Keep pressing toward that heavenly prize in which we have been called to reach through Christ Jesus.
If you have your Bibles this morning, let’s continue to look at Philippians. We’re two Sundays left in our series, Advancing the Gospel Together. I know that the last few weeks we’ve been skipping around a little bit, Paul really is coming to some concluding remarks and a lot of the things have been kind of hashed in earlier sermons. So we’re just kind of moving through some of the new ideas as we look at this letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, as he’s encouraging them to be unified and advance the Gospel together.
As you’re turning there, I’ll just ask this question. How many of you have brothers or sisters? How many of you have brotherly or sisterly rivalries? Wow, he shot his hand up really fast. Yeah, me and my brother are the same way. We are competitive against each other. I’m the favorite. At least in my mind, he might say that differently. A long time ago and it’s funny because it’s been a really long time ago ’cause my niece, my oldest niece, is 18 maybe 19 years old now. What I’m going to tell you happened when she was about to be born. Me and my family and my brother and all of us were at the Mount Pleasant High School track. And we’re walking, and you know she’s about two or three days from giving birth. And so we’re just walking to try to speed that process up. And as soon as we get there and we walk in the gate, my brother, who is 9, 8 ½-9 years older than me starts about how he is faster than me. I mean, listen. There was a time growing up where he was better at me because he was just older. There was a time where he could beat my socks off. There was a time where he could outrun me, but I knew that that time had passed because he was 26 years old, had been sitting behind an office desk for four or five years. I was 17 in the prime condition of my life. I had just finished football season. I mean I could run. I’m not talking 4.40 speed and not even 5.40 speed but I could get 7.40 easy, OK on a 40-yard dash. I didn’t know if my brother can make 10 minutes on a 40-yard dash and I had an advantage that he was unaware of. I had tennis shoes on. He had on penny loafers. So we’re walking and he just won’t stop. He just keeps at it. You know, playful trash talk turned into a lot of trash talk and then it happened. He comes around me. He goes “SQUAWK SQUAWK SQUAWK SQUAWK!!” Now men, you know what that means? It’s on! He’s calling me a chicken. I said Mark, I’m not a chicken. I’m confident that you’re going to be embarrassed.
But here we go. Before I knew it, we were lined up. We’re going to 100-yard sprint. I didn’t think he’d make it 10, so I knew I could beat him on 100. We get there and my dad’s on the other end. My dad says “Go!” I’m out of the block like a thoroughbred horse at the Kentucky Derby. I mean, I am gone. You know the Road Runner and the dust. That’s me. I mean and I look back and he’s still at the starting line and I’m halfway done. I ease up a little bit. There’s no need to waste my energy. I’ve got this down cold. The next thing I know, I’m getting ready to cross the finish line and here’s what I see out of the corner of my eye. One, I see my brother, who apparently decided to sprint at some point, but then I see him disappear. He’s right here and then he’s gone and what I see next is him sliding past me. And when I say sliding past me, I want you to think about a baserunner on a baseball field, sliding into second base.
Now I stopped because he tore his leg up, ’cause this was an asphalt track. It took hours to get the asphalt out when we got home. But from ankle to knee was tore off, and so I’m just standing there like are you OK? The finish line’s five feet and I’m just looking at him. He gets up and crawls across the finish line, and then he has the nerve to look at me and say, “I told you I was faster than you.” I’m not just standing there. I learned two things. Well, I probably learned a lot of things, but two main things. One, don’t ever let up when you’re in a race and don’t ever look back, you know, don’t look back. Two, don’t let up and then don’t quit until the race is over. If I had just ran the extra 5 feet, I would’ve beat him and that would be the end of it. But now he holds it over me to this day, 18-19 years later. That he’s faster than me. Now today he probably is faster than me, ’cause I’ve been behind a desk for a while, so but we learn to not look back. We learn to stay focused, to keep running, and to make sure we finish the race. And that is what the Apostle Paul is telling the church in the Philippi today.
