3 Thoughts to consider:
1. Losing yourself and gaining Christ
2. The individual Christian walk
3. God’s perfection is man’s imperfection
Make no mistake about it, the call to Christianity is no easy call to take. When God calls you out of the darkness into the Light, there are some major adjustments that have to take place. Some of those adjustments bring immediate relief, but others are very difficult. You must be willing to humble yourself and you must be prepared to lose contact with some people. However, if God is calling, you must answer.
If I may be personal for a moment, over the last two weeks, my ministry has been challenged. Since the beginning of 2014, I’ve preached more, started this blog, continued to progress in my schooling and started a radio broadcast. The devil is not pleased with me. While it’s easy to spot attacks from the outside, just as the devil did with Jesus, I’ve been seeing it from people that appeared to be in my inner circle and supportive of what I was doing. I’m not blind to the attack of the enemy, but it still doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to deal with because I know its coming, particularly when he uses people close to me.
Having said that, things like this can either break you down or refocus you on why you were called in the first place. God doesn’t call us to be popular, even though some may eventually be. God doesn’t call us so that people can elevate us, because that’s what He has done by calling us. God hasn’t called us to water down His Word so that we won’t offend, because He is offended by some of the things that we do. And God doesn’t call us so that we can gain the world through finance. He calls us to sacrifice it all in pursuit of Him. Therefore, in the midst of trials, we must press on toward His high calling.
Losing yourself and gaining Christ
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ 9 And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith
What have we as Christians considered gain? Our family? Our friends? Our possessions? We could probably say yes to all of those things. However, in comparison to gaining a relationship with Christ, these things don’t matter and are secondary in the grand scheme of Christianity. In fact, the Apostle Paul is suggesting here that all things are considered loss (or secondary) when in pursuit of a relationship with Christ and a life like His.
Before I go any further, I’m not suggesting that those things don’t matter and the Scripture isn’t suggesting that either. Family, friends and having nice things can be a positive part of life. However, they can also be a hindrance. Putting unnecessary faith in such things can cause us to fall short of God’s glory because we’re attempting to satisfy these things that please the flesh.
There’s been a debate that I’ve been involved in with many people in one way or another over the last week. The debate was concerning being a minister and what it entails. I’ve found that there’s a thought amongst people that preaching, while noble, isn’t really work. I’ve found that some people feel that we’re no more than people that give speeches. However, I’ve countered that by saying not only is preaching hard work when done properly (study, preparation, schooling, time away from your family, etc.), but it is the hardest job I’ve ever had.
Studying these first 3 Verses, you can see what Christianity costs you. When we’re chasing Christ, we’re leaving our old selves behind. We’re leaving our old habits and vices behind. And sometimes, we’re leaving some friends and family behind. Not because we don’t care for them anymore, but if they’re a hindrance in anyway, Scripture calls for us to separate from them so that we may draw closer to God.
I’ve lost some friends and family along this road. Even though we haven’t spoken specifically about it, you can tell when relationships change. Even people that seemed supportive at one point will prove not to be when they don’t quite understand what you’re doing and saying in your life. Sadly, this transition in life can be most difficult when it’s taking place within the church walls. We’re often better at accepting a call from the world to Christianity than we are at accepting a call to a higher level in Christianity. But if you’re willing to lose all in order to gain Christ, then Christ can restore relationships or replace what we’ve lost with better and more fruitful relationships.
The individual Christian walk
10 That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comfortable unto His death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead 12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus
I posted something on Facebook recently that said: “The Bible is meant to be a mirror for our lives, not a magnifying glass for us to examine the lives of others”. At times, this is one of the most difficult things for us to grasp as Christians. Even Scripture that seems to point out the wrong behavior of others isn’t there for you to point it out. It is a warning for us, lest we become the same way.
It may have seemed that the last paragraph had nothing to do with the Verses heading this section, but it does. The Apostle Paul is speaking to us about how we may know Jesus and the power of His resurrection. We can’t do that without studying the Word of God and we can’t do that by throwing our Bibles at one another. We must seek an individual relationship with God. This is the only way that the church as a collective can become closer to God.
The Apostle Paul is also speaking to us about attaining a level of perfection with God. Spiritual perfection is in no way connected with fleshly perfection. There is no such thing as a person being fleshly perfect, but spiritual perfection is attained when man recognizes his standing with God, his need for forgiveness for his sins, his recognition that he is fleshly broken, and his willingness to submit to the commandments of God.
What Paul is also saying is that he is still a work in progress. What does that say for us as Christians? It says that we will never be completely all that God wants us to be while we are in this flesh, and we shouldn’t act as if we are. One of the biggest pitfalls of the Christian faith is that when we supposedly overcome something, we act as though we have conquered it forever and everyone else should conquer it in the same way.
