Phillip N. Conley
3:14, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high
calling of God in Christ Jesus."
our culture becomes disjointed based on moral relativity.
Everything becomes subjective, and definite lines are seen
as abhorrent. When a dedicated disciple of the cross
attempts to live according to absolutes as taught in God's
word (whether theological or moral), he will be met with
disdain and mocking. Such should not be a surprise, as the
Lord Himself was mocked and criticized for the same thing.
He even tells us to rejoice when we experience the same as
it shows a kinship to our King. (Matthew 5:11-12, 10:25)
However, no matter how skewed perspectives and attitudes can
become, the beautiful quality about truth is that it shines
exclusively to belief or adherence. Whether some, all, or
none believe or follow the truth, it is still the truth.
Therefore, absolute fixtures in the word of God will endure,
because He who gave them endures.
good minded people get wrong ideas about things, and if we
are honest with ourselves, we have things we have to clean
out of our minds and hearts, sometimes repeatedly. We are
all prone to getting into comfortable ruts, even when those
ruts do not align with the truth. One of the bi ggest perils
to a disciple of the Lamb is to think, "That applies to
them, but not to me." That is how the 1st century Pharisee
thought, and that leaven is still running rampant today.
While we all have different life circumstances, we are all
held to the same moral imperatives. Even the wicked are held
to these as God will one day judge them for not adhering to
His moral code. (Revelation 20:12) Some might posit that a
focus group is not as morally accountable as another group.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is the realm of
ministers vs. non-ministers or men vs. women. Whether male
or female, minister or not, we have the same duty and
obligation to the Lord, morally speaking. Yes, our roles and
duties may vary, but our moral obligation is the same.
verse is found in the midst of perhaps one of the most
personal profiles ever sketched for us. Paul "lays it on the
line" for us in this passage. He talks about himself in
great detail. This is not to show us how much he thought of
himself, but rather it shows us just how much this lesson
touches him. Lest any think Paul was alone in this. He makes
it personal to us as well by telling us to be "thus minded"
(Verse 15) and to "walk by the same rule" and "mind the same
things." (Verse 16) As personal as this lesson touched Paul,
it should affect all of us equally too. Paul's point from
our study verse is not that he had a standard, whereas ours
is different. We all have the same standard. It is "the
mark" of Jesus Christ. Not many marks. Not many subjective
standards. One standard. One mark. The mark.
that Paul was working for is one that he honestly knew he
had not met. (Verse 13) Though he desired greatly to get
there, he knew that he was not there. So what happens when
we take this message personally? When we internalize what
Paul has said, we then cease the incessant comparisons that
we make of ourselves to others. One of the observations that
I have made and repeatedly stated over the years is that by
looking hard enough you will find two things: 1. Someone
doing better than you and 2. Someone doing worse than you.
When you make these "finds," it will not lead to treasure,
rather ruin. Finding the people doing better breeds
jealousy, bitterness, and contempt. Finding people doing
worse breeds pride, laziness, and contempt. None of these
finds are conducive to the life that honors the King.
internalizing this lesson urges us to take the two fold
approach to how Paul got here. In the previous verse, his
one desire (to hit the mark) entailed two things: 1.
Forgetting the past and 2. Reaching forward. This two fold
act helps us hold to what we should and let go of what we do
not need. Notice how the passage describes Paul's past. Many
times, we need to forget about past failures, of which Paul
had many. No doubt he had to let go of the guilt of the past
as the murderous Saul of Tarsus. To be a successful laborer
in God's kingdom, he could not be consumed with and obsess
about past ruin. While that applies and is certainly true,
the passage actually urges us to consider that Paul had to
let go of past successes. He was the pride and joy of the
Jewish religion. Nobody was better. Nobody. Paul said it
specifically about himself. No matter how much you could
glory according to the flesh, he had more. Touching the law:
a Pharisee. Touching the righteousness in the law:
blameless! You need to know what Moses said about something?
How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, any other Old Testament lesson?
He had the answer. How should this situation be handled
according to the law? Over here! Saul has the answer. Want
an example of perfect execution and application of these
things, look over there at Saul!
What was all
that now worth? Nothing! Paul considered all of that to be
dung next to the knowledge of Christ, the power of His
resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. (Verse
10) Paul had to get over past success. It could not help him
now or going forward to dwell on how good he had ever been.
Though I am still a young preacher (some might argue
middle-aged by now), I have learned a valuable lesson,
rather painfully. When you preach poorly, you have to forget
it. When you preach well, you have to forget it. Yes, you
learn from mistakes and can rejoice in the blessings of the
Lord when they are had, but dwelling on past failures and
previous successes will only damper what service can be done
today and hinder your next preaching effort. To the disciple
in the trenches, remembering past failures can lead to
despondency, whereas remembering past successes can lead to
pride headed for the pit of destruction. The second part of
this act is reaching forward, which is something that helps
us today as well. No, we cannot live in the future any more
than we can successfully dwell in the past, but as we learn
lessons from yesterday, so can we have hope for tomorrow. No
matter what we face and go through, there are things before
us that never go away. Jesus is present in all the tomorrows
just as He is with us right now.
matter what happens in the future, He will be there, and the
resurrection is sure and absolute because the Absolute has
already been resurrected as the firstfruits for us.
Therefore, to hit the mark that Paul strives for, we need to
keep a firm view of Jesus Christ before us, while not
looking back and making crooked furrows in our field. Our
gaze should be set like a flint upon Him, not giving heed to
the doctrines of devils, vain jangling, and profane and vain
babblings of this world. All these various and sundry
distractions do is get us to either look back with regret or
look forward in fear. You ever heard the expression "going
around in circles"? When the distractions point us towards
both things, we will do nothing but go around in circles
never accomplishing anything the Lord has set before us.
time Paul gets to "the mark," he has laid himself "wide
open" for us. This lesson should lay us "wide open" to
examine how we are getting along. Where is the mark? Where
am I? Again, we all have the same standard. It is the same
mark? Is it good or bad that I am closer than you are or
that you are closer than I am? It is immaterial. Your walk
and life is not dictated by me being better or worse than
you. Our lives should be dictated in that He is supreme, and
I have much work to do. Like Paul, I freely confess,
"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended..." I am
not there yet, and though I have already fallen so short so
many times, my desire now is to get closer and closer and
closer. If we start holding one another to varying standards
for morality and life, we become guilty of being respecters
of persons, which ought not so to be. (James 2) My goal is
Jesus. Your goal is Jesus. Let us walk together minding the
same things, and trying to be steadfast in our love for Him
and one another. Let us run with patience, knowing that we
have something awaiting us that is enduring and eternal and
not become distracted by the vain and perishable things of
this old world.