The Path to Greatness: Discrimination
The heat was unbearable. Heat sweltered the crowd and melted the runners. They were here to run the marathon, and not just any marathon. It was the Olympic Marathon, held in St. Louis in 1904.
But it wasn’t just the heat that made this day different, it was those on the starting line of that marathon. Of course all sorts of countries sent runners, but most of them had backers. Felix Caracal did not. He had to quit his postal job in Cuba and beg on the streets of Havana to get the money to travel. Finally, he collected enough money to take a boat to New Orleans. On the way, he lost all his money in a dice game.
When he arrived he hitched rides to St Lous where he arrived hungry and in rags. Members of the American team befriended him and gave him some food and a place to sleep. He had no running clothes and no running shoes, only heavy street shoes. Nevertheless, he cut off his pants above the knees and there he was at the starting line, street shoes and all when the day for the race arrived.
The gun sounded and the race began. The heat worked to Felix’s advantage. Being from Cuba, he was used to it. One by one, many of the other runners collapsed. In fact, of the 31 who began the race, only 14 finisned. Felix, however, being from Cuba, thought nothing of the blistering conditions. With only two miles to go, Felix had a huge lead. He was running alongside an orchard and he spotted some apples and stopped to eat some of them. They were green, and soon he was stricken with severe stomach cramps. He lost the lead, though he did come in fourth, doubled-over with pain. He went from fame to fourth because of his hunger for apples. He knew how to start and he knew how to run, he just didn’t know how to finish. He missed his opportunity for greatness.
He reminds me of many believers. They have begun the race, and they have run well to this point, but then they see the apple orchard. They say something like, “I’ve run hard and I deserve a break. I’ve sacrificed for Christ and I need this little indulgence.” And they leave the race and that thing, whatever it is, sabotages them and keeps them from becoming the believer God wants them to be.
Whenever I see this happening (and believe me, as a pastor, I see it constantly) Whenever I see this happening I want to ask those people what Paul asked the Galatian church in Gal 5:7: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? Or, to put it another way, what was your apple orchard? What was the thing that got you off track?
Now, I must tell you that this message is for everyone today. If you’re a teen here today and you’re just learning how to walk with God, you need to listen. You see, I know that between now and the time you turn your toes up in some cemetary, Satan is going to put all kinds of apple orchards in your way. He’s going to try to get you off target and I want you to be prepared. Just because you’re young does not mean that you’ll always be able to get back on track if you take a detour. Some things you get involved in can permanently disqualify you from the race. Other things can make you so compromised that you may limp across the finish line, but you will be embarrassed by your finish.
If you’re an adult here today, please listen. You’ve already experienced a few “apple orchards.” You’ve known what its like to take a break and now you sit there with a hurting stomach thinking what’s the point? I’ve already blown it. I can’t get back in the race because I’m so far behind I could never win. Besides that, they’ll just be another distraction somewhere up ahead and I’ll just fail again. If that’s you, I want you to listen today. God’s in the “runner-reclamation” business. It’s never too late for a fresh start!
And you may be here today as a senior citizen. You’ve run well all your life, but something has happened. With the finish line in site, you have sit down. You had a lead! You were about to win! And you thought you could afford to coast home. Let me tell you! Coasting won’t cut it! The finish line will never run to you, you must run through it. Some of you used to serve God, but now all you do is sit. Some of you used to pray, and now you’ve just quit. Some of you used to mentor other believers and invite people to church but now you just make excuses. I want you to listen. It’s not the start that counts, it’s the finish! Greatness is only achieved by those who know how to finish well!
You see, if you are to be a great believer, if you are to go from good to great, it’s finishing that matters. That’s what Paul is talking about in the last part of Philippians 3 and the first part of chapter 4. In fact, v1 of chapter 4 says this: Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. In other words, he says, “This is how you do it. This is how you persevere. This is how you keep the apple orchards of your life from distracting you.” He goes on to mention two actions great believers take to finish well. First,
DIV 1: THEY DISCRIMINATE THEIR RELATIONSHIPS
Paul says in v 17:
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. 18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, 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 set their mind on earthly things.
