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Standing Firm in the Lord Part 1

February 3, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Philippians

Topic: Rooted in Christ Passage: Philippians 3:15– 4:1


An Exposition of Philippians 3:15–4:1 Part 1

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   February 3, 2019

Series: Philippians: Gospel Partnership on Mission in the World

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Paul wrote Philippians 3 so that we as a church family would succeed at doing what he tells us in Philippians 4:1. Philippians 4:1 begins, “Therefore,” which immediately indicates that Philippians 4:1 is logically tied to Philippians 3. “Therefore” conveys the idea of Therefore, in light of what I have been saying in the previous verses in Philippians 3, I want you to do the thing that I am about to say now at the beginning of Philippians 4. The entirety of Philippians 4:1 says, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4:1)

Therefore, stand firm! When Paul says “stand firm thus” (italics added), he means stand firm in this way. In what way? The “thus” or in this way almost certainly includes what Paul has been setting forth in Philippians 3 – and quite possibly stretches all the way back to the “standing firm” (Philippians 1:27) instruction of Philippians 1:27. So we do well to understand that Philippians 3 exists in order to help us as a church family “stand firm… in the Lord.”

We don’t want to be a people who lose our spiritual footing. How will we be able to “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14) if we lose our balance and fall down? How will we be able to resist the allure of false teaching unless we are established in sound doctrine and keep our feet planted on the reliable ground of biblical truth? How will we be secure in our relationship with the Lord if we mistakenly think the whole thing depends on our own performance and are regularly paralyzed by our poor track record? On the other hand, how will we grow in our relationship with the Lord if we have the mistaken notion that grace excuses us from the pursuit of godliness? How will we stay true to the Lord if we do not truly love Him, and how will we truly love Him if we do not truly know Him, and how will we truly know Him if we are so easily knocked around by distractions, follies, and idols?

In the words of Philippians 4:1 – “stand firm”! In the words of Ephesians 6:13 – “stand firm”! In the words of 1 Corinthians 16:13 – “stand firm”! In the words of Galatians 5:1 – “stand firm”! In the words of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 – “stand firm”! In the words of 1 Peter 5:12 – “stand firm”! In the words of Exodus 14:13 and 2 Chronicles 20:17 and Daniel 11:32 – “stand firm”! Do you think this is important? “[Stand] firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13). “Stand firm in [the true grace of God]” (1 Peter 5:12). “[Stand] firm… in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1). We who trust and love the Lord must be diligent to guard our walk with the Lord and “stand firm” in Him.

In Philippians 3:1 Paul indicated that his aim in writing Chapter 3 was to safeguard our relationship with Christ: “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you” (Philippians 3:1). So the closely related concepts of being safe and secure in the Lord (Philippians 3:1) and standing firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1) are the bookends that define the purpose of Philippians 3:2-21. Paul wants you to be secure and strong in your relationship with Christ – therefore he writes and teaches and offers himself as an example. Likewise godly pastors and elders want you to be stable and durable in your relationship with Christ – therefore we preach and teach and set an example. But you must do your part: “Therefore…, stand firm… in the Lord, my beloved." 

So the instruction to “stand firm thus in the Lord” is the concluding exhortation to all of Philippians 3. We ought to hold onto and stand firm in all that we have learned in the previous nine sermons on Philippians 3. Do you remember? Here are those nine sermon titles (with the corresponding passage): “Rejoice in the Lord!” (Philippians 3:1). “Remain in the Lord! (Philippians 3:1-3). “The Résumé That Won’t Cut It” (Philippians 3:4-9). “The Most Valuable Possession” (Philippians 3:7-9). “The Precious Gift of Righteousness” (Philippians 3:9). “Knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:10). “Becoming Like Christ” (Philippians 3:10-11). “Following Christ on the Path of Suffering” (Philippians 3:10-11). “Pressing On Toward The Finish Line” (Philippians 3:10-15). Stand firm in these things and thereby keep your spiritual footing as you follow Jesus on the pathway to glory!


The focus of this sermon will be Philippians 3:15-17. But let me read Philippians 3:12–4:1 to keep the larger context in view. Holy Scripture says, through the apostle Paul:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 3:15–4:1)


Philippians 3:15-21 shows us eight aspects of standing firm in the Lord. We will look at five of these aspects today (with a focus on verses 15-17), and Lord-willing we will look at the other three next week (with a focus on verses 18-21). As we ponder these things, it is helpful to keep in mind that we are called to stand firm together.

