In the midst of the turmoil of the West, the evil invasion of Ukraine, and the threats to a law-based world order, where is your hope for the future?
Come with me to the Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, chapter 3:12 through 4:1.
In verse 12 we read: But I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize.
Drawing his metaphor from athletics, Paul says he presses on in his walk with the Lord.
A champion single-sculler once told me his training hours – rising before daylight six days a week, 52 weeks a year, no matter the weather. I asked him why he did it: ‘The podium,’ he responded. As we press on to the future, we are to invest our lives in the present so that we will experience the prize Jesus Christ holds out to us.
This is not about works. Earlier in chapter 3 Paul says he puts no confidence in the flesh (v.4), not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes though faith in Christ… (v.9). When we turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, God applies Christ’s righteousness to us. We are now to live in that new relationship.
‘We’re not there yet,’ Paul is saying. We need to press on to the day of resurrection (3:11) when everyone will be summoned from their grave and brought before God’s judgment seat. That time is yet to come but it is guaranteed because Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 17:31).
And, Paul says, in pressing on we need to be deliberately forgetful. Forgetting here is the opposite of remembering – putting the past behind us and moving forward. For Paul it meant putting behind a rules-based religion by a deliberate and studied forgetfulness.
It’s easy to put our trust in anything other than an ongoing personal walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Over the years I’ve had people tell me they had been involved in children’s ministry, leading music or Bible studies. It’s good to thank the Lord for opportunities to serve him in the past, but as God’s people we don’t live simply by looking to the past. Christianity is forward looking.
Which brings us to a second theme: Holding fast. In verse 15 we read: Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained…
It seems there were some in Philippi who disagreed with Paul’s teaching regarding their lifestyle. Some were teaching ‘perfectionism’, rather than reckoning on the constant conflict between the flesh and the spirit and the reality that growing into maturity is a process. CH Spurgeon is reputed to have kicked in the shins a man who said he was perfect. The man’s angry vindictive reaction showed without any doubt that this was far from true.
Follow my example, says Paul. ‘I long to see you all arrive at God’s finishing line, mature in the faith having lived Godly fruitful lives.
A warning follows in verses 17 through 19: Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.
To oppose the cross of Christ is destruction. It is with genuine sorrow (tears) that he speaks of those who worship themselves – their god is the belly. Self-satisfied and feeling no need to look beyond their own interests, their appetites dictate their lives. They glory in things of which they should be ashamed. Concluding that life now is all there is they justify behavior they ought to condemn.
In the Old Testament, commenting on those who call evil good and good evil, the prophet Isaiah says, they put darkness for light and light for darkness. (Isaiah 5:20). In his day people attempted to shape a moral code that was rooted in pleasing ourselves.
How important it is to remember that we are called upon, not only to believe God’s revealed truth, but to obey it. Paul’s words here are similar to what he says in Romans 1:18 and 21. In our natural state we attempt to suppress the truth. Knowing God exists, we don’t honor him or thank him for all the good things we enjoy.
Our Hope is in Christ Alone: Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself (3:20-21).
Our security is in Christ who has not only risen from the dead but who has ascended and is now with the God the Father in heaven. Christ is now reaching down, as it were, calling us, drawing us through life to be with him where he is.
Paul is saying that Christ has already secured the podium – the prize for us. His resurrection guarantees it.
What then should we treasure? Jesus Christ! He is the one who bore our sins. He is the one who guarantees us new life and a new hope, glory and a crown. While our life in this world is fleeting, we have responsibilities to honor Christ in the way we live. We are also to press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
In his Narnia book, The Last Battle, CS Lewis portrays Peter, Edmund and Lucy entering the land of Narnia, never again to leave. The unicorn summed up everyone’s feelings: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now …”
A prayer. Almighty God, we ask you to look on the heartfelt desires of your servants, and stretch forth the right hand of your power to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A prayer for peace. God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and divided world – and especially on the people of Ukraine at this time. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and women and banish from them, and the leaders of the world the spirit that makes for war. We ask this so that all races and people may learn to live as members of one people and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
© John G. Mason