What motivates your growth in Christ? Is that motivation bearing fruit?
“I think positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time.”
So says Dom Cobb to the members of his carefully assembled team as they plot how to achieve inception—planting an idea in another person’s mind while making it seem self-generated—in the film of that name. Cobb rebutted the suggestion that the team play on their subject’s fraught relationship with his father, which would mean spite was the core motivating emotion. He astutely observed that positive motivations—reconciliation, catharsis, accomplishment of a goal—are more powerful.
Paul offers a biblical example of how positive trumps negative in Philippians 3. Prior to the verses above, he called all that he once treasured and in which he found his entire identity “loss” and “rubbish” (The Greek word translated rubbish was actually a crude reference to dung… you fill in the blank.).
Why? Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3:7). Even suffering, loss, or death meant opportunity to know Jesus through sharing in his sufferings, and then in his triumphant resurrection. He yearned to experience this resurrection (and, it is implied, this eternal relationship with Jesus) “by any means possible” (Philippians 3:11).
The passage above directly follows. Note the phrases that indicate motivation and pursuit: “I press on… make it my own… straining forward.”
When I reflect on what motivations lie behind my pursuit of God—spiritual disciplines like prayer, Scripture reading or fasting; doing good and avoiding evil; church attendance; etc.—more often than not I find fear. Fear that God won’t bless me, or worse, that he will punish. Fear that I’m falling short in some way. Fear of falling into sin and then falling away from my faith.
In almost every case, these motives are negatively-oriented. And, of course, they don’t produce lasting heart change and growth. Fear-based pursuit of God and of holiness is exhausting. It creates resentment. It feels arduous, even impossible. It becomes drudgery.
In this passage, and throughout his writing, Paul doesn’t appeal to fear or other negatively-oriented motives. He appeals to joy.
Knowing Jesus, being filled and empowered by his Spirit, having his righteousness imputed to us, expectantly looking toward the promise of resurrection, glorification, and eternal life in perfect bliss with God, while experiencing a taste of these even now—these joys trump any fleeting pleasures we might find in this world. So much so that Paul is willing to joyfully endure suffering (it leads to resurrection), abstinence (it satisfies the heart’s true hunger), discipline (it redirects to a path to true joy), and more.
He strives. He presses forward. He disciplines himself. He reaches out to reject the offerings of the world and make the hard choices to walk in the imitation of Jesus by faith in the Spirit’s enablement. Not because he is afraid, but because he longs for that which is so transcendently good. Paul’s motives are purely positive: eternal reconciliation, true catharsis, achievement of a goal that surpasses all others.
May it be so for us as well.
Father, would you reveal to me how truly wonderful it is to know you, to be included in your kingdom, to experience the present and future tastes of resurrection and glory that are mine because of what Jesus has done on the cross and in his resurrection. May these create a powerful motivation that moves me to press on toward the goal for the prize of your upward call, through whatever circumstances, trials, or temptations I may face.
Throughout This Day: Reflect on your own motives: what moves you to pursue God, to avoid evil and sin, to do good and live righteously in the Spirit's power? If these are negatively-oriented, what might lift your eyes to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus and create a more powerful, positive motivation? How might you pursue that today?
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