At all times, we must remember that the Lord Jesus Christ didn’t lay down His life for stand-alone individuals who follow Him in isolation. On the contrary, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), that we would be His holy people who pursue holiness together. The church is not a social club in which individuals can come and go as they please. Instead, God has called us into abiding fellowship with Christ and His people. We didn’t earn our way into this fellowship, but we who were undeserving of it were grafted into it by sovereign grace. Christ claimed us for Himself through His death and resurrection, and His Spirit has united all believers together in one body, and in that one body we stand before our Lord. Therefore we “stand firm” and strive “toward the goal” together.

Standing firm is a congregational activity. The Lord’s will for the disciples who congregated in Philippi – and for the disciples who congregate here in South Paris – is to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Our hands are joined, our arms are locked, our lives are intertwined. That being the case, if one member falls to the ground, the whole body is less firm in its footing. If one member is running strong, the whole body is a more secure in its forward progress. We must think about our stability in relation to the stability of our brothers and sisters. For God intends that we be unified in mind, heart, and soul (Philippians 2:2) as we hold fast to the Lord and walk in His ways. Together as a family, let us stand firm!


We come now to consider five aspects of standing firm in the Lord.


First, stand firm in the Lord by being mature in your spiritual outlook. Philippians 3:15 begins, “Let those of us who are mature think this way.” What way? The way that Paul has been setting forth in the previous verses, especially verses 10-14. There is a clear goal, and a clear path to the goal. The clear goal is “resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11), perfection (Philippians 3:12), and glory (Philippians 3:21). The clear path to the goal is articulated in verse 10: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). 

When a sinner is born again and forgiven and reconciled to God, that former-sinner-but-now-justified-saint is put on this path of sanctification that leads to final glory. Paul is one such former-sinner-but-now-justified-saint, and as such he now wants to know Christ more deeply and become like Christ in humility, in servanthood, in obedience, in sacrificial love, in suffering, in dying to self in order to be a faithful disciple who gives 100% to Christ and Christ’s kingdom. Paul is not casual about living the Christian life, but earnest about it. Paul says “I press on” (Philippians 3:12, 14): he presses on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He is passionate about running the race on the God-appointed path of obedience and love, which leads to the God-appointed goal of resurrection and glory.

Walter Hansen, whose commentary on Philippians I have been utilizing in the course of my preparation, said something really helpful about how Paul’s mature mindset guards against two errors.[1] The first error is naïve perfectionism. Naïve perfectionism is the error of thinking that it is possible for a Christian to attain Christ-like perfection in this present life. It is not! “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Philippians 3:12), Paul says. “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own” (Philippians 3:13). Paul pursues Christ-like perfection, but he does not live in the illusion that he has already obtained it. If you believe the error that it is possible for you to attain Christ-like perfection in this present life, then you injure your faith and impede your walk. Why? Because you will either be duped into thinking that you have arrived at perfection, and thus stop running the race – because why keep running when you’ve already finished, why keep growing when you’ve already arrived? Or you will be devastated by the reality that you’re not perfected yet, and the reason you’re devastated is because you think you should be perfect. You look around and see all these supposedly perfect Christians, and a quick look in the spiritual mirror reveals all kinds of imperfections – and you’re crushed! One mark of Christian maturity is the humble awareness that you are not perfected yet – and you won’t be and shouldn’t expect to be until the future day of resurrection. Therefore you keep banking on God’s grace.

The second error is spiritual laziness. Spiritual laziness, as I am using the phrase at the moment, is the error of thinking that since you’re not perfected yet and won’t be until the day of resurrection, you can live a lax and lazy spiritual life. This is wrong on so many levels, but for now I just want us to focus on Philippians 3:12-14. Paul doesn’t reason that since he’s not perfected yet and won’t be until the resurrection, it must therefore be okay to indulge the flesh. May it never be! Woe to those “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4). I haven’t obtained it, says Paul, “but I press on to make it my own” and “I press on toward the goal”. Another mark of Christian maturity is the deep-seated desire to know Christ and be holy and follow Him. You know you are not perfected yet, but by God’s grace you are pursuing growth. You know that you won’t be perfected until the future day of resurrection, but by God’s strength you are making progress toward the finish line. Knowing that you are not yet perfected, but resolved to make progress toward it, is the spiritual outlook of a mature Christian.

