15 December 2017

Going for Gold – Philippians 3:12-14

In Philippians 3 the Christian is likened to a banker weighing up his assets and arrears, an athlete running a race and a stranger whose citizenship is in heaven while passing through this world.

Did you hear about this fellow who looked at his wife and said, “Do you have anything to say before the match begins?” I guess that’s the way it is likely to be when the Olympics begin later this year.

The Olympic Games played a major part in Greek society in Paul’s time. His letters make frequent reference to athletic events, and in his travels he must have known of the stadia and some great athletic events. In the skill of the athletes Paul saw many images and parallels which apply to Christian living. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 he illustrated the Christian life as a runner, a boxer and a wrestler. In Philippians 3:12-14 he compares the Christian life to running a race.

His reference to this is in the context of a full-grown mature Christian. Paul’s repeated use of the word ‘perfect’ in this passage does not refer to sinless perfection but to being full-grown in the Lord. We mature and develop in our Christian lives as we run the race of life looking unto Jesus.

Let us compare the Christian life to running a long distance race looking unto Jesus.

1. Starting the Race – The Path that Lay before Him

We enter the arena with Paul.

(a) Accepting the invitation to run. This is the starting line. “…that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Paul was saying, “I am in hot pursuit to lay hold of that for which I am laid hold of by Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ laid hold of Paul on the Damascus Road when he met the Lord Jesus personally. Our Christian life began when Jesus Christ laid hold of us and saved us by His marvellous grace.

We sometimes say, “If you are not in it, you cannot win it.” We must start the race before we can run the race; we must know Christ before we know Christian life. We cannot live a Christian life until we have had the Christian experience. The race of which Paul spoke was not a 100-yard dash. The picture is more compatible with running a marathon. Some spiritual athletes may be known for their fast starts while others are known for their slow starts. Lot had a fast start as did Samson. However, Moses had a slow start, John Mark had a disappointing start, but Joseph was a steady plodder.

The Christian life begins by looking to Jesus (Isaiah 45:22), the Christian race is run looking unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and the Christian life will end when we shall look upon His face (Revelation 22:5).

(b) Appropriating the potential for the race. “If I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended” – “I want to be everything Jesus Christ saved me to be.” God has a wonderful plan for each of His children. His purpose for us is to be mature, active, useful and fruitful Christians. Paul was not satisfied with where he was in his Christian life. He wanted to know more about Christ and grow more in Christ.

2. Staying the Race – The Passion that Gripped Him

Paul teaches us three very important aspects in running the Christian race:

(a) He was focused on the present. “This one this I do…” Paul was so focused and determined that he did not allow anything to divert him from his goal. The Bible consistently teaches us to stay focused. Look up the ‘one things’ in the following verses. (Psalm 27:4; Mark 10:21; Luke 10:42; John 9:25)

We are admonished to be focused in Hebrews 12:1,2: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”

(b) He forgot and forsook the past. “Forgetting those things that are behind…” This was not a case of not remembering the past. It was not letting the past hinder the present (see Luke 9:62). The athlete in a race dare not look back, or he will lose his speed, his direction and maybe lose the race. It takes a very definite decision not to let our lives be controlled by our past. Stay focused on the Saviour.

i. We should forget our past failures. If we allow past failures to fill us with despair and defeat, we must forget them. We may look at past failures as opportunities to learn from and grow by. We may allow our failures to teach us but not to terrorize us. When Sir Winston Churchill visited the United States during World War II, he was heard to say, “If the past quarrels with the past, there can be no future. We must learn to accept the past as unalterable and move on.”

ii. We should forget our past successes. Remembrance of past successes should make us grateful, but not proud. Earlier in the chapter Paul had already listed the many things in his past that could have caused him to be proud, but he counted them as dung that he might win Christ. He made a definite decision to ‘forget’ them.

iii. We should forget our past grievances. Too many people cannot enjoy the present because they are living their lives with grievance against somebody or something in the past. Try to be like Joseph when his brothers came to him after his father had died. They were afraid Joseph was going to get his own back on them. Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” That is one of the greatest statements of the Bible.

3. Finishing the Race – The Prize that Lay before Him

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Note two things about finishing the race:

(a) There is the mark to reach. “I press toward the mark.” Paul was referring to the finishing line. My goal is to finish this race. The wonderful thing about the Christian life is that every runner can be a winner (see 2 Timothy 4:6). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Jesus puts us into the race at the starting line and will be at the end of the race to welcome us home.

A farmer often speaks of fixing his eye on an unmoveable object to help him plough a straight furrow. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the unmoveable Object.

(b) There is the medal to receive. “…for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” A high calling means an upward calling. In ancient Greece the winning athlete was taken to the upper deck, they were ‘called up’ to the Emperor’s box to receive a laurel wreath of honour.

Paul says, “I’m running to hit the tape and to receive the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. It will be something to be called up by Jesus, and He will give us that reward, “Well done…”

Perhaps you may feel that it is too hard to run this Christian race, the cost is more than you can pay and the energy more than you can give. Remember that the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus is worth more than we could ever give.

William Borden was from a very wealthy American family. After graduation from Yale he decided to go out to China as a missionary. Many friends thought him foolish to give up so much wealth and a great future to go to China. But William Borden loved the Lord and wanted to serve him there. On his way to China young Borden contracted a fatal disease and died in Egypt. He had given up everything to follow the Saviour. At his bedside his friends found a note that he had written as he lay dying. It stated, “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets.” William Borden must have read Philippians 3.

Victor Maxwell