Monday, March 14, 2011

Intelligent Living - Pressing Toward the Goal (Phil 3:13,14)

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13,14)

There are two kinds of living: intelligent living and unintelligent living. Intelligent living is a life governed by purpose and design; unintelligent living is a life which is ungoverned and reckless.

If you have seen a man committed to a cause and living his entire life for that end, we have here an example of intelligent living. On the other hand, if you see a man waste his life shifting jobs of various kinds, having no clear purpose in mind, and chiefly concerned only about his immediate needs, this is an example of unintelligent living. Many people only live for the present. That hardly distinguishes them from animals; for animals also live only for their present. I heard of a tribe in the Amazon called Piraha whose culture is solely concerned with matters that fall within direct personal experience. They do not have a history beyond living memory. One missionary went there to evangelize them and realized that they were very happy with their own state of life, so didn’t need the gospel. When he tried to preach Christ to them, they shirked his talk away as irrelevant because there was no evidence that anyone living had ever seen Christ. This missionary, Daniel Everett by name, later gave up his own faith in Christ, because he thought the Piraha were an example of a life that can be satisfied without God. But such life has great disadvantages for sure. You can watch them from a distance like a bunch of humans good for anthropological studies but you must also realize that their lifestyle isn’t conducive to progress of any kind. They can’t be educated because education is something that goes beyond the present; it inculcates past experience with respect to future goals. So, when Everett brought in a master builder to teach and supervise the Piraha how to build a canoe, they enjoyed that. But, when they needed another canoe, they said “the Piraha do not make canoes” and asked Everett to buy them a new one. But, of course, life is possible without canoes. Life is, in fact, possible without anything but food. But, then how would that differentiate man from the animals?

Now, even intelligent living can be either wise or unwise. For instance, if someone applies intelligence to a goal which is not worthwhile or most important, no matter how successful he is in obtaining that, his life has missed the mark. Remember what Jesus said, “What does it matter if a man gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” Interestingly, one can quite intelligently chase the wind. Such is the state of those who run for money, power, and earthly honor, whose life is self-oriented, and who have confined their orientations to the bounds of the ephemeral. These are they who spend their energies concentrated to goals that are only a slight modification of animal orientations. Even education serves just these ends. Malcolm Muggeridge was right when he said that we have educated ourselves to imbecility. The world does pay more, in worldly terms, to those who serve the world; but, at the expense of eternity. Now, you don’t need to veer into that edge of spirituality where you say again like the Piraha that you don’t need money, education, etc for doing God’s work. That would be too impractical. Jesus said that those people are wise who know how to make eternal profits out of present resources. I am sure, if Paul had not used ink and papyrus, we wouldn’t have much of the New Testament. You, of course, need money to buy ink and paper, and need money to send letters by post as well.

Life can be compared to a rail car or train. It is not an end in itself but a vehicle to a destiny. The kind of life that you live leads to the destiny its steered to. Some people don't know where they have come from and where they are going, some aren't even concerned about it. They spend time walking from one end of the train to the other, totally disconnected from the destiny of the train. Some others start out well on a particular train of life, but then get down mid-way in some other station. They simply don't make it. We need to be consistent in the path that is true.

Paul here talks about the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. How many of us have realized that yet? How many of us are pursuing that as our chief end?

Paul is not talking here about some self-invented goal. One doesn’t get a prize of reaching a finish line that he himself has set. One gets a prize for finishing the race according to rules that the conveners of the games have set. God has a special call for all of us in life. We can’t create the goal of our life, we need to discover it. But, the Bible saves us the pain of even that. It reveals us the goal and the prize. The prize that Paul talks about here is the crown of life, the glorification of our bodies, which is the resurrection from the dead. Just imagine how tragic it would be if you gained everything in the world and missed just that. The goal is to lay hold of that for which Christ has also laid hold of him (v 12), which is the call to be a witness of Jesus Christ in this world and to save the lost. Do you think there is any other goal better and greater than this? Why did Jesus Christ come into this world? What was His goal? He said that He came to be a witness of the Truth and to seek and save them who were lost. If you have any other goal in mind that you think is better than this, then watch out, you are headed for the ultimate ditch. Other things that you pursue must only exist in relation to this.

Today, we’ll look at five constituents that are elemental to the pursuit of this goal.

1. Consecration: From God’s end, you were consecrated through the call of Jesus Christ. But, unless you have offered yourself on the altar of God as a living sacrifice, unless your mind is consecrated to serve Him, you can’t even begin. Consecration involves a holy and blameless lifestyle that is lived in perspective of heaven and not this passing world.

2. Concentration: Concentration refers to the fixation of all your energy, resources, and time on the achievement of the goal. A soldier fixes all his concentration on being a well-trained soldier first, and then winning the battle. Similarly, we must focus on our spiritual development and spiritual service in the world. Look at Jesus, what He is able to say at the age of 33 before God “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn 17:4).

3. Confrontation: You cannot impact the world until you confront it. You may either flow with it or flow against it. Every step of change requires a confrontation. Every pace ahead requires a cutting through the current. Ephesians 5:11 says, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”

4. Communication: Confrontation requires communication. You need to communicate the truth and be ready to give an answer regarding the hope that is in you always. Jesus’ ministry was about preaching, teaching, and healing. What do we communicate to people? Do we communicate God’s wisdom and His power? Our words, are they clear and understandable; are they voluminous enough? Do we fill the land with this “strange doctrine” that the disciples were accused of preaching? The gospel is ordained for the salvation of this land. Let’s communicate it faster, louder, repeatedly, far-reachingly, and quickly.

5. Conservation: Holding on to what we already have is example of good stewardship. Do we conserve our victories? Or, are we lapsing back again and again and losing things that we won earlier. I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who defined progress as consisting of those things that we leave behind and growth as those things that we leave within. What have we been able to leave, and what have we been able gain? Have we grown?

Let’s press on in order to reach the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.

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