This Week's Focus Passage

‘For which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’

Focus Passage: Philippians 3:12

‘For which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’

Paul has uttered these confessional words in the larger context of verses eight through twelve of the third chapter of this epistle to the church at Philippi. This entire passage could well be styled as confessional for that, in it, the apostle has related to us so much of his background and of his coming to Christ as he was made willing in the day of Christ’s power through the Spirit of Christ being poured out upon this fearsome Pharisee. Paul began this chapter rejoicing in the Lord that he was able, because of the grace of God, to communicate such things unto his readers and hearers; such things were so eminently grand and glorious that he would never find it irksome or troublesome to repeat them again and again. He delights to recount the reality of his high position according to the estimation of his peers, and that he was brought to know and to understand that such earth-bound things were truly insignificant to the point of being equated in lowliness with refuse and trash and even dung. They are absolutely nothing in comparison with the worth of Christ and His righteousness. Thus was the apostle most willing to surrender all these things with their supposed value and to count them unworthy to be compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. He is most unmistakably and unequivocally willing to give up all these worldly ‘treasures’ into the trash-heap, or the dung-hill, only that he might just know Christ Jesus his Lord. He is standing perhaps on the shoulders of the ‘meekest man in all the earth,’ Moses, when it is written of that Old Testament saint that he counted, ‘the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward’ that was to be had in suffering reproach for His Name’s sake. Paul, in Mosaic fashion, we may say, wished that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death. He desired all this in order that he might attain unto the resurrection from the dead. Yea, he desired to lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.

Do these words not most clearly evince the primacy of God and His Christ in the salvation of sinners? It is God who must act if any are to be saved from their sins. Yea, sinners must be laid hold on by Christ Jesus, even as was Saul of Tarsus. It is God indeed who has acted in order that sinners might be redeemed and reconciled unto Him. If God had not acted and if He does not act, there will be none whatever saved. It is assuredly true, as John has declared in his first epistle, We love because he first loved us. Truly, if He had never loved us, we had never loved Him. And it is equally true that if He had never laid hold on us, we had never laid hold upon Him, for it is His hold on us that enables and causes us to lay hold on Him. It is most surely His hold on us that keeps us every day; were He to release His hold on us for one mil-li-second we would be lost forever. Undoubtedly, faith is the means by which the people of God hold on to Him. The gift of faith was the means whereby we first apprehended Christ, and the gift of faith is the same means by which we continue to hold fast. Salvation is entirely of Jehovah, as we find so wonderfully pronounced in Jonah’s song from out of the depths of the sea:

The waters compassed me about, even to the soul; The deep was round about me; The weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed upon me for ever: Yet hast thou brought up my life from the pit, O Jehovah my God. …..But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that which I have vowed. Salvation is of Jehovah.

Sometimes, God may see fit to employ a whale of a great fish in order to lay hold upon one of His lost sheep that has gone astray. Jesus spoke of leaving the ninety and nine to go after the one who had gone astray; Jehovah sent a great fish in order to apprehend Jonah. And to prepare the scene for recovery of this derelict, He first sent a great storm upon the sea to bring about Jonah’s dilemma. With a storm and a great fish, God laid hold of his wayward prophet. It could, at least, be contended on behalf of Saul of Tarsus that he thought he was doing the will of God. Jesus had told His disciples in the upper room discourse, John 16:2, yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God. It is not easy to disagree with those that assert that these words were spoken prophetically of the Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. Paul himself may well be agreeing in his speech to king Agrippa, Acts 26, in the context of admitting his complicity in the deaths of some who followed the Way, he said, verse 9, I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He was kicking against the pricks, but he thought he was doing the will of God. Contrariwise, Jonah was fleeing from doing God’s will; he confessed that he did not want to do the will God had made known to him. It is plainly declared in the Word of God. God came to Jonah and said, Go to Nineveh; Jonah instead rose up to flee from the presence of Jehovah and from doing his will. Paul could say later in his first epistle to Timothy, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. Jonah rather confessed that he was deliberate in his refusal to obey God’s direction.

Nonetheless, God laid hold upon Jonah, having him swallowed up by such a great fish which was then commanded to vomit Jonah out on dry land. We would like to be told that Jonah laid hold upon the God that laid hold upon him; we are not told any such thing. We have hope in Jonah’s song, Salvation is of Jehovah. But in the case of Saul of Tarsus, there is no question but that he was laid hold upon by Jesus on the road to Damascus when cast down upon the ground by that exceeding bright light that brought about temporary blindness even as the ultimate result was that of removing the veil from off his eyes that he might see things he had never seen before in his spiritual blindness. Indeed, Paul could later say that he pressed on, in the hope that he might lay hold on that for which he was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. We apprehend Christ only because He has first apprehended us.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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