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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Being heavenly minded
Text:Philippians 3:17-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Added:2013-08-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps. 149: 1, 4

Ps. 56: 5

Hymn 34: 1 – 6

Ps. 16: 1 – 5  

Ps. 73: 8, 9

 

Scripture reading:       Hebr. 11: 13 – 16, 24 – 27; 12: 14 – 17; Phil. 3: 1 – 4: 1

Text:                              Phil. 3: 17 – 21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Our Citizenship is in Heaven

Ps. 149: 1, 4

Ps. 56: 5

Hymn 34: 1 – 6

Ps. 16: 1 – 5  

Ps. 73: 8, 9

 

Scripture reading:       Hebr. 11: 13 – 16, 24 – 27; 12: 14 – 17; Phil. 3: 1 – 4: 1

Text:                              Phil. 3: 17 – 21

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

We are living in the expectation of Christ’s return.   His coming is the one big event that fills our mind when we look ahead to the future.

On that day our Lord Jesus will be revealed in the fullness of His glory, and we will be made like Him (Rom. 8: 29; 1 John 3: 2).  

God will make all things new, and we ourselves will be transformed and be glorified and be conformed to the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ.   

The day of His coming will be the day of our final deliverance and complete salvation.

This world will perish, and we will receive a new earth as our eternal inheritance.  

 

Now, because we live in this expectation our whole life is governed and directed by this expectation.   We live in accordance with this expectation.   Through faith we are gathering riches in heaven and not on earth.   Through faith we flee from the wrath of God’s coming judgment, and seek to please Him in all we do.  Through faith we live like people who see the invisible.

 

Our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth.   And therefore we set our minds on the things above, and we do not set our minds on the things on the earth – Col. 3: 2

 

We cannot do both.   We cannot set our mind on earthly things and on heavenly things.   Out treasure cannot be on earth and in heaven.  

Here in our text the apostle places two different mindsets over against each other: on the one hand those who set their mind on earthly things, and on the other hand those who have their citizenship in heaven and eagerly await the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

 

We who await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ live now already as citizens of His heavenly kingdom, and we await a glorious and eternal future with the Lord. 

But those who set their mind on earthly things live as enemies of the cross.   Their end is eternal destruction.  

 

And thus the apostle makes a division between those who set their mind on earthly things, and those who live with their eyes fixed on heaven.  

He tells the saints in Philippi that representatives of both mindsets are present in the churches, and warns them to follow the example of godly men who have their eyes fixed on heaven, and not to follow the example of the enemies of the cross who have their mind set on earthly things.

 

Now, there are people who say that we must not become too heavenly minded!   They say: you must not become so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.  

However, Scripture teaches the opposite.   We can only be truly useful and fruitful here on earth if our mind is set on heaven.

 

With these words of our text the Holy Spirit teaches us that our mind should be completely fixed on heaven.   And that this heavenly focus will enable us to run the race here and now on this earth, in our daily life as Christians in this world.   

 

You will remember that in the previous verses the apostle Paul was urging the saints in Philippi to run the race with single mindedness.

He compared the Christian life with a race in which he presses forward towards the goal for the prize unto which God has called us in Christ Jesus.

And he urges each of us to live the same way; to imitate his example in running this race with single mindedness and with perseverance.

 

            “Brethren, join in following my example…”

 

Run the race with me, and run it the way I am running it.   Don’t set your mind on earthly things, for that will turn you into an enemy of the cross.   This earth is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven.  

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you as it comes to us in these verses, and our theme is:

Being heavenly minded

We will note…


1.      The example that is set before us

2.      A description of the enemies of the cross

3.      Our glorious hope


In the first place we note…

The example that is set before us

 

            “Brethren, join in following my example…”

 

In the previous verses the example has been spelled out.   If we quickly recap from verse 8 – 16 we see how the apostle, in the first place, clings to the free gift of the perfect righteousness of Christ which is freely imputed to us through faith in Christ.  

