“Three Christian Attitudes” (Philippians 3:12-15 sermon)

A week after he returned to Washington from his famous speech at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln was sick. It was actually a mild form of smallpox, so like a lot of people today with COVID, most people were being very careful about staying away from him. But one Congressman, Owen Lovejoy, came to see Lincoln anyway, and he saw a door open just enough to see Lincoln in a dressing gown. Lincoln said, ‘Lovejoy, are you afraid?’ He said, ’No, I have had the small-pox,’ and he walked in to visit with Lincoln. He asked the President how he was doing, and he said: ‘Lovejoy, there is one good thing about this. I now have something I can give everybody.’”(Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 448). Well, that was a surprisingly good attitude from Lincoln; a pretty positive way to look at it.

Attitudes are important things, aren’t they? A person’s attitude can make a BIG difference in their own life, and in their relationship with other people. And God tells us that as Christians we are to display certain attitudes.  

We have spent the last two weeks looking at some very important teachings about salvation: emphasizing that salvation is NOT of our works, but through faith in Jesus ONLY. We focused on that pretty strongly for two weeks in a row. Now the scripture here moves on just a bit, to the kind of attitudes that a person is to have who IS a Christian, who HAS this faith in Jesus only. He says in :15, as many of us as are “perfect” — the word “perfect” here really means “mature” — he’s saying if you are a mature Christian, you should “have this attitude.”  What attitudes is he referring to here, that we as mature Christians should have? We see several of them here in this passage: 

I. An Attitude of Humility

Paul says in :12, “NOT that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect.”

Then he says in :13, “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet”

Paul is saying, in effect, I have not “arrived.” I am not “there” yet. I still have a long way to go. He had an attitude of humility about his Christian life and growth.

Now, if anyone in Christian history could have been tempted to be proud of where he was as a Christian, it would have been Paul. In fact, later on, in the book of II Corinthians 11, when the Corinthians were going after some false teachers, he says, let me boast a little bit … he says, “I’m speaking like an insane man, but let me tell you …”  Are they Hebrews? I am too. Are they servants of Christ? I am MORE so: more labors for Christ, more imprisonments, 5 times I received from the Jews 39 lashes, 3 times I was beaten, once I was stoned, I was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day stranded in the ocean; he said in Chapter 12 I was taken up to the third heaven to receive revelations from God … and on and on. Honestly, the Apostle Paul is quite possibly THE single greatest Christian the world has ever seen, and was used by God to spread the gospel all over the known world, and was used by Him to write 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. 

And yet what was the attitude of this man? He said:

— “I haven’t attained it yet”; I.e, I’m not where I need to be yet.

— “I haven’t laid hold of it yet.”  I’m not “there” yet.

This great man had this amazing attitude of humility. In fact, a major factor in his Christian greatness WAS his humility. 

That’s no accident. Humility is THE fundamental attitude of the Christian life. Remember Jesus said in the very first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  That’s humility: knowing that you can’t save yourself and you have to ask Jesus to save you. It takes humility to get IN to the Kingdom of God, and it takes humility to grow in the Christian life. If we want to be the mature Christians God wants us to be, we MUST have this attitude of humility.  We can’t get to the point where we think we’re “somebody;” we can never think we have “arrived.”  

This greatest of all Christians said HE hadn’t “arrived” yet, and we need to have that same attitude too. We need this attitude of humility. We need to continually recognize how sinful we are; and how dependent upon God we are; and how far we still have to go. We need to be pointing people to Jesus in humility, not pointing to ourselves in pride.

In 1909 Orville Wright taught the French Comte de Lambert how to fly, and the French count took a plane designed by Orville Wright and flew over the Eiffel Tower to what was then a new record height, 1400 feet in the air. The press and the pubic were celebrating his great feat, but de Lambert “insisted he was not the hero of the hour. He turned to Orville Wright and said, “Here is the real man. I am only the jockey. He is the inventor.” He said it was to (the Wright Brothers), and to America, that he owed his success. (David McCullough, The Wright Brothers, p. 248)

Here is man who kept the right attitude: it was not all about HIM. It was not all about what HE had done. Others had helped him get where he was, and accomplish what he had.

