By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Philippians 3:12-21
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Some of my favorite parts of Scripture are those where we are enjoined as Christians to act because God has acted first. The fundament of biblical ethics is not what the Enlightenment philosophers suggested, “What must I do?”, but rather, “What has our redeemer already done?”
So in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell his disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15), and “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). We are to “Forgive as the Lord forgave us” (Col. 3:13), “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted us” (Rom. 15:7), and freely give as we have first freely received (Matt. 10:8).
St. Paul now adds another: “I press on to make the goal my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). Notice the preface is that he has not yet reached the goal of becoming like Christ in his death by sharing in Christ’s sufferings. This is not about being perfect in the here and now; it’s about recognizing that “what I must do” in the here and now has already been determined by “Christ having made me his own.” Again, Enlightenment assumptions are inoperative: we are not autonomous individuals belonging to ourselves, for we belong to another.
And so, the pattern of our lives is shaped not by the satisfaction of our desires but “the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Or as St. Paul puts it, we can no longer live with our god as our “belly” and “our minds set on earthly things.” For we are already citizens of heaven, which is not the destination toward which we go, but that place from which we await the consummate return of our Lord and savior, making all present sufferings insignificant in the light of his surpassing glory.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Kibondo – The Anglican Church of Tanzania
St. Joseph of Arimathea, Hendersonville, Tenn.