Commentary on Philippians, 3:17-21 (Our Testimony Matters!)


Scripture quotations are from the English Majority Text Version (EMTV) unless noted otherwise. 

Philippians 3:17-21

17 Be fellow imitators of me, brothers, and look out for those walking this way, just as you have us for a pattern.
18 For many walk, of whom often I was speaking to you, and now even weeping I tell you, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who are mindful of earthly things.
20 For our citizenship exists in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
21 who will transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself.

17 Be fellow imitators of me, brothers, and look out for those walking this way, just as you have us for a pattern.

“Be fellow imitators of me”

Paul served the Lord with honor. He lived as Christians are called to live. He was thus a pattern for all other Christians to live their lives after. Paul was not being prideful, he just knew the reality of his walk with Christ. He was confident that the Philippian Christians would do well, and be in the will of God if they lived and served as he did. Within context, he gave up all things for the sake of knowing Christ. He had his eyes firmly fixed on eternity, rather than on the things of this life.

Imagine living such a life of faithfulness to Christ that you’re able to tell other Christians to imitate your life. Paul could do that because he knew that he himself imitated Christ:

“Be imitators of me, just as I also [am] of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)

I would love to get to that place spiritually where I can encourage other believers to pattern their lives after mine. However, even if I was able to do that, today that wouldn’t go over very well, but would be seen as a lack of humility. Arrogance comes across as very unappealing to others, so I wouldn’t try it. Paul could do it because he was an apostle; he met the Lord Jesus, and He used him greatly to help establish the Church, including the writing of a large number of the New Testament books.

“look out for those walking this way”

“look out”

Mark, observe, note.

Paul encouraged the believers to take note of others, as well, who also walked as he walked. Wise is the Christian who spends time with those who have an unusual walk with the Lord. The influence of a true man or woman of God is something we all need. The difference they make in others cannot be overstated. 

If we spend most of our time with worldly, or even average Christians, we will likely be influenced in a negative way. Like begets like, so we just need to be cautious about who we hang out with. On the other hand, if we’re walking faithfully ourselves, we can be the one who provides that godly influence in other people’s lives. 

Another word of caution is in order here. While it’s wise to spend much time with those whom we believe to have a close walk with Jesus, we need to be aware that it’s possible for them to disappoint us at some point. So while we’re to give honor to these men and women, we need to keep our primary focus on the Lord, who will never, ever let us down.

Only God knows the number of Christians who have become disillusioned by Christians they looked up to, only to see them fall into sin. Our testimony is everything, both among believers and unbelievers alike. It’s a great responsibility we have not to become a stumbling block to others. Listen to what Jesus says:

6 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone be hanged on his neck, and he be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man through whom the offense comes!  (Matt 18:6-7)

Jesus takes our testimony before others very seriously. God wants to use us to make a significant difference in people’s lives. Our lives are to be a reflection of His. When we fall into gross sin, and discourage other Christians from following Christ, I believe we can expect discipline from the Lord.

People are watching us, and what we do and how we behave matters. The decisions we make matters. People need to know that walking with Christ makes a difference. 

How many Christians have lost their testimony and influence on others because of sinful choices, or unloving and un-Christlike behavior? I’m telling you, once we’ve lost our testimony, it’s really hard to gain it back. We can have a testimony of following Christ faithfully for 20 years, just to lose it all with one bad choice.

18 For many walk, of whom often I was speaking to you, and now even weeping I tell you, [that they are] the enemies of the cross of Christ:

Whoever Paul was talking about, apparently they were false believers. They must have professed Christ, but eventually revealed themselves to be “enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Paul had identified who they were to the Philippian Christians, as he had talked about them on other occasions. Wise is the pastor who warns their people about others who make themselves out to be something they’re not. 

Faithful is the shepherd who warns their people about those who teach false doctrine, and leading many astray. Christians who don’t know the Word of God very well, leave themselves open to deception. Pastors must know God’s Word very well, and they need to be teaching it faithfully in order to ground them doctrinally, which will enable them to be discerning. 

19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who are mindful of earthly things.

False teachers, and even those who merely profess Christ but are not true followers of Christ, will suffer eternal separation from God. Not everyone is a Christian who say they are. We must look at the fruit in their lives, or the lack thereof. Those who profess Christ, but whose minds and lives are directed toward “earthly things,” are likely not true born-again believers. Those are the one’s we must avoid, or they will bring us down spiritually.

Those whose minds and lives are set on “earthly things,” have either never been born-again, or they have strayed off course. Those who were genuinely saved, but who have strayed and remain unrepentant, will forfeit their salvation. Not because we’re saved by works, or kept saved by works, but because we’re saved by an enduring faith that is characterized by faithfulness. 

Faith without a sincere surrender to the Lordship of Christ is demonstration of a false faith. Those who begin in true faith, but wander back into the world and remain unrepentant, it’s evidence of a faith gone awry. Somewhere along the line they ceased to believe as they once did. A genuine faith in Christ will always lead one to follow Christ.

People get have the wrong idea that saving faith is merely something we believe to be true and accept. However, saving faith is not something that sits idly in our mind. Salvation occurs in our heart, and is evidenced by a sincere allegiance to Christ the King. 

I’m not talking about a life of absolute obedience, because none of us are able to do that. What I’m referring to is a heart that sincerely embraces Christ as Savior, Lord and King….and reflected by a life that is moving in a Christ-ward direction.

How do we keep our faith from losing ground? It’s by staying in the Word of God, for “faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by [the] word of God” (Ro 10:17). I can’t overstate the importance of staying in the Word. If we don’t, our faith will fail to one degree or another. I often pray that God would provide Bibles for those homes around the world that don’t have it. The Word of God is our life.

Those who are genuinely saved and endure in their faith, will be heavenly-minded, not earthly-minded:

20 For our citizenship exists in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Christians are citizens of Heaven….right now. This is in harmony with what Paul said in Eph 1:3:

3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ,

Heaven is our true home. If we’ve been born-again, we’ve been born into the heavenly family of God. Heaven is our true home, and we’re just passing through this world. When we have that awareness, it keeps the direction of our lives moving along the path of faithfulness. Those who focus on worldly things, reveal an absence of true faith. They reveal where their heart really is.

Those who truly believe, will have their focus on Heaven, and will be looking forward to the return of Christ. They’ll be looking forward to that time when they will finally be safe in His glorious presence.

21 who will transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself.

One day we will be resurrected with a glorious body in the likeness of the body that Christ arose with Himself. This transformation of our bodies is “according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to Himself.” This speaks to the power of the all-powerful Son of God. He is creator and Ruler of the universe, and it’s according to that same power that we’re raised.