In many ways, believers are similar to unbelievers. Both are made in God’s image and therefore have dignity and worth. Both are fallen due to sin and therefore have need of redemption. But they are also very different. They have chosen to follow different paths. They have chosen different lifestyles. They will have different destinies. The Bible knows this contrast—the family of Seth and the way of Cain; Israel and the nations; the church and the world; Jerusalem and Babylon; Heaven and Hell.
Paul thoroughly understood this difference in Philippians 3. He was different than he used to be (vv. 3-6). He was different than he would be (vv. 12-14, 20-21). He was certainly different from those who were enemies of the cross of Christ (v. 18). One voice that Christians have is that of a different lifestyle. While it is not right to look at others with smug self-righteousness, forgetting the rock of grace from which we were hewn, it is proper to speak up by being different.
Paul had grounds for boasting (3:3-6; Romans 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:16-30). It is one thing to jettison bad things from your life. It is another thing to jettison good things from your life in light of superior values. That was what Paul was willing to do. The gains (Philippians 3:3-6) were now considered (reckoned or calculated) as loss (damaged or detrimental). In fact, Paul considered everything as loss due to the surpassing (superior) worth of knowing Christ. Paul even looked at what he had valued as garbage (refuse or what was thrown to the dogs). He clearly had embraced different values.
The new gain (normally a financial term) was found totally in Christ. His faith in Christ had appropriated a new way to be right with God that was entirely different than his former way of law keeping. Even though Paul had been a believer for around 30 years when he penned these words, his different values showed up in wanting to know Christ. True knowledge of Jesus would show up in resurrection living, the refining power of suffering, and arriving at his eschatological home. Different values are a sanity check on these realities.
Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to striving; it is opposed to earning.” But even then, striving is not arriving. To arrive at our goal demands being “taken hold of” by Jesus. Once that happens, we press on (to aggressively hunt down as in trapping an animal). The famous preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick, had a sermon entitled, “The Power to See It Through.” Paul had that power because of the overwhelming glory of that goal.
To reach this goal two things were necessary. First, there must be a determined posture of forgetting the past. Paul had quite a past to forget (Acts 22:4, 5; 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13, 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Second, there must be a straining (extending, reaching, or spreading out). The greater the strain, the more the prize is appreciated. Paul did not identify exactly what this prize is. But the word goal means “end of the race.” Thus, the call came from the God of Heaven, and Heaven seemed to be the goal.
In this paragraph Paul contrasted two different examples—the mature believers and the enemies of the cross. Paul was confident that God would make clear (reveal) to the mature believers how they could live to attain this prize. To do so they would have to live upto (hold true to the basics) where they had arrived. Diligence is involved in this since most Christians already know more of their Bible than they are living out. Paul’s example (to make a mark by striking several blows) and others like him would help the Philippians to live different lives.
In contrast to the mature believers were the enemies of the cross. Paul used four expressions to describe them. (These are different people from the Judaizers spoken of in 3:2.) Their destiny (end) is destruction (a state of death). Their god is their stomach (they live by their lusts). Their glory is in their shame (their character is their disgust). Their mind is set on earthly things (in contrast to Heaven). The difference between these two examples is clear.
To this colony of Heaven in Philippi, Paul reminded them of where their real citizenship was located. From Heaven the all-powerful Savior will come and affirm that the “different ones” chose well and will experience an extreme makeover so as to look like the one who saved them.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.