Press On Toward the Goal (Philippians 3:12-16)

I preached this on 3 November 2019.

Press On Toward the Goal

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Bible Text: Philippians 3:12-16 (NIV)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Prayer

“Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Sermon

In last week’s sermon from Philippians 3:8-11, I spoke about knowing Christ’s worth. I said that knowing Christ is worth more than everything else, and knowing His surpassing worth, we are to pursue Him.

Today’s passage continues from where we left off. My sermon is entitled “Press On Toward the Goal” and I’ve divided up the sermon into two parts.

First, I’ll talk about the goal. Here we will consider two questions: “What is the Goal?” and “Are we there yet?”

Second, I’ll talk about pressing on toward the goal. Here I highlight 3 things that are needed as we press on toward the goal: (1) wholehearted effort, (2) focus on your race and Jesus, and (3) persevere for the prize.

1. “What is The Goal?”

In Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice in Wonderland, there is a scene where Alice asks for directions from the Cheshire Cat:

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`Cheshire Puss,’ Alice began, … `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’

Alice asked for directions from the Cat, but the problem was that she herself had no idea where she wanted to go.

And so the Cat wisely answered, “If you don’t know and don’t care where you end up, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Because Alice didn’t have a goal, she was purposeless, and directionless.

Most of us know the power of having a goal – it gives us something to aspire toward and motivates us to work hard to try to achieve those goals we set.

We set all kinds of goals in our lives = short term, medium term and long term goals. We set goals for different areas of our lives too = studies, relationships, finances, health, career, etc.

But what about goals for our Christian life? The Apostle Paul had a goal. In Philippians 3:12-13a, Paul says,

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.”

What is the “all this” and the “goal” Paul is referring to? The answer comes from studying the context of the passage – we need to look at the Bible verses that come just before this verse.

Thus, to understand verse 12, we look back at what Paul was talking about in verses 10-11. There he says,

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

So we learn that the “all this” and “goal” in v12 refers to knowing Christ.

Paul was pursuing a real, deep, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ that comes from having a personal relationship with Jesus. Paul pursued this in 3 areas: (1) Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection, (2) Participating in Christ’s sufferings, and (3) Becoming like Jesus in his death.

RecapThe first step is to know the goal of our Christian life and that is: to know Christ.

// transition… now that we know the goal, the next question to ask is, “Are we there yet? Have we reached our goal?”

2. “Are we there yet?”

Have you ever had the experience of riding in a car with children?

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And have you ever heard them ask the question, “Are we there yet?” And the adult or parent (or whoever is in the car) will answer, “No, we’re not yet there…we will let you know when we’re there.”

And every few minutes, you hear the question ring out, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” After a while, it may get irritating! I admit I was/am one of them. Parents – hang in there!

We may laugh at this, but in our Christian journey, we can actually ask the same question – “Are we there yet?”

The danger is when we think that we have arrived in our Christian journey. This is especially true for those of us who have been Christians for some time and we think we’ve “arrived” spiritually. Picture10

Perhaps we’ve gone through baptism classes, confirmation classes, Bible study classes, attended cell groups, heard lectures, lessons, sermons, or even gone through theological studies and are rather satisfied with how much we know already.

Perhaps we’ve served in different ministries, gone on mission trips, did community outreach, evangelism, etc – and have the attitude, “been there, done that.

And the danger is that we become rather complacent, our heads swell up and we are satisfied with ourselves.

We may stop wanting to learn more about God. We feel reluctant to read our Bibles, join a Bible study, come for prayer meeting, and we easily tune out when the sermon is being preached – we think we’ve arrived in our Christian walk.

 We may decline to serve in church, or go on a mission trip, thinking, I’ve already been there, done that.

Dear brothers and sisters, I admit that I too have fallen into this trap before. I confess that at times in my Christian walk I had become complacent, proud and thought I had arrived in my Christian journey.

And this is a dangerous attitude to have.

What then should be our attitude in regards to our Christian journey?

Recognize in humility that we are not yet there in our Christian journey. 

We are to be humble just as the Apostle Paul was. Paul was clear that he was not yet there in His Christian journey!

Paul confesses that he has not yet arrived at his goal. In humility, Paul admits that he still has so much to learn in terms of knowing Jesus Christ. Also, in verse 13 he says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it.”

Paul is clear that he is not yet there in His Christian journey!

Did Paul eventually arrive at his goal? I believe he did.

Towards the end of his life, before his execution, Paul wrote to Timothy:

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8)

Paul here declares, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And Paul looked forward to the prize that was waiting for him – the crown of righteousness. In today’s passage, Phil 3:14 Paul mentions that he presses on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus. (I will talk more about the prize later, but for now, to recap…)

Paul eventually arrived at his goal. But at the time of writing Philippians, he wrote that he was not yet there.

