Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:15-16)
How wonderful Paul doesn’t merely instruct us in how to think maturely about our faith but exemplifies it himself! The apostle first off admonishes those who are mature (or at least think themselves mature) to “think this way”, i.e. not to get big-headed about how far they’ve come but to keep pursuing a closer unity with Jesus every day, just as he’s tried to do himself. This is important as many Christians fall prey to the temptation, as they grow in grace, that they are much further along than they actually are. Yes, the Dunning-Kruger effect shows up in spirituality, too. So, Paul cautions those who are busy looking more at how far they’ve come than how far they have yet to go to heed the advice he’s been giving up to this point to the Philippians.
But, even in his warning, St Paul is a realist. He demonstrates maturity in handing the whole project of spiritual advice-giving to God. He recognizes people might dispute his exhortation. But he’s content that the Holy Spirit will take care of it. “God will reveal that also to you,” he writes. He knows our Lord is more than capable of handling the task of shaping human hearts to more closely reflect the restored image of God found in Jesus Christ. As much as Jesus is our very perfection, the Father counts that perfection as ours while the Spirit gets busy perfecting us. When Christ returns, we’ll rise from death and find that perfecting transformation complete. Paul’s trust in God’s ability to do this likely owes much to his own experience, having once been a persecutor of the Church, but now one of Jesus’ staunchest advocates as an apostle.
Paul caps off this short section encouraging everyone to “hold true to what we have attained” up to this point. There is the real possibility of taking one step forward only to fall two steps back. Indeed, most spiritual progress, much like physical progress can dip at times even if the overall trajectory is upward. Paul would have us not need to regain lost ground as we pursue a deeper relationship with Jesus. His earnest desire is that we steadily keep growing in maturity in our faith without having to recover lost ground.
We can learn a lot from both Paul’s example and exhortation when it comes to mature thinking. What is the realistic overall progress you’ve made in growing closer to Christ, both how far you’ve come and how you have to go? How do you respond to others when they disagree with you over some aspect of Christian truth? What practical steps might you take to entrust both your own growth in faith, as well as that of others, into God’s hands? What progress have you made that you want to ensure you don’t lose sight of as you press forward in your spiritual journey?
Father who gives all growth by your gracious will, help us by your Holy Spirit to hold fast to the spiritual progress we’ve attained while you continue to form us more into Christ’s perfect image. And may we never fall into to trap of judgmentalism, comparing our spirituality with others, but help us rejoice in the good work you are doing in us and in others to the degree we each have reached by your grace. We ask this in the precious name of only Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.