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About this series
I Choose Hope
How to Face Your Future with Confidence
We all hope in something or someone. The question is: Will your hope deliver? In uncertain times, hope can waver. Families are under assault, the global economy is tenuous, and violence is on the rise. Is it possible to live confidently in such alarming times? In this series, from the book of Philippians, Chapter 3, Chip explains what God has to say about our future and our fears. He'll teach us how we can face tomorrow, and each day that follows, with certainty and hope that never fails.More from this series
We have been talking about finding hope, experiencing hope, and now we are going to talk about pursuing hope.
Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 3, we are going to look at verses 12 through 16 in just a minute. But at the heart of finding hope is a spiritual pathway to God. Someway of spiritual development or spiritual maturity, that is what is going to give us lasting, deep hope. And so there is a pursuit.
And what I want to do in our time here is I want to give you four examples, because this gets tricky. This pursuit of hope through a spiritual pathway, even among Christians, has some real potholes here and there that I watch believers go down this direction or that direction and often get very disillusioned with God, because either they think He’s expecting something of them that He’s not, or they are expecting something to happen that is not realistic.
And so they say, “I have pursued lasting, deep hope in a relationship with Christ and, “It doesn’t work.” Let me share four, I think they are rather sad stories, but I want to give you a spectrum.
The first one is a young gal that I knew many years ago, she was a co-ed, engineering major, very bright, went to one of the finest academic institutions in all of America.
She came home after six or eight months and told me that she was dissatisfied with our church, she was dissatisfied with her parents, she had met a group there on campus that really understood the deeper things and she began to talk to me about the shortcomings of our church and most Christians everywhere and this new group. And she said, “I have learned the deeper teaching,” and then she looked me right in the eye and she said, “I have learned the secret of the deeper teaching is I don’t sin anymore.”
And I remember going, “No, no.” I said, “So, you don’t have a bad thought, you don’t have a bad attitude, nothing comes out of your mouth? You never do anything wrong? You are sinless like you are perfect now?” And she sat very calmly in this weird stupor and said, “Yes.”
And she went on to share a Christian cult and by God’s grace I remember years later, she was delivered out of it.
The second example is of a teammate that I had many years ago. We were playing basketball together, traveling throughout South America and great guy, great friends. I remember one night, I think he felt really open and he began to really share his heart and he goes, “Chip, I really like you. And we are really good friends. And you know what? You’re just missing out.”
And I said, “Well, wow, what do you mean?” And he said, “I have an experience and you can have this experience and I have six airtight passages from Scripture, and when you do exactly what I say, according to these six passages, you will experience a power like never before,” and then he talked about all the things that would happen in my life, and he cared about me, and this is the experience. And if you don’t have this experience, second-rate Christian, you’ll never amount to anything.
The third spiritual pathway that was to give lasting hope was I had an elderly friend who had a daughter that was grown. She was finishing up her Ph.D. But she had recently gone to work with her husband who worked for a spiritual organization. And as she came home on break and met with me, being a pastor and her parents being involved in the church, she was telling me about the vast untapped spiritual potential that I could have if I would go to this weekend seminar that had some scientific test and that they could help me for a mere five hundred and fifty dollars at the time, spending this weekend that would transform my spiritual life.
And then the fourth was, it was bizarre. I still remember reading it in the paper, actually. It was the story of a semi-unkempt, unsophisticated woman who happened to be, with research later, a high school dropout. She exercised a mind-boggling control, if you will, over – in the Dallas area at the time – professors, doctors, lawyers. She was a spiritual guide, she took them into various experiences, she actually had some times and ways where she told them future things that were going to happen to them, she assigned a spiritual guide to them.
And then the police, in investigating the entire web of manipulation, connected this woman to a series of suicides of high-level professionals that were all her clients who all happened to leave, in their will, their money to her.
And here’s all I want to say. What all four of these stories have in common is each one of them is linked, all four had a pursuit of hope. They had a pursuit of hope. They wanted to look at a promising future. They wanted to have a sense that progress is certain. They wanted to know that life is good. And even in the midst of their struggles and their ups and their downs, they were looking for hope and they were looking for it where most people are, at the end of the day, is through a spiritual relationship where you become growing and become spiritually mature.