However, we are all sinners saved by grace and we shouldn’t become too boastful when we’re delivered, lest we fall again. We have to maintain our humility as Christians. The moment we become so holy that we don’t even acknowledge the possibility of sin, we’re already in the grips of it. Paul is warning us that we are to always chase after the high calling of Christianity and we will never be in a position to boast.
Part of the call to be Christ-like is that we suffer just as He did when He was on earth (“the fellowship of His sufferings”). Life won’t always be perfect, people won’t always treat us with respect and you may even be betrayed by those in your inner circle. These things happened to Christ and they’re sure to happen to us as we pursue a relationship with Him. However, if we are partakers in Christ’s “sufferings” and “death”, then we can also partake in the resurrection that every believer is seeking. Simply put, no cross, no crown.
God’s perfection is man’s imperfection
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus 15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you
Herein is the meat of what the Apostle Paul wants us to understand about his individual journey in Christ: “I don’t have it all together, but I’m still pressing toward the high calling of God”. Again, if I may draw on my own experiences, when we say that we are Christians, we are not to suggest that we are now perfect. Additionally, when we say that we are ministers, we are definitely not suggesting that we are infallible. In fact, we are tested more. Therefore, our mistakes, both real and perceived, become amplified.
This is why Jesus tells us in Scripture that if we follow Him, we must be willing to forsake all others. He knew that we would have to anyway. Living up to God’s standards means that you won’t live up (or down) to man’s standards. Man has an idea of Christians that we are called to fleshly perfection because that’s how the unsaved man views perfection, from his flesh. At the same time, Christians have a view of ministers, missionaries, and anyone called to bring the Word of God on a higher level as being called to an unrealistic level of both spiritual and fleshly perfection. They allow no room for being human.
As we discussed earlier, this isn’t God’s idea of perfection for man. God knows that you will fall short (Romans 3:23). Paul is stressing that he is leaving all of his successes and failures behind in order to pursue the high calling of God. This means that he’s not resting on his current level of knowledge, but rather moving forward to a higher level. He’s not dwelling on the fact that he hasn’t always been perfect, but he’s trying to reach higher.
Therefore, when man pats us on the back, we need to keep seeking God because one day they’re patting, the next day they’re stabbing. When man insists on bringing up all of the negativity of your past life, you have to keep pressing because one day they’re talking about you, but tomorrow God may open their eyes to the change that He’s made in you life, and they may become your biggest supporters.
There is a reason that God says that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Man is fickle and we can change like the weather without even realizing that we have. We often place our misgivings and shortcomings upon one another. We’re afraid to use that Bible as a mirror because we sometimes don’t like what we see in ourselves, so we’d rather focus on what others aren’t doing. But God is calling us according to His standards so that we may live according to what He has planned for our lives.
It’s easy to avoid church because of the people there. There’s lying, hypocritical behavior, backstabbing, etc. We often say that we avoid the church because there’s so much of this and that going on, and yet we fail to realize that the best chance for people to get such things out of their system is in the church. The church is called to point the sinner to Christ for repentance and to point the broken to Christ for healing. We can’t be healed or saved running the other way.
We shouldn’t make excuses for why we don’t study that are based on flawed human beings. Jesus made no such excuses when He went to the cross for flawed human beings. I’m an advocate for people being able to worship in comfortable surroundings and if your current church doesn’t offer that, I suggest finding somewhere that does. But if your reason for not studying or not attending classes or church is based on people, I’m suggesting that you’re missing the mark. Bible study isn’t in place so that you can see better in other’s behavior. It’s in place so that you can be better in your own behavior.
Lastly, we must remember that the Apostle Paul was a well educated man. Before his conversion on the Damascus road, he seemed to have it all. However, once he came to know Jesus, he realized that without Him, he had nothing. As he wrote these words and stressed that he was pressing toward his true calling, he was also calling for self-examination of all Christians. Have you really left it all behind for Jesus? Can you walk away from family, friends and possessions that keep you from your calling?
Are you able to preach, teach, learn and live the truth about the call? Are you afraid to discuss sin and shortcomings in order to identify things within yourself and make the necessary changes? All of these things are needed in the church today in order for Christians to really be what God called them to be. We can no longer sugarcoat the message of God because it offends our sensibilities. In order for the Apostle Paul to realize he was falling short of the mark, he had to face some ugly and ungodly truths about himself. He had to shed the idea that he had achieved success at his current level. How many of us are willing to do the same in order to reach our mark?