Week 30 The Story
Philippians 3: 12-16
One Thing I Do
“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. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
The Apostle Paul’s famous declaration of his life’s desire was stated in the preceding verses: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (vv. 10, 11). This passionate declaration meant that every day witnessed the apostle’s relentless pursuit of an ever-deepening, ever-widening personal knowledge of the Christ whom he had already known intimately for over thirty years. His growing knowledge of Christ involved his constant pursuit of “the power of his resurrection,” and part and parcel with that power was the longing for the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings because he knew that suffering for Christ is the sacred path to deeper knowledge of him and the perfection of intimate fellowship with him.
There is nothing in Scripture quite like this explosion of spiritual longing. And Paul’s passionate longing is meant to serve as an example for all Christians. We are called to make his passion for Christ our own. Dare we ask for this? Will we pray for it? That remains the great question for every Christian.
The mere statement of Paul’s daunting desire places the apostle in a stratosphere by himself. And we lesser mortals might imagine that Paul attained it over the dynamic years of his epic life.
But Paul was quick to confess that this was simply not the case because he immediately interjected, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (v. 12a). His language is arresting because he literally said, “Not that I have already received (without referencing the object), so that the sense is much the same as in English when we say, “Not that I have arrived,” stressing the incompleteness of his spiritual journey. Paul had not “received,” and neither was he “perfect.” This was conscious reality for the apostle. Paul was under no illusions about his attainments and would not promote fictions about his having become “perfect.” So we immediately observe that Paul’s magnificent quest to know Christ fully was matched by a magnificent humility.
However, while Paul was most humble, he was also very subtle because by raising the subject of perfection, he was co-opting the pious language of his opponents. Paul’s enemies claimed to have reached a state of perfection that made them possessors of all the blessings of salvation, in effect the arrival of Heaven itself. Heavenly perfection was theirs now, they argued. If we imagine that “we have heaven now” is a far-fetched notion, we must understand that certain groups today claim the same thing – namely, that “mature” Christians will stay healthy and enjoy material prosperity and wholly overcome sin. There are TV preachers who preach freedom from sickness and poverty who also proclaim, “The world’s shortages have no effect on someone who has already gone to heaven. Therefore, they should have no effect on us here who have make Jesus Lord of our lives.”
But Paul’s confession allowed no such thinking, then or now. Here the Apostle Paul, the most spectacular Christian who ever lived, confessed that he had not arrived or become “perfect.” Paul admitted his own need to grow into maturity. His confession stands as a warning against a super-spiritual kind of Christianity that imagines that the blessings of the age to come, can be had before the resurrection.
The reality is, the more we come to know Christ, the more we will come to sense our need to grow. We must understand that Paul’s prayer – “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” – is a prayer of humble dissatisfaction that opens us to the blessing of God – and to a sublime cycle of dissatisfaction and satisfaction and dissatisfaction and satisfaction. . . It brings on a life that knows more and more of Christ and then desperately wants to know more and indeed does know more and more and more. Spiritual dissatisfaction is a blessed a blessed state. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Do you long to know Christ better? If so, blessing rains upon your soul.
Paul’s humble confession – “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” – brings forth something remarkable. It births a mighty resolve in Paul: “but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (v. 12b). We see how gritty Paul’s resolve is in the original Greek, which is tinged with violence: “but I pursue [it] if indeed I may seize [it], because indeed I have been seized by Christ Jesus.” Paul’s “language comes from the world of war and athletics.” As Paul trod the road near Damascus, the mighty hand of Christ reached down, seized him by the scruff of his robe, and set him on the path to Anania’s house and then to Arabia and then to the Gentile world as its great apostle. Here Paul expressed his desire to “know” the risen Christ because he was in the grip of Christ’s grace! Paul’s whole pursuit of Christ was Christ-originated, Christ-motivated, and Christ-propelled.
The present tense Paul used describes an ongoing, grasping, strenuous pursuit. It’s a gritty, “I will not be denied,” rough-and-tumble pursuit – a sublime violence – which Christ approved and approves of. He said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). This is how it was with John the Baptist when he burst from the wilderness clad in his leathers, fiercely heralding the kingdom. So it was with the paralytic’s friends when they tore through the roof in Capernaum to get him to Jesus. Gracious, loving violence.
Brothers and sisters, if you have been seized by Christ and are in the grip of his grace, you must press on in your own hot, grasping pursuit of an ever-deeper knowledge of him. The gospel allows no room for a bland, middle-class ethic that strives to be neither hot nor cold (cf. Revelation 3:14-16). We are called (every mother, daughter, father, son) to a single-minded, determined pursuit of Christ.
If you have been grasped by grace, God is speaking to you right now. Do you hear him? Pursue! Seize! Take hold of Christ as he has taken hold of you. This is the only way to live. No fainting hearts permitted.
Paul concluded with some gentle and wise advice: “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (vv. 15, 16). Mature people don’t think they are perfect or have arrived. Those who are mature refuse themselves even a satisfied glance back at spiritual attainments. Instead, forgetting what is behind, they pour their energy into the pursuit of the full knowledge of Christ. They run the race rather than imagine it is over.
One final word from Paul: “Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (v. 16). Notice that he included himself with the readers – he said “us” rather than “you.” The exact sense is, “Only let us keep in step with what we have attained.” Paul wanted them to continue together in accord with the same passion to know Christ. They must not depart from the progress they have made in their pursuit of Christ. This is a fitting word to each of us who love Christ.
Eric Liddell, “the Flying Scotsman,” was already famous when he made his phenomenal comeback to win the 440 in the Scotland-France meet. And his fame increased as a runner and a Christian, especially at the Paris Olympics in 1924 where he refused to run in his best events (the 100 meters and 4 x 100 relay) because they were run on Sunday. Chariots of Fire accurately portrays this as a last-minute decision in Paris, whereas he actually decided well in advance and began to train for the 200 and 400 meter races. Liddell took a bronze in the 200 and amazed the world by winning the 400 in the world-record time of 47.6 seconds, five meters ahead of the silver medalist – he was truly flying!
Runner he was, but that was only one manifestation of his devotion to Christ. In 1925, having completed his degree in science at Edinburgh and a degree in divinity, he set sail as a missionary to China with the China Inland Mission. In 1932, during his first furlough, he married Florence Mackenzie. In 1941, facing the growing threat of Japanese occupation, he sent his wife and three daughters to Canada to stay with her family while he stayed on to serve among the poor. Liddell suffered many hardships but kept on running hard after Christ. And then in 1943 he was interned in the Weihsien Internment Camp where he again cheerfully served those around him. In 1945, at the age of forty-three, Eric Liddell died of a brain tumor that may have been caused by malnourishment and overwork. Liddell’s grave was marked by a simple wooden cross, with his name written in boot polish. He is interred in the Mausoleum of Martyrs in Shijiazhuang, China.
I do not know what the inscription says. But if I were to imagine one, it would be:
HE DIED RUNNING
Here was a man whose life was given to one thing. “Forgetting what lays behind and straining forward to what lay ahead, [he] press[ed] on for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
May we all die running for and with Jesus!"