English Service on March 15 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title: “Pressing on Toward the Goal” Scripture:Philippians 3:10-14(English
Standard Version, ESV)
In our message series, “Rediscovering God’s Vision for Open Door,” in Philippians 4 we will look at what God wants of us in connection with serving and other key parts of Christian life. But before that, I want to spend one more message’s time looking at a key theme that relates closely to God’s vision, hopes, dreams, will, and plans for us. That is the underlying reality of heaven. Paul started telling us about it last month when he said that the main goal of life for him had become one thing: knowing Christ.
(a) Work as hard as you can for as long as you can, (b) make as much money as you can, (c) live in as nice a house and (d) drive as nice a car as you can, (e) have as many friends and (f) as much fun as you can. If your goals are something like that, you have a “me dream.” Some people have a “we dream.” It may be focused on family or a company or a nation or whatever. Christ calls us to a “God dream.” Living with Him before the eyes of our hearts is a life with far greater meaning and purpose than one with your own interests or other human interests at the center.
Paul has already begun teaching us that. In continuing, he shows more of what his goal, “that I may know him” (v. 10b), means. It includes going through the good times of pleasure and the bad times of pain with Jesus. He says, “that I may . . . share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). We live the Christian life in relationship, that is, together with Him and the people He places in our lives as brothers and sisters in this faith, and others. I like the pleasure part but want to turn my mind to other things when I hear about the pain in following Christ. Yet it is the kind of pain, thanks to God’s love, that makes possible the deepest and longest-lasting joy. It is death that leads to new life, one that can never be taken away. That is a life of “(knowing) him and the power of his resurrection” (v. 10a). That is the goal on which Paul has focused his life. That’s worth living for, he discovered. He learned it from His master, Jesus, and that is the kind of living that God calls us to today, as well.
A little more about “becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). From the Bible we learn about dying to self. That is not necessarily physically dying for your faith. It is certainly not dying to save the world’s people from sin. Only Christ could do that. It is giving up your own will and freely submitting to God’s will, not making your own rights number one but putting God’s rights in first place. When we do that, we give up our old self and start living as a new person. Again, that’s a new, better life made possible by freely giving up the old one to God.
Paul says (v. 12), “. . . I press on . . . .” You may know that the Olympics were already being held in Paul’s time, and this is the image of a race. But the original word tells us that he is not just trying hard, not only running as fast as possible. He is chasing, pursuing, going after something. It’s the prize. “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (v. 12b).
Paul’s decision to follow Christ was the beginning, not the end of the chase. Some translations in v. 12 say that he presses on to lay hold of something. It’s the thing for which Christ laid hold of him. That wording can be a little tricky. I like the English Standard Version better here. But why did God lay hold of Paul? Why does He lay hold of us? Again, you can’t really understand the purpose and meaning of your life without including heaven in your thinking, God tells us. That is our true home. It is the place God intends to take us to live for all time. Our purpose in this world is focused on making this place—our family life, our private life, our life at work and school, the natural environment, all of it—more and more like heaven.
What is heaven like? There are many misunderstandings. Many people talk about it as if it is like Disneyland, only a lot better. It is where you can let your desires run wild and never be punished. It is like a fantasyland where all your dreams come true, whatever they are. Really? In the heaven the Bible’s God offers to people, everyone is equal. No one is more important than anyone else just because of having a lot of money or talents or good looks or connections or whatever. In heaven people aren’t thinking about themselves all the time. They’re thinking about God and enjoying being with Him and His people. They’re not always trying to get ahead of each other. They’re not spending their days in a greedy attempt to get more and more things. They have given up their attempts to meet their own needs, make their own dreams come true, make a name for themselves. They have died to self and live for God and with God.
Does that sound like the kind of place you want to spend eternity? I’m not so sure it is for many people. The closer we come to Christ, the more we want that kind of life. But there’s part of us that wants other things besides living under God’s leadership, doing the things He teaches us. In fact, one of the key purposes of life in this world is for us to become people who are actually ready for heaven. When the end of life comes, God wants us to be prepared to enjoy eternity, so we have a lot of changing and learning and becoming to do in this life. That is what Paul is focused in on when he says in v. 14, “I press on toward the goal.”
But there’s something he has to do in order to press on. He says in v. 13b it is “forgetting what lies behind.” Many years ago, a talented but young Greek artist named Timanthes studied under a well-known
tutor. After several years, the young painter created an excellent picture. He was so thrilled with it that he sat day after day looking at his work.
One morning, however, he discovered something shocking. His teacher had come and on purpose ruined Timanthes’ painting.
Angry and in tears, Timanthes ran to him and asked why he had destroyed the picture that he loved so much. The wise man replied, “I did it for your own good. That painting was slowing your progress. It was an excellent piece of art, but it was not perfect. Start again and see if you can do even better.” The student took his advice and created a masterpiece called “Sacrifice of Iphigenia.” Today it is thought by some to be one of the finest paintings of ancient times.
For some of us, the need to leave the past in the past is there because we, like Timanthes, have nice feelings about our lives up to now, but we have them in a way that damages us and holds us back. We may have to lose our pride, for example, before we can truly move ahead.
