The "Surpassing Value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"

As we come to the end of Lent, Paul’s soaring passage from Philippians 3:8-14 reminds us beautifully of the "surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (3:8). Paul, imprisoned as he writes to the Philippians, speaks of having "suffered the loss of all things"(3:8), something which he intends quite literally, I believe, as his conversion was the loss not only of a stable life, work and vocation, but of the honor and prestige that would have accrued to him as a Pharisee. Paul says he regards these "things" as "rubbish" (3:8), a word which I have previously indicated means something more like "excrement" in the Greek of Paul’s day. Paul intends this sharp contrast between worldly "things" and "knowing Christ" because, where the two conflict, it is essential that Christ take precedence. Paul’s goal, as that of all Christians, is the resurrection and the life of eternity with Christ.

Paul also uses the phrase, "if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (3:11), as he writes of his desire to "know Christ and the power of the resurrection" (3:10). Does Paul doubt his salvation in Christ? I do not think so, but Paul is aware that prior to the resurrection, while we are in the body, "we have not already obtained this" and have not "already reached the goal" (3:12). It is necessary to continue to grow in closeness to Christ, to continue on the path of righteousness. Paul reaches into the language of athletic imagery - so appropriate an image in the midst of March Madness as well as Lent - to make clear the strain and work and training involved in the Christian life: "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus" (3:13-14). This is the true glory for which we are training, in Lent, but also in every day, which is why we must keep pushing forward until that time when we are assured our rest will be eternal.

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John W. Martens

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