Epistle to the Philippians 3: 7-14 (NIV)
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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 God and is by faith. 10 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, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
I can certainly relate to the statement of the Apostle Paul in verse 7. Can you? In earlier verses of this chapter, Paul had outlined his credentials as a Pharisee. Although my former life was in no way as grand as was Paul’s, I was ambitiously climbing the career ladder. I have given that away, willingly and gratefully. I am happy to count it as loss.
I cannot, however, compare myself with Paul’s claim, “for whose (Christ Jesus’) sake I have lost all things”. It takes no effort to think on those who have lost all things because of faithfulness to Christ: former Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, whole churches in northern Nigeria, so many of the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, one hundred years ago, the Armenian people inside the borders of the Ottoman Empire.
I do not want to lose all things. I am not yet at the stage of regarding all that I have (family, friends, material possessions, resources such as Bibles and Christian books) as rubbish. I still depend on these. Do I depend too much? Do you?
Paul’s life as a Pharisee allowed him formerly to think that he had a righteousness of his own. I do not even have that. I have nothing of my own to justify me before God. But thanks be to God, I do not need a righteousness of my own.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (verse 12). I read this, as not a lack of faith in Paul, but an indication of his humility. He knew he had “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith”.
We are urged in his letter to do as he was doing:
- To forget what is behind, not in a literal sense but in terms of dismissing those attitudes and that lifestyle of the past that have separated us from Christ Jesus;
- To strain towards what is ahead, not in our own strength and not relying on works but in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
As the Apostle wrote in the next chapter of this letter (verse 13), “I can do all things through him who gives me strength”.
May each of us look to the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish the work God has set before us to do.