Imitating the Apostle Paul

“For many years, the coast town of  Monterey, California, was a pelican’s paradise.  As the fishermen cleaned their fish, they flung the offal to the pelicans.  The birds grew fat, lazy, and contented.   Eventually, however, the offal [began to be] utilized, and there were no longer snacks for the pelicans.  When the change came, the pelicans made no effort to fish for themselves.  They waited around and grew gaunt and thin. Many [even] starved to death.  They had forgotten how to fish for themselves.  The problem was solved by importing new pelicans from the south, birds accustomed to [scavenging] for themselves.  They were placed among their starving cousins, and the newcomers immediately started catching fish.  Before long, the hungry pelicans followed suit, and [their] famine was ended (Bits and Pieces, 1994, bible.org).  

“When Gen. George C. Marshall took command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA, he found the post in a generally run-down condition.  Rather than issue orders for specific improvements, he simply got out his own paintbrushes, lawn equipment, etc., and went to work on [sprucing up] his personal quarters.  The other officers and men, first on his block, then throughout the post, did the same thing, and Fort Benning was brightened up [without even saying a word]” (source unknown, bible.org).

“A researcher for Penn State discovered [that] 98% of teens reported lying to their parents in a recent study.  They lied about [how they spent money, how they spent their time, and who they spent their time with].  Yet 98% of [the] teens say [that] trust and honesty are essential in a personal relationship, [and 97%] say lying is morally wrong. [So,] what’s happening? … The most disturbing reason [that teens] lie is that [their] parents teach them to.  When adults are asked to keep diaries of their own lies, they admit to about one lie per every social interaction, which works out to [at least] one per day, on average. Encouraged to tell so many white lies and hearing so many from others, [teens] gradually get comfortable with being dishonest” (taken from Church Leader Intelligence Report 3-12-08).

These three examples show us the power of example and influence, don’t they?  The apostle Paul once wrote to the brethren in the church at Corinth: “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Why was Paul worth imitating?  One writer had this to say about Paul: “The range of his friendship and the warmth of his affection are qualities which no attentive reader of his letters can miss. … And in his friends, he was able to call forth a devotion which knew no limits” (Bruce).  Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi was a very strong and close one.  Reading through his letter to them brought the power of imitation and example to mind.  This morning we want to look at nine ways that we can imitate the apostle Paul based on Phil. 1:19ff.  

First of all, may we have Paul's boldness (1:19-20)!  Let’s read vv. 19-20.  “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance” is an exact quotation from Job 13:16 in the Greek version of the OT.  Like Job, Paul was confident that God would be his ultimate Helper.  But then Paul adds two other sources of strength: the brethren’s prayers and the Holy Sprit’s help.  The brethren’s prayer would help him to act properly, and the Holy Spirit’s strength would help him to speak correctly.  Paul’s “earnest expectation” (like a runner stretching to cross the finish line) was that he would not do something that would make him ashamed of himself while making his defense for his faith.  With great boldness, he wanted to stand fearlessly for what was right.  No matter what the outcome—whether he was declared innocent and let free or found guilty and sentenced to death—he wanted Jesus to be glorified!  Someone has observed that God is not glorified in cathedrals or political movements but in the lives of bold Christians.  Someone else said that to have Paul’s boldness, Jesus must not be just a part of our lives but He must be at the heart of our lives.  Why don’t we begin praying that Jesus will be magnified through our congregation’s boldness to stand fearlessly for what is right?  Let’s face our trials with Paul’s confidence and boldness.  May we have his boldness!  

Secondly, may we have Paul's perspective on death (1:21-26)!  Let’s read 1:21-26.  Isn’t Paul’s outlook amazing?  His living is wrapped up in Christ, and his dying, well, that’s even more profitable!  Yes, living means a fruitful and productive life, but dying, well, it is very far better (Paul puts 3 comparatives together)!  So Paul walks in a narrow passage pressed on both sides between the walls of life and death.  His deep desire (or we might say,“his burning passion”; it’s the same word that often used in the NT for lust) is to pull up stakes from the camp or throw the ropes off the mooring so that he can be with Christ.  Paul is expecting a closer intimacy and a deeper fullness with Jesus beyond death!  His staying in this life, however, is more necessary for the advancement of the Philippian brethren’s faith.  So, he says, “I’ll continue on, and your faith will progress, and our joy will be made full when I come to you again!”  Paul saw death as a profit, as something better than what this world offers, as a trip to a greater destination or a path to a closer friendship!  Death is no “grim reaper” for Paul; it’s only a bridge to get him closer to Christ.  An American poet stated it this way: “And so beside the Silent Sea, I wait the muffled oar; No harm from Him can come to me on ocean or on shore.  I know not where His islands lift their fronded palms in air; I only know I cannot drift beyond His love and care” (Whittier).  Dying is very far better—may we have Paul’s perspective on death!  

