Jan. 27, 2013
Background Scripture: Philippians 3:12-4:1
Devotional Reading: Matthew 25:14-29
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was one of the best-known Christians in the world. She said of herself: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
According to Wikipedia, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 consisted of more than 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries. Mother Teresa was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup Most Admired Woman poll.
Yet, there were some who said she was adamant and hard to work with. Apparently, this saintly woman was not perfect. Paul, in fact, said it of himself: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12).
The Greek word teleios is used twice in Philippians 3:12-15. In verse 12, the RSV translates it as “perfect,” but in verse 15 it is rendered as mature.” So, though Paul and Mother Teresa were not yet perfect, they were on the path that leads to completion. We are, too.
Is this the top?
Paul knows he is not perfect, that he must “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ” (3:14). After his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road, he decided he would open himself to change.
That is not as simple as it may seem. Lots of people think deciding for Christ is the end of the road, when, in fact, it is just the beginning. If we are satisfied with our lives when we make that decision, we may be satisfied to remain where we are. Paul was never satisfied, Mother Teresa probably was not, and neither should we accept our present status as A-OK.
Prof. Ernest F. Scott says: “It belongs to the very nature of a spiritual religion that there is always a height which has not yet been attained.” If you think you’ve reached the top, that is evidence you have not.
Not only do we have to be willing to open our lives to change, once we start upward we need to persevere even when we have faltered or slipped back. Life should be a continuous process of, as the old spiritual puts it: “Every round goes, higher, higher.”
If we get to the point where we think we’ve gone far enough, we need to know no point on that road is ever “far enough.” Ironically, it is the mature Christian who realizes his or her imperfection that is further along that road. Suzanne de Dietrich says: “Does not Christian experience tell us that the closer we come to Christ, the more we discover ourselves to be sinners, the more we have to rely on his grace?”
So, perseverance is vital. We do not know for certain, but it seems that Paul does not look back because he may fall to the temptation of glorying in the victories along the way.
Further, we must resist the temptation to look backward, because when we do, we take our eyes off the goal. Paul says of himself, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal …” (3:13,14). Living in the past, fastened to experiences that are now history, prevents spiritual growth.
Probably the most frequent reason we keep looking back is there have been experiences in the past that we have not let go. Perhaps we have asked God to forgive us, but fear or believe He hasn’t really forgiven us. Maybe we think we are a bigger sinner than God is a forgiver!
Another possibility is that we have accepted God’s forgiveness, but realize we haven’t made the restitution that we could have. If that is so, make amends as best you can and move on.
Eyes on the prize
In Paul’s day, the prize that awaited the winner was placed at the very spot where the race would end so the runners could focus on it and forget everything but the prize. Living a life for Christ requires we keep our eyes on the prize that is so glorious, everything else pales by comparison.
If we do not keep our eyes focused on the goal, we may settle for something else along the way and assume we have reached our goal. False summits may include prosperity, popularity, respectability or a life of leisure.
I used to preach a sermon entitled, “When You Get Where You’re Going, Where Will You Be?” Think about it: where are you headed?
Paul writes something in this passage that I cannot write or say: “Brethren, join in imitating me” (3:17). That statement can only be made by someone who has been monitoring his or her own progress.
It is not humility that cautions me, but reality. If I could divide my life into miniscule segments, perhaps I could pick some of the best and say, “Imitate that!” Maybe; maybe not. “But I have not been watching myself as Paul must have been watching himself.
Sometimes, I am very much aware of the need to keep climbing, but there are lots of times when I have been all too willing to stop and focus on something other than the goal.
Allen Knight Chalmers tells of a rock near the summit of Mt. Washington that marks the spot where a woman climber despaired, laid down and died. She had been caught by a sudden storm and could not see where she was. In actuality, she was but 100 steps from the shelter that would have saved her life. Had she walked on for a few more minutes, she would have survived the storm.
The next time you are caught in a mortal storm, will you stop – or keep on?
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.