For other people, thinking about the past brings back the pain of broken relationships, lost dreams, abuse, our mistakes, our sin, or other bad feelings. A pastor named John Ortberg said there are three kinds of bad things we need to let go of if we are going to move ahead in life as free people. There’s “my bad.” Sometimes we need to honestly admit that at least part of our problems have come as a result of our own choices. Then there’s “your bad.” Sometimes our pain from the past is not something we chose our way into but came from someone else or others. Last, there’s “It’s bad.” Sometimes it’s not our fault or someone else’s fault, but painful things just happen anyway. Part of our trouble in life comes simply from living in a broken world where sin exists and bad things happen for reasons that no one understands very well.
So what can we do so that we can say with Paul, “I am forgetting what lies behind”? The Bible teaches us a Christian response to “my bad.” It is repentance. Thank God, we can change our minds, change our attitudes, and turn our backs on our bad choices and begin following Christ again. It’s not too late. A big part of the good news of the gospel is right here. You can repent. Is there something about which God is telling you today that you need to repent?
Then about “your bad,” God calls us to be people who practice forgiveness. It’s not only a nice idea or a goal to work toward. It’s a habit of the heart and a choice. We can make it with God’s help and probably not without it. Is there a person you need to forgive today? Is it time to let go of those feelings toward someone that are keeping you from pressing on toward your prize?
Then there’s the Christian response to “It’s bad.” Christ’s followers react with hope. To live in a crazy world like ours with real hope is not something that happens naturally, is it. To have true hope in the face of all that happens in our lives, we need a strong faith.
Now there are different kinds and levels of hope, aren’t there. When life hits us hard, besides giving up, how can we respond? Some people just survive. They don’t really overcome their past. It still has a tight hold on them, but they somehow move ahead from day to day. Other people recover. It is a hard struggle, but they in time regain the level of happiness or peace that they had before. Some let the pain from their past become their teachers and learn from it. They let it push them to become stronger than they were before. I have met people like that, and I respect them greatly for it. But Paul goes even further. He sets his sights on an even higher hope—eternal life itself—or “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). God doesn’t settle for anything less than that high hope and high calling when he looks at your life. He sees your past, but even more, He sees how He can use it to build a great future with you, as you learn to let go of the past and move ahead together with Him.
As humans, when we look back at our pasts, we tend to see them in negative, damaging ways. We let our past color our future and make us people formed and guided by guilt, resentment, fear, or other poisonous feelings. Or, we may make mistakes in the other direction. We may look back at the past and love it too much or in the wrong way. It can lead us, for example, to be people who are full of pride or who always live in the past and miss our best future.
But we really know better, don’t we. If you are driving a car, you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead. If you allow them to get distracted onto things you have already passed, turning around or looking in the mirror all the time, you are in real danger. It’s that way on the journey of life, too, isn’t it. God’s deep desire for you and me today is to be able to take steps in leaving the past behind. We can commit the past to Him, choosing to put it in His hands. If you need to do it again every day, then do it. If you need to do it thousands of times, then do it. That is the path to freedom.
And as we become able to move past the past, we are then free to begin (v. 13c) “straining forward to what lies ahead.” Growing more and more like Christ, growing in faith, is much like riding a bicycle — either you keep moving forward, or you fall down. But if we will keep going, not worrying about the future but just doing the next thing God puts before us to do, we make our way toward heaven, step by step.
Down in v. 20, Paul tells us, “But our citizenship is in heaven . . . .” Heaven is not just some dreamy place we hope to go to sometime way out in the future. The identity we have here and now, every day, is wrapped up with heaven. The English Standard Version we are reading from today uses the word citizenship. In the old King James, it calls it our conversation, which may sound misleading today. The meaning of the Greek word is very broad. It includes our thoughts and our affections, or deepest loves. They are already in heaven. And that shapes how we live our lives each day in this world. As believers in the Lord Jesus, we are citizens of heaven. Here on earth we are only travelers journeying toward our eternal home. So let’s not act as if this place we live now is the only home we have. Our home is in heaven.
That is why Paul can say about his heavenly home in v. 20b-21, “from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” As we look ahead to the coming week or to the new church, school, or business year many of us are preparing to begin in next month, let’s not only keep our eyes on the next thing we need to do in our busy day-to-day lives. Let’s also look up, keep an eye trained on the sky, and live in the strength that comes from knowing we have a home with our Father in heaven forever.
Lord of the past, Lord of the future, give us the will and the courage to put all of our past in your hands. Heal us where we need to be healed, teach us where we need to be taught. Do all you intend to do with our pasts, but whatever happens, make us free to go ahead at full strength into the days ahead with you and the people you put in our lives. And help us never to stop until we reach our home with you someday. In Christ Jesus’ name, amen.
Bosch, H. G. (March 2, 1995). “Keep Pressing On.” Our Daily Bread. Retrieved March 7, 2015 from http://odb.org/1995/03/02/keep-pressing-on-2/
Ortberg, J. (September 28, 2014). “Getting Past Your Past.” Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Retrieved March 7, 2015 from http://mppc.org/ sermons/unstuck-get-help
Robertson, A. T. (1927). Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament. BibleStudyTools.com. Retrieved February 24, 2015 from http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pict ures/philippians/philippians-3-12.html
Smith, C. (January 28, 2013). “Resolved! Life Commitments for a New Year.” The Orchard Evangelical Free Church. Retrieved on February 26, 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCimFNglqos
Wesley, J. (1754-1765). Wesley’s Explanatory Notes. BibleStudyTools.com.
Retrieved February 28, 2015 from http://www.biblestudytools. com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/philippians/Philippian s-3.html