Let Us Hold True to What We Have Attained
Philippians 3:12–16 – Philippians: Life Together
Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2018 (am)
Paul’s letter to the Philippians rises to a crescendo in the brief paragraph that is before us this morning. It was introduced to us last week as the completion of the thought he has been driving toward since the opening of c.3 with his affirmation that those who believe in Christ are the true circumcision party (3), the true Jews. This is the point he was driving at as he told his personal story of the privileged positions he held as a faithful Jew under the old covenant, as a Pharisee and a zealous defender of the faith.
Our passage today amplifies the point Paul was making when he wrote those amazing words in v.7: Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ—and when he went on to say: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
These are favorite verses for many people. They capture the imagination of those who’ve never thought in this way about Jesus. They reignite spiritual passion in those whose hearts have grown cold. They can express the essence and uniqueness of Christianity to those who always assumed it was just another world religion. And they say all this with such penetrating pith that we feel drawn by their hardness as much as by their heart. They draw us like the call to be a Marine: the few, the proud. Like the motto on the gym wall: no pain, no gain, they draw us! Let’s look Phi.2:12-16 it in two parts.
A Recapitulation of Paul’s Pressing On toward the Prize – 12-14
Dan did a great job last Sunday helping us see what Paul is doing here, and why he spent so much time on his own story. He’s urging a course of action, we heard, and he’s using his own story as an illustration of that course. So, what is that course? What does his life demonstrate that makes it worthy of such an extended description as he gives it here?
He wants to know Christ (10). Not just about Christ—he wants to know him by experience! He wants to engage with Christ, walk the path that He walked, do the things He did, feel the things He felt! Paul wants to know him and the power of his resurrection, but he also wants to share his sufferings, including his death! (10) Paul wants to know Christ as fully as He can be known! He wants to commune with Christ, conform to Christ, cooperate with Christ! He wants to identify with Christ and engage with Christ! He wants to live a life that is worthy (1:27) of Christ!
This is a guy how had every advantage in life: born into one of the two remaining tribes among God’s chosen people, educated to the highest degree, a member of the ruling body (5-6). Yet, Paul was willing to set all that aside, to count it as (disadvantage) (7), just to gain Christ, to identify with Christ, to know Christ—intimately, to know him in that sense, the fullest sense—to be united with Him, joined to Christ, forsaking all others, as it says in the marriage vows! That is Paul’s desire here, his testimony, as our text opens today. What do you count as gain in this life?…
And just in case we might think otherwise, Paul wrote: 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. I am His, Paul says. I belong to Him. And that is His own doing. So, what I’m doing here is just seeking to experience to the fullest what Christ has taken hold of me to accomplish. I’m trying to work out (my) own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in (me), both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:12-13). 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made (this) my own. I’m not yet perfect at this. 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.
Let’s take this one step at a time. Paul hasn’t yet arrived at the destination he’s (pressing) toward—he doesn’t yet know Christ as fully as he wants to know Him, as fully as Christ intended for Paul to know Him when He called him to saving faith. So, that’s why Paul is continuing to press on toward (that) goal, (that) prize (14)—the prize of (knowing) Christ on the other side of Paul’s own resurrection from the dead, when his experience of Christ is finally complete, and his appreciation of Christ is finally, for the first time, unimpeded by sin and selfishness.
Obviously that day has not yet come, so Paul is (pressing) on toward it, hungering and thirsting after it, and casting aside everything that obscures it in his life (8), everything that clouds his vision of it, or competes with it. Everything he is tempted to count as (an advantage) in this life, he labors to (forget) so that it will be less likely to get in the way of the pursuit of the goal, the prize! ‘To forget’, in the biblical sense of the word, is not just simply to obliterate from the mind (if that is [even] possible). It is rather the opposite of ‘remembering’, which… carries the important dynamic meaning of a recalling from the past into the present of an action which lies buried in history, in such a way that the result of the past action (brings power in the) present (Martin 160) (I know how to win this battle). Forgetting, then, is the opposite of this. Paul will not regard (anything from his past) as having any bearing or influence (on) his present spiritual outlook or conduct (Martin 161).
This is the illustration from Paul’s life that he shares with the Philippians. This is what he’s calling for in them. He wants them to share his zeal to know Christ to the point where they won’t let anything stand in the way of their pursuit of Him, to the point where (suffering) is not an enemy but a faithful, if short-lived, friend—faithful because of the fellowship with Christ that it affords, but short-lived because (suffering) will not follow them into the next life where they will finally have attained the resurrection (11).