Stand firm in the Lord by being mature in your spiritual outlook.


Second, stand firm in the Lord by showing grace to the immature or less mature. After Paul says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way,” he immediately adds, “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Paul does not say that “[thinking] otherwise” is okay. Paul does not say that being immature or less mature in your thinking is okay. Paul does not say that being poorly taught or having obstructed spiritual vision is okay. Maturity is healthy, and the immaturity of “otherwise” thinking is not healthy. But the mature must show grace to the immature and less mature brothers and sisters.

Think about it: immaturity is inevitable in the body of Christ. For starters, brand new Christians – also known as baby Christians – are by definition immature. Other Christians, for all kinds of reasons, grow at a slower pace. Now let’s be clear: being an immature Christian is worlds apart from being a non-Christian. Immature Christians really do trust Jesus, love Jesus, and want to follow Jesus. If they didn’t trust Him, love Him, and want to follow Him, they wouldn’t be a Christian at all. But there are people who trust and love and want to follow Jesus, and take discernible baby steps along those lines, who are nevertheless inexperienced in their faith and undeveloped in their obedience; they have not yet developed healthy rhythms of Bible reading and prayer and church involvement; their knowledge of the Bible is rather thin; and there is a lot of carryover baggage from their pre-converted days. Additionally, even in a church setting they may have been poorly taught or inadequately discipled, and they may not have had the benefit of a godly example or godly mentor to learn from. These immature believers really do need to grow. But Paul shows them grace, not by saying that their immaturity is okay, but by expressing confidence that God will produce the necessary growth in them: “God will reveal that also to you.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play in helping others grow into maturity. We really ought to seek each other’s growth. We should endeavor to exhort and instruct and strengthen one another – which is just what Paul is doing by writing this letter to the Philippians. But we must not put confidence in ourselves! We must not try to guilt people into growth or manipulate people into maturity! Someone once said: Anything I talk you into, the devil can talk you out of! God must do the decisive convincing in your heart and mind, or it is all in vain. But if we have Paul’s confidence “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6), if we have Paul’s perspective that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), then we will have a gracious and hopeful attitude toward immature or less mature Christians, knowing that we ourselves were once immature and then less mature before we ever got to the point of something that resembles authentic maturity. The forty-two year old Brian is quite a bit more mature in his Christian life and spiritual outlook than the twenty-two and thirty-two year old versions! I do well to remember this, and not be ungracious toward a brother or sister who right now more closely resembles what I was like when I was twenty-two or thirty-two. Do you understand? Let us be full of gracious expectation that the same God who has produced and continues to produce maturity in us will also produce maturity in our less mature brothers and sisters.

At the same time, Paul’s statement is a gentle nudge to the less mature to desire and expect growth. Paul understands that God is present among His people as both the teacher and the transformer of His people, and He wants the less mature to face this reality. Therefore he would have them be expectant concerning their own growth: “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Let all of God’s people live in expectation of God’s sanctifying work among us!


Third, stand firm in the Lord by not losing the ground you have already gained. In verse 16 Paul writes, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” If you haven’t been a Christian for very long, then you may not have attained much yet. If you have been a Christian for a very long time, then hopefully you have attained significant progress in your walk with Jesus. But whether you have attained little or much or anything in between, don’t regress, don’t go backward, don’t lose what you already have. Remember that what you don’t use, you lose. Avoid spiritual atrophy!

Here again, Paul is not addressing the individual Christian in isolation, but Christians in true spiritual fellowship together: “let us hold true” (italics added).[2] Do we love Jesus Christ? Do we “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:3)? Have we begun to follow Him? Have we learned to love and serve our fellow Christians? Have we grown in our understanding of God’s Word, so that God’s Word and God’s promises and God’s perspectives are shaping our life? Are we well established in the truth and joy of the gospel? Have we discovered the joy of giving our time, energy, and resources in order to build up God’s church and advance God’s mission? Do we consider it a sacred duty “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24)? Have we developed healthy habits of participating in congregational life, of fellowshipping with God in Bible reading and prayer, of turning away from distractions and temptations in order to keep to the way of holiness, wholesomeness, and peace, including peace with one another (e.g., Philippians 4:2-3)? Are we resolved to stand with Jesus, speak the truth, and suffer for His sake? I am not asking you if you as an individual are an exceptional model of spiritual maturity. I am simply asking us if God has begun to produce these kinds of good things in our life together. And if He has, and if you as an individual believer are part of this “good work” (Philippians 1:6) that God is doing, then don’t throw it away, don’t disengage, don’t get complacent, don’t get lazy. Instead, let us be Christians who stand firm in the Lord by “[holding] true to what we have attained.” Keep on!


