The Spiritual Mind
Paul's letter to the Philippians breaks down quite easily into four areas: The Single Mind, The Submissive Mind, The Spiritual Mind and The Secure Mind. So this week, chapter three it’s the Spiritual Mind.
What do I mean by this? Let me ask you a few questions:
Do you like to keep your house/bedroom tidy?
Do you get annoyed if somebody changes your daily routine?
Does it upset you if the order of this service is slightly different to your minister’s normal one?
I’m sure there are plenty of other things that get under your skin.
My wife rules the kitchen – her kitchen. She knows what is stored where and woe betide me if I swap things around or put washing up away in the wrong cupboard. A place for everything and everything in its place.
I spend a lot of time on my computer and I like to keep all the programs and files on it tidy – call me a control freak, perhaps, but I know that if I let things get out of hand it will eventually crash at a very inconvenient time. Mind you, it still crashes at inconvenient times!
Ever had that annoying squeak or rattle in your car that you could never track down (or you did, but it took a lot of time and effort, and it wasn’t anything important)?
Paul, in this part of his letter to the church in Philippi, reminds its members that there are more things to worry about than the petty rules and regulations that surround us in everything we seem to do. He tells us here, and in other letters (including Romans, which I’m planning to preach on when I’m due back here in August) that we need to cut through the petty things that get in our way. All too often, we use life’s clutter as an excuse for not doing something we know we should. Don’t be put off, he says. Get your priorities right.
If you’re in a race, you run to win; you don’t stop half way and decide to enter a different one after all – you’ll not win either of them if you’re like that. Life is a race. Run it to win, which means giving it all you’ve got until you reach the tape.
A good verse to memorise – Philippians 3:8: “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as rubbish. All I want is Christ.”
“Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as rubbish. All I want is Christ.” – Philippians 3:8.
I left you with that verse earlier – I now want to come back to it.
Paul had the best credentials any Jew of his time could have had. His birth was far from at the bottom of the social ladder; he’d been brought up and taught in all the right ways for a devout Jew and he’d become a Pharisee. The Pharisees were respected as learned men, looked up to by the commoner. He’d obeyed the strict Jewish laws as much as any man could. He was religious – and some! He’d been very sincere – his Jewishness was his very life.
But he wasn’t saved. That only came when he gave it all up to follow Christ after his experience on the road to Damascus. Then, he’d weighted up all he’d learnt, all he’d done, all he’d said – and realised it wasn’t enough. He knew then what he wanted; he wanted Christ and that meant a complete change.
Paul now knew which race he was in – and he was going to run it to the finish. Philippians was one of Paul’s last letters, probably the last he wrote to one of his beloved churches; his letters to Timothy and Titus may have come a bit later, but Philippians was written toward the end of his main imprisonment in Rome. Perhaps he’d spent time looking back over his life – in fact I’m pretty sure he did – and this letter is one in which he sums up his own life. A theme running through the whole letter is joy – Paul’s joy at finding and following Christ.
And his message to us in three simple steps.
First, find your purpose. I wonder what answers I’d get if I asked each of you what your purpose in life is. A good parent? Raise a family? Become a good teacher/farmer – fill in your own occupation? Perhaps it’s a more subtle to be a good person. All admirable but are they correct? Are they really good reasons for living?
My wife gave me a very nice fountain pen as a present a few years ago. It’s my favourite writing instrument – not because it’s nice and shiny but because, with it, my handwriting is probably as legible as it ever gets. What is the main purpose of a pen? I reckon it’s to write with. But with no ink in it, even a £1000 solid gold pen couldn’t fill its main purpose? A 50p biro or a child’s crayon would fill its purpose far better.
Paul’s purpose in life was to know Christ in order to be like him – and that wouldn’t be a bad purpose for any one of us, either.
An American author and motivational speaker from 100 years ago, Orison Swett Marden, said “There’s no greater sight in the world than that of a person fired with a great purpose, dominated by one unwavering aim.” Think about people who have been judged as successful, perhaps ones you know personally or those in the news. Yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, runners Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe, Bill Gates; go back a bit to Winston Churchill, Florence Nightingale. One thing they all have in common is a clear purpose in life and an unwavering drive towards it.
Oh, should that happen to us! Just think what would happen to the church in Scotland if all its members had Paul’s purpose and a drive towards it. It happens in other parts of the world. We complain that the church is shrinking – only in the west, and especially in Europe; in China, for example, the church is growing at a rate we can only envy.
We need to identify that purpose, to be one with Christ, to take hold of it and run life’s race towards that single goal.
Carpe diem – seize the day. I like the words of author Terry Pratchett, who paraphrased the phrase for one of his book titles - carpe jugulum – seize life by the throat.
I said there were three simple steps, which means there are still two to go.
The next one is to forget the past. Our past all too often holds us back. We remember the bad times, our own history, the times when we’ve not done all we should or could. We dwell on our mistakes. Paul had done a lot of bad when, as Saul, he was one of the Jewish authorities’ chief persecutors of Christians. He certainly had a lot to regret. I’m sure memories of his past came back to him many times. It’s human nature. But, if we’ve asked God for forgiveness, claiming it through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, we must also accept it. Accept God’s forgiveness means we need to forgive ourselves.
What’s done is done. All we did before Christ is past. What each of us did yesterday is past – we can’t change anything there. We must let it go and move on or it will keep dragging us back. Paul had to. He made a new start and, as it not uncommon in the Bible, he changed his name to acknowledge the change – Saul to Paul. I’m not suggesting we go and change our names but we must stop dwelling on past mistakes.
I admit it’s not possible to wipe memories out of our mind entirely, but we must move on.
Do you look back on the good times, the good old days? Life was much simpler back then. Do you think back to when you were at Sunday School and picture a far more crowded church? People really knew how to sing, then; preachers really knew how to preach and the people listened! The weather was much better then, too.
Sorry, but even the good memories hold us back. It’s no good yearning for the old days. In verse 7 of our reading Paul says: “But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake.”
Which brings me to Paul’s third step: face the present.
We’re living in the world today, with all that goes along with modern life. We can only live one day at a time, so let’s do that. There’s no excuse for thinking “one of these days I’ll start that diet… start looking out for my neighbours… start reading the Bible regularly…” and so on. Do that, and one day you’ll be saying “if only”.
Do you believe that Jesus actually performed the miracles described in the Gospels? I hope so. Do you believe he still performs miracles? I hope so. Jesus is not an historical saviour; he’s here with us, through the Holy Spirit today.
I’m sure you remember the story of Lazarus. Jesus arrives late and Martha greets him with “if only”. If only Jesus had arrived sooner, her brother would not have died. She knew Jesus had had the power in the past; I’m sure she recognised he’d have power in the future but, for that moment, she forgot he had the power then – her today.
Don’t wait for the right moment for it will never be just right; in fact, you’ll probably not recognise it until it’s past. Don’t end up thinking if only. If you’re like me, there are already a lot of those. Live for the day – live today, today and tomorrow, tomorrow. Seize the moment and make it yours. Jesus is ready – are you?
Let us pray.
Dear Lord Jesus, we know that you are there for us at this very moment. Yet we all too often hold back from commitment – maybe tomorrow. Help us make Paul’s words our words: “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as rubbish. All I want is Christ.”
Help us to recognise your mission for each one of us, focus our minds on you and help us, through your strength, to seize the opportunities presented to us all the time to follow you. Amen.