And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God!
I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.
Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it— even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
Paul was a guy with a pedigree. He was a guy with amazing credentials. There was no question that he was something special. Paul’s zeal for the faith was so strong that he persecuted Christians as a young man. But, then something happened. He had an encounter with Christ. This encounter changed him to his core. He was transformed from the inside out and would never be the same. Paul spent the rest of his life pressing forward a message of grace, truth, love, and reconciliation.
I think what strikes me about this passage is the humility of Paul.
He knows that he’s imperfect and that he has not reached the goals that he’s calling the Philippians to live out. But, he says, I’m going to keep pressing on, I’m going to keep trying to become like Christ in all things.
He desperately wanted to know Christ and his resurrection. The NIV says it this way, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul’s greatest desire was union with Christ. If having union with Christ in his resurrection meant suffering, so be it, it would be worth it. I don’t think Paul went looking for suffering. I do think that Paul saw in his suffering an opportunity to find a deeper identification with Christ. Again, this was not some sort of trite platitude. No, Paul truly suffered and struggled. This is akin to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as he processed his experience in the holocaust. Paul wrote from a place of real pain and the meaning he found was an identification with Christ.
It was in this that Paul’s humility was rooted. He had found meaning in Christ and he wanted others to find it too. He knew his pursuit was imperfect but the beauty of grace was in the pursuit, it was in the straining toward the goal.
Let’s journey together shall we? Let’s join the pursuit of the resurrection by focusing on living as Christ. Let’s pursue a radical minimum standard of self-forgetting, self-giving, self-sacrificing love.