Pressing Toward the Goal
Read – Philippians 3:12-21
Key Verse – 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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV).
Key Thought – As we run the race for Christ, we need to look forward, not backward, and strain toward the finish line.
In our previous study we left off at verse 11. But we need to go back there now because Paul’s words in vs. 12f are directly related. He spoke in vs. 11 of attaining to the resurrection from the dead. What did he mean there?
Well he wasn’t speaking of salvation, for if there was ever a man on earth who was secure in his salvation it was Paul. No, Paul was not pursuing salvation, but maturity… Christlikeness… the finish line of his Christian race.
One of the sources I consulted mentioned the fact that the word used for “resurrection” in this instance is different than in other places. As a result, it is quite possible that what Paul was discussing there in that word was the rapture, for the word seems to indicate that. He was not speaking of a desire to be saved, but rather of a desire to make it successfully to the end of his Christian race. To finish well. To be running flat out for Jesus when the trumpet sounds.
That being the case, we can see that his words in vss. 12-21 do not pertain to his desire to be saved, for he was already saved, but rather to his desire to live for Jesus to the very best of his ability now that he was saved. And that zeal, that was so evident in his life, he set forth as an example for us all.
In this study, I’d like to concentrate on just three verses – vss. 12-14. We learn from those three verses that
- Paul knew he hadn’t reached the finish line yet.
2. Neither was he satisfied with where he was in the race.
3. He was motivated and driven on in his race by two things, the call of God on his life, and the prize that lay before him.
4. And he ran with a singleminded focus toward the goal line.
Paul knew that he was not there yet.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected… (vs. 12).
Although he had been saved for about 30 years when he wrote this letter, his sanctification was still a work in progress.
He had reached some amazing high points in his walk with Christ, but those were not stopping points. He had suffered some withering trials, but neither were those stopping points. He was not done with the race yet. Some time after he wrote this letter he would come to the end of that race. He would write to Timothy in the last recorded letter we have from him, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV). But as he was writing here to the Philippians he was still running that race, and he knew it wasn’t over yet.
Nearly every parent has endured a long car journey with the child in the backseat who incessantly asks, “Are we there yet?” Well, Paul knew he wasn’t there yet. The journey was in progress still, and he was not done.
And Paul was not satisfied with where he was in the race.
He knew there was more to be done for Jesus, and he WANTED to do more. Whatever he had accomplished or what level of Christlikeness he had attained was not sufficient. There was always another stride to take in the race… there was still work to be done for Jesus… there was more of the race to run, and he wanted it. Paul harbored a holy dissatisfaction with his Christian race.
Thomas A. Edison once said that, “Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was and still is generally regarded as one of the most outstanding justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was known as the Great Dissenter because he disagreed with the other judges so much. Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until he was 91. Two years later, President Roosevelt visited him and found him reading Plato. “Why?” FDR asked. “To improve my mind,” Holmes answered. (Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990)
That was Paul. Never enough. More. We should be like him. We should ever be wanting to do more for Jesus… ever longing to serve better, run harder, witness more faithfully. We should never be satisfied, because when we get satisfied we stop focusing on the goal… we slow our run… we may even drop out of the race thinking we’ve done all we need to do. One man noted, “The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.” (Hutson, Curtis, “Punch Lines”)
Paul was not satisfied to park… to rest… to think his service for Christ enough. He wanted more.
Now Paul was using athletic imagery here, as he did at other times. He seems to have liked sports, and used a lot of athletic illustrations. In this passage he was picturing some sort of a race, and he was the runner in that race.
Two things motivated him… drove him forward.
Both can be seen in vs. 14 – the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The call and the prize drove him on.
The call drove him on.
He had mentioned the call in vs. 12 as well. He referred to it there as that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Paul remembered a day… a day when Christ laid hold of him. It was on the Damascus Road. You can read of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. He had perhaps the most stunning and amazing encounter with Jesus and subsequent salvation testimony of anyone in Christian history. He never got over it. He remembered it. It drove him on.
One of the most important things in our walk with Christ is the day He laid hold of us. Do you remember, as Paul remembered, that day? Can you say as the songwriter, “I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in?” Do you remember it? Can you say with another songwriter, “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought, since Jesus came into my heart?” Paul was keenly aware that He was Christ’s, and Christ was his, and that awareness fueled his passion to run the race.
