Philippians 3: A series of reflection on scripture
Insights - May 30, 2021 Author: Jeanette Green

Philippians 3: A series of reflection on scripture

To follow from the beginning
Read part 1A first    

In context
Along my Christian journey, I have often heard scripture being quoted out of context (not that I knew the verses were being used out of context, then). I was not far behind. I got myself a handy couple of Bible verses to quote, as and how I needed them. Don’t get me wrong, I still memorize and quote verses – they are my arrows. But, only recently, I learned how important it is to understand scripture, within its context, and to divide the word, accurately. When I have understanding, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, I can then use the right weapon, at the right time, in the right way.

Suddenly, I have a vision of two people playing the ‘rock, scissors, paper’ game…Understanding scripture in context is a little bit like knowing which weapon my opponent is going to pull out, and choosing the right weapon for a sure victory.

At times, I still use scripture out of context. Gaining understanding is a journey, a long and winding, narrow path.

An example:
Php 3:13b > ‘...the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead.”

I often hear this part of the scripture quoted as proof/motivation that we must forget our pasts, completely, so that we can walk our journeys. But, is it possible to forget our pasts? And, is it even what God wants us to do? Do we not realize our need for God, by remembering our past, before Christ. And do we not encourage ourselves in the Lord, by remembering our past, with Christ?

As I wonder about this, a memory of a verse flutters into my heart. “Those who stumble and fall, have forgotten that their prior sin has been forgiven.” I suspect I don’t remember the verse exactly as it is written, so I find the scripture.
2Pe 1:8-9> These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you do not have them, you are so shortsighted that you cannot see and have forgotten that you have been purified from your past sins.
From this verse, I understand that it is important that we remember our past sins, otherwise, how can we remember that Jesus forgave us for them?

I read Ph 3:13b as part of the whole passage of scripture:
Php 3:12-15> I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above. All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude. But if some of you have a different attitude, God will make this clear to you.

Suddenly, I understand this verse, differently. In context, I understand that Paul was highlighting that we cannot hold on to some ‘Christian experience’ we had in the past, as proof of our salvation and relationship with God. Salvation is not a one-time saying of a repentance prayer that guarantees a ticket to heaven. Following Christ, is a lifelong journey, carrying a cross. That means we stay in motion, taking the next step, and the next, with our eyes on the finish line.

Two other verses come to mind:

Eze 18:24> "But if a righteous person stops doing good and starts doing all the evil, disgusting things that evil people do, will he go on living? No! None of the good he did will be remembered. He will die because of his unfaithfulness and his sins.

2Pe 1:5-8> For this very reason do your best to add goodness to your faith; to your goodness add knowledge; to your knowledge add self-control; to your self-control add endurance; to your endurance add godliness; to your godliness add Christian affection; and to your Christian affection add love. These are the qualities you need, and if you have them in abundance, they will make you active and effective in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do I have this attitude of always growing with God? Do I run this race like one who wants to win? As these thoughts mull through my mind, fear quickly takes hold of me. But, then God whispers, “But if some of you have a different attitude, God will make this clear to you.” (Ph 3:15b). All that remains in my heart, is peace. God is the author and perfecter of my faith. He will finish the work He started in me. And by His grace, my heart will obey the voice of the Holy Spirit that leads me on.

Now, I reflect on the rest of chapter 3. The following points stand out for me:

Routine repetition
Php 3:1>In conclusion, my friends, be joyful in your union with the Lord. I don't mind repeating what I have written before, and you will be safer if I do so.

I don’t like doing the same thing, over and over. I get bored. Frustrated. So, I used to hate routines. But then I discovered, that some routines are essential and that repetition is the only way my brain can form new pathways. Repetitive reading and practicing God’s word is how I renew my mind. How God brings my mind in line with His and gives me the mind of Christ.

