After you have done that, for each of your wants, I want you to write down two reasons why you can’t do it (if you cannot).
As you review your list, I am certain most every one of your wants that you cannot do will fall into one of three categories:
1. The reason relates to personal limitations. (Too young, too old, not enough resources (money, time, etc.))
2. The reason relates to changing the past. (Undoing something you said, something you did or didn’t do, even seeing someone who has died)
3. The reason relates to what others will think about you. (Doubts, even Shame, foolishness, immature, etc)
The beauty is that our passage this week can help us to think differently about each of these three categories. But it is important to realize that a part of our failing is that we have plenty of wants, but we lack the will to make our wants a reality. Now before you dismiss the human will as evil, let me make sure you understand I am referring to the Christian here. Someone who has not been born again, can will to do good, and can even do some good, but they cannot make their will align with God’s will. On the other hand, the person who truly believes in Christ can align our will with God. We have a true choice – our way or God’s way. In a very dramatic sense, Jesus prayed that prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. But we must each pray that prayer daily, hourly, even second by second sometimes.
Some may still object at allowing our will to take such a large role. But you do it every day. When mealtime approaches, your body wants food. But food does not just appear from nowhere. So, you will to prepare your meal. But the food didn’t just show up in a cabinet or refrigerator, so you willed to go to the store to purchase food even if you did not want to.
Likewise, we have wants in life. But do we plan to make them happen or do we let them just dissipate? James 4.13-15 reminds us that making plans is fine, but we must make sure it is the Lord’s will too. Proverbs 16.9 says a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. The heart – the wants – help us plan our direction, but our will must yield to the Lord.
With that in mind, some matters are beyond us. For instance, no matter how much you will the want for salvation, you cannot earn it. You can do nothing to gain it. It is a gift. Alternatively, the want to live a life more devoted to the Lord is up to your will. Certainly, God desires that for you, so if it is not happening, we cannot blame Him.
What is true for people is also true for churches. In the introduction for this series, I gave three overarching reasons why people and churches do not make disciples. Without elaborating again, let me remind us of those reasons.
3 overarching reasons people and churches do not make disciples:
- We don’t understand Jesus (it is our responsibility too, not just 1st Century disciples)
- We don’t believe God (He is greater than the problems we will face)
- We don’t love Jesus (If you love me, you will obey my commandments – make disciples)
Last week, I talked about our need to trust one another and be united as a church. This week, we add the idea of autonomy. Autonomy is just a fancy word for the will. For instance, Baptists believe in the autonomy of the local church. That is, our church partners with a lot of different churches in different areas for different reasons. But we make our own decisions. That is, we are not a part of a hierarchy of churches or other form of church governance. But because we are autonomous as a church, we, as members, should be active and involved in the affairs of the church – in unity as we talked last week. This week, for a discussion on autonomy we turn to the life of Paul in Philippians 3. Before we extrapolate principles from His life for the church, let us quickly review the letter as a whole.
Ch 1: Our autonomy defers to Christ – Jesus completes the work begun, we partner for the gospel, to live is Christ
Ch 2: Our autonomy does not mean unbridled liberty – have the mind of Christ, Timothy & Epaphroditus did
Ch 3: Our autonomy in Christ > autonomy apart from Him – Paul – focus on this below
Ch 4: Our autonomy will cause us to be concerned for others
That is a brief overview of this letter to the church at Philippi – a church that had much going for it, but was being challenged by a group called the Judaizers which we will hear more about in a few weeks. For now, let us take the time to recite our Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps as a reminder of where our focus needs to be as a Kingdom-focused church – a church which follows Jesus and, therefore, is making disciples.
To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)
Exalt the Savior (John 12.32).
Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13).
Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).
Jesus (Matthew 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
Unite (1 Corinthians 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
Nurture (Eph 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
You (Matt. 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.
Learn With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
Live For Each Other (Rom 15.1-2)
Love God and All Others (Matt 22.37-39)
Lead One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Tim 2.2)
(Leave) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)
Leon provides a closer look at reverence and worship in this week’s teaching moment. Our need to revere God must be the fundamental understanding as we reflect on our passage for this week. For while we may be autonomous, our wants AND our will must be conformed to God if we are to truly accomplish all that He has for us to do. And what He wants for us is to make disciples. Let us turn to Philippians, and specifically chapter 3, to see how Paul’s life and autonomy can help us understand our own, and more importantly ours as a church.