Being clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ, it has become his aim to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, to be conformed to His death, if, by any means, he may attain the resurrection from the dead.    He said this in the verses 9 – 11.

And then he described in the verses 12 – 14 how he pursues this aim.

He is running a race, pressing toward the goal to win the prize unto which God called him in Christ Jesus.

 

And now he urges us to do the same.

Verse 17:

 

            “Brethren, join in following my example…”

 

So then, what exactly is this example?    What was the apostle pursuing, and how did he pursue it?  

He was running the race, but in this race he takes the imputed righteousness of Christ as his starting point.   He enters the sprinting course as one who has been justified by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone.   Without this no one can run the course.   The race is only to be run through our union with Christ as the power of His resurrection is at work in us.

But then he also describes to us the manner in which he runs the race, and what he pursues in this race.   He pursues complete union with Christ and complete conformity to Christ, and he calls this complete transformation: the resurrection from the dead.  

 

It is one resurrection, but it comes in two phases: first the spiritual resurrection by which we are now already being transformed to the image of Christ, and finally also the bodily resurrection on the day of Christ’s coming, when we will be transformed in a moment and be fully conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So then, what is this race?   How are we to follow the apostle’s example?  

What does it mean to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings and to grow in conformity to His death in order to reach the resurrection of the dead?

To say it in plain words: He wants his old man to be crucified with Christ, and he wants to be raised a new man with Christ so that he may live a new life of obedience unto God.   Living through the power of Christ’s resurrection, he runs the race of sanctification in order that he may finally reach the goal of perfection on the day of the resurrection.     

 

That is the example he calls us to imitate.  

Through faith in Christ we are to mortify the desires of our flesh as we grow in communion with His death and share in His sufferings under various persecutions, and we are to pursue a new life of sanctification as we share in the power of Christ’s resurrection.  

This pursuit he compares to a race which we all have to run with single-mindedness, with determination and perseverance, to win the prize (compare also 1 Cor. 9: 24 – 27; Hebr. 12: 1 – 17). 

 

“Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” – verse 17

 

In this epistle the apostle does not only refer to his own example, but also the example of Timothy and Epaphroditus.   They were examples of godly servants who followed Christ’s example of love and self-denial.   Yes, ultimately he urges us to follow Christ, and not men; but we are to follow the example of godly men in as much as they are imitators of Christ.

As the apostle says to the Corinthians:

 

            “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” – 1 Cor. 11: 1.

 

Here in the epistle to the Philippians the example of Christ is described as a life of humble self-sacrificing love in obedience to God.   That is the fulfilment of the law.   That is a holy sanctified life: if we love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

It is a life in which we no longer live for ourselves.   It is a life unto God, which is also a life in humble self-sacrificing love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ, and towards all men.

It is a life in fellowship with Christ; a life in fellowship with His sufferings and death and resurrection.  

 

But there were also others in the churches who set a different example, a bad example which should not be followed.   We note that in the second place…

A description of the enemies of the cross

 

“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things.” – verses 18, 19

 

The apostle is not speaking about heathens outside the church; he speaks of people in the churches who are taking a different course.   And he says there are many of them.   Many walk as enemies of the cross (verse 18).

 

Their life is the exact opposite of the apostle’s example; the exact opposite of knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the exact opposite of pursuing true righteousness.     They do not set their mind on the goal of perfection and the heavenward call of God in Christ Jesus.   Instead, they set their mind on earthly things.   

 

They will not receive the prize of eternal glory.   Their end is eternal destruction.

Their god is their belly.  

 

In the first place the apostle has those Jews in mind whom he mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.   These Jews professed to be Christians, but they said that the Gentile believers need to be circumcised and need to keep all the Jewish ceremonies and food laws.  

