“Press On” Philippians 3:10-16 November 14, 2010
SI: We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.
Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.
Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,
and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.
INTRO: Most of the people in our Florida church were retired.
Once in a men’s Bible study the pastor asked:
What have been some of the disappointments of retirement?
Almost all the men there said the same thing—
said they thought they would be happy just doing nothing, just relaxing,
just going to the golf course or tennis court every day. But they weren’t.
They found they needed work of some kind to be happy—even if it wasn’t for pay.
One man had volunteered to be on a city planning committee.
Another was helping some Cuban immigrants get dry-cleaning store off ground.
I remember another man, who had been a successful CEO, said he had been
casting about after retirement, trying to find things to do.
Then he found the perfect project:
He told his wife: I want to help you.
The way you have the kitchen arranged is completely illogical.
His wife shouted at him: This has been my kitchen for 40 years! Get out!
And he had to find some other area
in which to put his administrative experience to use.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with retirement,
and enjoying rest from your labor and some of the fruit of your labor.
But the people who are happiest in it, are those who find work to do.
In the Christian life, there is often a temptation to retire or coast, so to speak.
To come to a point in your spiritual development where you stop working—
you stop pressing forward.
It might be out of weariness or frustration—
You’re disappointed with yourself or other Christians or the church.
It might be out of worldliness—
You and your family have found it’s so much easier not to fight the values and
demands of the world—dress or friends or entertainment.
But for whatever reason you think to yourself—
I’m a Christian. I’m saved. I’m ok.
So you’ve stopped moving forward.
No longer working and making much effort in the Christian life.
Paul says you can’t do that and be happy for long.
The theme of this letter is joy.
Even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,
he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord.
And he lays the theological groundwork and the practical application
for living a joyful life in Christ.
In this passage he makes clear that you can’t coast or retire as a Christian
if you want to experience joy.
You can’t be content with where you are.
You can’t ever say: I’ve had enough, I’ve struggled long enough as a Christian.
I know I’m in, so I’m going to take it easy.
If you do, you’ll lose your joy.
Twice Paul says: I press on.
“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.”
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.”
He adds that he is “straining toward what is ahead.”
Then he says: “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”
This is the right view of the Christian life—Press on.
This is the pathway to joy in all circumstances.
What about you? What’s the status of your Christian walk?
What’s the last thing you achieved?
In what area of your life are you working?
What are your struggles and victories?
Can you honestly say that you are pressing on and straining forward?
Or, have you taken an early retirement.
Just going through the basic motions of the Christian faith week after week—
just another game of shuffleboard down at the condo clubhouse.
That’s not the life God wants for you.
Press on. That’s the message of this passage.
Press on to know Christ better. Press on for joy in him.
What does this look like in our lives? Three points:
1. You must press on with purpose
2. You must press on with humility
3. You must press on with confidence
Let’s look at each and leave here encouraged in the Gospel.
MP#1 Press on with purpose
The great thing about this passage is that Paul is crystal clear about
the purpose of his life and what he is pressing towards and straining to reach.
It’s the first line of verse 10: “I want to know Christ.”
That’s it in a nutshell. That’s the supreme purpose of life for Paul.
And then all the other things he says after this are development and explanation.
Let’s take this apart and apply it to ourselves.
First, Paul doesn’t say: I want to know God. He says: I want to know Christ.
Because Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God.
So in order to understand God, and how he thinks and acts toward us, and
what he loves and hates, and how to please him—it is through knowing Christ.
Christ became incarnate so that we could know God and have union with him.
Paul says, This is my purpose. This is what I am striving for, to know Christ.
To know him better and more deeply day by day and as the years pass.
And then, second, Paul explains what this looks like: “I want to know Christ . . .
and the power of his resurrection,
and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death”
Those three statements are the ways in which you know him—
might even say three strategies for knowing him.
Paul is saying that you know Christ by deliberately turning to him
for the three great issues of life—your sin, your suffering, and your death.
Knowing the power of his resurrection means you look to Jesus Christ and
the Holy Spirit for dealing with your sin—for moral and spiritual transformation.
It means you are constantly identifying the things in yourself and about yourself
that are spiritually dead, and then looking to Jesus and tapping into his power
in order to bring about resurrection and spiritual life.
It means wanting and striving to be a better Christian in specific areas.
You want your bitterness toward a person to be turned to forgiveness.
You want your self-pity to be turned into compassion for hurting people.
You want you discontentment to become gratitude, your lust replaced with purity.
That’s how you know Christ—to seek his resurrection power to change.
Then Paul says I want to know “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”
And this simply means that you deliberately look to Jesus Christ when you
are suffering. You try to find hope and comfort in him and not in other things.
Suffering either turns people toward God or away from him.
Even Christians can fall into the trap of turning to other things to ease their pain—
Knowing Christ means believing he understands your suffering because he suffered.
And then deliberately turning to him, and seeking comfort in him.
Are you doing that? Are you looking to Jesus in your suffering?
Then Paul says: “Becoming like him in his death.”
And this means that you are a person who thinks about and prepares for your death.
We live in a death-denying culture. We live in a youth-worshipping culture.
