UPWARD AND ONWARD IN CHRIST: Philippians 3:12-14 June 11, 2020
UPWARD AND ONWARD IN CHRIST
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 3, specifically, Philippians 3:12 – 14.
Reflection | Paul has just offered an impassioned declaration of his life’s purpose. In one fell swoop, he cast aside all the distinctions, the achievements, and the honors of his life as being worthless. In their place, he asserts a singular focus and ambition – knowing Christ. Not merely knowing about Jesus but engaging and growing in a deeper relationship with Christ.
Paul’s desire is to gain a closer walk with Jesus – for the journey of his life to become in perfect step with the way of Christ. The trajectory of that kind of experience as Paul understands it, means “participation in his (Christ’s) sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10) In other words, Paul is prepared to die to himself. In doing this, Paul seeks to live out of nothing other than the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Writing with such singular clarity, it might appear as if Paul has already “arrived” in terms of his lofty goal of total identification and solidarity with Jesus. But now, as if to clear up any misunderstanding, he writes “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,” (v. 12) and then later adds, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (v. 13). Paul makes no claims to having attained spiritual maturity or perfection in Christ. Rather he reinforces the progressive nature of following Jesus, that being who we were created to be, whom we have been redeemed by Christ to become, is a work in progress.
It is important not to forget this work in progress is a work of grace – of God’s transformative work in our lives through His Spirit. It is a work project initiated through God coming down in Christ, giving His life for ours and conquering our greatest obstacle, death. Paul previously reinforced this understanding as he distinguished between a righteousness of one’s own and the righteousness that is through faith in Christ.
However, with this foundation in mind, Paul now speaks of the proper response to this gracious work that Christ has begun and that the Spirit promises to finish in and through us. Twice, he writes of “pressing on” – of striving “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v. 12) and of laboring “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me” (v. 14). Paul is painting a picture with words of the dynamic rather than the passive nature of the Christian life.
Some assert that being a Christian, being within the grace of God, means that it does not matter what one does. God will forgive. God has forgiven. Therefore, no further discipline or effort are necessary to be a Christian. But Paul’s description of what following Jesus entails completely refutes any such nonsense. The “one thing” Paul shares that he does, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (v. 13) explicitly conveys that some exertion is required to keep in step with Christ.
This isn’t a new insight. Paul, back in chapter 2 of this letter, spurred us to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12). Being saved by grace does not mean there is no work for us to do. The Lord initiates. The Lord guides and empowers. But we have to move our hands and our feet.
Dying to oneself is not a passive process. The forward focus Paul models for us here is the repeated reorientation and re-centering of our lives in Christ. How often can we find ourselves trapped in the past rather than living into our future with Jesus? There are those of us existing in a relationship with Christ that is rooted in yesterday rather than today. We talk about Jesus as someone who we once grew up with, relishing the good old days when we were learning about and serving Christ, but having no focus or energy directed towards what Jesus is teaching us and how Jesus is calling us to serve Him NOW. My friends, there are no has-been’s in the Kingdom of God – only people whom the Lord is continuing to grow and mature in the present.
Then there are those of us who remain lost in the past in a decidedly different way. We aren’t absorbed with our own past successes. We are fixated on all our previous failures. Rather than learn from our mistakes – willful or unconscious – we continue to punish ourselves. We say we believe that Jesus has forgiven us, but we refuse to forgive ourselves. And so all our attention and effort stay directed towards cycling through our guilt, our regret, and our shame. Beloved, the forgiveness we have in Christ isn’t just something we believe in; it is something of which we live and move forward. Jesus forgives us so we can be resurrected from our failures – whatever they are. More than this, part of the work of the Spirit is working through our past mistakes to empower us to specifically minister to others in the present.
If we keep looking backwards in our relationship with Christ, we will never go forward in following Jesus. Paul intentionally let go of past regrets and even past triumphs. His daily focus was moving onward and upward, “heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Let us not misunderstand. Heaven, as in some ethereal place far, far away, was not Paul’s goal. Understanding the Bible is borne not of reading one verse alone but embracing the given passage as a whole. No, Paul’s true pursuit as he clearly outlines in this letter is purposefully persevering in Christlike maturity and perfection. May this, by the grace of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit, be our singular aim as well.
Consider & Discuss | What are you pressing on and striving towards in your life? Are God’s goals, your goals for your life? Where are they aligned? Where are they not? Where is Jesus in the midst of all the hopes and dreams you have? Do you ever look back in such a way that keeps you from moving forward in following Christ?
Prayer Focus | Almighty God, thank You for giving our lives purpose and meaning. We are grateful that, thanks to Jesus, the sins and mistakes of our past do not ultimately determine the direction of our future. We confess there are times we are content to be in relationship with You based our history with You rather than how You are presently moving and working in our lives. We repent of making Your amazing grace cheap as we claim your forgiveness but refuse to be changed, as we do nothing to realign our mind and our heart to Yours. Protect us from complacency even as you enable us to persevere in looking forward, in moving ever closer to You. Teach us to be satisfied in Your Son, Jesus, even as we continue to focus on how we are progressing in following Christ. Amen.