IN CHRIST: Philippians 3:15-17 June 15, 2020
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 3, specifically, Philippians 3:15 – 17.
Reflection | Paul has just finished sharing his personal manifesto – to abide more deeply in the person, the example, and the way of Christ. Paul’s aim is to grow both in his relationship with and his witness for Jesus. He frames this goal as a progressive journey marked by a forward focus, a taking hold, a pressing or leaning into Christ’s ongoing work in our lives through His Spirit.
Paul now shares that he does not regard this goal as something exclusive to him: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things” (v. 15). Is Paul being ironic or even a bit sarcastic as he declares mature Christians should aim for maturity in Christ? What is translated as “mature” in verses 12 and 15 is the Greek word “teleois.” Biblically, this word is most often associated with Jesus’ final cry of victory from the Cross, “Tetelestai” or “It is finished!” While teleios encompasses the idea of completeness or perfection, Paul’s use of the word here is not about a finished process but of an ongoing maturity in which there is room for further development and progress.
In other words, the person who is mature in Christ is someone who is still learning from Jesus.
For Paul, such continuous receptivity and growth should be the identifying marks of all professed Christians. He states his confidence that for those who “think differently,” God will, in time, reveal to them the truth of this assertion. In the meantime, whatever one’s view, Paul urges “let us live up to what we have already attained” (v. 16).
Based on the rendering of this verse in English, it sounds like Paul is giving up some ground in terms of his argument. He appears to be imploring the Philippians to at least keep living according to whatever level of maturity they have reached. To not to go backwards. However, from the original Greek language, it is possible to hear Paul urging the Philippians to advance or make progress based on the level of growth they have achieved. Rather than encouraging them not to fall backwards, Paul is, in fact, doubling down and further encouraging them to move forward in their faith journey.
In this ongoing pursuit, Paul offers his best teaching tool – more than his words, his very life: “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters” (v. 17). Paul appeals to his own example as a model not from a place of arrogance. After all, he has already confessed his own imperfection (v. 12). No, Paul’s invitation to mimic his approach in his words, attitudes, and action derives from his focus on Jesus. Or as Paul expresses it in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
His appeal is not just to follow his own example but also “to keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (v. 17). Something to keep in mind. In a time before there was a completed New Testament for others to read and study, the Gospel was shared and investigated through the practical and living witness of those who followed Christ. Others came to Jesus and followed Christ as others came alongside them who were themselves continually walking closely with Jesus. This is the essence of authentic discipleship. Not handing people a Bible or a tract. Not pointing non-believers to a podcast or a sermon. But meeting people where they are and reflecting Jesus in how we share life together with them.
Our pursuit of our relationship with Jesus is to be synonymous with our witness for Christ.
While there is no such thing as a fully grown Christian, it is possible to be an underdeveloped one. We are all at different levels in our Christian growth, but each of us should be at our farthest point along in our walk with the Lord so far.
True followers of Jesus are lifelong learners in Christ. They recognize maturity, becoming Christ-like, is an ongoing journey, we can pursue thanks to the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives. And the growth we are to seek is not individualistic. It is not about achieving all of our personal benchmarks, but becoming all we were created to be in God’s image as the Body of Christ.
Not alone, not apart, but together, we are to image the love of God to the world, to live lives of wholehearted love of God, neighbor, self, and all creation. Ours is a call to mutual discipleship. We mature in Christ as we both receive and pour into each other as together we keep learning from and witnessing to Jesus’ work upon our lives and the cosmos through the Cross, the Resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Consider & Discuss | Are you continuing to grow in your relationship and witness for Jesus? Where is the evidence of your ongoing maturity in Christ in terms of how you think, how you speak, and how you interact with others? Where is God working in your life right now, transforming you? In what ways, do you perceive you are becoming more and more like Jesus? Who are you observing and learning from in terms of how to follow Christ more closely? Who is observing and learning from you in this way?
Prayer Focus | Gracious Lord, thank You for Your extraordinary love for us, that while we were yet sinners, You died for us. As we mature in age, prompt and focus us to mature in our life with You in Christ. Protect us, as Your children, from our inherent immaturity – from being self-absorbed and self-seeking. We confess we often confuse age with wisdom and growing older as an excuse for being set in our ways and being unable to learn new things. We repent of complaining and resisting when we are asked to change. We repent of boasting and arguing that the greater the number of years under our belt, the less responsibility we have to change.
Forgiving Father, fill us with the knowledge of Your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we may walk in a manner worthy of You, fully pleasing to Christ, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in our knowledge of Jesus. Empower us to speak the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ who is the head of the Body, and that He would make the entire Body grow so that we build ourselves up in love. Amen.