Eyes on the Prize

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Philippians 3:12-16

INTRODUCTION: Last week we looked at Paul’s magnificent vision of knowing Christ. Paul made knowing Christ the most important thing in his life because nothing compares with knowing Christ. And it’s possible some of us may have thought Paul had really made it in the Christian life. He had arrived. So now, as if to clear up any misunderstanding, Paul clarifies that he has not made it. He has not already obtained all this; he has not already been made perfect. But this truth, rather than discouraging him in his Christian life, instead motivates him all the more to press on towards God’s goal for his life. Whenever you are feeling discouraged or sluggish in your Christian walk, let me encourage you, these are some great verses great to read. (Read Philippians 3:12-16)

Have you ever run a race? Running a good race requires focus, physical exertion, and perseverance. Running a race means you’re in it for the long haul. From start to finish, you lay all distractions aside, and you remain focused on one thing – moving forward and finishing the race. You don’t look back, you don’t turn around, and most important of all, you don’t quit.

The Bible compares the Christian life to a race. Now there are different types of races, and the Christian life is best compared to a marathon. It is not a 100-yard dash, and it is most definitely not a walk in the park. It is a daily challenge which requires focus, effort, and perseverance to overcome the obstacles in your way. You are a long-distance runner, and that requires a strong forward focus to keep going.

Paul shares that forward focus with us in today’s passage. Paul’s focus is on what lies ahead rather than what is behind, in fact he strains towards what is ahead. He presses on toward the goal in order to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus.

You cannot be passive in your Christian life. You need to keep that forward focus so that you will be motivated to persevere and keep growing in Christ. You need to press on towards the goal God has for you and Paul shares with us in these verses three ways that you can do that. And we are going to look at all three this morning together.

I. Make God’s goals your own (12)

And the first step is this: make God’s goals your own. Look at verse 12 with me. Paul writes: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12) If you are going to press on towards the goal that God has for you, you must first of all make God’s goals your own.

   A. Be honest about where you are in your Christian walk

This begins with being honest about where you are in your Christian walk. Notice Paul’s honesty. Paul doesn’t claim that he is perfect, that he has made it as a Christian, that he has already arrived. No, he realizes he is still on the journey and that he still has a long way to go. And he shares that honestly with the Philippians.
Too often we think that I am the only Christian struggling with my Christian life. We look around at all the smiling people in church on Sunday and think they’ve got this thing down. I could never share my struggle with them because they would never understand. Oh yes, we will, because we are all struggling with one thing or another.

Anyone out there arrived yet? Any perfect people with us this morning? I didn’t think so. I know I haven’t arrived, but I am working on getting there. And that is Paul’s point. Be honest about where you are in your Christian walk, and that will help other people be honest, too.

   B. Align your goals with God’s goal for your life

And then secondly, align your goals with God’s goal for your life. That’s what Paul says in the second half of verse 12: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12) God grabbed hold of Paul, because he had a purpose for Paul’s life. And if you are a Christian, then God grabbed hold of you because he has a purpose for your life.

Ephesians 2:10 says that you were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [you] to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) God has a purpose for your life, but in order to fulfill that purpose, you need to grab hold of that for which he grabbed hold of you. And you can only do that as you spend time with him in the Word and in prayer. Walk close with God, and he will lead you where you are supposed to go.

So that’s the first step in pressing on towards the goal God has for you. Make God’s goals your own. Be honest about where you are in your Christian walk, and align your goals with God’s goal for your life.

II. Keep a forward focus at all times (13-14)

The second step is this. Keep a forward focus at all times. You can’t run very well looking backward. You can’t drive forward looking in the rearview mirror. If you are going to press on towards the goal God has for you, you need to keep a forward focus at all times. So how do you do that? There are three things here.

   A. Get rid of all distractions

First of all, get rid of all the distractions. Look at verse 13 where Paul writes: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do…” (Philippians 3:13) I’m sure Paul had many things going on in his life, and yet he was able to focus all of his energies in one direction and say “One thing! One thing I do!” He got rid of the distractions and kept his focus on Christ.

How many things do you do? How many hats do you wear in a typical day? If you’re like most of us, you probably do a lot of different things and get pulled in a lot of different directions each day. It’s hard to keep your focus when there are so many things to do. But you can’t run a good race when you are distracted from the goal.

Now much of what we do is good and necessary, but there are many things in our lives that we know are just distractions. They are not necessary, and in some cases they are actually harmful to us and to others. We need to get rid of the distractions. We need to do all things to God’s glory so that we have one overriding goal in life that keeps us on track. In the midst of our busy schedules, we need to be able to say with Paul, “One thing I do!”

So that’s the first step in keeping a forward focus. Get rid of all distractions.

