“Pursuing Down Toward the Goal”
“Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal.”—PHILIPPIANS 3:13, 14.
1, 2. (a) How did Saul of Tarsus receive an assignment in the ministry, and what was it? (b) He had what reaction to this assignment?
WHEN Saul of Tarsus was on the way to Damascus intent on persecuting Christians, a light from heaven flashed around him, and he heard a voice say: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Nevertheless, rise and enter into the city, and what you must do will be told you.’”—Acts 9:3-6.
2 Why did Jesus give Saul of Tarsus such an experience? Jesus explained it to the disciple Ananias: “This man [Saul] is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.” Ananias obediently went, laid hands upon Saul and said: “Jesus that appeared to you on the road over which you were coming, has sent me forth, in order that you may recover sight and be filled with holy spirit.” (Acts 9:15, 17) As soon as he recovered sight, he was baptized, starting his association with the Christian congregation in Damascus. Now, as a baptized Christian minister, he immediately got busy in zealously preaching the good news about Jesus, the Son of God, among the Jews.—Acts 9:20-22.
3, 4. (a) How did Paul evaluate his ministry? (b) In what way did Paul’s attitude differ from that shown by the congregation in Ephesus?
3 This zealous minister is better known as the apostle Paul. He always spoke highly of his ministry and the undeserved kindness that was shown to him. “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who imparted power to me, because he considered me faithful by assigning me to a ministry, although formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” (1 Timothy 1:12-14) Yes, he highly esteemed the ministry.—Romans 11:13; 2 Corinthians 4:7.
4 Such expressions on Paul’s part illustrate the evaluation of the ministry that he maintained throughout his career. He did not fall into the condition that at one time existed in the congregation in Ephesus, to whom Jesus said: “I hold this against you, that you have left the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) Rather, Paul kept his goal in front of him and kept up the same zeal and enthusiasm for the ministry that he had in the early days in Damascus.
5. After we have served Jehovah for years, how can we encourage others?
5 After being a faithful Christian minister for decades, Paul used his own background and experiences to encourage fellow ministers in the Philippian congregation so that they would not give up. Have you not found that usually it is very interesting to hear how someone learned the truth and became a minister? Accordingly, do you encourage others on the basis of your personal history and years of faithful service as a dedicated Christian minister?
6. What was Paul’s background as a Jew?
6 Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, could refer to his life as a practicing Jew. He said: “If any other man thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I the more so: circumcised the eighth day, out of the family stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born from Hebrews; as respects law, a Pharisee; as respects zeal, persecuting the congregation; as respects righteousness that is by means of law, one who proved himself blameless.”—Philippians 3:4-6.
7. Why did Paul leave those things behind, and what did he gain by so doing?
7 With such a background Paul could have had many material advantages in association with the Jews. However, he went on to say: “What things were gains to me, these I have considered loss on account of the Christ. Why, for that matter, I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. On account of him I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse, . . . so as to know him and the power of his resurrection and a sharing in his sufferings, submitting myself to a death like his, to see if I may by any means attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11) Those are words demonstrating complete faith in Christ Jesus and the provisions made by Jehovah God. Are you like Paul in not letting desire for prominence or material gain dominate your life?
The Right Mental Attitude
8. (a) After serving long in the ministry, what did Paul say about his goal? (b) How can Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 be true in our case?
8 After Paul had served God for decades, could he let up in the pursuit of his goal? He wrote the Philippians: “Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold on it; but there is one thing about it: Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13, 14) He had already made a good record in the Christian ministry and endured many things, and it was while he was in prison in Rome that he wrote these words to the Philippians, yet his ministry had not come to an end. If he was to receive the prize that was available to those who served in the first-century Christian congregation, namely “the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus,” then he had to keep on pursuing his goal. This is the correct view held by all mature Christians, whether their hope is for future life in heaven or on earth. Each one of us does well to examine our own position and our way of thinking to see whether we truly appreciate the ministry that has been committed to us under God’s arrangement.
9. We can have what mature mental attitude?
9 Paul identifies the mature Christian outlook, saying: “Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude; and if you are mentally inclined otherwise in any respect, God will reveal the above attitude to you.” (Philippians 3:15) The mature Christian attitude leads to success. This involves following in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, who successfully completed his assigned earthly ministry. Jesus was able to pray to his Father: “I have glorified you on the earth, having finished the work you have given me to do. So now you, Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”—John 17:4, 5.
10. What more can be said about Christ’s exemplary mental attitude toward Jehovah’s service?
10 If we are to please Jehovah God, and in this way receive the prize of everlasting life, we must have the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus showed. Knowing this, Paul appealed: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name.” (Philippians 2:5-9) What a marvelous attitude Jesus had! Can we copy him? Humbly seeking to do God’s will always leads to blessings. When an assignment is carried out, it results in good.
11. What should be done by those who are spiritually strong and mature?
11 In view of what Paul wrote, some in the Philippian congregation evidently still had to strive to attain the mature Christian attitude. Paul took the initiative to encourage and help them. In most congregations today, there are those who are stronger in the faith and those who have some weakness. The stronger ones should, like Paul, encourage the others. Christ Jesus did much to strengthen those who had spiritual needs, setting an example for Christians to follow. “We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding. Now may the God who supplies endurance and comfort grant you to have among yourselves the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus had, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Romans 15:1, 2, 5, 6.
