Follow Those Who Follow Christ

By Francis Frangipane

"Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." -Philippians 3:17
Paul faced a major problem in the first century. False teachers had slipped into the church. The apostle warned the Philippians, and us by extension, to recognize the differences between a true man of God and a deceptive teacher or prophet. Without any sense of false humility, Paul declared that both his vision and his spiritual attitude were examples for us to follow. He instructs us in our powers of discernment to look for and "observe" leaders who exemplify the centerpiece of God's purpose, which is to possess the likeness of Christ.

The context in which Paul wrote describes both his self-righteousness before he found Christ and his utter abandonment of fleshly confidence afterward. We will study these verses carefully. For in an age of increasing deception, not everyone who cries "truth, truth" is speaking in defense of conformity to Jesus.

"Beware of the Dogs"
Paul began his discourse by revealing three distinct types of false teachers. He warned, "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision" (Phil. 3:2). These three each have their modern counterparts.

The first group Paul identified as "the dogs." The phrase "beware of the dog(s)" is familiar to us today. It means there is a vicious animal here. In Paul's day, most dogs were scavengers that ran in packs. One could find dozens of canines eating off the rubbish heaps outside cities, their faces bent downward as they sniffed and rooted out garbage to feed upon.

Today's church has similar people, fault-finders, who incessantly and self-righteously feed upon the garbage and failures of the human condition. Paul is saying, Beware of those who always have something negative to say, who are continually judging or slandering others. If you listen to them, you will become like them. Their words will rob you of vision, leave you without joy, and drain you of energy.

Paul wasn't saying, of course, to completely ignore what is wrong in people. We need discernment. Let me state plainly: There are serious doctrinal errors and sins in the modern church. But when you observe a pattern of angry, self-righteous fault finding in a person, when their primary view always seems negative, beware. Remember, Jesus warned of the Pharisees who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt" (Luke 18:9). Beware when your teacher must frequently tear down others to lift himself up.

"Evil Workers"
Paul next warned against the "evil workers." He describes this group briefly in the first chapter. These individuals do, in fact, proclaim Christ, but they do so from "envy . . . strife . . . selfish ambition" rather than from love (Phil. 1:15-17). For them, building a church is a competitive endeavor, a business. James also underscores this problem, saying, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).

Part of Paul's efforts as an apostle was to build Christ-centered unity among Christians. However, the "evil workers" were self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Before we follow any leader, we truly ought to see the influence of Christ growing in that individual's character. Look to hear the pastor speak, at least occasionally, of his or her vision of attaining Christlikeness. Look for evidences of humility; listen to hear his burden for prayer, and see how he cultivates unity with other Christian churches. If your pastor or leader is growing in these values, then he is also growing in trustworthiness. As he seeks to follow Christ, the fruit of his ministry will, most likely, be healthy.

"The Judaizers"
The third warning was aimed against the "false circumcision" (Phil. 3:2). These were the Jewish Christians who, when they were saved, tried to make Christianity an extension of Judaism. This last teaching was the most dangerous because it seemed the most plausible.

The essence of this error was that Christ's atonement was not enough for salvation; you also had to keep the whole system of Mosaic Laws to be saved. Today, people continue to import religious obligations into the salvation experience. In exposing and warning against the influence of the "false circumcision," Paul set a firewall against the bondage of legalistic requirements for salvation. And while the way is indeed narrow that leads to life, the Way is a Person: Jesus Christ. We do not arrive at our goal by keeping laws but by entrusting ourselves to the keeping of Christ.

The True Pattern
It is one thing to be able to discern what is false, but it is of much greater value to know clearly the pattern of the true. Thus, Paul uses chapter three of Philippians to reveal his attitude of heart. In so doing, he gives us the pattern of what we should look for in a leader.

After presenting his remarkable pedigree in versus 5-6 - an Israelite by birth; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness defined in the Law, found blameless - Paul then renounces the very things he attained, saying: "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (v. 7). For the mature, no position or esteem among men can replace the "surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord." The most amazing of achievements become "rubbish in order that [we] may gain Christ" (v. 8).

Paul separates himself further from the Mosaic Law, revealing that his quest is to "be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ" (v. 9). Having been saved from the consequences of the Law, and having received a new source of "righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith," Paul is liberated to pursue his true destiny: Christlikeness!

Beloved, we began this study with Paul's admonition to "observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (v. 17). In the following verse, God reveals the pattern we want to copy:

"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (vv. 10-11).

There is a difference between knowing a collection of religious truths and actually knowing Christ. Truth is in Jesus; He Himself is the way, the truth and the life. To know Him is eternal life, and to live in fellowship with Him is to partake of the nectar of heaven.

Yet, knowing Christ also means knowing the fellowship of His sufferings as we lay down our lives for the redemption of others. For those suffering for Jesus, remember: participation in His sufferings is part of knowing Him.

Paul did not embrace death as an entity by itself; he embraced Christ's death, which is not only the death of self, but also the triumph of love. It is this surrender to "death for Jesus' sake" that allows "the life of Jesus [to] be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11).

Paul continued in Philippians, "Not that I have already . . . become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12). Again, we are looking at the pattern God seeks for each of us. A mature Christian is one who lives in pursuit of God!

Paul said, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (vv.13-14). What did Paul choose to "forget"? He let go of the wounds, forgave the offenses, and released to God the disappointments of yesterday. He pressed toward the prize of possessing Christ.

Many teachers will come and go throughout your life. Remember Paul's warnings as you pray about whose teachings might influence you. Look for those who are pressing toward the prize of Christlikeness. As for the others, pray for them, stand with them, and, as you are led by the Lord, even attend their churches and encourage them in love and prayer. But if they are not going where you are going, do not follow them!

Paul set the pattern for us. In these times of deception, accusation and false discernment, let us look for and observe those who walk after the pattern of Paul. Let us discern the influence of Jesus in those who lead us. As we clearly see the Lord, let us follow those who follow Christ.

Taken from Francis Frangipane's book, "The Days of His Presence" available at www.arrowbookstore.com.

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