Attaining the Ultimate Goal
[Philippians chapter three]
Today we will continue our study of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, which was located in what is modern Turkey today. As you recall from last week’s lesson, Paul is exhorting and encouraging the Philippian church to do whatever is required – first for the Church and second for themselves – without complaint or excuse, and to be “shining like stars in the universe” as a testimony to everyone we know or come into contact with, that the Spirit of Christ dwells within each of us. They were, Paul wrote, living in a “crooked and depraved generation”, and he strongly urged them to “continue since He loves us all” so very much, but we need to be sure and fear the consequences of disobedience. All we have to do is look around us, and we can see the consequences of rejection of God and of Jesus Christ, his teaching and instruction. Wars, disease, addiction, broken marriages, fractured lives and shattered people, and even premature death can be attributed to willful disobedience or refusal to believe in the salvation of Christ. Granted, there are always other factors regarding these things as well, and just because such things happen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone going through such difficulties in life has somehow been condemned. On the contrary, sometimes God steps back and allows hardship to take place in our lives because He is building our moral character, our inner strength and our Spiritual fortitude. Having written this, let’s take up where we left off last week with the first half of chapter three.
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write these things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from Christ and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3, verses 1-11, NIV)
“Rejoice in the Lord”, Paul wrote. Our salvation is assured, not only for ourselves but for all who believe in Christ and who trust him implicitly. There is no point in being unhappy or discontented due to this priceless gift that we all possess. It is a well-known fact that it takes more facial muscles to frown than it does to smile. That clearly applies here. We do not worship a grumpy God, nor is our Lord Jesus Christ ever in a “bad mood”. These are frivolous human emotions, and as such they are far beneath our Lord and Savior. Religion will not save us either, as the apostle Paul pointed out when he described himself before he was saved on the road to Damascus (see Acts chapter 9 for the full story on that). Although he obeyed the Law of Moses and was a member of the religious elite of his day, the Pharisees, he wrote that “whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ”. All his religious beliefs, which he had learned and memorized from his youth, he now considered to be “rubbish”. He even called those of his former faith “dogs”, which is actually a watered down and diluted way of calling them SOB’s! That would be the modern equivalent of calling the Pope an expletive, or of referring to your pastor, priest or rabbi by using profanity. As you can now see, this was really radical stuff in Paul’s day to say the least, as it would be in modern times too.
“I consider everything a loss”, Paul wrote, “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. As you can clearly see here, having religious knowledge – knowledge even to the point of persecuting the early church as Paul did – pales in comparison to having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If translated literally from the original Hebrew in which Paul wrote this letter, “having knowledge” meant having intimacy with Jesus, not in a physical way as between man and woman, but in a Spiritual way. Paul had lost everything he had – not just his material possessions, but also his good standing and reputation from within the Hebrew establishment of his day. This is the equivalent of walking away from one’s entire life, including our careers, our families and friends, and even our homes. When Paul traveled from church to church, he would arrange for accommodations with one or more of the members of that particular congregation, since he had no money to pay for lodging anywhere. This makes me stop and wonder whether any of us would be willing to make such an extreme personal sacrifice for Christ. But, consider the fact that this is what it will take to remain a follower of Christ during the coming tribulation prophesied in the book of Revelation, in Matthew chapter 24, Luke chapter 21, and numerous other places. Having said that, I think we’re ready to finish up chapter three, beginning at verse 12.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already remained perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they may be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3, verses 12-21, NIV)
“I press on toward the goal”, Paul wrote, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”, which was and should still be “to attain to the resurrection of the dead” for all of us. This is a clear reference to the resurrection of Christ on the morning of the third day after he was crucified. In so doing, Jesus conquered death itself and attained eternal life seated at the right hand of the Father (“Where, O death, is your victory; where, O death, is your sting?”, wrote the prophets of old who foresaw the coming of the salvation of Christ centuries before it occurred). By this alone we are saved from eternal death and condemnation, as I have already presented to you numerous times, and so we too have attained eternal life in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “If I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men (and women, because equality is Scriptural) unto me”.
“And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” Never mind all the little details that can get us bogged down in minutia, but be very clear on the main points of your Christianity and your salvation which is found only in Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the “author and finisher of our faith”, and our “kinsman redeemer”. He alone made the Supreme Sacrifice, offering up himself for the sins of humankind. Otherwise, we would never be able to stand in God’s presence and live within his anointing. Without Jesus Christ, none of us would stand even the slightest chance of being able to spend eternity with God in heaven. “Join with others in following my example”, Paul wrote. I find this to be a very good illustration of leadership by example. Anybody can stand in a pulpit on Sunday morning and point his or her finger at everybody and say, “Thou shalt not” or whatever. Whereas Paul wrote that the Philippian church should not just do as somebody says, but instead we are to be following the example of the apostle Paul and do as he did as he followed Christ.
“Our citizenship is in heaven”, Paul wrote, “and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they may be like his glorious body.” We are not of this world. We live within it, I grant you that. But I have noticed, as have most of you, that the closer I draw myself to Christ, the more that the rest of the unbelieving world pushes me away. This in no way means that Christians don’t have a social life, or even a love life (provided that it is monogamous). But it does mean that we should regard ourselves as separate and as being set aside so we can keep ourselves detoxified by the impurity and idolatry of the world and all the useless junk that the world has to offer to us and so tempt us to sin against Jesus. Upon our physical death, our former bodies are left behind so that we can take on the pureness and the glory that is Christ Jesus, and these will be immortal bodies that will last forever, beyond the reach of the passage of time as we now know it. This is the ultimate victory that awaits us, and it is the “prize” that the apostle Paul wrote about in the above passage of Scripture. Follow the example of Paul as I do. Press onward toward the prize that can only be found in the eternal life of Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father while he waits for just the exact right moment to transform us into celestial beings that live forever. That very moment is forthcoming, and it’s the most worthy goal we can ever achieve.