The Herald Weekly Vol XVII : 21

Pressing on Towards the Goal

Philippians 3:12-14

The Apostle wrote to the Philippian believers while he was in prison. He said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).

The keen global competition for the Olympic prize reminds us of Paul urging the Philippian Christian to be in the race that God has set for His people. He reminds us that he is running for the “prize of the high calling of God,” and that we are also in the heaven-bound race. The prize is the award to be presented to the winner in this spiritual race. Paul wanted us to run a good race and he wanted us to win the prize that God has prepared for all believers!

Paul said in 2 Tim 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”

In the Philippian passage, there are three important aspects to note about the race that we have been challenged to take part: (1) The exhortation to run the race, (2) the devotion to exercise in the race, and (3) the direction in the race.

(1) Exhortation to Run the Race

In running the spiritual race, we need to focus our eyes upon Jesus Christ. In order to do that, we need to turn a blind eye to the attractions of the world, and also a deaf ear to the lures of worldly compromises. If we will attain the prize of Christlikeness, then there is a cost of dedication and perseverant in struggle. How well are you running this race? Are your eyes set on Jesus alone?

Let the words of the following hymn move us to fix our heart, mind and emotions on Jesus:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of the earth
will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

If we focus our eyes on Jesus, then that will give us the direction we need to successfully run the race for His glory, and for our eternal benefit when we obtain the prize in heaven!

Many years ago, a promising Greek artist named Timanthes worked under the instruction of a well-known tutor. After working for several years, the young painter created an exquisite portrait. He was so thrilled with what he had painted that he however, was horrified to discover that his teacher had deliberately defaced his painting. Angry, and in tears, Timanthes asked why his mentor had destroyed his treasured possession. The wise man replied, “I did it for your own good because that painting was retarding your progress. It was an excellent piece of work, but it wasn’t perfect. Start again and see if you can do better.” The student took his advice, and produced a masterpiece regarded by some as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

Beloved, we could say it this way: If you think you have arrived, think again because the room for improvement is the largest room in the world. We are not perfect. Do not be self-satisfied like the believers in the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17: “Because thou sayest, ‘I am rich; and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”

Some of us have stopped growing because we think we have arrived, or at least that we are doing better than others. The truth of the matter is that we are not perfect. Use this sense of dissatisfaction to spur us on to the next step. By the way, some believers struggle with prayer for the simple fact that they are too satisfied with their spiritual life. Dissatisfaction with one’s spiritual life can lead to more intercession and improvement in our walk with the Lord.

(2) Devotion to be Exercised in the Race (3:12b)

The tendency for some runners in a race is to give up when the running gets tough, or when they are hindered by muscle cramps, aches and pain. In the spiritual race, Paul did not do that. His dissatisfaction led him to become more devoted in the race: “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind… I press.” To “press on” means to “pursue as a hunter.” Paul had been pursuing the followers of Christ when he zealously “persecuted” the Church as a Pharisee. This word “press” is used also of a sprinter in the Greek games; it has the idea of moving quickly and energetically toward an objective, straining every muscle in order to win the prize. Christians need to do that with their spiritual muscles.

“Can a person be too spiritual?” The answer is this: “No, because we can all become more devoted than we are.” Hosea 6:3 captures this: “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” Paul not only chased after Christ, he also wanted to catch Him. He wanted to “talk hold,” which means to “take eagerly” or possess. Jesus had taken hold of him, slamming him to the ground in Acts 9, and now he wanted to make sure that he was holding on to Christ. One of Charles Spurgeon’s mottos was this: “I hold and am held,” The Lord had seized Paul, and now Paul was determined to serve His Saviour for the rest of his life.

Are you giving maximum effort in your spiritual life, or are you a Christian on cruise control? Turn your dissatisfaction into devotion.

Young people, God has a purpose and a high destiny for you and your life. There is something for which God got hold of you. And our great life’s dedication is to get hold of that thing for which God hath got hold of us. “If I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Jesus Christ.” And you find that in God, in the will of God, in the purposes of God, in the destiny of God, in the high calling of God. There is a place in heaven for you, and your life and your task is to find it and to do it and to press toward it, that mark of the prize of your own high calling in Christ Jesus.

God bless you, young people, as you run the race, face forward, reaching out to that final verdict when God shall say, “Well done, this is your incorruptible and imperishable crown.”

(3) Direction in the Race (3:13)

In the spiritual life, direction makes all the difference. Paul again stated that he still fell short in fully appropriating all that is needed in the race. He has not fully “taken hold,” but he is determined to go in the right direction: “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before…” Paul had a single-minded focus like David who prayed in Psalm 86:11: “Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”

John MacArthur reports what his grandfather said to him on many occasions: “Just do one thing right in your life and you’ll be way ahead of most people.” Paul knew that if he was going to move forward he had to be unleashed from his past.

These are at least two areas that I think Paul had in mind when it comes to forgetting what is “behind.” This is something which I mentioned in my last message.

The garbage of good stuff. We spent time on this some weeks ago. Paul is saying that he is going to forget even the good things on his religious resume because none of this will get him any closer to God anyway.

The garbage of guilty stuff. Paul had plenty of reasons to fell guilty. After all, he had slaughtered saints and persecuted Christians. Some of you are so tied to the troubles of your past that you are not moving anywhere in the present.

To “forget” in the Bible means “to no longer be influenced by or affected by.” It is when we do not allow the past to control our present. While we cannot wipe stuff out of our memory banks, we can break the power of the past by allowing the Lord to unleash us from its influence. Let me demonstrate with these two bags of garbage that are tied to my neck. The white one represents good garbage and the black bag is the guilty garbage. Both of these bags are filled with garbage that needs to be forgotten. We need to allow the Lord to unleash us from the past (throws the two bags in the garbage bin).

A sailboat is the right picture to illustrate how God moves us. As His Spirit fills us (the sails of our boat in life), we still have a responsibility to steer the “boat” and stay in balance. A good sailor must be determined to keep in the correct direction in order to cruise across the water.

Let us be careful about looking back. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife in Genesis 19:26: “But his (Lot’s) wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” As a sprinter straining toward the finish line, don’t look behind you. The picture here is of an athlete stretching out his neck, mobilizing every muscles, giving all that he has to win the race. You cannot run forward if you keep looking backwards.

One pastor used a creative title for his sermon on this passage that says it all, “Yesterday ended last night.” If you want to move forward, you have to let go of what is behind because your past can be a prison.

Look not back on yesterday
So full of failure and regret;
Look ahead and seek God’s way –
All sins confessed you must forget.

In a Daily Bread devotional called “Seeing or Remembering,” there is a story about a man who was slowly losing his memory. The doctor told him that surgery might reverse this condition and restore his memory, but a nerve might be severed in the process, causing total blindness. The surgeon asked the patient: “What would you rather have, your sight or your memory?” The man pondered over the question for a few minutes, and then replied, “My sight, because I would rather see where I’m going than remember where I’ve been.” Do you see where you are going or are you tripped up by the trash of your past?

David Livingstone, a pioneer missionary to Africa, returned to Great Britain and was asked: “What do you want to do now?” He responded: “I am ready to go anywhere provided it be forward.” We must put the past out of our minds and never forget the future. We are called heavenward. Focusing on the future will have a purifying effect on the present as thought in 1 John 3:2-3: “But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

As we look up and look ahead, we will be less prone to be paralyzed by our past. We must live in light of eternity, expecting either the Rapture or our departure at death to be transported to the shores of heaven.

May the Lord enable us His beloved children to run the heavenward race with true devotion and direction that we all may win the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Pastor Bob Phee
(1st Printing 15 July 2012)

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