Apprehended and Apprehending — Philippians 3:1-14 by Reverend Chuck Wilson
Apprehended and Apprehending
Philippians 3:12 (“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”)
Philippians 3:1-14 Paul begins Philippians 3 by referring back to the second chapter of his letter. The words, ”To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (3.1), connect to Paul’s main soteriological theme both in Philippians and in his ministry, that is, the doctrines of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to Paul, Jesus is God’s “highly exalted” Messiah, on whom God bestowed “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2.9-11). In fact, Paul’s emphasis on the person and work of Christ was such he invented a way to stress Jesus’ person and work by referring to Him as “Christ Jesus,” that is, Messiah Jesus or Savior Jesus. In other words, what we believe about Jesus’ person and work is the foundation of our faith and the standard by which we have unity and fellowship in the church.
UNIFIED in doctrine, DELIGHTING in fellowship, GROWING in knowledge, WORSHIPING in the Spirit, and REJOICING in Christ Jesus, the Philippian church was healthy. Undeniably, the Philippian Christians understood the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unquestionably, who Jesus is, what He did, and what He continues to do are the Biblical hinge points which direct us in our faith and fellowship in the church.
The Philippian Christians knew WHO and WHAT and WHY they believed. The scandal of the church today is the division found amongst us because of ignorance and unbelief. We don’t know who, what, and why we believe!
If the polls can be trusted (and I think they can), 25% of those who identify themselves as Christians in the United States don’t believe in the resurrection, 39% don’t believe Jesus is the sinless Son of God, 52% don’t believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, 40% don’t believe in Satan (though, because of Hollywood, most believe in demons and demon possession), 40% don’t believe in hell, 58% don’t believe in the Holy Spirit, 45% reject the Bible as accurate in what it teaches, 33% believe the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Koran teach the same things, and 52% don’t believe Jesus is the only Savior. According to the polls, evangelical Christians are more knowledgeable of the tenets of the Christian faith and more likely to believe; nevertheless, evangelical congregations have also been devastated by our post-modern culture of unbelief. For many evangelicals, their faith is little more than an indefinable and amorphous feeling – NOSTALGIA.
As a result of Biblical ignorance and unbelief, evangelical congregations are suffering division. And nowadays it is astounding some of the things put forward for reclaiming unity in evangelical congregations. A certain style of music is suggested. Contemporary worship liturgies are created. Sports programs and novel community projects are attempted. I once had someone propose a church bazaar as a means of building fellowship and unity. I also heard a seminary administrator suggest twelve minute sermons.
Don’t you think it is time to return to the things which are foundational and fundamental? Listen, apart from a clear understanding of the person and work of Jesus Christ and experiential and transformational faith in Him, there is no basis for unity in the church, for the church is THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Plainly, a clear understanding of faith in Jesus as the only way of salvation was Paul’s focus and concern for the church. Paul says the things he had written are important for the Philippians because of the presence of false teachers. Paul writes, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (3.2-3). In other words, because of false teachers, Paul wrote it is imperative we are clear on what we believe.
Friend, what do you believe about Jesus? This is an important question. This is not an academic exercise. Rather, I’m asking the following: One, do you believe Jesus is the Messiah of God, the only Savior from God, the promised One of the Old Testament; two, have you repented of your sins and trusted Christ Jesus alone for your salvation; and, three, are you now endeavoring to follow Him in faith and obedience as you are directed by the Bible, the written Word of God? In other words, has God apprehended you by Christ’s person and work for the chains of His love?
This is the question I want us to reflect on as we look at Philippians 3.1-14. As we do this, I want to consider two headings: Apprehended and Apprehending.
In Philippians 3.12 Paul writes, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
Have you been “apprehended of Christ Jesus”?
In other translations, the Greek word translated “apprehend” in the KJV is translated, for example, “lay hold of” (NKJV), “make me his own” (ESV and RSV), and “took hold of” (NIV). Personally, I like “apprehend.” “Apprehend” means, one, to arrest or capture, and, two, to understand or perceive. The emotional impact of “apprehend” as captured in the KJV is extraordinarily fitting for Philippians 3.12. So, have you been captured by Christ?
Do you remember Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush? He was apprehended or captured by God, wasn’t he? A Hebrew boy-child who was saved by his mother and sister’s wits when other Hebrew boys were slaughtered by order of the Egyptian king, Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the royal court. However, knowing his Hebrew lineage, he rejected the riches and prestige of Pharaoh’s house and identified himself with the Hebrew slaves – his people.
