This is an amusing story from the Christian Reader.
My five-year-old grandnephew was obviously worried as he looked down the long aisle of the church where his aunt was to be married the following day. His grandmother had an idea. "I think I'll give a prize to the person who does the best job tomorrow," she told him.
We were all holding our breath the next day, but when it was time, the ringbearer performed without a hitch.
When his grandmother told him he had won the prize, he was both excited and relieved. "I was pretty sure I had it," he admitted, "until Aunt Dana came in wearing that white dress and the horn was blowing. Then I started thinking–she might win!" 1
As Christians we are pressing on toward a prize. The Apostle Paul often compared the Christian life to different types of athletics. In our passage this morning in Philippians, Paul compares the Christian life to running a race. Look with me at Philippians 3:12-16.
ve already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
In verse 12 Paul says, I press on. In verse 14 he says, I press toward the goal. The idea of the word press is to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after. The phrase press on gives us the picture of one in a race running swiftly to reach the goal. The Christian life is like being in a race. We are running to win the prize.
I enjoy watching the foot races in the Olympics. It’s amazing how fast the Olympic athletes can run. Few people can achieve the kinds of speeds that Olympic athletes do. Runners train long and hard to compete. It takes a great deal of effort to be a world-class runner. Lots of practice and hard work is required to win the prized gold medal. That’s the way it is in the Christian life as well. Now, I am not saying that we can work to earn salvation. Last week we saw very clearly that it is God through Jesus Christ who makes us righteous. Salvation is God’s gift to us through faith. It isn’t something we can earn or achieve by our own efforts.
But when it comes to living the Christian life it does require effort on our part. We don’t automatically achieve spiritual maturity when we trust Christ as Lord and Savior. It’s a growth process that takes time and it takes effort on our part.
We are not going to grow if we aren’t spending time in the Word.
We are not going to grow if we aren’t being taught the Word regularly.
We aren’t going to grow if aren’t spending time in prayer.
We aren’t going to grow if we aren’t gathering with other believers and getting encouraged by them and encouraging them in return.
Faith is just the beginning of the race we run as Christians and we need to exercise our faith and put it into practice.
We need to be like Paul and press on or run the race. It takes effort on our part to grow and mature as believers.
Sometimes we need a bit of motivation. Like this salesman;
Harry came out of the manager’s office with a look on his face dismal enough to wilt the roses on the secretary’s desk.
“You didn’t get fired?” she asked.
“No, it’s not that bad. But he sure did lay into me about my sales record. I can’t figure it out; for the past month I’ve been bringing in plenty of orders. I thought he’d compliment me, but instead he told me to get with it.”
Later in the day, the secretary talked to her boss about Harry. The boss chuckled. “Harry is one of our best salesmen and I’d hate to lose him. But he has a tendency to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with his performance. If I didn’t get him mad at me once a month, he’d never produce!” 2
Sadly as believers we can be like Harry. We can just sit back and be satisfied with the fact that we are saved and on our way to Heaven and forget that we are in a race and we need to keep pressing to the goal. Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3.
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3a for you are still carnal.
Paul was not a babe in Christ. He was pressing on. He was running the race. He wasn’t content to sit back and take it easy. He wanted to make progress. This morning as we think about pressing on in our Christian life – about running the race as believers – there are four areas we’ll be looking at in our passage this morning. There are four things we need to remember as we press on. First, when it comes to perfection we need to be realistic. When it comes to the past we need to be forgetful. When it comes to the prize we need to be focused and in the pursuit we need to be engaged.
Perfection (12) – Be Realistic
Look again at what Paul says in verse 12.
Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Paul makes it clear that he hasn’t arrived. He isn’t perfect. There are those that teach and believe that Christians can be perfect in this life. They teach that you can reach a point where you are perfect here on earth and no longer sin. Perhaps there were similar teachings around in Paul’s day. He makes it clear that he hadn’t achieved perfection. He was striving after it but hadn’t reached it. Perfection is our goal as believers but it will not be fully realized until we are in Heaven.
If we think we have arrived and are sinless we deceive ourselves. Look at 1 John 1:7-9.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Adoniram Judson wrote,
“In encouraging other young men to come out as missionaries, do use the greatest caution. One wrong-headed, conscientiously obstinate fellow would ruin us.” Then he described the sort of person he preferred: “Humble, quiet, persevering men; men of sound, sterling talents (though, perhaps, not brilliant), of decent accomplishments, and some natural aptitude to acquire a language; men of an amiable temper, willing to take the lowest place, to be the least of all and the servants of all; men who live near to God, and are willing to suffer all things for Christ’s sake, without being proud of it, these are the men.” Then Judson added, “But oh, how unlike this description is the writer of it!” The great pioneer missionary acknowledged his own shortcomings. 3
When it comes to perfection we need to be realistic. We need to understand as Paul understood about himself and as Adoniram Judson understood about himself, that we haven’t arrived. We haven’t achieved perfection and never will while we live on this earth but we should be striving to “be holy” like God is holy.
When we are realistic about our lack of perfection it should help us to realize that others aren’t perfect either. We need to be patient with other believers and forgiving when they fail. Being realistic about the fact that we haven’t arrived helps to keep us humble and more loving to others who haven’t arrived yet either.
It’s good to be realistic and own up to our shortcomings and failures. We need to be aware of sin in our lives and confess it and turn from it. Seeing areas in our lives that are lacking can be good motivation to press on and grow and mature.
