Devotional # 134. 4/27/15. Philippians 3:12-16.
Intro. Context. Context. Context. Before we charge into today’s devotional we have to remember what we’ve been talking about with Paul here in chapter 3. Paul wasn’t trusting on his family or schooling, he counted “all things loss” and ‘trash’ in comparison with gaining Jesus (v. 8). All righteousness comes “from God by faith” as long as we accept Jesus and agree to participate in the “fellowship of the sufferings” where we are “conformed to His death” (v. 10). But does Jesus really want to “suffer” for Him, or did I take Paul out of context? Well, in another place in the Bible, Paul writes, “if we suffer with Him” (Rom. 8:17) then we’re considered “children of God” and “joint heirs with Christ”. Did you catch that? IF. It’s a choice. “IF we suffer with Him.”
Someone once said, “if the promise of the Old Testament is prosperity, then the promise of the New Testament is adversity.” We’re promised a difficult time if we truly follow Christ. He promised us that if people hated Him, then they will certainly hate us, His followers (John 15:18.) But how do we grow to handle that “suffering”? The answer is in the question: we GROW. That is why Paul moves on to talk about “maturity”, in todays devotional.
v. 12. This is really comforting because Paul says what all of us Christian have felt numerous times in our lives. I have not “already attained” being a perfect Christian. And “perfected” here means “mature” (he’ll bring it up again in v. 15).
The author of Hebrews 6 uses similar terminology when he says that as we grow out of only discussing the elementary things of Christ we will go further into “perfection” becoming “enlightened” and tasting “the heavenly gift” and being “partakers of the Holy Spirit” (6:1-4). So it makes sense that as we grow closer to God, deeper in our walk, more mature in the faith, that God calls this reaching “perfection.” After all isn’t that what heaven will be like? Being as close to God as possible without being obliterated, deep and rooted in our walk with Him, and mature with a calm confidence that God is in control and we never have to fear again!
Most of the time I feel far from full maturity. Maybe that’s God helping us with humility, but either way it’s comforting to know that Paul felt the same way. And this wasn’t just how Paul “felt” but has obviously been given to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s doctrinal.
But if Paul has not reached the Nirvana of perfection then what must he do? He must “press on.” Interestingly Paul isn’t as interested in telling us how each one of us must “press on” in our own lives – that’s for each of us to find out with Jesus. But he is very clear about the goal. And for me, I have to know what the goal is. Where is the end?
First, the goal is for Paul to “lay hold of that” which Jesus “has also laid hold of me.” It can be explained as “Christ chose Paul for the ultimate purpose of conforming Paul to His glorious image (Rom. 8:29), and that is the very goal Paul pursued to attain” (Source 1).
vv. 13-14. Paul gives us a hint at what our mindset should be. To not dwell on the past but to be as if we’ve forgotten what’s “behind” us. This certainly wouldn’t mean that we forget the good things God has done but not to allow the bad stuff to weigh us down and trap us in running in unproductive circles. I think of the older men in Haggai 2:1-9 who were complaining about the good old days. God was telling them how to re-build the temple but they were so fixated on what the old temple had been like they couldn’t build a new one. The elderly liked the old ways but God is linear and the best days are yet to come, see Ezekiel 3:12-13!!
Now Paul mentions the “goal” (which is being like Christ on earth) in order to win the “prize” (which is being like Christ in heaven) (Source 1). Every race has a finish line and a “prize” associated with it. Paul was competitive; multiple times he refers to athletic analogies to help us understand our walk with the Lord. Here he is giving us motivation to not be lethargic or wrapped up in the “good old days” but to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7) and persevere onward and upward.
This “prize” Paul names as “the upward call of God.” MacArthur says this is “Christ-likeness in heaven” (Source 1).
v. 15. Remember earlier “perfected” meant “mature”? So when Paul says, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind” what he is saying is: ‘Knowing these things, we who are mature should have the mindset of being like Christ.’ Although we’ll never be perfect while on earth, as we mature we certainly grow closer to perfection. I am convinced that the Christian life doesn’t have to be a series of mountains and valleys but instead gradual inclines and plateaus. Almost like a staircase. And Paul is saying if you desire to sin less and fulfill the calling of Jesus then you will mature.
If you’ve never heard this than suffice it to say that Paul was right, “God will reveal even this to you.” Consider yourself told.*
v. 16. Paul exhorts and encourages all Christians to travel the same path and always strive towards maturity in Jesus. I pray for maturity in the believers I know because there is a contentment and clarity that comes into your life as you mature.
Conclusion. I desire maturity for people but just like trying to share the Lord with someone, its something they have to desire on their own. And if the Bible, our foundation, can’t convince you to obey God then I definitely won’t be able to. But I have hope that you will be encouraged by Paul’s example, knowing that its humanly possible to mature and drive forward to be Christ-like. You have the opportunity to teach others, either with your words or deeds, as you mature. If you take the time to pour into someone else (just as others have poured into you) it will be rewarding and fulfilling!
*“If in anything you think otherwise”: I agree with Wycliffe that Paul means “‘if you are not quite convinced that this point of view should be applied to every area of life, God will reveal even this to you’” (Source 2). It also seems pretty obvious that, that is what Paul means when reading verse 16. However McGee seems to think that Paul is talking about his calling and that if you feel that God is calling you to do something different then maybe “God does have something else for you to do” (Source 3). But McGee is off track here and uses half a page to talk about God’s will for our life instead of keeping to context.
Source 1: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1826.
Source 2: The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 772.
Source 3: J. Vernon McGee, Philippians and Colossians, p. 78.