What’s your goal in life. Notice I didn’t ask for a list of goals, I asked for your goal, your one, overarching goal that all those other goals lead to. Paul’s goal was unity with Christ. He wanted to be so much like Christ that when people saw or talked with him, they would recognize the presence of Christ. I’m sure he had other goals along the way. Some would look at the goals they had achieved on the way to their main goal in life and be satisfied with that small achievement. Paul wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t claim perfection in his relationship with Christ. He didn’t think he could sit back on his laurels and stop following Jesus. He pressed on, continuing to grow in Christ. He recognized that his ultimate goal was to fulfill his citizenship: not his Roman citizenship but his heavenly citizenship. When we look at these verses, we’re reminded that we still have a long way to go to achieve the goal of unity with Christ. We aren’t perfect, but we keep striving to live for Jesus in all we do as we’re guided by the Holy Spirit.
- Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
The quick and easy explanation for this verse is that Paul is talking about his growth as a follower of Christ. As strong as Paul was in the faith, he didn’t consider himself perfect. Instead, he recognized that he needed to grow in his faith and draw closer to God each day. There are some in the Christian faith who seem to think that when someone comes to Christ, they become perfect instantly. You see that idea expressed as “sinless perfection.” If anyone could make the claim of being sinless, Paul could, but he said, in effect, “I still have so much to learn to grow into this relationship with Christ.” We must always understand that a commitment to following Jesus may be the end of an old way of life, but it’s just the beginning of our new life in Christ and if we’re walking with Him daily, we still have a long way to grow. In our growth, we need to hold onto our goal of drawing close to Him. We need to hold onto becoming the person He’s called us to become.
- Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
One of the things that hold us back is our memory. No, not the lack of memory, but the fact that we remember things. Two different types of memories hold us back. The first is when we remember bad things that have happened to us. We get discouraged and dwell on those negative memories. We may have tried to do something that we thought came from God’s leading and failed – at least in our own minds. Then, when we sense God speaking to us to go out and minister in His name, we shrink back and pretend not to hear, lest we fail God one more time.
The second kind of memory is when we remember good things. We dwell on our past successes so much that we miss the opportunities in front of us. Or, perhaps we rest on our laurels. We’re ready to let someone else take over because we’ve done our part. Like the farmer in the parable who had the bumper crop, we want to take life easy instead of moving forward. Paul makes it clear that he’s deliberately forgetting past defeats and past victories. To borrow a term from government, he’s basing his life on “zero-based spiritual growth” and he’s going to forget what’s happened in the past, seek God’s will, and then do what God wants. There’s no higher calling than the call God places on our lives today. (Well, until tomorrow that is.) Paul recognized that and he was going to make sure that each day began anew in his quest to follow God’s will. There is no greater calling that to follow the will of God in our everyday lives.
- Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
The easy way to get out of the message of this verse is to misunderstand it and say, “Well, I’m not perfect, so this verse doesn’t apply to me.” Paul used the word meaning “complete,” or “finished.” If we’re complete in Christ, we need to keep this same idea in mind that Paul had and keep on pressing for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We can’t stop working because we’re “perfect,” because we aren’t. If you think you’re perfect, God will teach you that you aren’t! If you think you don’t need to keep growing in Christ, God will let you know that you’re wrong. As followers of Christ, we may have grown a lot. We need to keep growing. We need to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing to keep growing. That may seem monotonous, but it has to be done. My wife and I have done a lot of traveling locally. We can tell you the most boring stretches of a couple of routes we take. There’s nothing different about the scenery. It’s, as my father-in-law used to say, “Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.” Because we have a goal in mind, we drive those miles and miles. That route’s the only way to get home. So we keep driving along that route. Sometimes, that may be a great description of the Christian life. Why do we need to read out Bible every day? Why do we need to pray if God already knows our needs? Why do we have to attend worship services? I could go on, but those are ways that God speaks to us. In the monotony of doing the same things, though, we continue to experience God’s presence and there’s nothing greater than that!
- Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. 18. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19. Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)
The typical words of a Christian call people to follow Christ. I might tell people not to follow me, because I’ll mess up, but look to Jesus because He’s our example. Paul demolishes that idea here when he told the Philippian church to follow him. He uses a word here that’s translated as example in the NIV. “Ensample” is an actual word meaning a mold or a pattern for imitation. He told them to look at each other and encourage each other to follow him. That’s a bold statement! I look at my sins and shy away from such language, knowing that if people follow me perfectly, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes/commit a lot of sins. Perhaps we’re so quick to forgive ourselves, that our sins don’t bother us unless we see them in other people. What we need is the boldness to tell people “Live as I live under the guidance and direction of Christ. Look at me as an example of God’s work in a person.” That kind of attitude would make us so much more accountable to each other. Instead, when called out for our sins, we lash out at the one calling us to repent and tell them that they need to forgive us.
Many who claim to follow Christ live as if they were enemies of the sacrifice of Jesus. They claim to follow Christ, but they live as if the cross pays for all sins but has no transforming power. The cross doesn’t allow us to keep living in our sin, thumbing our noses at God’s plan for living; the cross brings forgiveness for the past and power to live God’s way in the future. Yes, we’ll still stumble and sin, but He forgives us and continues to empower us to live as He would have us live.
Meanwhile, there were many who claim the name of Christ, but were, in reality, enemies of Christ. Paul wrote this weeping because he held fidelity to gospel as the highest importance. One of our problems is that we don’t get emotional about God’s word and staying true to God. If we sin, we ask, and get, forgiveness, so it’s no big deal. Someone else takes a wrong path, we chuckle and say, “God’ll get them for that,” and go about out way. Paul wept at such apostasy, not only for those who had lost their way, but also for those who would never find Christ because of the influence of those apostates. Some would be disgusted at the hypocrisy and be inoculated against the truth of the gospel, while others would fall prey to the false teaching and go the wrong way. They’d believe that they had the truth and wouldn’t listen to God’s teaching. They liked the finer things of life: good food, good wine, good looks, and as Paul put it, all those things that they loved and flaunted were actually reasons to be ashamed.
- For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21. Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
The word translated as “conversation” here in the King James should be translated as citizenship. Citizenship is an important status. Citizens of a country generally derive benefits while living in that country that non-citizens don’t get. I’m proud of my American citizenship, since I believe I live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. While I recognize that my country has flaws, I still love it and am proud of it. Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship as were the people of Philippi who were citizens by virtue of its status as Roman colony. Paul reminded the Philippians, and every person who follows Christ today, that more important than any allegiance to any country or kingdom is our citizenship in heaven. And, if our citizenship really is in heaven, then, we’re eagerly awaiting the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Why do we look forward to the return of Jesus? Of course we expect God to set things right in the world. We look at the injustice, we see prejudice rearing its ugly head, we live in a society that seems to be running from God’s standards. When Jesus comes back, I expect my King to “subdue all things unto Himself” and bring the world back into His plan. At the same time, I expect to be changed so that physically and spiritually I will be like Him. Ultimately, that’s where change begins. Institutions and society don’t change unless the people involved with them change. That’s why we strive to be better while we live on this earth. That’s why we seek to evangelize and share the good news of Jesus with others until that time. I seek inner change by the help of God that will make me become a person to change the world for the better.
I realized about halfway through the week that I didn’t include these readings last week. They are mentioned in my Facebook Group for Daily Enduring Truth, where I’m posting the intro and links for my February 2017 devotionals. Check them out at the above link and feel free to join the group. Meanwhile, here are the readings for next week.
There are many Mexican immigrants in my church who came to America illegally for one thing: a better life for themselves and citizenship for their children! But what they found was not only the greatest country, but the greatest Savior! Now, after giving their lives to Christ, their main goal is citizenship in heaven, as you expound here. And the main goal of my life is not just heavenly citizenship for myself, but my children as well, and as many others that will come to our call. As you say, “That’s why we seek to evangelize and share the good news of Jesus with others until that time.” Amen!