This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
SYRIAN CHEMICAL ARSENAL GONE BY END OF APRIL
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
12-14 Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived”, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ.
My ambition is the true goal of the spiritually adult: make it yours
15-16 All of us who are spiritually adult should set ourselves this sort of ambition, and if at present you cannot see this, yet you will find that this is the attitude which God is leading you to adopt. It is important that we go forward in the light of such truth as we have ourselves attained to.
17-21 Let me be your example here, my brothers: let my example be the standard by which you can tell who are the genuine Christians among those about you. For there are many, of whom I have told you before and tell you again now, even with tears, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. These men are heading for utter destruction—their god is their own appetite, their pride is in what they should be ashamed of, and this world is the limit of their horizon. But we are citizens of Heaven; our outlook goes beyond this world to the hopeful expectation of the saviour who will come from Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will re-make these wretched bodies of ours to resemble his own glorious body, by that power of his which makes him the master of everything that is.
The key to this passage is Paul saying that his reward is “the honour of being called by God in Christ”; whereas we might have thought that was the starting point. In my e-book, “Paul, An Unauthorised Autobiography”(Kindle) which is recorded by his secretary, Mr. Handy, I imagine Paul explaining this passage:
“You’re an athlete, Mister Handy, so what d’ you think of that metaphor, eh, straining towards the mark?”
I say that a runner might appreciate it. He seems a little put out at my lack of enthusiasm.
“In traditional religion,” he says, “there’s all the time in the world. But in our religion, the time may be shortened, so we need to think of ourselves as runners.”
“Athletes run to get there before others and get the prize: was that your idea?” I ask.
“There’s no competition of course but we should run as if there might be.”
“Why? If God provides rewards for all who seek the prize, why should we strain?”
“There are rewards for all but only one for each of us.”
“If we have to win it, how is it different from what you did as a Pharisee?”
“We’re not running in order to gain God’s love, but because we’ve been given it. God’s love is where we start.”
“And where do we finish?” I enquire.
“At our own perfection.”
I recognise that this is true of athletes also.
God’s call is not something we earn, not is it something demanded by God for His good; it is God’s loving and peremptory encouragement that we should become ourselves, co-operating with His process of re-making us in His image. This is “grasping the purpose for which Christ grasped me.” In this way Paul unites the dynamic striving which had been part of his Pharisaic training, with the evangelical assurance of God’s love. Knowing that we are loved and accepted is no reason to become lax in our discipline; on the contrary, it’s an incentive to greater effort because our eyes can see beyond worldly expectations to the promised perfection that Christ will give: the transformation of our mortal bodies into immortal bodies like his own.
There is a profound theology in this passage, which comes from Paul’s thorough remaking of his own thought and action by means of his trust in Jesus Messiah. But his Jewish inheritance is not lost. Rather, in a way which reminds me of Jesus’ words about not destroying the Torah but fulfilling it, his former allegiance finds its true place within his new trust in God. Yes, sometimes he refers to his former religion as “trash”, but that expresses his conviction that its ways of pleasing God had become a barrier between the believer and God. In fact, his trust in the Creator God, the Community of God’s people and the journey of the individual soul towards holiness, are all deepened and expanded by his experience of Jesus.
This passage is very suitable for the second day of Lent as it expresses the positive purpose of Lenten discipline; not beating ourselves up but moving more purposefully towards our own perfection.