Paul wants them to press on like he’s (pressing) on, to strain for the finish line like those runners who are willing to dive for the tape—to press on like that toward the goal for the prize of (knowing) Christ as fully as He can be known!
A Call to Us All to Press On in Like Manner – 15-16
Vv.15-16 are written to the Philippians, but we can hear their address to us directly even over the centuries. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way…. In other words, this is what (maturity) looks like. This is how you will live as you grow in Christ, as you attain (maturity), So, … if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you—He will show you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. While we’re growing in Him to the place where we recognize with Paul that (knowing) Christ is the ultimate gain—the unrivaled passion and the sole devotion in our lives, the ultimate end in which all other aims in this life find their truest meaning—let us hold true to what we have attained. Let us hold our ground, stand firm in what we’ve already learned, just live our lives in a manner worth of the gospel of Christ (1:27) which we have received, the gospel that saved us.
And regarding our life together, what is translated here (as) let us (hold true) to has the sense not just of individually following on but of keeping in line with others (Foulkes 1275). In choosing this verb Paul once again stresses the importance of harmony and mutual cooperation in spite of whatever divergence of opinion may exist (Martin/Hawthorne 213). This word has overtones of a collective discipline, of all waking in the same row…. Two emphases appear in this sentence. First, they were to remain true to what they had. Second, they were to remain true with a collective discipline that was to characterize the entire church (Melick 141). What they achieved to this point was to guide them into the future as the standard by which they would walk collectively (Melick 141). And what (they) have attained is only what Christ has attained for them, which excludes boasting, (self-love), and (superiority) toward others (Garland 246).
There is our calling: hold true to basic Christianity, together as a body. Hold true to the gospel as we have received it while God continues to work in (us) by His Spirit through His Word to move us toward true (maturity) in our faith which shows itself as our increasing not only willingness, but passion, zeal, to count every advantage in this life as a disadvantage in our strengthening hunger to know Christ as fully as He can be known in these days, to experience all that He died for us to experience, and to experience it together as the local body of Christ at GCD.
So, what gain do you have in this life, what (advantage), that still seems like (advantage) even in comparison to this goal, this prize? What (advantage) do you have that slackens your pace toward this end, this (maturity) in Christ? What keeps you from (pressing) on to the point where you’d dive for the finish line to win this race? Is it your accumulated wealth, so that like the rich young man if Jesus urged you to go, sell all you have a give to the poor and come follow Him (Mar.10:21-2), you’d go away (sad) and cease (pressing) on to know Him?
Is it your appearance? You like the attention you receive and wouldn’t want to risk losing it by identifying with Christ to the point where it actually feels like disadvantage?
Is it your savvy in your job that brings you respect in your corporation, and among your clients?
Or is it your intelligence in the classroom, or even the small group Bible study—your reputation as the go-to guy on all things intellectual or academic, or even theological?
Paul asked the Corinthians, who struggled in much this way: What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1Co.4:7) How is it that we fall prey to the belief that such (advantage), such gain, is intended for our personal use, for the building of our reputation, our status, our net worth…?
What might happen in the workplace if we begin to see that whatever we have that is identified as gain in our lives is not used to our own (advantage) any more that Christ used His equality with God to His own (advantage)? (2:6-7)
And even if we don’t quite feel it yet, even if we don’t yet hunger and thirst to press on toward (knowing) Christ in this way, what might happen if we just (held) true to this perspective that we know to be right from God’s Word? What if we just hold true to what we have attained while we continue to grow toward (maturity), toward imitating (Paul), and… those who walk according to (his) example in Christ? (17) Just as in Paul’s life, this is the end for which Christ Jesus has made (us) his own (12). This is the salvation that God is (working) in (us), both to will and to work for his good pleasure (2:13). This is the (mindset), the like-hearted outlook that should be evident among (us), which is (ours) in Christ Jesus (2:5). This part of our inheritance in the gospel—to mature together in our relationship with Jesus, our love for Him, to the place where every other (advantage) in this life seems like loss, just seem like distracting obstacles to our single-minded, single-hearted devotion to (knowing) Jesus more, and even to (standing) firm in what we (already know). I urge you, press on toward (maturity) (15), press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (14), (counting) all gain in this life as loss (7), and along the way, while that passion is (maturing) (15), (just)… hold true to what you have attained thus far.