Paul was realistic when it came to perfection. He understood that he had not achieved it in his own life. As Paul pressed on in his Christian life he knew that he wasn’t perfect and when it came to the past he was forgetful.
Look at verse 13.
Past (13) – Be Forgetful
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
Paul says I forget the past and am reaching forward to what lies ahead in the future. When it comes to the past we need to be like Paul and be forgetful. Paul isn’t saying that he didn’t actually remember his past. He clearly understood his past and had not forgotten the man he once was, but he did not let his past discourage him or defeat him. He was determined to press on and to keep running the race.
John MacArthur says…
Paul made a break with everything in his past, both good and bad. Religious achievements, virtuous deeds, great successes in ministry, as well as sins, missed opportunities, and disasters must all be forgotten. They do not control the present or the future. Believers cannot live on past victories, nor should they be debilitated by the guilt of past sins.
Churches are full of spiritual cripples, paralyzed by the grudges, bitterness, sins, and tragedies of the past. Others try to survive in the present by reliving past successes. They must break with that past if they are to pursue the spiritual prize. God is interested in what believers do now and in the future. “No one,” declared Jesus, “after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). The clearest vision belongs to those who forget the past. 4
We need to be like Paul and when it comes to the past we need to forget it. We can’t let past failures paralyze us from doing what is right today. We can’t allow the past victories we achieved to cause us to become complacent and lazy today.
Good runners know that when they are competing in a race that they cannot look back or it will hinder them from doing their best. Forget the past. Don’t let it hinder your progress as you press on today. Joseph is a good example for us when it comes to forgetting the past. Remember how fearful his brothers were after all the wrong they had done to him and their father was no longer alive? They thought that now that their father was dead, Joseph might try to settle the score with them for all the wrong they had done against him. Instead of getting even look at how Joseph responded to his brothers.
Listen to Genesis 50:19-21;
19 Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 "Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph didn’t literally forget what had happened to him. He was well aware of their mistreatment of him. He says, “you meant evil against me.” What Joseph does is to act as if the wrong had not been done. He forgives his brothers and treats them kindly. He doesn’t live in the past hanging on to old hurts and grudges. He is willing to move on and forget the poor treatment and treat his brothers far better than they deserve.
That is what we need to do when it comes to the past. Joseph did not let his past hinder him from pleasing and honoring God. We need to do the same. Don’t allow the past to be a hindrance in the race you are running. Press on and forget the past.
When it comes to perfection, we need to be realistic, when it comes to the past we need to be forgetful and when it comes to the prize we need to be focused.
Look at verse 14.
Prize (14) – Be Focused
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul was focused on the goal. He was focused on the prize. A good runner is focused on the finish line.
In the book The Vance Havner Devotional Treasury, the author wrote, “I shall never forget Dr. R. A. Torrey saying to me as a young preacher, ‘Young man, make up your mind on one thing and stick to it.’” Havner comments, “The Christian life should be like a sword with one point, not like a broom ending in many straws. Such a single purpose forgets the past, reaches toward the future, and presses on. There is no time or place for side issues, diversions to the right or to the left. There is no place for hands on the plow with eyes looking back. Paul was a one-track man, but you can go a long way on one track!” 5
We need to keep our focus on the goal which is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
One commentator notes that,
…the Greek games must have been on his (Paul’s) mind as he wrote of the prize. The winner in those games was called to the place where the judge sat in order to receive his prize. Paul may have referred to ultimate salvation in God’s presence, or to receiving rewards at “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10).6
Paul was focused on eternity and what awaited him at the end of his life. We can get so mired down in the here and now that we lose our focus on eternity and the prize in store for us. Our focus needs to be clear and fixed on the eternal. The house we live in and the car we drive and the clothes we wear aren’t going to matter in eternity. What will matter is whether we lived lives that were pleasing to God and brought Him glory.
Paul’s focus was clear. He was pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. When it came to the prize, Paul was focused. The pursuit that Paul was engaged in was one he called others to as well.
When it comes to the pursuit, be engaged. Look at verses 15-16.
Pursuit (15-16) – Be Engaged
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
Paul appeals here to other believers who are mature to have the same mind he had. He encourages others to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus just as he was. He wants others to be involved in running the race like he was.
If you are one who has trusted Christ you need to be engaged in running the race like Paul and you need to be striving to be more like Christ.
Paul says, if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. We see here Paul’s confidence that God would work in the lives of believers who may not think completely like he did. There may be those who follow Christ that don’t see things just the way you do. But you can trust the Lord to do a revealing work in their lives—you can trust Christ to help them those who fear and obey Him to mature in their walk with Christ.
In verse 16 Paul encourages us to walk by the same rule, to be of the same mind. We must follow God’s Word in our own spiritual lives. We must follow God’s Word in leading our families for God’s glory. We must follow God’s Word in ministering in the church. We must follow God’s Word in our dealings with those in the community. We need to be engaged in the pursuit of becoming more and more like Christ, just as Paul was.
How well are you running the race? Are you pressing on with the same fervor and determination that marked Paul’s life? Can you say with Paul this today…
13b one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Kevin A. Pierpont
1. Barbara Lee, Goldsboro, North Carolina. Christian Reader, "Rolling Down the Aisle."
2. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 3:12). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3. D.C.E., Our Daily Bread, Sunday, October 20
4. MacArthur, J. F. (.). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 3:17).
5. D.C.E., Our Daily Bread, Tuesday, May 31
6. Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.