Personal Testimony

October 8, 2017/Philippians 3:4b-14


He grew up in the church.

He grew up in the church, and I don’t even remember his trying to get out of going on Sunday mornings.  It was what we did, in our family.  He was taught in Sunday school classes, explored creeks with our pastor, was nurtured in youth groups, even managed to squeeze in one Montreat Youth Conference.

But when he moved out on his own, like many young people, church was no longer a priority in his life.  In the ensuing years he went to school, worked as a welder, and ultimately – much to Jeff’s and my dismay – enlisted in the Marines.  A tour of duty in Afghanistan rocked him to his core, and coupled with a marriage gone south, left him scrambling to find meaning in his life.

Searching for the close ties he had with his fellow Marines, for a while he called the men in his motorcycle club “brother.”  But the sleepless nights and damaged heart did not change, did not heal.  Until he and his new wife piled their five children into the car one Sunday morning and he returned to church.

The text message I got said, “Mama, I’ve found Jesus.”

***

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about his conversion experience – that blinding light on the Damascus Road followed by a personal encounter with Jesus.  “Paul’s understanding is that he was seized or captured by Christ, not that he initiated the relationship, or that he earned it somehow.”[1]  He understands his conversion as a gift of grace.

“Paul did not come to faith in Christ out of deep depression because of flaws discovered in himself.  On the contrary,” Paul says that under the law, he was blameless:[2] “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5-6).  Through Paul, we learn how to appreciate “the way in which Jesus brought the original covenant to an unprecedented focus, without [disparaging] that covenant itself.  … Coming to know Jesus is to realize that the very one who covenanted with the people Israel as his own people, introducing himself to them as ‘their God,’ is palpably present in the man Jesus.”[3]

For Paul, following Jesus meant turning away from an identity that was of great value to himself.  “Paul does not toss away junk to gain Christ.”[4]  But all that he had so valued before he met Jesus on that dusty road was nothing compared life in Christ.  “What Paul is saying is that Christ surpasses everything of worth to me.”[5]  Paul has turned from pride in his own achievements “to gratitude for [a call] to an unimaginable new mode of life.”[6]  He has turned his back on – repented from – his earlier way of life and now strives toward the goal promised by Christ Jesus.

Unlike thinking that sees “the gospel as the answer to problems in people’s lives, Paul understands the gospel to be just the opposite.  It gave him no answers to problems, but instead it disturbed his answers and sent him in search of a new ‘solution,’ a new understanding.  More precisely, it thrust a new understanding on him, an understanding that required radical reassessment of past, present, and future.”[7]  As his life in Christ unfolded, Paul found himself looking at things differently, understanding God’s call in new ways.

Paul knows that even now, he must “press on” to claim resurrection from the dead in Christ.  He calls the church at Philippi to join him in pressing toward “the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  Paul provides the churches a living example of what it means to be made Christ’s own.  He demonstrates the reality that “we become more ourselves as we become [Christ’s].”[8]

***

For Christopher, finding Jesus – being found by Jesus – was kind of like Paul’s Damascus Road.  The experience left him fundamentally changed – a different person from the man of sleepless nights and days spent avoiding crowds and conflict and stress.  This was no Sunday-morning conversion story.  He began digging into scripture, asking deep theological questions, talking about the Biblical witness.  After nearly seven years, our Christopher was back.

Like Paul, Christopher had a change in perspective.  As his new life in Christ unfolded, he witnessed a shift in his priorities, a new joy in his life, and a deepening of his prayer life, all reflecting God’s initiative rather than his own.  Like Paul, he wanted to know Christ.

In later verses, Paul exhorts the Philippians to “join in imitating” him, to run the race with him, pressing toward the goal.  It is the same race that we run today – “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  So let us all press on.

[1] Brueggemann et. al., Texts for Preaching, Year A, 512-513

[2] Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Philippians, 59

[3] David B. Burrell, Feasting on the Word A/4, 136

[4] Craddock,

[5] Ibid., 58

[6] Burrell, 134

[7] Ibid., 138

[8] Ibid.

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