Following the Right Example – Philippians 3:17-19

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

August 1, 2004

Following the Right Example

Philippians 3:17-19


Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes? Do they fit the examples God has left for us as true heroes? I want you to understand what God says in his word about those we hold out to be models for our own behavior and attitudes. Too often I find people who profess to know and love Jesus Christ who hold in high esteem the ungodly. They have the wrong heroes!

Turn with me again to Philippians 3. This morning we are going to be studying verses 17-19, and find out about the kind of heroes we should have as Christians. These verses are found in the context of passage that extends to verse 21. Please follow along as I read.

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, [that they are] enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is [their] appetite, and [whose] glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

This passage occurs immediately in the context of Paul’s warning about the people he referred to as the “dogs,” “evil workers” and “false circumcision.” These are the Judaizers and those like them that seek to lead people away from the true gospel, which, as Paul explains in verse 9, is a righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and not one in which the righteousness of works is added. Paul is very clear about this danger in many of his writings. Galatians is the most direct, for in it he calls such a gospel false and warns that those who preach it are accursed.

We must always be on guard against those that want to add works of righteousness as a requirement for salvation. In Paul’s time, the greatest threat came from those who wanted to require adherence to Old Testament ceremonial law as necessary for salvation. In our own time, that threat is still present for there are many groups that still go back to the Old Testament and require their people to keep certain of those laws, such as observing certain days and dietary restrictions. They ignore the fact that those ceremonial laws are not required of a Christian (Acts 15), and that in doing so they may actually be teaching the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-5). There are also those that add their own list of requirements that they have either inherited as part of their religious tradition or have made up for themselves.

Paul goes on in verses 4-6 to describe his own works when he was a zealous Pharisee, and in verses 7-11 how he counted all those things as loss and rubbish in view gaining Christ and being able to pursue knowing Him to the greatest extent humanly possible. Paul wanted to know the power of the resurrection, which refers to his desire to see Jesus Christ living through him and changing him to be like Christ. Paul even goes to the point of desiring to know the fellowship of His suffering and being conformed to the image of His death.

In verse 12-16 Paul makes it clear that there was still more room for him to grow in knowing Jesus. Paul had not yet arrived at complete maturity, and he makes it clear in other passages that he knew that would not and could not happen in this life. There would always be room to improve, but Paul was still single minded in his pursuit. He was continually pressing on to lay hold of the reason for which Jesus had saved Him. He was continually reaching forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, and he would not let the past or side issues distract him from that goal. That is the attitude that he calls people to in verse 15 and for them to maintain.

Right Examples

In verse 17, Paul put forth a very practical means for any individual to achieve this goal. “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”

It is a given that there is a gap between understanding something intellectually and being able to put that knowledge into practice. That is the reason for positions such as trainee, intern and apprentice in so many different jobs even after someone has done the classroom and book work. There needs to be the interaction with and the personal example of a teacher. When a disciple (student) is fully trained, he will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). The same is true when it comes to God’s revelation of Himself and His will and our ability to respond properly. We need to have examples that can show and teach us the way we are to live. Paul calls them to follow the example he, or any one else following the same pattern, has set for them.

This is the fourth time that he has referred to the Philippian believers as “brethren,” and once again he is calling attention to the personal relationship that he has with them. His example was neither an unknown quantity, nor something they only knew about in theory. They knew him personally and had seen first hand how he conducted himself.

It is interesting to note that the word used here, summimhthV / summimLtLs, has a sense of community about it instead of being a singular effort. It is to “join in following an example” or be “a fellow imitator.” You are not left to do this alone, but you are to join in with others who are also doing the same thing. This fits well with the very nature of the church as the body of Christ and the practice of all the “one another” verses. We are to help each other along in the process.