I think implicit in Moses’ story is his disappointment with God. He longed to see the deliverance of his people. Seeing the torture of a Hebrew slave by an Egyptian overseer, Moses murdered the Egyptian. Being found out, he fled Egypt to the desert of Sinai as a miscreant, who, if apprehended by the Egyptian authorities, would have suffered execution by torture.
After forty years in the desert, Moses was finally apprehended; however, he was captured by God and not by the Egyptians. He despaired God had forgotten him and his people. Instead, God remembered Moses and his people and sent Moses to love and deliver the Children of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. Out of the light of a burning bush that was not consumed by fire, God apprehended Moses not for prison or death; rather, God captured Moses for the freedom of and new life of the Children of Israel. Indeed, God captured Moses for a mission of deliverance and nation-building.
Like Moses, Paul was also apprehended or captured by God. As Moses was disappointed in God, I think Paul was also disappointed in God for he was born in a world in which the Jewish Promised Land was occupied by a Roman army and the Jews were forced to live as an occupied and oppressed people. As Moses was a murderer, Paul was also a murderer for he participated in the stoning of Stephen. As Moses was apprehended of God in the light of a burning bush that was not consumed, Paul was apprehended of Jesus in a dazzling light on the road to Damascus that was so brilliant it struck him down and blinded him. As the voice of God called Moses out of the light of the burning bush to deliver Israel, the voice of the Lord Jesus called Paul out of the blinding light to take the Gospel of Christ’s delivering and transforming love both to the Jew and the non-Jew, that is, to proclaim a message of deliverance from the darkness and bondage of sin to the light and freedom of God’s love in Jesus. As God sent Moses to establish the nation of Israel, God sent Paul to establish the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul was captured by God’s love. This astounded Paul. He understood he was worthy of death. He was amazed he was the recipient of God’s SAVING and TRANSFORMING and ENNOBLING and LIFE-GIVING and INFECTIOUS love. He was apprehended of the Lord Jesus to be the ambassador and messenger of God’s love in Jesus to the world. The communication and application of God’s love in Christ Jesus became Paul’s mission in life. As he had been a zealot for the law and Israel, he became the Apostle of God’s love in Christ to the whole world and to the church as the new Israel of God’s people.
As people who have been apprehended by God’s love in Christ, Paul’s protective zeal for the message of salvation and the community of Christ’s church is not surprising to us. When Paul heard of false teachers in the church preaching a message contrary to his, he PASSIONATELY refuted the false teachers, EAGERLY defended the teachings of the church, and DEVOTEDLY protected the saints from the deadening effects of heretical teachings. He warned the Christians at Philippi, saying, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” Is it not remarkable this sort of preaching is little heard from the pulpits of evangelical churches today?
Paul’s language is blunt and condemnatory. He is brutally and purposefully sharp. He doesn’t mince words when it comes to the integrity of the Gospel and the church. He doesn’t countenance false teachers or false teachings. He clearly understood what was at stake – the destiny of souls and the health and unity of the church! The church would be either a unified community of light and life or a splintered synagogue of darkness and death.
So, once again, let us remember the doctrines of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ are the foundation of our unity and fellowship in the church. The love of God in Christ Jesus through His sacrificial atonement on the Cross is the only thing that saves sinners such as we are. This is what apprehends us. This is also what unites us and directs our fellowship. And when this is lost, the church of Jesus Christ is lost. Whatever it may be called or do, it is no longer the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My second point is APPRENDING. Let me review with you. Remember “apprehend” has two meanings: first, it means to arrest or capture, and, SECOND, it means to understand or perceive.
Indeed, Paul was apprehended by God’s love in Christ Jesus in the sense of being arrested or captured by it. If Paul had been apprehended for execution, he would have understood the divine action. Christ’s apprehending Paul out of His love mystified him. He desired to understand it in order to reflect it.
Clearly, Paul understood his salvation was totally of God. As he wrote in Ephesians 2.8 and 9, even faith is the gift of God. Here in Philippians 3.9 Paul repeats himself as he affirms our standing as righteous before God is “that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” How was he to understand this? Since he had been apprehended by Christ’s love, how was he to apprehend or understand Christ in turn? So Paul wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (3.10-11)
I’m sure Paul did not know the following gospel song by Charles H. Gabriel; however, if he had known it, I believe he would have sung it hardily. The words are:
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!