Fourth, stand firm in the Lord by having an eye for godly people and imitating their example. To put it a different way, stand firm in the Lord by hanging around people who are standing firm in the Lord. But to do that, you have to have an eye for such people, you have to be able to recognize godliness when it is standing in front of you. This is so important! Listen to what Paul says as he continues to teach the congregation in verse 17: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

We are talking here about the great importance of example and imitation. We ought to imitate Paul, and we ought to imitate those who imitate Paul and his colleague Timothy. At the most profound level we are called to “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1) and to be imitators of Christ – “becoming like him,” as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:10. We are called to be faithful imitators!

We are not just mental creatures who live by intellectual efforts and logical inferences. Don’t misunderstand me: we are mental creatures, and as such the life of our mind is very important, and we honor God by thinking rightly (i.e., biblically!) and cherishing sound doctrine, and we have a responsibility to take what we learn and put it into practice. Yes, we are mental creatures, but we are not only mental creatures. By God’s design, we are embodied and relational creatures. By God’s design, hearing sound instruction and obeying it is meant to be coupled with seeing good examples and imitating them. These two things go together! God intends His truth to be embodied, lived, and practiced in our lives – and in our life together. In the family, parents ought to model godliness for their children, and older children for their younger siblings. In the church family, the more seasoned disciples ought to model godliness for their fellow Christians. And you, as an individual Christian, must develop an eye for godly people. You must connect the dots. In other words, you must hear the instruction from God’s Word and be able to discern people who are embodying that instruction in their everyday lives. Take note of such people, and follow their example! 

Keep your eyes on those who give and serve sacrificially and with joy. Beware the stingy!

Keep your eyes on those who are gracious and lift others up. Beware the critic or gossip!

Keep your eyes on those who are humbly aware of their imperfections and are eager to grow. Beware the self-righteous!

Keep your eyes on those who care greatly about God’s Word: when they speak, what comes out of their mouth is Bible, and full of grace. Beware the person whose main interest is in airing their own opinions!

Keep your eyes on those who trust God in the midst of their afflictions and count it a joy to have the Father’s care. Beware the grumbler and complainer.

Keep your eyes on those who put first things first and are always influencing other people toward Jesus. Beware those who promote speculations and secondary issues as if those are the most important things.

Why is this so important? Because of the sobering reality that you become like that which you behold. You cannot help but look at what you love and imitate what you see. Which is wonderful if you love Christ and enjoy being with people who embody Christlike character in their words and deeds. They will help you grow! But if you set before your eyes ungodly things or ungodly people, then you will gravitate toward ungodliness. You will become like your spiritual surroundings, you will become like what you see. “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

Stand firm in the Lord by “[walking] with the wise” and imitating their example.


This call to stand firm in the Lord by hanging around godly people who are worthy of imitation, implies another lesson for our consideration. So fifth, stand firm in the Lord by being a godly person who is worthy of imitation.

If we are among the mature in Philippians 3:15 who have a healthy spiritual outlook, if we “join in imitating [Paul]” (v. 17), then we will be “[walking] according to the example” (v. 17) that Paul and Timothy and others have modeled for us – which means that we will be worthy of imitation. Are you?

Suppose a ten-year-old child came to Jesus and said, Lord Jesus, what are the names of the people at South Paris Baptist Church who are worthy of imitation? Would you expect to be named? Don’t play the false humility game, here. If you are worthy of imitation, not because you’re perfected yet but because you’re making genuine progress on the God-appointed path toward the God-appointed goal, then it is not proud to acknowledge this and say in Paul-like fashion to others, “join in imitating me.” Now suppose Jesus scanned the congregation and, for the benefit of the ten-year-old-child, began to identify the models of godliness among us: that dear woman loves my people, follow her; that elderly man keeps learning and growing, follow him; that Dad is laying down his life for his wife and children, follow him; those empty-nesters are pouring themselves into good works within the church and wider community, follow them; that Elder is saying ‘No’ to a lot of good things so that he can do the better works that I have given him to do, follow him; that teenager is devoted to cultivating godliness and keeping herself pure, follow her. Eventually the brief commentary concludes, but not everyone’s name was named. Was yours?

