An Exhortation for Them to Have the Same Mind -- Page 1 (series: Lessons on Philippians)
by John Lowe
Lesson # 25
Title: An Exhortation for Them to Have the Same Mind
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” are shown as endnotes.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
Scripture: Philippians 3:15-17 (NIV)
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.
This passage demonstrates the simple but often neglected principle that we should not expect every believer to be fully mature. As long as the church is composed of fallible people, it will include some who will try the patience of mature believers. When that happens, Paul’s example shows us that we should trust such people to God’s care and not allow our disagreements with them to disrupt the church's unity.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
What does Paul mean by “All of us, then, who are mature?” I think I can illustrate this by using a baby as an example. Suppose we have a baby here that is seventeen months old. My what a wonderful baby he is⸻he wins the blue ribbon. But if you see him seventeen years later and he is still saying, “Dada,” there is something radically wrong. Maturation is the thought Paul has in mind. He is saying this: “Let us, therefore, as many as are complete in Christ, who are growing normally in Christ, let us be thus minded.” In other words, have the same mind as Paul. Get out on the racetrack with Paul and press on toward the same goal. He wants them to press on for the prize ⸻the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
This statement by Paul, at least in the Greek text, comes as a surprise. Literally, he says, “Those of us, then, who are perfect, let us think this.” Having just denied that he has been made perfect (v. 12), Paul now numbers himself among the perfect. Why? The answer comes through a close examination of Paul’s use of the term "teleioi" in his other correspondence. When Paul applies this word to believers, it has the connotation not of perfection in the ultimate sense but of the maturity necessary to distinguish the wisdom of God from the wisdom of the world (1 C or. 2:6; Col. 1:28) and to use spiritual gifts appropriately (1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:11-13).
It would be a mistake to miss the way, Paul, as elsewhere in the letter, provides a personal example for the Philippians to imitate. Having set forth his life ambition to be more Christlike, Paul did not hesitate to tell the Philippians to follow his example. He wanted them to imitate Him, but surely he did not mean that they should imitate every single area of his life, for he had just stated that he is not sinlessly perfect. But in the matter of relentlessly pursuing after Christ-likeness, he did set himself up as an example. Those Philippians who followed him would join with others who were already doing so.
The Apostle works hard to be faithful to the call of God, not in order to become a wise man who can always decide what is best in a given situation but so that when he stands before God on the day of Christ, he will not have run the race in vain (2:16; Gal. 2:2). The disunity within the Philippian church (2:1-18; 4:2-3) may have resulted from disputes over theological matters; in verse 15 Paul provides a model of the humility he has admonished the Philippians themselves to exhibit in their disagreements with one another. On one hand Paul does not compromise His convictions on not yet having attained perfection, maintaining that those who are mature will agree with his perspective. On the other hand, He shows His unwillingness to break fellowship with or lash out against those who speak differently on this matter. Instead, he trusts that God will make the truth clear to them in His own time.
Paul’s use of the term in 1 Cor. 14:20 provide an example. “Brothers,” Paul says, “do not be children in your thinking. In evil be infants but in your thinking, be perfect.” Paul’s contrast between those who think like “infants” and those whose thinking is “perfect” shows that his primary concern is not with ultimate perfection but with spiritual maturity. In Philippians 3:15, then, maturity is a matter of refusing to focus on Spiritual attainments of the past and of realizing how much effort must be expended on the course that lies ahead.
The apostle called his readers to share with him the pursuit of Christ-likeness. What he wanted for himself, he also wanted for them. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. What view of things? The one he had expressed regarding persistently pressing on toward the goal. One mark of spiritual maturity is a desire to go on with Christ. Paul’s appeal here was to the maturing believers who shared his ambitions. He trusted God to make things clear to those who disagreed with him.
Paul continues to comment on verse 15. He tells those who are in the audience, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” Maybe you have some other idea, and maybe God does have something else for you to do; if you are willing to do it, He will show it to you. God is able to lead a willing believer. You may remember that the psalmist told us not to be like the horse and the mule that must have a bridle in its mouth in order to be led. If God must lead you around like that, it will hurt. Why not let him lead you by His eye. That is the way He would like to do it. This is what Paul is talking about⸻ “God shall reveal even this unto you.” God will reveal His will to you if you want to be led. I hear Christians say, “If I only knew the will of God.” It’s a matter of being in touch with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a matter of drawing close to Him. It is a willingness to do His will when He shows it to you. There is no little formula for discovering the will of God. One cannot live a careless life and expect a vision or an angel or some green light to appear to show the way to go in a crisis. Knowing the will of God comes through a day-by-day walk with Him and a willingness to be led by Him. This will keep you on the right route through life, and it will be a great joy to your heart.
Paul recognizes that everything he has just said will not be acceptable to some believers, perhaps even to some in Philippi. It is possible that some in Philippi were always showing signs of the perfectionism that had made such deep inroads into the church at Corinth? Might the disunity at Philippi, like the disunity in Corinth, be related to the germination of this way of thinking? There is no reason to imagine an itinerant group of troublemakers stirring up controversy at Corinth and then spreading their net in Philippi too. The Hellenistic world was full of notions of religious perfection and salvation and it would have been easy to mix these notions with the gospel at Philippi as it was at Corinth. If this had happened, the mixture was not as serious as it had been at Corinth (1:3-11). Thus Paul offers the mild corrective in 3:15b: If some among the Philippian believers hold another position, God will reveal the truth.
16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Paul has only one request to make of the Philippian Christians⸻the believers in Philippi should not turn back from the progress they had already made in living lives worthy of the gospel. The Greek verb that the NIV translates “live up to” is a rare word which Paul used only three other times in his letters. In these other occurrences, the word refers to living the life of faith (Rom. 4:12), a life characterized by the Spirit’s fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-25), and a life that God Himself has recreated (Gal. 6:15-16). God has begun a good work in the Philippians, and many of these qualities are evident among them (1:6, 9-11), but Paul does not want the slight deviations from the truth that may be present among them to destroy the progress they have already made. That would mean that his apostolic labor on their behalf had been in vain and that he would stand empty-handed (2:16) before Christ on the final day, at least with respect to the Philippians.
This verse means literally: “Only, where we have arrived, by the same means let us guide our steps.” This must mean that we are to guide our steps by such truth as we have already reached. Fidelity to the truth already acquired is the condition for getting more from God. No doubt the greatest need among God’s people is to live up to what they already have in Christ. Most live far below their exalted position in Christ. Paul’s plea to the Philippian s was that they live up to what they already attained, namely a righteous position in Christ.
Paul seeks to safeguard the unity of the church by discouraging the idea that Christians are to be “spiritual virtuosos,” with each glorying in his own attainments without regard for the well-being of the body to which he belongs. He is anxious for two things⸻that they should keep on in one course, and that all should keep on together. In both senses he addresses the “perfect”; he will have them understand that they have attained only one thing⸻to be on the right path and that it is up to them to continue in it; he also bids them to refrain from setting themselves above “the imperfect”; for the very fact of division would mark them as still “carnal”, mere babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4).)