Fifth Sunday in Lent, April 3
Reader: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,”
Response: “I press on to reach the end of the race.”
Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Sometimes I wonder how often we unconsciously do what Paul is pointing at here. Play along with me and do this for yourself. Here’s my example:
I could have confidence before God in my heritage. Afterall, my grandfather was a minister, both sides of my grandparents were wonderful Christians, my parents were loving Christians and we had a Christ-centered family, I was baptized when I was eight, I went to a Christian college, I was an adjunct professor in a seminary, I was ordained in Christian ministry, I teach worship in a graduate school, I served as Minister of Music and Worship in several churches over the span of forty-two years. Surely that counts for something with you God! (You get the idea!!) It doesn’t.
That’s what Paul was doing in this letter. Having been circumcised on the eighth day was strict adherence to the law. He was a pure-blooded Jew from the tribe of Benjamin as was Israel’s first king, Saul, of whom he was named after. The Pharisees, of whom he was a member, were the strictest observers of the Jewish law and he was the strictest of the strict! He obeyed the law without fault, not meaning he was perfect but that he adhered in the strongest and most accurate sense. This included all the additional laws of the rabbis’ doing.
While we have long since dismissed the idea of our acceptability before God as having anything to do with what we have done or what our lineage is, Paul openly declares what he once thought most important prior to his conversion. He is mentioning this because there were teachers in the Philippian church pretending to have superior authority based on their credentials. He sets the record straight for them and for us that a pedigree of any sort is worthless in light of knowing Christ. Actually the word he uses for worthless is a little crass!
Our righteousness only comes through faith in our union with Christ. The idea here is that you and I continually strive to know Christ by exercising faith. You notice we never arrive in this life. Here’s the challenge: I want to know Christ and taste for myself the mighty power that raised him from the dead. These daily devotionals are meant to feed that “knowing Christ” part so that when we come to the end of this earthly life, we may experience the resurrection from the dead for ourselves. I like Paul’s phrase, “I press on . . .” The way to do so is to let go of the past. You’ll find the devil is eager for you to remember your past, dwell on it, mourn over it, carry as much regret and guilt as possible. Tell him to leave. It’s all been taken care of and you have a severe case of RAG amnesia! (Regret And Guilt) The pilgrim on the journey says acknowledge, confess, repent, resolve, and press on to the end to receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us!
Two classic recordings!
Music: “Blessed Assurance” Alan Jackson
Bonus: “Blessed Assurance” Jubilant Sykes
We thank you, Father, for those days in the desert when Jesus overcame the temptation of the evil one. Help us, during these days of Lent, to come close to you and to listen to your voice. Give us strength to overcome the temptation to please ourselves and live life distanced from you. Teach us your way for Jesus’ sake. Christ, give us grace to press on to continue to grow in holiness, to deny ourselves, and to take up our cross and follow you, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reign one God, forever and ever, world without end. Amen. ―Guideposts: Prayers for Easter, p.10 adapted Daniel Sharp
You have noticed that we have left out verse numbers in the Scripture. The biblical writers did not put in verse numbers and chapters. Chapter divisions were devised in 1205 AD and our present day verse numbers were added in the 1550’s. The divisions are completely arbitrary solely for the purpose of locating specific passages. Can you imagine trying to find something in the book of Genesis with its fifty chapters and no chapters or verse markings? The drawback of numbering verses is that we may read them as isolated thoughts and miss the whole context.