…4:1 So then, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way keep standing firm in the Lord, my dear friends.
As you know, today is St. Patrick’s Day! People everywhere will be marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades, celebrating their Irish heritage! The thing is, Patrick isn’t even Irish! He’s British—born in Britain over 1600 years ago! So why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Well, when Patrick was sixteen, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. After six years he escaped and eventually made his way home again. And yet, he couldn’t shake the desire to go back and share Christ with his former captors. So, at age 40, the church sent Patrick to Ireland as a missionary.
The work wasn’t easy, though. He faced death at least a dozen times, including once when the Druids kidnapped him and held him hostage for two weeks. As Patrick repeatedly confroned human sacrifice, idol worship, immorality and witchcraft, and often doing so at risk to his own life, the question had to have crossed his mind a time or two, “Why am I doing this?” How could he stand fast in the face of so much pressure to back down?
Every day the world we live in becomes more like the world Patrick lived in. As our society slides further into paganism, we face more challenges to our faith and to living a godly life. Positive role models are scarce. Even within the church we have voices telling us that it’s okay to abandon the Bible’s moral teachings. And as you and I get up every morning to fight the good fight of faith, maybe that same question has crossed our own minds a time or two: “Why am I doing this?” How do we stand fast in a world that’s constantly pushing us to back down?
Well, the same thing that enabled Patrick to stand fast is the same thing that enables you and I to stand fast: the Word of God. And God’s Word to the Philippians reminds us that since our citizenship is in heaven, we stand fast—in the Lord!
1. Living the pattern.
The city of Philippi was unique among the cities of Greece because it was established as a colony for retired Roman soldiers. So, as you listen to what Paul wrote, you pick up a distinct “military flavor” in his inspired words. And yet these were words that the Christians in Philippi needed to hear. The city they lived in afforded many opportunities to go astray, many temptations to fulfill every sinful desire you had. How do you stand fast in the Lord in the face of those challenges and temptations? “Brothers,” Paul said, “join together in imitating me and in paying attention to those who are walking according to the pattern we gave you” (v. 17). Stand fast in the Lord, first of all, by living the pattern—the pattern of a Christian life!
And we learn to live the pattern of a Christian life by “paying attention” to those who are already walking the walk. A powerful way to learn how to do something is by watching someone else. Ask almost any teenager where they learned basic automotive repair and maintenance. Sometimes they learn it from their parents; but now, for the most part, they learn it by watching Scotty Kilmer videos on YouTube. It’s the same with learning to live a Christian life. For you young people, it’s important to find someone to be your St. Paul: a faithful believer who can mentor you in your own Christian life, someone who will let you look over their shoulder a little bit so you can watch what they do and see how they live. If you’re older and have been living the pattern of a Christian life, then it’s just as important for you to start looking for a younger person to mentor, to help them with the nuts and bolts of a Christian life.
Yet just watching isn’t enough, though, is it? I mean watching is a good way to learn, but if you really want to learn how to do something, you actually have to start doing it. And that’s why Paul invites us to become fellow imitators of him—to not only watch him march, but to get in line behind him and march! That’s what Patrick was doing as he carried the gospel to Ireland. He was following in the footsteps of Paul and every other evangelist and missionary who came before him. We’re imitating the pattern, the template for what makes a Christian life—that template is the same for all of us. The template that loves God with all our heart and loves our neighbor as ourselves. The pattern that doesn’t just imitate Paul, but imitates Christ—Christ’s selfless love.
So, what happens if we’re not living that pattern? We wind up following a different pattern: “To be sure, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. I told you about them often, and now I am saying it while weeping. Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. They are thinking only about earthly things” (v. 18-19).
Paul wept to think of what would happen if you follow the wrong pattern. Following those who say that they’re Christian, but at the same time not only defend but loudly advocate for sins like adultery, abortion and homosexuality. There’s a danger there, isn’t there? And yet, there’s an even greater, more insidious danger: following those who say they’re Christian, but who, by the way that they live, show that really follow other gods: money, possessions, and pleasure. That person sets an example that leads more young Christians astray than any atheist biology professor. “Their glory is in their shame.” And the pattern of this world doesn’t end well. “Their end is destruction.” To just live for ourselves makes us enemies of the cross of Christ; it makes us people who hate the selfless sacrifice that Jesus was willing to make for us.
So what pattern are we living by? Is our own personal comfort more important than living an openly Christian life? Are we really all that concerned about the example that we’re setting—or following? Or does it never cross our minds at all? Are we living the pattern of Christ and His cross? Or are we just following the pattern of this world?
2. Loving the homeland.
We deserve the destruction Paul is talking about as much as anybody else. None of us has lived the pattern of a God-pleasing life perfectly. None of us has set the perfect example for someone else to follow. We haven’t always made good choices in who to follow, either. So, then, why do we even bother? Why do we even want to stand fast in the Lord? It’s not just about living the pattern; it’s also about loving the homeland!
These retired soldiers in Philippi understood what it was to have a homeland. They were living in Greece, but their home, the place they really belonged? It was Rome! They were proud, registered Roman citizens who cherished the special privileges that citizenship entitled to them. They dressed as Romans, spoke as Romans and lived as Romans—even though they were in Greece!
Yet Paul now informs them that they are citizens in an even greater country: “But our citizenship is in heaven. We are eagerly waiting for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. By the power that enables him to subject all things to himself, he will transform our humble bodies to be like his glorious body” (v. 20-21).
Our citizenship is in heaven! And unlike a Roman soldier, we didn’t earn that citizenship. It was a free gift! Jesus followed the pattern of a holy life perfectly. And He took that holy life all the way to the cross, where He redeemed us from our sins with His holy blood! We are forgiven! He has made us citizens of His heavenly kingdom through faith in Him! And we have all the rights and privileges! Our names are registered in the Book of Life. Our prayers ascend to God’s throne. And our lives are under His loving protection.
And like any citizen soldier deployed in a foreign land, we can look forward to the day we can go home. We look forward to the day when our Hero and Captain returns to transform our bodies from their weak, present form to be glorious like Him. We can let that hope keep us going as we carry out the task at hand: to stand fast in the Lord, living the pattern, marching together, striving to match our lives—not to each other, not even to St. Paul, but to Christ, and the pattern of the cross. The pattern of love enables us to see each another as brothers and sisters, our joy and our crown.
It was in that heavenly hope that St. Patrick kept preaching and teaching. In that heavenly hope, he risked his own life in order to make himself a mentor to many Irish princes and princesses and led them to their Savior. In a land where the people believed in spells and magic, he showed them the “good-spell”—the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful Word of the Triune God. In that heavenly hope, Patrick stood fast in the Lord. So did Paul. So did the Philippians. And so do we. Amen.