Incomprehensibly Paul…

Philippians 3:8-14 (CEB)

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a problem with Paul – the author of this letter to the church at Philippi.

Here’s how this passage sounds to me – even if I listen to it twice:

But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but….In witness whereof the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on the day month and year hereinbefore mentioned. AND WHEREAS We have consented to the said period being so brought to an end and to the exercise of such right of presentation NOW WE HEREBY DECLARE that the said period shall come to an end on the date hereof and that the said vacancy in the said Benefice of Ansdell and Fairhaven Saint Paul in Our said Diocese of Blackburn may thereupon be filled. The test on whether or not you qualify for flexible drawdown is only at the start of flexible drawdown. The decision to move to flexible drawdown is irrevocable under the tax rules and you can’t lose the ability to take drawdown pension using flexible drawdown. Once you are in flexible drawdown it is for you and your scheme administrator to decide how much you take out and how often. The amounts drawn under flexible drawdown may be similar to or different from the amounts allowed under capped drawdown. However, there are tax consequences if you subsequently make contributions to or resume active membership of any registered pension schemes after taking flexible drawdown… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

OK, maybe I exaggerate slightly!  BUT!!  My experience of Paul’s letters being quoted is that it is almost always in the context of some kind of dogmatic argument about obscure theological doctrine designed to prove that someone’s faith is on shaky ground.

It probably isn’t Paul’s point – he intended these as pastoral letters to churches in trouble, but today they don’t come across like that. Probably because he was very concerned to correct the danger of heresy in his absence, they come across as anything BUT inspirational documents about justice and compassion and living a Christ-like life.

I am SURE this is unfair on Paul – justice and compassion and living a Christ-like life are certainly in there – but the problem is that to find them you have to dig around quite deeply and understand an awful lot of jargon – jargon that has been re-jargonned and double-jargonned by successively narrow interpretations of Christianity – words like “law” and “righteousness” and “sanctify” that have so many centuries of layered baggage added to them that being confident what Paul meant by them is really quite a challenge.

I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that places doctrinal hurdles or faith-statements at the heart of what it is to be a disciple.  I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that views the “goal” of the Gospel as “personal salvation.” I am no longer interested in a brand of Christianity that is oriented towards persuading people to believe doctrinal statements a), b), c), d), e), and f) part i, ii, iii and iii(a) and thus be able to join the club.

Yes, again I am exaggerating – but with good intent.

Maybe Paul is lost to me – maybe it is too late.  Or maybe one day I will rediscover layers in Paul that DO move me and inspire me and invigorate my faith.  It is there, I am sure!  

Lest you despair of me too much, the absolute number one piece of scripture that I quote above and beyond all others is Romans 8:38-39 “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.”  So all is not lost, ther is hope for me yet!

But if today’s reading has served to remind me of anything, it is that the church I want to be a part of is not primarily driven by doctrines or notions of personal salvation – but by a ready commitment to follow in the footsteps of Christ, learn on the job, join in with a company of others doing the same, and in doing so – change the world so that it looks more like the Kingdom of God. 

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