Paul, the apostle of the Lord and author of nearly half the books of the New Testament, stands at the apex of Christianity. What made this man who was, after all, only flesh and blood, so exceptional? It was not his heredity (although he was “of the tribe of Benjamin”); it was not his environment (although he was taught at the feet of Gamaliel, the premier teacher in his day); it was not his zeal (although he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”); it was not his status (although he appears to have been a member of the exclusive Sanhedrin, the governing body in Israel); it was not even his character (although it was “blameless”). No, what made Paul the man he proved to be was his casting aside of all those things of the flesh—heredity, environment, human zeal, status, and natural character—that he might have Christ. That was Paul’s secret—Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less.
Paul had written: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). What a strange and contrary perspective for one to take who had been raised in the Jewish tradition found in the classical education of a son of the wealthy class. Paul determined—having every imaginable resource and opportunity at his disposal—he determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.
Paul realized with fervor and unshakeable conviction that life comes down to one issue: Jesus Christ. Expanding the intellect was as nothing by comparison; making a good living was inconsequential by comparison; the adulation of society was worthless by comparison; even family ties were insignificant by comparison. One conviction, and one alone, motivated Paul: Jesus Christ—the only object worth obtaining, worth keeping, worth living for, worth dying for. Not the human summum bonum (greatest or highest good), but the perfect and only good before which everything else fades into oblivion.
Here is Paul’s own account regarding his desire: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). Paul had such a vision of the Lord that he wanted Him in His entirety—not only in the power of His resurrection but also in the fellowship of His suffering and the conformity to His death. Though a man of immense talents and formerly of many interests, Paul forsook them all for one interest and goal: to know Christ in the heights and in the depths, to share in both, and to be like Him in both.
A man of lesser faith would be wearied by Paul’s single-minded purpose and desire, for Paul said, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b, 14). Paul was not to be deterred by anything or anyone. You see, he had come to know the Lord and to love Him.
What is your goal or purpose in life? As you leave this day behind and “reach . . . forward to what lies ahead,” what will you find in your grasp? Will the things you desire weather the adversities economic crises, of failing health, and of death? Will they withstand the onslaught of antagonistic acquaintances? Will they survive the devastation of disloyal friends or unfaithful families? Will they endure the grave? That final question is the acid test because this life is “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam. 4:14b). Eternity—l-o-n-g eternity—follows. Jesus Christ and His grace are the only possessions that will survive into that eternal state. Forget those things which are behind (however good or bad) and trust in Jesus Christ for the past, for the present, and for the future. Nothing else will suffice. Nothing more will satisfy.
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