Text: Philippians 3:12-16
Title: Towards Maturity
Theme: Since God has made us His own, therefore we are compelled to make Christ our own.
With Olympics 2004 behind us, the focus is on Olympics 2008, which will be held in Beijing. The joke in Athens is that there will be no reason to show up at Beijing because there will be no medals left; meaning that all the medals will be taken by the Chinese athletes. As of now, the facility construction in Beijing is way ahead of schedule. The Chinese government is pulling off all stops to train its top notch athletes. In a different era, it was, “Friendship 1st, competition 2nd.” Now, it is, “Winning 1st, friendship 82nd.” Olympics 2008 is the focus, purpose and goal for the entire nation for the next four years.
In our personal lives, whether or not it is spelled out in a Life-purpose statement, most of us are pursuing our own goals. We have goals for our study, career and family. However, when we come to our relationship with God, we somehow lose our direction. We may be actively involved in many ministries, attending different seminars, but for what? We read the Bible, faithful in attending fellowship/small groups; yet not knowing what they lead to. There is hunger within us to search for meaning. We are not satisfied with the status quo.
Our theme for 2004 is: “Life with a Purpose---by God's grace we’ll persistently pursue maturity in Christ.一個有目標的生命---靠主恩典: 持續追求在基督裡的成熟” We started the year with the studying of “Purpose Driven Life”, helping us to identify what our priority in life is; and to develop purpose and meaning in life. Then we began to study the book of Philippians helping us to further sharpen our focus in life. We learned from Paul that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are captivated by the truth that top priority in life is to know Christ and to be like him. In other words, the purpose and goal in our lives is to pursue maturity; which is manifested by Christ likeness. The purpose in my life is not just what I do or do not do, but to exhibit Christ's character and quality in everything I do.
I. Christian maturity begins with the recognition of our inadequacies.
During the first session of an AA meeting, the participants will say, “I am so and so and I am an Alcoholic”. You want to get better, to be relieved from the bondage of alcoholism? The first step is to acknowledge that you are not well; you have a problem.
The same is with Christian growth. Vs.12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…這並不是說我已經得著了，已經完全了…..” Paul’s sole purpose in life is to know Christ and be like him. Yet he also recognized that he was not there yet. He was not perfect. Even in his old age, he confessed that he was the chief sinner (1Tim 1:15b).
Do we want to be mature and like Christ? The first step is to recognize our inadequacies; we are not perfect. We have to see our spiritual poverty. Whenever we open the Word, we see our pride and self-seeking desires. Whenever we sin, we are rebelling against God, disobeying his commands. In one puritan's prayer, “…I often sin by my dead, heartless, blind service; I sin by my lack of inward light, love, delight; I sin by my mind, heart, tongue moving without thy help.” These are our sins.
With such a realization, we echo Paul’s words, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” This is the first step towards maturity: seeing my own imperfection and inadequacies.
II. Christian maturity required us to have a single minded zeal to pursue.
Yes, it is important that we see our sinfulness, how far we are from being like Christ. We are poor in spirit. Yet, we don't stop here. 12b, “……but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.這並不是說我已經得著了，已經完全了，而是竭力追求，好使我可以得著基督耶穌要我得著的。 13.弟兄們，我不以為自己已經得著了，我只有一件事，就是忘記背後，努力面前， 14.向著目標竭力追求，為要得著 神在基督耶穌裡召我往上去得的獎賞” “…I press on……straining forward….I press on toward.” Paul is saying, I am not there yet, I am not perfect, I still have a long way to go to be like Christ. Ever since God got a hold of me on the road to Damascus, I have been pressing, straining forward, I am doing everything I can to achieve that goal. There is a single minded zeal to pursue Maturity.
We think of the Olympic athletes. Paul and Morgan Hamm, Mike Phelps and Carly Patterson and others; they and their families worked their whole life for a single moment. It is a single minded zeal. This, too, must be our attitude towards maturity. It does not come to us overnight, or by osmosis, but requires our determination and setting out minds on it. How did Paul accomplish it? What was his game plan?
1. Forgetting the past.
“Forgetting what lies behind…就是忘記背後” Paul is saying that as he presses on, straining forward, he forgets the past. To Paul, the past means his thinking and understanding that in order to please God, to gain his favor, he must have good conduct. Therefore, he was fervent in obeying the laws and even persecuting the believers. He thought this is how he could please God. However, one day on his way to Damascus to arrest more believers, Jesus appeared to him. Using Paul's words, on that day, Christ made Paul his own. From that day on, he began to realize that none of our merits and good works can bring us any closer to God. We cannot become righteous by our own efforts. It was Christ's death and resurrection that reconciled us to God. Through Christ's substitution death, God considers us as righteous. Paul had to forget the past of gaining God's merit through work and his persecution of the believers. He must not let his past continue to have a hold on him.
