12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, 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 3:12-16
We have been looking at Philippians 3:12-16 over the last two weeks. Here is what we have learned thus far: The Bible compares the Christian life to a race. You enter this race when you are first saved. And then, the question becomes, how are you going to run this race known as the Christian life to win the prize?
If you’re willing to run, Paul explains that there are three essentials necessary in order to win. First, you must never be content with you spiritual progress. Secondly, you must be single-minded and focused on the goal and the prize. Remember, the goal is spiritual perfection and the prize is the coming glory that awaits those who run the race in a winning manner (1 Cor. 3:14).
And the third essential? You must remain faithful.
Paul writes, “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. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Verses 15-16).
Paul was not in the race alone. All of us who are followers of Jesus are running the same race. Thus, Paul is challenging all of us to have the same attitude that he had. We believers must remain totally focused on putting out maximum effort to pursue the goal of Christlikeness. And those who refuse to think this way will be convicted by God either through His Word or through His chastening. Remember, God is going to complete the work He began in each of us. That is His responsibility and His mysterious way of accomplishing our sanctification.
So what is our responsibility? It is to remain faithful! Paul writes we must ‘live up to what we have already attained.”
In any race, the runners must all follow the rules. In the Christian life, we must live by God’s Word. This is what it means to be faithful, and faithfulness is only possible if we run the race yielded to Him (Romans 8). Oswald Chambers said, “Watch where Jesus went. The one dominant note in his life was to do his Father’s will. His is not the way of wisdom or of success, but the way of faithfulness.”
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
The Bible makes it clear that a believer can never lose his salvation, but he can lose his reward (1 Cor. 3:15). This happens when a believer does not remain faithful. Some time ago, I read a heart wrenching letter from Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry that I have supported for years. VOM is a ministry that does great work around the world supporting the persecuted church. Tom White served as its President for ten years. The letter that I received informed me of his recent death. Apparently, he committed suicide. Do you know why? Allegations were made to authorities that Tom had inappropriate contact with a very young girl. Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family, the ministry and himself, Tom took his own life.
Here’s a man who spent eighteen months in a Cuban jail because of his faith. Then he served the persecuted church for years around the world. What happened? How did he lose his focus?
Sadly, his is not an isolated case of a Christian leader who has fallen into sexual sin. History is filled with people who began the race with great success, but failed to end well. What happened? Somehow they took their eyes off of the finish line. It happened to Lot. It happened to Samson. It happened to King David. It happened to Ananias and Sapphira. And it can happen to us.
So, how can we ensure this never happens to us? By running to win! “Forget what is behind, and strain toward what is ahead!” This word strain comes from a Greek word that gives the picture of a runner straining every muscle to reach the finish line. The Christian life requires great discipline. How does the Christian put forth this effort to ensure that he will finish strong?
God has given us four resources to help us run to win.
- God has given us His Word and His Spirit. Spend time daily in the Bible reading it and meditating upon it. Ask the Spirit to help you understand it. That’s His job. 1 Peter 2:2 states, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” The Spirit takes the Word and matures us in our faith. Then, He empowers us to obey it.
- God has provided a way to encourage us along the way—it’s called prayer. Spend time talking to God about everything. This is how you really come to know Him. Ephesians 6:18 states, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…” Daniel was a man of prayer, and because of this, he was highly esteemed by God. Daniel 9:23 states, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I (Gabriel) have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.”
- God has provided godly examples for us to follow. Find someone who is ahead of you in the race and follow them. Every person needs to have a Paul in his life. You need some godly person who can set an example for you and to whom you remain accountable. Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
- Finally, God often provides trials to mold us into Christ’s likeness. James 1:2-4 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
We must have a daily quiet time during which we spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. I think it is best to have this time in the morning. When I first began seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Paige Patterson told the student body that he had personally counseled over 300 pastors who had fallen into some sexual sin. Do you know what the common denominator was for all 300 men? They each confessed that they were not having a quiet time.
I believe the world right now is hungry for people who will remain faithful. And I’m sure you don’t want to let the Lord down. Furthermore, I’m sure you don’t want to let down those who are watching you—like your children, your wife or your friends. Remember, David let everyone down when he sinned. And Nathan told him: “By doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt” (2 Samuel 12:14). Let’s not give the enemies of God a reason to show contempt. Let’s finish well.
The only way we can finish well is to remain faithful. To remain faithful, we must remain focused on the goal. To remain focused on the goal, we must never become content with our spiritual progress. Remember, when one becomes content, he is vulnerable to enemy attack.
Paul ran the race to win the prize. He finished well. Just before he was beheaded and while languishing in a Roman dungeon, he wrote to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Let’s run to win the prize.