Backsliding

Philippians 3:15-19

“Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.  For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.  They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.”

Background:

  • “Paul exhorts those who are mature to think in harmony with what he has just said, and promises that those who think differently about minor points will be enlightened by God if their attitude is right.”  (Expositors Bible Commentary) The word for mature here is teleioi.  These are not perfect people but a contrast to new believers.  He says one mark of the spiritually mature is that they don’t argue and get all bent out of shape when they disagree on minor points.  Instead they seek God with a teachable attitude knowing that He will reveal truth to them.  Jeremiah 33:3 “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.”  James 1:5 “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”
  • If Paul was from Texas, I think he might have said, “Be careful about backsliding.” He said the same thing a little more eloquently – “Hold on to the progress we have already made.”   Just like when we exercise physically, we can quickly lose ground spiritually if we don’t stay disciplined in our pursuit of God.  I am often tempted to coast off prior knowledge and experiences with God.  This is when backsliding occurs as I lose the intimacy with Christ and other believers when prayer, God’s Word, fellowship, and sacrificial service take a backseat to independence and going my own way.  God knows our human tendency to backslide so He uses Paul to remind us to diligently hold onto our spiritual progress.
  • Paul then gives some practical help on how to keep spiritual muscles from atrophy.  He says to follow his example.  It seems kind of arrogant upon first glance.  “Such advice was not egotism, for Paul’s emphasis was always strongly christological.  Furthermore, Paul includes others in this model as he urges his readers to take note of those who were living in conformity with ‘the pattern we gave you.'” (Expositors Bible Commentary)  This isn’t pride, instead Paul let’s us know how much we need each other and to seek those we respect who are truly following Christ.  We need to get around them, talk to them, watch them, ask them questions, and then pattern our lives after them.  We are so easily influenced by those closest to us.  We become like the people we hang out with.  Since this is true, we should choose carefully who we want to become more like – this will greatly impact our spiritual growth, our marriage, our parenting, our financial decisions, and the course of our lives.
  • With tears in his Paul then points out sin in the lives of others.  This was probably about as popular then as it is now.  Its very cool to be all about grace, love, and forgiveness, but not cool to point out sin. Paul lets them know about his tears probably because he is about to speak very harshly – perhaps about the Judaizers who were pushing for circumcision.  He points out “enemies of the cross.”  He describes three things about them:
  1. Their god is their appetite. (literally stomach – he might have been referring to Jews who enforced all the kosher laws or more generally to “sensualists who indulged in various physical appetites without restraint.”)
  2. The brag about shameful things.  (“They actually exulted in what ought to have been shameful to them.”) 
  3. They think only about this life on earth.  (“Their whole attention is fixed on physical and material interests.”)
  • I wish these three things to describe “enemies of the cross” hit further away from my heart.  Paul was willing to boldly admonish through loving tears when those he loved backslid into worldly pursuits of appetites, bragging about sin, and a focus on material things.

Application questions:

  • If you consider yourself spiritually mature, how do you handle disagreements?  Do you seek God with a teachable spirit knowing that He will reveal His truth to you or do you get into conflicts easily?
  • How can you keep from backsliding spiritually this summer?  Without spiritual rhythms of Bible studies, small groups, or other routines that relax in the summer, how can you stay spiritually strong and not lose ground?
  • Who do you hang around with?  Are they the people you want to become like?  Find a Paul in your life, someone you respect spiritually who is a little farther down the spiritual path and follow their example.  Paul was in prison so following his lead probably meant reading his writings.  We have so many great books written by godly men and women available to us.  Never before in history have we had access like we do now to others we can pattern our lives after even if we never meet them personally.
  • Finally, take a hard look at the three things that characterize enemies of the cross.  Does it remind you at all of the culture we currently live in?  Without the oars of prayer and Bible study, we will be sucked downstream into this thinking without even realizing it.

Prayer:

Adoration: Praise God that He wants us to seek Him for answers to all of our questions.  He is approachable through Christ.

Confession:  Repent of any backsliding God reveals.

Thanksgiving:  Thank God that He is willing to meet us wherever we’ve backslidden to with grace and hope for a new beginning.  He never gives up on us.

Supplication: Ask God to show you some physical people you can pattern your life after.

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