Hello Hello. I hope you are enjoying this last week of February!
Camp is a few short months away: get in those staff apps, and get your friends out too!
We are continuing our study of Philippians with chapter 3. In looking back and looking at this chapter I’m beginning to see one thing mentioned again and again and again. If you remember, in the first chapter, we emphasized verse 27: Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. And that verse came back to us last week as we looked at three examples of people who were worthy of the gospel: Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. They each emulated Jesus (or were Jesus) and lived in a manner worthy of the gospel and Paul focused on three characteristics: unity, humility, and encouragement.
So, we’ve been talking about how to live. Focused on words like “worthiness” and “exalted” and “glory.” To whatever extent, the letter has pushed us toward right actions, towards how to live, towards a godly life and as we move into chapter 3 we are going to see a slight shift in how we talk about that.
But before we get too far in that direction lets talk about school and even better report cards. I’m sure many of us are feeling the pressure or have felt the pressure to perform in school. About a month ago a bunch of us wrote exams and I imagine a number of us have just sat through midterms. These big test moments are a pretty big deal and they stress us out. So much of our lives are dominated by tests, exams, papers, essays, projects, and the things that we can do to prove that we are excellent at what we do. We get a number or letter value and can look around and compare our personal level of success with the rest of the world. We spend at least 12 years from grade one to twelve under this kind of grading. As a result, we learn to think of our value (or rating) is built on what we can accomplish but this is not the best way to determine your worth.
Think about it.
How do you determine your own worth? Is it based on your position on a sports team? Is it on how well you can do math or maybe how poorly you do math? Is it your role as a leader at camp? So many of the ways we look at our own value come from what we can do and the worth we attribute to those abilities.
And if you are reading along through Philippians there is an emphasis placed on living worthy to the gospel that, to us sitting at home in North America in the year 2020, may lead us to understand the success of our faith life through our performance. As if to say, for my faith to be successful I must perform perfectly at all times.
And this idea is wrong.
Paul is right to call us to live worthy of the gospel but in chapter 3 he turns that on its head and beings to talk about earning, gaining, and attaining things in this life. In my reading, as I worked through the observation phase of my study, I was struck with how often there is language centred on value words. But when Paul talks about value, and even lays out his own impressive resume in verses 2-6, he concludes something very important about focusing on one’s performance. In verses seven to eleven he says:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11
Far too often I am consumed with my own abilities. I look at myself: on good days I celebrate my worth through what I can do and on bad days I look at what other can do and am disappointed in myself. But Paul knows that this comparison, this valuation of myself is misguided. There is one lens through which value comes and the rest is rubbish. All of the things we can do to feel worthy of the gospel are nothing without that which makes living worthy of the gospel possible: Jesus.
And Paul is right:
The call to live worthy is not based on our ability to live worthy but on our fundamental dependence on the gospel to inspire us to better living, to challenge us to be people of the cross, and model ourselves on the person of Jesus.
Can you say that you are relying on Jesus to live up to his calling over your life?
Can you honestly look at yourself and claim worth that comes for Jesus?
Are you looking to Jesus first as the source of wisdom, truth, and inspiration?
The good news is that Paul doesn’t expect that any of us have arrived. Even if you are struggling to offer a genuine “yes” to any of those questions Paul is ready to admit he isn’t perfect or there yet either.
He says this:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
Notice here that Paul doesn’t say “Hey friends I have it all together and that’s what makes life in Jesus good.”
No, instead he gives an honest description of what living a life of faith is like: pressing on toward Christlikeness and striving toward the ambitious goal of becoming more like Jesus.
And actually, Paul says this is a mature way understanding the Christian walk: I am imperfect and my ability to live worthy is variable but I strive toward the goal set before me because I desire to be with Jesus and like Jesus regardless.
How then do we balance the call to worthy living and the truth that we are likely to fail along the way?
Well, I think the answer is primarily to give yourself a break. To rely on the grace given to you so that you can keep striving. Spiritually speaking our failures are never the goal and we shouldn’t live lives built around sinful habits or destructive patterns but at the same time we can live like Paul “FORGETTING what lies behind and STRAINING FORWARD to what lies ahead.”
Wherever you find yourself today: feeling worthy, feeling unworthy, or somewhere between it is my hope that you will put aside your own sense of value and look to Jesus as the one who is cheering you on, who is ready to show you the way, and is setting the pace for your life. We want to be cheerleaders on your team. The summer director team is praying for you and we want to support you as we can. You can reach Pat by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is always going to be ups and downs in your journey to become more like Jesus. Rather than focusing too hard on your successes or failures be focused on the long term goal of becoming more like him. I believe you can do it and in the meantime, keep being awesome. Take care friends.
This post is part of our Leap of Faith Audio Check-ins. We want to encourage you to leap into your faith and continue to grow at home, at school, and in your church. These audio check-ins are meant to encourage you as live out your faith every day.
Want to keep growing?
There are more episode of Leap of Faith and other resources for you to grow in your leadership and faith here.