“Brethren, as for myself, I do not think it something to attain — but one thing is indeed so, caring nothing about what is past, I stretch forward to that which is ahead — I move decisively toward the goal; to the prize that is the highest call of God in Christ Jesus.”
If you know me well, you know that one of the things that I emphasize is that in God’s economy, there are no higher or lower callings — no higher vocation. If God calls you to serve him as a carpenter, a mechanic, a teacher, a farmer, a lawyer, an accountant, a musician, a doctor, a pastor, a garbage collector, a cook, or a missionary…whatever moral occupation you might pursue, it is a calling from God and is to be pursued to the glory of your savior, Jesus Christ.
So, what, then, does Paul mean when he speaks of the “higher call” of God? In this context, Paul is not so much speaking about calling in terms of an occupation, but in terms of a calling in life. Here there is a Biblical sense of a higher calling for in this context there are only two callings possible: the higher call of God in Christ Jesus and the lower call of this world and self. In this context, Paul is saying that he pursues the higher calling, making nothing of what has gone in the past…he will not be swerved from the goal.
When I was in school, I was a sprinter on the track team. As a sprinter, one must keep their focus only on the goal ahead. One must forget the crowd, one must forget the athletes that are coming up behind you, and one must ignore the distractions of the field events that are going on during the race. If a sprinter turns his or her head to look at something even for a moment, the straight path that they were traveling is no longer straight, but the runner will deviate from his or her lane because of this simple motion. Paul’s desire is not to run a race where he weaves back and forth all over the track, but to run straight and hard toward the goal. Again, not that he earns the salvation Christ offers, but because Christ has saved him, Paul wants to run in a way that honors his master and that makes the most out of his life. The work has been done for us, but we do affect how we respond to that work, will we labor to the glory of God or will we wobble all over the track?
How often we find ourselves in a very different position than Paul. We do care about the things we have left behind and often our hearts wander back to those things. We want praise and recognition for what we do and for what we say not to give all of that honor to Christ, using our accomplishments solely to point the eyes of others toward Christ as well. We wander all over the track and even sometimes go back to the starting blocks where the race began. Friends, let us not do so, but let us walk in newness of life and run the race that is before us without wavering or becoming distracted by the things of this world that cannot compare to the eternal weight of the glory of heaven. If we really believe that is better, why do we wobble all over the track?