What kind of example did Paul give to those that would follow him? As I have been pointing out for the last couple of weeks, he gave a very realistic example. Paul was not up on some pedestal that would be unreasonable for normal Christians to attain. That is why I have stressed in our study of this chapter that Paul is a normal human just like the rest of us. He did reach a great degree of maturity, but he did so the same way that is available to each of us. He did not reach perfection. He still had areas of sin that he struggled with as he sought to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 7). His example includes not only his triumphs, but also his response to his failures.

What are some of the key characteristics that we find in Paul that should serve as a model for us? Perhaps the first one that should be mentioned is that his call for us to follow his example is not without qualification. While Paul is a good example and role model, he is not the ideal. As Paul states in 1 Cor. 11:1, we are to be imitators of Paul as he is of Jesus Christ. The ultimate goal is to be like Jesus, not Paul, but Paul is a good example of what it means for a human to become like Jesus. The first characteristic then that we find in following Paul’s example is that we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).

The next key characteristic of Paul for us for us to imitate is keeping the right priorities even as Paul has just expressed in the previous verses. Paul kept the proper goal in mind and did not let other things hinder him from the pursuit of that which was the most important – the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. He desired to be like Christ and to serve Him. Paul strove to do what Hebrews 12:1,2 tells us to do and lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. As I said last week, it is not just a matter of trying to eliminate obvious sin from our lives, but it is also going to the next level and setting aside things that may even be good if they are not helpful in the pursuit of our priorities. Paul could have done so many different things, but he limited himself to doing what was most important in his service for Christ. For example, he set aside the physical comforts of having a stable home in order to pursue traveling all over the Roman world to preach the gospel. As 1 Cor. 9 tells us, Paul actually had a right take a believing wife with him on his travels and to reap a material return for his spiritual ministry to people, but instead, he remained single (1 Cor. 7) and labored himself in order to not cause any hindrance to the gospel of Christ (vs. 12).

Another characteristic of Paul was that he was adaptable. Things did not have to be according to the way he liked them to be done. Paul could adapt himself into whatever culture he was in without compromise of any command of God or being assimilated by an ungodly culture. As he stated in 1 Cor. 9:22, 23 “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” By keeping his priorities strait, Paul was able to discern what was important and what was not important. A particular issue at that time was eating meat offered to idols. Godliness was not a matter of eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Paul knew that idols are nothing (1 Cor. 8:4f), so he had freedom to eat such meat, but at the same time, he valued the weaker conscience of other Christians who found it offensive. Paul could eat it or refrain from it as needed according to what was best for sake of the gospel at that moment of time. The same principle applies to all sorts of other particular issues. That is a good model for us to imitate as we seek to reach the many diverse cultures that exist within our own community. How well can you adapt without compromising your own godliness or becoming assimilated?

Another characteristic of Paul that is important to note is his quickness to take responsibility and apologize when he was wrong. In Acts 23 Paul had been brought in before the Sanhedrin, (the Jewish governing council), regarding the accusations that had been made against him the previous day when a mob sought to kill him in the Temple. Starting in verse 1, we find the following. 23:1 And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” 4 But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'”

For whatever reason, the High Priest was not identifiable to Paul. Possibly he was not dressed properly. Most of us would have probably responded with further complaints about the High Priest and his injustice, but Paul quickly recognized his error regardless of the unfairness of the situation. Paul was able to do this because the word of God was his frame of reference for discerning right and wrong, not the social mores of that society or the thoughts of his own heart. We need to make sure that the same is true in our own lives as we face the many situations in life in which we will be treated unfairly. We live in a society that values personal rights often to the exclusion of righteousness, so it would be easy for us to go with the flow and follow in their sin.

