This wonderful letter was written toward the end of the life of one of the greatest men who ever lived. Paul of Tarsus was intelligent, courageous, intense, devoted, zealous. He was a rabbi. He was a scholar and a theologian and an expert in Judaism. He was a Pharisee, which means he was very serious about practicing Judaism. He was also a Roman citizen. He spoke and wrote Greek and was familiar with Greek and Roman culture.
Paul was a prophet – one who heard clear messages from God. In all of history there have been very few prophets. He was also an apostle, a special representative of the Son of God. There have been fewer apostles than prophets. As an apostle, someone raised up, sent out and empowered by the Son of God, to represent the Son of God, Paul wielded great spiritual authority. Paul was a very special apostle – the apostle to the Gentiles, specially equipped and sent to reach and teach the non-Jewish peoples of the world. Paul was one of the greatest evangelists of all time. He was a missionary and congregation planter. This great apostle and scholar wrote much of the New Testament and left a tremendous imprint on Christianity and Western civilization. Rabbi Paul was one of the very greatest human beings who ever lived. We should pay attention to his writings that have been preserved for us.
Paul was in prison waiting for a trial that might result in his death, but that was fine with the Lord’s Representative because he had come to the place in his life where, what he wanted most of all, was to get close to the Son of God and be a powerful force for Him. He was willing to endure rejection and persecution like Messiah did, and go all the way to death itself, if necessary. The Rabbi from Tarsus wanted to die to sin; die to self; die to the allures of the flesh; die to the seductions of the world – in order to fully serve God and complete his mission and then enjoy being resurrected and receiving a great reward for a life well-lived.
I want this more and more for myself, and for all of us.
This great man of God lets the Philippian Christians and Messianic Jews know that, even though he had reached a high spiritual level, he was not perfect. He had not fully arrived at that place of complete devotion – but he was trying.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Messiah Yeshua took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. From time to time the Lord’s Representative fell short of the goal. But Paul was trying hard to get to the place of total commitment, complete devotion and perfect service. Like a man running a 100 yard dash, he was striving to reach the finish line. He was sprinting toward the goal that counts – crossing the finish line of a life well-lived, a life lived for God, a life that is rewarded with living forever with the Creator.
In his race for the prize, Paul understood that he needed to leave his old life behind, and his old sins behind, and focus his attention on what was in front of him. It would be an unusual sprinter who wins the race if he is looking back, and not forward. 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 Messiah Yeshua. Many people get immobilized by the events of the past. Past failures, past hurts, past sins prevent them from moving forward and accomplishing everything they could. Not this inspired Jewish man. Paul believed in fresh starts, in new beginnings; that the Lord’s mercies were new every day. He knew that the atonement of the Son of God was so powerful that all of his previous failures, great though they were, were completely forgiven; that even though he considered himself the greatest of sinners, the righteousness provided by the Three-In-One God was greater than all of his sins.
Paul believed that each day was a new opportunity to give Messiah his all, to serve the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and might; to do a better job of living for Him and not yielding to the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the sinful pride of life.
Paul made a decision to forget the sins and failures that were behind him and reach out to the potential victories that were ahead of him. This is the right way to deal with the sins and failures and regrets of the past.
This is really, really important for us to understand, because all of us have sinned. All of us miss the mark in thought, in word, in deed; none of us do all the things we should do; all of us do things we shouldn’t do.
We don’t want to spend valuable time today crying over yesterday’s spilt milk. We don’t want to keep on looking back so that we are not able to run forward at the fastest pace possible. We don’t want to become obsessed with past failures so that we become immobilized in the present.
So, how should we respond to past failures? When we realize that we have sinned; that we have let the Lord down; that we have not given Him the devotion and the service that He deserves; that His priorities have not been our priorities; that we have not be righteous or holy the way He wants us to be – rather than getting fixated on the sin and becoming immobilized; rather than ignoring our failures so that our conscience becomes seared; instead of engaging in some form of penance – some self-punishment that we hope will make us feel better; rather than committing another sin, maybe a worse sin, so that the sin we are bothered by doesn’t feel as bad; instead of drowning our unhappiness in drugs or alcohol or some other mind-numbing activity – the right way to handle our guilt, shame and regret is to confess our failures to God; to thank Him for the complete forgiveness of all of our sins and the total cleansing He provides for everything that is not right. We ask Him to help us get close to Him once again. We make amends where we can make amends. We make sure that the proper safeguards are in place so we won’t fall into the same sin.
Then, after we have done these things, we make a decision not to keep on looking back. We purpose to forget the sins of the past, and to live in the present, and look ahead at the things that the Lord is asking us to do – to live for God and our mission, and not for self; to live for God and not for the world; to live for eternity and not for the present; to live for righteousness and not for sin.
