The Goal of a Disciplined Life (3)
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
Hang in there!
Like all discipline, that which we undergo to bring our bodies into submission to the Lord is hard work, “agonizing” work, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9.24-27. All that thinking ahead, praying and seeking the Lord, envisioning new behaviors and activities, and then actually trying them out in the everyday situations of our lives – that can become an exhausting undertaking.
But Paul says we must not grow weary with learning to do good works with the members of our bodies (Gal. 6.9). But we will grow weary with this daily calling and sacrifice if we look upon the disciplining of our bodily members as an end in itself. The training of our eyes, ears, hands, feet, tongue, and everything else to practice the good works for which we have been saved is not an end in itself. It is rather the means to a much larger, and much more glorious end – being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
Glimpses of Jesus
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. But certainly, some of that came by direct revelation, for we know that the Lord appeared to Paul on various occasions. Additionally, 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 object and destination in life – the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!
The vision of Jesus, exalted in glory, and all that entails – His Kingdom, Church, salvation, and calling on our lives – this was the vision that guided Paul’s agonizing work of bringing his body into submission to the Lord. He reveled in that vision, and he strove toward in every aspect and facet of his life.
This must be what Paul had in mind both in Philippians 3 and in 2 Corinthians 4.6. There he wrote 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).
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 (Pss. 45, 93). 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 in order 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. If your disciplines are weak or faltering, the place to begin in renewing them is not in screwing up more courage or resolving to do better. It’s in meditating on Jesus, spending more time with Him soaking in His radiant beauty and holiness, putting your fingers into His nail prints, and feeling His strong hand lift and direct you.
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, so that becoming more like Jesus was 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 your discipline will be both sweeter and more fruitful, day by day.
1. Meditate on Colossians 3.1-3. What is your current practice in carrying out what Paul commands here?
2. Meditate on Psalm 16. Can you say with David that you have “set the LORDalways before” you? How could you do that more consistently?
3. What are some hymns or praise songs which, if you sung them during the day, would help you in focusing on Jesus as the goal of your disciplined life?
Next steps – Preparation: How would you describe your vision of Jesus at this time? Of what does it consist? How clear and compelling is it? Does your vision of Jesus Christ stay with you throughout the day? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.
T. M. Moore
This study, The Goal of a Disciplined Life, is part 1 of a 7-part series that supports the course, Introduction to Spiritual Theology at The Ailbe Seminary. To learn more about this free course,watch this brief video. Then enroll at the website and register for the course.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.