By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Philippians 3.12-14
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the letter of Philippians in conjunction with this article.
Stagnation: The Adversary’s Silent Snare
The one who has chosen dedicated discipleship under Jesus can find a beautiful life. It is true that even the most dedicated disciple will still experience personal struggles, yet it is the disciple’s outlook on life that changes. And that outlook changes for the better. A disciple may struggle for weeks, months, or possibly years to over come personal sin, but the triumph that the believer experiences is one for the record books. Life seems much better and anxiety generally abates.
Hopefully, the Christian continues in prayer and Bible study, but for some the triumphant victory over sin gradually morphs into comfort. This continued unchallenged comfort of discipleship progressively leads to a loss of purpose, and overall dedicated discipleship is destabilized. This situation could be described as complacency, but complacency contains a tone of smugness that is not necessarily true of the heart within the believer. This is why stagnation may be a more appropriate word.
The Silence of the Snare
The situation we are addressing is the Christian (young or aged, parent or child, wealthy or impoverished, employer or employee) who has stalled in their personal development of spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The child of God in this situation has achieved a comfortable growth in their devotion toward God, Christ, the church and the world, however for the worse. This situation of the student of Jesus is one who has ceased progress in discipleship, and has unknowingly accomplished the totality of their Christian walk – challenges no longer remain, struggles are no longer engaged, and little effort is given in reaching the lost. Make no mistake about this stagnation trap; it is a snare. The snare is silent. The silent snare of stagnation is insidious; and it lays in-wait for the unsuspecting Christian. The question remains: how does a child of God ensure that they do not become prey to this pitfall? For the answer, we will turn to Philippians 3.12-14.
The Voice of the Prey
These three verses are found in the middle of a much larger context,1 but for brevity’s sake we must only examine what Paul is expressing in this brief statement. Paul is an apostle,2 directly chosen by Jesus Himself to be an ambassador to the Gentiles3 and is the author of much New Testament teaching, some of which even Peter says is difficult to understand.4 He had all the “benefits” of God, or so we think. Yet, even he claims that he is not content to remain comfortable with his Christian discipleship.
Consider Philippians 3.12. If anyone could have proclaimed accomplishment of discipleship, it would have been Paul. A persecutor and executor of Christians, turned proclaimer of the Good News. Instead, Paul speaks as one who is struggling to reach the end, and struggling to become more Christ-like.
Philippians 3.13-14 states how Paul avoids being prey to the silent snare of stagnation. Verse 13 shows Paul’s personal commitment, and verse 14 shows Paul’s proactive stance. Paul reiterates the notion that he (even though an apostle) does not behave as if his discipled-walk has secured salvation, simply for the fact that he is a “Christian”. Instead, as a Christian, he continues to reach for the kingdom of heaven as if it has not been reached. And just as importantly, he states that he has to continually forget (set aside) all (all personal Christian achievement and accomplishment, all triumph over personal struggles and sin, all individual efforts toward conversions, and all individual persecutions suffered for Christ’s name’s sake) in order to continue toward eternity. Therefore, he pursues (earnestly endeavors) to acquire the goal of Christianity, which is the prize (the award) given at victory.
The Truth of Discipleship
Becoming a Christian does not translate to eternal victory, instead conversion provides a temporal victory and an eternal starting point. Upon the new birth, a disciple (a Christian) is given the opportunity of a temporal victory over a wretched heart and mind and a temporal victory over personal evil and sin. Yet, this temporal victory can be so profound that it has the potential to mask the actual goal, which is eternity with God. Conversion to Christian discipleship certainly provides victory, temporally, but it is a continuation of Christian discipleship that provides eternal victory in a heavenly abode.
Let us not become comfortable with our “achievements” within Christianity. Let us not fall into the silent snare of stagnation. Instead, let us have the heart and mind of Paul to pursue the goal as if we have not yet attained. May we always remain hungry for the finish line. And may God bless our struggle to maintain our desires for heaven.
- Philippians 3.1-16
- I Corinthians 15.7-9
- Acts 9.15
- II Peter 3.15-16