So, here’s what I want to address: What does it mean to be spiritually mature? Because if you’re not clear on that, if you’re not clear on exactly what it means to be spiritually mature, and what it doesn’t mean to be spiritually mature, and if you’re not on the right spiritual path, your pursuit of hope can take you down some very, very bad paths.
The apostle Paul is actually going to answer this question. He is going to define spiritual authenticity for us. And as he does that, notice the context here. The context is, he has found hope.
But what he knows is as he shares that, that there is some bad teaching and there’s some paths that even in what he said, people could go the wrong direction. So, here’s what he is going to do. Verses 12 through 16 he is going to explain to them what spiritual maturity is and what spiritual maturity is not.
Notice what he says. He says, “Not that I have already obtained all of this,” or, “have already been made perfect,” circle the word perfect if you will, “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Will you underline take hold of and take hold of me? It’s going to be very, very important.
Notice in the next line, “Brothers, I don’t consider myself as having taken hold of it yet,” is the idea, “but this one thing I do,” circle one thing I do, “forgetting what lies behind, reaching forward to what lies ahead,” literally, straining forward, “I press on toward the goal, toward the prize for God, which He has called me heavenward.” Straining forward. He wants to know Christ personally.
He says, “I’m on a journey.” Now, in your notes, I want you to write the word disclaimer. What he is really saying is, is, “Look, I want to know Christ. I am as passionate or more passionate today, thirty years after I met Jesus on the Damascus Road.” And we learned that he wanted to know in his daily life, not just that someday, someway he is going to be resurrected. He wanted to know in his daily life the power of the resurrection.
We talked about experiencing God’s strength in weakness, overcoming temptation, overcoming the flesh, overcoming difficulty, seeing God’s power actually work through us in everyday life, giving us patience for people that make us crazy, giving us a generous heart that doesn’t come naturally.
And then he said, “Not only do I want to experience the power of His resurrection, I also want to know, I want to know the fellowship of His suffering.” That in the ups and downs and difficulties of life, in the pain that you’re going to have and I am going to have, we are human. We will have pain in relationships, we will have pain in our physical bodies, we will have disappointments, we will be betrayed. We will suffer.
And what Paul said is, “I want to share in, I want to experience the presence of Christ when I suffer.” And whether that suffering is external and people do it to me, whether I experience internally in the anguish of my heart, or whether I suffer because I am a follower of Christ, I want to experience the intimacy and the power and the love and the comfort that Jesus promised.
And then notice that last line, “As I am being conformed, progressively transformed into the very likeness of Christ in His death.” So, that’s his prayer.
But here’s the misunderstanding. Paul, do you have it all together? Paul, have you become perfect? So, I want you to write the word, disclaimer. “Not that I already have this,” in other words, I haven’t arrived. No sinless perfection. I haven’t been made perfect.
The word means mature. It’s a picture of something that fulfills its design. It’s not perfection as in: without fault or sinless. It’s the same word in James chapter 1, 2 through 4 where he says, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfecting,” or, “perfect result, that you grow and become mature, lacking in nothing.”
In other words, he goes, “I don’t have it all together, I haven’t been made sinlessly perfect, but I press on.” In other words, it’s a hunting term. It’s like a hunter who is waiting and then stalking and then waiting and then stalking. “I press on,” in other words, there’s a very clear-cut goal. I don’t have it all together, but, get it? I am progressively on a journey.
And here’s his passion. Notice what he says. He says, “I want to take hold of.” It means to reach out, to grasp, to obtain, to actually experience. “I want to take hold of that for which God has taken hold of me.”
And so his disclaimer is: Am I perfect? No. Am I pressing ahead? Do I have a goal? Am I seeking with all my heart to know Christ? Absolutely.
