I just came out of the Covid-19 infection. I have been travelling a fair bit since the opening of the international borders. In my mind, I told myself, I probably get it from one of my travels. Well, sure enough. The aftereffect for me is breathlessness. Being thalassemic, made it worse. I found it such an ordeal to climb a flight of steps, having to stop and catch my breath. All these inform me that my body is far from perfect. I am frustrated because I am not always this sickly and limited. Yet, we all need to endure and persevere in all these limitations and discomfort of life, because we live in a broken world.
In the same way, when the apostle Paul wrote Philippians 3, he was explaining that all of us who have been born again are not perfect spiritually. We are far from perfect. In fact, we are “under construction” while we live on this earth. God’s work is not finished yet. This great apostle claimed unashamedly admitted: “Not that I have already obtained this or already perfect …” (Phil. 3:12a), but he needed to “press on” (Phil. 3:12b). If this great apostle needed to keep pressing forward, “for the prize of the upward call of God” (Phil.3:14). If this great apostle still acknowledged his imperfection, how much more each of us!
Paul himself is realistic in this journey. God’s work within us can be hampered. There are those who are “enemies of the cross” (Phil. 3:18), so are opposed to everything that is godly, whose glory is “in their shame”, whose “minds are set on earthly things.” Today, the institution of marriage and biblical sexuality are being challenged to its limit by those of different persuasions. The battle is not only fought in the secular arena but in our churches and among our evangelical brethren. Even Jesus Himself asked rhetorically, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Paul called every faithful believer to persevere in their faith and stay faithful to Him – “press on!”.
John Piper, regarding this on-going spiritual battle between the world and the Church, says:
(i) Whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
(ii) I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
(iii) I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
(iv) If I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.
In all these changes and challenges of earthly living, Paul assured us that God’s will be completed one day, because “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), and on that day, our lowly body will be transformed “to be like his glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21). I, too, look forward to the coming rest, when our weary and beaten bodies are transformed, when all our spiritual battles are done. Until then, “press on!”.
Rev. Dr Timothy Chong