If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Did your grandmother ever make button spinner for you? It is one of those old-time toys that grandmothers like to make. String several feet of thread twice through a heavy button, tie it off to make a circle of thread, loop it through your fingers so the button is suspended between your hands. Flip the button so the thread has about ten twists and start pulling your hands apart and then relaxing on the string. The button will start spinning. You can get it moving pretty quickly with a little practice. The trick is to relax the tension and reapply it at the right moment. If you do not know what I am talking about, do an internet search for “button spinner” and you can watch one in action.
Paul sounds a little like that button in this passage. In his previous life, before his encounter with Jesus on a road to Damascus, the tension had been great. It almost broke him. He had become sort of a monster, persecuting people. Christ relaxed that tension and he rebounded the other way, spinning furiously for the Gospel. Here we see him admitting that he has not made it yet, but he says, “I press on to make it my own.” But then, he remembers, and the pressure comes off “because Christ has me his own.”
My picture breaks down a little here. Paul does not now spin back the other way into his old legalism, but the tension and relaxation of God’s Law and Gospel have put a great deal of energy into Paul’s life. In II Corinthians 11:22 he does another similar catalogue of his life, but this time goes past his conversion. He never really did slow down. I get exhausted just reading about it. God is adding quite a bit of tension into the lives of people these days. I wonder what He is up to with all this. Some days I was weary of this world even before pandemic and tensions which permeate our world now. There have been whole days in which I do not want to check my newsfeeds or listen to the radio. If you need it, you have my permission to sit on the patio or in a favorite chair with the cat or a book for a while today and do nothing. But more importantly Paul reminds us of the great relaxation which God has given us. Paul forgets that which lies behind him. Christ’s forgiveness and love has covered all of it. That frees Paul to look ahead and strive for what God has promised, an upward calling in Christ.