Straight into it this time. Believe it or not, I had written an intro that featured wrinkly toes, Yoshi, genetic engineering, Justin Bieber and refrigerators. The omission of said introduction was a wise choice. Though these elements may seem irreconcilable to a mind that works upon more reasonable lines than mine, you’ll have to trust that there was some reason to it.
So Philippians 3. It will come as no surprise that this, also, is harbouring some real gems. I will try to be brief and clear.
The first statement in chapter 3? Rejoice in the Lord. I can’t say it better than that. Tune in for chapter 4 if you want a few more thoughts on that front.
If anyone has reasons for pride, it’s Paul. He’s a big dog in those parts. The right birth, the right rituals, the right upbringing, the right Jewish theology, the right passion, and he isn’t just saying it, he’s doing it. Zeal is the word of the day for Paul. Every day. Zeal. Yet he now considers it loss?
Everything a loss. This idea has come up before: To live is Christ, to die is gain. Everything else, loss. To die now, and be with Christ? Would you be disappointed? Would you want a few more days to enjoy your sport, your degree, your job? Your money? Your date? These are of so little value when placed beside Jesus. “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.” Everything else? Meh.
I’ve often wondered if we actually take this little nugget far enough. Paul says “loss” a couple of times, and uses strong (read: expletive) language to describe his religiosity. I think there is a sense here where Paul means not only are they worthless in comparison with having Jesus. I think he might be saying they are actually dangerous. His Judaism, his entanglement with the other high-fliers, his legalism, are at risk of distracting him, holding him back. A couple of times Peter’s heritage provides difficulties he may not have otherwise had. We know that lots of money can actually be a hindrance to people following Jesus – camels and needles and such. I don’t want to push this too far, but it’s foundational that anything we place trust in at the exclusion of God is an idol. The presence of things that might tempt us to trust not in God but in other things is actually dangerous.
Verses 12-14, though, are the big ones for me. This is from v10:
…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:10-14 ESV)
Paul preaches grace, and then takes this as the very reason we ought not be idle. It reminds me of a sentence I read in an article on justification, last year. In discussing NT Wright and his New Perspective, two pastors commented on the pastoral implications of Wright’s view and the traditional reformation view. The New Perspective guy said that his view of justification was more likely to produce works, and response in the lives of believers. The counter was brilliant and simple. The true gospel is the one that will cause transformation. A gospel of grace alone (note: I am not suggesting here that NT Wright is denying this) is the gospel that will produce works.
Because you have been saved by grace, work hard! Isn’t Paul’s attitude such an encouragement? And yet, such a rebuke? He is determined to turn to Christ, leaving his self-righteousness behind. He is not coming to Christ , and trying to hold on to some sense of who he was. No, this is nothing in my hand I bring. It is a huge comfort to be reminded that the great apostle was just another one of us. He wasn’t there yet. Those times when you are just hit by how sinful you are? When you are just frustrated by the way you fall into the same trap, or the same apathy? Paul had that too. You’re not inferior. You’re not a lost cause. You’re not a failure of a Christian.
Comforting, yes. But sobering. How hard are you working to leave all that behind? Nobody, in sight of God’s grace, has the humility they ought. Nobody is as focused on God as they should be. But Paul will not say that near enough is good enough. He is striving. He is forgetting the failure of the past, and striving to live in light of Jesus’ return in glory. This doesn’t mean forget your sin in the sense of pretending it didn’t happen, or belittling it’s significance. It means know that it is dealt with, and get on with not doing it again.
Don’t get complacent. Focus on your calling in Christ. Strive.
“Only let us hold true to what we have already attained.”