And for us today, we are to recognize in humility that we are not yet there in our Christian journey. 

Application (so what does this mean for us practically?):

We are to humbly admit that we are not yet there in our Christian journey. Ask God to forgive us for our pride and complacency.

Think of some ways that we can continue to grow in our Christian journey. Examples:

  • Committing to a regular quiet time with the Lord in Bible Reading and prayer
  • Joining a Bible Study/Life Group
  • Attending Christian education lectures/classes
  • Practice of spiritual disciplines
  • Pray with others, join Prayer meetings

I want to add that the Christian journey is not meant to be lived alone. An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Also, we know that in a race, running with others who encourage us to keep pace is important.

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Thus, we are to journey together with other Christians, encouraging each other along the way.

// Now that we know that we must recognise in humility that we are not yet there in our Christian journey, our response is to press on.

3. Press On

But how do we press on?

There are three important things to keep in mind as we press on.

  1. Wholehearted effort
  2. Focus on Your race and Jesus
  3. Persevere for the Prize

#1 Wholehearted Effort

In the movie City Slickers, Mitch was a middle-aged salesman who had become disillusioned with his life at work and at home. You could say he had a mid-life crisis. Mitch decides to go for a vacation at a cattle ranch, where he would spend time with a real-life cowboy called Curly, riding horses and herding cattle.

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One day, as Curly and Mitch were together, Curly, the old cowboy tells Mitch,

“You all come out here about the same age. Same problems. Spend 50 weeks a year getting knots in your rope. Then you think 2 weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it.”

(Hearing this, Mitch fell silent.)

So Curly tells him, “Do you know what the secret of life is?”

Mitch: “No, What?”

Curly: “This.” (Curly holds up one finger.)

Mitch: “Your finger?”

Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean a thing.”

Mitch: “That’s great. But what’s the one thing?”

Curly: “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

Curly was telling Mitch that if you want to succeed in life, you have to find that one thing to focus on in life, and put your wholehearted effort into it.

We can probably think of successful people in their respective fields be it business, research, sports, acting, music, etc who rose to the top by finding that “one thing” and putting their wholehearted effort into pursuing their goal.

For Paul, it is clear that his “one thing” in life was to know Christ, and in Philippians 3:13b-14, he tells us about his wholehearted effort in pressing on toward that goal:

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

When Paul speaks of “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”, Paul is using athletic terms. He compares the Christian life to running a race. A runner must keep his eyes on the finish line and strain – this speaks of wholehearted effort – toward the finishing line.

The word “press on” which Paul uses in verses 12 and 14 means to chase aggressively, and pursue like hunter. And the word “take hold” which is used 3 times (in verses 12 and 13) is also an aggressive word. It means to “seize, to grab something in a firm/forceful manner in order to make that something your possession.” It’s like in rugby where you jump and force a person down!

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“Press On” and “Take Hold”

That’s wholehearted effort!

#2 Focus on Your Race and Jesus

It’s very important for a runner not to lose focus, and not be distracted by who or what is behind him.

There is an interesting story of a race between John Landy and Roger Bannister. Bannister was the first man to break the 4-minute mile barrier, and surprisingly, Landy broke that record several weeks later.

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The two men were then set to compete against one another in the 1954 British Empire Games – who would prevail? Landy took an early lead, but Bannister kept up the pace and closed the gap with each successive lap around the track.

In the final stretch of the race, Landy glanced back over his shoulder, wanting to know how far behind Bannister was – and at that very moment, Bannister passed by his right shoulder! Sports writers wondered what could have been had Landy focused on his own race, and pushed as hard as he could without worrying about what Bannister was doing.

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The problem was that John Landy had lost his focus. He was focused not just on his own race, but focused on someone else’s race!

Hebrews 12:2 speaks about not losing our focus:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

We are to run with perseverance the race marked out for us – we are to run our race, not someone else’s race! Here there is no need to look around to compare ourselves to others, rather focus on your race – the race God has marked out specially for you!

Also, besides focusing on our own race, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that we need to focus on Jesus. It says that as we run the race, we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus”. Jesus is ahead of us, and he has already finished the race – our focus needs to be on Jesus.

Perhaps you have been previously active in serving in Church, but because of certain things that have happened – you’ve decided to step away from serving and ministry. We need to ask ourselves, “Who am I focusing on? Am I focusing on running my own race? Is my focus on Jesus, or is it other people/the situation?”

