“Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”
— PHILIPPIANS 3:15-16 (NRSV)
Paul continues on in speaking to the Philippians by the notes of caution: for those who had run ahead and had somehow attained perfection (or so they thought). He adds himself to their number, however, in a way as to convince them, those who would run ahead of Christ in this life, that they should be of the same mind as he is found exhorting.
If they think differently—and it’s obvious they are—Paul is urging them to listen to what God will be saying to them (“This too God will reveal to you.”). If those who are running ahead of God would only listen to the Holy Spirit they would discern their disobedience.
Those who are mature of faith do not run ahead of God and do not see themselves as superior in any way.
In the last sentence of this section, Paul urges those who would run ahead to hold fast to what they have attained—Christ Jesus. At the one time we have attained everything as Christ Jesus in our salvation, yet we are so totally enamoured still of this life that we cannot realise that which we ought to have fully attained.
There is a theoretical attainment—for which we are re-made through a perfect cleansing—and a practical attainment—that shows us a way to live this eternal life (through initial and ongoing repentance) even though we are still sinners.
Holding to Two Realities at Once
It may be difficult to understand that we have two attainments in one.
We have attained all we need in theory, yet we are somewhat hamstrung still by the practicalities of our living in this world. On the one hand, we have the fullness of hope that at any time we can be called forth into the heavenly realm to live eternally with God. On the other hand, we are somewhat imprisoned to this life: we vacillate between joy and sorrow because we taste the eternal life that we have, but we are also reminded we are sinners.
Maybe it is mature person in the faith who can grasp both realities simultaneously, musing upon and reflecting over them. They are not concerned about the gap between the theoretical and practical.
They understand and accept a solid theology abounding in the mysteries of God.
Perhaps the key phrase the Philippians 3:15-16 is that we are to hold fast to what we have attained; we have everything of Christ we can grasp in this life and we are saved, yet we have only attained, until now, what we can grasp.
Perfection is still some distance off; we are not there yet, yet we ought not to be discouraged.
In gaining ground within the realm of spiritual maturity we don’t run ahead of God. We have attained the fullness of Christ, yet practically we still struggle as sinners. The mature person accepts these two truths in tension and holds them close all their life.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.