I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:12-21
If it ain’t broke… Pardon the English, but how do you complete that saying? A friend suggested this: If it ain’t broke…tinker! That’s not how most complete the thought. We are encouraged to leave well-enough alone. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! This is decidedly not the spirit of the acknowledgement in these verses. Paul realizes that he is a work in progress.
If you know much about Paul – St. Paul, if you will – you’ll know that he was a stellar missionary. He is considered to be the best missionary since Jesus Christ. He was constantly on the move with the gospel message, bringing people to faith in Jesus, establishing new churches, and training and equipping people to serve as leaders of those churches.
As good as he was, however, he lays it out there: “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on…” We may not shrink from the idea of imitating Paul (v. 17, “Pattern your lives after mine”). But if we take seriously his assertion that he is a work in progress, however, we might wonder whether he is a good role model, overly-humble, or neither.
Paul is not overly-humble. He is a good role model. And those two facts work together to encourage us to set a good example for others to follow without being overly worried about being the perfect example.
Just because you’re not perfect doesn’t mean you can exempt yourself from offering yourself as an example to others. It may be of humility. It may be of relying on God’s grace and love. It may be of confessing your sins. It may be of “tinkering” with your spiritual health to become more fully devoted and faithful.
After all, our faith is not in ourselves, or our righteousness, or even our own faith. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, our Savior and king. And he’s working on us all, shaping us for his glory and for the blessing and benefit of others.