The Power of Hope in the Power of Christ
We’ve been looking at Philippians 3:17-21. As we bring this to a conclusion, I want to draw your attention to the striking contrasts portrayed for us by Paul. Continue reading . . .
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:17-21).
We’ve been looking at Philippians 3:17-21. As we bring this to a conclusion, I want to draw your attention to the striking contrasts portrayed for us by Paul.
They are enemies of the cross and their destiny is destruction. Our joy is in the cross and our destiny is deliverance.
They are devoted to indulging the body and make a god of its appetites. We look forward to the transformation of the body by our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Their citizenship is exclusively this-worldly. Ours is primarily other-worldly.
They set their sights very, very low, and focus only on earthly things. We set our sights very, very high, and look expectantly to the heavens for the return of our Lord.
Let’s unpack Paul’s words and find encouragement in their truth.
(1) “Our citizenship is in heaven” (v. 20a).
Note the present tense! We are already citizens of a heavenly commonwealth. This isn’t merely a future inheritance but a present experiential reality.
(2) From heaven “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20b).
What is the supreme attraction of Christianity and more specifically of your heart and soul and mind? Is it the transformation of your body that Paul mentions here? Is that your highest hope? Is it walking on the streets of gold and being reunited with friends and family who’ve already died? Is it mingling with myriads of angelic beings and traveling at will throughout the distant galaxies billions of light years away?
I’m actually looking forward to all those things, but they pale in comparison with the preeminent desire of my heart, and I hope of your heart: seeing and being with Jesus Christ! What makes heaven heavenly is that Jesus is there for our everlasting joy and satisfaction!
And don’t miss Paul’s emphasis here. We don’t merely await or look for but more literally we “eagerly await with joyful expectation!” The attitude of the believer to the return of Christ is one of loving, anxious expectation. We are, as it were, standing on tip toes in the hope of seeing Jesus soon. Are you?
(3) Jesus Christ will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (v. 21a).
How many of you live in constant depression because you hate your body? You hate your appearance, your size, your color, your hair. You think you’re either too tall or too short, too thin or too fat, too weak or too strong. Worse still, you hate what your body does. You hate how it feels. You despise disease and weakness and fatigue and pain and discomfort and death. But how do you respond to this? Does it rob you of life and joy and service? Or does it cause you to fix your eyes on the heavens and the return of Christ who will finally, fully, and forever change your body into one that is fit for the glories of heaven and the kingdom of God?
So don’t ever forget that you will live for eternity in a body, a glorified and redeemed body, but no less a body. Our existence will not merely be spiritual but gloriously physical forever!
(4) He will do all this “by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (v. 21b).
What “power” is this by which Christ subjects all things to himself? It is certainly the power of God. He is God. This is the power that in eternity past looked into the darkness of nothingness and said: “Let there be light! And there was light.” This is the power that called trillions and trillions of stars into existence out of nothing and placed each one in the unimaginably distant reaches of the heavens above and said, “Stay there!”
This is the power that parted the Red Sea and caused manna to fall from heaven and made the walls of Jericho collapse at Israel’s feet and preserved Daniel alive in the lions’ den and enabled a virgin to conceive and give birth and subdued demons and calmed the sea and cleansed the lepers and raised the dead and sustained Jesus as he hung on a cross for your sins. This is the power that took hold of your life and redeemed you from sin and wiped clean the guilt of your soul and gave you his Spirit to dwell within. This is the power that will one day appear again and destroy God’s enemies and deliver God’s people and raise and transform and glorify our bodies to be like his own.
This is the power of Christ in which we have placed our hope!
But how far does this power extend? What is the scope of its rule and reign? “All things,” says Paul, are subject to him! We do not see it as yet, for his enemies and ours still exist. But they are not winning now nor will they ever prevail. The power of the kingdom of Christ Jesus is manifest now, in this age, through the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of sinners and the way in which God’s people humbly submit to suffering and persecution. The power of Christ is seen when we do not seek vengeance or retaliate or return evil for evil, but rather entrust our lives to him who is able to deliver from death. The power of Christ is seen when a suffering saint refuses to recant his faith but remains entranced by the beauty of Christ in the face of global ugliness.
Although you do not always see this power at work, I assure you that the power of Christ keeps every proton and electron and gluon and quark in precisely that place where they must be so that this physical universe can exist. Paul said it in Colossians 1:17 – “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” The author of Hebrews said it as well – “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (1:3).
And rejoice in the duration of Christ’s power: it will never, ever end! In Revelation 11:15 we read that “there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’”
In this life it’s often hard to be happy when you hurt. In heaven, with new and glorified bodies, there will be no fatigue, pain, discomfort, chronic aches or itches. There will be only pure physical pleasure with no bodily obstacles to diminish our ability to see and feel and hear and touch and taste and smell the glories of paradise. Now, on earth, physical pleasure often competes with spiritual happiness, but in heaven they are one! The physical and emotional and intellectual pleasures of heaven will infinitely exceed the most ecstatic of physical and sensual pleasures on earth.
In the age to come there will be new faculties of mind to think and to comprehend the majesty of God. There will be new senses that enable us to see and feel and hear and taste the limitless beauty and sweetness of all that Jesus Christ is.
There will be no bodily lusts to defile your heart, no physical fatigue to cloud your mind, no wicked impulses against which you must fight, no dullness of spirit to hold you back, no lethargy of soul to slow you down, no weakness of will to keep you in bondage, no lack of energy to love someone else, no absence of passion to pursue what is holy.
Insofar as our bodies will be glorified in heaven and thus delivered of weakness and frailty and obscurity and our senses all heightened and magnified and their capacity to see, touch, feel, hear, and smell greatly increased and no longer hindered by disease or distraction, our experience will be indescribably joyful.
And what precisely is the practical benefit of thinking on these things and fixing the eyes of our hearts on the heavens from which Christ will return? This is what gives us the power not to indulge ourselves in the way the people described in vv. 18-19 do. Listen to how John put it – “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
For many of you who feel trapped in almost unbearable pain or circumstances you can’t control, this may be the only thing that keeps you from suffocating in despair. You must remember that what you are experiencing or suffering now is not the final word. It is never ultimate. It will not prevail.
Whatever enemies are making life miserable for you, they will be defeated. Whatever bodily pain won’t go away, eventually will. Jesus will defeat every opponent. He will reveal every lie. He will vindicate every truth.
I hope and pray that knowing this to be true and putting your hope in the promised power of Christ will enable you never to quit.
Do we not all in certain ways, at times, and to varying degrees commit the same sins of which Paul accuses these enemies of the cross? Have we not at times made our fleshly appetites and desires into a god? Have we not at one time or other gloried in our shame? Have we not set our minds on earthly things?
The difference is that we yet have hope! We have hope that this body of flesh and this fallen mind will one day be transformed, set free, delivered, and gloriously raised to new life.
Finally, never forget that this power in which we have put our hope, this hope for what Christ will one day do in power on our behalf, is not merely a future expectation: it is a present reality! You can experience it today! Thus Paul breaks forth in doxology:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21; see 1:19-21).
This, then, is the power of hope in the power of Christ. As I said at the start, I can live without a lot of things, but not without hope. Does this hope reside in your heart? Does this hope energize your spirit? Does this hope give you reason to get up each day and face seemingly insurmountable problems and pressures? If it doesn’t, it can, starting right now.