Let’s spend some time in scripture together. Take a moment to read Philippians 3:7-17 slowly and reflectively. Then make your way through the thoughts below.
We grow more mature in Christ as…
He Himself fills more and more of the horizon of my life (7-8). Paul looks at the advantages of his Hebrew heritage, his religious family, his zeal for God and the rest, and increasingly sees it as nothing next to the “everything” of Christ Himself. First, gains are seen as losses (7). Then, everything is seen as loss (8a). Finally, he sees everything he once treasured apart from Christ as filthy garbage next to the overwhelming treasure of being in communion with Christ (8b). Everything that catches my eye in God’s creation becomes a little less captivating in the golden light of Christ’s radiant presence. Paul’s “knowing” Christ Jesus his Lord is more than “Jesus data,” but interactive, conversational, faithful relationship.
We see righteousness increasingly as relational more than religious (9). This is the essence of Paul’s contrast of the righteousness-by-the-rules he sought before Christ, and the righteousness-in-trusting-Christ that grew to be his settled perspective. He no longer compared himself favorably (or unfavorably) with others, but saw himself as a beneficiary of Christ’s own love and generosity. Rather than focusing on “to do’s” and “to don’ts,” spiritual maturity comes to focus on the life, the work, the person of Jesus Christ, and learning to live and work in Him.
Evidenced in a willingness to share in Christ’s sufferings as well as in His resurrection (8, 10-11). Spiritual children are happy to follow Jesus when they like what He’s doing and where He’s going. They like His blessings, but they don’t want much to do being close to Him in his hardships, losses or sacrifices. They don’t want to have the same attitude as Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8. Mature faith is able to endure when faith doesn’t feel immediately rewarded
We acknowledge that the Christian life is an ongoing journey we are all still on (12-14). When we measure ourselves by outward advantages or achievements, we can end up either puffed up or beaten down. Either way, our lives can become more about our successes and failures than about Christ’s life and our living and walking in Him. The Christian life is always a journey. Maturity realizes this.
We recognize the primacy of God’s initiative and action in our spiritual lives (12, 15). Whatever it is that I am striving to take hold of in my journey with Christ, I come to more and more acknowledge that He has taken hold of me first. Whatever progress I may make in my journey with Him is a fruit of His calling and His teaching me. If there is anything in my thinking that isn’t in keeping with God’s thoughts or God’s ways, He is graciously committed to making that clear to me. If I am willing to be guided, He is more willing to guide me.
We remember that no one becomes whole and holy alone (17). All of the counsel we’re reading in Philippians 3 is written to a church, not just one Christian. Each of us can gain a great deal of individual benefit from what Paul says, but he’s ultimately talking to a community living a way of life together. We need to see those who have walked a little further than we have. We need to see what faithfulness in the face of great hardship actually looks like in the real life of a more seasoned follower of Jesus. This is what the Philippians had in Paul.