Philippians Chapter 3 verses 12 through 14, Paul is encouraging the church to keep pressing on towards the heavenly goal that they have been called to. To press towards that heavenly prize that they have been called to reach in Christ Jesus. Verse 12, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s pray together. Father as we open up Your Word, I pray that it would be a light into our feet and a lamp into our path that it would guide our steps. And Father, I pray this morning that what we know not that You would teach us, what we are not You would make us and what we have not You would give us. In the name of Jesus, Amen and Amen.
So the first thing that Paul shares with us, the first insight about running the race, is this. The race isn’t over yet. His race, even though he is in prison, even though he is, and I’ll make sure to repeat these, if you’re taking notes, the race is not over yet. The Apostle Paul is in prison. The church is being persecuted, but he says in verse 12 he says I have not reached my goal. What he’s saying is I haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t crossed my finish line. As long as God is giving me air to breathe, I’ve got a ministry to be a part of. I’ve got a job to do and I’m going to run that race until I’m called home.
I love the story of the tortoise and the hare. Very similar to my story with my brother. You got the rabbit takes off running as fast as he can. There’s nothing, and so he just stops and takes a nap. And then you have the turtle who’s just slow and steady. See the rabbit thought the race was over and so he quit. But the turtle kept his eyes focused, and he kept churning ahead. He didn’t give up because he knew the race wasn’t over until they crossed the finish line.
Church, our race is not done until God calls us home as individuals. The race for the church, the corporate body, is not over until Christ returns at the end of the age. We have to continue pushing forward. We can’t get lulled to sleep thinking that our job is over. I hear people a lot say, especially the older I get, I think this way in fact I’ve even said this, I said it not too long ago. I’m a pastor now. I’m not a youth pastor anymore. We were talking about going to Caswell and I said “I’m not sleeping in the barracks. I paid my dues. I’ve done that.” But then it occurred to me it’s like oh wait, a minute.
I shouldn’t say that my race isn’t over yet. You know, the older we get. We get into this mentality that, well, I’ve paid my dues. I’ve served my time. I can just sit back and relax. No, your race isn’t over yet. It’s not a time to relax. It’s the time to push forward. New Christians are bad about this. Young Christians, they’re on fire and they want to sprint out of the gate, and they want to go tackle and wrestle Satan himself. What they don’t realize is the Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. It is a lifelong journey and we have to continue to run the race until we stand before Jesus and hear those words well done, good and faithful servant.
But knowing that the race is not over, the second insight we see is that we keep running with a relentless pursuit of the finish line. We keep running with a relentless pursuit of the finish line. In verse 14, Paul says, “I pursue my goal. The prize promised to me by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” That word pursue is a military type word. I want you to get the picture of an army pursuing their enemy relentlessly. They will not stop pursuing after the enemy until they catch them and destroy them. Now this Paul is not talking about military terms, he’s talking about running the Christian race. He’s going to pursue Christian maturity. He’s going to pursue and run his race, never stopping. Never ever stopping. He’s going to run it. He’s going to run it hard. He’s going to run it with the same intensity and the same passion that we would run after other things.
Jennifer ran a marathon 26 point what miles? You see, she knows the point 2, 26.2 mile marathon. I watched her for months train. She would run every day. She would work hard and then it was at Disney and so she woke up really early and she went to run her marathon. Me and the kids were still asleep. And then I took two kids to Epcot by myself. Talk about running a marathon. I was getting text updates on where she was. I wanted to be. I wanted the kids to be there when she crossed the finish line. I was there and I remember when she crossed the finish line 6 hours, five and a half, six hours later. She was tired. She was worn out. I could tell she was hurting. I mean 26.2 miles coming. Come on. Who does that? Crazy people do that? And I remember just going got to her and she said “I made it!” Her goal was to cross the finish line. She pushed through the pain of in her legs. She pushed through all the obstacles that a Disney marathon has to offer with all the characters. She ran right by them. She finished the race, she didn’t quit. We can’t quit the Christian race. We have to passionately pursue the things that God has called us to pursue. Pursue spiritual maturity.
Do you wake up every day and read your Bible? You know I, I know that you know, I’ve read the Bible I, I’ve studied the Bible but I can read the same passage. 1 John is what we’re doing on Sunday nights. I’ve studied that book for years and as I opened it anew this time, the Lord still speaks new things to me. The more we read God’s Word, the more the Spirit of God shows us. And so we passionately pursue Christian maturity.
