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. 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (NIV)
A story was told of a group of tourists visiting an out of the way English village. They met an old resident sitting on a bench and asked him if any famous people were born there. He thought for a while then said, “Nope, only babies.” No one is born famous. For that matter, no one is born again instantly mature. It takes time for us to grow to Christian maturity. Paul in this passage reminds his readers that he is on the way, he hasn’t arrived. He is not going to become despondent about how far he has to go or proud about how far he has come. He simply presses on.
Christian living is a journey. More a marathon than a sprint. In fact, a bit like a three legged race where we are somehow fastened to Jesus as he helps us on the journey. Jesus doesn’t just fire a starting gun and send us on our way. He doesn’t just wait at the finishing line pleading with us to get there. He is our companion every step along the way. He won’t give up on us even though we might stumble or get sidetracked in our journey.
Beware of thinking that somewhere there is a group of Christians who have arrived. Beware of thinking that just one more book, one more conference, one more prayer session will finish the journey. We only finish the journey when we draw our last breath and enter a new sphere of living. Till then, some move quickly, others move slowly, but we are all on the way.
One more thing. Note that Paul is happy enough for others to imitate him even if he is not yet completely mature. We are not called upon to be models of perfection but of growth. Our imperfections don’t disqualify us from modeling faith to others. As long as we are moving in the right direction we have a story to tell.