Second Reading: Philippians 3:8-14
A Question of Comfort Levels
8-9 I truly believe everything I have right now is totally worthless. It’s all trash! Who I know is so much better, my Lord, Jesus Christ! When I have Jesus in my heart, I’m at peace with God. This peace does not come from simply following God’s Law. No, it comes from my faith in Jesus. 10 Right now, I know Jesus and the power that raised him from the dead. I also know some of what he suffered and the way he died. God wants me to experience this 11 so I, too, can rise from the dead with everyone else.
12 I haven’t reached my goal. And God isn’t finished with me. So I pursue it, so I can hold onto it. After all, Jesus is already holding onto me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I don’t really think I have a firm grasp on it. But, I do know this. I want to forget everything that’s in the past and reach out to those things in front of me. 14 I have the prize in my sights. I am pursuing it. Through Jesus Christ, God is calling me up to himself.
8 But rather, I consider everything to be a loss because of the superior knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of whom I lost everything, and I consider (it all) rubbish, so that I might gain Christ 9 and found in him, not having my righteousness from the Law but through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God (built) upon faith, 10 as I know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship with his sufferings, being conformed to his death 11 if possible I can reach the resurrection of the dead.
12 Not that I already received (the goal I treasure), or I have already been made perfect (with it), but I pursue (it) if to obtain (it), about which I have been obtained by Christ [Jesus]. 13 Brothers, I myself do not think (that I have come) to obtain (it). But, (there is) one (thing), on the one hand, forgetting the (things) previous, and, on the other hand, stretching forth toward the (things) in front (of us), 14 by the bulls-eye, I pursue the prize, the call upward of God through Christ Jesus.
3:8 “superior knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord” In this sense, knowledge was not the mastery over facts of faith, but a knowledge that came from intimacy with Christ. Paul emphasized relationship, not doctrine.
3:3-11 This long sentence actually has two main clauses that mirror each other: 1) “I consider everything to be loss...” and 2) “I consider (it all) rubbish...” The explanatory phrases also mirror each other: 2) “because of the superior knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord” and 2) “ so that I might gain Christ and found in him.” In other words, Paul downplayed his present life and its pleasures; he played up his relationship with Christ. For Paul, there was no comparison between the two.
What was Paul to gain from his relationship with Christ? Three things. First, a sense of right relationship with God (i.e., “righteousness” or “justification”). Second, a transcendent hope that made sense of his life’s toil and his enemies’ hatred (fellowship with the sufferings of Christ); this hope was based on a dynamic, intimate relationship with Christ (knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection). Third, a goal: participation in the resurrection of the dead.
3:10 “being conformed to his death” Who or what was conforming Paul to the death of Jesus? Two answers were possible: the sufferings Paul knew or God himself. As the note above stated, Paul used the sufferings of Christ as an analogy with the opposition and persecution he encountered in his ministry. As Paul suffered, he identified with the sufferings of Christ. In fact, Paul might have thought suffering for the gospel was part of the price for preaching the gospel, just as the resurrection represented the promise of general resurrection at the end of time. However, whose will did Paul fulfill in the preaching of the gospel and enduring persecution? God’s, of course. (See the popular translation.)
3:14 “by the bulls-eye” The “bulls-eye” was literally a focal point. It was used by the watchman or the bowman.
How do we define preaching the gospel? A cynical, but popular definition is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” If you were ever at the end of your rope and needed Good News, you know the definition is true. If you were ever comfortable in your lifestyle and the words of the preacher made you uncomfortable, even angry, you know the definition is true.
Paul certainly knew the phrase was true. In fact, he lived discomfort as he preached. Discomfort put his life in perspective. His present circumstances were nothing compared with his commitment to the Lord. The benefits of faith so outdistanced the benefits of momentary pleasures. In these verse he listed three benefits: feeling justified before God, a personal relationship (i.e., knowledge) of the Risen Lord, and an experience of the power that raised him from the dead (the Spirit).
But, while Paul preached the Gospel, its promise was not fully realized in his life. That would wait until the end of life or the end of time. Nonetheless, Paul yearned for its fulfillment. The end of Paul’s mission would ultimately lead to his death. And his glory. God calling him home in Christ.
When we read the Good News or hear it preached to us, it should comfort us in need and move us when we feel too comfortable. But, the Good News should motivate us to look beyond our present existence. It should focus our sights on God’s call upward, to himself.
If it does not, then we have lethargic or hard hearts. That should be a sign we are in real need of the Gospel.
Do you consider your life good? Or do you yearn for more? What is the content of that “more?” Where does God fit into your yearnings?