Paul tells the Philippians that they must learn to discriminate in their relationships and he gives them, at least 4 reasons why they should do so. In the first place, he tells talks about those who are not living right and he tells the Philippians to “note” them. In other words, he is telling them that there are certain people they need to “red flag.” There are certain people that they must be careful how they relate to. Why? Because their association with them could become their “apple orchard.” Their association with them may lead them to be deceived by them. The first reason they must discriminate is the danger of deception.
The second reason they must discriminate is because of the disappointment of defection. These people who had detoured from the faith, if, indeed, they were ever saved, greatly disappointed Paul. You hear a catch in his throat as Paul says in v 18, For many walk, as whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Paul says, “They have broken my heart! They have turned away from Christ and they have crushed me! And I don’t want the same thing to happen to you. Discriminate!” They must discriminate because of the danger of deception and because of the disappoinment of defection.
The last reason is because of the description of defection. First Paul describes the impact of their defection in v 18. He says that the actions of these defectors has made them “enemies of the cross of Christ . . .” Wow! That’s strong! He says that there’s no way to sugar coat it. They haven’t just taken a break from the whole Christian thing; They aren’t just sowing a few wild oats. They aren’t just trying to find themselves spiritually speaking. O no! They are ENEMIES of the cross of Christ.
That’s serious! Just what is it that could possibly go so far as to make you an enemy of God? Paul tells you in v 19. It begins with desire. He says desire, in fact, is their god. Notice that second phrase of v 19 says, “whose god is their belly” . . . That’s so descriptive. Now there’s nothing wrong with eating, and we all have appetites if we’re healthy, but Paul is talking about people who are controlled by their appetites to the point that they worship them. They are driven by what they desire.
Their defection begins with desire and then that desire leads them to prioritize their own lust. He says in the next phrase “whose glory is in their shame.” What’s pictured here is someone who has given themselves over to their desires to the point that they are now shaming themselves. This is the person who is so out of control in their eating that they are grossly overweight. This is the person who is so out of control sexually that they are going to places on the internet that it would gross you out. This is the person who has let their desire for things get so out of control until they are so in debt they’ll never get out and they have come to the point of shame because they have made their belly their god.
You might stop at this point and ask, “How did all of this start? What would make a perfectly good believer, or at least what we took to be a perfectly good believer, get so far off base?” That’s a good question and Paul answers it in that last phrase of v 19 where he says, “ . . . who set their minds on earthly things . . .” That, you see, is the problem. These people got started down the road to desire because they got distracted by the world. They were running the race, and they may have been even leading the pack, but then along came an apple orchard, and they were distracted.
And you know the scarriest part of this. It’s in that first phrase of v 19. It says, “whose end is” what? That right! “Destruction!” Now I don’t want to get caught up in whether these people whom Paul describes were ever really saved or not. I think that question really misses the point . . . or maybe I should say the points. There are actually two of them.
First, we must run an undistracted race. As believers, you and I must resist the distractions of this world which call upon us to indulge our flesh at the expense of our running. It’s like the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12 of his book, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We must run an undistracted race.
Second, we must run an uncompromised race. The whole point of this passage is not primarily for Paul to warn the Philippians against the distractions of the world, but against the distractions of other people. He tells them to take note of the people who are running well and join in with them, and take note of the people who are munching apples and stay away from them. You see, if you are to be a great believer who runs strong and finishes well, you must discriminate in your relationships.
And I can hear what some might be saying when they hear that: “Rusty, you’re the first pastor who ever told me that discrimination is a good thing. How in the world can I even reach out to others if I am discriminating against them? Do I just tell my unsaved friends to take a hike until I decide to witness to them?”
O no! Not at all! Here’s the important thing to understand: This passage isn’t talking about discriminating against unbelievers. It’s talking about discriminating against believers or at least those who claim to be believers. And, I might add, its talking about a very specific kind of believer. You see the passage here doesn’t say to withdraw from the unsaved whom you’re trying to reach. Specifically, this passage is addressing the person who claims to be a believer, who is distracted by this world and is a slave to his desires! Paul says that person by his actions and his attitude has become an enemy of the cross of Christ!
