Keep Your Eye on the Prize! Living as a Kingdom Citizen
Introduction: As we are getting to the end of
Philippians, we see an emphasis, in these final admonitions, on Paul’s concern
for practical Christian living. Perilous times will come! In the light of the
Gospel, how then should we live? The Bible repeatedly uses metaphors, parallels
between eternal truth and our day to day experience to teach us. Jesus
frequently did that in the parables. We like some of them, a sower going out to
sow, a shepherd leading his flock… Paul uses several “athletic metaphors,” like
“fighting the good fight” or “running a race with endurance.” I find that
language a little convicting since I have hardly exercised lately (other than
bringing loads of paper to the dump!).
The paragraph today uses the imagery of a runner, pushing toward the
finish line, striving with every fiber to win the race set before him. I picture Eric Liddell, in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, as pictured in the movie Chariots of Fire, running to the gold in the 400 meters.
Context: Paul has just urged the Philippians to guard the truth of the
Gospel and to not fall into the trap of thinking we need to somehow earn our
salvation. But we shouldn’t be content in
just thinking, “I’m saved.” We need to honestly look within, and then, because
of his grace, look ahead toward the prize, seeking to live out God’s plan for
The Maine* Idea:
Stand firm in the Lord, as you strive
to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our sure hope.
I. Strive to grow in Christ (3:12-16)!
If Paul needed to, don’t we?
3:12 Not that I have already
obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because
Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for
the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature
think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that
also to you. 16 Only let us
hold true to what we have attained.
The language of striving, running hard
to complete the race, is interesting language when we think of the Christian
life. We’ve spoken a lot about grace over the last ten years, is this a
contradiction? Here he says, “…but I
press on…” It is not just, “let go
and let God.” This implies effort and
commitment. Remember the language of 2:12-13…
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed,
so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your
own salvation with fear and trembling, 13
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Wiersbe said that “a sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to
progress in the Christian race.” This is not talking about a lack of contentment
in Christ, that question will come up in chapter 4. Rather it is warning us
against complacency. We need to regularly take a hard look in the
mirror, which will expose our need to grow in obedience. The
language here is of a runner in a race, a marathon, someone who pushes on and
looks toward the goal. Justin looked at Hebrews 12:1-2 a couple of weeks ago,
where the writer uses similar imagery:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud
of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so
easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for
us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on
Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him
endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the
throne of God.”
One summer during
seminary I worked with a rail gang, which was going up the coast, working on the railroad tracks. We were replacing the
segmented rails with solid, welded rails which would allow the trains to run faster more safely. My job as a loader operator was
essentially to run back and forth from the back of the rail gang, which
stretched out about a quarter mile I think, to the front. I would pick up the
cradles that the rails were sliding on in the back, and run them up to the
front. Wherever the railroad tracks went, we obviously had to go. Occasionally
that meant driving over railroad bridges that were made for trains, not wheel
loaders. Some of you know that I really don’t like heights. And when I would
drive over those bridges, if I looked down, all I would see is space. NOT GOOD!
I would stop right there! As long as I looked ahead, and fixed my attention on
the rails in front me, and looked ahead to the other side of the bridge, I
could move on and get to the other side. There are things we encounter as we
live as pilgrims in a fallen world that can paralyze us. Like Peter when he saw
the wind and waves got his eyes off Jesus, and started to sink! We need to look
ahead, we need to remember where we are going, fixing our eyes on the goal,
looking to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith! And so we press on…
“forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” Don’t look down, and don’t look back, look ahead!
Don’t stay hung up on the past! (3:13). Now wait a minute, doesn’t the Bible
have a lot to say about remembering? It is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures
where the people are repeatedly urged to remember God’s mighty works, how He
brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Today
we’ll celebrate the Lord’s Table, didn’t Jesus say, “Do this in remembrance of
me”? Of course, we have to remember what God has done for us, and even where we
have stumbled or struggled so that we can learn from our mistakes. So in one
sense, we “move on” from the past, instead of being hung up on things
we cannot change, we accept God’s forgiveness, we lean on his grace, and we
move ahead, stronger, and closer to him. But it may be that something else is
more central to Paul’s point here. All
of history had been pointing forward to the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus
came and fulfilled that hope. He is the promised one. As the writer to the
Hebrews said, “In different ways and at different times God spoke in times past to the fathers through
the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken in the Son…” (Heb
1:1,2). And we don’t return to the Law which could only expose our sin and
condemn, but we turn to Christ, who bore our sin so that we could have life.