The other thing that drove him on was the prize.
What was this prize? Well, there are a couple ways to interpret it. He could have been referring to the rewards Christians can look forward to at the judgement seat of Christ. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10 NKJV).
His words in vss. 20-21, though, make it seem he was focusing not so much on those rewards, as on just meeting Jesus!
It will be worth it all
when we see Jesus!
Life’s trials will seem so small
when we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face,
all sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race
till we see Christ.
What greater prize could there be? And what greater encouragement to keep running the race?
We’ll delve more deeply into this when we get to vss. 20-21, but for now we can see, Paul’s eye was on prize… on the finish line, and he ran with a single mind, to reach that goal line successfully.
Paul ran with a singleminded focus.
His single mindedness in running the race is never better described than in vss. 13-14 – 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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus..
One thing I do! Warren Wiersbe wrote so well about this that I cannot improve on his words. Let me quote:
“One thing” is a phrase that is important to the Christian life. “One thing thou lackest,” said Jesus to the self-righteous rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). “One thing is needful,” He explained to busy Martha when she criticized her sister (Luke 10:42). “One thing I know!” exclaimed the man who had received his sight by the power of Christ (John 9:25). “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after!” testified the psalmist (Ps. 27:4). Too many Christians are too involved in “many things,” when the secret of progress is to concentrate on “one thing.” It was this decision that was a turning point in D.L. Moody’s life. Before the tragedy of the Chicago fire in 1871, Mr. Moody was involved in Sunday School promotion, Y.M.C.A. work, evangelistic meetings, and many other activities; but after the fire, he determined to devote himself exclusively to evangelism. “This one thing I do!” became a reality to him. As a result, millions of people heard the Gospel.
The believer must devote himself to “running the Christian race.” No athlete succeeds by doing everything; he succeeds by specializing. There are those few athletes who seem proficient in many sports, but they are the exception. The winners are those who concentrate, who keep their eyes on the goal and let nothing distract them. They are devoted entirely to their calling. Like Nehemiah the wall-building governor, they reply to the distracting invitations, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down!” (Neh. 6:3) “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). Concentration is the secret of power. If a river is allowed to overflow its banks, the area around it becomes a swamp. But if that river is dammed and controlled, it becomes a source of power. It is wholly a matter of values and priorities, living for that which matters most. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 89.)
Such was Paul’s focus – one thing I do. I run with a single mind, driven on by what Christ has done for me, and by the prize that awaits.
One thing I do. I don’t let any trials or failures in the past trip me up, nor do I consider any past successes as stopping points.
One thing I do. I press on. I push ahead. I reach forward. I keep running.
Paul’s seemingly simple words reaching forward in vs. 13 and I press in vs. 14 are interesting. Paul was using pretty strong language there. He was picturing a runner coming to the finish line and leaning into that tape… straining every bit of his body forward.
I am far from an athlete, but there have been times in my life when I tried to be. My successes were few, and my failures many. In high school I decided to try my hand at running track. The coach put me on the 220 relay team, thinking that anybody ought to be able to run half way around the track and hand a little baton to somebody else. Usually, I did ok at this, although I was no superstar. However, there was one invitational meet in the area (I’ve forgotten where) that is memorable. I was running one of the middle legs of the relay, and I received the baton in a clean exchange with the previous runner and took off at top speed. For some reason, I really wanted to do my best this day, and I blasted off like a rocket and tore around the track. However, in doing so, I did not pace myself, and at about the 150 yard mark, I had nothing left, and by the time I reached the exchange zone, I was staggering and nearly unable to raise my legs, which were now rubber. I managed to throw the baton into the outstretched arm of my teammate just seconds before I crashed to the ground. I have always considered that one of the more embarrassing moments in my athletic endeavors, but I wonder if it is a good illustration of the way we should run the race of our Christian lives. Flat out, giving our all with each step, not worrying about “pacing ourselves” or reaching the goal line – JUST RUNNING, and then reaching with all our might for that finish line.
Of course there are far better illustrations of what Paul was describing than my feeble athletic endeavors from the dark ages. Have you seen the movie “Overcomer” yet? If not, may I encourage you to see it. It depicts this very thing! I won’t spoil the movie for you, but if you get to the end of it you’ll understand what Paul meant here by reaching forward and pressing toward the goal in the race!
