Yesterday Cas spoke at WBS about the second half of Philippians 3 and knocked it out of the park! (I’m still working on posting the audio but we’re having technical difficulties. I’m probably the difficulty, but I’m working on it.) Since I can’t post the audio, I wanted to highlight something she said that has not only captivated my imagination but given me new direction in my prayer life.
As Cas recounted the conversion of Paul, she pointed out something rather remarkable. In chapter 3 of Philippians we get to witness firsthand the dramatic change between Paul “pre-Christ” and Paul “post-Christ.” In verses 4-6 he describes his previous status as the ultimate Jew and persecutor of the church, but in the rest of the chapter we encounter evidence of a dramatic transformation. Rather than persecute the church, he now builds it up.
What Cas pointed out that I had never heard before is that the Greek word for “persecute” (v. 6) is the same word used in verses 12 and 14 to mean “press on:”
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
The Greek word there is dioko, and like many Greek words its meaning changes somewhat depending on the context. Clearly, there are two different contexts between verse 6 and verses 12-14, given that they are translated so differently. The irony is that both uses occur within the context of Paul’s life. Paul’s life changed so dramatically that dioko took on a completely different meaning when applied to his converted life.
In practical terms, this means that the same zeal with which Paul persecuted the church was now redirected toward growing the church. And when I think about it, that makes sense. God had created Paul with that passionate drive, but because of his fallen nature he was using it for evil. The zeal was good and God-given, but the aim was wrong. So God changed Paul’s life, and changed Paul’s aim. He saw the potential in Paul to use his gifts for the good of the Kingdom, and He used them.
This story should challenge us in the way we see non-Christians in our lives. It’s so easy to take an adversarial stance, getting defensive or pointing out the things about them that are wrong. But what a terribly hopeless perspective!
Instead, the story of Paul should spark our imaginations. Rather than condemn people or judge them, dream on their behalf! Look for their strengths, the things about them that were clearly given to them by God but have simply been misdirected, and then pray for their Christ-like potential.
Maybe you have a friend who excels in the business world but is consumed by the drive for success. What would their life look like, how could they use their gifts, if God got a hold of them? Maybe you know someone who, like Paul, is extremely critical of the Christian faith and enjoys debating all the reasons that God can’t exist. Just imagine if that same passion to engage issues of truth with fervor and zeal were harnessed on behalf of the Gospel?
God has the ability to redeem ANYONE, so it’s important that we pray with that perspective in mind. Rather than simply dislike unbelievers or see them as lost causes, dream God-sized dreams on their behalf! Imagine what God could do with their gifts, and then pray for those things to happen! Such a perspective will help to stave off the us versus them mentality that we so easily sink to, but it is also far more faithful to the redemptive character of God, with whom we ALWAYS have a reason to hope.