Fix your heart on God (14). “I press
toward the goal for the prize…” The word “press toward,” also in
verse 12 is often translated in a negative sense as “pursue or persecute.” Jesus asked Paul on the Damascus road, “Why
do you persecute me?” It can also be used as here with a more
positive sense, indicating “intense effort.” Is hunting season coming? Some
Greek texts used the word to describe a hunter “pursuing” his prey. We are to “pursue” intimacy with God with the
same passion, with the same zeal.
But what is the prize Paul has in view? “…the
upward call of God in Christ Jesus…” God has a plan for us, a goal, a
direction both now and for eternity. We
are already citizens of heaven – but he has us here in this world
because there is work for us to do.
Maturity leads to stability (15-16). Pursuing
the prize requires a recognizing the truth: “Let us therefore, as many as
are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different
attitude, God will reveal that also to you…” Paul here is not implying that anyone can be practically
perfect. We certainly are positionally
perfect in that since we are “in Christ,” His righteousness is imputed to
our account. The word can also be
translated “mature” and that might fit better in this context. True maturity will propel us to greater commitment,
and a desire to walk more closely with Christ.
Paul is saying if you are really mature in Christ, whether or not you
want to listen to me, the Holy Spirit will convict you, and reveal to you the
need to grow closer to Him.
Pursing the Prize Requires a Proper
Conformity: “…however, let us keep living
by that same standard to which we have attained…” (3:16). Remember Jesus is our model, Have this
mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. As we learn to think more like
Jesus we grow in our faith, standing
firm in the Lord, not “settling,” but striving to grow by following godly
examples while looking forward to our sure hope.
II. Be careful to follow good examples (17-19).
17 Brothers, join in
imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you
have in us. 18 For many, of
whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of
the cross of Christ. 19 Their
end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame,
with minds set on earthly things.
Have you seen the bumper sticker, “Don’t
follow me, I’m lost too!” We need to be careful who we follow! Discern those
who are walking with God (17). Paul was an apostle, he met the resurrected
Jesus and was called and commissioned by Him.
When he had wrote this letter, he had probably been following the Lord
for nearly 30 years. Even so, he wasn’t perfect. Yet he was confident in his
faith, he had a clean conscience, he knew that Jesus was the center of his
life. So, he could say, “…follow my
example…” I think we can say that, as one sinner saved by grace, telling
another sinner, one beggar telling another beggar, where to find bread. We can
be an example – not prideful or arrogant, simply and humbly following Jesus,
learning, and growing closer to him.
Paul goes on, “…take note of those
who walk according to the pattern we gave you…” Others who live in a way
that exposes the authenticity of their faith. Paul is not saying that we should put people
on a pedestal – we are sinners saved by grace, and beyond question, we are all
a work in progress. Jesus is ultimately our example, he is the one we follow
who will never fail us. But we can be
encouraged by the example of sincere believers that God brings into our path. But
beware of those who are walking in the
flesh. Look again at verses 3:18-19…
18 For many, of whom I have
often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross
of Christ. 19 Their end is
destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with
minds set on earthly things.
God’s enemies, bound for
destruction, living for their pleasures, focused on the world. Be careful
who you follow! If you have read Pilgrim’s Progress you remember how
Christian gets in trouble when he aligns himself with the wrong companions!
3:18 begins, “For…” There
was a reason that it was important to seek out good examples, godly mentors who
reflected Jesus and helped guide us into a closer relationship with him… The reason was simply this: there were many
examples of false teachers and wrong theology and outright sinful examples that
would pull us away from Jesus and the cross. We are in the world, but we
should not be of the world.
“…many live as enemies of the cross
of Christ…” Some were living in such a way, that either overtly or
practically, they were opposing the message of the cross. Paul is “weeping” as
he relates this painful truth. Notice the descriptors Paul uses…
1) “…their end is destruction…”
For those who reject the truth of the Gospel, the substitutionary death and
resurrection of Jesus, salvation by grace through faith, their end, their
eventual destiny, is destruction, eternal death, torment in hell separated from
God. We can understand Paul’s weeping at their rejection of the Truth!
