Philippians 3:12 – 21
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Paul says he has not made it yet – he has not reached his goal of having the perfect mind of Jesus. He is using the metaphor of a race, as he very often does. He is running the race, pressing with all his might towards the goal – although he has not yet reached the finish line, he presses forward to make it his own. He does this because Christ Jesus has made him his own – he is on Jesus’ team! In that knowledge, he forgets whatever lies behind him and strains forward towards that finish line – towards the prize awaiting him, the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Can’t you see the picture? The runner running a marathon, having left far behind the countryside from which he came, running for all he’s worth towards the finish line, where Jesus waits for him with open arms! Of course, Jesus is also running with him, helping him up when he stumbles, keeping him going! Those who are mature in Christ will understand this, he says, and if they do not, Christ will help them continue to grow in the faith. Only, they must hold fast to what they have attained – they must not turn around and run the other way! They must not let those who promote a different faith destroy theirs. To put this in our own day – there are those who scream a belief in an angry, hateful, exclusionary God whose laws everyone must be forced to obey, and then they claim this is Christian. We must not let them destroy our faith in a loving God who does not want us to act that way! We must not let them be the only voice of Christianity speaking out today! For this I am grateful to Pope Francis, whose message is one of love and invitation as he tours our nation.
Paul says his brothers and sisters in Philippi should imitate him, and those who live by that example. Many, he says, are enemies of the cross – he has told his friends about them before, now he tells them again – even with tears! Those others have their minds on earthly things – their god is the belly; their glory is in their shame; and the result is their destruction. Who are these enemies? Paul does not identify them – are they the “Judaizers” he was just talking about? Could one say that their emphasis on food laws makes their stomachs their gods? Or that their emphasis on circumcision makes them glory in their shame? And that their emphasis on saving themselves diverts them from faith in the grace of God? That is one way this passage is interpreted.
The second interpretation of these enemies is that they are the opposite of the Judaizers. While the Judaizing enemies put all their emphasis on the laws; these could be people who say, “We are saved so it doesn’t matter what we do.” We see those in our own time as well. The idea that “once saved, you’re done” is prevalent. But we have to continue to strive towards living a life in imitation of Christ, towards learning and growing, towards loving God and our neighbor. As John Wesley said, we go on towards perfection, seek to reach the goal Paul speaks of.