Another characteristic of Paul that we should model was his love for God and His word that caused him to stand up and say what needed to be said even if it meant giving a rebuke and risking conflict. It is important to note here that this boldness was predicated on the issue being something clear in the Scriptures. Paul did not just demand his own way. In Galatians 2 we find an incident in which the Judaizers had even swayed Cephas (Peter) and Barnabas to withdraw and become aloof from the Gentiles even to the point of refusing to eat with them. Vs. 11 tells us that when Paul met Cephas (Peter) in Antioch he “opposed him to his face” over the issue. We also need to love God and His commandments enough to stand up for them even if we are criticized or even persecuted for it. (Letters to the Editor)

It is a great tragedy that our society is now so confused about right and wrong that we now commonly find that adults are afraid to correct the children of others and often even their own. And if they are not confused about right and wrong, they are afraid of the backlash by the parents who defend the evil of their children. Yet Leviticus 19:17-19 describes reproof as part of loving your neighbor. David desired the righteous to rebuke him so that he would not incline his heart to any evil thing or practice deeds of wickedness (Ps. 141:4,5). Jesus said that if our brother sins, we are to reprove him so that he might turn away from it (Mt. 18:15; Luke 17:3). Provers 24:25 states that those who rebuke the [wicked] will be delight, And a good blessing will come upon them.” We need to be people who are bold to speak up for righteousness in our community and society.

Paul is a good and realistic example for us to follow, and these are just some of the characteristics he possessed that we should imitate. But Paul did not hold himself out as the only model. He specifically calls us to observe those who walk according to the pattern that you have in us. The “us” would include at least Timothy who is listed as a co-author of the letter, and possibly Ephaphroditus who Paul commends to them in 2:25-20.

But beyond Paul, Timothy and Ephaphroditus is included all that walk according to the pattern set by them. This is the essence of what discipleship is all about. Jesus taught Paul (Gal. 1:12), and Paul taught Timothy. Timothy in turn was instructed to teach faithful men who would to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). So it continues to this day that each of us follows the pattern of godliness we learn from others and we teach that pattern to those that follow behind us.

We can and should learn from those that have gone before us. Personally, one of the negative consequences of our entertainment culture is that we do not take the time to read about the great Christians of the past, both ancient and recent. It is a lot easier to sit down and watch TV, or a recorded movie, or be involved in some other form of mindless entertainment. I challenge you to take the time to investigate the lives of the great Christian men and women that have gone before us. There are plenty of books even in the church library and even a few videos. Read them to your children.

Do you recognize any of these men from the ancient church fathers that wrestled with all the basic theological issues that we have built upon while setting examples of great godliness during times of persecution? Men such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostome, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine.

There also the many of the Reformed period starting with John Wycliffe and Jon Hus whose example and writings enabled men such as Martin Luther, Zwingli and John Calvin to bring the gospel back into the church and lay again the foundation that the word of God is the final authority and not the traditions of men. That period also produced the foundation of modern missions in Count Zinzindorf and his Moravian followers. There were also the many that stood firm for their beliefs though it meant prison or even death. Get to know the stories of people like John Bunyan or Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine day Queen of England” who would not recant her theological beliefs and accept Catholic doctrine and so was beheaded by Bloody Mary. Read about many more of the same character in Foxes book of Martyrs.

We can move into the modern period where there is so much more available because their stories were written down and printed. There are the examples of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and the Wesley brothers along with Francis Adsbury who did much to bring revival to America and spread Christianity into the hinterlands. Without them, it is very doubtful that there would have been an American Revolution. There are the great missionaries who brought the gospel to people who had never heard in many different lands such as: Hudson Taylor to China, William Cary to India, David Livingston to Africa, Adonrium Judson to Southeast Asia, Jim Elliot to the Auca of South America, and Eric Liddell the Olympic Gold Medal winner in China. There are people of great faith such as George Mueller of Bristol and Gladys Alyward in China, and those of great inspiration such as Fanny Crosby who was blinded as a child by a Dr.’s error, yet became a great hymn writer.

There are those Christians who have had major impact in politics such as William Wilberforce of England who tenacious labor eventually succeeded in ending that nation’s involvement in slavery. Did you know that nearly all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christians? Even the least religious among them, Franklin and Jefferson, gave great respect to Christianity. In fact, it was Franklin that called the Constitutional Convention to prayer. Many of our Presidents have been Christians. James Garfield had been a professor at Hiram University run by the Disciples of Christ and often preached. He even preached revival services while president.

