Last week we started a conversation about what Spiritual Maturity looks like. Is it knowledge? Is it skill or ability? Is it personality? Is it character? Last week we discussed how in many ways those are aspects of Christian maturity, but each one alone doesn’t quite encompass it. One basic understanding of Christian maturity is that it is not stagnant. Christian maturity is a direction, not a stage. A person does not graduate and does not “arrive” at Christian maturity. It is something that continues through the life of the believer.
Paul writes about this in his letter to the church in Philippi (Chapter 3). He was warning the church about teachers who come in with seemingly impressive credentials. But these teachers were teaching a false gospel that were tricking people to thinking that in order to get right with God, they had to return to the laws and customs of Moses. These teachers had a certain religious pedigree, had regular religious practices and seemed so convincing. The problem was that if what these people were teaching was true, there is no need for Jesus. There is no need for a savior. Instead these people were depending on their own religious accomplishments to be made right before God.
Paul uses an interesting way of addressing this challenge. To counter these folks who boasted in their religious practices, he puts forth his own “religious pedigree”. He had a religious family background: His family kept the religious laws before he could do it himself. He was a Pharisee-someone very learned in the teachings of the Old Testament. He was zealous-he persecuted Christians. According to the requirements of the religious law, he could boast what most people could not-blameless. But Paul says something incredibly radical. He trades all these religious “accomplishments” for, “the sake of knowing Christ”. He is not saying that these things are not worth anything, but compared to knowing Jesus, all these religious accomplishments are “rubbish”. He actually uses a crass word that the Bible translators render as “rubbish”. The gospel has such changed Paul that he is no longer depending on his ability to accomplish things to make himself right before God, but solely on Jesus.
But knowing Jesus is not a stagnant thing. It’s not something he has arrived at. In verse 12, Paul writes that he has not “obtained this”, or “am already made perfect”. But “forgetting what is ahead and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The language of “straining” and “pressing on” means to persevere and push through in spite of difficulties and challenges. It’s the language of a runner moving forward despite everything his body is telling him.
Where does he get the perseverance and strength to continue? Paul answers this question. It is the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”.Christ himself has called us. When Christ calls us he does not call and wait for us to meet Him. Christ strengthens and helps us in our weakness.
This is how we should think about maturity. “Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (3:15). Growing in a relationship with Christ and learning to depend on Him in every way something that we grow in more and more every day. Let us press forward knowing that Christ himself has called us. Christ is strengthening us and empowering us to go deeper. Let us not live on past accomplishments and religious laurels. But let us go deeper on into maturity.