Whenever we drive north out of Christchurch I have to have a little smile to myself – there is a specific spot, just north of Leithfield, just before you hit Amberley. I always notice the place because I can recall as a little fellow, there we were travelling to Nelson or Picton or someplace hundreds of miles away; but I can remember at this particular spot that it seemed to me that we were in the middle of nowhere and had been travelling interminably. And I remember asking that question all parents dread to hear: “Are we nearly there yet?!” [P] It must have been discouraging – we were barely out of Christchurch and I thought we ought to be there! I was fed up and we had hardly started! A number of us have been on the Christian road a while now; do you ever get discouraged at your lack of progress? Or is it just me? Do you ever think: will I ever get there? Are we nearly there yet? Last time Paul had spoken of: [P] [Philippians 3:9-11 being found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.] A glorious prospect: being found in Christ with His righteousness, His resurrection life, completely at one with Him! This is the prospect before us – are we nearly there yet? Have we reached this glorious goal? Had Paul made it? Was he nearly there yet? Let’s pick it up at: [P] [Philippians 3:12-21 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. ] Lest we think of Paul as some super-apostle who has a picture-perfect relationship with Christ, he shatters any such notions by declaring that he has not arrived yet. Even Paul hadn’t got there. He tells of two things that have not yet happened before moving on to the positive statement: “he hasn’t obtained it” and “he has not already become perfect.” These two negatives create suspense by delaying the introduction of the positive. But it does leave you wondering what he hadn’t obtained, what kept him from being perfect. The key thing that Paul wanted to receive, the thing on which all else hinged, was a righteousness through faith in Christ [P] (see Phil 3:9), the righteousness of God Himself, resulting in resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:11). He is being made perfect and is receiving a perfect righteousness from God. This righteousness has nothing to do with his works or merit but with God’s gift—given on the basis of faith. This righteousness is what qualifies him to partake in the resurrection. By leaving what he still lacks unstated, Paul is referring to these concepts that he discussed in (Phil 3:8-11), the key one being God-given, faith-based righteousness. Remember, these statements reflect what he has not yet received—consistent with the hope of all things being fulfilled at Christ’s return (see Phil 3:20-21; see also Rom 3:23; Heb 9:28). Although we have been pledged these things on the basis of faith, there is nonetheless a “not yet” element as we await the fulfilment of all things. We are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, now – but also we are not there yet – we still sin, we are still not perfect. You see the same idea with salvation: we are saved now, yet there is a salvation to be revealed in the last time [1 Peter 1:5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.] – yes, we have it, but we are not there yet – we walk by faith, and [Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.]. Paul shifts from what he is not doing to what he does do, and he draws attention to his statement by saying: “This one thing I do.” By saying “this”, he makes us wonder what this stands for. [P] It’s like he is saying, “Hey, get this!” in English. He is not there yet but he presses on! We are not there yet, but we keep on keeping on, we press on. DON’T GIVE UP! We are only just past Leithfield, but we keep on motoring, we press on! [Hebrews 10:35-39 Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.] Paul says that he does: “one thing” (Phil 3:13) – the one thing he does is “press on” but he first mentions two things serve as background for the one big thing, finally disclosed in (Phil 3:14). These two background circumstances are intentionally linked to one another, even although it is not translated. A bit like we would say in English: “Not only this… but also this…”. Even before the original audience finished hearing about the first thing, they would have known that a second closely connected thing was coming. It’s like getting a multiple-package order where each box is labelled “Item 1 of 2; Item 2 of 2.” [P] Shippers do this so that you will expect more than one thing, even if only one arrives. What are the two things? The first involves forgetting what lies behind us. Dwelling on the past can be a huge hindrance to making progress, acting like a ball and chain holding you back. It might be dwelling on things that you regret doing or neglected to do. Think about Paul’s life, how he zealously persecuted the early church. Imagine what would have happened if he had dwelt on that too much. Nothing he could have done would have been able to make it go away. Are we nearly there yet? No, we fail, we fall, we sin – we all have things that we regret. We are not yet perfect. These things can discourage us