You see the danger of a person like that is what they are communicating. By their lifestyle they’re saying that sin is pleasurable and they’re suggesting that their sin may not even be sin at all. By their attitude they’re saying that what they’re doing is ok. Paul says you must “red flag” that person and stay away from them because they will cause you to falter in your own race. If you’re going to be a great believer, you must learn to discriminate!
It took two years and a lot of heartache to turn the corner. I was the youth pastor of Peace Church and I was leading a group of teens who were being led in the wrong direction. When I first came here, there were a group of kids who were pretty much running things in the wrong direction. Every trip we took in the old travel bus, they were there, standing in the aisleway influencing kids to make the wrong kind of choices and picking on others. Everytime we returned from a trip, I’d hear of things that went on that should not have happened. I was frustrated, the sponsors were frustrated and the kids themselves were frustrated.
I remember one incident where a group of our guys got off the bus at McDonalds in Bryson City and started talking junk to some of the local teenagers. Most of you have heard that story so I won’t repeat it, but suffice it to say that we ended up having to hightail it out of town because some of our great teenagers could keep their mouths shut.
That was the turning point. When we got home from that trip we started a “discrimination” policy. Some kids were banned from going on trips. Others could only go if their parents went with them. I still remember speaking to the teens in Sunday School one Sunday and challenging some of the other kids in the group to step up and begin to lead. That’s when guys like David Manning and Stephen Shimel began to step up and take our group in another direction. And now those same guys are deacons in this church. You know what? I don’t know if that would have happened had we not began to discriminate.
Now, I must tell you, those were not easy choices, but they were necessary ones. And they are some of the same kinds of choices you must make if you are to become a great believer.
So in case you’re wondering just how you go about doing this, let me give you a few things to remember. First, remember that discrimination is a response to behavior. Some people have tried to say that Paul was telling the Philippians to withdraw from those who were false teachers, but that is not supported by the text. I think it’s pretty clear that Paul is speaking of fleshly, selfish, sinful, lustful behavior here. You must discriminate when you see someone who may claim to be your brother or sister in Christ, and yet lives in an unbroken pattern of significant sin. Discrimination is a response to behavior.
And then discrimination is primarily a matter of influence. I know when I say “withdraw” from another person, you might be asking, “Am I to shun them? Am I to refuse to speak to them? What does ‘withdrawing’ mean?” Well, when I say withdraw, I am mainly thinking of withdrawing from their influence. In other words, realize where they are coming from with their behavior and don’t put yourself in any position that will allow you to be influenced by them. You may sit with them if they come to church, but you shouldn’t probably go out with them on Friday night. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced.
Discrimination is a response to behavior and it is a matter of influence. Last, it is a matter of necessity. Remember that the reason you are to “note” them; the reason you are to “red flag” them is because they have become an enemy of the Cross. By their lives they are saying that Christ approves of them and that the cross really means nothing because it has no power to change them.
So let me ask you three questions: First, Who is it in your life who talks like a Christian, but doesn’t live like one? Who is it? It’s time to discriminate.
Second: Who is it in your life who influences you to do what you really should not be doing? It’s time to discriminate.
Third: How seriously are you taking this? Are you just blowing it off and chalking it up to an overwrought preacher who needs something to say? Are you taking it seriously? If not, should you be?
Well, you should if you want to be a great believer. Great believers discriminate their relationships. And they also
DIV 2: THEY ANTICIPATE THEIR FUTURE.
Why is it that we take such a stand? Why is it that we avoid the apple orchards of life? Why is it that we sometimes realize that others may consider us to be a little weird? Well, its because we are! Yes, as we sometimes say about strangers, “We ain’t from around here.”
That’s what the Apostle Paul says in v 20 -For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait 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 subdue all things to Himself. We seem a little strange to this world because we don’t belong to this world. Our citizenship is in heaven and because of that we are looking for something more than the next new car or fancy gadget. We have our eyes fixed on eternity. We anticipate our future and that makes us willing to make any sacrifice to make that future everything we know it can be. The cause of our anticipation is our citizenship.