There are many fields of science that were pioneered by Christians who desired to understand God’s creation through careful scientific research. Though some of them were marginal in their theology and devotion, others were very devout. For any Christian interested in science, it is very encouraging to read about the lives of such scientists as Johannes Baptista van Helmont (1579-1644) who founded Pneumatic Chemistry and Chemical Physiology; Robert Boyle, founder of modern Chemistry; Leonhad Euler, a prolific mathematician of the 1700’s. John Dalton (1766-1844), founder of modern Atomic Theory; Michael Faraday (1791-1867), discoverer of many properties of electricity; Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), the Pathfinder of the seas; William Thomas (Lord Kelvin 1824-1907), Physicist of Thermodynamics; James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), founder of modern physics; and George Washington Carver (1864-1943), pioneer in Chemurgy, to name a few.

Again, I challenge you to discover the stories of some of these Christians from the past, for they are a great encouragement to us in the present. There are also those in the present that we should observe, for in them we find the practical examples and help we need. Look for those that are walking well with Christ and follow their example of godliness in your own life.

Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” That is the pro-active command for the people in the church to teach those who are less mature than themselves to obey the commands of Christ. The command here in Philippians 3:17 is for the person who is less mature to actively seek out those who are more mature and follow their example. The goal is to obey Christ and become like Him. The responsibility to learn to do this is upon both teacher and student. Are you doing your part?

Wrong Examples

Just as there are good examples to follow, there are also examples that need to be recognized as wrong and shunned. Paul goes on in verses 18 & 19 to say, “for many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”

These enemies of the cross do not appear to be those who are overtly against Christianity, but rather they are those whose poison is more subtle, and therefore more dangerous and deadly. We are naturally more cautious when a danger is obvious, but a hidden danger lays a deadly trap. Attila the Hun was always ready when facing his enemies on the battlefield. He never suspected the poison that killed him when his bride had him drink it on their wedding night. Satan goes out as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), but he is most dangerous when he comes disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Christians do well in recognizing those that are obvious examples of evil – Satanists, pagans, atheists, etc. They also do okay in recognizing that those who practice flagrant sin are bad examples – murderers, drug addicts, gang members, obvious sexual perverts, etc. But as fame and fortune surround a person to cloak their evil, they become less obvious. Though it should be obvious, many Christians hold the various media stars to be heroes even though their lives are marked with all sorts of vices such as drunkeness, greed, envy, gossip, malice, slander, adultery, fornication, deceit and lying. That should not be. Such people deserve our rebukes, not praise, regardless of how well they can sing, act or play a sport. Psalm 15 tells us that the reprobate is to be despised in the eyes of the godly man. Honor is reserved for those that fear the Lord. Christian, what does God think about those you hold in high esteem? Do you seek to imitate godly or ungodly people?

More dangerous than those that are obviously worldly are those that are religious, especially those that portray themselves as being pious. Paul does not list out the specific enemies he is referring to here in this passage, though certainly the “dogs,” “evil workers” and “false circumcision” spoken of in verse 2 are such enemies. There were other dangers that Paul may have shared with them in person or by other correspondence. We know that Paul warned the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:29,30 “that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” He may have also warned them about the Greek philosophers who merged Christianity into their dualistic message in which the spirit is good and the body is evil, so it does not matter what you do physically – including sin. John would deal with this more directly in 1 John.

Paul specifically calls these people “enemies of the cross of Christ.” These are people that have in some way changed the message of the gospel so that it is no longer salvation from sin by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. They have either added something or they have taken something away. The Judaizers and legalists added works of righteousness, while the Greek philosophers took away sin. Other groups exchange the Jesus Christ of the Bible for one of their own making. For the Mormons, he is a glorified, resurrected man who is the brother of Lucifer. For the Jehovah Witnesses, he is a lesser god. To many liberal religious groups, Jesus is simply a man who was a good teacher and example. Each of these heresies destroys the gospel message and leaves those who believe their lies condemned in their sins.