A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Christ (vv. 1-11)
As we begin in Philippians 3, we have three different parties represented, Paul (who is writing), the Philippian brothers and sisters (the letter’s recipients), and the Judaizers (the dogs, v. 2). As we begin the chapter we see Paul was originally focused on his achievements, the Judaizers were focused on circumcision, and the Philippians did not know where to focus. Fortunately, Paul clarified the matter for the people of Philippi and, by doing so, clarified matters for us as well.
The issue is that the Judaizers have come to Philippi with a claim that to truly be a person of God meant you had to be circumcised. The idea was that God required all Israelite males to be circumcised, and Israel was God’s chosen people, so if the Philippians were really to be called chosen, then circumcision was necessary. Remember, Paul was a Jew, but was sent to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles, like those in Philippi, had no reason to be circumcised.
So, Paul begins his argument by showing how special he really was. If the Philippians wanted to be special, they would have to compare themselves to him – and they would fall far short. He gave all of his credentials as a Jew – some of which he had no control (e.g. to which tribe he was born, v.5), and others which he did (being zealous for God, v.6). Paul was autonomous and willed himself to become a leader among the religious elite of the Jews. But then something happened – Paul met God. Specifically, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. What happened that day changed his life. Rather than willing himself to see what could be achieved, He willed himself based upon what he had received.
In verse 7, we see this change clearly. Paul cast aside all that he was and desired to be for the person of Jesus. Everything was rubbish to him compared to knowing Jesus. But it was not enough to simply know Jesus. In verse 8, Paul says he wanted to gain Christ. This is the same Paul who wrote that we cannot earn salvation, so what does he mean here? He wants to know more of Jesus…specifically, Paul wants his identity one with Jesus, which is the only way his true goal – resurrection with Christ – is possible. Verse 9 continues that he wants to be found in Him to know the true righteousness that comes from God, not a false one based upon works and a date of birth. But then, comes the kicker. Paul wants to know Jesus so intimately that he suffers like Jesus and even dies for Jesus. Why? Because Paul wants to experience the resurrection of Jesus. For, as Paul said in 1.21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Fairfax Baptist Church, do our wants align with this type of thinking? Do you personally want to know Christ more, to know the true righteousness of God, to know Jesus so intimately that you want to suffer for Him and die for Him? I have a note in my Bible next to these verses from when I first read this passage from this Bible in 2010. It simply asks, “Do I want this? Why not?” If we do not want Jesus, then how can we be a disciple-making church? So, the question for us today is the same that I wrote nearly seven years ago: “Do you want Jesus this badly? If not, why not?”
I admit, I often am not consistent in my thinking regarding this matter. But when I truly reflect (which is a good translation of the word translated in verse 7 for “counted”), I realize that my true desires are for Jesus. I just allow myself to get distracted by life’s demands sometime. So, let us all reflect for a moment, realize that Jesus is truly our goal, and then see what we should do about it.
A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on the Future (vv. 12-14)
The next couple of verses are where the rubber meets the road. Remember, at the beginning of this message (post), I asked you what you wanted, and then why it cannot happen. Paul had just expressed his wants, but instead of settling for what cannot be, he focused on what only God can truly do. Paul wrote that he had cast everything aside because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” But setting aside the bad is not what Christianity is about. Christianity is about embracing the good. In embracing the good, we will set aside the bad, but Jesus did not die for moral reform, Jesus died that the dead could live. And Paul wants to live. So, now Paul turns from his wants to his will. His autonomy had gained him much as a Jew, but now as a Christian, he had to “make himself nothing taking the form of a servant.” Yes, those are the same words ascribed to Christ in Philippians 2.7, but for Paul to accomplish his goal, he had to do the same.
Notice his words in chapter 3, verses 12-14, they are future oriented. He has already listed his wants, now he begins to express his will in order to achieve the wants. First, he realizes that he has not yet obtained his goals – more work must be done. He must press on (v.12, 14) and forget what is behind in order to move ahead (v. 13) which is the only way he will ultimately receive his prize – standing face to face with Jesus (v. 14). The phrases “press on” and “straining forward” both have a future focus. They also focus on the will. If one is “pressing on” it is because they will to overcome a challenge or obstacle. If one is “straining forward” it is because the challenge is difficult. For Paul, the difficulties could have been the rejection he faced in many of the places he visited (after all, he was writing this letter from jail (Philippians 1.14)), the beatings he suffered, the lack of response from the Jews, etc. But Paul knew his wants and because his wants aligned with those of God, he knew the only way to accomplish his goal was to persevere. That is, he had to will his way to realize his true wants rather than succumb and give in to find short-term relief. This is the exact same idea of the will that Jesus faced in the Garden – long term desire over short-term relief.