Well, how did Paul apprehend or understand this? A corollary question is this: how do we apprehend or understand this apprehending love of Christ? That is, how does it direct us?
I think this apprehending or understanding means a number of things – at least three.
FIRST, I think Paul’s apprehending or understanding of Christ’s person and work in his life produced a holy dissatisfaction with himself. I think he was deeply troubled by his sins and failures which confounded and haunted him. Without a doubt, he understood the ultimate victory over sin is not here; therefore, he longed for heaven – not as an escape from sin but as VICTORY over sin.
Now, that’s an exciting way for the Christian to look at life! We know we have been apprehended by the love of Christ. We know we believe. Our faith is real. Why doesn’t our faith give us obvious and continuing victories over sins in this life, especially, “the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12.1)? How are we to understand this? As hard as we may try, our faithfulness is never without the alloys of sin and failure. Interestingly, only one who has been captured by Christ’s love asks these questions or has these doubts. We are taught our righteousness before God is the righteousness of Christ. We are taught our faith is energized by the faith of Christ. We are taught our efforts are blessed because of Christ’s faithfulness and not because of the expenditure of our efforts. So, to be in the place where we’re struggling to apprehend or understand how Christ’s love works is a good place. Also, to be in the place where we are longing for the ultimate victory of heaven is a good place. Indeed, it’s a good place because we are in the company of Paul.
SECOND, when Paul wrote he wanted to apprehend or understand Christ, he said he wanted to do more for Christ. At the time Paul wrote Philippians, Paul was in Rome and under house arrest. At Jesus’ command and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, he traveled the Mediterranean rim evangelizing, establishing churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Europe, teaching sound doctrines, and training church leaders. Doubtlessly, his imprisonment limited his activities and frustrated him. What was Jesus up to in his life? He didn’t understand. He knew Jesus had called him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. He needed to be free to exercise his apostleship. He desired to evangelize a new place, establish a new church, teach new saints, and train and ordain new leaders. Did he still long to go to Spain (Rom. 15.24)?
I wonder: did Paul understand the importance of his writings? I wonder: did he understand the importance of his prison letters? Adolph von Harnack, the renowned German church historian of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century, once said Paul’s prison letters were so important to the Christian faith he would give them his sole focus in study if he had another life to live. Interestingly, the churches Paul established are now ruins. However, the letters Paul wrote while under Roman arrest are still pulsating with life as they continue to instruct, direct, and inspire the saints of Christ’s church.
I think it is safe to say of Paul, whether free or bound, his faith in Christ was such it drove him to a self-denying love for Christ and His church. The nature of his love was like an infectious virus. Whenever and wherever he came into contact with people, his faith infected them, either to their salvation or condemnation.
What of your faith? Are you seeking to apprehend or understand your faith in Christ as an infectious virus which spreads to everyone you touch? Perhaps, the reason the evangelical church in the Twenty-first Century is so anemic is because we have allowed unbelief and disobedience to inoculate us against the infectiousness of the message of the Christian faith.
THIRD, when Paul says he wanted to apprehend or understand Christ, I think he was anticipating the Second Coming of Jesus. Paul puzzled why Jesus had not returned. Jesus said He was going to return. Why did He delay?
The road had been long for Paul, the trials were many, the concerns were endless, and the false teachers were numerous and worrisome. Paul wanted to see the resurrection of the dead and be a part of it. Paul had seen Jesus and wanted to see Him again. Paul wanted to see the final victory. Paul longed to see Jesus and to see Him surrounded by the multitudes of the church in glorious celebration. And Paul wanted the vindication of seeing the false teachers who divided the church, opposed sound teaching, and hounded him exposed, cast down, and humiliated.
As I close, what do you want to see? What do you spend your time trying to apprehend or understand? Is it the stock market? Is it your retirement and how you can manage your investments so they don’t run out before you run out? Is it Obamacare? Can you say with Paul, I want to know Christ, I want to share in the fellowship of His sufferings, “I want to spend my life in the causes of Christ’s love, I want to be a part of the resurrection of the dead so I can see Jesus, the church glorious, and know the vindication of my faith? I have been apprehended of Christ, and now I want to apprehend Christ in glory!”
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