May 13 – Depending on Divine Resources

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Philippians 3:15

Unfortunately, in every church some Christians are content with their spiritual state. Instead of recognizing their need, they expend their energies justifying the level they have attained.

Today’s verse basically says that if some believers don’t yet understand the importance of pursuing growth, God will have to reveal it to them. I pour my heart out in my messages, but I realize that some of my listeners will continue to live uncommitted lives. When you reach that point with someone you’re ministering to, you just have to ask God to reveal Himself to that individual.

In pursuing Christ, we all need to depend on divine resources. There will be times in the race when you don’t have the proper attitude, and God will have to reveal that to you so you can move on.[1]

How to Know the Will of God

Philippians 3:15

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

How can you know God’s will? How is it possible for a person to know the mind of God? If God has a plan for your life, how does he reveal it to you? How does a sinful, finite human being come to know what a holy and infinite God desires?

Our starting point for finding the biblical answers to these questions is the text we have now come to in our exposition of the Book of Philippians. In the verses immediately preceding verse 15 Paul has written of the aspirations that should characterize our Christian conduct. He has spelled out his statements personally lest we should think that he is recommending for others what he has not applied to himself. He has written of his desire to forget the past and to press on in his upward calling, “straining toward what is ahead … to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” At this point, however, he turns directly to his readers and admonishes them to be likeminded. He adds, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you” (v. 15). In this verse Paul says that in spiritual things the Philippians could be totally certain of God’s guidance.

I believe that this verse can be rightly applied to every aspect of our lives, for all of life bears on God’s calling. Several years ago an amateur pilot explained to me how airliners are kept on their course by radar. A pilot cannot always see what is coming, particularly in bad weather. At best he can see only about a hundred miles. Yet he can fly his aircraft safely in all kinds of weather, for the course is marked out by radar. If he deviates either to the right or to the left, the radar warns him accordingly. It is thus that God guides us. Our text does not mean that we shall always be able to see more than one step ahead in our Christian lives. It does not mean that we shall even always be able to see ahead at all. But it does mean that God has a plan for our lives and that he promises to reveal the steps of that plan to us.

The Nature of God

The basis for this assurance lies in the nature of God. For it is God’s nature to reveal himself and his purposes to us. Quite a few years ago when I was in seminary I learned the famous definition of God contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (answer to question 4). The first time a person hears that definition I suppose he inevitably thinks that just about everything that could possibly be said about God is wrapped up in it, for the definition is so long. Yet, as I began to memorize and study it, I learned that it was far from comprehensive. For one thing, there is no mention of God being love, and God is certainly infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his love. I would like to say, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, love, and desire to reveal himself to humans.”

In one sense all that God has ever done has been directed to this end. When God made the world it was to reveal himself to those who would eventually live in it. Creation reveals God. Hence, Paul tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). When God caused the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be written, this too was to reveal himself to us. Finally, just as God revealed his power in nature and his purposes in Scripture, so did he reveal his personality in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus could properly say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

It is God’s nature to reveal himself, and God’s revelation always involves a disclosure of his will for the individual person. On this basis Donald Grey Barnhouse used to say that it was actually impossible for a Christian who wanted to know the will of God for his life not to know it.

Wanting to Do It

This statement brings us to the first of the biblical principles by which a Christian may unquestionably come to know God’s will. If you really want to know God’s will, you must be willing to do his will even before you know what it is. This is clearly taught in John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” In this verse, although Jesus was speaking literally of the rejection of his doctrine by the Jewish leaders, he was actually teaching the greater principle that knowing the will of God consists largely in being willing to do it.

If we are going to come to the point where we are willing in advance to do God’s will, we must recognize first that in ourselves we do not want to do it. If you are saying to yourself, “Oh, but I have always wanted to do the Lord’s will,” you are kidding yourself. For “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). There is a great deal of the sinful mind in all of us.

We are a bit like the Israelites when they first came out of Egypt. They were a huge company. The Bible says that there were 600,000 men, and in addition to that there were the women and children. So the total must have been in the neighborhood of two million. This great host had been led into the desert where the temperature goes above 100 degrees in the daytime and often falls below freezing at night. In these circumstances the people would have perished from the extremes of temperature if God had not performed a miracle to save them.

The miracle was the miracle of the cloud, which signified God’s presence with the people and led them in their wanderings. The cloud was large enough to spread out over the camp of the Israelites. It provided shade during the daytime; it gave warmth by night, when it turned into a pillar of fire. It was the banner by which they regulated their march. When the cloud moved the people moved, and when the cloud stopped they stopped. One of our great hymns describes it by saying,

Round each habitation hovering

See the fire and cloud appear,

For a glory and a covering,

Showing that the Lord is near.

Thus, deriving from their banner

Light by night and shade by day,

Safe they feed upon the manna,

Which he gives them when they pray.

