s fathering of me, Dave’s challenge to reproduce what he had deposited in me and modelled to me has in fact happened.
In South Africa, we live in a fatherless generation, we have a crisis! Who can honestly call you ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ in the Lord? I urge you to take this to heart, to share your life intentionally with others, to ask God to open your eyes to those around you who’s lives will be transformed like mine was if only you’d take the initiative and invite them to share life with you. Will you?
By Gareth Bowley