Most people live for the moment or if they do plan for future, with no meaningful
thought of that coming and certain appointment with death.
Jesus did. He was always looking forward to his “time” as he put it.
And in his death he glorified his Father and committed his spirit to him.
If you are going to know Christ, then you must train yourself to think, as Paul did,
of your death and meeting God in Christ. I’m going to die. Maybe tomorrow.
And so with the power of Christ, I want to make the most of my coming death.
John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California said that he
learned one of his greatest faith lessons playing Monopoly with his grandmother.
She was soft, gentle, and kind—until she played Monopoly—then she was ruthless.
She beat him over and over, and it wasn’t until he was 10 years old, that he won.
He said: I’ll never forget that win. She had just gotten out of jail, and her next roll
would take her right past a string of my properties that were loaded with hotels.
She rolled, and landed right on Marvin Gardens.
She was an old lady, widowed, struggling financially—and I crushed her.
It was the greatest moment of my life.
And then his grandmother started to put game away. And he said, No, leave it out!
He said, I wanted the board to stay just the way it was at pinnacle of my success.
But she smiled and said: When the game is over, it all goes back in the box.
He protested, and she said again. When the game is over, it all goes back in box.
John, some day you will know that this is life, when game over, all back in box.
Bible says: For we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out.
Naked I came into this world, and naked I will depart.
What is your purpose in life? What are you striving for?
One day all the Utilities and Railroads, all of the property deeds,
and houses and hotels, and all those beautiful gold-colored $500 dollar bills
will be swept into the box. And your life will be over.
Are you looking forward to that day, putting your hopes in Christ?
Are there specific sins you are fighting by resurrection power of Jesus?
If you are suffering, are you looking for comfort from your suffering Savior?
Don’t coast. Don’t retire. Don’t get distracted. Press on with purpose.
Make Paul’s words your own: I want to know Christ.
MP#2 Press on with humility
Right after Paul presents magnificent statement of purpose—I want to know Christ.
The very next thing he says is:
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already become perfect,
but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
And then he repeats himself and expands his thought:
“Brothers, 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, I press on . . .”
In that statement is the very necessary lesson, that you must press on with humility.
And humility probably isn’t the best word.
Press on with dissatisfaction—dissatisfaction in yourself.
One reason Paul was able to advance so far and know Christ so well,
is that he was very realistic about himself and his deep flaws,
even as a born again person. He knew he had not arrived.
He is saying: I not anywhere near where I want to be spiritually.
And the best and the godliest Christians are still sinners and very much aware
of their imperfections and deeply disappointed with themselves.
They live with a high level of personal frustration on account of their failures—
and chief among such Christians was the Apostle Paul himself.
He apparently had some concern to communicate this to the Philippians.
There were some in the Philippian church who felt that they were perfect—
or at least good enough. They had arrived, they could relax in the Christian life.
Paul feared these Philippian believers would not work hard to perfect their love
and unity if they were self-satisfied and content with themselves.
You don’t keep running after you’ve caught the bus.
So Paul says: Look at me. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be—
and you shouldn’t think you are either.
How do you cultivate this kind of humility, this holy dissatisfaction with yourself?
I think one way is hinted at in this passage—and that is to compare yourself
to Christians who are farther along than you are. Want to be where they are.
Use that to stir up in yourself a dissatisfaction with where you are.
I read a fascinating autobiography recently called Discovery on the Katmandu Trail,
by man named Marc Mailloux. Today he’s a Presbyterian missionary.
But when he was in his late teens, Marc was a hippy.
And in 1971 he did what many young people were doing,
dropped out of college, traveled to India to find meaning of life in Eastern religion
Marc had grown up in a nominal Christian home, but he rejected Christianity.
He dressed like a Hindu holy man in rags and long hair, wandered all over India.
But he found that he was not a better person.
He sitting on the banks of the Ganges River—when a very neatly dressed young
Indian man approached him and gave him a book—it was the Gospel of John.
Marc read it and could not deny that Jesus is the Son of God.
And kicking and fighting all the way, he was converted.
He said the hardest thing he ever did was get on his knees and pray.
Because in doing that he was admitting he was a sinner and separate from God.
And Eastern religions had all said that he was one with God.
Then just a day or two later he was on a train to Deli with this young Indian man
Jacob who had lead him to Christ.
The day they were traveling happened to be a Hindu holy day that people celebrated
by throwing colored water on strangers—and dye and handfuls of flour, even dirt.
All along the trip, whenever they stopped at stations, groups of boys would throw
things on them through the open windows.
It wasn’t done maliciously, but Marc was tired and miserable from the long trip—
and he got furious and started chasing some of these boys.
He didn’t catch them, and was exhausted by his outburst of anger.
And then he noticed Jacob, his neat black suit covered with flour—
smiling and taking it all in stride.
Marc was a baby Christian, just a few days old, but for the very first time,
looking at Jacob, he was dissatisfied with himself.
And he realized how far he had to grow as a Christian.
Are you pressing on with humility?
Do you have a holy dissatisfaction with yourself?
When is the last time you spent time with a more mature Christian and said
to yourself—I wish I was there. I wish I was a husband like that, father like that.