The cloud was the single most distinguishing feature of their encampment.

We can imagine how it would be when the cloud moved forward and how weary the people would have become of following it. We read in the final verses of Exodus, “In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted” (Exod. 40:36–37). Sometimes it moved often, at other times not at all. We may imagine a family coming to a stop under the cloud’s guidance in the middle of a hot afternoon and immediately beginning to unpack their baggage. They take down their bedding and set up their tent. Then, no sooner has it all been arranged, than someone cries out, “The cloud is moving.” So they repack their baggage and start to go on again. One hour later the cloud stops. They say, “We’ll just leave our things packed this time and sleep on the ground.” Well, they do. The cloud stays that night and all the next day and all that week. As they are going into the second week the family says, “Well, we might as well get it over with.” They unpack. Immediately the cloud begins to move again.

The people must have hated the moving of the cloud by which God guided them. But no matter how much they hated the cloud they still had to follow its guidance. By this means God was molding a nation of slaves into a disciplined force that would one day be able to conquer the land of Canaan. He was teaching them obedience.

It is the same with us. Neither you nor I naturally want God’s will. We want our will. We will always hate God’s way, and particularly his way of training us to be soldiers. But we must go through it. Through that training we must learn to say, “Father, even though I do not naturally want your will, nevertheless, I know that it is the best thing for me; and it is necessary for my spiritual training. Lead me in the way I should go.” To know God’s will we must come to the point where we first want to do it.

Walking by God’s Word

The second principle for knowing the will of God is that nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. The God who is leading you now is the God who inspired the Bible then, and he is not contradictory in his commandments. Consequently, nothing can be the will of God for you that is not in accordance with his Word.

God’s will is expressed in great principles. Take John 6:40, for instance. I call this verse the will of God for all unbelievers. It says, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” If you are not a Christian, God is not interested in telling you whether you should accept a job with General Motors or with Du Pont. He is not interested in telling you whether you should marry Sally or Mary, or Henry or John, or whether you should enlist in the army. He is interested in whether or not you will believe in Jesus Christ and receive him as your personal Savior. God’s will for you starts at this point. You must accept this demand before you can begin to go forward on any other level.

Another passage is Romans 12:1–2. It is an expression of God’s will for the Christian. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” If you are a Christian, you can take it as an unchangeable principle that anything that contributes to your growth in holiness is an aspect of God’s will for you. And anything that hinders your growth in holiness is not his will. God is interested in having you become like his Son, the Lord Jesus.

Colossians 3:23 is an expression of God’s will for your work. It says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” I think this is especially applicable to young people. A member of my congregation once remarked that all too often young people interpret a difficulty in their work or their schooling as an indication that what they are doing is not God’s will for them; actually, she said, it is probably God’s indication that they should work harder at it. This verse tells us that God wants us to do well in everything.

A principle that is closely related to this one is found in Ephesians 6:5–6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” This is for you if you have a difficult boss or a difficult teacher. The Bible says that it is God’s will that you avoid gossiping about him or her and, instead, work as well as you are able under his or her guidance. And you should do it, not only when he is watching, but when he is not watching—as working for the Lord, not for men.

Perhaps you are saying, “Well, these principles are good, but they do not touch the small things I am wrestling with.” You want to know whether you should go to certain movies as a Christian, make friends with the people at work, join in social drinking, or some other thing. Let me give you a final principle that covers most of these. Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” God says you are to pursue the best things in life. If these things are the best things for you, then do them. If not, you are to go another way. Just be sure that you take your guidelines from Scripture.

Looking to the Lord

The third principle is also important. It is the principle of daily and even hourly fellowship with the Lord. Psalm 32:8 states it this way: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” The King James Version says, “I will guide you with my eye.” Clearly, if God is to guide us with his eye, he must first catch our eye. This means that we must look to him regularly throughout the day.

Let me illustrate this by a story. I have a friend who is a gospel singer and who for many years was a bachelor. He once said, “You know, Jim, it is always easy to find a Christian girl to marry, and it is always easy to find a beautiful girl to marry. But it is not always so easy to find a beautiful, Christian girl to marry.” He eventually found a beautiful, Christian girl and married her. She was “perfect in every way” but one. The one imperfection lay in the fact that at times she talked with a very shrill voice, especially in the presence of company. Because he was a baritone, her voice often grated on his ears. This was the making of a serious problem in their marriage.

The Lord had given him a great deal of tact, along with his many other talents, and he used his tact to go about the problem in this way. One day he came to his wife and said to her, “Dear, did you know that the first thing that a drama coach teaches an actress is to lower her voice? By nature a woman’s voice is shrill, but it becomes warm and pleasing when it is lowered about an octave. A drama coach will teach an actress to say a phrase, count down eight notes, repeat it again, and then practice that repeatedly. I think your voice would be improved if you would do that.” When my friend’s wife agreed, they arranged a signal by which she would be reminded to lower her voice in the presence of company. The signal was for him to tuck in his chin.

