Commitment without passion leads to drudgery, a formal, but joyless, experience. There are men and women who hold responsible positions in local churches who give no evidence of enthusiasm as they fulfil their duties. There have been cases of individuals commended to Christian work at home and abroad who, disillusioned by the hard realities of their task, would never go back on their commitment but continue on, sometimes for years, empty of vision and purpose. Commitment without passion becomes a prison of unhappiness and disillusionment.
Where does the drive come from that motivates a Christian to keep running year after year, often in times of trial, of sorrow and even of danger?
Paul is in jail, lonely, and on the eve of his martyrdom, possibly with only limited knowledge of what is happening in Asia and unable to go and see for himself. He writes to Timothy, saying, ‘You know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me‘, 2 Tim. 1. 15. Yet, with all the uncertainty, the isolation and the lack of information, he passionately keeps running!
What keeps the Christian moving forward? Are we being pushed ahead or are we being drawn forward? Is it an obligation to keep going or is it a joy to keep running? Are we being propelled or are we being attracted?
Paul shares with his friends in Philippi what inspired him to go on faithfully, even joyfully, in the face of tremendous obstacles. The apostle sets as the highest priority his true passion for Christ. He emphatically and joyfully writes in verses 8 to 10, ‘That I may gain Christ (that I may) be found in Him (Christ)‘ and ‘that I may know Him (that is, Christ)‘. No one was pushing Paul, rather, he was running at his best towards Christ.
Paul’s disappointments and frustrations are very real. Yet, as his earthly life is coming to an end, his attitude is one of anticipation and joy as he continues to run. He knows the best is yet ahead. He is not being propelled. He is being drawn towards Christ, for He is the Person who inspires him to continue running. He will soon see Christ in all His glory and he will be with Him forever.
At first glance, the phrase, ‘that I may gain Christ‘, appears somewhat disconcerting. However, his former gains were not authentic, for they had kept him away from God. Eventually, he saw them for what they really were and he counted them as an absolute loss. Paul rejected the gains of selfrighteousness and turned to the authentic gain of God’s righteousness in Christ.
It is not that Paul turned towards the gains, the overwhelming blessings that Christ gives to those who follow Him. Paul turned to Christ Himself, knowing that, compared to Christ, all that the world offers withers into total insignificance, the lustre completely vanishes, the power turns into utter weakness. He also knew beyond a doubt that ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’, Heb. 13. 8. He was convinced that in view of Christ’s unequalled glory, the world has absolutely nothing to offer. Having turned to Christ Himself, the apostle lived out in his life the teaching of the Lord Jesus who said, ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own life’, Mark 8. 36.
What does it mean to gain Christ? As to the past, the gain of knowing Christ brought forgiveness. Paul had repented of his sinful past to the point at which he called himself the chief of sinners. As to the present, the gain is a continuing, growing friendship with the Lord Jesus. The disciples spent time with the Lord Jesus in all the ordinary, everyday activities of life. As a result, they were His companions. In very practical terms, to gain Christ is to be His friend and companion. As to the future, we note that gaining Christ is more than a precious experience in this present life. When someone makes a commitment to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, that person is blessed beyond all measure – and forever!
While Paul expounds, perhaps more than anyone else, on the immeasurable blessings that come to each person who truly follows the Lord Jesus, we note again that the apostle is not obsessed with these eternal blessings. The blessings are not an end in themselves. Undoubtedly, Paul had already gained Christ. Yet he had not fully gained Him. He has a deep longing to be eternally ‘found in Him‘. The apostle is looking beyond this life. He sees beyond death to the Lord Jesus in glory.
As already noted, there is a tension in these phrases between the present and the future. Paul knows that he is facing death, yet he keeps running. His attitude towards death is unambiguous in his mind, for he expresses himself clearly, ‘that I may … be found in Him‘. The word ‘found’ may suggest the idea that if surprised by death, if death, from a human perspective, arrives unexpectedly, prematurely, there is a safe, eternal refuge found in Christ.
Paul now adds the beautiful thought, ‘that I may know Him‘. It does not matter how long we live, our earthly lives represent a very brief span in which we only begin to know Christ. We know of nothing greater than the honour and joy of knowing Christ as He really is. Paul is running towards that eternal moment when, as another apostle shares with us, ‘We shall see Him as He is’, 1 John 3. 2. In the meantime, the joy in the initial stage of knowing Him now is superior to anything the world may offer us.
Paul notes in another letter that in Christ ‘are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’, Col. 2. 3. We are not talking of earthly treasures but rather of eternal realities which, because of their very nature, lie beyond our ability to fully understand at present. Yet we know that all that is valuable, precious, real, eternal and joyful will flow endlessly from Christ to His own. Paul continues with reference to ‘the power of His resurrection’. Christ is alive, gloriously alive! He is not just an interesting personality who lived two thousand years ago. Perhaps, as some suggest, we should understand this remarkable phrase as follows, ‘That I may know Him in the power of His resurrection‘. He is with us individually and collectively.
The apostle then adds ‘and the fellowship of His sufferings‘. Does this mean that any suffering we endure now in the cause of Christ, we suffer in fellowship with Christ? There is no doubt that this is true. But there is another insight into the significance of this phrase. In Christ’s resurrection, we witness the inauguration of a new order. However, the Christian lives now in two orders or creations at the same time. His body is part of the old creation. His spirit has been renewed and he is now part of the new creation. Paul declares that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation‘, 2 Cor. 5. 17.
Paul also talks of ‘being conformed to His death‘. The Christian lives in the tension between the old and the new creations. Each order or creation is governed by principles. Disorder and evil characterize the old order. Order and moral excellence shine in the new order, Gal. 5. 19-23. Every time a Christian makes a decision, he must choose which set of principles will govern his action. Paul was running in accordance with the principles of the new order.
We should note that even in that period when Paul was, so to speak, ‘on death row’, he never lost sight of the Lord’s return. In that unsettled period, Paul wrote a letter to Titus in which he refers to ‘the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ ‘, Titus 2. 13.
Our passion for Christ is the impetus that keeps us running well. He is in the centre of the transcendent glory and He is waiting for us. God help us to run with true passion towards the One who loved us and gave Himself for us’, Eph. 5. 2. It is only as we respond to that love, a love above all loves, that, with commitment and passion, we will run well, right to the finishing line.
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