I am speaking on Saturday night and have been doing some reading and thinking in preparation. I I have probably said before that for me preparing to preach is mostly an experience of perspiration rather than inspiration. I don’t mean that as soon as I open my bible and get a pad and pen the Holy Spirit ignores me. Really getting the meaning of a passage generally means for me the hard work of what is technically called exegesis, working out what the author really meant and what that means for us. Occasionally however when I look at the passage I am going to speak from I experience what I would call inspiration. What happens is that without endlessly reading the passage, or cracking open commentaries and word study books I seem to see almost instantly and very clearly some important truth in the passage. That happened this morning and I am not sure how this particular thought will work its way into the message but as the Holy Spirit obviously felt it was important enough to give me some insight into it, I thought I would share it.
Here is the passage I was reading:
Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul in this passage and the surrounding verses is talking about what his whole purpose and motivation is in life. He refers to it in these verses like this “the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul in essence says listen, I am not living day to day, I am not wandering through life like I am on a Sunday stroll, I have a purpose in life, everything I do is aimed at a particular goal, I have a prize to win and I am going to do everything it takes to win it. I don’t have time to go into all the details of what that calling and prize was but basically it boils down to knowing and becoming like Christ.
It would have been so much easier if Paul’s great calling and purpose he is talking about here was to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles” or a great church planter because that would have let most of us off the hook. We could ignore what he has to say as only applying to “missionaries” or “full time christian workers” and not us “ordinary” believers. But it does apply to us, knowing and becoming like Christ is the calling we all have been given. The prize we are all called to aim for is to know Christ progressively now and completely when we encounter Him. So we can’t read this passage with our blind eye thinking it has no implications for us, in fact, Paul explicitly goes to say in the next few verses that what he is talking about is for all “mature” Christians.
What struck me almost instantly in reading the passage were the verbs, these verses are dominated by verbs. “pressing on” “taking hold” “forgetting” “straining” “to win” It seems like being a Christ follower for Paul was a life of activity. The picture he is trying to conjure up in his readers mind as an illustration for how we are to live as Christians is of an athlete running a race. What Paul is saying for us in the 21st century is that when we imagine our Christian life we should see in our minds ourselves as Ussain Bolt straining every muscle in his body towards that finish line. The word that comes into my mind when I think about that is passionate. Paul lived his life with passion. He passionately pursued knowing Christ, becoming more like Christ, serving Christ and eventually being with Christ. He did everything he could do to achieve that goal.
The problem I see is that for us (ok I am talking for myself mainly) is that all too often we can live as Christ followers like we are a spectator in the 100ms rather than like Ussain Bolt running in it. So often Christians are not passionate about their Christ following but are instead just plain passive, they turn up for an hour and sit and soak in their seat on Sunday. Apart from turning up on a Sunday morning to sing a couple of songs and listen to someone else talk about God, they put little or no effort into their “heavenward calling.” For far too many Christians their discipleship is more about sitting than straining and hanging around than pressing on. I have my suspicions the way we exist as church may contribute to or even cause this passivity. If your main understanding of church is as a place where you go to sing a little bit and listen a lot, instead of being part of a people who are seeking to embody and express the Kingdom of God individually and collectively 24/7 then your Christ following is going to be characterised more by passivity than activity.
We are almost slap bang in the middle of Lent. Lent has traditionally been, and this is a good church tradition for once, a time for serious personal reflection. A time to take an honest look at how you are living as a disciple. I know that this passage has made me do that this morning. Its made me ask myself if my relationship with Christ has been passionate or passive? Is there anything that I am more passionate about achieving than knowing Christ better? Maybe that is a good question to ask yourself?