My friend told me that there were times when this produced the funniest effect you could imagine. They would be sitting around the dining room table talking, and his wife’s voice would be rising higher and higher. He would tuck in his chin and look at her. Then, often right in the middle of one of her sentences, she would catch his eye. She would notice his chin, and her voice would drop like a lead marshmallow and then go on at a pitch one octave lower.

She saw the sign when she looked at her husband. It must be the same in our daily walk with the Lord. The Lord knows we shall go astray because it is our nature. We will always do things that displease him, but we must get into the habit of looking to him often—in church, in our quiet time, in the various periods of our day—to catch his eye, to notice his sign. If we do, we shall find him watching and he will direct us and guide us with his eye.

God’s Paths

There is only one more point that I need to make, and it is not difficult at all. If you are serious about knowing the Lord’s will and honestly seeking it, then you must be prepared for the Lord to guide you into new ways. If there is one thing that I have most learned about the Lord’s guidance it is that he does not often lead us in old ways. God is creative; he is creative in his plans for his children.

David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade and a minister who has been greatly blessed in a unique ministry to teenagers in New York City, tells in the opening chapter of his book how he was led in new paths in his ministry. He had been a Pentecostal preacher in central Pennsylvania, and by his personal standards he was doing quite well. The church had grown and there were several new buildings. Yet he was discontented. One day he decided to spend the late evening hours praying instead of watching television. He sold the television set after much hesitation and began to spend time with the Lord. Eventually, out of these times of prayer he was led to begin his work helping the youth caught up in drug addiction and delinquency in Manhattan. God’s will for David Wilkerson meant leading a country preacher into the heart and heartbreak of the city.

It will also be true for you. If you will seek God’s will, determining to do it even before you know what it is, if you will look to him while responding to his voice in the Bible, then God will reveal his way and direct you in ever widening and ever more interesting paths. He will be close to you, and he will lead you in the way that you should go.[2]

Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Recognition

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; (3:15)

Paul was not in the spiritual race alone; it includes all Christians, described here by the phrase as many as are perfect (cf. Heb. 10:14). The apostle is not speaking of practical perfection; that would contradict what he said earlier in the passage. Practical perfection does not come until believers are glorified. Rather, in a play on words, he describes believers as those who are positionally perfect in Christ. Since this is a polemic passage directed against those who taught that perfection is attainable in this life, Paul’s use of perfect may be a bit double-edged, with a tinge of sarcasm. Those false teachers were not perfect in practice, and also were not perfect in position.

Every true Christian must have this same attitude that Paul had. Phroneō (have this attitude) literally means “to think this way,” “to be intent on this,” or “to set one’s mind on this.” It might be translated “continually think like this.” Like Paul, believers must be totally focused on making the maximum effort to pursue the prize of Christlikeness. We know how Christ thinks because the Scripture gives us His mind (1 Cor. 2:16). When we think biblical, divine thoughts, viewing all of life from the Lord’s perspective, those thoughts will move our behavior to become like His (cf. Col. 3:16).

But Paul was an experienced pastor and knew that not all believers would share the strength and relentlessness of his focus on pursuing the prize. To them Paul says, if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you. Those who refuse to heed Paul’s message will hear that same message from God. He will correct them through His Word, His Spirit, or through chastening. God will do whatever it takes to make believers recognize their need to pursue the prize of Christlikeness. He will also provide the resources they need to do that (2 Peter 1:3).[3]

15 Paul may speak ironically, if the NASB rendering of teleios (GK 5455) as “perfect” is correct—“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [teleioi], have this attitude.” If one thinks one has already arrived, then surely God will inform one of this as well. It is a mark of the perfect person not to reckon himself or herself perfect. But teleios may also mean “mature,” as the NIV translates it, and Paul is more likely to refer to the maturity of their thinking (cf. 1 Co 3:1–3; 14:20). Those who think differently see no need to live a cruciform lifestyle and do not understand that self-renunciation is an intrinsic feature of Christian maturity.[4]

3:15 As many as are mature should share Paul’s willingness to suffer and die for Christ and to bend every effort in the quest for likeness to the Lord Jesus. This is the mature view of the Christian faith. Some would call it extreme, radical, or fanatical. But the apostle states that those who are full-grown will see that this is the only sane, logical, reasonable response to the One who shed His lifeblood for them on Calvary.

If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Paul realizes that not all will agree with him in adopting such a dangerous philosophy. But he expresses the confidence that if a person is really willing to know the truth of the matter, God will reveal it to him. The reason we have such an easy-going, complacent Christianity today is because we do not want to know the truth; we are not willing to obey the demands of ideal Christianity. God is willing to show the truth to those who are willing to follow it.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 150). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 202–208). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 249). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 246). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1975–1976). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


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