12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)
When we began our study through the book of Philippians a few months ago I pointed out that the book has many themes. Many people, theologians and some of you, may say this book is primarily about joy. Paul uses the word “joy” or “rejoice” so many times and in such quick succession that joy may rise to the top of our minds as being the primary theme. So some would think to associate Philippians with joy. Joy, I would say is a major topic in Philippians, but I would argue not the main theme. I think what Paul is so excited about in this book and wants to communicate to you and me is that Christ Jesus is everything to him, and should be to us. Paul’s primary theme seems to be “Christ is my all, He is my life, He is my all.” Where does joy fit in? Joy comes as Christ is our consuming thought. The more we are directly consumed with the person of Jesus Christ, and our relationship with Him trumps all others, when we are there, joy is there as well. Can we pursue joy? Sure, but the way we pursue it is to pursue Jesus Christ.
So in Paul’s descriptions of himself, his eyes are always focused on Jesus Christ. That is what we have seen in Philippians. He evaluates his life according to his walk with Christ. Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” So he, Paul, concentrates in the present on being like Christ, verse 10, “That I may know him and the power of His resurrection.” He looks to the future as being all about Christ, v. 13 “But one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on.” He is going after a prize as an athlete. His past, present and future are then all about whom? About Jesus Christ. This is his example for us, for his readers. He wants them to see that Jesus is not just his friend, not just a symbol, not just a compartmentalized character among many in his life. No, he wants us and others to know simply that Jesus is his life!
Just let that soak in for a moment. Can we say, “Jesus is my life”? Practically speaking we may say, “Well yes, He and my family…” But wait, Jesus said in Luke 14 26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Or maybe we say, “Yes, Jesus is my all, along with minimized suffering.” But wait, Jesus said in Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Or we may say, “Yes, Jesus is my all, Jesus and my riches, my things, my wealth.” But wait, Jesus said to the rich man in Matthew 19, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow me.” We may say, “Yes, Jesus is my all, Jesus and my good health,” but Jesus told Paul he would be weak, he was not promised good health, in fact God would be glorified in his weakness.
Our problem is that we may too often be conflicted. We do want Jesus, we say we want Him to be our all, but in our flesh we hold on to things too tightly thinking they will rescue us emotionally and make us happy. But what Paul is saying is that it is in Christ, in living for Him where we find true joy.
We may think, “No, I am not perfect, I need a savior, so I’ll take Christ. But when it comes to the practical matters of life and happiness, well, there are these several other things that I need.” And so we may reduce Christ to a cosmic end of life Savior but not a day to day, moment by moment savior to whom our affection is due and in whom our joy is found. What if you only had Christ?
Do you see the difference? So, where are we in this? Who is Jesus to you? Are you like Paul who longs for a day to day relationship with Jesus, fully trusting in Him for life and for the life to come, or are we more focused on gaining emotional satisfaction elsewhere?
What Paul does beginning in verse 15 is he invites us to join with him in his pursuit of living for Christ. He invites us to align ourselves with all others, including him, who are seriously pursuing Christ and living for Him. Paul is the kind of guy who presents truth and then invites others to join him in truth. That is what he is doing here.
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. (Philippians 3:15)
Do you see this, do you see how Paul is inviting you and me to join with him in how he thinks about Christ and how he thinks and has talked about spiritual growth? He is giving direction for all who are mature. What is maturity? What is maturity in Christ? It is not perfection in that we live perfectly, sinlessly. If it is not perfection, then what is it? Maturity is taking on the view that Paul has expressed in this paragraph that we have been studying. So maturity is taking on Paul’s view of things, having Paul’s attitude and adopting Paul’s way of thinking as he has expressed to us. In verse 15 he says that the mature are to think this way. This way of thinking is, again, what Paul has been describing to us. He has been showing us how to have the attitude of Christ.
For example: when Paul decided to “consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus,” his attitude reflected that of Christ who, “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, humbled himself and was obedient to death on a cross.”
But Paul does not want us or anyone to sit back and say, “That is just Paul. This is what Paul is like. Paul is unusual or strange or exceptional. I am just a normal person, not Paul.” He is desperate that we not think that way. One fear of any spiritual leader is that people look at their lives and think they are somehow exceptional in spirituality. No, Paul is not exceptional, he is a man, and so he says, “Join with me. Think this way with me.”
Don’t put yourself outside the realm of significant spiritual growth and maturity. Spiritual growth and maturity is to be the norm for us, not some kind of strange exception. I talk to a lot of people and you may too who do not believe they can change. Somewhere along the way hope has been lost. Many times it’s because of long-held habits that seem unbreakable. It is sad to see, but I certainly can relate. I’ve been there, and at times find myself there still. These are lies that we can tend to believe. We believe them even though the Bible, God’s Word to us, is so much about change. We are a redeemed people. And part of what redemption is is bringing us back in line with God’s desires for us.
Sin came into the world and brought corruption. Everything was corrupted. People were not excepted. And yet, God is about fixing things that are broken. Christ came to bring change. Christ came to change a people for Himself. He came to change hearts, to change minds, He came to set us free from sin and to rescue us from death. We are to be, as we can read about in Ephesians 4, we are to put off the old self which belongs to what is old, the old life, and to put on the new self which is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. This is what is to be taking place in your life and in mine. Again, it is similar to what Paul has been saying in Philippians, run away from false thinking of self-righteousness and cling to what is true, and what is true is that God is in the business of changing lives. And if you are a believer that means you. “Let those of us who are mature think this way.” Believe.