12. We should have what view of the prize that God will provide?
12 Paul, in strengthening the faith of the Romans, pointed out that “the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) During his ministry Jesus, too, had much to say about everlasting life. It is a wonderful reward God offers to his servants. God wants his servants to keep their eyes on the prize, for this motivates them to be faithful. When we do so we are showing strong faith in his promises. At our Christian meetings we have occasion to speak often of the reward Jehovah gives to faithful ones.
Our Ministry Despite Difficulties
13. What part do the Scriptures play in our having the right mental attitude?
13 Our keeping the right outlook, or mental attitude, will prove to be invaluable as we carry on our ministry in these last days. Though some may lose the love they had at first, may we be resolved that this will never be so with us. The Scriptures themselves are an aid to this end. (Romans 15:4) Through our study of them we gain hope. Are you deeply thankful to Jehovah for the Scriptures, with the many things recorded in them about faithful servants of Jehovah such as the apostle Paul?
14. How did Paul keep his positive attitude in the face of difficult experiences?
14 What would we do if we had the personal experiences Paul mentions at 2 Corinthians 11:23-28? Why did Paul not give up? Because he had his goal in mind. We may experience some similar things. Yet we must keep pursuing our goal for the prize God holds out to us. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he showed his good thinking by mentioning that he was in prison bonds for the defense of the good news. (Philippians 1:7, 16) He understood why he was there. That is important when we come under such a test. Furthermore, we know that Jehovah can use us to give a witness to his praise.
15. (a) Why did the Philippian congregation need encouragement, and what did Paul tell them to build them up? (b) How had the congregation in Rome reacted to Paul’s imprisonment?
15 The Philippians were having some tests similar to what Paul was having at Rome. He wrote: “For you have the same struggle as you saw in my case and as you now hear about in my case.” (Philippians 1:30) In these circumstances Paul could write encouragingly to them. He said that the good news had become known among the Praetorian Guard. Evidently the Christian message had even penetrated into the very household of the emperor, some there becoming dedicated Christians. The congregation in Rome was responding well to the situation, not getting downhearted, discouraged or afraid due to the fact that Paul was being held in prison. Instead they were busy with the work Jehovah wanted done, showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.—Philippians 1:12-14; 4:22.
16. What especially do we need to do when opposition arises?
16 When opposition arises, there are great benefits in maintaining the unity of the Christian congregation. Paul stressed unity and oneness. (Philippians 1:27–2:4) Such times require expressing words of faith to one another, so that we do not give up in pursuing toward the goal. It is a time to keep a loving, humble attitude and to do good to one another, looking out for the interests of one another.—Compare Philippians 2:19-21.
17. Why should we not give up pursuing our goal when health problems arise?
17 A close associate of the apostle Paul was Epaphroditus. On account of the Lord’s work he came quite near to death, but there is no evidence that his health problem caused him to lose sight of the goal ahead of him. (Philippians 2:25-30) At 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul mentioned his own experience with “a thorn in the flesh,” possibly referring to some difficulty with his eyes. He prayed that it might depart from him, but his request was not granted. Nevertheless, having his goal in mind helped Paul to keep pursuing it despite any physical ailments. Though having weaknesses, he found a way with the help of Christ Jesus.—2 Corinthians 12:9.
18. How did Paul show good balance regarding material things?
18 The letter to the Philippians (4:11-13) also made mention of life’s necessities. Experiencing shortages can be a test for the Christian as to whether he is going to give up in pursuing his goal. Or will he take the mature attitude by dealing with the problem and still having a share in the ministry? (Compare Acts 18:1-4.) Whether Paul was low on provisions or had an abundance, his ministry came first. When he had an abundance he did not use the occasion to spend a lot of time seeking pleasures, but he kept pursuing the goal of the prize.
19. What does Philippians 4:6, 7 advise us to do when we need help? With what results?
19 Paul did not mention every kind of experience that a Christian might have in life. Yet when things come along that could interfere with the ministry, as mature Christians we should turn to Jehovah in prayer, the course recommended in Philippians 4:6, 7. Then Jehovah will give us peace of mind, helping us to think clearly and aiding us in overcoming the problems as we keep on being his faithful ministers. Prayer helps us to maintain our faith and to continue pursuing down toward our goal.
20. (a) How do the examples of faithful older ones in the truth encourage us? (b) What should we do? Why?
20 Many are those associated with the congregations today who have served Jehovah for decades. All of them have passed through tests while carrying on their ministry. But Jehovah has helped them, so they are continuing to pursue down toward the goal for the prize. We are thankful to Jehovah that there are in modern times, as there were in the first century, brothers and sisters who are examples of endurance, faithful in their Kingdom service and keeping their eyes on the prize. Those who are young or newer in “The Way” benefit by examining the record of the apostle Paul or of the faithful servants in the modern-day congregation, seeing how these have handled their problems. (Acts 9:2; Hebrews 13:7) May each one of us use every occasion to encourage one another that we may endure faithfully in the service we have undertaken and unitedly keep pursuing down toward the goal Jehovah has set before us. By so doing, we have the prospect of serving Jehovah God forever in happy association with faithful ones.—Philippians 3:13-16.
Points to Keep in Mind
◻ What was Paul’s personal background, and how did he use this to encourage his brothers?
◻ How do the examples of Christ Jesus and Paul show us what the mature Christian attitude is?
◻ How can we manifest our unity when opposition arises?
◻ Why must we continue pursuing toward our goal?
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Christ Jesus did much to strengthen those who had spiritual needs