from believing that God can ever do anything through us. Sometimes Satan is the one bringing such charges against us. For him, the next best thing to turning someone away from a close walk with Christ is to make them ineffective. Although there are indeed natural consequences for bad decisions, we need to learn our lessons and keep moving forward. [1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.] Yes, we need to examine ourselves and if there is sin we confess it, receive forgiveness and then move on. But if you keep on dwelling on that failure you will never progress. What about the alternative: dwelling on good things that happened in the past? What could possibly be wrong with that? Plenty! We have long struggled with relying on past achievements. The expression about “resting on your laurels” refers to the days when ancient athletes received laurel wreaths as the prize for winning a race or competition. The implication is that if you’re resting on past achievements, you aren’t preparing for future ones. Paul had a number of amazing things happen in his life, any one of which could have resulted in him resting on his laurels. So what does this mean practically? Does this mean that we ignore the past completely? No! If mistakes have been made, then learn from them. Make it right if possible. Do not allow it to make you think that God could never use you again. Remember Jonah, who ran in the opposite direction rather than do what God told him to – it always, blesses me that it says that “the word of יהוה came to Jonah a second time”. Let go and move forward. The same holds true for positive accomplishments. Savour the moment, but then move on. Living in the past can be a huge road block to moving forward. . Not only “forget what is past” but linked to that, the: “also”, the second package: we need to also “strain toward” what lies ahead. We are to be future focused not past preoccupied. Paul wants us to let go of the past and strain forward. What does Paul strain forward toward? It’s finally revealed in (Phil 3:14): pressing on toward the goal, the thing to which God has called him. We have all kinds of idioms in English that capture this idea: “Keep the main thing the main thing;” “Keep your eye on the ball;” “Keep on keeping on.” Paul has already mentioned this idea in (Phil 3:12), using the same Greek words for pressing on. He paints a great picture of the goal, the thing for which God grabbed him in the first place. God had a purpose for Paul, and he declares here that his mission in life is to pursue that purpose no matter what. Past successes and failures will not stand in the way, nor will present circumstances. “– Three times in two verses it says “lay hold” – it means to grasp, you acquire something but with the implication of significant effort, you make it your own. Christ makes us His own, but we have to acquire it ourselves – and it is an on-going thing, Paul hadn’t laid hold of it yet. It takes effort, determination and commitment – Paul reaches forward, strains toward what lies before him – the picture is taken from a runner reaching toward the goal. He presses on to it – twice he says it (Phil 3:12 & Phil 3:14) – the word is pursue – it is even translated “persecute” – you are out to get this at all costs! What is the goal that Paul wants to lay hold of, reaches out toward, that he pursues with such energy and effort? – the upward call of God in Christ Jesus! [P] God is calling you above! We do not belong here! The trouble is we get so caught up with the business of getting on with our lives down here that we forget that this is not our home – our citizenship is in heaven! That is what we should be working towards – not making it down here on earth, a good job, a nice home. These are not the things that we should be pursuing [Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. ] And the word used here for goal means fix your eye upon. Paul is picturing a running race, the runner has just turned into the home stretch where he can see the goal! His eye is set on the finishing tape. Can you see the goal, or is your goal on accomplishing things here on earth? You probably get it too, but wherever I go I am asked what my goal is. My banker asks me what my financial goals are, I have a job review, I have to set goals – I tell them, “I don’t operate by goals!” I am not seeking things here down on earth; it is the things above that we should be seeking. I have just moved into a lovely new home, but I certainly wasn’t seeking it, I was happy where I was – you [Matthew 6:33 “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.] Paul’s seeks the prize of the upward calling, and nothing is going to distract him from pursuing it. In (Phil 3:15-21) Paul essentially answers the “So what?” question. It tells us how we ought to live in light of the upward call of God. It builds on Paul’s main idea of pressing on in (Phil 3:12). Recall that Paul stresses twice that he has not arrived or been made perfect, affirming that he is still very much in process. In light of Paul’s standing in the community, this may have taken some of the Philippians by surprise – surely if anybody had made it, it was