Hungering for Power (Lenten Reflections)

Text: Philippians 3:4-14

That can’t be a commendable hunger, can it? To hunger for power.

It depends on what kind of power we are talking about. To hunger for Caesar’s power (or wealth or status) is ungodly, but to hunger for the power to become like Jesus is something different.

This is not a hunger for a credentialed status, even a religious status. Paul refuses to find his confidence in the “flesh,” that is, his credentials—ethnic, pure-blooded Jew from the elite tribe of Benjamin whose obedience and zeal for the Torah was exemplary, even for a Pharisee. Among God’s covenant people, few—if any—could top that resume. But Paul regarded it as garbage in comparison to knowing Christ.

This is Paul’s hunger—to know Christ. This hunger is partially satisfied through being found in Christ where the faithfulness of Christ has achieved for us a status of righteousness. It is the gift of God which we receive by faith. This is worth the loss of all our fleshly credentials.

But Paul hungers for more than a declaration that he has been “set right” (righteousness) in Christ. He yearns to be credentialed beyond a declaration. He wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. He wants to become like Christ. He wants to share the path that Christ walked through suffering, death and resurrection.

This hunger pushes Paul to press on toward maturity. It moves him to pursue the goal. Paul races toward the finish line, toward the full experience of God’s gift—not only through a declaration but also in existential reality, that is, in a sanctified, mature life that mirrors the image of Christ.

This is the tension in which believers live. We are declared righteous in Christ but we press on toward the goal. We know Christ but we desire to know him more fully. We are possessed by God but we yearn to possess Christ. We “set right” by faith but we also hunger to live by faith.

The Lenten season does not forget that we are “set right,” but renews our hunger to become what God has called us to be. The Lenten season does not undermine the faithfulness of Christ or replace our work with Christ’s work, but rekindles the yearning to share Christ’s life, to become like Christ.

The practice of Lent is not a fleshly credential, though it can become that for some just as practicing Torah was that from some in Paul’s day. Lent is not works righteousness. Rather, it is pressing forward. It is a letting go of the past and present hindrances in order to pursue (or strain toward) the goal of becoming like Jesus. Lent provides an opportunity to focus our pursuit.

Lent should never serve the goal of securing God’s gift of righteousness. Believers, rather than unbelievers, practice Lent. Believers, who have already been “set right” by faith, use Lent as an occasion to embrace and deepen their fellowship with God. Knowing Christ, believers hunger to know Christ better. They hunger for the power of the resurrection which transforms them into the likeness of Christ in soul now but also in body later.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your credentials according to the “flesh”? Socially? Vocationally? Religiously
  2. What “credential” does Paul desire in this text? How would you describe it? What does it entail?
  3. Name something for which you “hunger” in Christ for your life? In what ways do you hunger to become like Jesus?
  4. How does your experience of Lent or your pursuit of God move you forward in satisfying this hunger? What practices, values or experiences in life have brought you closer to becoming like Jesus?

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