Fairfax Baptist Church, are we more focused on the successes and/or failures of the past or on what God wants from us now and in the future? Is it challenging to make disciples? Absolutely. But a little short term sacrifice now can yield benefits in the lives of countless others down the road – and not just on earth, but for all of eternity. Are we more focused on the short-term or the long-term of this church? Are we more focused on our short-term comforts or on our long-term co-workers – those who will serve alongside us as we worship and serve the King for all of eternity?
A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Setting an Example (vv. 15-17)
Paul concludes this section by writing of those who need to follow closely. In a very real sense, he is writing to people like you and I? It is quite likely that some of you may disagree with what I am saying. Notice that Paul expected some of the original readers of this letter not to agree. So, like Paul (in v. 15), I will say that in time, you will come to see the need to strive for your goals more clearly as you mature in the faith.
Paul then reminds the church to watch for people who are already living according to the example Paul set for them. While none of us are Paul, some in this church are very worthy of being seen as an example of living for Jesus. The reality is that some in the church will say they are not worthy of being followed as an example, and that is part of the reason they should be followed. Paul clearly states that this type of humility is an important part of knowing Christ and remaining true to Him. We do not worship these people, but we learn from them. Ladies and gentlemen, such is the nature of making disciples. Sure being a disciple includes what we know, but Paul writes here that our example in living is of utmost important as well.
Fairfax Baptist Church, who are you following? Who are you leading? Even Paul had someone who helped and encouraged him – Barnabas. But Paul then set the example for Timothy and Epaphroditus (mentioned in Chapter 2), and over thirty other individuals named in his letters. You may not feel ready to set an example, but that is why we have E.Q.U.I.P. on Sunday nights – to talk, discuss, encourage, and grow together to help us all better know what are to do, but also to better live what we have already learned.
Before I conclude, let’s look at the three main reasons most wants “cannot be done.”
1. Personal limitations.
2. Changing the past.
3. What others will think about you.
Compare those reasons to what a disciple-making person, and thus a disciple-making church must do.
1. A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Christ
2. A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on the Future
3. A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Setting an Example
Now, look at the list you made at the beginning of this post. What do you want to do? How many of those things are focused on Christ? How many of those items are about the future? How many of those items set an example for others to follow? How many of your cannots are self-limitations? Or involve changing the past? Or relate to what others will think about you?
The truth is that we do have limitations personally, but collectively, we have far fewer. The truth is that we cannot change the past, but we can learn from it to make a better future. And the truth is that people will judge us individually, and collectively, as we determine to make disciples. People judged Jesus for making disciples. People judged Paul for making disciples. And people will judge us as well. And that is why we began with trust last week. Regardless of what others may say about what happens among the people of Fairfax Baptist Church, we must trust one another in what we are doing for the sake of the Kingdom.
Therefore, the reality is that we, as a church, must choose to exercise our autonomy together. Again, Christian autonomy does not mean complete freedom, but rather freedom in Christ. Our freedom is to exercise our collective will, in this case, to make or not to make disciples. The reality is that people will doubt, people may even resort to shame, but as Paul wrote in verse 15, in time, they will come to understand as well.
Take a look at the list you wrote at the beginning of this message. Now, let me ask you the big question, what WILL you do about each of those wants? What will you do to overcome each of the reasons you believe you cannot have your wants? That is, do you have the will to make your wants happen? I am not talking about “name it” / “claim it” theology or some half-truth. I am saying that when our wants align with God’s wants, He promises to give them to us (Psalm 37.4). But He expects us to do our part too because God is not a genie.
JOURNEY: R – Revere (as Leon shared for us earlier)
NEXT STEP(S): Live: Don’t just focus on your wants, focus on God’s. As you do, God promises to grant you the desires of your heart because your heart is aligned with His. (Psalm 37.4). And God commanded that we make disciples, so as you consider this in your heart, consider who can set an example for you, and for whom you can serve as an example as well.