This is how Paul, who was one of the very greatest human beings who ever lived, thought about these matters. And, he was confident that every mature Christian and Messianic Jew should think the same way about these matters. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.
And if there were those who didn’t agree, as long as they stayed within Messiah’s Community and were teachable, God would teach them the right way. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. No matter how far they may have come in their life with God, they must keep on living this way.
Paul and Timothy and other men and women like them were role models of right thinking, good living, sound theology, and the right priorities. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.
Who are your role models? Who inspires you? Who do you want to be like? A great investor like Warren Buffet? Someone who is popular in the culture? A prominent politician? A success in your field of interest? Paul and Timothy?
In this part of the first century there were some great role models for Christians and Messianic Jews. But there were others, a lot of others, who had been part of Messiah’s Community but were no longer worthy of imitation. Earlier in this letter, Paul had warned the Philippians in very strong terms about the Judaizers. Now he warns them about another group who were characterized by living for the pleasures of the flesh and the comforts of the world. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Messiah. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. In contrast to Paul and Timothy who lived for righteousness and not sin; who lived for God and their mission, and not for self; who lived for God and not for the world; who lived for eternity and not for the present; who embraced the way of the cross, who were willing to endure a life of suffering and wait for an eternal life of pleasure in the New Jerusalem – were these others who had given up on these things.
They were enemies of the cross. They no longer wanted to follow the example of the Messiah and suffer for their faith. Oh, they might talk about Messiah dying on the cross to provide atonement, but they no longer were willing to experience rejection or persecution. They wanted a comfortable, pleasant life. They had become the Joel Olstens and the prosperity teachers of their day.
Their god, their highest priority, that which they really served, was no longer the Three-In-One God of Israel. Their priority was their stomach. They wanted to eat very well and eat often. Their priority wasn’t living like a soldier and enduring hardships in order to bring the Message to others and build up Messiah’s Community. Their priorities had become comfort and pleasure.
Their minds were set on earthly things, not on heavenly things. They lost a live-for-God, live for the mission, live for Good News proclamation, live for building up Messiah’s Community, live-for-eternity perspective.
Someone observed that these people decided to live on easy street, but those who choose to live on easy street will find out that it is a dead-end. And that’s true. Paul declared that their destiny was destruction. Scary – because so many today have chosen the same way.
These people, who had been part of Messiah’s Community, and may have still been officially part of it, had gotten so far away from spiritual reality that they no longer knew the difference between a life that pleased God and one that dishonored the Lord. The things they were proud about – a comfortable lifestyle and their desire for acceptance by the world, was actually their shame.
Because they had rejected the way of the cross, which is the path of suffering to serve God and man; because they set their minds on earthly things; because they made living a comfortable life on Earth their priority; because they had aligned themselves with a doomed world – they condemned themselves to share this world’s destiny – which is to be destroyed.
Paul and Timothy had very different loyalties and priorities, and therefore, a very different destiny. But our citizenship is in Heaven. These great Messianic Jews had transferred their loyalties from living for this world to living for God’s world; from living for self and pleasure and comfort to living for God and the bold proclamation of the Good News and building up Messiah’s Community – all with a willingness to suffer. Because of their change of allegiances and priorities their citizenship had been transferred from this doomed world to that of Heaven. They were citizens of the New Jerusalem, with all the amazing honors, rights and privileges that are included in citizenship in that real and most desirable of cities.
Unlike those who were living for present pleasures but destined for destruction, these great Messianic Jews were living for a radical future transformation that would enable them to enjoy the pleasures of eternal life in the New Jerusalem. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. Paul and Timothy knew that Heaven is real; that the Son of God is real; that His power to control all things is real. They were eagerly waiting for the arrival, from that real and heavenly place, of the Savior, the Master, the Lord, Messiah Yeshua. They were looking forward to His return to this doomed planet with eager anticipation because they knew that when He arrives – and He will – He will transform the limited, frail, mortal bodies of those who serve Him into glorious bodies like His own; bodies able to live forever in the New Jerusalem and enjoy its delights.
That’s worth living for and waiting for, isn’t it? Paul thought so. We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body. The Lord Yeshua is so entrusted with power and authority by God the Father; Messiah the Savior is so worthy and so able of controlling all things, that one day all things will obey Him.
And, that is a very good thing – especially for us. Because He will use that great power and authority to transform the bodies of those who live for Him and prove it by rejecting easy living and focus on carrying on His mission. He’ll make us beautiful and whole and able to live forever in the New Jerusalem. He will do that using the same power by which He is putting everything under His wonderful, righteous, beneficial control.
Isn’t that worth waiting for? Living for? Being obedient for? Reorienting your goals, priorities and allegiances for? Rejecting the pleasures of the world and the flesh for? Worth suffering for, even dying for?