Are we passionately pursuing the lost? Do you have neighbors or coworkers who don’t go to church who aren’t saved? Are you passionately and lovingly pursuing after them with all your heart? Because that’s a part of running the race. You know, in the world we live in, we will run hard after education. I mean, we’ll run as hard as we can after getting those degrees. I did. I ran hard when I was in seminary. I ran hard when I was in my undergraduate. We run hard and there were days I opened my textbook instead of God’s book and that was wrong.
We pursue money. We run hard after money and houses and cars and we want to have better things and better finances. We run hard after our hobbies and we run really hard after our sports. But do we run hard after Jesus? Are we pursuing Christ in the same manner that we pursue those other things? I wonder what the church would look like if everybody ran after Jesus as hard as they ran after everything else. What would our world look like if the church ran after Jesus and ran after the lost like we run after everything else. If you want the world to change, the only thing that’s going to change it is the Gospel. And the only way people are going to hear the Gospel is if the church proclaims it too. We have to pursue maturity and pursue lostness and we have to run hard.
But Paul goes on to say in verse 13. The third insight he shares is forget the past and reach for the future victory. Forget the past and reach for the future victory. He says one thing that I do forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead. Now I need you to listen. This is a hard one. And it’s so applicable to the day that we’re living in. Forgetting the past and reaching for the victory.
My dad was a track coach, and as a young boy I would go up there and I would watch him coach practice. And one thing that I’ll never forget. He always told the runners stop looking back at your opponent. Keep your eyes laser focused on the finish line and run your race. Because when you look back you slow down. When you look back you may get complacent like me looking back at my brother who I was beating. We can’t ever look back. Paul’s one thing is forgetting the failures and the achievements of the past and reaching and reaching for the finish line. A commentator named Peter O’Brien, he writes this. “Forgetting means to forget or to neglect, to overlook or care nothing about. What Paul is forgetting,” O’Brien says, “he will not allow either the achievements of the past, which God brought, or for that matter, his failures as a Christian to prevent his gaze being fixed firmly on the finish line. In a sense, in a sense, Paul says he forgets as he runs.”
Church we can get caught up in the victories of the past. We can be lulled to sleep, talking about the glory days and I’m just as guilty. In my own life. I just told you a story about my glory days not beating my brother. That stuff can lull us to sleep. I used to hear it from Christians all the time tell stories of the past and how great the church was in the past. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying. We should celebrate the achievements. We should worship God who brought each and every one of those achievements from the past. But we can’t allow ourselves to get caught living in the past. The generations that are here today, we can’t honor the legacy of the past generations by retelling their stories or living in the past or doing what they did 50 years ago. The best way that we honor the legacy of the past is to build upon the great and wonderful foundation that they have left us. We honor their legacy by moving forward, engaging the culture, reaching new people, and that means changing methods but never changing the message. The Gospel message will impact the lives for generations to come. But as we think about engaging today’s culture, those methods have to change. Church, the people who are re planting churches are going into those congregations, and they’re getting those churches back into the communities. They’re doing things differently, and God is blessing through the same message.
For the last year, it was roughly one year ago today, that our churches changed in ways that many of us thought would never change. And so that day I started asking the question. I’ve written about it. I’ve Journal about it. I’ve prayed about it. But for me the question was what is God teaching me and what is God teaching the church? A few of the things that I think we’ve learned is the church can still gather outside the walls of the building. We can gather online. We can gather outside in cars. We don’t have to be constrained to one particular building because the church is not a building, it’s a people. It is the body of believers gathered together. I think God has taught us to be flexible. God has shown me that He can still reach people through different ways of doing things.
You know, a year ago I said “I just I hope we’re able to get back to normal.” That’s what I said. I hope we can get back. I hope we can get back. Even today, it’s like I hope we can get back to the way it was.
But maybe God says, the way it was wasn’t working so good. Some of it was maybe not all of it. The point is this, and I’m talking to me as I studied this passage more than you. Let’s not focus on getting back, let’s focus on what God has to do next. Let’s focus on the future blessings. That very well could mean looking exactly like it used to, but it could be doing things different also. Let us ask the question and pray that as we run our race that we won’t focus on the way it used to be, we will focus on what God has in store for us in the future. And let us continue to ask the question, God, what are you teaching the church? What do you want us to do differently so that we can proclaim that eternal message of Salvation to the nations.
