Read or listen to Philippians 3.
Jews did not have a big impact upon the city of Philippi when Paul started a church there. We would suspect there were fewer than a handful of Jews in this rather well visited city. If there were 10 Jews, there should have been a Synagogue.
There was no Synagogue but now there was a church. There was a body of believers who sought to live their lives for Christ. And while we see no direct evidence that the movement that was attacking Asia Minor had reached this part of the world; Paul would forewarn these new Christians what was on the way.
What was on the way was Jesus Plus.
Sounds like a catchy title. Sounds like something better than Jesus. Sounds like horsehocky!
Paul warned those in Philippi to be on the lookout for those who would pervert the gospel. Those in Philippi had surely heard of what was going on to their east, even if the Jews had not arrived in Philippi with this modified gospel.
It was only a matter of time. Philippi sat astride theVia Egnatia. Philippi was on the I-40 of the Roman Empire. It connected east and west. Unlike today where most of us get our news via some electronic media—OK a stopped analog watch is right twice a day and some still get news via the newspaper—in Paul’s time, highways were newsways. What was happening in Rome traveled east. What was going on in Jerusalem, Samaria, Syria, and Asia Minor traveled west.
And what Paul expected was heading to Philippi was circumcision. Confessing that Jesus was Lord was not sufficient in the minds of these Jews wishing to reclaim prominence as God’s chosen people. They conceded that this Jesus movement was exploding and could not be contained, so they tried to incorporate it into Judaism.
You can have your Christ if you comply with some of our basic laws. Specifically, these new Christians needed to be circumcised. If you wanted to be God’s chosen people, you needed the sign in the flesh of God’s chosen people.
Paul warns those believers living in Philippi that when these “dogs” or “evil doers” came that must be ready for them. He gives his own life as an example as a way to combat what was coming.
Paul noted that if anyone should be holding on to being a Jew it was him. Paul was the Jew of Jews.
- Tribe of Benjamin
- Circumcised on the 8th Day
- As to the law, a Pharisee
- A persecutor of the Church
Paul tells his followers in Philippi that none who come bearing this false gospel could hold a righteousness by the law candle to him. And Paul says, all of those accomplishments he just mentioned, he counted for nothing. It was Christ, nothing but Christ, and anything else he once held dear in pursuing righteousness he considered rubbish.
Paul contends that the follower of Christ is marked in the spirit not in the flesh. The believer worships God, rejoices in Christ, and places no honor in any human accomplishment.
Paul says beware of those who are coming. Try to emulate what I have done in seeking Christ.
Then we get one of those already done but not yet moments that Paul uses frequently in his writing. He has been claimed by Christ and he is complete in Him; but he is still a work in progress.
God has done all He needed to do when Jesus went to the cross. We are complete now. We have been perfected. The relationship is restored.
But our life goes on. It goes on in this world. It goes on amidst the struggles of this world.
And Paul challenges us to reach forward, strain forward, and press forward towards the goal. He calls us to continue forward faithfully towards that which lies ahead.
Paul is preaching both peace and purpose.
Peace without purpose produces idleness.
Purpose without the peace of God is to be driven as the world is driven.
We are a people who should have a peace about our salvation, but a fire should burn within us regarding our purpose. We should be straining forward towards the goal.
The peace of God is a wonderful thing, but we should enjoy it without too much comfort.
I’m pretty sure after the hundred days of one hundred degree temperatures we have been experiencing in the southwest; everyone is familiar with heat casualties.
Do you know what type of military operations frequently produces heat casualties?
None of these are immune from heat casualties, but it is the cold weather operation that seems to produce a disproportionate number of heat casualties.
People like to be comfortable. They add layers in cold weather. Extreme cold can cause people to cocoon and withdraw from the world around them. People like to be comfortably warm.
The problem is that when a military force—or any group with a physical mission—becomes comfortably warm, they get overheated when they have to move. The person who is warm and just waiting around will become toasty very quickly, then dehydrated, then a casualty when it’s time to move out.
Long ago I learned a little mantra for cold weather clothing. Dress comfortably cool.
You don’t want to freeze your fingers off, but you need to generate some energy in order to be comfortable.
Comfortably cool translates to comfortably uncomfortable.
We must be somewhat uncomfortable in our comfort zone. While our pace might change as we mature in Christ, we are always moving towards the goal He has given us.
Living to the full.
Working out our salvation—our response to God’s grace.
Living out our salvation is to step out of each day’s comfort zone into the day itself and what it holds for us. It is a day not promised to us, but as we have been blessed to live it, so let us live it with purpose.
Paul urges that many of our goals are common goals, common ways, things of which we are of one mind and can pursue in one spirit. In so many ways, we run the same race.
In other areas, we must seek God’s direction just for us.
But we are always moving towards the goal. We cannot truly be comfortable now because we are citizens of heaven.
The world would distract us with earthly things, but we are not a people to be distracted.
We pray to God and ask him to:
Give us the desire to seek his kingdom first.
Give us the strength to move forward each day.
Give us the wisdom to devote the time we should to living out the grace given to us.
It is good to look backwards every once in a while.
To see where we came from.
To see what we accomplished.
To see the struggles that we overcame.
To remember those who have passed.
To reminisce of wonderful times.
But some people just keeping looking backwards. We must not long for what has passed. We are designed to live pressing forward.
Did you ever notice that in God’s design for creation, there is no reverse mode? We can’t turn back time. We live going forward.
There is no reverse gear in life. If we are going the wrong way, we don’t back out; we turn around. With regards to living God’s way, we call this turning around repentance.
But we live going forward.
Paul challenges us not just to go through the forward motions, but to press forward—to strain forward—towards the goal.
Our challenge is to be comfortably uncomfortable.
We are assured of our salvation. Assurance brings comfort.
We are not content in our life unless we are pursuing our God-given purpose.
Freedom without purposeful living feels like punishment. It makes us susceptible to guilt, and emptiness, and doubt.
I can explain this best in the first person as I experienced my call to ordained ministry.
I was sure that I was unsure that the voice speaking to me was God.
I was wrong. It was him.
Resistance is futile.
Answering the call gave me peace.
I still had much to learn.
I still had much to experience.
There was still hard work ahead of me.
But once I answered the call, the magnitude of the task was no longer overwhelming. I was moving forward. Some steps were bigger than others, but the thought of not continuing on my prescribed course no longer existed.
The thought of not continuing on my prescribed course no longer existed.
I was not entitled to that thought.
No! How liberating! I am ordained by God to be a minister of Word and Sacrament. That is my identity. I am free to engage my entire being in this calling.
All of us in Christ are called to some God-given purpose.
Resisting it produces frustration.
Denying it results in discomfort.
Only accepting the path that God has set for you and engaging everything you are will provide comfort.
Only straining forward towards the goal that God has set for you will provide contentment.
Hear and answer what God is calling you to do.
Our citizenship is not of this world but in God’s kingdom. Getting there isn’t about the days of our lives ticking away but about the steps we take towards the goal. It’s pressing forward to go home.
If you don’t yet know what God has called you to do with your freedom, then ask him. Don’t give God a list to choose from and a list to stay away from. Just ask him. What he has picked out for you is what is best for you.
If you already know what God has called you to do, then don’t be timid.
Press forward, strain forward, lean into your purpose.
Be comfortably uncomfortable in what you have done today. Go to sleep each night knowing that if you are granted tomorrow you will live it in the freedom that Christ gave us and with the purpose for which God made us.
Isn’t it time that we leaned into our purpose?
Shouldn’t we live straining forward to live that purpose.
Read this scripture in The Message.