What do you desire most in life? And how much are you willing to give up in order to gain it? Is there anything about which you’d say: “I would give whatever it takes, without condition, without exception. To get that, I would give, and I would give up… whatever.”
“Whatever” is a very powerful word, and it is a very popular word in our culture. How many times have you answered a question with that word? What do you want to do? Whatever. Where do you want to go? Whatever. It can express sarcasm, incredulity, and snark: “Yeah….Whatever.” It can express shrill, scandalized, sometimes unintelligent shock: “What EVER!!” Or, sadly, “Whatever” can express unconditional apathy.
Do you feel that way, or know someone who does? Life is one great big ...whatever. Life is constantly in motion, but without a real motive. Life is about getting by just to get by – busy, but without a big picture to guide that activity and to show its eventual achievements. Perhaps there has been a hurt which abides so heavy on the heart, that it crushes any sense of feeling or anticipation of anything good. Whatever comes next is just…whatever.
In Philippians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul uses the word “whatever” but aims it in exactly the opposite direction of apathy. His heart is lit with a desire, a goal which frames the big picture, a motive which makes every achievement outside its context expendable and every burden within its context bearable. This consuming passion turns every hardship on its head, so that the heart which hurts in its pursuit, instead of shutting down, actually opens up.
Paul writes as a man who understands firsthand what it is to succeed vocationally and to suffer severely (Philippians 1:13). This passion moves him to discount any prior accomplishments which kept him from his goal and to embrace any future sufferings which move him toward it. What is the objective of the Apostle? To know Christ.
Even prior to conversion, Paul was no passionless man. But no matter how deep the apathy, no matter how deadened the heart, the knowledge of Christ is a treasure sufficient to take a heart from sighing “Whatever” to crying “Whatever it takes.”
Paul’s “whatever” is found in verse 7. Just prior, Paul tells us about his past achievements in the religious world of his culture. He had a good family heritage, he was a brilliant scholar, and he relentlessly pursued and persecuted people whom he believed to be enemies of the faith. Some of these pursuits were worthwhile in themselves. His brilliant mind and family lineage were, in the best sense of the phrase, things about which to be proud - but not before God.
Paul’s point is that if anyone could have gained a good standing with God by his own efforts and achievements, it was he. But God grabbed his heart and showed him that his righteousness was not right enough. Paul needed what we all need, a righteousness that we do not have. It must come from outside of us; it must be a righteousness that satisfies the infinitely good standards of a sinless God. It must therefore be a righteousness which God gives. And Paul found that righteousness; he received it by faith in God’s righteous son, Jesus Christ (verse 9).
In coming to Christ, Paul walked away from a successful, comfortable, commended life. To all of that, Paul says: “Whatever.” Whatever it was that kept him from the true knowledge of God in Christ, was well worth walking away from.
Paul’s life is a sobering reminder of what it means, and what it may cost, to belong to Christ as one of His people. What does one stand to lose when one comes to Christ? Everything. But what does one stand to gain? The Lord of everything.
Being in Christ means that come what may, come whatever, we can never be moved. Our position in Christ is permanent (Philippians 1:6). What’s more, now that we have standing in Jesus, we have the unspeakable privilege of understanding Jesus. And thus, Paul writes of his all-consuming desire to gain what he already has: Christ (verse 8). Here, Paul’s heart aligns with His Savior’s; Paul pursues that for which Jesus pursued and claimed him. Paul is delighting himself in the Lord, and God is giving him the desire of his heart (Psalm 37:4).
In the next entry, we’ll consider more fully that pursuit which is the uncommon glory common to all Christians. For now, if you know Christ, let the truth of your standing in Him ignite your heart to serve Him, to give yourself more fully to the One who gave Himself for you. Do not look back wistfully at whatever you gave up to come to Christ by faith; rather, look ahead joyfully to the day of Christ’s return, the day when your faith will become sight. The thought of seeing Christ then, and the practice of seeing Him by faith now, makes the Christian willing to do, and willing to give, whatever.