And then the cause of our anticipation is our deliverance. V20 says, For our citzenship is in heaven, (notice) from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We anticipate His coming because we know He is going to do something awesome. What’s He going to do?
V 21 tells us: Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body. Hey, I may be old and wrinkled here; my belly may have done-lapped over my belt; my body won’t even go where my mind tells it to go when I play basketball anymore; no matter how hard I work out or eat right, my body continues to go downhill. But that’s ok, because I’m waiting! I’m waiting for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ Who’s going to come and when He comes, He’s not gonna just do a face lift; He’s not even just going to do a whole body lift; No! He’s going to transform my body so that It may be conformed to His glorious body.
You say, “That’s incredible, Rusty! Why should I believe it?” Because, my friend, its guaranteed! The guarantee is found in the last part of that verse. How do I know this transformation will happen? Because it’s going to happen according to the working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself. When Jesus lay in that tomb after His crucifixion, God, by His power, raised Him up and the Bible says God seated Him in the Heavenlies and gave Him all power and all authority and I am as certain that God’s going to transform me as I am that He has already transformed Christ! It’s according to the working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself!
Now that ought to make you shout, Christian. You’ve got more to look forward to than the income the federal government is trying to take from you through taxes; You’ve got more to look forward to than the little house the county’s trying to take from you through property taxes; You’ve got more to look forward to than the job that stresses you or the boss who annoys you or the routine that bores you! You have a certain future!
And here’s the point: Great believers don’t just give a half-hearted amen when they hear that. They really believe that! And they don’t just believe it; they ANTICIPATE IT! There’s a homecoming in their future and they can’t wait!
Rick Warren’s wife writes:
Heading home to California … a friend and I passed through the Dallas–Fort Worth airport. On the way to the connecting gate, we heard loud patriotic music playing and saw a group, mostly women, wearing colorful hats, cheering, and waving American flags. The troops were coming home, and here was their welcoming committee.
Two women encouraged us to grab flags and join in. We were early for our next flight, so we took places in the makeshift greeting line. At first, a few soldiers just dribbled by. We whooped and waved our flags furiously. Then the pace picked up as dozens of men and women in uniform came barreling through. We kept repeating: "Welcome home! We're glad you're back! We appreciate you!" Some soldiers wiped away tears, while others displayed huge, self-conscious smiles. …
After 45 minutes, it was time to catch our flight. We hugged the organizers and thanked the vets who had come to honor this generation of soldiers. As we sank into our seats for the flight, we felt humbled by participating in this sweet moment of coming home. It was impossible not to draw the obvious spiritual parallels.
Scripture teaches us about the welcome and rewards we will receive when our battle on earth is over. Artists, writers, and theologians have all taken stabs at imagining what those moments of heavenly welcome will look like. … That afternoon … we were visualizing the very moment when we would step into eternity.
As my friend Elizabeth and I looked at each other, the same thought crossed our minds. Through misty eyes, she said, "If I get there first, I'll be on your welcoming committee. I'll be jumping up and down, screaming, 'You made it! I'm so proud of you!'"
I laughed and said, "Oh, you're not going to beat me. I'll be there before you. I'm older. I'll be at the head of the line to greet you!" In that moment, heaven was more real than the smell of the stale coffee in our foam cups.
How real is that to you? Are you absolutely certain of it? You see, it is that certainty that makes you great. It is only that certainty that keeps you focused and out of the apple orchards of life. It’s only that certainty that makes you willing to discriminate in your own lifestyle choices and in those with whom you associate. It is only being certain of the future that awaits you.
So, how do you develop that kind of know so certainty? Well first, you must be real. When v. 21 talks about being transformed, it is assuming that the outward transformation of the final resurrection was preceded by the inward transformation of a spiritual one. What I mean is this: You must be real in your relationship with Christ. You can’t be faking it. You must really know Him.
