Pressing Toward the Goal

Read Philippians 3:12-14

Goals in life are those things which encourage us to move forward. By establishing goals, we have an understanding of the areas in which we need to work. Goals give us direction to our forward motion which is unavoidable. Once we obtain a goal, we set another so we act on the momentum achieved with the obtaining of the first goal. Until we successfully meet our goal, we continue in our striving.

Paul writes to the Philippians in regard to obtaining a goal. The goal which he has set for himself is to know Christ and become like Christ in suffering, death, and resurrection. Upon self-evaluation, Paul declares that he has not arrived at his goal but continues to press toward it. He also states that in this effort, he does not look backward but strives toward what is ahead.

The goal which Paul lays out for himself should be a goal of every believer. Each of us should set a goal of knowing and being as Christ. This effort is one which will consume all the years of our lives. There will be movement toward and setbacks from our obtaining of this goal. Paul encourages us to not look at our past and setbacks but instead to keep our eyes on what lies ahead for us on our  quest. Looking back only mires us in the negatives of our past which will hamper our movement forward.

Identity

Read Philippians 3:7-9

What would you say gives you your identity? Some individuals might answer this question by describing their employment. Others may choose to answer by talking about their degrees or training or certifications. Another potential response may be linked to their name and/or ancestry. Where the person lives currently or lived previously might be the answer a person gives to this question. A list of accomplishments could be the way the person responds. There are a variety of answers the question night elicit and the one chosen provides insight into what the individual determines as important.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks about what is important to him and gives us a glimpse into how he wishes to be identified. Paul states that any previous accomplishments  or skills are of no value to him any longer. He instead wishes to focus on his relationship with Christ which now has the highest value in his life. He desires to be identified through his faith as connected to Christ.

Reading Paul’s words can cause us to question the man’s sanity. We know that Paul was a very accomplished and respected Pharisee. He also was known to be a Roman citizen which gives him a respected level under the Roman occupation. Since experiencing Christ and changing his direction in his belief of God, he has been a highly effective evangelist, especially to the Gentiles. Why would he say this is garbage in light of his identity in Christ? This talk does not fit the social norms of Paul’s day or of our day.

The truth which Paul discovered is that his most important identifier is found in his relationship with Christ Jesus. Being identified as a follower, believer, and joint heir with Christ was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. This is an important discovery for us as well. Being identified in and with Christ becomes the unchanging determinate of who we are as individuals. The burden of achieving is lessened because we know that in Christ we have achieved the greatest reward. Having to prove ourselves to obtain value no longer is required. Our value is now found in being a child of God, loved by God, redeemed by Christ and identified as righteous.

Unfinished Work

Read Philippians 1:3-11

My mother was one who taught her children that once you begin something you stick with it until it is completed. There might be times when I wanted to quit because it became too difficult or I did not like it for some reason but neither were reasons enough for mom. This lesson of carrying something through to completion has served me well in my personal and professional lives. The satisfaction when you finish something is very rewarding.

At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read of his gratitude for the support and sense of satisfaction which he has experienced through the people. He also tells them that he has been praying for them and the joy they bring him. His prayers include the desire for their continued growth in the Lord. In the midst of all of this, Paul declares, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:6)

The declaration which Paul makes to the Philippians applies to us. God is definitely not one to quit or give up. This is evidenced in the continual times God made a covenant with the Hebrew people only to have them break it and a new one have to be started. The Lord began in each of us a work which the Lord declared to be good. From the beginning of our lives, God has continued to shape and guide us toward the person we were intended to be. Each day, the Lord works with us as we learn, grow and struggle. Never will God give up on a single one of us or walk away, leaving us unfinished and incomplete.

What a true comfort to have the knowledge of God’s continued work in us. We never have to fear abandonment. We also do not have to be seen as perfect because we are the Lord’s work in progress. Our failures and mistakes are to be viewed as part of the process not as the point of ruin. God is faithful to the work begun in each of us. God is not a quitter.

