Jul 09 - Letting Go In Order To Move On

Letting Go in Order to Move On.

July 9 , 2017

Philippians 3: 4-14

 

LETTING GO IN ORDER TO MOVE ON

July 9th, 2017

Philippians 3:4-14

 

On the one hand, all of us can look back on our lives and remember some of the good things that happened when we were younger ... happy childhood memories.  Or perhaps some really happy days when we were older - our marriage day or the day our child was born, for example. 

 

We can also look back over our lives and see a few things we’ve accomplished that we are proud of.  It might be a university degree, or something that we’ve built, something we’ve sculpted or painted, success in our chosen line of work, perhaps something difficult we’ve overcome.

 

All these things ... the good that happened to us as well as our accomplishments, can potentially give us big heads.  They can make us think that we’re really something. 

 

This had been the case with the apostle Paul prior to his conversion.  He writes about it in his letter to the Christians in the Macedonian city of Philippi.

 

If anyone thinks that they have reasons to be confident in their physical heritage, I have more:  I was circumcised on the eighth day, part of the nation of Israel, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a bonafide Jew who can speak Hebrew [Lit. a Hebrew of Hebrews].  With regard to the [Mosaic] Law, I was a Pharisee, so zealous for it that I persecuted the church, and I appeared blameless when it came to obeying it.                        Philippians 3:4-6

 

On the other hand, likely all of us can look back on our live and remember some of the bad things that happen to us when we were younger ... painful childhood memories.  Or perhaps we can remember some very unhappy days when we were older - when our marriage broke up or our child died, we lost our job, our business failed, we were evicted, or our kids are out of control, for example. 

 

We can also look back over our lives and see a few things we did that, in retrospect, we are really ashamed of.  Maybe we cheated on an exam.  Or we injured someone while driving recklessly. Or we took advantage of someone because they trusted us.  Or we compromised our ethical or moral values in some other way. 

 

We all have failed at certain points.  We all have sinned in our past.  We all have things in our past that haunt us.  And guilt and shame can have incredible power.  Maybe a word, a picture, a name, can bring it all back to mind.  In fact, we may end up at a point where we really dislike ourselves (or our lives?).  Or we may feel like failures.

 

And because we are ashamed or because we feel like failures or losers, we stuff our feelings and try to ignore them. 

 

Maybe intellectually we know that all failure and all hardship can be stepping stones to personal growth, blessings in disgust as the late Gordon Mosvold would constantly quip about, but rarely do we allow ourselves to “fail forward”, as C.S. Lewis put it.[1]  The real failure is not learning to do better or to be better. 

 

Strangely enough, looking back, the apostle Paul came to realize, that one of the things he thought made him such a good person and so obedient to God, now made him feel deeply ashamed and guilty.

 

I am the least of the apostles.  I’m unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

                                                1 Corinthians 15:9

 

So Paul considered himself the least of the apostles because his religious zeal was so misguided that it led him to act violently against Christian Jews.  In this way, he sinned in three significant ways:

 

1. He disobeyed the one commandment in the Mosaic Law that most closely reflected God’s will when it came to human behaviour: Loving one’s neighbour (as oneself).

 

2. He disobeyed the direct teaching of Jesus when it came to non-violence.  Don’t try to hurt even your enemy, (even heretics or adulterers) but do good to them and bless them.

 

3. He cause harm, not to those who were enemies of God, heretics, as he had supposed, but he caused harm to the very people of God. 

 

Very likely because of persecuting God’s people, Paul describes himself as the worst of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15-16.[2]

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  But for this very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus may demonstrate his immense patience to those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.                                                              1 Timothy 1:15-16

 

In other words, Jesus was so patient with Paul while he was persecuting the church, and still gave him the opportunity (as he encountered him on the Damascus Road) to reform his life.

 

It may be the reason why Paul penned the section in Romans 7 about the nature of sin:

 

For what I want to do what I desire, but I do the very things I hate.                                    Romans 7:15[3]

 

That is also why, to our passage in Philippians 3, Paul adds this note in v.7:

 

If anyone thinks that they have reasons to be confident in their physical heritage, I have more:  I was circumcised on the eighth day, part of the nation of Israel, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a bonafide Jew who can speak Hebrew [Lit. a Hebrew of Hebrews].  With regard to the [Mosaic] Law, I was a Pharisee, so zealous for it that I persecuted the church, and I appeared blameless when it came to obeying it.  I thought these were assets [in God’s eyes], but I now consider them worthless in light of Christ.                                     Philippians 3:4-7

 

My background, my genetic perks, my social standing, my education, my accomplishments, my popularity among the religious Jews, ... all of these things that normally would make me proud and feel somewhat better than others, I now look at them as worthless, literally dung, when compared to what has taken place in me through believing in Jesus as the Messiah, the son of God. 

 

 

 

Coming back to us, I mentioned that

Maybe you are one of those people who has told themselves that the thing to do is to hang on, no matter what the cost.

 

I do not seek my own righteousness, the one that comes from [obedience to] the Law, but instead, the one that comes from faith in Christ, the righteousness God bestows based on faith.  I want to know [experience] Christ and the power of his resurrection.  I want to know what it means to be united with his suffering and conform to his death.  All that so that I will attain to the resurrection from the dead.  It isn’t that I’ve already reached [the resurrected life] or have been made perfect [or: complete].  Yet I strive to take hold of it since that is why Christ Jesus took hold of me.    Philippians 3:9-12

 

 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold (of the resurrected life or perfection/completion), but this one thing I do, I forget the past and I stretch to take hold of what lies ahead. 

                                                Philippians 3:12-13

 

 

Forgetting the past:

 

We really never forget the past ... we do remember, even though it may not often come to mind. 

 

I don’t think Paul was speaking here of trying to repress our memories, bury them deep so we don’t think about them any longer.  Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and certain things left unattended will fester and scar and cripple.

 

Reminded of Mephibosheth, the last surviving son of Jonathan, and a grandson of King Saul.  When news reached the palace that Mephibosheth’s father and grandfather had died on the battle field, there is panic in the palace because generally whoever took the throne next would wipe out anyone who may have a claim on it. 

 

In her haste to flee and get the 5 year boy to relative safety, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him (lit. she took him up and he fell) and he injured his ankles and feet.

 

Because of the rush and possibly the inaccessibility to someone who had medical knowledge and could set the bones, the boy’s feet were crippled permanently - for the rest of his life.[4] 

 

An operation needs time to heal. 

 

 

, but I think what Paul meant is that we re-evaluate the things that happened to us and the things we have done, both good and bad, in light of

 

See “Starting Point” series, “Nothing But”

 

Guilt is powerful. Shame can be crippling. We all have things in our pasts that haunt us. We have sin. It only takes a word, a picture, or a name to bring it all back. We know we can do better from this point forward, but how are we supposed to fix the past? We can say we’re sorry. We can ask for forgiveness. But some of the things we’ve done hang over our lives like a cloud. 

What can wash away our sins?

 

 

[1] Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success. (Meaning: repeated trial and error leads to success)

[2] Otherwise that statement really doesn’t make any sense.

[3] This is incredibly controversial interpretation of Romans 7However, I think it can be argued that, as Paul’s desire was to obey the Law of Moses perfectly (to be righteous in his own strength), he was shocked to find out that in the process he completely missed the actual will of God.

[4] 2 Samuel 4:4 mentions Mephibosheth being lame and having crippled feet.