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Philippians 3:12-16 Click on link to read passage. You may select your own version of the Bible after the link opens.

 Since the first verse in this passage reflects on the previous few verses, I’m adding an extra link here to keep us from taking anything out of context. When the author claims he hasn’t yet attained “all of this,” a reflection on these earler verses shows that he has been discussing the source of his righteousness and his desire to know Christ, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the fellowship that comes from sharing in his sufferings, enabling us to become like him even in his death. What a tall order! The outcome of it all is that we too will be resurrected from the dead.

Fortunately for our consciences, Paul acknowledges that he has not already attained this, nor has he been made perfect, but it is his goal. He is committed to continue in that direction, not looking back, but straining as in a race toward his goal, the prize that God challenged him to attain through Christ Jesus.

Before we try to cop out on that last verse as if it had been an exclusive call for Paul, we need to consider verse 15 which says that all of us, if we are mature, should take this view of things. We can only expect that God will make it clear to us eventually if we beg to differ.  And verse 16 challenges us to live up to what we have already worked our way through in our faith journey, and not slip backwards when the going gets tough.

True Christianity is not an easy street. It is more than getting perfect attendance in Sunday school. It is taking everything we learn and making changes in our personal lifestyle, changes that reflect our faith in God. It is a faith that makes a difference, not mere lip service as if we were doing God a big favor by speaking well of him. Are you growing in your faith – growing at the pace of a runner striving to run a race? Or are you limping along just enough to get you by, enough so people will see you in church and know that you are a “good” person.

 Father God, pour the discipline of your love on us if it is needed to get our attention. Incline our hearts to draw so close to you that it will be obvious to us where we need to change our walk and our talk, and empower us to make those changes. Help us to get back into the race and out of the sidelines.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

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     1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

     5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

     “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

…………………

     10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” 

      “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

      11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

     13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

     15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Acts 9:1-6, 10-16 (NIV)

Saul (his Hebrew name) was zealous for God. He had kept the Jewish laws as well as any of the Pharisees and was determined to do everything in his power to keep the Christians from spreading their “heresies.” He had obtained permission from the high priest to capture Christians and put them in prison. Earlier (see chapter 7) he had been present when Steven was stoned to death and gave his approval.

Jesus, with a sudden flash of light and the sound of his voice, brought Saul to the ground and caused temporary blindness to get his attention and to turn him around. Saul’s first instructions were to go ahead to Damascus where he would be told what to do next. Suddenly the tables were turned. Instead of going to Damascus to persecute the Christians, he would now have to put himself at their mercy. Saul’s conversion experience wasn’t a piece of cake with promises of a good easy life ahead.

Ananias was facing a similar dilemma. God had told him to go to Saul, the same Saul who was feared by Christians everywhere, and restore his sight. But the Lord told him again to go, and reassured him that God had chosen Saul (Paul as is his name in Greek) to preach salvation to the Gentiles and the people of Israel.

Has God spoken to your heart to go somewhere or do something that makes you uncomfortable? There is nothing in the message of salvation that promises that Christians will serve him in comfort and luxury. Every Christian has been given a task to fulfill on earth. Your calling may be to serve overseas as a missionary, or it may be to be salt and light for him as you try to minister to difficult family members, co-workers, or neighbors.

Whatever your calling, it will bring about difficult choices. If you aren’t facing any such choices, the reason may be that you aren’t listening for his voice. “No, Lord” can not be an acceptable answer. Either Jesus is Lord or he is not. Jesus promised that our yoke would be easy, but the nature of any yoke is that it will work only if we are willing to stay in step with the one we are yoked with. Living for Jesus isn’t about pleasing ourselves, it is about serving him.

Lord, open my ears that I may clearly hear your voice. Help me to stay so close to you that I will never have to wonder if your voice is truly coming from you. Help me to feel your joy even if the circumstances become difficult.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NIV) are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:1-11 (NIV)

This passage starts out with the words “For this reason…” This tells me we need to look at the previous verses to learn what reason and to get the whole picture of what Paul, the writer, is trying to say. The previous verses had expounded on how the crucifiction and resurrection of Christ welcomed the Gentiles into the family of God giving them new hope. The walls of separation between the Jews and Gentiles had been broken down. At the time of this writing, Paul was in house arrest awaiting trial in Rome.

Today’s passage is quite long, so I will focus on Paul’s humility. As those who have followed this week’s writings may have noticed, humility has been the underlying theme this week.

Paul refers to his conversion with a sense of awe. It is clear that he is continually overwhelmed that God should choose him, one who had previously persecuted Christians unto death, to preach the Gospel, and not only to preach the Gospel, but to present it to the Gentiles – people who had previously been considered forever outside of God’s grace. Paul declares that he is “less than the least of all God’s people.” These are not words of pride. He refers to himself as a servant, not some high priest. He speaks of his ministry as God’s grace given to him for the Gentiles, and he speaks of his strength to do so as God’s power. He speaks of the message he brings as the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and the mystery that God made plain through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul has taken credit for nothing, yet Paul was an Apostle known throughout the known world, a preacher who brought hundreds to Christ everywhere he went. Paul wasn’t keeping count. He wasn’t counting feathers in his cap or hits on his web page. He was simply and faithfully spreading the message God had entrusted him to preach to the Gentiles.

Lord, help us to follow Paul’s example, to humbly reach out to others with your message of hope, and when we have seen success, may we give all the praise to you.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice Green

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NIV) are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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