Proper Focus

Read Philippians 2:3-4

Have you ever taken pictures with a manual 33mm camera? When I was in high school I was taught how to take and develop pictures using a manual 35mm camera. I was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs which each needed all types of pictures taken for the publications. This became a very enjoyable assignment for me. I had to learn how and on what to focus for each shot as I turned the dial on the lense which I chose to attach to the camera. Often the subject in the center of the picture became the element which I would focus upon. The focus had to be  precise or the picture was worthless. I still own my own 35mm manual camera even though I have not used it in years since now my cellular phone’s camera is easier and readily at hand.

As we read from Paul’s letter, the conversation involves who is receiving the focus. These verses are part of a discussion Paul is having in regard to how to live together as Christ followers. He is telling the readers to not be arrogant and self-centered. After these verses, Paul will lift Jesus up as an example of how to be humble and take the interests of others to heart alongside our own interests.

The trap of focusing just on one’s self is an easy one to fall into for us. There are many demands and expectations placed upon our time, energy, and money. Temptations of wanting more and better surround us. Threats of losing what we have seem to be endless as we watch the news and hear the stories of neighbors, friends and family. A person can reach the point of accepting the idea that it is a “dog eat dog world” which demands us to focus solely on our wants, needs and desires.

Paul tells us that this is not the attitude to have as a follower of Christ. We are not to place ourselves ahead of others. Our wants, needs and desires must be placed alongside the interests of others. As Jesus was willing to humble himself to the point of sacrificing all, we must be willing to do the same. A self-centered Christian is not demonstrating the way to live as Christ.

Positive Focus

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

There is a lot of negativity in our world. Some sociologists state that since the 1970s the population of the United States tends to view institutions such as the government and the church, as well as life in general, in a more negative way than the generations prior to the 1970s. The same sociologists view the 1960s as the turning point leading us to the negative turn. Events and experiences of the 1970s, and each decade since, have caused people to lose confidence and hope in ever receiving many beneficial influences from anything or anyone outside themselves.

Paul writes a letter to the believers of Jesus Christ in the area of Philippi. Toward the end of his letter, he gives them some final instructions to follow. Our passage today contains those instructions. He tells them to rejoice in all situations. Show their gentleness. Do not be anxious but let prayer be the manner in which they present their requests to God. God’s peace will guard each heart and mind. Their thoughts should focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Paul is directing the people to focus on the positive aspects of life with trust in the Lord.

The advice Paul gives to the Philippians can be solid advice for us today. We are quick to identify all the problems and negative aspects of life. Our ability to identify and articulate everything which is  wrong in the world around us overshadows our attempts to find the good aspects. A recommendation for all of us might be that we reread these verses every Monday morning before we start a new week as our way to help us accentuate the positive in our lives. Some of us may see a need to do this daily instead of weekly.  Whichever method you choose, the message here is to focus on life’s positives.

The Challenge

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

Tonight is Christmas Eve. This is the night which we set aside to remember the incarnation of God. There are many stories told about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Some of these stories come from the words found in two of the Gospels. Most of what we hear about events surrounding Jesus’s birth are a combination of Gospel accounts, the Prophets and some folklore. All of this together creates a beautiful and cherished story. The accuracy of the story has no bearing on the truth of the story — God chose to become human in the person of Jesus.

In the letter to the church in Philippi, we are reminded of this truth. Jesus, the Christ, is God choosing to humble God’s self and assume a human identity. The profoundness of this is not duplicated in any other faith tradition. As a complete act of love, God chose to allow Jesus to die on a cross to remove the burden of sin and the power of death forever. This human was then exalted to the place of highest honor in God’s kingdom and given a name above all names to whom every person will bow and declare as Lord. This is the purpose of the story told on this night. Declaring the truth described in the portion of the letter to the Philippians, is why we set aside tonight as holy and combine the words of Gospel writers, prophets and human experience into a story of love.

The challenge we receive this night is to become imitators of Jesus, the Christ. We are to humble ourselves and become servants to humanity. Our words and actions are to communicate the love of God as Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Our lives are to point to the One whose name is above all names. The world should see us bow before and declare Jesus Christ as our Lord.