Philippians 3:7-11 (NRSV)
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard 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 one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Most of us don’t mind driving over bridges. We know bridges are over-engineered for safety. Massive amounts of concrete and steel are used in their construction. There are guardrails, bumper-barricades, and reflective safety signs that keep us from driving off the bridge. When we drive on the bridges that cross the Yadkin River we never think about the effort that went into keeping us safe. We drive across at fifty to seventy miles an hour without really thinking about it.
But think about driving across one of those bridges without the guardrails or concrete barriers. Suddenly everything changes. We probably would slow our car down to a crawl (5-10 miles per hour) and try to stay as far away from the edge as possible. Something we never even think about when the barriers are in place. With no barriers and safety barricades in place, most of us would avoid crossing altogether.
We need guardrails and barriers. They help us navigate the dangers of life. These barriers and guardrails work best, though, when they are not noticed, celebrated, or even acknowledged.
In the Philippian church, followers of Jesus were being told by some that they had to follow the law (become Jewish) before they could become Christian. There were laws, boundaries, and hoops to jump through. They needed to pass the test, endure the proper procedures, and obey the commandments before they could enjoy full membership in the Body of Christ.
Paul wrote to the Philippian church to warn them about worshipping the guardrails and safety guards rather than the bridge that was carrying them to safety. We all need boundaries-doctrines, rules, guidelines, and laws-to help us along the way. But as Leonard Sweet suggests “They are the guardrails of our faith, not the guardian of our faith. Their function is to keep us on the path of Truth, the Way, the Truth and the Life of Jesus. The Way, Truth, and Life is found in a relationship with Christ, not in brandishing propositions about Christ.”
Paul’s point is that we cannot force people into a relationship with Christ. We cannot say that some are in and some are out because all the boxes have to be checked before admittance. The most important thing is the gentle guiding of people into a relationship, a relationship that allows a person to know Christ and to follow Christ in all aspects of life. Think about it.
Thanks to Leonard Sweet,
“The Bridge Over Every Troubled Waters,” based on Philippians 3:1-11 for this line of thought.