Charlie Kleinman had a heart transplant years ago. The donor was a seventeen year old boy who had drowned. Kleinman was struggling as to how he could and should express his gratitude to the young man’s parents. He finally settled on writing them a note, but when it reached eighty-eight pages it dawned on him how daunting his task really was.
How do you adequately say thank you to someone who has given you the gift on life? The fact that this question is rarely raised among believers today is probably not a good thing. Many seem to just shrug their shoulders and smile—no more than they would do if someone allowed them to pull in front of them in traffic.
But perhaps that’s not fair. Maybe, like Kleinman, we’re just stymied about what our proper response should be and not knowing, it only appears that we’re not appreciative of the gift we’ve received.
Paul begins Philippians 3 by telling the Christians to rejoice in the Lord (a great way to say thanks). He then lets them know that to write the same things to them is no problem for him and a safeguard for them. It sounds like the Philippians had said something to him along the lines of, We hate to ask you this again, but could you explain what you had warned us about before? (In our culture, it’s reversed. We’re such lovers of novelty that the onus to apologize is on anyone who dares to repeat anything).
The warning Paul repeats is about dogs. These are not the domesticated pets we’re used playing and cuddling with, but the wild pack dogs that could tear a person to pieces. This is the picture he used for those who taught that since “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) Gentile disciples needed to embrace a Jewish national identity in order to be saved. Components of this identity included circumcision, the Sabbath, dietary laws–all of the things that distinguished Israel from the other nations. Paul deals with this in great detail in Romans and Galatians but since he is reminding the Philippians of what he had previously taught them, he speaks at the level of conclusion and simply reminds them that what the Judaizers represented was false, what Paul and the Christians at Philippi had followed and experienced was true (v. 2-4).
Paul shifts from animal imagery to accounting* and argues that if anyone should look at things from such an external, fleshly point of view of the Judaizers, it would be him. His curriculum vitae was unmatched by his contemporaries. Yet while others might have looked at this as profit, he wrote it off as a loss (v. 7-8). Why? Because he wanted to know Christ (v. 8,10-11). This is a clear repudiation of the fleshly, nationalistic approach to God. What Paul had before was real enough in human terms, it just didn’t result in knowing (experiencing) the Messiah. If it did, he would have embraced it rather than rejecting it.
He is clearly telling them his goal as a disciple was relational, not status seeking. He wanted to know Christ. Clearly this wasn’t knowing in the sense of information but relationship. He wanted to know the Lord! He wanted to experience the height, depth and breadth of what it meant to be a disciple; the power of Jesus’ making all things new, the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (v. 10), and ultimately of it all culminating in the resurrection of his body (v. 11).
Paul then employs the picture of an athlete (v. 12-14). How serious is he about knowing Jesus? He pursues the Lord the way an athlete (runner) attacks the course—pressing on, not looking back, and straining toward what is ahead. He’s not content to know about the Lord, he wants to live the Lord.
Which brings us back to the dilemma of Charlie Kleinman—just how do we say thank you to someone who has given us life? The answer from Paul is that we live as His children, learning of His ways and walking in His love. That is what God desires.
* The accountant and athlete labels (in case you didn’t recognize it) come from Warren Wiersbe.