At the beginning of this chapter he overturned their boasting and called them unclean dogs, workers of iniquity, mutilators.    They are not spiritual, but carnal.   They boast of being circumcised in the flesh, but do not know the spiritual circumcision of the heart.   They boast of being pure and clean because they do not eat unclean meat or touch unclean food, while their heart is full of hatred and uncleanness.   They set their mind on earthly things and their whole religion is earthly and carnal.  

And therefore, with irony, he mockingly declares that their god is their belly.   He says this regarding their obsession with clean and unclean foods.   Their religion revolves around their belly – don’t eat this, don’t eat that – as if our purity exists in such things!

 

At the same time the apostle’s teaching in these verses may also be understood in a general sense and apply to all church members who live as enemies of the cross by setting their mind on earthly things.   The “earthly things” may then be understood as the things of this world, which the apostle John describes, saying:

 

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.   If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.   For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.   And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2: 15 – 17

 

If we ask, “Who are they who walk as enemies of the cross?”, we do not have to choose between the Judaizer and the Libertine.    They may be two extremes and seem to be opposites, but the apostle’s teaching covers them both: they are people who set their mind on earthly things.  

Such a mindset is enmity against the cross.   It is against the gospel and shuns the shame and suffering of the cross.   Such men seek their own honour and comfort, and refuse to mortify their flesh.

 

Here in our text we see that their error becomes evident by their walk of life.   Many “walk” as enemies of the cross.  They confess that they believe in Jesus Christ.   They confess the cross with their mouth, but deny the cross with their life.   The apostle already made reference to such people in chapter 1: 16 and in chapter 2: 21.  

 

These people are enemies of the cross not by confession, but by their walk of life.   In this context, speaking about carnal people who set their mind on earthly things, the expression “their god is their belly” may also refer to people living sensual and licentious lives.   The belly is then taken as a symbol for bodily or carnal cravings.     

In that case the expression “their god is their belly” may refer to gluttons or to people who serve their own fleshly cravings and impulses.   Then it refers to carnal people who live for the enjoyment of the moment, like Esau who is called a “profane person” because he sold his birthright for one morsel of food – Heb. 12: 16.  

Esau was a hedonist who went for the pleasure of the moment, of the here and the now.

 

Now, to summarise the lifestyle of these enemies of the cross the apostle says: they are people who set their mind on earthly things.  

Yes, their worldliness is not necessarily that they are gluttons, or drunkards or fornicators – they may not go to such extremes – but their heart is set on the enjoyments of this world.  

 

If we have to bring this a bit closer to ourselves – not many of us would be attracted to a blatant ungodly lifestyle, to be a drunkard or a fornicator, but a worldly life can also be a very decent life in the eyes of man.

If a married woman prefers not to raise more than two or three children, and prefers to follow her own ambitions rather than serving in the home; if she does this for the sake of “self-realisation” and “self-development” and “self-fulfilment” to climb a ladder of prestige, or for the sake of money, or just to satisfy her own desires – is this not setting your mind on earthly things? 

And is it not the opposite of following Christ’s example of humble self-sacrificing love; the example which the apostle was imitating?

 

Yes, the enemies of the cross can still be very religious, while their lifestyle denies the cross, and shuns the cross.

 

Over against such a carnal life in which men set their mind on earthly things and on all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (John 2: 16) – the apostle now directs our eyes and mind towards heaven.   We note that in the last place…

Our glorious hope

 

“For our citizenship is in heaven…”

 

Sometimes people can be very concerned that they will miss out on some pleasures in this life.   Before they marry they just have to do a world trip, and before they have children they first want to spend a few years free of such care, and in every way they make sure that they get as much as possible out of this life, and seek to enjoy as much as possible what this world offers.   Pleasure is high on their agenda.

 

It happens also that church members set their mind on the pleasures of this world and make every effort to see how much they can get out of this life, as if this life is everything!

Yes, they set their mind on earthly things, and live for the temporal pleasures of this world.