I wish I had that faith. That peace under pressure. That walk with Christ.
Don’t be content with where you are. Don’t ever think you’ve arrived.
Press on. Press on with purpose. Press on with humility.
MP#3 Press on with confidence
The Gospel makes you both humbled, dissatisfied and confident at the same time.
We see this confidence in verse 14. Paul says:
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
All of you sports fans should love this verse, in fact,
you should love this whole passage, because it’s full of sports images taken from
the Olympics. Paul was the first preacher to use sports illustrations in sermons.
He says: I press on toward the goal. The goal in Greek races was a pillar or stake.
Everyone ran toward it, and the first one to get there won.
Paul has already told us what his goal is—it’s to know Christ.
And how does Paul say he is running toward the goal?
In verse 13, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
That’s exactly how Olympic runners still compete—they never look behind,
the barely, if ever even look to the side, they are straining for the finish.
But even more fascinating, Paul says: I’m running to win the prize.
Paul didn’t just run to finish, he ran to get the prize. He ran for the gold.
That was his view of the Christian life, I’m running for the gold.
Now all of us have seen gold medals awarded in the Olympics.
And what is done today is there at the venue—whether it’s the track,
or next to the swimming pool, or at the bottom of downhill slope,
they set up three boxes, one each for bronze, silver, and gold.
And then the Olympic President or some other official comes forward,
and puts the medal around the neck of the winner.
But in Paul’s day, that wasn’t how it was done.
The ruler, the king or emperor was sitting up in his place of honor in stadium.
And he would summon the winner to come up into the stands.
And there, in that place of honor, in the king’s place, he would get the prize.
That’s how Paul envisions his life. I’m going to reach my goal,
and God is going to call me into the stands, to his seat of honor, and give prize.
But is that actually what Paul says? That God will call me one day?
No, he says: I press on toward the goal to win the prize—
for which God has called me heavenward.
He’s already called me up into the stand. He’s already received me as the winner.
It’s as if I’ve already finished first and won the gold.
But how can that be?
How can that be when I look at my life and see all my failures this very week!?
When I see what a poor Christian parent and spouse and friend I am.
When I know that I don’t love people as I should.
When I am ashamed of my weak prayer life and my fear of witnessing,
and my love of comfort and money—and all the other things where I fall so short.
How can it be that I’ve already been called up to the king’s seat to get the gold.
The answer is in the last three words of the sentence: In Christ Jesus.
I press on toward the goal to win the prize—
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
The moment you put your faith in Jesus Christ and determine to love and serve him.
God unites you with his Son in such a way that when he looks at you,
he sees Jesus Christ.
He sees the man who has already finished the race, called heavenward for gold.
As a Christian, you are in Christ, and blessed in the heavenly realms.
When you know that Jesus has run the race for you,
that gives you confidence, not to despair, not to quit.
You can face your worst sins and failures and weaknesses in him and press on.
In 1981 a man named Bill Broadhurst entered the Omaha Nebraska Pepsi 10K Run.
10 years earlier Bill had a brain aneurysm that had partially paralyzed left side.
He made it his goal to finish the race.
And he was determined to run that 10K because a man he greatly admired—
Bill Rogers, the great marathon runner, was in the race that day.
Bill Rogers finished first with at time of 29 minutes, 37 seconds.
It took Bill Broadhurst much longer. After first hour, his paralyzed side aching.
After two hours, cars back on street, he had a hard time in intersections.
Two hours and twenty minutes, the pain was so intense he didn’t think
he could do it, but he knew he was almost there.
And then he saw that the finish line and banner were gone and everyone had left—
but as he got closer, he saw a small gathering of people, they were his friends.
As the moved toward him cheering, he saw a man step to the front of the group—
Bill Rogers. When he crossed the finish line, Rogers said:
“Broadhurst, you’re the winner, man. You take the gold.”
Brothers and sisters, if you make knowing Jesus Christ your purpose in life,
if you push ahead and fight against your sinful nature,
and make every effort to do the good works that God commands—
then you will not regret it.
Because the day will come when you approach the finish line—
you may be limping and in pain, discouraged by how little you’ve accomplished,
but out of the crowd of your friends who’ve gone before will step your Hero.
And Christ will call you by name. And tell you well done.
And give you a golden crown. And tell you to enter his Father’s kingdom.
Don’t make this more complicated than it is.
You know very well that you need to be a better man or a better woman
as a follower of Christ. Don’t kid yourself.
There are many changes large and small that you need to make.
You know what God wants you to change in your marriage.
You know what God wants you to change in your parenting.
You know what he want you to change in your time and commitment to his
kingdom work, and in your own mind and spirit.
If you don’t know what those changes are, ask your wife or husband.
Ask your Christian friends, and tell them to be honest.
But you know, don’t you. So set about to make those changes.
Keep your nose to the grindstone.
Exercise like an athlete who intends to win his race.
Fix what is wrong with repentance, prayer, and purposeful new obedience.
Set your sights on the new you, the new man you are in Christ,
and looking at Jesus to enable you, inspire you, and instruct you—