2) “…whose god is their stomach…” Paul uses “stomach” here to refer to the
appetites of the flesh – unrestrained fleshly, bodily desires. Jude made
reference to people like this when he said they were “ungodly persons who
turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only master and
lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4).
3) “….whose glory is in their shame…”
In some way, these false teachers were boasting in the very things that they
ought to have been ashamed of. We see a
similar situation in the church in Corinth, “It is actually reported that there is sexual
immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the
Gentiles -- that a man has his father's wife!
2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he
who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.” (I Cor 5:1,2).
4) “…their mind is on earthly things…”
One issue is that these people were focused merely and exclusively on the here
and now, they didn’t consider the eternal, the big picture of God’s plan for us
and his universe. John warned in his first letter that “if anyone loves the
world, the love of the father is not in him” (I Jn 2:15). James said
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that
you may spend it on your pleasures. 4
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is
enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes
himself an enemy of God” (James 4:3,4).
Remember the Maine* Idea in
these verses: Stand firm in the Lord,
as you strive to grow by following godly examples while looking forward to our
III. Stand firm in our sure hope (3:20-4:1).
our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus
Christ, 21 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. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my
In contrast to the worldly, carnal false
teachers, Paul says, “But our
citizenship is in heaven…” We lived
in Brazil as missionaries for a number of years, but we were always Americans.
We had a passport to prove it! A baby born to American parents would normally
have American citizenship, no matter where he was born. We’ve not been to heaven, but we are
citizens of heaven. It is our birthright;
it is our home! Paul was a Roman
citizen, and he was not afraid to avail himself of his rights when it was
needed. We are thankful for the privileges of our American citizenship, but we also
have another citizenship that has eternal value. That should impact how we
from it we await a Savior…” This
reminds us of a fundamental truth of our faith – Jesus is returning. This world
is part of a story that God is writing, and the problem of sin and suffering,
which was dealt with at the cross, will be resolved when Jesus returns in
glory. He will judge the world in righteousness. The day is coming when every
knee will bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Paul speaks of that day here: “…who by the power that enable him to bring
everything under his control….” That sounds like the language of Psalm 2.
The Father and His anointed reigning over all Creation! Our transformation is a part of that plan:
God “…will transform our lowly bodies so
that they will be like his glorious body….” I hope to do a series next year
around Easter in I Cor 15, the resurrection chapter. Just as surely as Jesus was raised from the
dead and his body transformed, so will we!
Because our hope goes beyond this life, because we know that there is
more to this story than this “veil of tears” in which we live, we live as
citizens, confidently, waiting for the blessed hope of the glorious appearing
of our great God and Savior.
“Therefore my brothers [and
sisters]….” In light of the promise of his coming and the positive examples He
has given us, this is how you should live, beloved. He exhorts them as his family, as his brothers and sister in
Christ. We are a family!
“…in who I love and long for, my joy
and my crown….” Paul had a heart for the people, he loved them, they were
his family, he longed to see them. They
brought him joy, now, and they were his “crown”, the trophy, the goal and
reason for his life and ministry. The
church is about people – as we love one another we show Jesus to the world! (Jn
“…that is how you should stand firm
in the Lord my dear friends…” Among
evangelical believers in Brazil, a common greeting was simply a question, “Firme?” It was an abbreviated way of
asking, “Are you standing firm in the Lord?” The text here makes a connection,
it is in community, as God’s family, that we can stand firm.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Maine* Idea ties these
verses together: Stand firm in the
Lord, as you strive to grow by following godly examples while looking forward
to our sure hope.
God have me to do in response to this passage? You remember the famous story, retold in “Chariots of Fire,” of the
Olympic runner, Eric Liddel. He was
famous for passing up a chance for a metal in the 100 meters because he refused
to run on the Sabbath. He loved running,
and said that when he ran, he felt “the pleasure of God.” He ran the
400, set a record, and won the gold. God is pleased with us as we run the race,
as we seek Him diligently and whole-heartedly. Do you feel His pleasure
today? Let’s run with endurance the race set before us. Or, as Paul says here, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand
firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” AMEN.