One of the annual rituals I’ve been faithful in fulfilling is my yearly trip to the eye doctor. This year was no exception. As I’ve advanced in years (a gentle way of saying I’m not as young as I might like to be) the typical signals of things starting to “go south,” as they say, have begun to show up. Nothing bad, just typical, like the “barely perceptible” hint of cataracts. The standard, “We’ll just keep an eye on it.” (no pun intended) was the doctor’s recommendation. Easy for him to say. They’re not his eyes!
Knowing just how important good eyesight is to most of us, I wonder how many of us think about the importance of good spiritual sight? When was the last time you had your spiritual eyes checked? Simply put, when it comes to looking at things from a spiritual perspective, how’s your focus?
In Philippians 3:13-20, the Apostle Paul gives us a quick spiritual “eye exam” to make sure we are all focusing on the right things. He points out what should be the obvious difference between our lives as believers and the focus of a non-believers life. Not to seem like a broken record, but no matter how you cut it, THIS is where our credibility comes from. It’s where, as they say, “the rubber meets the road.”
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:13-20).
Paul starts off by pointing out what HIS focus is in verses 13-14: “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” This is very similar to what he says in Colossians 3:2, where he give the admonition to “set your minds on things above, not on things of the earth.” Now when he says “set,” I believe that is what he means. Not switching from one to the other. Keeping the focus where it should be.
Paul then says (v. 15) if we are mature, we will think the same way as him. If not, God is able to adjust our focus. He tells us in verse 16, to live up to the truth we’ve attained (learned), and he instructs us to show it by imitating his example and the example of those who also live like him. With so many things in the world vying for our attention, I think following a godly example would be a great thing to emulate in our lives.
Now here’s an interesting part. Paul describes what the focus of the non-believer is. It’s EARTHLY THINGS! And he boils that down to just two things in this passage: Their own appetites and their shameful acts. Read it again: “For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things.” As the modern day adage goes, “Garbage in, garbage out!” Pretty fitting, don’t you think? And Paul tells of the disastrous consequences of those actions: “Their end is destruction” because they are living their lives “as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
In Paul’s other letters, he goes to great lengths to list out the many different types of behavior characteristic of non-believers. Here are just some of them:
“They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Although they know full well God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them” (Romans 1:29-32).
“…quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder” (1 Cor. 12:20).
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar” (Gal. 5:19-21).
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!” (2 Tim. 3:2-5).
In our day of “positive thinking,” have you ever wondered why Paul goes to such extremes to tell his readers about the bad behavior of those who are non-believers? Let me assure you, it’s not only to give us a list of “don’ts” so we can do our best to be good followers of Christ. No, it’s so much more. If we lose our focus on “what is ahead,” we will be drawn back to “what is behind” and AUTOMATICALLY focus on the things of this world, and we end up acting like non-believers. It’s the default behavior. After all, what else is there? And the results of looking at what is behind can be disastrous. Remember Lot’s wife?
Now I know we all have our times when we get out of focus. That’s why the Bible so often reminds us about where we should be looking. And before we come up with an excuse for our wrong behavior, remember, whenever we do lose our focus, more often than we realize, someone else sees it. Not to mention the Lord. And what we are showing by our ungodly actions is that God really doesn’t matter so much. A good friend of mine wrote, “Being ‘image conscious’ is not nearly as good as being ‘testimony conscious.’” Thanks, Bobby!
Truth be told, when we act like non-believers it is like we are saying, by those actions, that we too are living as enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction. I don’t think anyone reading this wants to be doing that! Instead, let’s remember that, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” and live to honor and glorify Him. Let’s keep our focus on what is ahead!