Paul. Based on how he begins this section however, it seems that not everyone regarded themselves as in process. Some people thought that they had already made it. Paul addresses a hypothetical group: as many as are perfect in (Phil 3:15) Have you ever met people who think that they have arrived – reached sinless perfection, complete sanctification? They are our brothers, but they are a prickly lot to deal with. And Paul handles them with kid gloves – he uses a much softer form of address compared to the commands he uses throughout the book, instead of saying “you” he says “us”. [P] In most of Paul’s letters he is very direct and to the point – he takes the bull by the horns. If he wants you to do something, he commands you: “Do this!” Paul was not into salads, he didn’t use “let us” – that is more characteristic of John’s letters or Hebrews, where the instruction takes the form more of exhortation rather than direct commands. But in here in (Philippians 3:15,16), and it is the only part of the book that he does so, instead of saying “Do this!” he uses the Greek equivalent of “Let’s do this.” Paul softens the directness of the instruction by including himself in the audience; he’s telling himself to do the same thing. This changes what could have been a harsh command into a gentler exhortation. So why would Paul be more gentle about how he addresses this? It has to do with a sensitive issue that we will come to at the beginning of Philippians 4 that involves a call to unity and like-mindedness. He prepares to address it by calling everyone—including those who think they have already arrived—to think like him, to be focused on the upward call. If someone should disagree, he says “this too” God will reveal. The implication of saying “this too” is that Paul’s focus on the upward calling is from God, not himself. Since God has revealed this, the idea is that God will also reveal what to do in the case of disagreement. He’ll be the one to show them the way forward. Paul is thinking of disagreements like the one between Euodia and Syntyche mentioned in (Phil 4:2). The advice that he gives to those who think they have arrived or have already been made perfect is similar to what we see there, and we see it again and again in this letter: be like-minded! There was a problem there but he addresses the conflict in the context of calling the believers to a higher standard of Christian practice. He doesn’t solve the problem for them, but instead provides the rules of engagement. Paul is much less direct about addressing this problem than he is the problems in Galatians or Corinthians. He begins laying the groundwork for chapter 4 by softening his tone from “Do this!” to “Let’s do this.” But as we are resolving disagreements—and looking to God to reveal the proper course of action—we need to hold onto God’s standard (Phil 3:16). There is no room for backsliding, of lowering the standard. The maturity we have attained becomes the new minimum standard for our behaviour. Here too Paul’s address uses us instead of you, continuing the softer tone. Since this is Paul’s personal practice, he is able to exhort us in (Phil 3:17) to become imitators of him – and he emphasizes this. Those who follow Paul’s example—both in Philippi and those ministering to him in prison— also serve as role models. Why is Paul concerned that they have proper role models? He states in (Phil 3:18) that many live as enemies of the cross instead of as role models of it. [P] Who do I imitate? Whose example are you going to follow: Paul and those who follow his pattern? Or the enemies of the cross, those who are earthly-minded, slaves to appetites. Are you of earth or of heaven? Where is your citizenship? Remember the goal? – the upward call of God. Paul says that many live as enemies of the cross, the way he phrases it delays revealing exactly who the many are [P]. He takes a verbal detour. Paul mentions that he has spoken about them many times and even now is doing so while weeping. He takes a detour that ramps up the emotional potency of what he is telling us, while at the same time preventing us from figuring out who the many are – this draws more attention to who they actually are. He creates this delay by making two impassioned statements about the steps he has taken to warn the Philippians about such people – look I’ve told you about them before – he warned them; and he now weeps over them – their way of living causes him that much distress. He is raising the issue again. This not only heightens the emotion of his plea, it also delays the disclosure of who the many are: enemies of the cross! Paul now goes into much more detail about what he means by enemies. He does so by contrasting them with true believers in (Phil 3:19-21) [P] – the good example to follow and the bad example to avoid. The contrast begins with the enemies: the outcome of their behaviour is destruction, which stands in contrast to our heavenly citizenship. Next he tackles who or what they serve. In the case of the enemies, they serve their belly, their appetites—something that can never be fully satisfied. A church meal can be revealing about which god we serve. Their god is