Since the New Year I’ve been engaged in a personal study of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Back in January I posted a brief series about the theme of “thinking” in the epistle, and since then I’ve been noticing a lot of other things as well. My attention was captured a while back by Paul’s words in chapter 3—
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
There’s a lot to think about here, something I think is worth spending a post or two on.
Our culture is psychically frazzled. Our thoughts are every which way, now here, now there. There’s The Outrage of the Day, which I’ve noted before. There’s the eager reporting of Bad News, likely driven more by the desire for clicks than the public’s right to know. There’s our own personal schedule pressure, which even during the lockdown phase of a pandemic is surprisingly demanding—not everybody has spent the last months bingeing on Netflix, and a great many people are hanging on by a thread. There’s worry about people who are sick, and about the loved ones of those who have died.
So many pressures—some legitimate distractions, of course, and others not so much.
Paul lived similarly. There were certainly distractions. His theological opponents were following him around the Empire, countermanding his teaching and trying to steal his sheep. His churches had problems—some, like Corinth, more than others, but even Philippi, home of his biggest fans (Php 4.14-16), had its squabbles that were apparently sufficiently significant to require apostolic intervention (Php 4.2). The demands of those churches required Paul’s daily care (2Co 11.28). And of course there are the minor issues of robbers, beatings, imprisonments, hunger, cold, and oh, the occasional shipwreck (2Co 11.23ff).
But in the midst of all that, Paul had a character quality that propelled his effectiveness.
He was single-minded.
He was like the police dog who, in the chaos of sirens, gunfire, and shouted commands, goes after the target with single focus, intent on the mission to the successful end.
One thing I do.
Most of the English translations supply the clause “I do” in an attempt to clarify the meaning—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Paul doesn’t write those words; he’s writing a short, clipped sentence fragment, more of a grunt than a statement—
The word “thing” is strongly implied by the neuter gender of “one,” but even that word isn’t technically there. The KJV adds the demonstrative “this,” but that’s not there either.
Grunt. Squint. Focus. Bow. Strain. Pull.
How do you suppose he can maintain that focus in the midst of all the interruptions, the violence, the threats, the crises?
I suppose it’s because the mission, and the goal to which it points, is infinitely more important to him than anything else in the picture.
What’s the goal? He expresses it several ways in this passage—
- “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Php 3.8; cf Php 3.10)
- “be[ing] found in Him” (Php 3.9)
- “attain[ing] to the resurrection from the dead” (Php 3.11)
- “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Php 3.14)
How good am I at keeping my eyes on the prize? How likely am I not to be distracted by dangerous things—or even trivial ones?
In verse 13 Paul tells us how he does that. We’ll take a look there next time.