That is the attitude we need to keep as Christians. Who are WE to ever have “pride” in who “WE” are? What did we ever do to earn our salvation? We just saw over the last 2 weeks that the only way we can ever be saved is by the blood of Jesus. What do we have to boast about? All we did was admit our sin and put our trust in what JESUS did. We have nothing to boast about. This is why I can’t understand Christians who look down on others with a “holier than thou” attitude, as if they’re better than anyone else. Who are YOU? What did YOU ever do to earn your salvation — all you did was admit that you are a sinner just like that other person and trust what Jesus!  We need to keep that attitude of humility.

We are just sinners, saved only by God’s grace. And not only that, we STILL all have sins that we struggle with; as John says in I John 1:8, “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves.” We ALL struggle with sin. If you don’t admit that, you are caught up in pride and you are just deluding yourself. And in fact, you are opening yourself up to great danger. You need to be on the alert, because we NEVER get past temptation. We are ALL still growing spiritually; NONE of us has “arrived.” We need to be humble.

It is vital that we keep that humble attitude, because it keeps us dependent upon God, who is the only One who can help us; and because it helps us keep a right attitude towards other people as well. Humility is a vital attitude for every Christian.  

II. An Attitude of Forgetfulness

It may sound strange at first but this is another attitude that is important for us as we mature as Christian. We need to be able to “forget” — especially our past failures and sins. For example, Paul used to have all the attitudes that he just told us earlier in Philippians 3 that would NOT save us: He DID used to trust his rituals, he DID used to trust his heritage, he DID used to trust his works; he DID used to trust his zeal. He had been a persecutor of the church. He had Christian people thrown into prison and put to death. When in Acts 7 Stephen was stoned, the men who were doing the stoning laid their coats at the feet of Paul (his name was Saul at the time) and he guarded their coats and looked on approvingly. He used to do all these things. He was later saved, but all those things were in his history.

So what was his attitude going to be now? “Well, I just can’t do anything for the Lord. My past is just too bad. You don’t know what I’ve been.” NO! He says, I’m “forgetting what lies behind.” And he did forget what was behind, and moved on to his new life, and God used him like he has used no one else in all of history. But for that to happen, Paul had to have this attitude of forgetfulness. NOT that he “literally” forgot it — he couldn’t “blot it out of his mind” — as we see here, he listed all those things from his past, so he obviously “remembered” them, in a sense.  But he also knew that he was forgiven for them in Christ, and so, spiritually speaking, he was able to “forget (in a sense) what was behind,” believe he was forgiven, and then “move on” and be used by God.

What we need to understand is that this is really the story of every Christian. We have ALL sinned. We didn’t all sin in just the same way that Paul did, but we all sinned: we all disobeyed God; we have all said things we shouldn’t; done things we shouldn’t; NOT done things we should have; NOT loved God and others the way we should. “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

“But God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …” Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sins, and put our trust in JESUS ONLY (as we talked about the past couple of weeks) we could be saved and forgiven. 

So now we all need to have this same attitude of “forgetfulness” that Paul talks about here. We ALL have a past; we ALL have sinned. And if you are a Christian, we have ALL have been forgiven — and we ALL need to put our past behind us; don’t let it “paralyze” you from serving God. “Move on” with this attitude of “forgetfulness.” 

They tell us that successful athletes have to use this attitude of “forgetfulness” this all the time. Steve Mariucci, former coach of the Detroit Lions, said:

“Whether you’re a quarterback and you just threw a pick, or you’re a corner and you just got beat for a touchdown, you’ve got to have a short-term memory, shake it off and play the next play.”   (Steve Mariucci)

I’ve heard that a million times during games, and you probably have too: quarterbacks have to have a short memory.  You can’t dwell on that interception or that busted play. You have to put it behind you, and move on. 

And as God’s people, we need to do the same thing. Forget it; put it behind you, and move on. (Now, you need to make sure that you really HAVE dealt with it: confess your sin to God; repent of it and ask Him to help you not to do it again. But if you have done that, the Bible says God has cast all your sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and removed them “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). That sin is no longer an issue with God. So don’t let it be an issue with you. If you have confessed it, and repented of it — then MOVE ON! in God’s grace.