their stomach?! Really?! You only have to look at the dining out trade and the plethora of books and TV shows devoted to food and cooking to see that this is true. But it is more than just food – my translation rendered it “appetite”. We live in a world ruled by appetites, by lust – not just sexual, but our appetites, satisfying our desires. There is a whole industry devoted to it – advertising. As if we can’t think up enough on our own, we have it shouting in our ears and shoved in front of our eyes all these things we have to have for our pleasure, to satisfy us. We are told we deserve them! You know what we deserve, don’t you? It is a huge lie! – the deceitfulness of lust. It fools us into thinking we will find satisfaction in things! Wanting material things – it is idolatry! Paul says in (Col 3:5) that greed, being ruled by desire for things, is idolatry – wanting things, worshipping and serving material things instead of God. In contrast, our focus isn’t on the things of this world, because we are strangers and aliens, our citizenship is in heaven. We are awaiting the arrival of our Saviour Jesus Christ from the same place. He is the one we serve, not our belly. In fact, Jesus tells us that if we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, all the other things that we need will be added (Matt 6:33). What is it that these people take pride in? What is their glory? It’s in their shame, things that they should be ashamed of, and of which they will be ashamed when Christ appears. These enemies of the cross have their values mixed up. Paul contrasts this ill-placed glory with what we aspire to: having our humble bodies transformed and conformed to the glorious image of Christ! What a stark contrast! They glory in the behaviour that will end in judgment and destruction, instead of salvation and glorification. The final thing that Paul compares is their focus. The enemies have their sights set on earthly things, which is to be expected of someone whose god is their stomach. The reference to heaven stands in contrast with the stuff of earth. Paul closes the reference to the believer’s outlook with how things turn out. At the end of the day, Christ’s glorious power enables Him to subject all things to Himself. This not only means earthly things, but everything else as well as we saw in (Phil 2:10-11). [P] Which am I? Who do I imitate? Those with their eyes fixed on this life, the things of this world? Or is my heart set on the things above, upon Jesus, upon the heavenly things that are unseen and yet to come? The trouble is when you’ve been on the road a while and you aren’t “nearly there yet”, is that you set up camp along the way and forget the destination. No matter how appealing it might look to follow these people, the contrasting picture that Paul paints moves beyond the surface to the final outcome. Whoever they are, the Philippians want no part of what they’re offering. We are repeatedly warned to watch out for those who will try and draw us away from the truth of the Gospel. In the end, their ways lead to death and destruction, not the freedom and blessing that is promised. No matter what gain they may offer in the short run, following such people is a losing proposition in the end. Are we nearly there yet? [P] Have I made it? No, you see it is not I who make it. Yes, I press on to the goal, the upward call of God – what I need to do is have my focus fixed on the TRUTH [P], the truth is that my life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus. Is that where my mind, my heart, my focus is? Is that the goal I press on toward? No, I haven’t made it, I press on – but it is not me who gets me to the destination! Praise the LORD! What does it say: [Philippians 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; (we are looking for the return of the One who will save us from this present world, this present body of flesh – for Jesus) who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, (we will be like Him as a result of seeing Him as He really is) by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. ] Who does the transforming? Me? No! Jesus! Hallelujah! He will do it! That is why I wait for Him! I cannot do it; but He will! Praise His Name! It is Jesus who will do it – He will transform us from our humble state to be conformed to the body of His glory! He will do it. It will be brought to completion. Paul said back in [Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.] He has all power, the power to make this fleshly weak body like His glorious one! Without spot or blemish! Hallelujah! Are we nearly there yet? The King is coming, and His coming is near! It says in the next chapter: [Philippians 4:5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near! (or at hand)]. The King is coming and all will be subjected to Him. No more rebellion, no more sin. No we are not there yet, but it is near! Let us not lose our focus and be distracted to the things of this world as if this is how it is always going to be. Our citizenship is in heaven from which we eagerly await our Saviour! Let us keep our mind fixed on the things above and keep pressing on to the upward call of God.