Oh my brothers and sisters. I wonder where you are in relation to these things? Can you say with Paul, One thing I do? Are you running the race with anywhere near such focus? I’m convinced that many Christians need to consider these verses carefully, and I include myself in that number.
- Some have grown cold in their faith and have slowed or stopped running the race.
- Some have become apathetic in their race, and might still be running a bit, but don’t care the outcome.\
- Some have lost their vision, and can’t seem to see the goal line anymore.
- For some, the goal line has become obscured by the many distractions that draw their attention.
All such should read these verses and pray for help living them.
We all need to learn to forget those things which are behind.
Paul wasn’t talking about forgetting EVERYTHING in our past, for he made it clear that what had happened to him on the Damascus Road drove him ever onward. But he was saying we should forget some things in our past.
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NKJV) You’ll never plow a straight furrow looking backwards. And you’ll never run a successful race looking at the opposition.
Jesus said, Remember Lot’s wife (Luke 17:32). What about her? She looked back. She couldn’t get her eyes off where she had come from, what she had known, and what she was giving up in Sodom. And she died for it.
Paul wrote of another who looked back – Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed… (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas had run well… he had served faithfully alongside Paul… until he looked back and was distracted by the world he’d left behind.
The sidelines of the race are littered with those who have looked back and fallen out of the race! Oh Christian, don’t be one of them!
Forget those things which are behind!
- Forget the sins of the past.
- Forget the failures of the past.
- Forget the successes of the past.
Don’t let anything in the past distract you from the race! Eyes front! Don’t look back.
We need to learn something else from this passage. We need to learn to look forward… to press forward… to reach forward.
There are some verses of Scripture that have been burned into my brain and which inform my life for Christ. Consequently I know I quote them a lot in my preaching, but I don’t apologize for it. Some thoughts need repeated over and over and over. One such passage for me is Exodus 14:15 – And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.” The Israelites were up against the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was advancing. God’s instructions to Moses were to turn toward the Red Sea and, despite the obvious issue of it being full of water, GO FORWARD.
This passage is why we have completed two building projects in the past and are getting ready to break ground on a third. GO FORWARD. This passage is what informs so much of what we do here at Friendship Bible Church. It tells me we should never be stuck… never static… never standing still… never moving backwards… always and ever MOVING FORWARD.
- No matter what has happened in the past – GO FORWARD.
- No matter what apparent hardships lie in the path – GO FORWARD.
- It matters not whether you think it impossible – GO FORWARD.
Someone once asked David Livingstone when he was back in England briefly after having worked for many years in Africa, “Well, Dr. Livingstone, where are you ready to go now?” Livingstone answered, “I am ready to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”
The writer to the Hebrews wrote something similar – Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Hebrews 6:1 NKJV)
And that’s what Paul was saying here. 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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV).
General “Chinese” Gordon was leading his forces in the Sudan. He assigned one of his officers the task of capturing a strong fortress. After days of hard and demanding conflict, the officer returned to headquarters. Galloping into camp, he reined in his tired steed before General Gordon, saluted, and announced, “General, I have taken the fort!” His commander calmly replied, “Go take another!” (P.R.V., Our Daily Bread, May 7, 1982)
That’s the Christian race, my brothers and sisters. We don’t get stopped by what has already occurred. We just keep running… keep conquering… keep pressing forward, until we get to the finish line.
Sister Darcie talked me into reading a classic book by C.S. Lewis entitled “The Screwtape Letters”. The book is a series of fictional letters, written by Screwtape (the devil) to one of his underlings, a demon named Wormwood. He is instructing the demon on how to tempt and destroy a particular Christian to whom that demon has been assigned. In one letter, Screwtape wrote to Wormwood, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause (and “their cause” was taking this Christian out of the race) is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
That’s the Christian race, my brothers and sisters. We don’t get stopped by complacency, or dryness in our walk with Christ, or even times where we can’t see any reason to keep on running. Even on those days where it seems “every trace of Jesus seems to have vanished” (and you’ll have such days)… even on those days where it really and truly feels like we have been forsaken (and you’ll have those days, too), we run on. We take our eyes off those things, and fix it again firmly and resolutely on the goal… and we run on.
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, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14NKJV).
Brothers… Sisters, “How goes your race?”