Should you have doubts, I don’t say this to shame you. Instead I say this, that you might have one more godly motivation in your arsenal with which to “press on”: one reason you ought to press on is so that you can help others press on. One reason that you are part of this church family is so that you can shows others what it means to follow Jesus. One reason that you live a life “worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27) is so that your brothers and sisters can emulate your worthy conduct and be spurred on in their spiritual growth. It might help you to stand firm if you remembering that you are here for the good of others, and not only for your own good.

So stand firm for your brothers and sisters by being a godly person whose life is worthy of imitation.


In his short commentary on Philippians, Don Carson tells a story from his university days at McGill University, in Montreal, back in the 1960s.[3] Don was a Christian who had begun doing some evangelistic work on campus, but found himself a bit over his head. Meanwhile, there was an older brother in the Lord on campus – a graduate student named Dave. Dave was well equipped to share the Christian faith with other students. And Dave was a valuable resource to the other Christians on campus, including Don.

As it happened, Don brought two of the guys that he was seeking to evangelize to Dave for conversation. Don was blown away by the frankness with which Dave engaged these guys in conversation.

The first guy’s interest in Christianity was basically along the lines of intellectual curiosity, and Dave said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have time for you.”[4] That may sound somewhat harsh, but Dave wanted to maximize his disciple-making impact, not go in circles around people’s heads.

The second guy’s interest in Christianity had a bit more depth to it. He wondered what Christians had that he didn’t have. The kid had grown up in a secular home, but it was a secular home with moral values, love, discipline, and honor. He told Dave, “… for the life of me I can’t see that you people who think of yourselves as Christians are any better. Apart from a whole lot of abstract theology, what have you got that I haven’t?”[5]

You might call that a million-dollar question, but here’s the million-dollar answer: Dave replied, “Watch me. Come and live with me for a month, if you like. Be my guest. Watch what I do when I get up, what I do when I’m on my own, how I work, how I use my time, how I talk with people, and what my values are. Come with me wherever I go. And at the end of the month, you tell me if there is any difference.”[6]

Those two words, “Watch me,” are at the heart of Philippians 3:17. Granted, in the illustration Dave was telling a non-Christian to watch him, though at the same time he was setting an example for that younger Christian named Don who was recounting the story.

But what is the church as Paul depicts it in Philippians 3:15-17? It is a body of believers making progress together. Some are further along in their walk, and they set an example for us. We watch them; we “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7); we follow in their footsteps. In due course, we grow into maturity and become examples worth imitating. All true believers, whatever their maturity level, are bound together in the loving fellowship of one body, and we exhibit grace and patience and thanksgiving toward one another. We imitate the more mature members among us, and we desire to be one of those more mature members – not out of pride, but – out of love, that we might be more effective at helping others keep their feet to the path and thus making the whole body stronger. In other words, we are highly relevant to one another’s growth in discipleship! Do you believe this? According to verse 17, you either ought to have your eyes on some people in this church with a view toward imitating them, or other people in this church ought to have their eyes on you with a view toward imitating you – and quite possibly it ought to be both at the same time, as there are those ahead of us and those behind us when it comes to maturity. But levels of maturity notwithstanding, we are one church family; all the members are “side by side” (Philippians 1:27) moving in the same direction; we are growing in Christ together. Here is not “abstract theology”, but theology that is visibly lived out for the benefit of others and for the glory of God.  

Let us pray.



[1] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009: p. 249-250. What I am calling naïve perfectionism Hansen calls “moral perfectionism” (p. 249). What I am calling spiritual laziness Hansen calls “moral libertinism” (p. 249).

[2] In their comments on Philippians 3:16, both Moisés Silva and G. Walter Hansen helpfully show the corporate nature of Paul’s instruction in this verse. See: 1) Moisés Silva, Philippians: Second Edition (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005: p. 178. 2) G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009: p. 260-261.

[3] D. A. Carson Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996: p. 67-69.

[4] Ibid., p. 68.

[5] Ibid., p. 68.

[6] Ibid., p. 68-69. For those interested in knowing what happened afterward, Carson adds: “Rick [the second guy] did not take Dave up on his invitation, at least not in exactly those terms. But he did get to know Dave better; and in due course Rick became a Christian, married a Christian woman, and the two of them–becoming medical doctors–practiced medicine and lived out their faith both in Canada and overseas” (p. 69).

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