In too many churches, this is how "success" is judged. With no clear objectives, they continue doing what they have always done, rightly celebrating any good things that come, but wrongly refusing to critique their trajectory or their accomplishments to ask the question "Are we headed in the right direction? Are we aiming for the right goal?"
In the first part of Philippians 3, Paul shared how his past informs his present ministry--including his ministry to the church at Philippi. As we close out chapter three, he begins to speak about where he is headed, and from his words come great encouragement to move forward together, and clear guidelines about how to move forward together.
The big idea is simple: Its hard to divide from each other when we are focused on a common goal rather than merely focusing on ourselves.
Move in the Right Direction. Verses 12-14 are a picture of forward movement, and the two steps toward effectively moving together well are clearly outlined here.
First, you have to know where you are starting from. Every church needs a picture of its current status that is realistic. Yes, one day we are headed to heaven together, and in heaven there won't be conflict, and the church will be pure and beautiful. But right now we aren't in heaven. We are on earth. And on earth, sometimes the church can be an ugly woman!
Paul understand that this is true not only for the church, but for himself. Similarly, we start by realizing and admitting that all of us are at a place of imperfection. All of us are still and will always be growing.
But to grow, we have to know where we are headed. Paul says to "forget what lies behind." which is another way of saying we need to deal with our past! These words aren't some trite instruction to push to the back of our minds things that have not been reconciled. They are words that command us to deal straightforwardly with each other so that we are able to truly leave things in the past. Once we do this we can "strain forward to what lies ahead." The imagery here is an athletic picture that would have reminded the Philippians of the Greek games. Paul employs it to describe himself and the church using all energy, strength and focus to aim toward a particular mark, which he describes as the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Again, we see clearly that our unifying theme is, and always will be the person and the work of Jesus.
We need to ask ourselves at every level, throughout every department, and in examining every ministry, "are people becoming more like Jesus?" This is how we know whether we are moving in the right direction.
Stay On Course. Ever been distracted? Sometimes its something as innocent as walking into another room, then immediately forgetting why you walked in there. But sometimes distractions can be serious. Texting while driving can result in people dying, for example. Even the most innocent distractions can be deadly. This is why verses 15 and 16 are Paul's way of saying "guys, don't just set the right course and direction. Be constantly checking yourself to ensure that you remain on course."
There are multiple ways that churches can be distracted. We can descend into endless theological debates about non-essential issues that keep us from our mission. We can fight over strategy and structure decisions. We can also be so incredibly busy paddling the boat or riding the stationary bike that we never stop and ask the simple question; "are we still heading in the right direction?"
Verse 15 also reveals that the source of our direction is God Himself. What He has given us to do is too important for us not to constantly ensure that we are on course.
We don't know exactly who these ungodly leaders are, but we do know from the closing verses of chapter three that they long to simply satisfy their own desires, and they are prideful people who "glory in their shame." That sort of posture can manifest itself in many harmful ways. It can take the form of immorality--a pastor or leader who can't keep his pants on or his hands out of the offering plate--or it can manifest itself in people who presume a veneer of godliness but are duplicitous. These kinds of leaders don't mind being divisive, underhanded, or doing anything else necessary for their own gain. They often lie, gossip, and jockey for power and position within the church. All of these actions Paul classifies as shameful behavior, and he warns the Philippians, "don't follow people like this, or you will be distracted from your mission."
These are solemn words we have to take seriously in our own day, because the wrong leaders will move us in the wrong direction. We serve a Savior who is coming back for us, and we serve His Kingdom, which we are all headed for. Keeping our focus on that mission requires leadership who understand this--men and women we can emulate without losing our focus. In the future, we want to raise up other godly men to be pastors and elders. We want to raise up godly men and women to be deacons, small group leaders, and spiritual guides in our church. That will require looking past divisive people, and examining the lives of potential leaders closely. The "upward call of God in Christ Jesus" requires no less.
This is our target and our mission--the upward call of God in Christ Jesus! Let's set our sights on it together, and push forward toward it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, no matter what it costs.