But now I want you to listen to me about this too. We have to forget the failures of the past as well. I talk to a lot of non-Christians. Here’s what I hear most often. I can’t become a Christian because my sin is too great. Or I talked to Christians who have fallen off, and they’re like I’ve messed up God’s never gonna forgive me. Listen, churches, we can see our failures of the past and we’re like, God’s never going to bless again. That is Satan talking to you. There is no sin that God will not forgive from your past. There is no sin in your present that He will not help you overcome with the power of the Holy Spirit. Your failures are not final. They don’t eliminate you from Salvation. Your failures, are honestly, your failures are your story about how God rescued you and saved you. Do not let your failure stop you from being a follower. Don’t let your failures hold you back from that great future, that great victory, that God has in store for you. The devil wants you to think that your past is too bad. The devil wants you to think you’re never going to get forgiveness. The devil wants you Christians to think you cannot serve Him because of your past. That there is no second chances. Well, I worship the God of second chances through Christ Jesus.
So the race isn’t over. We pursue Him relentlessly. We forget about the past achievements, the past failures, and we rush to that victory. A victory that is found in Jesus. I know that this is not your notes, but I want you to write this down. We have victory in Jesus. One of my favorite songs, Victory in Jesus. Man, that’s a good song. We have a victory unlike any other victory. We run the race because Jesus died on the cross so we could get on the track. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we can’t run the race. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to ask the question, death, where is your sting? Oh, because Jesus, death has been swallowed up. Death does not have victory over us. We have victory over sin, over death. Paul says in Romans 5:8 “God showed His love to us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, giving us victory.” First Corinthians 15:57, “Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 8:37, “In all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
Paul knows the great sacrifice that Jesus had on that cross. He knows that he did not deserve Jesus to die for him. He doesn’t deserve that victory, but through God’s grace and mercy and through our faith in Christ we have eternal victory. And because of this victory we can live our lives running the race with the power that God has called us to run our race with. Even when we’re tired, even when we’re worn out, even when we’re persecuted, we can run the race because we have victory in Jesus.
There was a guy named Cliff Young. I had never heard of this guy until I heard a pastor talk about him and then I watched this story on YouTube. Cliff Young was a guy who ran the world’s largest race. Jennifer’s marathon was 26.2 miles. The world’s largest race is 543.7 miles. It is an ultra marathon and it’s held in Australia. The 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young showed up to run this race in boots and farm clothes. He was not a trained runner. He had never run a marathon in his life, but it was his dream. It was his goal to finish. That’s all he wanted to do was finish. Cliff Young spent a lot of his time chasing sheep on 2,000 acres of farmland. He would run those sheep, chase those sheep, and herd those sheep. So when the race started, he just began to shuffle. Maybe a little faster than that, but just a little shuffle. Five days, 15 hours and 4 minutes later, Cliff Young shuffled across the finish line. First place. In first place. He won with nine hours to spare.
You see, he wasn’t a trained runner, so he didn’t know that he was supposed to run 18 hours and sleep 6. As a sheep farmer, you don’t sleep, you just run. So that’s all he did was run his race and he didn’t sleep, not one time. That’s why he won. The point is this. Run your race, fast, slow, just run it, persevere through good times through bad times. Don’t give up! The Christian life is an ultra marathon. And one day, for those of us who believe in Jesus, we may run, we may walk and we may shuffle across that finish line, but if we press on we will stand before our Savior and hear well done, good and faithful servant.
You’re gonna fall down. Get up, press on. You’re gonna trip up. Get up and press on. You’re going to get tired and weary. Get up and press on. We’re gonna succeed stay up and press on. Focused on the finish line.
Let’s pray together. Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for this message of encouragement. Help us to run our race, the race that You have called us to run. Help us to celebrate the victories that You have given us in the past. help us to forget the failures and help us to live for You focused on the future, following You each step of the way. We ask all this in Jesus’ Name amen and amen.