Thirdly, may we have Paul's courage (1:27-28)!  Now let’s read verse 27-28.  Paul wants his followers' conduct to be worthy of the gospel.   Then, Paul spells out what living worthy of the gospel looks like.  It involves three elements: standing fast in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel with one mind, and taking a courageous stand against those who oppose our beliefs.  Paul knew that Satan never stops trying to make Christians waver, give up, and defect.  Standing fast in one spirit is having a firm dedication to being unified.  Striving together for the faith comes from a military term meaning to march side by side in the battle.  Not being afraid comes from a term where horses would be spoofed and then stampede.  Paul knows that there will be continued opposition from the Philippian brethren's Roman neighbors.  Their courageous united stance would be the living proof to their opponents that they were in the wrong and the conduct taught by Christ was in the right!  It's like the elderly lady who attended a seminar conducted by an atheist.  He had been presenting all kinds of arguments against God's existence.  Then he opened the floor for questions.  This elderly lady stood up and said, “Now sir, I know I will not be as eloquent as you.  But I do have a question.  When I was about 30, my husband died and I had to raise our three sons by myself.  Sir, it was not easy, but I asked God to help me everyday, and He gave me the strength to go to work, to administer discipline, and to teach my sons right from wrong.  My question, sir, is this: when the crisis times come in life, what can you fall back on in your system daily to help you live productively?  The atheist had no response.  Don't you admire that women's courage to set the record straight?!  May we steadfastly stand together side by side, and may we courageously stand against our foes as well.  May we have Paul's courage!  

Fourthly, may we have Paul's suffering (1:29-30)!  Now let’s read these verses.  Notice how Paul puts believing in Jesus and suffering for Jesus together.  Suffering is usually not easy, but it does have some positive values: it matures us, it helps us to see what's important, and it can be used by God to bring about blessing and good.  Paul had experienced suffering during his mission work in Philippi; we remember how he was falsely accused, beaten, and put into the stocks for Christ's sake.  And Paul was writing his letter while being chained to a Roman guard because his faith in Jesus had brought him to Rome to stand trial before Caesar.  When we suffer for righteousness, we are partners with Christ in His previous agonies.  When we suffer for righteousness, we are partners with all the saints who have ever suffered for their faith.  When we suffer for righteousness, we show the proof of our faith that we believe God is ultimately in control.  The apostle Peter encourages us with these words: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16).  Some Christians have been disowned by their families, some Christians have lost jobs, some Christians have been ridiculed by their peers, and some Christians have been severely tortured.  Suffering for us Christians is standard equipment; it is not an optional extra.  Although somewhat scary, may we have Paul's suffering! 

Fifthly, may we have Paul's attitude for “others” (2:1-8)!  Now let's read 1-8 or chapter 2.  Paul states that he wants the brethren in Philippi to have an “’others” attitude.  Be like-minded or have this attitude.  Do not act out of selfish ambition, but esteem others better than yourself, look out for their interests, and be willing to humble yourself, to give up your prerogatives just as Jesus gave up His.  Paul had this “others” attitude as he gave himself tirelessly to serve the churches that he had established.  With the “others” attitude, we won't hear members saying, “We either do it this way, or I'm leaving.”  With the “others” attitude, there will be no place “for petty conflicts for [position] and preferment, no jockeying for gaining advantages, no pushing and shoving for prestige or attention” (Coffman).  Instead, we will see members forgoing their rights.  Someone once said that Jesus’ coming to earth to die for us would be like us giving up the advantages of our humanity to become cockroaches!  Jesus knew that servanthood would have to precede brotherhood (Barnes).  Our humility, submission, and obedience under God leads to our humility, submission, and looking out for the interests of other members (Martin).  It's not about my way or your way, but it's all about God's way and serving Him together!  An elder once told me, “If we can ever get members in a congregation to put the good of the whole above their own preferences, then that church will go far!”  Let's have Paul's “others” attitude!  

Sixthly, may we have Paul's hope (2:9-11)!  Now let's read verses 9-11.  In verse 9, God steps in.  We see Him who stooped so low now being raised to the highest place of honor and given the most authoritative name in all creation (Martin)!  One day all angels, men, and demons will bow before Him and will verbally confess His Lordship!  Someone has rightly observed, “There will be no atheists on the Judgment Day” (Barnes)!   Jesus is the Supreme Ruler—this was Paul's hope, this was every martyr's hope, this is every oppressed Christian's hope, and this is our hope as well!  Paul already knew that the victory was secure since the resurrected Jesus reigns at God's right hand!  Remember what Paul said at the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteousness Judge [that's the living and ruling Jesus] will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  May we also have Paul's hope—Jesus continues to reign over all!  