The reality of the tragic consequences of the lies of these people sparks in Paul the emotion of great sorrow so that in even writing to the Philippians about them, he is weeping. Such compassion for the lost should be in the hearts of every true Christian.

In verse 19 Paul gives four characteristics of these enemies of the cross. The first is that their ultimate destiny will be their destruction. This is not some eventual annihilation, but the eternal destruction Paul speaks of in 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9 that is given to all those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will eternally pay the penalty and be shut out from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. Revelation 20 tells us that Hell is a real place, and that is the final destination of these heretics. Don’t follow the example of those that are going to Hell.

The second characteristic is that their real god is their appetites. This metaphoric phrase describes the person who is controlled by their physical and emotional desires. This includes the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life spoken of in 1 John 2:15. What is ultimately important to them is that they feel good. Paul had warned the Corinthians that the body was made for the Lord, not for their pursuit of immorality. What controls the life of your heroes? If it is their appetites, then they are not worthy of being a hero.

The third characteristic is that their glory is their shame. They are so perverted in their values that they boast in what is actually shameful. This occurred a lot at the Democratic convention this past week. God pronounces a woe upon those who call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). The Judaizers boasted in their heritage and works. Paul called those things his “rubbish.” Likewise, legalists boast in their extra Biblical rules and commands even when they are actually doctrines of demons. Libertines boast in the sin and sensuality of their self proclaimed freedom. Liberals boast in their acceptance of the perversions of others (1 Cor. 5:1,2). What do your heroes boast about?

The fourth characteristic is that their minds are set on earthly things. Those things usually fall into the categories of fame, riches, power or hedonism. John warned that such people do not love God and that the love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2:15,16). James 4:4 warns that such friendship with the world is hostility toward God The Christian is to set their mind on heavenly things, not the things of earth (Col. 3:2). Jesus said that what proceeds out of the mouth comes from the heart (Matt. 15:18). What do the things your heroes say reveal about their hearts? Do the fleeting things of earth occupy their minds, or the things of heaven?

The bottom line of this passage is this. God has given us good role models to follow. They include the example of so many godly people spoken of in the Scriptures and those godly men and women who have gone before us written about in other books. They also include those alive today that live according to that Biblical pattern. There are also bad role models which range from those that are blatantly evil to those that are pious, but they have a false gospel. The difference between the two types of role models will be evident in what they pursue in seeking satisfaction (godliness or their appetites), what they boast in (is it honorable or shameful), what they think about (heavenly or earthly things), and ultimately it will be demonstrated in their final destination, heaven or hell.

You will become like those you seek to imitate. Who are your heroes? What are they like? Are they godly? If not, then it is time to get some new heroes. Do it today!


Sermon Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the terms “example” or “model” are used. Talk with your parents about who your heroes are and why you would like to be like them.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

Who are your heroes? What about them would you like to imitate? Why is Paul a realistic example for the Christian to imitate? What makes him a good model? How can you keep your priorities straight? Which is harder for you to do; adapt or resist being assimilated to a culture? What is the importance of being quick to take responsibility and admit when you do wrong? Is that hard for you to do? What happens when godly men are passive? Who are some other godly examples in Scripture? Name godly examples you are aware of from ancient church history? The Reformation period, the Modern Age? Who are past or present missionaries, pastors or other professional ministers you admire? How would you like to be like them? Who are other Christians you would like to be like? What are the dangers of wrong examples – both overt and subtle? Why do Christians admire ungodly people? How can you tell a good from a bad example?

Sermon Notes – August 1, 2004

Following the Right Example- Philippians 3:17-19



Right Examples

Key Characteristics of Paul’s Example






Other Examples

Ancient Church Fathers

The Reformation Period

The Modern Age

Christian Politicians

Christian Scientists

Wrong Examples

The Obvious

The Subtle

Enemies of the Cross

Four Characteristics

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