By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Philippians 3:8-21
Yogi Berra, famed baseball player, was known for his unique quips and quotes. One was “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” We chuckle over such lines, but in today’s text (Philippians 3:8-21), the writer/prisoner/apostle Paul speaks of several forks (or ‘crossroads’) along the way, telling which should be taken:
• A personal crossroads. “Where do I go from here?” (verses 8-14). Paul first glances backward. In the previous verses he had listed things in his life for which any Jewish man in that day would be proud (see verses 4-6). But suddenly he states that all those things he now considers ‘loss,’ not ‘gain.’ (verse 7) In fact, now (in verse 8) he sees those proud things — in comparison to gaining and being found in Christ — having no more value than ‘donkey dung.’ (Not very refined language, but that is what Paul was describing.)
Next Paul gazes forward. His life-goals are listed in verses 9-11: “that I be found in Christ, and know Him, and attain to His resurrection, and press on.” In a spiritual way, Paul is “going for the gold” here! One of the highest points in all of Scripture is vv. 10-11 where Paul fervently prays “that I may know Him…” The Apostle pictures Jesus alive, dead-on-the-cross, and alive forevermore — and he (Paul) desires to know Him in all those dimensions.
Brother Paul then describes what it looks like to press on (verses 12-14). ‘Pressing on’ involves all three tenses — emancipation from the past (forgetting those things which are behind), anticipation for the future (reaching forth to those things which are before), and determination in the present (I press toward the mark for the prize).
A sixteenth century artist painted “An Allegory of Prudence,” picturing a man with three heads. One was a youth facing the future, another a mature man eyeing the present, the third an old man looking at the past. Over their heads a phrase was written: “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future.”
Paul might very well say, “amen, so be it.” We must remember however, that for Paul this was not three separate events; he spoke clearly “this one thing I do;” I believe he was saying, “pressing toward the goal of knowing Christ is the one and only desire of my heart, involving the three dimensions of life.”
• Now, a congregational crossroads. “Where do WE go from here?” (verses 15-17). Paul was writing the church at Philippi, but these three verses apply to all of our churches. If we are maturing in Christ, we will walk in unity and harmony. Paul called the church to follow his example as he followed Christ. Do you know any church needing to do this?
• An eternal crossroads. “Where does EVERYBODY go from here?” (verses 18-21). There are only two kinds of people. With a broken heart, Paul speaks of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. He affirms those who are citizens of Heaven, who eagerly await Christ’s return. Which kind are you — citizen, or enemy? If citizens, are we reaching enemies with the Gospel? B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.