In Pursuit Of Perfection
Out of context this statement might sound a bit cryptic. But what Paul is saying here is very important for each one of us to contemplate. This statement comes as part of Paul’s telling of his own biography to the Ephesians. He has given them some details about his own background as a Jew, a son of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, who had been observant to the law of the Pharisees, and who had been a zealous persecutor of the Church, who felt certain that he was acting righteously in accordance with the law.
Paul then writes a very stunning thing, something that flies in the face of all that the world teaches: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil. 3:7-9)
Does this not sound like the deepest desire of your own heart as a Christian? Do we not want to be able to say, like Paul, that nothing in this life; nothing that I possess, neither wealth, nor pleasures, nor any powers I may have obtained through my talents, nor those things I have gained through the recognition of others, nothing, is so valuable to me as to be found in Christ. Truly, we are rich only when, in true humility, we can finally say, like Paul, that whatever righteousness I may have is from God, not from me.
Paul is no dreamer here. He is a realist and understands the difficulties of life, with its temptations and our weaknesses. He reveals this in the passage we are praying over today. “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 Christ Jesus took hold of me.” There is the reality we all live in every day. As Christians living within the limits of our own frailties, we believe in Christ’s claim on us, and we desire to bend our hearts to his perfectly. Ah! There’s the rub! We are not perfect and we cannot be perfect in this life. God knows this. That is the reason for the Incarnation of Jesus. What God wants of us is precisely what Paul expresses here, “I have not arrived at my goal, but I press on….” Yes we will stumble and even fall at times, but Christ brought us back to the Father through his supreme act of forgiveness on the cross. Therefore, in faith, we know that we have been claimed by Christ and that he will never abandon us. We know, too, that he is with us in his Holy Spirit to encourage us, to inspire us again and again, and to strengthen us through his generous grace. It is our attitude, that inner disposition of humble faith and the desire to press on, that he wants from us. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Lord, we love you and desire to be with you. Help us to press on in our efforts to follow you more closely every day. We know our weaknesses and we turn them over to you. Heal our deepest wounds, Lord. Relieve our greatest fears, and strengthen us where we are weak. Help us to know you, to love you, and to serve you in this world, so that we can be with you in the next. We pray all of this believing in the power of your name, Jesus. Amen!
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