The chapter begins with Paul tearing up his Curriculum Vitae – his whole life before he met Christ on the road to Syria. If anyone could have earned his way into the Kingdom of God, it was Paul! But, on meeting the Lord face to face, he came to the great realisation that no-one earns their way into the Kingdom.
In fact, the spiritual ‘balance sheet’ was completely reversed: what had previously been counted as ‘profit’ was now placed under ‘loss’; those ‘assets’ were now seen as ‘liabilities’. If anyone had earned salvation, it was Christ himself – but not for himself, rather for us – and the real task for us is not to ‘earn’, but to ‘receive’ God’s acceptance by faith. Truly the world has been turned upside down!
The greatest apostle of all then goes on to say: “I want to know Christ…” (v10), in a way that includes the full power of his Resurrection and the sharing in his sufferings, death and bodily resurrection. This is more than head knowledge; it means a face-to-face and spirit-to-spirit contact that is established and grows daily until that Final Day. If that desire was good enough for Paul, it should be good enough for you and me.
3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… 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”. Paul could never be accused of complacency. He was never satisfied with just doing more than the next man; he refused to settle for anything less than God’s perfect will for his life.
3:20-21 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”. Just as the Philippian citizens were tremendously proud of their Roman citizenship, Paul reminds Christians that we have a far, far greater citizenship – that of Heaven itself! And we must also remember the fact that Jesus himself will transform our mortal bodies (on the day of his return) to be like his new and glorious body.
JEREMIAH 4, 5 and 6
“Break up your unploughed ground and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem…” (Jeremiah 4:3-4). Where have you heard this before? Well, you might remember it as a similar quote from Hosea 10:12: “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you”.
Ground that has been lying fallow – unploughed – may be ‘resting’ in some sense, but it is not productive and cannot be planted in preparation for a harvest. The imagery is referring to repentance, to breaking up the hard surface of the ground ready to receive the ‘seed’ of God’s word for us. Jesus used unploughed ground in his Parable of the Sower and showed how unsuccessful it is. Without hearts ploughed in repentance – eager to obey whatever God tells them to do – there is no point even hearing what he says to us. In verse 4, “Circumcise your hearts” is the parallel thought, which signifies the consecration of ourselves to the purposes of God.
God knew that nothing would get in the way of his judgment of Jerusalem: “…If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (5:1b). The Lord already knows that there is not one person! Sodom might have been reprieved if Abraham had managed to bargain the Lord down to four or five righteous people, but here in Jerusalem, even one would be sufficient. Some chance!
“Why should I forgive you?” This is a good question to ask a person who is questioning the validity of the gospel; why should God forgive you or anyone? There is this assumption that forgiveness is sort of automatic or universal: “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job!”, said Heinrich Heine, the German poet and journalist on his deathbed in 1856. Such presumption rarely gets a person on God’s side. In the Jeremiah passage, the Lord supplies a list of reasons why he should not forgive Judah.
In fact, later, he adds that, since Judah has chosen to serve foreign gods in the own land, the next stage of God’s punishment is to send them closer to the foreign gods’ homeland, so that Judah can serve them more ‘efficiently’! Exile, here we come! Part of the reason for the people’s complacency is that their own false prophets prophesy lies and words of comfort – when there is nothing to be comfortable about. And the people love to hear such words, instead of the truth.
Into Chapter 6, and we read: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace’, they say, where there is no peace” (6:14). What the Lord says to them and to us is: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for you souls” (6:16). For some of us who are sniffing out the latest spiritual ‘fashion’, we need to hear this; God may be ‘doing a new thing’, but there are principles of walking with him that are as old as the ancient hills.
Principles of good relationship never change, and most ‘fashion-faddists’ are running away from ‘relationship’. We need to look for an ancient road, well worn, many times walked on, that has been laid down by some of the great builders; and then we too need to walk on it. That is the way to find true rest for our souls. The latest ‘fad’ is generally a distraction.