Seventhly, may we have Paul's joy (2:12-16)!  Now let’s read these verses.  Missionaries have no greater joy than to know their converts are holding fast the word of life and living faithful lives; it makes all the previous sacrifices worthwhile!  Paul wants these good brethren to be able to carry on without him.  Their labor to practice their salvation and God's work among them to help them do His will brings God pleasure (Harrell).  Then Paul encourages the Philippian brethren not to complain or grumble.  Ever notice how just one grumbler can really destroy a group's spirit?  (Barnes)  Being blameless means correcting the sins in our congregation, and being harmless means living together in such a way that no finger of criticism can be pointed against us (Barnes and Harrell).  This kind of lifestyle is certainly counter-cultural, so Christians stick out against the social darkness like bright stars!  By doing these things, they will be holding on tightly to the word of life like a runner who holds on tightly to the torch that he carries.  If we'll hold on to one another, and to God's word, then we'll be able to hold out and endure when testing comes!  Such faithfulness would have caused the apostle Paul to rejoice!  Let's hold each other up and all cross the finish line together in that Great Day!  What a joyful triumph that will be!  Hold on, hold out, hold up!  May we have Paul's joy!  

Eighthly, may we have Paul's generosity (2:17-18)!  Now let’s read these verses.  Paul uses the language of sacrificial worship here.  He compares the Philippian brethren's faith to a sacrifice and a service, and he compares his ministry to a drink offering.  “The Jews sometimes poured wine out on an altar in connection with religious sacrifices (Numbers 15:1-10)” (NSB).  Both Paul and the Philippian brethren are giving of themselves to God, and Paul is joyful to see such generosity.  Someone has rightly observed that “every call for sacrifice or toil was a call to Paul's love for Christ, which he gave with joy” (Coffman).  Do we see ourselves as living sacrifices?  Are we willing to give up our will, our time, our energy, and our funds for the cause of Christ?  We have a gospel meeting coming up.  Will we give anything towards making it a success?  Will we give up some of our evenings to attend?  Will we give up some time to invite others?  May we learn the joy of service and have Paul's generosity.   

Lastly, may we have Paul's brotherly love (2:19-30).  Let's read 2:19-30.  Listen carefully to how Paul describes his brothers in the Lord.  Timothy is like-minded and sincerely cares for the Philippian brethren (Timothy had known them from the start).  Timothy has the “others” attitude (that we mentioned earlier), and he had a proven track record of helping Paul in working with various congregational situations.  His was like a son to Paul and helped him greatly (Paul probably hated losing his help when he sent him to Philippi).  See how greatly Paul treasured Timothy!  And then notice what he says about Epaphroditus, the brother that the Philppian brethren sent to carry a gift to Paul.  Paul calls him: a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, a messenger, a minister, and one who should be held in esteem.  Epaphroditus had risked his life to serve Paul.  Paul tells the Philippian brethren to give him a hero’s welcome home, with all the joys and pats on the back included!  See how greatly Paul honored Epaphroditus! Paul’s brotherly love for these men is very evident because of the respect and praise that he has for them.  Do we love one another in our church family in a similar fashion?  Certainly, we also have some dedicated brethren, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom we need to esteem.  Let’s respect and speak highly of one another, just like Paul did.  May we have Paul’s brotherly love!   

“A nine-year-old named Tommy had just received a model ship from his great aunt who lived a considerable distance away.  As he looked at the outside of the box and the picture of a completed ship, he was anxious to retrieve it from the box and see it up close for himself.  When he opened the box, he was dismayed to discover that the ship was in small pieces and had to be put together by hand.  His discouragement only heightened when he remembered that his dad was out of town and couldn't help him.  He knew his dad would help, if only he was there.  As he sat and thought, he began to ponder, ‘What would Daddy do if he were here?’  He looked around the table and his eyes caught sight of the instructions for assembly. He thought, ‘Daddy would do it right; he would follow the instructions.  If I want to do it right, I've got to be like Daddy.’  With that [in mind], he followed the instructions carefully and built a beautiful model ship.  Later, when his father saw the finished work and heard what he had done, he praised his son for using his head and his heart to do the right thing.  We need to think more like our Heavenly Father from day to day.  That will make the difference between living in victory or defeat.  We need to dwell on the instructions God gives us and make them a part of our lives so much that we begin to imitate [Paul and Jesus]. Thinking [loving, and living] like God wants us to think [love, and live] is no small task, but [with wisdom and help from above] it can be done” (N. Johnson, bible.org).  The Lord’s instructions tells us that our journey of faith begins with seriously considering Christ, then repenting of our sinful lives, then confessing before others that we want to follow Him, then being buried in a watery grave with Him to rise a new creation, then living faithful lives of devoted service through Him, just as the apostle Paul did.  Won’t you start that journey this very day?