And by the way; let’s give other people the same grace that we ourselves want. Don’t hold a sin, a mistake, a failure against them forever. There are some people who always see another person through the lens of a single sin or failure: “Oh, that’s the person who got pregnant; that’s the person who went to prison; that’s the person who blew that assignment.” Don’t “mark” somebody like that forever. Exercise grace towards them — the same grace that YOU need and want!  Don’t keep bringing their past up, or try to “make them pay” for it over and over and over. That’s what the DEVIL does; he loves to accuse God’s people. Don’t join him in his work. YOU be a person of grace. YOU forgive and move on. And let that other person move on too.  Let’s all have this Christian attitude of forgetfulness.

In a sense, this is the difference between Peter and Judas. BOTH Peter and Judas failed Jesus. But Peter repented, was forgiven by Jesus, and moved on to became a great servant of the Lord. Judas, on the other hand, wallowed in his guilt and self-pity and ended up hanging himself. 

THAT is what Satan wants to happen to you. He wants you to get “stuck” on that one failure you had, and hold it over you forever; and hope to paralyze you from ever doing anything to serve God. Don’t let that happen to you. FORGET what lies behind. Reach forward to what lies ahead. Have a mature Christian attitude of forgetfulness. 

III.  An Attitude of Christian Ambition. 

And I say “CHRISTIAN” ambition, because there are a lot of people in this world who have ambition; but it is not ambition for the things of GOD. But we see Paul express Christian ambition several times in this passage: 

— he says in :12 “I PRESS ON that I may lay of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus”.  

— He says in :13 I am “REACHING FORWARD to what lies ahead …”  

— He says in :14 “I PRESS ON toward the goal for the prize …”.

Over and over here we see his attitude: pressing on, reaching forward, pressing on. Paul had accomplished a lot in his Christian life — but he wasn’t satisfied with it. He wanted to press on for more. He wanted to “lay hold of” everything that he was “laid hold of” by Christ Jesus for! He didn’t want to miss any of it.  He had this attitude of Christian ambition. 

I just finished reading a biography of Alexander the Great. I had always heard of him, of course, everyone has; but I really didn’t know that much about him. But after reading this book, I see why they called him “The Great”! He truly was exceptional, in his personal abilities and leadership — and the thing is, no matter what amazing things he accomplished, he was NEVER SATISFIED:

— He took over his father Philip’s kingdom at the age of 20 — the age a lot of our kids are still in college or playing video games — and quelled a rebellion and established himself as king — an amazing accomplishment for such a young man; but it wasn’t enough for him to “just have” a kingdom; he wanted to “press on” and go out and conquer other kingdoms.

 — so He invaded what is now Turkey, which was ruled by the Persian Empire, the greatest nation on the earth. Outnumbered, he defeated the Persians and took back all the land Greece had lost there years ago, and re-established Greece to the height of its former glory. 

— But that wasn’t enough. Then he pressed on to Palestine, where, outnumbered two to one, he defeated King Darius himself, captured Darius’ family, and sent the great Persian King into exile. 

— But that wasn’t enough. Then he captured Egypt and now ruled the whole Mediterranean. 

— But he still pressed on: he invaded Persia itself and captured “Babylon the Great” and enough gold to run his entire kingdom for years. 

— But then he saw these mountains, and someone said, don’t worry about them; there’s this one tribe, way up there, but Darius just left them alone, because they have a mountain fortress that even Hercules the Great himself was unable to capture years ago. Just leave them. But that was like saying “sic’em” to a dog. Now Alexander just HAD to go capture this “impregnable fortress” — and he did! 

— He just pressed on, and on, and on like that — for TEN YEARS — no one could stop him. He finally came to India, where they thought the end of the world was, and when they found out it wasn’t, Alexander was ready to press on, but his men finally said, this is enough, we’ve been gone for 10 years — can we go back and see our families before we all grow old?  But Alexander would have kept going. His whole attitude was “press on; press on; press on”! More, more, more! 

Alexander’s attitude is one that we should imitate spiritually as Christians. We should never be content where we are spiritually. We should always be pressing on, and on, and on, not just “settling” for where we are. But I’m afraid that is just what a lot of us do. We get to a certain place in our life spiritually, and we just kind of “stop.”

