One Thing I Do
In our society, sometimes, competition is the thing that defines us. Earlier and earlier, it seems, we initiate our children to the pressure to succeed, to prepare for life, to compete with their peers whose parents also are training them for upcoming SATs, college admissions, and good jobs. As the old boxing gym sign said, "While you are resting, someone else is training to kick your xxx!" The world is dog-eat-dog, and we want our kids ready.
Religion is not untouched. In churches across America, spirituality is a competitive sport. That's true for laity, who carefully note what "good" others do and how passionately they do it, and for ministers who inflate their rhetoric to peers about membership, budget numbers, and other markers of American ministry success—invitations to speak at prestigious venues, publications, etc.
The apostle Paul once knew about spiritual competition. As Saul of Tarsus, he would have welcomed Torah-citation and fastidious Sabbath-keeping as Olympic sports—and been the gold-medal favorite. But along his path of spiritual achievement, something happened to the well-meaning Paul: Jesus happened to him.
Luke tells us in Acts that when Jesus toppled Paul with a light from heaven, he also knocked Paul off his straight and narrow path to spiritual excellence. After that confrontation, for 14 years, Paul virtually disappeared. Best we can figure, he spent most of that time re-working his interior spiritual landscape. It took a long time for Paul to see through the lenses of Jesus' cross and resurrection. But he emerged knowing that all of life—spiritual, communal, professional . . . you name it—no longer required clawing and scratching. In fact, he warned the Philippian Christians, "Beware of the dogs!" He meant people, like himself, who had turned spirituality into a competitive sport.
Paul's newly formed insight didn't eliminate striving. He still had a goal. This time, however, no one had to lose for Paul to win:
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:10–14)
Through cross-and-resurrection lenses, Paul saw that no one's achievement diminishes another's.
Imagine an unlimited number of gold medals. Our goal not only is to strive with every ounce of faith that God so graciously supplies, but to draw others into the race for a prize that leaves no one outside the winner's circle.
For Paul, that is the church: everyone running, everyone winning, no one less than another. All because Christ Jesus laid hold on us and his love will not let us go.