A Guideline to Setting Goals Based on Epistle to the Philippians

philippians 3

Toward Easter, churches and fellowships are frequently exhorted to set goals and breakthrough in the coming month. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Apostle Paul offers insight to what it means to set goals.

Gordon D. Fee, in the New International Commentary on the New Testament on Paul's Letter to the Philippians, outlined the chapter into 3 parts: There is No Future to the Past (Philippians 3:4b-6), the Future Lies in the Present - Knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-11), and the Future Lies with the Future - Attaining Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).

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4b If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcisedon the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Phllippians 3:4b-6)

Paul's present point, of course, is not his sinlessness, but his being without fault in the kind of righteousness that Judaizers would bring one to, by insisting on Torah observance. But what has that to do with righteousness at all, is his point. He has excelled here, he say, and found it to be empty and meaningless; hence he insists for the Philippians' benefit that there is "no future in it." (pp. 310, NICNT)

Common misconception is that mission success requires a person to have the skillset to perform at a certain level, and the knowledge base to excel. Ministers are often confined to placing their attention on their past achievements and comparing that to the insurmountable calling God has placed before them and become discouraged to set goals or strive forward. Some points to their missional experience and give pessimistic view to any future development, fearing to face setbacks during pursuit. Paul has given himself as an example showing that his past achievements, no matter how great it was, has not profited him in regards to the future that Christ has laid out for him.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

Paul's primary concern in this sentence, however, is with "righteousness" as reflecting one's (right) relationship with God. Such a relationship is "through faith in Christ," a phrase that is shorthanded for "by grace through faith," where Christ's death is the way God has graciously expressed his love in our behalf, which is realized by those who fully trust him to have so loved and accepted them - wars and all. (pp. 324 NICNT)

Hence, "knowing Christ" for Paul involves "participation in his sufferings" - and is a cause for constant joy, not because suffering is enjoyable, but because it is certain evidence of his intimate relationship with his Lord.  Now at last the opening imperative, "rejoice in the Lord," which reiterates the same imperative in 2:18 in the context of suffering, begins to fall into place. The grounds for joy in the Lord comes from "knowing him," as one participates in his sufferings, while awaiting for our glorious future. (pp. 333, NICNT)

After the denying of our past self, we arrived at the knowledge of a new form of righteousness inherited from Christ. Fee points out that this righteousness is the death of Christ, which represents the overwhelming love that God has shown to us through Christ in spite of anything related to our character: the very foundation of the gospel message. The knowledge of this righteousness brings us to share in sufferings because of our desire to express, and to find evidence, in the intimate love and joy of the Lord in the work of salvation. Paul is reminding us that the only motivation we need to look toward the future lies in the fact that we have known Christ and his all-surpassing love.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The singular most passionate focus on the future consummation, which Paul clearly intends as paradigmatic, often gets lost in the church - for a whole variety of reasons: in a scientific age, its something of an embarrassment to many; in a world "come to age," only the oppressed think eschatologically, for reasons of weakness we are told; in an affluent age, who needs it? But Paul's voice should not be muffled so quickly and easily. For a race who by their very nature are oriented to the future but who have no real future to look forward to, here is a strikingly and powerfully Christian moment. The tragedy that attends the rather thoroughgoing loss of hope in contemporary Western culture is that we are now trying to make the present eternal. Hence North Americans in particular are the most death-denying culture in the history of the race...

In the midst of such banal hopelessness of believers in Christ, who recognizes Christ as beginning and the end of all things meaningful, needs to be reminded again - and to think in terms of sharing it with the world - that God's purposes for his creation are not finished until he has brought our salvation to its consummation. Indeed, to deny the consummation is to deny what is essential to any meaningful Christian faith. Paul finds life meaningful preciously because he sees the future with great clarity, and the future has to do with beginnings - the (now redeemed) realization of God's creative purposes through Christ the Lord. There is no other prize; hence nothing else counts for much except "knowing Christ", both now and with clear and certain hope for future. (pp 350-351, NICNT)

Fee contends that the focus of believers for the future should be on the consummation of salvation in the world. Goals are meant to be a compass to an over-arching vision and calling. Clarity of goal comes from knowing the certain hope for the future, as Fee quotes.

Two great examples come for legendary missionaries William Carey and Hudson Taylor:

William Carey's missionary concern was ignored until in 1792 he produced one of the most important books in all of church history: An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians. In it he argued that Christ's "Great Commission" in Matthew 28:19-20 was not just to the apostles but to Christians of all periods. It proved to be kind of the charter of the modern Protestant missionary movement. Carey showed that if Christians want to claim the comforts and promises of the New Testament, they must also accept the commands and instructions given there. Soon after the publication he delivered a famous sermon in which he admonished Christian leaders to "expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." His colleagues formed a missionary society and sent Carey as their first missionary to India, along with a Dr. John Thomas.

Carey spent seven years in India before seeing his first convert. And then there was the problem of the persecution of anyone who became a Christian because it meant breaking caste in India. Yet his team went on to make achievements for the national mission.

Carey's team translated the Bible in 34 Asian languages, compiled dictionaries of Sanskrit, Marathi, Panjabi, and Telegu--respected even today as authoritative; started the still influential Serampore College; began churches and established 19 mission stations; formed 100 rural schools encouraging the education of girls; started the Horticultural Society of India; served as a professor at Fort William College, Calcutta; began the weekly publication "THE FRIEND OF INDIA," (continued today as "THE STATESMAN"); printed the first Indian newspaper; introduced the concept of the savings bank to assist poor farmers. His fight against the burning of widows ("SATI") helped lead to its ban in 1829.

Hudson Taylor spent 51 years in China. The society that he began was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries to the country who began 125 schools and directly resulted in 18,000 Christian conversions, as well as the establishment of more than 300 stations of work with more than 500 local helpers in all eighteen provinces.

Taylor was known for his sensitivity to Chinese culture and zeal for evangelism. He adopted wearing native Chinese clothing even though this was rare among missionaries of that time. Taylor has been referred to as one of the most significant Europeans to visit China in the 19th Century.

Taylor famously quoted: "If I had a thousand pounds China should have it-if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him? Can we do enough for such a precious Saviour?"

Both Carey and Taylor had tremendous passion for their mission field, as well as a devotion to define their life contribution to a mission that before their arrival was relatively irrelevant or non-existent. Their passion for Christ translated to plans for salvation for two important nations in Asia. Ministers and missionaries should also develop clear vision, plans, and goals for their mission and strive toward such examples, as an agent of change and messenger of Christ for a nation.