Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 2 2013 - Philippians 3:2-4:1 – One thing I do …

Paul appears almost to have completed his letter to the Philippians in 3:1. But in 3:2 he again takes up his pen (or recalls his amanuensis) to add further warnings and exhortations. Paul is concerned that the Philippians may be troubled by Judaisers – Jewish believers who will try to persuade the Gentile Christians that they must be circumcised and live in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Such people, says Paul, are placing confidence in the flesh – in what they are and in what they do. What is it that truly marks out the people of God? "We ... are the circumcision," says Paul, "we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).

Paul then recounts something of his own history. He had been a Pharisee. He had placed all his confidence and boasting in his Jewish heritage and in his own precise law keeping. But he has abandoned all of that. He now knows that Jesus, the Christ has come. A new era has dawned. God has intervened in human history in Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus marked the painful birthing of a new age; the age of salvation has dawned. The recognition that the crucified Jesus is risen from the dead and is Lord of all compelled Paul to abandon all that had been vital to him before so that he might "gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (3:8-9). The whole purpose of God for human history – indeed, for the entire cosmos – is bound up in Christ. Paul must have Christ, even though, to be joined with him means to share with him in the birth pangs of the kingdom – in Christ's sufferings that he might share in his resurrection (3:10).

There is, therefore a single focus and driving force to Paul's life. Paul wants "to know Christ and the power of his resurrection" (3:10). He's got his eye on the risen Christ and is pursing him with all the energy the Spirit of God supplies. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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" (3:12-14). He has cast aside his past life, dominated by a desire to keep every point of the Mosaic Law. He's now living a life centred in and shaped by the crucified and risen Christ. Paul wants to keep up with God. Living by the Law is just so "Yesterday."

And what is the goal that Paul is pursuing? "It's heaven", some may answer. "Doesn't Paul say that God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus? Doesn't he tell the Philippians that their citizenship is in heaven?" But there is more to Paul's goal, more to his hope, more to his pursuing. He has his eye fixed upon the risen Christ; he wants to know the power of Christ's resurrection. He eagerly looks for the Saviour to return from heaven and to transform him and all his fellow believers so that their bodies will be like his glorious resurrection body. He looks for the day when the whole of creation will share in the glorious liberty of the children of God. And this is what he pursues. This is the one thing that drives him on. He longs that God's kingdom may come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul had a big vision that dominated and shaped his life and drove his mission. Nor does he consider this an idiosyncrasy, for he writes, "All of us who are mature should take such a view of things... Join with others in following my example" (3:15, 17).

What do you have to leave behind to pursue Christ and his kingdom? In what ways do the priorities of your life need to be adjusted to align with Paul's "One thing I do..."?

Lord Jesus, you were single-minded and wholehearted in going to the cross for us; help us to have the same mind in following you and serving you.

Apr 26 2019 - 1 Samuel 13:1-15 – Samuel rebukes Saul

Israel had asked for a king like the nations. Samuel had warned them, "This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: he will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots." (1 Samuel 8:11-12). A king will demand the best of Israel's men for his army and that many others should be engaged in support for the military machine. But the people did not listen; they wanted a king like the nations.

And that is what they got. Saul chose 3,000 men from Israel to be in his army, 2000 to be commanded by him and 1,000 by Jonathan, his son. But they were no match for the Philistines whose soldiers were as numerous as grains of sand (v.5). Clearly Saul had a long way to go in developing his army before he could match that of the Philistines – or any other threatening nation.

Saul and his soldiers were quaking with fear in Gilgal. He must quickly have realised that military might would not give him victory over the Philistines – he did not have it; nor had Israel ever won their battles through military superiority. Saul realised that he needed the help of the Lord, the God of Israel. So he sent for Samuel to come to him at Gilgal.

A whole week passed while his troops began to sneak away to their own homes, convinced that a life in Saul's army was a sentence of death. In Samuel's absence Saul ordered that the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings they had set apart for Samuel's arrival be brought to him and he offered them to the Lord, taking upon himself the role of a priest.

Samuel had told Saul the duties and responsibilities of a king, based on the law given through Moses, and had ensured that these were recorded and kept safe before the Lord. But Saul must have thought, this is no time for petty law-keeping; extreme situations demand extreme measures. So he took upon himself the role of a priest in seeking God's favour through sacrifice. In doing so he seems to have believed that the ceremony was of first importance. If only the right offerings can be made then surely the God of Israel will rise to the defence of his people. In this he was adopting the thinking of the nations around him who believed that they could manipulate their gods through ceremonies and sacrifices – think of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in the days of Elijah.

Samuel arrives as Saul finishes the offering and is horrified. He cries out, "What have you done?" (v.11). Saul tries to defend himself by saying that the crisis situation demanded it – he had to seek the Lord's favour (v.12). I wonder whether it crossed his mind to try prayer.

Samuel responds by saying, "You have done a foolish thing. You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command." (vv.13-14). The king was required to keep the Lord's commandments; he was not supposed to come up with schemes of his own devising to win the Lord's favour. Saul is left with 600 men and the knowledge that his days as king are numbered; God has determined that someone else will take his place.

Are there times when we seek to do things our own way rather than God's way and then, when they do not work out, seek to bargain with God for his favour? We need to remember that obedience is better than sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 15:22).

Living God, help me to remember that, in myself, I have no ability to win the battles I face nor to command your favour. Thank you for the Lord Jesus who has won the battles for us and has secured an eternal place in your favour by his own perfect obedience and sacrifice. By your Spirit, keep me faithful and obedient in following him.

Peter Misselbrook