Thursday, August 10, 2017

Forging ahead to Maturity (Philippians 3:12-21)

I don’t know if many of you will know the name Karl Sim. He is a well-known New Zealand artist who died in 2013 at the age of 89. Do any of you have one of his paintings...? well you may have you just might not know it.  When I said well known I don’t mean famous rather infamous. You see Carl Sim is possibly New Zealand most well-known art forger.

In one interview he gave there was a list of well over fifty famous painters whose work he had forged. They were the ones he could remember.  He came to notoriety in the mid 1980’s when he was convicted on forty charges of forging Goldie and Petrus van der Veldun paintings. He was fined $1,000 and made to paint the Foxton town hall and public toilets as part of his 200 hours community service. Not paint a picture of them but paint the buildings themselves. He changed his name to Carl Feodore Goldie so he could legitimately sign his Goldie paintings without fear of prosecution. When he moved up to Orewa an antique dealer bought his Foxton flat and made it into an antique shop called Goldie’s Junk n’ disorderly so that Goldies memory would live on in the town. In one of his last Orewa shows there was a rather well-done Mona Lisa signed by C F Goldie.

It’s interesting that copying the masters and their works wasn’t considered a crime until art work became such an expensive commodity. It was rather seen as a way for budding artists to learn their craft. To learn the technique and brush strokes of the masters and so get better. When they tried to pass off their copies as the real thing it stopped being learning and became fraud. However George Bernard Shaw says “imitation is not just the greatest form of flattery it’s the sincerest form of learning”. In the passage we read from Philippians three today Paul tells his readers new believers in a fledgling church to imitate him as the way to forge ahead to Maturity in Christ.  

This winter we are working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. A letter where he thanks the Church for their concern for him and gift to him while he is in Prison. It’s a letter where Paul encourages the church to stand firm in the faith and to find joy in knowing and being known by Jesus Christ. The same encouragement Paul gives to us as we stand firm on our joyous journey following Jesus.

As I said before in the passage we are looking at today Paul exhorts the church to follow his example, to imitate him as an example of Christian maturity.  Paul had done this in the tail end of a section where he is warning the Church against false teaching. A group who were teaching ‘Christ Plus’ that for gentiles to be put right with God they needed not only to believe in Jesus Christ but they needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Paul had refuted that putting the focus totally on what Christ had done for us. In doing that he had talked of his own religious privileges, being born a Jew of Hebrew parents and achievements, being a strict Pharisee who kept the law and said they were like rubbish to be tossed away compared to the surpassing greatness of Knowing Christ.

 It might be easy for people to think Paul is telling them to imitate him because he is perfect that he doesn’t do anything wrong, that he has made it spiritually, but that is not the case. In fact Paul is very quick to let people know that he hasn’t made it he is not perfect, from the enemies of the cross that Paul talks of in this  passage whose God is their stomachs and who glory in their shame, he is very cautious not to fall in to another false teaching that had effected the church at Corinth, that because we are put right with God by Jesus Christ, that we are perfect, we’ve made it spiritually and that what we do with our bodies has no impact on that. That our faith in Christ does not need to be reflected in our behaviour. It’s called antinomianism, it means that no laws apply. Paul equally refutes that.

So what is it that Paul is wanting people to imitate as a way of forging ahead to maturity? It isn’t his moral perfection but rather his journey to spiritual maturity. It’s not a moral and spiritual perfectionism, but rather coming to the place of discerning what is Godly wisdom and what is earthly wisdom and to follow the former and not the later.  That is maturity.

Firstly, for Paul that forging ahead for maturity is not working for our salvation rather it is working out our salvation. Paul is steadfast as we saw last week on the fact that it is only Jesus Christ and what Christ has done that puts us right with God.  His spiritual journey is to take hold of Christ because Christ took hold of him. That encounter on the Damascus road told three times in the book of Acts is central for Paul. He tells the church in v20 that our citizenship is in heaven, that our life is eagerly awaiting a saviour to come the Lord Jesus Christ. We have those things because of Christ. The journey he is one is the upward calling of Jesus Christ. it is the journey fo his life to reflect Jesus in all he does. Because he knows Jesus more and more.  

