September 30, 2018
Today, we “press on” in Philippians! as for me, I am “straining forward to what lies ahead “in chapter four.” That’s the “prize” for me! That’s the prize I will receive for the “perseverance,” for pursing the “upward call,” for “running the race set before me” in these first three chapters.
Does that sound like the Apostle Paul? I hope so, because that was my intention! I love all of those incredibly encouraging words he uses! And the more I think about it, the more I think that’s what the faith is about! It’s not just about learning. It’s about inspiration. It’s not just about securing our salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s about that upbuilding, that exhortation, that “edification,” that Paul gives us, that we should give each other.
It’s also not just a matter of “we learn the faith, we know it, and that’s it.” It’s an ongoing thing. If some are struggling, we can’t just say, “They have the faith.” “They’ll be alright.” When they seem to have lost their way, we can’t say, “Well, they have God. They have all the ‘knowledge’ they need.” And if they fail utterly, we can’t say “They should have ‘known better.’” “I hope they come around.” When it seems they have lost the “hope” of their faith, it’s about picking them up. It’s about running “the race” beside them. It’s about building them up, when the world is tearing them down.
That’s so much of what this faith is about. We need to know that! And we need to keep hearing that – all the time! That’s why Paul says at the beginning of chapter 2, “It is not ‘irksome’ – it’s not troubling to me – to keep writing the same things to you.” He’s saying, “I know you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s good to keep telling you this!” “You need to be caring for each other.” “And more than that,” he’s saying, “You need simply to be there for each other!” He would tell us, “You need to be present, so the you can do that for others, so you can build them up, so you can “edify” them, so you can encourage them.” “Because, as sure as I’m writing this, there will be times when you will need them to do that for you!”
That’s such a big part of the faith. That’s such a big part of sharing this life together in God’s kingdom. That’s why Paul told the the Hebrews, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but do so encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” That’s why they were to be together. That’s why we need to be together!! Sometimes you might find yourself thinking, “I don’t need to go to Church today.” But when you do, try to think instead that “Someone needs me to go to Church today!” They might not even need you to talk to them or do anything! They might just need you to be with them, by their side! Just your presence might be all they need!
I love these words in our baptism service, and you’ve heard me quote this before. Each time, you all promise “To tell this new believer the Good News, to teach them all that Christ commands, and by your fellowship to strengthen their family ties to the household of God.” In the first two of those promises, you’re promising to tell something, to teach them something. But in that last one, you’re promising your presence. And I think that may be the most important part of all!
So then, we are all“pressing on” in our faith. And we press on – together! And so Paul gives us all of these “encouraging words” – words that “impart courage” to others, for that’s what the word “encouraging” means! He tells us that the faith is not just about learning! We’re not here just to grow together in our understanding, but to uphold and support one another in the living of the faith! And that’s the hard part isn’t it?
I don’t need to tell you that we all have our struggles, do I? And it was the same for Paul, too. I mean, set aside for a moment, the persecution he endured! That’s hard for us to imagine! But, besides that, it was tough for him just living the faith. Leading up to this passage for today, Paul reminded us, that even though he was that great Apostle, immortalized in canvas and stone, he still had his struggles. He knew he was not perfect. He saw himself as a “work in progress.”
If you recall, he told us before about all the earthly status and influence he held. He was a well known and influential religious leader! “But,” he said, “I count it as loss, for the sake of Christ.” Those are his words that we looked at last week. He went on to say that he gave all that up, and that now he seeks the righteousness found in Jesus Christ. And then he begins this reading for today by saying that he has not yet attained that righteousness. “So,” he says, “I press onto make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
This is an ongoing process! Paul knew that! He knew that it’s ongoing every day, in every little detail of this life of faith. It’s ongoing in every moment we have failed, have considered giving up, and then didn’t! It’s ongoing in each time we were about to criticize someone, but instead forgave them! It’s ongoing when, instead of giving up on someone, we lifted them up! It’s ongoing when the “chips were down,” when life was tough, and yet we “pressed on” through difficulty, and kept the faith!
Again, that’s the tough part! In comparison, the learning about the faith is the easy part! Living the faith, when things are good, is also easy in comparison. It’s pressing on through the struggles. That’s the hard part. And that’s the important part!
I was talking to somebody just the other day, and they were telling me another person they knew. They said, “John’s a great guy!” “Except when he’s stressed,” they said. “Then he can be a little bit difficult.” “Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?” I said to the person, “Anybody can be a ‘great guy’ when there’s no stress! It’s when life gets difficult, that’s when it’s hard to be that ‘great guy’ – that ‘great person!’”
That’s so important! And that is something we need to work on every day!! That’s part of this “work in progress!” We press on! And we don’t do so only when we “feel like it!” “Pressing on” means doing so even when we don’t feel like it! In fact, we are called to live by faith, and not by feelings! The world does that all the time, though, doesn’t it? That’s what the world teaches people all the time! So, if someone “feels like” tearing someone down, they do. If someone doesn’t feel like reaching out and helping, they don’t. And, if they don’t feel like they are close to God, or that God is near to them, they assume he isn’t!
Paul would use the words of Jesus here. He would say, “It shall not be so among you!” “You shall be people who persevere.” “You shall be people who chooseto live in the joy of the kingdom.” “You shall be people who encourage one another, and who upbuild one another!” “And when there are those who have lost their hope, you shall be people who show them yours!”
We are in this together! We press on, together! As the Church, we should know better what English Poet John Dunn wrote back in the 16th Century:
“No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…
…any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.”
We are in this together. Especially in the Church! And we are to set an example in our individualistic society! We need to show them that, indeed, no man is an island. We are all part of one another! That’s what our savior called us to do. That’s what he did himself!
“So, together, we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Eternal God, uphold us as we seek to uphold one another. Encourage us by your Spirit, so that we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to draw closer to the goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus. Help us to be more like him and to live in his righteousness. For we pray in his name, Amen!