As we look at our text for today, there seems to be a
question that burns in my mind. If there
is a theme to this book, it would be Jesus.
In the 104 verses in Philippians, Jesus’ name or title appears 51
times. It seems clear that Jesus is
Paul’s one all-consuming passion, his one pursuit and desire. Knowing this, it makes me question why Jesus
isn’t my one all-consuming passion, my one pursuit and desire. He is certainly one of them, I wouldn’t be
doing what I’m doing if I didn’t love Jesus, but it’s obvious by my daily life
that he is not my only passion.
For example: I love
good food. I like food in general, but I
love good food. I could stand here today
and describe good food to you in such a way that you would probably start
drooling and your stomach start growling.
I love to snow ski. The way many
people love football or baseball, I love snow skiing. I love the solitude I find on the summit of a
mountain peak. I love the cold, crisp
air. I love the sound my foot makes when
I step onto fresh snow. I could go on
and on. I love music. I love coffee. I love a lot of things. I love Jesus, but amidst all these other
passions, there just isn’t enough room for everything. So what happens is that at moments, certain
passions come to the forefront. At Java
Jacks in Nacogdoches, my passion for coffee really comes out because they roast
and brew some of the greatest coffee I’ve ever tasted. In Colorado, my passion for skiing manifests
itself. Likewise with my other loves.
For Paul, however, I think his passion for Jesus overshadows
everything else. We read it a couple of
weeks ago in the beginning of chapter 3.
He says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of
Christ. Indeed, I count everything as
loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (3:7-8a)
For Paul, the goal was to know Christ.
There was no other desire. I
can’t say that about myself. I don’t
long for Christ with that kind of ferocity.
I’d like to look for a moment at a couple of other things
very quickly before we get into our text.
In this passage we hear the cry of David. He calls out “O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you…”
This is not a simple worship song.
This isn’t a tune that has a nice beat and 17 words that are repeated 8
times. This is a heart yearning after
God, longing to see him. There is angst
in this Psalm. “Earnestly I seek
you.” I once read a quote by C.S. Lewis
where he was encouraging people to use whichever word best fit the
situation. He said not to use the word
“infinitely” when you simply meant “very” because you would then run out of
words when you came to describe something truly infinite. I don’t think David was misusing words here. Hear the passion in his voice. “Earnestly
I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you…” There is a longing in David’s heart for the
very face of God. There is a stirring in
his soul. To me it is not unlike what
Paul declares in Philippians 3:7.
I want to read another quote by Lewis that I think
illustrates this point.
Indeed, if we consider the
unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised
in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong,
but too weak. We are half-hearted
creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is
offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum
because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the
sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
This suggests that all our pursuits are worthless compared
with the “infinite joy” we are being offered by following Jesus.
I wonder if, in our age of seemingly infinite information,
we haven’t forgotten the simple joy of knowing God. This is a quote from a relatively recent
author. What about the countless others
that came before him? What about Luther
and Calvin? What about Augustine? What about all these other men and women
through the ages who had nothing but the scripture and time, who sat down and
meditated on scripture and then wrote things like, “when my soul is bathed in
light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away;
when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes
food that is never consumed by the eating; when it clings to an embrace from
which it is not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I
love my God.” (Augustine, Confessions)
I think this paints beautifully the longing Augustine felt
for God. Augustine was saved from a life
of debauchery and drunkenness. He was a
pretty wild person by all accounts. When
he looked at God, the one who rescued him from the darkness in which he had
lived, he was overcome with love.
Paul says creation itself, which has been subjected to
bondage and decay, groans “in the pains of childbirth.” Creation was made for a purpose. Everything that was created was “good” in the
beginning, and then sin entered the world.
Since that moment, everything has been incomplete, longing for
redemption, longing to be set free from its bondage. Creation itself longs for the moment when
everything will be done and the end comes.
Creation longs for God. Every
creaking tree branch, every bird chirp, every deadly tornado cries out that
this world is bound in decay, cries out for God’s rescue. Paul goes on to say that we, along with
creation, “wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
So, while the final act of redemption has been done in
Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, the whole earth still longs for the
day when the final act of glorification will be done. So Paul, while he knows he is saved, still
longs to cast aside everything and pursue Christ with his whole heart.
Back to the question at hand: If David, Paul, Lewis, Augustine, and all of
creation long for Jesus, if Jesus is their all-consuming passion, why isn’t he
mine? As I read these scriptures and
quotes I am overcome with the passion in the voices. Whether it’s David saying “earnestly I seek
you,” Paul declaring “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing
worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” or Lewis’ “We are far too easily
pleased,” I think we owe it to ourselves to ask this question: “Is Jesus my one all-consuming passion?”
Rather than a how-to guide for making Jesus your one desire,
I think that what Paul declares in this paragraph is more of his own daily
journey. Remember that Paul said he
wanted to know Jesus. In Greek this word is ginosko, which has several possible meanings, one of which is the
euphemistic meaning for intimacy between a husband and wife. It is deep, interpersonal understanding,
fully comprehending and being acquainted with.
In light of that, Paul says that he doesn’t consider himself
to have arrived. He doesn’t sit back and
say, “now that I’ve accomplished everything that I’ve done, now that I’ve said
I want to know Christ, I can sit back and just watch life happen.” Instead he says, “Not that I have already
obtained this or am already perfect…” I
haven’t achieved that which I so desperately long for. Have you ever been around someone who,
through his own words, seemed like he had it all together? You know the type of person I’m talking
about. Through their words or actions
they just live like they’ve got it all figured out and all the other poor schmucks
just have to keep trying. This was not
Paul. And if anyone had the right to
make that claim, perhaps it was Paul who could!
