Ah, Philippians is a book of such joy! It is truly an oasis in the midst of trouble.
I often wonder how the apostles thought of themselves. We look back through 2,000 years of history and see them as giants of the Faith ... and so they are. But, my dear friends, they were no different than ourselves. The thought of being giants of the Faith was no doubt as foreign to their own thinking as it would be to ours. God knows how to use average people to achieve His purposes because to do so brings Him great honor and glory. These apostles will have their places of honor in the heavenly kingdom - as will each of us.
Today is the day to overcome, to endure, to die to Self, to stretch toward the vision of that great City ahead of us, determined to achieve the wonders God has prepared for us, even if we fall at His feet gasping for breath. Oh, what a day that will be! It will be worth it all, as the old hymn says. The gasps will be transformed into songs of praise and shouts of glory to the Master!
We are too often preoccupied with the cares and affairs of the temporal life to give much thought to pressing toward the mark of spiritual maturity and to the high calling of which Paul speaks. Our preoccupation should be that of Paul, with every day and every hour eliciting a desire to carry out God's plan for our own lives. This should be the opening and closing thought of each day - and in everything we do at every moment of the day. Our lives should be built upon a passion to please our Lord above all else, particularly in these times.
Most who call themselves Christians in this age are preoccupied with everything in this world rather than a relationship with the living God. The cares of this world aren't going away, of course, but our desires should not be focused on material things, making more money, having 'fun', gaining worldly wealth or fame. While these things are part and parcel of the earthly life, the primary concern as we move through these physically necessary realms should be one of seizing every opportunity to serve the Lord and His people and to meet the spiritual needs of every single person we meet. We will be held accountable for every minute, every thought, every motive, every careless word, every deed, every response. Everything.
Our lives need to be completely abandoned to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ. Regardless of circumstances, the life lived very near to the Savior in deep fellowship is one of unbounded joy! We should be in communion with Him constantly - in every single waking moment. We should have a deep comprehension of Paul's meaning when he said that for him, to die is gain, to live is Christ. (Philippians 1) Yes, even to the "fellowship of his sufferings," as Paul again so eloquently expressed.
Jesus said, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." (Luke 16:16) Pressing into it is a life of sanctification to God, which requires death to self through determined effort. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (1 Thess 5) The Lord Himself will do it! Our determined effort is but to apprehend what He is offering. Take it! His yoke is easy because He promises to be there with you every step of the way. I can attest to the truth of that promise. My job is to call on Him, and if I do, He is instantly there to provide every need. Without fail.
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin." Romans 6:1-7 This, too, is pressing upward.
Then again, the press is the working out of spiritual warfare in the physical realm. I can tell you that when you stand firm against the world and the flesh in favor of the sanctified life in Christ, the war will come to you personally. It's hard, it's uncomfortable, people are irritated with you, they may avoid you, whatever. We are called to stand firm on God's Word and sometimes (often) that includes God deliberately putting you in a position in which you are required to call people to account (for which God will hold YOU accountable if you fail to do so). Now, there's a sticky wicket. And it always includes facing off with the world - and these days that world is more often than not right in the church. To do this without offense is a challenge for which only the Holy Spirit can provide the grace, love, compassion and patience required, especially if you are not by nature confrontational. I feel a tremendous responsibility to obey the Lord in this area, because these days there is virtually no accountability in the Church.
The Mark and The Prize
"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Why was Paul pressing toward the mark? For the prize? Well, of course, he knew there was a prize - eternal life, first of all - and personal reward for accomplishment. The prizes will be given by the Father (Matthew 20:23).
But, as I believe is the motivation in even earthly races at which awards are given, for most people the prize itself is not the primary motivation. The prize is evidence of having run the race well.
But, in Paul's case it's much more than that. This prize is "the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." It's evidence of the highest honor one could hope for ... it is evidence that God believed in Paul (and ultimately in each of us)! This prize is not for kicking a ball down the path; this prize is evidence of having been personally called by Jesus Christ, of having been given a particular plan to carry out. The carrying out of that years-long task was extremely difficult, arduous, painful. But he was doing it for His Savior, the One who had died for him. Paul loved Jesus with all His heart, mind and strength, and Paul had not walked the earth with Jesus as had the other apostles. This was the highest honor to be chosen to follow Christ. The odds were greatly against Paul ever having such a relationship due to his persecution of the Christians. We can only imagine the joy and gratitude that motivated Paul to give back, to obey, to give his all, to have a personal relationship, to be called out ... and most of all, to have the opportunity to show his love for Christ, the one who had died for him.
It's the same with us. How unimaginable is it that the creator of 'everything that is' would die on a cross for me? And, further, the fact that he did that for me doesn't just save me from the pit of hell; it gives me eternal life with that Creator! It's beyond all human understanding. At least mine. My amazement and lack of complete comprehension of all that attends that sacrifice never ebbs; it is there in full force every time I think about it - which is often.
Paul expresses all this in 3:8-13:
"8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,"
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Let us do the same.
I suggest you read Philippians often, especially when trials and testing are at your very door. This book pours out blessing after blessing. It fills up your spiritual tank and enables you to truly live the joyful and abundant life the Christian lives, regardless of circumstance. Rejoice in the Lord always. And, again, I say, REJOICE!