Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (October 8, 2017)
- First reading and Psalm
- Alternate First reading and Psalm
- Second reading
Philippians 3:4b-14 | New Living Translation (NLT)
Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
This is our third week in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. It is a missionary letter. The church there is a supporter of Paul. Many people talk about joy being THE theme of Philippians. I would say that joy is one of the themes…however, if we study more deeply, I believe the theme becomes being shining lights in a world of darkness. Talk about the Bible being relevant.
Paul starts listing what many at the time would have considered important. Paul is making a case that Christ is important. That it is Christ that we serve. Paul points out that if pedigree is important in coming to faith in Christ, then he had all the right stuff. Paul (in human terms) had all the right credentials. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was born into the right family – had all the right training – was obedient to the law – even to the point of persecuting the Christians. Paul had all the right stuff. Yet, Paul said, it wasn’t what was needed. Paul writes, “I once considered them valuable…”
So many times we spend time getting all the right stuff – all the right degrees – get the perfect job – obey God exactly the way he wants us to – and yet (as Paul writes) it’s just garbage compared to Christ. It’s useless – it’s toy money – it’s of no value, especially in light of knowing Christ.
Paul wants more than a head knowledge. Paul wants to know Christ intimately. Paul doesn’t want to ask what would Jesus do? Paul wants to do instinctively what Jesus would do. If we have to ask what Jesus would do, it’s probably already too late.
We again are reminded, that it’s not our pedigree – it’s not our credentials, that make us righteous in God’s sight, but it is our faith in Jesus Christ. So much so that we hear these words, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” That is about as far as you can get from a self-righteous prayer. It should be a prayer that all Christians should desire.
I think there were those who thought Paul was boasting, especially thinking that Paul thought he was above them – like he had it all figured out, but then Paul writes that he doesn’t have it all figured out…but he wants it with all of his heart. He says that he desires to press on toward perfection.
When we think of perfect, we think of something without defect. And yet that really doesn’t capture the essence of the word. Look at this definition:
having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
Paul wants to be everything God wants him to be today and then tomorrow be everything God wants him to be – always maturing – always getting closer and closer to having all the required elements or qualities. The goal is to reach the end of the race – maturing each step of the way until God calls us heavenward – and we receive the prize that Christ has for us. So – PRESS ON!