Secondly, you must be curious. From preparing to teach the course I taught on Wednesday nights back in the fall I came to realize just how little most people know about heaven and what is waiting for them there. The best way to increase your anticipation of heaven is to learn more about it. Study your bible. Read books on heaven. Check out Dr. Jeremiah’s series on heaven. Be curious.
Be real, be curious, and last of all, be strange. I know that sounds a little weird, but the truth is beleivers are supposed to be “strange.” The bible even says that we are “aliens.” Our citizenship isn’t here! Our citizenship is in heaven. We don’t belong here and we ought to sense that difference. If you feel comfortable here, something’s wrong.
I have sensed something like this when I have taken these trips to Mexico. Honestly, I am a homebody. I like to be in the U.S. When I’ve been to Mexico, I must confess, I’ve felt out of place. I can’t read the signs; I can’t drink the water; I can’t understand the cab driver. The music is weird. The houses are different. The climate is strange. I feel out of place and I should. Why? Because I’m a U.S. citizen in Mexico. On the two occasions when I have been across the border, I was always tempted when I returned to do the old army vet thing. You know, get down on my knees and kiss the ground. I feel that way because I’ve been gone, and now I’m home.
Christian, that’s the way it is for you. You’re in this world, but you don’t belong here. You’re out of place. You can’t drink the same things. You don’t want to listen to the language. The music is weird. The social climate is strange. You turn on the TV and you feel out of place. Why? Because you’re not a citizen of this world, you belong to heaven. And one day the trump will sound and the dead in Christ will rise and don’t you imagine when we enter that country that our hearts will leap and we’ll be tempted to get down on our knees and kiss the ground because we will finally be home.
I love what John says of this. He says, everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. When I am certain about my eternal future and I am focused on that future, I am willing to do what is necessary to become conformed to the image of Christ. I am willing to sacrifice to be the great believer God wants me to be.
I become great when I discriminate my relationships and I anticipate my future.
Meet Karen Watson. She knew what it was to be real, be curious, and to be strange. Karen had gone to Iraq to help with the people in need there. She knew of the danger there, but she seemed to hear a different voice calling her to do what others would not.
Neighbors of Karen said. "She would always call me whenever anything would happen in country. For instance, when the [United Nations] building was bombed and numerous people were killed. She had been working with the UN in that very building coordinating relief efforts. She was in and out of that building daily, and just by the providence of God she was not there the day of the bombing. She quickly called me to say she was safe, and she did that several times when there was trouble."
But March 15 was different. Neighbors and other church members heard news that five IMB workers had been shot in Iraq.
"I was thinking, 'Well, maybe Karen will call in a minute. She always calls,'" Neighbors said. "But she didn't call."
She and 3 others were killed when the vehicle they were riding in was ambushed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Later that night Neighbors remembered the letter Watson had written to him before she left for work in Iraq with the instructions that he was not to open it unless she was killed. He opened the letter. Here’s what it said:
Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger:
You should only be opening this letter in the event of my death.
When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn't called to a place. I was called to him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, his glory my reward, his glory my reward.
One of the most important things to remember right now is to preserve the work….I am writing this as if I am still working with my people group.
Ithank you all so much for your prayers and support. Surely your reward in heaven will be great. Thank you for investing in my life and spiritual well-being. Keep sending missionaries out. Keep raising up fine young pastors.
In regards to any service, keep it small and simple. Yes, simply, just preach the gospel….Be bold and preach the life-saving, life-changing, forever-eternal gospel. Give glory and honor to our Father.
The Missionary Heart:
Care more than some think is wise.
Risk more than some think is safe.
Dream more than some think is practical.
Expect more than some think is possible.
I was called not to comfort or success but to obedience….There is no joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving him. I love you two and my church family.
In his care,
Could I add one to that poem? You know it read
The Missionary Heart:
Care more than some think is wise.
Risk more than some think is safe.
Dream more than some think is practical.
Expect more than some think is possible.
And always, always keep your eyes on the eternal.
How are you going to go from good to great as a believer? You must discriminate your relationships and you must anticipate your unbelievable future.