When we focus on others, we fall into the trap of comparison – when our focus should be instead on our own race. And when we stop focusing on Jesus – whom we are serving, we end up losing our focus and motivation to serve. Remember that our focus must be on Jesus – it is Him who you are serving. That is why Colossians 3:23-24 says,

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Recap: In our Christian life, don’t lose focus. Focus on your own race and Jesus.

#3 Persevere for the Prize

In Phil 3:14, Paul says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize…”

And what is the prize? Let’s look at 1 Cor 9:24-25 :

“24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Paul tells us to run in such a way as to get the prize – a crown that will last forever.

It is unclear what exactly this refers to, but one thing that is clear is that it doesn’t refer to eternal life. Eternal life is given as a gift based solely on whether you have believed in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Because eternal life is a gift, it is not something that we can work for.

Nevertheless, although Christians have the assurance of eternal life, the rewards we receive will vary based on one’s faithfulness and service to the Lord. The Bible’s teaching is clear that believers will receive different degrees of reward in heaven based on the way you live you life here on earth.

For example, Jesus tells us to “Rejoice and be glad when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me … because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matt 5:11-12)

Jesus also told us, “When you pray, give to the needy, and fast, you are to do so in secret – so that God our Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:6) And we remember the parable of the talents (Matt 25). Here the Master entrusts different sums of money to each of his servants. Upon his return, the Master rewards the servants differently, based on how they had used the talents given to them.

Believers are rewarded based on how they’ve run their race – thus how you live your life here on earth is important.

Knowing that prizes/rewards await us based on how we’ve run our race, 1 Cor 9:25-27 tells us that perseverance (and discipline) is needed:

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training … I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

We have probably heard of the strict training required by athletes and performers to excel in what they do. They have special diets, regular hours in the gym, hours of practice, etc. And this speaks of perseverance.

Perseverance means not giving up when the going is tough. It has the idea “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.”

Maybe some of us have found it difficult to press on in our Christian journey because we have encountered some setbacks and discouragements in your life. The Bible tells us to press on – keep our focus on our own race (not others!) and keep our focus on Jesus. Stay on track to run the race marked out for you with perseverance. See the setbacks in your life positively – they help you regain your focus on the “one thing” to live for – Jesus.

Like Paul, we persevere until we know that we have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.

Recap: Persevere for the prize.

Let me close with a story.

Conclusion

In 1968, John Stephen Akhwari represented Tanzania in the marathon at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Akhwari was was not used to the high altitude of Mexico – it is 2300m above sea level – and he began suffering from a cramp.

Nevertheless, Akhwari was determined to keep up with the rest of the pack. However, about halfway through the race as the runners were jockeying for position, Akhwari was involved in a pile-up. He fell and suffered a badly gashed and dislocated right knee, as well as a bruised shoulder.

Akhwari was advised to pull out of the race – indeed, 18 of the 75 athletes who lined up for the race would fail to complete the course – but courage and pride outweighed the intense pain he was suffering. After receiving some treatment and a bandage for his knee from trackside medics, Akhwari elected to continue, and finish what he had started.

An Ethiopian runner claimed the gold medal in 2 hours 20 minutes.

Soon, the sun had set and the crowd was filtering out of the stadium. But just then the lone figure of Akhwari emerged – his knee bandaged and bleeding as he was embarking on the final 800m stretch of the marathon!  The TV crews rushed back to their spots to capture the moment when Akhwari limped over the finish line, an hour and 5 minutes after the winning time.

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When asked why Akhwari persevered in such punishing circumstances, Akhwari uttered one of the most memorable and inspirational lines in the history of the Games:

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“My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race.

They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

Akhwari knew the goal – he was to finish the race. He gave his wholehearted effort, focused on running his race, and persevered till the end.

Dear friends, our Christian life is like a journey or race.

First we need to know that our goal is to know Christ. In humility, we are to recognize that we are not yet there – we have not arrived. We are to keep pressing on toward this goal of knowing Christ.

So how do we press on toward the goal? 3 things are needed: (1) wholehearted effort, (2) focus on your race and Jesus, and (3) persevere for the prize.

Like Paul, at the end of our lives may we be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Let us pray together.

For some of you here today, perhaps your desire is to be part of this race. The way to register for this race is simple: you have to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. And God will give you the gift of eternal life immediately! Is God calling you to join this race today?  If you want to say yes to God today, please repeat the words of this prayer after me.

“Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.”

For the rest of us, let us pray using the words of this Collect for the 18th Sunday after Trinity :

“Almighty and everlasting God,

Increase in us your gift of faith;

That, forsaking what lies behind and

reaching out to that which is before,

We may run the way of your commandments and

Win the crown of everlasting joy;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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