Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 3:12-14.
Men, all is loss and distraction apart from Jesus. Paul’s ambition is to know Jesus and to make Him known around the known world at his time. Here in v12, Paul makes it clear that he has not come to a point of arrival, he has not grasped hold of the fullness of Jesus, but he presses on to get a hold of Jesus as Jesus has a hold on Paul.
Paul’s conversion on the road, where Jesus introduced Himself to Paul in blinding light, had a profound effect on Paul. But even with such a radical shift, he had not come to a conclusive understanding of Christ, nor may he/ we ever. Instead, Paul is committedly pursuing deeper depths, more intimate understanding, and a closer experience with Jesus. Paul is 100% living his present life with consciousness that eternity has already begun. The upward call of Christ, where we walk away from the physical and come eternally into the presence of God is a goal and prize for Paul.
What do our own hearts seek? Are we committed to pursuing greater depths with the One who bought us back from death? Are we pursuing knowledge of Him, experience with Him, that we might share it with a world who doesn’t know Him?
Move forward men, reaching ahead, pressing on toward Jesus as a goal and prize. The best experiences with Jesus often aren’t at waist height and in reach, or in convenient moments. Set aside the world’s desires, and reach ahead to grab hold of Him as He has taken hold of you.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. –Philippians 3:1-3
Men, Paul has warned the Philippians before to watch out for false teachers. Again, Paul revisits the subject for their own well-being. These false teachers were committed to hindering the gospel or at least contaminating it with traditional ideology. Common among their false teaching was the traditional teaching of circumcision. Traditional circumcision was appointed by God as an outward sign of Hebrew/Jewish lineage back to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant and promises. In other words, for a time, to be circumcised was to be identified as persons of God. Traditionalists focused on keeping the rules of God but neglected a desire for the presence of God from within their hearts.
Our hearts gravitate toward fleshly and worldly things. True circumcision is worshipping God in Spirit. Our flesh, our rules, and our traditions may point to problems, they may erect guardrails, and model approved behaviors, but True Circumcision disregards all flesh to pursue the Spirit. This is tricky to communicate in type. This is NOT an abandonment of good customs and practices. But instead, Paul is announcing that we are no longer identified as people of God by our traditions. We are now identified by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our personal connection to worship from the Spirit.
In our time, we might say, heaven is not a reward for perfect church attendance. Traditions abound here in the southeastern U.S. Many attend Sunday services from habit. Family heritages can be traced back to the times of our founding and every generation attended church in the same town center. It makes great history, but is not a passport to Kingdom. Circumcision had been a practice for over 1500 years at Paul’s letter, but never produced a heart of worship to God in the Spirit.
Move forward men, questioning our hearts intent with traditions. Are we being obedient to the Lord God, or to rules handed down? Are we seeking Oneness or perfection?