October 11, 2015
As you may know, Paul, the great Apostle, the founder of a number of churches in the New Testament, the subject of statues and paintings around the world, the writer of many letters that were turned into Holy Scripture – that Paul often spoke of his own failings. To the Romans, he said, “I am weak. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:15) Writing to Timothy, he called himself the “chief of sinners.” (I Timothy 1:15) And in a number of places, he shared his regret about how he had persecuted the Church, thinking he was doing God’s will.
We have a similar scripture today. Here in Philippians Paul was telling the people about his spiritual stature. He was saying, “I’m not as faithful as I’d like to be.” And so, telling them about his knowledge of God and his growth in righteousness, he wrote this. “Not that I have already obtained this, or am already perfect. [I’m not.] But I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)
I’ve always loved that idea of “pressing on.” And Paul said it twice in this passage. Paul saw his own failings. But he also knew how to persevere, how to seek God, and how to grow in his faith. And he asks us to do the same. He asks us to “press on.”
In Hebrews, Paul compared the Christian life to a race. He told them, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) That’s a great statement! That’s one of those things we should put on our refrigerators, so we can see it every day!
However, the sad fact is that there are too many who are satisfied with where they are in their faith. (Or their lack thereof) And they don’t care about moving forward, or growing, or persevering. There are too many people in too many churches, who would rather sit on the sidelines and watch the race, rather than running it! Paul would “exhort” us otherwise!
As you know, I’ve run a lot of races over the years. And unfortunately, that “aging thing” has been working against me in recent years. But I’ve had a good “run of it.” And I remember one of my last Marathons. It was in Atlantic City. And Patty was there with me. And I love how she continues to describe her experience that day. She’ll tell you that she spent most of the race sitting in Starbucks reading! And from time to time she would come out and look up and down the boardwalk, to see if I was going past. And then of course, at the end of the race, she popped out to meet me at the finish line! And she’s always described that as being a great race day!
I know she jokes about that, and it is funny. And it was all great! I was really glad she was there! But, I also know that’s a different kind of experience from those who were running that kind of distance. (In ferocious wind, by the way!) Sadly, that’s the way many Christians treat the “race” Paul was telling the Hebrews about – the race of faith.” They are content to sit on the sidelines. They’re content to sit in Starbucks!
Paul often makes a distinction between what could be called being an “active Christian” and being a “passive Christian.” He would tell us that an “active Christian” is one who runs the race, who presses on toward the higher goal. A “passive Christian” is one who sits back and does, what I’ve often called, the “minimum of faith.” And of course, it’s always the “active” faith, to which Paul calls us.
You’ve heard me say many times, that we have to work at being a Christian! It just doesn’t happen all by itself! And that’s not to say that we have to work to obtain our salvation. I’m not talking about that. That mystery, called Grace, has already been done for us. I’m talking about the fact that God calls us to be “active Christians.” But being active, and growing in our faith, and growing in the image of Christ, doesn’t happen automatically. And sometimes those things are hard. Sometimes they take us out of our “comfort zone.” And often we have to choose to do them. We have to choose to pray, to be kind, to be loving, to rely on God’s peace.
So, how do we do all of that? Well, one thing we don’t do, I can tell you, is we don’t seek to do any of this by our own strength! We do it by relying on God’s strength! That’s another thing that Paul says, again and again. (And I agree with wholeheartedly!) He told the Ephesians, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10) That’s how we press on! If we try to rely on our own strength, we fail, and we become discouraged. I know that’s true for me. I’ll bet it is for you, too!
In fact, for myself, I know that whenever I think I’m strong enough, that’s when I see my weakness. Whenever I think I’m wise enough, that’s when I see my folly. Whenever I think I’m spiritual enough, that’s when I see my emptiness. When it comes down to it, real strength is relying on God’s strength. And that’s not easy! Real wisdom is the “fear of the Lord.” That’s the understanding that God is beyond us! Real spirituality is not in thinking only about our own spiritual selves, but in seeking God’s spirit! And we grow in our faith when we do those things every day!
So then, striving to seek God’s strength, his wisdom, and the fellowship of his spirit, let us take Paul’s words to heart. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
Eternal God, help us to run the race set before us. Help us to rely on your strength, to seek your wisdom, to rest in your Spirit. Help us to grow closer to you, seeking your righteousness, knowing your peace. These things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.