The second thing for Paul is that paradoxically, the only people who can become spiritually mature are the people who realise that they haven’t got there yet. Not that I have obtained all this says Paul in verse 12 or have already arrived. That’s the first step to know where we are and that we need to keep growing. That change needs to happen. I am preaching through the Psalms of ascent at the services I take up at Edmund Hilary Retirement Village. They are a collection of fourteen Psalms that were used by pilgrim’s coming to the three religious  festivals at Jerusalem, they were said to be said one on each of the fourteen steps up to the temple. The first one Psalm 120 speaks of a holy discontent, that is no willing to live amongst the tents of the people who are not for peace. Who find their security in wealth and military might. It’s a willingness to move on from there and grow. In the news this week we’ve heard of the retirement of Lauren Boyle one of the New Zealand’s greatest swimmers, for her its been coming to the hard decision that because of a hip injury she can no longer keep her own standards at training that allow her to compete. She said that she will contribute to swimming in a new way. It’s a sign of maturity that it’s time for change. This week I’ve also found myself being challenged about areas of my Christian life and walk that I need to work on, I didn’t want to preach on this passage because it speaks to me. In our Christian life it’s easy to cruise or just plateau and be happy walking on the flat land, rather than the upward call of Christ Jesus…

The next thing Paul says s that he does not look at what is behind him… here is using the imagery from the Olympics of a runner who keeps looking behind them and loses sight of the goal. In our spiritual journey it’s easy to have our eyes focused behind us. Theologically its easy to look back at and thing all this Jesus stuff was way back then and over there, and not see that Jesus invites us to move forwards towards him. The focus of the passage in Philippians is not the past but the future. Our lives are seen as living in eager anticipation of the coming of Christ. Our hope is that we have a saviour coming for us. That Christ will bring everything under his control and transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorified body.  The Modern Church does not handle the return of Christ that well. We either are rather embarrassed with this belief, we identify it with the weird tramp on the corner with the sign saying ‘the end is nigh’ or the preachers who tie bible prophecy down so much they have a date! Which invertible passes by or we find ourselves wrapped up in fights over the where, the when and the how. If I can bamboozle you for a minute with all the theological catagories… Pre-millennialists, Amillennials, post-millennialists and pan millennialists. But it is when the church has a healthy understanding of Christ’s immanent return that it is at its most vibrant, that it is most about Christ’s justice in this world. Our communion service is an excellent illustration of this; It is a remembering of what Christ has done for us in the past, it is a way of us knowing of Christ’s abiding presence with us, as we meet Christ in the bread and the wine, and it is a meal of hope as we look towards sitting down with Christ face to face. Our hope in the past, our hope for now and our hope that leads us into the future.

But it is also that we can look back and see the that can trip us up and keep us from focusing on that hope… the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” , that can slow us down burden us we regret. The only if, and what if, and if it hadn’ts that seem to knock the stuffing out of us and sap our energy. Our achievements so far and our falls and failings. We forget that says Paul, we can forget it because in Christ there is forgiveness and reconciliation and we move on.

Paul then uses the language of athletics and military conflict to talk say we put our energy into moving forward. He speaks of straining, pressing on to grab hold of Christ who grabbed hold of us, of living up to what we already have obtained.  If you go into book stores these day or rather go on line and scroll through the pages of electronic books you’ll find many self-help books. They have  ways of moving forward by setting goals and finding mentors to help you on the journey, and helpful hints and practises. But Paul first and foremost is real to say that it takes effort. It’s kind of like Gym memberships in the new year, and I am speaking from personal experience here, its easy to start out with the greatest of intentions and  well as the year rolls on and February comes along its easy to slip back into old routines and old ways.

Paul balances talking of effort by talking of who it is we should focus on. The focus is on Christ. To keep our eyes on him, to be about conforming our lives to his. The great thing is that as we move forward Christ is with us to help us on the way. We have God’s spirit within us to keep us going.

The other thing is that Paul does encourage us to find mentors of models that we can imitate. That there are personal trainers of the way. I’ve really found my supervisor beneficial and I specifically chose him because of his expertise in an area that I know is one of my weaknesses, I’ve really benefited as he has worked me though that area. He’s finished his PHD and is moving to Wellington and so I’m going to have to look for a new one. I’ve been dreading it actually. But as I have been confronted by another area of life I need to work on I came to the realisation that here is a chance to actually find someone who can put some effort in with me on that area, like my old supervisor has in the other area. Can I say I’ve got lots of weaknesses. An example of Christ working and me going through this process that Paul is speaking of.  

Paul gives a good warning about the people we should not emulate as well. He calls them enemies of the Cross. People whose God is their stomach, whose glory is their shame, speaking of people with shonky morals. Whose minds are set on earthly things. They are the opposite of what we are looking for. Not that we are looking for perfect people, we want people on the same road to maturity that we are but who like Paul have a single minded Zeal and an absorbing desire to  be with and like Christ.

Paul finishes with two pictures that encourage us on that journey. The first is that we are citizens of heaven and we eagerly await the coming of a saviour Jesus Christ. The Church in Philippi would have understood this quite well as Philippi was a colony of Rome and they were citizens of Rome a long way from home, with all its privileges and responsibilities. Like that we too are citizens of Heaven and we experience both the privileges and responsibilities of that. We know Christ and we live in a way that reflects that but we are together in that we are in Christ and we live it out together.

The second is that while we work away and toil away in our lowly bodies, when our saviour comes he will subdue all things and we will be transformed to be like him. As we forge ahead on our upward calling to be more like Christ in our lives he by his power will make us the real deal.

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