STRETCHING FORTH TO CHRIST
In verses 13 and 14 Paul said, "One thing I do, forgetting those things behind, and stretching forth unto those things before, I pursue toward the goal for the prize of the above calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Gk.). Paul was stretching forth to Christ. In order to understand Paul’s meaning here, we need to realize that every age has a trend, a current, a tide. The trend of the age is always versus Christ. There are many things in the current of the age that can carry us away from Christ. Christ leads us upward to the heavens, but the current of the age leads us downward. Everything during Paul’s time, including Judaism, Greek philosophy, Gnosticism, and Roman politics, was versus Christ. It is not easy to move upward when there is such a strong current to pull us downward. Therefore, like Paul, we need to be desperate to move against the current of the age.
Paul was desperate to stretch forth upward to Christ. In the Lord’s recovery we also need to fight against the downward trend. Satan is subtle, and he can use anything as a substitute for Christ. He can even use pray-reading, praising, or the release of the spirit to replace Christ. Satan’s intention is simply to keep us away from Christ. If he can accomplish this, he is satisfied. As long as we do not obtain Christ, Satan is happy with our shouting, calling, and pray-reading. Thus, in all our activities we need to check whether or not we are obtaining Christ. Do we obtain Christ in our release of the spirit, in our pray-reading, or in our meetings? The test, the standard, is the gaining of Christ. It is not calling, shouting, or releasing the spirit. We need to be assured that in whatever we do we are gaining more of Christ. The growth of life is simply the increase of Christ. It is the daily addition of Christ into our being.
Do not think that I am now opposed to shouting, calling on the name of the Lord, or pray-reading the Word. I took the lead to practice these things. I even encouraged others to make a joyful noise in the presence of the Lord. But I wish to point out that merely calling, shouting, pray-reading, or releasing the spirit without Christ is an offense to God. Again and again we have pointed out that to be religious is to do something to please God without Christ. If you shout, release the spirit, or pray-read without Christ, that is religion. It may be a new religion, a religion invented by us, but it is nonetheless a religion, for we are trying to please God without Christ. To do these things is to be carried downward away from Christ. To receive Christ is to move upward, but to miss Christ is to be carried downward. If you desire to shout, you must check how much of Christ there is in your shouting. If you do not have the assurance that Christ is in your shouting, you should be quiet. The same is true with the release of the spirit and with the calling on the name of the Lord. Anything we do to worship God without Christ is religious. Like Paul, we need to be desperate to obtain Christ.
By the time Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians, he was matured. Nevertheless, he was still hungry to obtain Christ and experience Him. He had no assurance that he had already attained. Thus, he said that he was forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things before. He wanted to set aside everything of the past, whether it was good or bad. Both his Jewish experiences and his Christian experiences had to be left behind that he might obtain Christ. Paul seemed to be saying, "Not only my attainments in Judaism can frustrate me from seeking Christ, but even my experiences in the churches can do this. Anything old can keep me from experiencing Christ today. Therefore, I am forgetting the things behind and stretching forth to the things before. Every aspect of the things before is just Christ Himself."
In Philippians 3:14 Paul said, "I pursue toward the goal for the prize of the above calling of God in Christ Jesus." The Greek word for "pursue" is of the same root as the word for "persecute." Anyone who persecutes others is desperate. Paul was desperate to follow after Christ and to seek Christ. We all need such a desperation.
(The Experience of Christ, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)