June 21, 2024

Would the Apostle Paul fill out an Individual Growth Plan (IGP)?


The Apostle Paul was committed to life-long learning. We see this very clearly in Philippians 3:12-16. I will start quoting from verse 7 to pick up the context:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes from faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 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. 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. (ESV)

Paul’s example of lifelong learning in Philippians 3:12-16 spells out the reality: we have not arrived. Twice Paul states that he has not arrived: in verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” and in verse 13, “I do not consider that I have made it my own.” He recognizes that he has room to grow. Going through the IGP process begins with this recognition that we have room to grow. In verse 17, Paul urges us to “join in imitating me.” Imitation must start at this foundational level that we all can grow, we are not already perfect.

The second thing we see in this passage is the motive for growth: the gospel. Verse 12 gives his reason for pressing on, “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” These words are describing the gospel and all that Paul has written in verses 7-11. Christ Jesus has made us his own, we have gained Christ, we know him, we are found in him, we have in him a righteousness through faith. Pursuing growth is not sliding back into a works relationship with Jesus. It is explicitly because Jesus has made us his own that we should pursue growth. The gospel is a powerful motive for growth. In his biography, John Newton wrote that whenever he felt his heart cold and hard he would take it to the cross where he found it warmed and softened. The gospel also breeds a humility that recognizes that we have not yet arrived. Yet it is a humility that does not wallow in our current situation but has great hope for becoming like Jesus, confident that since he has made us his own, he will complete the work.

Paul uses athletic imagery to describe his strategy: we press on. Verse 13 describes this pressing on as “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” There are two scenes in the movie “Chariots of Fire” that illustrate this description. In one, Abrams looks back over his shoulder at the end of the race and loses. In the other scene, Liddell is tripped, gets up running with great focus and wins the race. Pressing on is a strategy that does not focus on the past, whether failures or successes, but pursues the goal. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Do you not know that in a race all runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)

“Pressing on” is not running aimlessly but a disciplined approach to life with clear goals.

Philippians 3:14 spells out the goal: the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I understand this to be the completion of our salvation, the call to heaven and perfect fellowship with the triune God. It would certainly include future ministry on the way to that goal. Paul wants to experience Christ making him his own in all its fullness.

Paul says this is the mature perspective on the Christian life in verse 15. Those who are mature will recognize that they have not arrived, will be motivated by the gospel to press on until they are perfect in heaven. The Christian in this world is in a race motivated by the gospel, pursuing the prize of the completion of redemption in God’s presence. Pressing on for the goal clearly involves how we walk. Notice Paul’s comments in verse 17, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” We need to take an intentional approach to life.

So, would the apostle Paul fill out an IGP? I believe he would welcome this tool and encourage us to be intentional life-long learners motivated by the gospel and pursuing the completion of our redemption.

Check out the SEND U wiki page for IGPs and follow Paul’s example of pressing on!

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