Sermon for Sunday, March 13th, 2022, the Second Sunday in Lent

The Lessons: Psalm 27; Genesis 15:1-18; Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

The Text: Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

The Topic: Take note of Christians who set a good example and follow it.

INTRODUCTION

One day St. Francis of Assisi said to one of the young monks at the Portiuncula, “Let us go down to the town and preach!” The novice, delighted at being singled out to be the companion of Francis, obeyed with alacrity. They passed through the principal streets, turned down many of the byways and alleys, made their way into the suburbs, and at length returned by a circuitous route to the monastery gate. As they approached it, the younger man reminded Francis of his original intention.

“You have forgotten, Father, that we went to town to preach!

“My son,” Francis replied, “we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We have been seen by many; our behavior has been closely watched; it was thus that we preached our morning sermon. It is of no use, my son, to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk.”

p.19, F.W. Boreham: The Crystal Pointers. London: The Epworeth Press, 1925[1]

THOMAS A KEMPIS ON IMITATING CHRIST

He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness,[2] saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.

His teaching surpasseth all teaching of holy men, and such as have His Spirit find therein the hidden manna.[3] But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel but little longing after it, because they have not the mind of Christ. He, therefore, that will fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ, let him strive to conform his whole life to that mind of Christ.[4]

IMITATION OF GOOD EXAMPLES

In the commands which St. Paul issues at the beginning of our Second Lesson today, the faithful are to imitate his way of life and all who follow his example in the conduct of their lives. In the first of these imperatives, the Philippian Christians are urged to become followers of Christ together with St. Paul. The thinking here is that as St. Paul follows the Lord Jesus Christ, so Christians are to follow the Lord. By implication, St. Paul believes he is setting a good example for Christians to follow, not a poor one. However, St. Paul commands them also to pay attention to those who conduct their lives setting the same good example as St. Paul does.

Too often, Christians tend to be concerned with the bad examples of behavior they find in the world instead of being concerned with imitating the good examples they find in the Church. How easy it is to become judgmental about those who have set bad examples of the Christian way of life. Rather than doing this, we must take note of those who walk, or behave, in the same upright way, as St. Paul did on earth. Taking note of and following good examples of Christian conduct is important for Christians and by so doing, we shall co-operate with the Holy Spirit in changing our lives for the better.

AVOID BAD EXAMPLES

Having given these commands, St. Paul turns to the sorrow of bad examples of the Christian life:

(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

                                                                         (Philippians 3:18-19, KJV)

Now, if he were referring simply to non-Christians outside the Church, would their way of life caused him to weep? What would have occasioned him greater sorrow, though, were those claiming to be Christians but living as enemies of the cross of Christ, whose god is their appetite, who desire earthly things. These were probably antinomian teachers upsetting the Church with their beliefs that the moral law was not necessary, since salvation is by faith and grace alone, or depending on the power of the Holy Spirit to direct a Christian’s way of life means that moral norms are unimportant. St. Paul characterizes those living this self-indulgent lifestyle as enemies of the cross of Christ, as worshippers of their own desires (“whose god is their belly”), while they take pride in things that bring shame, have their minds set on worldly things, and are destined for destruction.

INCENTIVE TO FOLLOW GOOD EXAMPLES

Turning way from the consideration of poor examples of Christian living, St. Paul states why we must not be conditioned by worldly desires, thoughts, and motives, but by heavenly ones. He declares that believers’ citizenship is in heaven. Christians are really expatriates of heaven living on earth. Our motives for a holy life in Christ flow from our heavenly citizenship, and from our position in the Lord Jesus Christ through our Baptism into union with him (Romans 6:1-14). From heaven we expect the Lord Jesus Christ to come. The greatest joy of members of a colony in the days of the Roman Empire was a visit from the Roman Emperor. As colonists from heaven while living on earth, we await the coming of Christ our King with joy, as we live our lives following Christ as our Lord.

CONCLUSION

When he comes, St. Paul adds, Christ will transform our lowly bodies so that they are like His body (Philippians 3:21). In the meantime, all of us believers must stand firm in the Lord, ensuring that we follow the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul and every other saint that has lived a holy life, obeying God’s commandments, and all that the Lord Jesus has taught us!


[1] Quoted on p.274, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 2007

[2] John 8:12

[3] Rev. 2:17

[4] The Rev. William Benham (transl.): The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, I.i.1-2

 

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