 

But, dear congregation, if our mind is set on heaven – what does it matter if you have to miss out on the pleasures of this world?   Does it really matter?  

Does it matter to you? 

If our mind is set on heaven, then the world is crucified to us, and we are crucified to the world – Gal. 6: 14.

Then we are dead to the world, and the world dead to us.

 

Our citizenship is in heaven.   

What does that mean?

It means that we are no longer citizens of this world, but citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

It is what we read in Hebrews chapter 11.   It is to confess that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth seeking the heavenly homeland that has been promised us; the city which God prepared for us – Hebr. 11: 13 – 16.

It is to have our mind completely set on the glory which God has promised us; a glory which we do not seek in this life but in the world which is to come.

 

The apostle places this mindset over against a mind set on earthly things.

The one is spiritual and will last forever, the other is carnal and of a passing world.

 

It reminds us of what he says in Rom 8:

 

“…those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.   Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.   So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” – Rom 8: 5 – 8.

 

Of course, in that passage “the flesh” refers to our unregenerate state, being carnal.

But such a state also applies in this case, for it is the unregenerate man, the carnal man, who sets his mind on earthly things; and it is the new man, the spiritual man, who sets his mind on heavenly things and lives as a citizen of the heavenly homeland that has been promised us.

 

Is it then true that someone can be so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good?

 

No, not if our heavenly mindedness agrees with this description of the apostle Paul.   In fact, no one can be any good without this heavenly mindedness.   This heavenly mindedness makes us useful servants here and now on this earth!   For: it frees us from a selfish life in which we seek ourselves and the pleasures of this world, and makes us humble and useful servants in the kingdom of Christ, even here and now.

We no longer waste any time on ourselves, we gladly spend it on others, for we seek His kingdom and His glory, and not our own.

Yes, those who set their mind on heaven become truly fruitful here on earth.

 

So then, we run the race with our eyes fixed on the goal and the prize.

 

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body…”

 

We do not expect this world to develop gradually into paradise.   We do not expect our salvation from below, but from above.   We expect our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, to come on the clouds of heaven in great power and glory.   All things will be made new, and we ourselves will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.  

 

The apostle now speaks of this final and glorious transformation.

While he mentions only the transformation of our body, we know that this bodily transformation will be the final act in our redemption.   It will not only be an outward transformation, but the final transformation of our whole man.   Our mortal and corruptible body will be changed and become immortal and incorruptable.  

It will happen when our Lord Jesus will appear on the clouds of heaven.   Then we will be completely conformed to His likeness, as the apostle John says:

 

“…we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” – 1 John 3: 2.

 

It is then that the goal of perfection will be reached, when Christ will transform us in a moment to be completely conformed to His image.

 

The goal to which the apostle presses on, as in a race, is the resurrection from the dead.  That is: the final resurrection in glory when we will be completely conformed to Christ.

Then our salvation will be complete.

 

For in case our minds have trouble to believe this, that our humbled body, even our decayed body which returns to dust, can receive such a glorious transformation, he simply adds that Christ has the power to do this “according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

 

Brothers and sisters, this is our glorious hope.  

Believing these promises, our mind remains fixed on heaven, from where we eagerly await our Lord and Saviour.

 

Those who set their mind on earthly things are heading to eternal destruction, but we who set our mind on Christ and His heavenly kingdom, who by the power of Christ’s resurrection press on to the resurrection of the dead, will by His grace and by His power enter the eternal glory that He has promised us.

 

Congregation, this gospel sets us free to live for Christ, so that we no longer live for ourselves or for this world.  

We no longer set our mind on earthly things to live for the pleasures of this world, for our citizenship is in heaven. 

In this glorious hope we live fruitful lives in service of Christ and His kingdom here and now.

 

Having this glorious hope, which is yes and amen in Christ our Saviour, let us run the race with perseverance and with single mindedness, our eyes fixed on heaven, from where we eagerly await our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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