“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13–14).
I am sure all of us who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ are looking forward to seeing Him either when He comes back or when we are called home. I am sure we also desire to have a good report before Him, and to hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt 25:21).
The Lord’s commendation “Well done” will only be heard by believers who strive to glorify Christ in their life on earth. In Philippians 3:9-16, Paul spoke of his constant struggle to glorify Christ in his life. The Christian life is something that must be “worked out” until resurrection happens (cf 2:12). The believer has not yet attained perfection but must always strive towards it (v12). The word “perfect” (teleioo) here (and also teleioi in v15) does not mean sinless perfection but spiritual maturity. It speaks of the process by which the believer will gradually become spiritually mature and ultimately complete in Christ in both body and soul. In the Christian struggle towards perfection, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are at work. Although Christ has already apprehended believers (divine sovereignty), yet they have a duty to apprehend Him (human responsibility). This is the teaching of the fifth point of Calvinism—the perseverance and preservation of the saints. The believer perseveres in his faith because God preserves him right till the end. As Calvin said, “Paul was apprehended by Christ that he might apprehend Christ; that is, that he did nothing save by Christ’s influence and guidance.”
Running the Race
In Philippians 3:13–16, Paul speaks of his constant struggle towards spiritual progress and maturity. Such a relentless pursuit to be Christlike does not end until we get to heaven. Paul likens our life on earth to running a race. Every runner at the starting block aims to cross the finishing line victoriously.
How may we run this Christian race and finish well? Paul tells us how in Philippians 3:13–14, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The word “press” in verse 14 is the Greek word dioko which has the idea of relentless pursuit (and often used to mean “persecute,” 3:6). If we want to end well in our life as a Christian, we must push ourselves to the limit to become more and more like Christ, and must not quit until we reach the end, until we see Him face to face.
In 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul wrote, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” That was why Paul wrote about walking by the same rule and minding the same thing (v16). To “walk by same rule” must mean living according to God’s infallible Rulebook which is the Holy Scriptures, and to “mind the same thing” must mean having “the mind of Christ.” If we do not run the race according to God’s commandments, having the mind of Christ which seeks only God’s glory, we are automatically disqualified.
Some of us may be living hypocritical lives. We say we are Christians, but our lives do not show it. We are living a double life, we are hypocrites. Such Christians who live a double life are running the race too, but they are running backwards, and will never cross the finish line. They are still unregenerate, and not born again. These are those whom the Lord will say, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23). But those who will put Christ first, take His words seriously, and obey His commandments will at the end hear their Master say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).
With much patience and endurance, may we all strive to win our Master’s commendation, “Well done!” JK
Rev Dr Timothy Tow
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Ps 133).
It is observed that the higher a man climbs up the ladder of success, the more enemies he makes. So, there is a Chinese saying, “Talking bad of the king behind his back.” Some of David’s enemies were Shimei, Ahithophel and even Absalom his own son.
But God also raised up loyal followers for King David. They supported David to make him king. Of 30 captains who stood with David there were three who heard David say, “Oh, how I’d like a drink of cool, fresh water from the well of my hometown Bethlehem.” Now at that time Bethlehem was occupied by the Philistines. The three captains taking their lives into their own hands broke through the ranks of the Philistines and brought back the cool, refreshing water to their king. But David said, “This is the blood of the three captains. I cannot drink it.” Then he poured it on the ground as an offering to the Lord.
The goodness and pleasantness of brotherly love David is talking about, is not that of natural brothers but rather of the spiritual. If it is also of natural brothers, it will be doubly pleasant.
Nevertheless, David has so admonished his friends to live by his injunctions as follows, “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD.” (Ps 101). As St Augustine puts it succinctly to his students, “I will not allow anyone of you to talk bad of others behind their back.”
Now the Church is a Gospel centre, but we have made it a gossip centre. Twisted reports of man or things are often repeated. Watch your tongue and watch your lips. But rather say things that edify. A senior’s word of commendation on a junior goes a long way to build up the younger person. By way of illustration, a new lecturer took over the homiletics class I used to teach. Every student, even the best, was torn to shreds, after the sermon he preached. Everyone almost became a nervous wreck. Knowing that a learner needs encouragement than destructive criticism, my method is, “Please say a kind word on the sermon.” In this way his confidence is built up, and slowly he improves to be a good speaker. In our association with one another let us be kindly affectioned one to another.
The power of brotherly love, of mutual love and respect, is like sweet perfume, like the special ointment that anoints the high priest, most precious. Every drop of it that flows from the head to the beard and that flows down the garment is fragrant. How it pleases not only men but also Almighty God. When men hear of brotherly love in the leadership of the Church they praise the Lord and bless His Name, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice” (Prov 29:2).
The power of brotherly love is likened to the dew of Mount Hermon that brings life-giving moisture to the hills of Zion, from high to low. Mount Hermon in the north is 9,000 ft and the Hills of Zion 2,700 ft. This causes the parched grass of Zion, after a night’s descent of Hermon’s dew to spring up to life. From brown to green in one night. The power of brotherly love transforms the dying to exuberant life even in the famous saying, “[One shall] chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight” (Deut 32:30).
There were twelve spies sent by Moses into Canaan to spy out the land. Ten returned with a dismal report, comparing themselves to grasshoppers in a land of giants. This so discouraged the children of Israel that they would return to Egypt.
Two were of a different mind, Joshua and Caleb. Full of faith, they urged, “If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not” (Num 14:8–9).
What was the result? The ten spies who brought an evil report died in the plague before the Lord, but Joshua and Caleb lived through the 40 years of wilderness journey even to 110 years and beyond 85 years respectively.
God will give you long life because of your faith, and good health and strength, even like Moses who lived to 120. The power of brotherly love, the likemindedness of brethren who dwell together in unity, is the love of David for his followers. This is the same unity of the Apostles serving their Saviour who exhorted them, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:12–14).
[Source: Life BPC Weekly, 12 January 2003.]
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