   B. Forget what is behind, strain toward what is ahead

Secondly, forget what is behind, and strain toward what is ahead. Look at the rest of verse 13: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” (Philippians 3:13) When you are in a race, the last thing you want to do is look back.

miracle_mile_bannister_landy

Take a look at the picture on the screen. Some of you may recognize this. It is a bronze sculpture commemorating the race between John Landy and Roger Bannister during the 1954 British Games in Vancouver. This was the race known as “The Miracle Mile,” because it was the first race in history to feature two runners who had both run the mile in under four minutes. Landy held the world record, and he was actually winning this race when he made one critical mistake. He looked back over his shoulder to check Bannister’s position. And as he looked over his shoulder on the left, Bannister surged by him on the right winning the race by 0.8 seconds. This statue was sculpted from a photograph taken of the fateful moment. After the scuplture was made Landy quipped: “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

Do you ever look back in such a way that keeps you from moving forward in your Christian life?

Some people look back at their past successes, all their achievements and accomplishments. Instead of serving God in the present, they take comfort in how they have served him in the past. Churches can be real good at this too. We can sit around talking about the good old days instead of focusing on what God has for us now. If God has used you in the past, that’s great. But realize that God still has work for you to do. Don’t ever settle for being a has-been. There are no has-been’s in the Christian life – only people whom God wants to use now in the present.

Other people have the opposite problem. Instead of looking at their past successes, they focus on their failures. They have failed God in the past, so they feel that God cannot use them in the present. If that is you, let me encourage you this morning. First of all, if you are in Christ know that God has forgiven you. You may not have forgiven yourself, but God has forgiven you. And secondly, know that God still has work for you. He is the God of second chances, the God of third, fourth and fifth chances, and he will never give up on you. In fact he often uses your past failures to help you minister in the present.

If you keep looking backwards, you will never go forwards. As Christians we need to forget what is behind, and then strain towards what is ahead. That word strain means “to exert yourself to the uttermost.” There is effort involved in the Christian life. You are saved by grace, but that does not mean there is no work for you to do. Faith is not a decision you made in the past that has no effect on your life today. Faith is something that you need to work out every day.

If you are going to keep a forward focus in life, you need to get rid of all distractions, you need to forget what is behind, and strain toward what is ahead.

   C. Press on toward the goal to win the prize

And then thirdly, you need to press on toward the goal to win the prize. Look at verse 14: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

This verse is all about perseverance and purposeful living. What good is it if you run a great race if you drop out before the finish line? You need to persevere. And how do you do that? You need to have purpose. You need to keep your eyes on the goal. God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus. Don’t live your life for earthly things. You have a higher calling. Don’t give in to complacency or contentment. You need to be satisfied in Jesus, and yet have a holy discontent about your progress in Christ.

Keep your eyes on the goal; focus on the finish line; remember what the race is all about. Keep your eyes on the prize. What happens in a race as you get closer to the finish line? You don’t slow down, you speed up, because the end is in sight, and you are running a race, and the prize is before you.

Get rid of all distractions. Forget what is behind, and strain towards what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize. That’s how you keep a forward focus in life.

III. Don’t lose ground in your walk with Christ (15-16)

Make God’s goals your own. Keep a forward focus at all times. And then finally, don’t lose ground in your walk with Christ. Look at verses 15-16: “All of us 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.” (Philippians 3:15-16)

   A. All mature believers will share this same attitude

There are two things in particular I want you to see from these verses. First of all, all mature believers will share this same attitude that Paul has been promoting. There is a play on words here because the word Paul uses for “mature” here is the same word he used for “perfect” back in verse 12 when he said he was not yet made perfect. In other words, perfect people know they aren’t perfect! Part of Christian maturity is knowing that you haven’t arrived yet, that there’s still plenty of room to grow.

When I was in college, I was talking to a drummer friend the week after a concert I had performed. He asked me, “Did you record it?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Did you listen to it?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Were you happy with it?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then you’ll never get better!”

Mature believers know that they aren’t perfect, but they also know they are making progress in Christian growth. As John Newton once confessed, “I am not what I should be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I will be, but praise God I am not what I used to be!” (paraphrased) Paul says all mature believers will share this same attitude. And then I love it when he says, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15) Paul isn’t being proud here. He just knows he’s right. And he trusts God will make these things clear to you in time as well.

   B. Make sure you live up to what you have already attained

And then finally he closes with an exhortation to maintain your progress in the faith. Verse 16: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:16) The only thing sadder than not moving forward in your Christian life is going backward. We are all at different levels in our Christian growth, but each of us should be at our farthest point along in our walk with the Lord so far. Otherwise we are moving backward. Make sure you live up to what you have already attained. Don’t lose ground in your walk with Christ.

CONCLUSION: The Christian life is a race, and there are only three reasons you’re not in the race today: 1) you never started, 2) you stopped running, or 3) you finished. If you’re still here then you haven’t finished, so we can rule that one out. So if you’re not in the race that means either you never started or you stopped running.

If you’ve never started, then let me invite you to begin the race today. Jesus died for your sins so that would not have to. His forgiveness is immediate, it is free, and it is indescribably sweet. Will you trust Jesus as your Savior and begin the race today? Trust me, you will never look back!

Or maybe you did start the race a long time ago, but somewhere along the way you stopped running. Perhaps you stumbled and fell, or maybe you just got tired and decided to take a break. If you’re sitting on the sidelines, it’s time to get back in the race. There’s a Savior to serve and a prize to be won. Run in such a way as to finish the race and win the prize.

© Ray Fowler

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By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

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