Advice for Preachers and Teachers (23)
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3.13, 14
“All discipline, according to the Apostle, for the present seems to be a matter not of joy but of sorrow; nevertheless afterwards it yields a pleasant fruit and peaceful increase of reward to those who are exercised by it. For indeed what is learnt here without sorrow and toil, in the time of our very greatest stupidity and weakness? But if temporal sorts of discipline destroy the sweetness of present joy, what is to be hoped for from this discipline of our school? This in fact the discipline of all disciplines, and at the price of present sorrow it prepares the pleasure of unending time and the delight of unending joy.”
- Columbanus, Sermon IV
Everyone leads a disciplined life. Everyone has allowed his or her life to fall into routines and practices which are repeated day after day, and which, as they are repeated, make us the people we actually are. If we’re not living the full and abundant life Jesus promised, it’s because the wrong disciplines are directing our lives. All the people to whom we preach and teach are living disciplined lives. The question is whether their disciplines – and ours – will get us where we want to be in Jesus.
Like all discipline, that which we undergo in seeking and serving the Lord is hard work, “agonizing” work, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9.24-27. All that study, praying and seeking the Lord, envisioning new behaviors and activities, and then bringing our time and lives into line for serving Christ – this can become an exhausting undertaking, full of “sorrow and toil”.
But the alternative to bringing our lives into subjection to Jesus Christ through discipline is not to set discipline aside as too hard. Rather, it is to fall into disciplines which are too easy and too comfortable to enable us to realize the full and abundant life for which we have been redeemed.
Our responsibility, as ministers of the Word, is to teach and lead the people we serve to pursue the vision of Christ through the kind of disciplines that increasingly enable us to know “the pleasure of unending time and the delight of unending joy.”
Glimpses of Jesus
The vision of Jesus, exalted in glory, and all that trails along with that – His Kingdom, Church, salvation, and all the rest – was the vision that guided Paul’s agonizing life and work. He reveled in that vision, and he strove toward it in every aspect and facet of his life. The great desirability of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus led Paul to a life rightly disciplined for the pursuit of Christ.
It’s not entirely clear how Paul, who never met Jesus Christ, managed to have such a clear and compelling vision of the Savior and His glory (2 Cor. 4.6). Certainly some of that came by direct revelation, for we know that the Lord appeared to Paul on various occasions. More likely, Paul’s understanding of Jesus in glory was derived from those glimpses of Christ exalted which are provided in the Old Testament, particularly, the Psalms. We know, for example, that Psalm 110 was important to Paul, since he built an argument from it in 1 Corinthians 15. There are many similar passages in the Psalms, as well as in other places in the Old Testament, and I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to believe that Paul cobbled these various passages together into an inspiring and focusing vision of King Jesus exalted in glory, and then took that vision as his own objective and destination in life.
This must be what Paul has in mind both in Philippians 3 and in 2 Corinthians 4.6. There he writes that, by contemplating the face of Jesus Christ, he was able to engage the glory of God, and thus to find transforming power and strength which enabled him to persevere in good works in the face of many different kinds of affliction (cf. 2 Cor. 4.17, 18).
This is the aim of the disciplined life: To see Jesus, and seeing Him, to love and serve Him from the depths of our soul. This is the aim, but it’s also the motivation for practicing the disciplines that bring us into the grace of God.
In our preaching and teaching, we must be diligent to enlarge and clarify the vision of Christ, for only as the Lord’s people see Him clearly will they embrace the particular disciplines that will enable them to make progress in Him. As they glimpse the glory of Christ, they will be more earnest in seeking Him day by day.
If we would keep the vision of Christ before the people we serve, we must first keep it before ourselves.
The vision of Christ
What did Paul see of God’s glory in Jesus?
Certainly he must have seen him seated at the right hand of God, surrounded by the adoring, cheering, worshiping hosts of heaven (cf. Pss. 110, 47). Within that setting, Paul must have contemplated the perfection of Christ’s beauty and the majesty and power of His reign (Ps. 45). He would have seen in Jesus the complete package of divine holiness, goodness, and truth – righteousness in all its perfection – which he, through obedience to God’s Law, strove to be clothed with in his own life (cf. Rom. 3.23-31; 7.12). Paul’s vision of Christ must have dazzled with the brilliance of Revelation 1 and enthralled him with the loveliness and power of Psalm 45. And that vision of Christ strengthened Paul to agonize daily to know more of Christ in him, the hope of glory.
Vision motivates and directs discipline. The clearer and more compelling our vision, the more earnest, specific, and devoted we will be in taking up the disciplines necessary to realize our vision. At the same time, discipline – prayer, meditation, singing, worship – enhances vision, and makes it more exciting and real.
It’s safe to say, I think, that the vision of Jesus exalted was more than a mere intellectual construct for the Apostle Paul. His meditations on the face of Jesus and the glory of God radiating from it fixed that image indelibly in his soul, making becoming more like Jesus a true and viable goal for Paul’s work of disciplining his own body.
We can expect the same. Take Jesus – exalted in glory – as the goal of your discipline – and of your preaching and teaching – and your discipline will be both sweeter and more fruitful, day by day. What’s more, you will encourage those you serve to take up the “discipline of all disciplines” which is seeking Jesus daily.
Here then are two precepts for the one who is going to live the rest of life walking in the Christian way. First, the one who is still living under divine governance, however well and rightly he has acted in the past, should not think about all the actions he has already done as though he deserved to obtain something by them. Rather he should cast them into oblivion, always seeking the new tasks that remain. Second, he should nonetheless keep living under the divine rule, continually “pressing on” toward these things and observing the rule of Christ, even to death.
- Victorinus (280-363), Epistle to the Philippians 3.13-14
T. M. Moore
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).