— Many say: I’ve been saved and baptized, so I’m “ok.” Now I can just “coast” until Jesus calls me home. A LOT of people stop there.

— Or some are doing some ministry, and so they think I’m “doing pretty good. I”ll just camp right here.” 

— Others may read their Bible and pray a bit in the morning, so they think “I’m doing some time with God”; I’ve got my little devotion going; I’m good” and they never grow from there. 

— I remember a minister years ago saying he could tell by looking at a pastor’s library when he stopped growing; when he gave up reading new books. He stopped learning; he stopped growing; he didn’t “press on.” 

— It happens in churches too. Churches get the mindset: “we’re doing ok; we like each other’s fellowship; the building and the money are doing ok; so let’s just coast along …” — they may never SAY it; but that is what in fact happens to a LOT of churches. 

So many people and so many churches just “settle,” when God has SO MUCH MORE for those who have some Christian ambition and who will “press on” for more!

Folks, we don’t serve some little “idol” of a God; we serve the one true God, YHWH Elohim, who spoke a word and 300 billion GALAXIES of billions of stars, sprang into being! Job says the angels of God shouted for joy when they saw all the lights of the heavens explode into being!  We serve a God who has programmed such complicated DNA into our cells that now even atheistic scientists, one after another are saying, there has to be a MasterMind behind this; it couldn’t have happened by accident. And THAT GOD says “I want YOU to KNOW ME!” I want you to spend time with Me!   It’s like there’s an “ocean” of the Person and the Glory of God to dive into, but most of us are just sitting there on the beach with our little toe in the water. Let’s dive in!  Let’s PRESS ON to KNOW GOD! Let’s not be content with just a little “religious ritual” every day, but really worship God with our whole hearts, and delve into His word, and let this God of Glory speak to us, and show Himself to us. Let’s not be content with our little devotional times; let’s “press on” with a godly ambition to KNOW the Lord! 

This attitude is especially important for our church too. We need the attitude of “pressing on.” How easy it would be to say, “Well, we did it!” We moved the church out here; we’ve been having great attendance, even during COVID. We’re doing pretty good. Let’s just be satisfied.  NO! 

Do you know how many housing additions are going into Angleton right now? Do you know there is a major city park going in just on the other side of ACS?  Do you know that starting later this year, 500 new homes are going to be built JUST DOWN THE STREET FROM US?! 

People, God has strategically placed us in this spot, to stand on His word, to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him, and to minister to those who are moving here. That’s why we were doing what we were doing yesterday. It was a long hard day of ministry for many of us. But God did not place us here to “sit comfortably”, but to “press on”! 

So let’s have that attitude as a church. Let’s press on to reach more people as a church:

— In your own Sunday school class, don’t be content with “us four and no more” let’s “press on” and reach and teach and care for more! 

— Let’s “press on” and go higher in our worship of the glory of God than we have ever gone before!

— Let’s“press on” to a deeper walk with God in His word than we’ve ever known.

— Let’s “press on” to a new level of holiness; so we’ll be what Paul called “vessels of honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

— Let’s “press on” for the kingdom and glory of GOD in this place, with the same ambition Alexander had to press on for his own kingdom and glory. 

Let’s “press on” with an attitude of Christian ambition in our church.

CONCLUSION

So in light of God’s word here, we need to test our attitudes as Christians. There’s been a lot of testing going around these days hasn’t there — and I get it; COVID is going around, and you need to know if you’ve got it, and others who have been around you need to know. It’s important to have those tests. 

But a lot of us need another kind of test: an “attitude test.” What kind of attitude do you have, as a Christian? 

— Do you have an attitude of pride (can anybody tell you anything?) — or do you have an attitude of humility?

— Have you put some stuff behind you — or are you still wallowing in it?

— Do you have an attitude of “pressing on” in your Christian life — or is your attitude that you just kind of sitting there, content where you are?

Paul ends :15 here by saying, “Have this attitude — and if in anything you have a different attitude; God will reveal that also to you.”  He says, GOD will show you your attitude. So let’s bow our heads, and each of us spend some time asking God: “Lord, what’s my attitude? Where do I need to change?” Show me what Christian attitude I need Your help with today.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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