A "rogue" politician once asked the question about how that "hopey-changey thing" was going. Well, I don't know about the current political climate, but as Bruce Epperly ponders Paul's Philippian letter he finds a word of hope in a world of change. There is here a future orientation that guides Paul. It's flexible, as Paul doesn't know where everything is going, but there is trust in the one who guides him into the future. May we continue pressing toward the goal as well. And may this meditation on Philippians 3 be of help in that journey.
Philippians 6 –
Pressing toward the Goal –
Bruce G. Epperly
Emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being involves looking forward rather than backward. Each moment is the synthesis of past, present, and future in the ever-evolving and dynamic “holy here and now.” While we can’t escape the impact of the past, the past provides the foundation for creativity in the present. The past can become the source of possibility rather than limitation. The past is important, but this day and this moment is where the action is. Faith, as Paul affirms, moves us forward in companionship with God on a holy adventure of faithfulness.
Stephen Covey says begin with the end in mind and Paul would agree. Paul is guided by a “flexible eschatology” in Philippians. He does not know the exact details of God’s future for him or the Philippian community, but he believes that the good work God has begun in his life, and in this community of faith, God will bring to fulfillment as a harvest of righteousness. Paul is living by a vision that enables him to find a usable past as well as a hopeful future. His vision enables him to face imprisonment and controversy with hope and confidence.
Without a vision, the people perish. Without a flexible vision, we are like a rudderless ship, tossed about by every challenge. Paul’s polestar is the living Christ, whose transforming presence lures him toward God’s far horizon. Looking toward the goal of the heavenly calling in Christ – the harvest of righteousness that emerges in the interplay of personal fidelity and divine inspiration – Paul discovers the difference between what is essential and what can be sacrificed for the greater good, God’s vision of Shalom through Christ’s resurrection life.
“Forgetting what lies behind, striving for what lies ahead” enables us to press forward, letting go of the negative impact of the past. Pressing ahead may even challenge us to let go of past achievements and the faith of the past in order to be faithful to God in the present and the future. Paul was an exemplary Jewish leader, but moved beyond his legalistic approach to faith to be faithful to the living Christ. Peter is challenged to eat at a banquet of unclean foods, despite the value of the dietary laws in his prior spiritual formation. He discovers that Gentiles as well as Jews are first class citizens in God’s realm. Neither Peter nor Paul repudiated the faith of their parents – nor should we negate the insights of the Jewish tradition. Rather, they placed that faith in the larger perspective of God’s ongoing movements in history.
Paul’s fluid eschatology is good news! It reminds us that all of our achievements, even as Christians, are finite and subject to future transformation. Our doctrines and rituals have saving power, but they are never the final word. God always has more light on scripture and tradition. This inspires us to grow in wisdom and stature and not be content with yesterday’s faith and yesterday’s insights. Faithfulness is not a matter of clinging to the safety of tradition but letting tradition propel you into the living rapids of God’s movements in our lives and history. As the Reformers proclaimed, the Reformation is always reforming.
To be faithful to God today, we need to keep our eyes on the prize: this challenges us to awaken to God’s vision and discover what is essential and optional in our spiritual lives and everyday values. With eyes on the horizon, we can rejoice in today’s gifts and lean forward toward God’s creative future.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty one books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.