The kingdom of God, within
Php 3:2-3>Watch out for those who do evil things, those dogs, those who insist on cutting the body. It is we, not they, who have received the true circumcision, for we worship God through his Spirit and rejoice in our life in union with Christ Jesus. We do not put any trust in external ceremonies.

This verse reminds me that my relationship with Christ is not about outward appearances, but about what is going on, deep down, inside my heart. Along my journey, there had been times when Jesus showed me some horrible things that were hidden in my heart. Those things made their appearance when I was pressurized beyond self-control. How painful and shocking those times were. Yet, they were necessary. Because only when I saw the condition of my heart, did I realize just how much I needed Jesus. And as I surrendered to Him, He brought light into those areas in my heart. More revealing times lie ahead, I am sure. Because life with Christ is a journey, a gradual process of refining and purification.

Ambition evaporates
Php 3:7-8>But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.

Sometimes I forget that my life belongs to Christ. I have ideas about what I would like to do for him. And when I discover that his plans for my life are different from my own, I am disappointed. Today, I realize that Paul had his own idea of what he wanted to do for God, too. And in the process, he persecuted the church. It is in full surrender that he found a relationship with Jesus and discovered his true calling.

Now, another scripture pops into my mind. It is Mat 16:24-25: ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. ‘

Daily, I have a choice to make. Will I continue on my journey and follow after Christ. Will I carry my cross? When I think I have made peace with my life, the next day I am full of rebellion again. I thank God for His grace, for the Holy Spirit, who helps me in this battle of surrendering, rebelling, surrendering, rebelling less. And I praise him for letting me see more of the life He has for me, as I rebel less and surrender more. He will finish the good work, He started.
Desire Christ
Php 3:10-11>  All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

I have a weakness – I like pretty things. Pretty clothes, pretty hairstyles, pretty stuff. If I stay out of the shops, I am reasonably content with my life. But if these two eyes of mine see pretty things I don’t have, I want them. And if I can’t have them, I become grumpy. Disgruntled.

Over the last few years, God has worked on this weakness in me. I no longer obsess for weeks over the pretty things I can’t have. Still, I have my moments of weakness.
And so, when I read this scripture, it cut me deep. Every day, I declare my undying love for Jesus. I want to know Him. Want to experience His power in my life. But share in His sufferings? Paul’s words paint a picture for me - one that shows that knowing Christ and experiencing His power in my life is inseparable from sharing in His sufferings. And that only when I embrace both His suffering and His glory, can I have the hope that I will share in Christ’s resurrection, too.

At war with God
Php 3:18-19>I have told you this many times before, and now I repeat it with tears: there are many whose lives make them enemies of Christ's death on the cross. They are going to end up in hell because their god is their bodily desires. They are proud of what they should be ashamed of, and they think only of things that belong to this world.

These two verses shocked me. I definitely don’t want to make myself an enemy of Christ. Because the peace I have comes from knowing that I am at peace with God. He is for me, so who can be against me, then?  In my shocked state, I wonder if perhaps I have made myself an enemy of Christ.
God comforts me, by saying, “I look at your heart’s attitude. It is when you willingly and consciously choose to continue down a path of sin when you make yourself My enemy. As long as you desire to live
in obedience to me, you are hidden in Christ.”

A verse slips into my mind. 1Pe 4:1: ‘Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;’

I remember that God explained to me that when my own sin grieves me when I have godly sorrow over my sin that leads me to repent and change my behavior, I am no longer sinning.

All that matters in this world is Christ. And you and I are on a life-long journey, during which we need to submit to God, who will bring us to the finish line, victorious.

Next week, I finish my journey of Philippians. I’d love for you to walk along! So, if you’d like, read Philippians chapter 4, this coming week.

Father God, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Thank you that we can trust You to complete the work you have started in us. God, we confess that sometimes we are tempted by this world we live in. Keep us safe, oh God. Help us to run this race to the end. And to win the prize of life. Help us grow and mature in faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Read next> Philippians 4 

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