Zev Porat

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Leave the Past in the Past: Philippians 3

At this point in history we have crossed the threshold into a new year and this time always brings with it a time of reflection on the year that has passed and a setting of goals to reach in the upcoming year. The year 2015 has passed and the year 2016 is upon us whether or not we are ready for it. Throughout the course of last year our world has experienced great tragedy in the form of intentional terror through the attacks on Paris and the likes of ISIS. Moreover, in the personal sector of life over the last year there were highs and lows. Lives were filled with the sorrows of loss and grief at times but lives were also filled with happiness and celebration. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he/she can look back over 2015 and recall where the power of God has uplifted, sustained, and protected. However, those who have accepted Jesus Christ can also look over the last year and recall where he/she has failed to honor God. This failure may have come in the form of the individual not seeking God's direction on a particular topic, an individual not portraying the gracious and loving nature of God, or an individual making a determined effort to promote himself rather than God. Regardless of the nature of the shortfall, the point stands; those who have a relationship with Christ failed to honor that relationship at some point over the past year. However, part of the mercy of Christ's death on the cross is the fact that, not only is the sin committed before one's salvation experience covered and forgiven, the sin of the present and the sin to be committed in the future is also forgiven by Christ's death. But one cannot accept this all-encompassing forgiveness as a license to hold onto the sin of the past; rather, one must let go of the past and move into an ever growing relationship with Christ. No place is this principle illustrated more vividly than Paul's words in Philippians 3.

If one were to read the entirety of Paul's letter to the church at Philippi and focus in on Philippians 3, one would discover that an element of Paul's letter to the church was to confront, among other things, a heresy promoted in the early church. Philippians 3 opens with Paul addressing the teaching promoted by a Jewish sect of the early church that called for those Gentiles who accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to submit themselves unto the authority of Jewish law—specifically the law of circumcision. The prevailing thought process of those who promoted circumcision was that, due to their adherence to this law of physical transformation, they were superior to those who did not subject themselves to this transformation. In other words, an individual of the circumcision sect would say, or at least think, "I have made this physical change to my body so God loves me more because I am more closely following the law than you. If you would make this change to your body you could also be confident that God loves you." This person has placed his entire hope, security, and confidence of salvation in the fact that he made one physical change to his body. Thus, what follows from Paul in Philippians 3 is a discourse that seeks to derail this attitude of superiority based upon one's physical condition.

Paul began his argument by directing one's attention to the fact that those who truly "are of the circumcision" (Philippians 3:3) or who are truly the children of God worship by the power of the Holy Spirit, glory in Jesus Christ, and place no confidence in their fleshly accomplishments (Philippians 3:3). Then, in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul goes on to elaborate on the idea of one putting confidence in the flesh by naming his physical/earthly accomplishments. First, Paul listed his adherence to the law since birth; Paul was circumcised on the eighth day just as God's Law prescribed. Second, Paul listed his genealogy accomplishments; Paul was not simply a descendant of Israel, he was from the tribe of Benjamin and thus could trace his lineage back to the establishment of the tribes of Israel and the land where the city of Jerusalem is located. Thirdly, Paul directed the readers to take notice of his educational accomplishments, as he was a Pharisee or a teacher of the Law of God (in Acts 22:3 Paul spoke about be trained under the much revered Pharisee Gamaliel). Lastly, Paul listed his accomplishment of zeal and passion; his passion for the Law of God had led him to persecute the very movement of which he is now a leader. But this exercise of listing these honors and achievements was not for Paul to promote himself; rather, it was the lead-in for some of Paul's most humbling words: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). Unlike the self-promotion of the circumcision sect, Paul did not place any confidence in the things he accomplished in his flesh. He abandoned his self-righteousness for a righteousness found only in faith in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8b-9a). Then, to wrap-up his argument, Paul declared, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14). In other words, Paul declared that he left the past in the past and was moving on to pursue the goal of Jesus Christ. He was finished holding onto the past because it kept him from being and doing what God was calling him to be and do.

The same principle Paul declared to the church at Philippi holds true for us today. Our righteousness is not founded upon something we can do in our flesh, but rather it is founded upon declaring faith in the only one who can give us right standing before God—Jesus Christ. Moreover, when believers are seeking Jesus Christ and pursuing Him as their only goal, they must give up anything that is holding them back. One's past is not the determining factor in his/her walk with the Lord, and what you have or have not accomplished in the past does not give you a superior seat with God. Sometimes we strain ourselves to hold on to success and failures of the past when God is continually calling us to let go of the baggage of the past and pursue Him. Quit using your strength to hold on to the things of last year when you can drop your successes and failures at the foot of the cross and pursue Jesus Christ with freedom only found through faith in Jesus Christ.

James Christopher Powell has served as assistant minister in Northwest Florida for ten years.
He studies at The Baptist College of Florida where he is working on a Master's degree in Christians Studies.
He married his wife Jennifer in March 2014.  

No comments:

Post a Comment