Today I would like to talk about the life of the great apostle and missionary Paul, who wrote much of what we call the New Testament in the Bible. At the time of writing his letter to the Philippian church, he had been arrested in Rome, and yet this letter was full of encouragement and even joy.
In fact he uses the word “rejoice” 10 times in this small letter! In chapter 3 of Philippians, he begins with:
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. “
Then he follows with a warning:
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship God in the Spirit, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence.”
Here he was referring to the teachers who were trying to impose Jewish laws upon gentile Christians. After that he explains how he was once one of the them!
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
You may have heard the story of Paul. Soon after the resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem. This led to thousands of people repenting and believing in Christ. Paul, who was then known as Saul of Tarsus, was among those who sought to crush the movement which they considered heretical. He believed that he was actually doing service to God as he sought out, and imprisoned the followers of Jesus!
But God had other plans. Saul was on his way to Damascus, to find and arrest Christians, when the Ascended Christ appeared to him in a great and blinding light. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When he asked, “Who are you Lord?” The answer came, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Finally Saul asked, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told to you what you must do.”
This was the great turning point in his life. He would soon meet with those whom he sought to harm, and become filled with the Spirit of God. Eventually Saul become known as Paul, a greater advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ than he ever was for the teachings of the Pharisees, and faith in his own good works.
Listen to these powerful words in Philippians 3:7-11:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
If you want to know what motivated Paul, and what motivates great evangelists, missionaries, and the most devoted believers in Christ, here it is. They want to know Jesus more…..
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Paul did not consider himself a prisoner of Rome, but a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He was not really apprehended by Caesar, but by Jesus. He knew God had a purpose for his life, and was single-mindedly focused upon that purpose.
We have all been apprehended by Christ Jesus. We are not here by accident. He wants you! He wants you and I for a reason, a purpose, and you and I can only find satisfaction in pursuing that purpose. Whatever He has for you to do will bring joy to Him, it will bless others, and will give you a sense of fulfillment. Paul was able to endure hardship for he knew he was helping to advance the Kingdom of God on the earth. We can also endure anything as well while we follow Christ.
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
There may be things in your past that haunt you, or limit you today. Consider Paul, who took part in the deaths of believers, and sought to destroy the church that he later came to love. By the power of the Holy Spirit in him, Paul was able to rise above his past. He learned to set aside the daily distractions and stay focussed on the higher purpose of knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection more fully!
It is time to forget about the failures of the past, and begin to focus our efforts on the future that God has in mind for us. Distractions and discouragements will come, but the joy of the Lord is our strength, and that joy is in knowing Him!
Heavenly Father, we thank You for laying hold of us and giving us a purpose. We know that purpose wil glorify You and bring blessing and peace to others. We offer our hearts, our time and energy to that end, In Jesus Name, Amen!