Are You a One-Thing-I-Do Man?
Paul must have been an unsettling companion. For Paul, the Christian life could never be lived with half measures. He was an all or nothing man. The gospel of God’s grace in Christ had not only captured him, it had captivated him. He counted everything (yes, everything) as loss ‘because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Phil. 3:8). This ‘gospel obsession’ with Christ made Paul a ‘one-thing-I-do man.’ Having acknowledged to the Philippians that he was not yet perfect, that he had not yet ‘arrived’, Paul exclaimed, ‘But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:13-14).
‘One thing I do’! When I was a young divinity student at Edinburgh University, I worshipped at Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland, where James Philip was the minister. I remember, as if it were yesterday, Jim bending over the pulpit and quietly, but powerfully, saying to the many young people in the congregation, ‘Are you a one-thing-I-do man, a one-thing-I-do woman?’ ‘One thing I do’. Paul did many things, but in all the things he did, there was one thing he was always doing. He was always pressing on ‘toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ For Paul, the life of faith in Jesus Christ meant that he longed to be with his Lord and Saviour. There was an ineradicably heavenly-mindedness to Paul’s faith. Earlier, in Philippians 1:23, he told the church that his present desire was ‘to depart and be with Christ, for that is better.’
‘One thing I do’. This is easier to say than to do. Paul seems to be conscious of this. Immediately following these words he says, ‘forgetting what lies behind.’ Paul knows that there are ‘former things’ that can hold us back and keep us from becoming ‘one-thing-I-do’ men and women. There are former sins, perhaps grievous and glaring sins. The devil will do all he can to keep you in some kind of thrall to former sins. He will seek to keep you so ashamed of them that you can never forget them, and they end up haunting you all your life.
There is a sense, of course, in which we should never forget what we once were, that we might the more magnify the great grace of God that came to us in Christ and saved us. Paul told Timothy, ‘formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent’ of Christ and the gospel (1 Tim. 1:13). But God had mercy on him. He was a new man in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), God had remembered his sins no more, buried them in the deepest sea, and removed them from him as far as the east is from the west. This is a good kind of remembering. But there is a remembering of ‘former things’ that is far from healthy. They continue to haunt us, like a dark cloud that seems always to be there. Only when the gospel of God’s forgiving, restoring love in Christ rescues us from the tyranny of ‘former things’ can we begin to be ‘one-thing-I-do’ men and women. I said earlier that there was an ‘ineradicably heavenly-mindedness’ about Paul. It was this heavenly-mindedness that defined the shape of his Christian life. In all he was and did, Paul pressed on ‘toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:14). He had no intention of ambling his way to glory. Like a compelling magnet, the eternal glories drew him onward and upward.
It was said of Richard Sibbes that heaven was in him before he was in heaven. So it was with Paul. Does all this seem too intense, too serious, too much? Well, besides Paul and Richard Sibbes our lives may seem lacking in every way. But is it not your heart’s desire to be a ‘one-thing-I-do’ man, woman? If not, I suggest you have serious questions to ask yourself. Our Lord Jesus once spoke these deeply searching words: ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10:37). So, it all comes down to this: What value do you place upon the Lord Jesus Christ? The value you place on him will be the measure you live for him.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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