Paul was a wise man though. Paul realized that he had a large audience, he probably didn’t realize at that time just how large his audience would be, that it would include even us sitting here in 2013. He knew just as you and I know today that just because we present truth, that doesn’t mean everyone who hears it, even Christians, that everyone is going to immediately embrace it. I don’t know about you, but in my many years of Christian living, I have not always immediately embraced every new truth I have learned from the Bible. A good example would be predestination or the doctrines of grace. There are many biblical truths that I have grappled with over a period of time. Some that I have been hesitant to embrace. It disturbs me a bit when I hear people say things like, “Well if you don’t believe, you must not be a Christian.” I mean there are certain gospel truths that we must believe to be saved, we need to understand Christ’s sinless life, our inability to get to God because of sin, we need to understand repentance and faith and Christ being our substitutionary atonement. But there are other truths that are not so central to the Gospel and we may be slow to understand and embrace them. I’m sure I’ve said some things and you have thought, “Wow, I don’t know about that, I’ve not heard that before, I need to look into it.”
Paul knew that some may take exception to his teaching on spiritual growth, and knowing that he says this, “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Notice Paul did not blast them or say, “You can’t be saved if you don’t get this.” He simply says or acknowledges that some may take exception to what he has said, they may have thought, “Is this just from Paul, or is it from God?” But notice Paul’s confidence in the truth and in God’s faithfulness to reveal His truth to His true children. Paul says, ”God will reveal that also to you.” In other words, the truth will be known, God will show you truth.
I really appreciate Paul’s attitude here. He does not demand total uniformity or coerce absolute agreement on every point. Paul doesn’t get all worked up, he doesn’t manipulate with anger or try to exert his power, he just expresses a confident attitude that says, “God will make it clear.” He expresses confidence that God will work in the community of believers, that He who had begun a good work in them will continue it until the day of salvation!
How will God lead others to embrace the truths that he has spoken about? We don’t exactly know. Paul does not explain that. I wonder if Paul’s move from a law centered life to a new life of grace and freedom has relieved him from a need to feel like he has to have a prescription for every conceivable situation and thinking he must resolve them all. I think there is a lesson for us here. You may know someone who can’t stand it if people don’t agree with him on whatever he is passionate about at the time. Maybe it is a point of doctrine on something like eschatology, end time events. He argues his points and then seems to demand that everyone agree. I don’t know what you think, but eschatology can be pretty complicated in the Bible. I think there is a certain degree of a planned lack of clarity regarding all the facts of the end times. I think we can, in the Christian community, live with some differences in our understanding of the end times and I think we can just be okay with that. I mean I don’t think we have to put some kind of pressure on ourselves to build a coalition of like minded thinkers on this. Instead we can have confidence that God will reveal to us truth from His word in the time and with the content He has given us. Paul seems comfortable in other words to give truth, speak truth firmly, demonstrate truth, and then give the results about what others believe to God. He was confident in God’s work of truth in his brothers’ and sisters’ lives. His confidence was in God and in God’s work, not in his simple abilities to sway thinking with his oratory skills.
So after Paul takes this brief moment to address those who may disagree with him, he gets back to his emphasis, the main point of his encouragement. He basically encourages the church, including himself, to maintain their progress in the faith.
Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:16)
The word “attained” reveals that they have already reached a point in their Christian journey of significant understanding and growth. They have progressed in the faith already. They have not been stagnate in their Christianity.
If you are on a diet and you have lost 10 pounds, then we could encourage you to hold on to what you have attained. Don’t slip back, you have lost 10 pounds already, progress has been made.
And this is interesting because he is not excluding anyone, even those who may not be on board yet with all he has said. He recognizes God’s work in their lives and speaks of it here. He is encouraging them in their faith, in their walk.
I love this. I love the fact that Paul is clearly recognizing what God has done as he encourages them to keep moving forward. I wonder how much good we can all do if you recognize and then speak to others when we see them growing spiritually? With our kids, our spouses, our church friends if we could say, “I’ve noticed how you are trusting God more today than what you have in the past. I’ve recognized how you are more joyful in the Lord or more content with your circumstances or more faithful in gathering with the saints.” Words of encouragement, honest words. We can be so quick to criticize and see the negative, how about if we see what others have attained in the faith and encourage each other with appropriate words.
He doesn’t only recognize what they have attained, but urges them then to continue to hold true. They must continue on in the right direction. They are in effect being encouraged to live up to their own experience of God’s gracious work in their lives. “You have attained, keep on attaining. You have progressed, keep on progressing. You have grown, keep on growing.” And he says it in a community sense. “Only let us,” he says. “Let’s do this together,” in other words. “Let’s go forward together, let’s progress together. Keep what we have attained and move forward together in Christ.”
So let me encourage you in closing with four truths from Philippians 3:15-16:
- Those of us who are mature, not perfect, but who are desirous of living for Christ, let us hold to the truths that we know. Specifically, let us put behind us lies that we have believed in the past and live in the light of truth that we have been given today.
- Let’s not forget that God is not only working in our lives but he is also working in our Christians neighbors’ lives. Therefore, we do not need to worry over convincing each other regarding our understanding of all non-essential biblical truth. We can speak truth from the Word, and let God work through that in His timing in His way. In other words, maintain unity and trust God to be God.
- Be quick to encourage people close to you when you see spiritual growth in there life. As believers we have all attained spiritual growth. How can we encourage one another in that growth. No, they are not perfect, yes they and we have a long way to be like Christ, but what spiritual activity have we seen and have we been encouraging to one another when we see it.
- Let’s hold on to what we have learned, what we have attained. Let’s not fall back, let’s not believe as we did when lost, let’s press on in Christlikeness, hold on to what is true.
And in case we are tempted to believe this is all about our effort alone, let’s remember that it is God who is at work in us. Remember Paul’s words from Philippians 2:13
“It is God who works in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” You are not alone, I am not alone. It is the power of God that is at work for us! So as we do these things it is to God that the glory goes, and not to any one of us.
15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:15-16)