“Brothers, I don’t consider myself as taking hold of it yet,” okay? I haven’t met Christ, I haven’t been transformed, I still have issues, I still have times where I get angry, I still have times when lustful thoughts come to my mind. I still have times when I get discouraged. “I haven’t taken hold of it yet, but here’s one thing I do,” get this, here’s his explanation, I not there yet, but I have a focus. I have a priority, I have an intentionality and I have an intensity. This is after thirty years. An intentionality and an intensity that I want to press on to know Him. I am going to eliminate distractions, and then he tells us how.
“I am going to, forgetting what lies behind,” we will develop this in a minute. He is going to forget all of his past failures. He is going to forget that he was a persecutor. He is going to not think that God is down on him, that the things that he did in his past are still held up against him.
But he is also going to forget his past accomplishments. He has been an apostle for thirty years, he has planted churches, he has already written New Testament books, he has had amazing, amazing experiences. He goes, “Neither am I going to rest on my laurels.” He said, I’m not going to live under condemnation of my past, but there’s no way there can be any complacency like, “Oh, I have loved the Lord and I served when I was young and I did a lot of things and now, it’s the McDonalds philosophy of life.” I deserve a break today! There is none of that in the apostle Paul.
And so his disclaimer is: I’m not perfect and I haven’t arrived. His explanation is that: I press on toward the goal for the prize of which God called me heavenward. That phrase God called me heavenward, every time it’s used throughout the New Testament, save once, it’s about the calling of God for salvation. He is saying, God has a calling on my life, I have turned from my sin, I have received Christ, that calling – one day, someday – when I die, or what we are going to find out, he’s not quite sure when Christ returns, I am going to be with Him.
And he says, “I,” he repeats, “I press on.” That’s my goal, that’s the prize that God has called me heavenward.
And then he has a bit of an admonition. Because he has got problems. Notice this whole book, underlying, there are some problems. We had some disunity problems, they had some persecution problems, we had some false teacher problems. And so he knows there’s some stuff going on because he is getting reports from Epaphroditus. And he says, “All of us who are mature,” that’s our word teleos again.
“All of us who have come to a standard of progressive maturity in Christ,” not perfect, but mature, “should have this attitude,” the New American Standard says. “And if on any point you think differently, that too God will make clear.” In other words, this idea that there’s no sinless perfection over here, and this idea that it requires a passionate pursuit of following God, anybody that has a different idea, God will reveal it to you.
But then, notice, his final admonition. “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” In other words, wherever you’re at in the truth that you have received in the spiritual growth where you’re at in your life right now; in your life right now, wherever you’re at, he goes, “You need to respond to the truth. The fact that I haven’t already arrived,” or, “no one has already arrived can become an excuse,” is what he is saying.
You can’t say, “Well, everyone struggles. Most men have a pornography issue, so God understands. Most people understand that this is how we live and this is what is going on.” No, no. He said, “Whatever truth you have received, you need to respond to.”
What the apostle Paul is doing is he addressing two extremes. There were two extremes about what it meant to be spiritually mature. And in very subtle ways he has addressed both of them.
On the one hand, spiritual maturity is not compulsive perfectionism. You live with this low-grade guilt that messes with your life all the time, and as a result, some of you parents, you are passing that on to your kids. No matter what they do, however much progress they make, it’s never enough. There’s this perfectionism.
And what he is saying is is that that’s not spiritual maturity. Reading your Bible every day, praying every day, having all your ducks in a row – it’s about a relationship. The test of spiritual maturity is loving God and loving people and a transformed life. It’s not this external perfectionism.
But there’s another extreme and he addressed that in the very last verse. Spiritual maturity is not complacent passivity. On the one hand, these Judaizers were coming in and giving people a list of rules – you’ve got to do all this.
But there was another group. And what they would say is, this is what grace means: you pray and you receive Jesus into your heart, you are forgiven, God loves you unconditionally, there are no rules, you can live however you want, there is no morality. It’s just grace, grace, grace. Some people have called it “cheap grace.”
So you can keep living in “sin,” because God understands! He is a gracious God. You’re already forgiven. And this is where he says you need to live up to the standard.
Genuine spiritual maturity is a passionate pursuit of knowing and becoming like Jesus. Will you get it in this life? Will I? No.