Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
At the heart of this simple statement is a summary of the Christian life. It has three primary elements:
1) Candor – Paul knows he has not yet completed what has been set before him. He is not yet there. As hard as he may try to imitate Christ, or to have Christ’s mind, or to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, he has not yet achieved that; indeed, he may never do so fully during his life. As Luther once said, this life is always a matter of becoming.
2) Action – Knowledge of his imperfection, of the journey ahead, does not lead him to wallow in despair or give up. Rather, knowing there is a road ahead urges him to set his feet to the path. We were not made to be inactive but to move forward; each of us has a purpose and we are invited to discover it.
3) Promise – Note that Paul doesn’t press on out of fear of threat or loss of the acceptance that he has found in Christ. Rather, he continues on the road because Christ has already claimed him. The source of Paul’s motivation is not what he must do or may gain but rather is what God has already done for him. Wrapped tight in God’s promises, Paul cannot help but venture forward in hope and confidence.
When I was a graduate student, still mired in research and quite a way from the goal of a finished dissertation and degree, one of my professors, Dr. Cleophus LaRue, would regularly address me as “Dr. Lose.” Perhaps because that goal felt so far away, I was not sure whether he was trying to motivate by holding the prize in front of me or tease me by reminding me of my distance from it. And so I asked him.
Turns out it was neither. “In the Black Church,” Dr. LaRue replied, “We call a person what we believe he will become.” This was neither carrot nor stick, but promise…sheer, unadulterated promise. And a powerful thing that is.
Prayer: Dear God, remind us of your promise to lay claim to us – our lives, our gifts, our potential, our purpose – and to never let go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.