Yet, with the humility he preaches so often, Paul declares that he has
not yet arrived, that he hasn’t already obtained it or is perfect.
He longs to know Christ, but hasn’t yet achieved this
knowledge. He desires intimacy with
Jesus, but fails so often in that pursuit.
He has not yet been made perfect.
So what does he do? “…but I press
on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made
it my own.” Paul is quite forceful in
this. It seems that he is saying one of
two things. Either he is trying to
continually illustrate his own humility in this, that he has not arrived, or he
is saying that in light of the fact that he could be prideful, he is
encouraging the Philippians not to slip into comfort, being satisfied with
where they were. Don’t be easily
satisfied! Don’t be satisfied with
simply being comfortable. Continue to
seek to know Jesus.
Indeed, Paul will say it all the more forceful in the next
verse: “But one thing I do; forgetting
what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward
the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Wow.
This verse has so much packed into such a small amount of space it’s
difficult to comprehend everything Paul is saying. Forgetting the past seems to be a micro-theme
of this chapter. Everything Paul had
achieved in his own personal righteousness was garbage. It was worthless, so he threw it aside. He forgot about it. It was in the past, so he left it there.
Do you ever find yourself bringing up the past? It could either be good or bad. Perhaps there’s something in your past that,
like Paul, showed that you had worked hard, that you had been faithful. Do you ever find yourself bringing that
up? Maybe it manifests itself in a way
different than you would suspect. Maybe
there’s a particular achievement you received some time ago that you bring to
people’s minds over and over again.
Maybe you attained a certain level of success at a young age and you
like for people to know about it. Paul
says he was a pretty good guy, but he forgot the past. Maybe it’s different for you. Maybe your past isn’t too savory. Maybe there are things in your past you would
rather no one know about. Paul says he
forgot the past.
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what
lies ahead…” He forgot the past and he
looked forward to what was ahead. What
was in Paul’s future? He hoped it was
knowing Christ better. That was his
goal, his pursuit. That’s what he longed
for more than anything. Everything else
was worthless compared with this.
Remember that for Paul, to live meant Christ and to die was gain. Whatever happened to him, his goal was to
know Jesus better. “Straining forward to
what lies ahead…” This sounds to me like
David earnestly seeking after
God. Last week we read in Hebrews the
word “race.” Let us run with
perseverance the race marked out for
us. In Greek this word is agona, from which we get our English
word, “agony.” “Straining” seems like
Paul was preparing himself for endurance, like it was going to require
effort. Knowing Jesus is not a “wasting
away in Margaritaville” kind of life. It
requires effort, pursuit, straining.
Paul was straining toward the goal.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call
of God in Christ Jesus.” This brings up
an interesting question. If following
Jesus is so hard, why would anyone want to do it? If being a Christian costs so much, why
bother? I would draw your attention back
to the C.S. Lewis quote. “(We are) like
an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he
cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The reason we don’t see the value in pursuing
Jesus is that we are too easily satisfied by the lusts of the flesh. We are satisfied by the wanton pursuits of
our sinful selves. We are all too happy
to trade in the hard work of knowing Jesus for the slightly easier work of
building a kingdom for ourselves. Not
only that, but we can’t even imagine what it’s like to know Jesus.
If you’ve seen the ocean, how can you describe it to one who
hasn’t? If you’ve never experienced the
majesty of the mountains, how can you understand when I try to tell you about
them? I’ve seen both the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans, but I didn’t comprehend the vastness of the sea until I flew
over the Gulf of Mexico, and that was just the Gulf. I’ve never flown over the ocean to where you
can no longer see land. I have no clue
what that’s like. I can’t imagine
it. If you’ve never really experienced
Jesus you don’t know what you’re missing.
You’re satisfied with the things of this world instead of being
satisfied with the one who made those things.
Having never seen mountains, it would be difficult for you to understand
the grandeur that the Rocky Mountain range possesses. Having never been so far out to sea that you
can no longer see land, you couldn’t possibly understand just how large the
oceans really are. We are far too easily
So Paul, not being content with his knowledge of Christ,
forgot the past, looked toward the day when he would know Jesus fully, and ran
the race marked out for him. He pressed
on in his pursuit of Christ. Then, as an
encouragement and a caution, said this:
“Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you
think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” If you are “mature,” if you are pursuing
Christ, you will think like this. If you
are faithfully seeking to know Jesus, you will know that you never really
arrive. You will know that you never
really get there. My favorite college
professor of all time said it this way:
“The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.” If you are faithful to the call of Jesus, you
know that you will never get there, but the race itself is what we’re called
to. The life itself is what we’ve been
given. If we ever find ourselves
focusing on the unimportant, Paul says that God will bring that to mind. He will reveal to us where we are falling
Then he closes this paragraph with another exhortation. “Only let us hold true to what we have
attained.” Let us be faithful to
continue on like we have learned. Let us
be faithful and obedient to live like we know we’re supposed to live. This is Paul’s encouragement that since we
who are Christians know the life we’re supposed to be living, there is no
excuse for us. Obedience is the first
act of love. Let us hold true to what we
have attained. Let us do what we know is
right. We must be obedient.
I go back to the question I ask of myself. Is this how I love God? Is this how I pursue him? Do I strive to know him this much? Paul said he wanted to know Jesus in such a
way that he shared with him in his sufferings, becoming like him in death. Paul really wanted to know Jesus. Is this how you feel? Is this your pursuit? Is Jesus your all-consuming passion?