What does forgetting the past mean to us? To some, we are to forget that in the past, we may have also tried to come close to God through good works, such as going to church, doing good. To others, it may mean that we have to be freed from our past sins. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, some of us, out of ignorance had committed sins of adultery and abortion. Our life-style was in total contradiction to God's standards. Now, we begin to realize how wrong we were and are living under the shadow and guilt of the past. Sometimes we even doubt if Christ has forgiven us. Therefore to forget the past means we are to constantly remind ourselves that when we confess our sins, our God is faithful and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Whenever we feel plagued by those past sins, tell ourselves that Christ has already died and forgiven my sins. Don’t let the past continue to enslave us. Don’t look back. We don’t have to continue living under the shadow of past. God has set us free.
2. Certainty of the future.
When Mike Phelps or Patterson finished the race or completed the exercise, they waited for the judges' decision. You saw the joy and excitement when their names were called and especially if they won the gold medal. Sometimes they waited with anticipation, not knowing what their result would be. Other times, they were so confident that they had won.
In vs. 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 為要得著 神在基督耶穌裡召我往上去得的獎賞” Paul says that as I press on, straining toward the goal, I am certain that I will win the prize. What is this prize?
Philippians 3:8, “8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.不但這樣，我也把萬事當作是有損的，因為我以認識我主基督耶穌為至寶。為了他，我把萬事都拋棄了，看作廢物，為了要得著基督。” Paul is willing to lose everything for what? For Jesus Christ. Paul knows that as he presses toward the goal of maturity, in the end, he will be like Christ, he will gain Christ. Christ is Paul’s prize. Why such certainty? 1:6, “6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.我深信那在你們中間開始了美好工作的，到了基督耶穌的日子，必成全這工作” Christ is the one that first worked in our lives. He took the initiative to grab hold of us. He started to change us, and we are certain he will also complete this work. He is the one that will help and cause us to be mature, and be Christ like.
This is the certainty we have in our pursuit for maturity. We don’t say, after all that effort, I am not sure if I am going to make it. No, as the Holy Spirit enables us to pursue Christ-likeness in my life, I know for sure that I will become more and more like him. And I also know for certain, that when I see him face to face, I will be transformed into his likeness. Yes, while on earth, I will be marred and tainted by my own sinful nature. But there will come a day when I will be like him completely. This is my hope and assurance as I grow.
III. Christian maturity requires us to accept others where they are.
Christian maturity is a process. We are more mature today than we were 6 months, or 1 year ago. You have often heard Cynthia say about me, “he has come a long way”. Yes, I have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.
As we grow and become more Christ-like, we’ll become more humble and gentle towards others. In my preparation for this message, I also came across several sayings about how maturity is manifested in our lives.
Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself. Maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable. Maturity is the ability to do a job whether supervised or not; to finish it once it’s started; carry money without spending it; and …..bear an injustice without wanting to get even. Maturity is knowing the difference between expressing one’s emotion and being controlled by it. The expression of one’s maturity is inevitably connected with how we interact with each other. . How we relate to others often is a good indicator of our maturity.
Since maturity is a process; since humans are not machines, therefore it is expected that at different times, we are at different stages of maturity. Some of us may feel that as a believer we have to or must read the Bible and pray for at least 1 hour a day. Some feels that we need to share the gospel with at least one person a day. We expect others to do the same. We may also expect others to have the same conviction about certain doctrines and interpretations as ourselves. When they don’t, we feel discouraged and sometimes even angry.
What does Paul say here? 3:15-16, “15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.所以，我們中間凡是成熟的人，都應當這樣想。即使你們不是這樣想， 神也會把這事指示你們。 不過，我們到了甚麼程度，就要照著甚麼程度去行。” Simply put, Paul is saying that when we are at different stages of maturity, we may look at different issues differently. Each person will need to be faithful to what God has shown him at that particular stage in life. How about others? God will take care of it. At the right time, God will show them what to do. Of course if there is some guidelines and principles clearly stated in the scripture, no matter what stage of our maturity we may be, our obedience to God's word is expected.
Do you remember one evening; Jesus was talking to Peter by the sea. Peter asked Jesus what would happen to John later on. Jesus' response? Mind your own business. You come and follow me. In other words, as I mature, I need to learn to accept others who are different from me. I don’t impose my preference, or opinions on others. If God has convicted me this is the right thing to do, then I need to be obedient to him. Let God guide and direct others.
The presidential candidates, Bush and Kerry have their minds set on the White House. The Chinese athletes have set their minds on the gold medals in 2008. It’s like a train that has left the station, nothing can stop it.
Where do we set our minds on? Besides that degree, house, car and green card, Where is Christ? In a few moments we’ll be observing the Holy Communion. The cup and the bread always remind us of how through his death, Christ has gotten hold of us, making us his own. Therefore, it is rightfully so that we are compelled to single mindedly pursue Christ, to get hold of him and be like him.