18 October 2020

Book: Philippians

We Press On

Bible Passage: Philippians 3:12-21

James Dasaolu is not a household name. He is a British sprinter who runs the 100m. In fact, he is the second fastest Briton of all time. His record is 9.91 seconds and it is only .04 seconds behind the fastest Briton of all time. In 2014 he won the European championship for the 100m. So there were high hopes going into the 2015 world championships. In a race that takes 10 seconds or less, there is not a lot of room for error. James Dasaolu was in the qualifying rounds and this particular race started well for the sprinter. He came out of the blocks with good form. His legs drove into the ground and powered him forward. As he came out of his starting form his body moved upright with his legs still moving and by five seconds into the race he was in the lead. 

Typically at the 60-70m point a runner is at his top speed and all he needs to do is to relax into the run and stay focused on the finish line. But in this particular race at 60m Dasaolu made a deadly mistake. Instead of staying focused on the finish line Dasaolu moved his entire head to look to the right. That microsecond decision resulting in a microsecond movement was enough to slow Dasaolu down. He realized it too and he ran and then he did it again as he saw his opponent gaining ground on him. That lack of focus on the finish line was enough to not just cost him that race, but to cost him any hope at competing in that year’s world championship.

Could you imagine being Dasaolu in that moment, knowing that before the race was over that you had made a mistake and that you are going to lose. That picture of a distracted runner has something to say to us this morning, because we might not even know that we are distracted. In fact, it is the is the point which the Apostle Paul makes to us this morning as we live out our lives as Christians when he says, “Press on to win the prize.”

That’s what he says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The prize is life forever in the presence of God, but what exactly is the the goal that Paul is referring to? It’s more than just to cross the finish line. That would be too low of a goal. In fact, the goal is a God given goal. Paul spoke about it in the previous verses. The goal is to know Christ more and more fully.

This means to grow in faith and knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice for us. It means to know the power of his resurrection. It means to take up our own crosses and follow him. To know more and more fully that when Christ died we died, and new person in us has risen up and so we live a new kind of life.

You might think that if there were someone who had their Christian life together, who had deep theological understanding, who exhibited that understanding in the way they lived, and who could maybe relax a little and coast to the finish line in their twilight years it would be the Apostle Paul. But that is not at all what he says, in fact he says that he has not arrived at his goal. Certainly he has faith in Christ, but he wants to know Christ more and more. And like a runner with singular focus aiming for the finish line, his entire life revolves around this goal. “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”

Do you remember the movie Napoleon Dynamite? There is a character in it named Uncle Rico. Uncle Rico is constantly living in the past and particularly his high school football career. He would say things like, “Back in ’82 I could throw a ball a quarter mile” or “If coach had put me in the fourth quarter, we would have won state.” Of course, we all know people like that. Paul has plenty of accomplishments in his life that he could look back on, but that would be like James Dasaolu looking to his right mid race. His main goal now is to know Christ more and more. 

Paul then says that there needs to be continual progress in the Christian life, and so he encourages us to do two things the first thing is to live according to what they had been taught through the Word of God, and the second thing is to follow his example, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” So what he is saying to you is “Press on to win the prize.”

Here’s what someone who does not press on to win the prize is like, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” This is an important warning for us as we press on to win the prize. There are many things in life that can cause us to lose focus of our goal and our prize. There are many things in life that can cause our minds to focus on earthly things and Paul makes clear that kind of thinking can lead to destruction.

Certainly the circumstances of 2020 can cause our minds to focus on earthly things, and sometimes we need to focus on earthly things, but our minds cannot rest on them. Because if they do we begin to forget who our God is, and how powerful and wise and gracious he is. And that is a dangerous spot to be in.

Certainly our priorities can cause our minds to focus on earthly things. Someone can put hours time into listening to political news, while at the same time neglecting to prepare themselves for Sunday worship. Someone can binge the latest Netflix show, but not take 5 minutes to do Bible Study. What are the priorities that you have set for yourself which conflict with a single minded focus on knowing Christ more and more, taking up your cross and following him, and knowing the power of his resurrection? Paul is right there is shame in that, because it is our own choices even if made in a microsecond which pull us away from our singular focus on the prize to which we have been called. 

There are many things in life that can cause our minds to focus on earthly things and so we do need the warning from Paul and reminder “Press on to the prize,” but he also reminds us of how Christ has taken hold of us already.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” The prize is already yours. Heaven is already yours. You are less of citizen of this place and more a citizen of that which is to come. And it is this place that our Savior came from.

Our savior was never distracted by this age. He was never distracted by earthly things. His mind was always on the goals his father had set before him. In fact, he was so focused on the goals that his single minded ness was unsettling to his disciples. When he told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to be given over to the hands of men, Peter rebuked Jesus for speaking this way. But Jesus had to remind Peter that Peter did not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.

The cross was his goal, and he was pressing on toward this goal not so that he could have God’s favor and not so that he could win heaven. He had those things already, he pressed on toward that goal so that we could have heaven. It could be really easy to become distracted when you are winning something for someone else, but his love for you propelled him forward.

And he died on the cross, and when he was separated from his father for our sins, it was is if you and I were separated from the father. When he breathed out his final breath it was as if you and I breathed our last. When he rose from death, we too will rise from death and even now we have been raised to new spiritual life.

Knowing Christ is remembering these things and mulling them over and savoring them it is seeing just how wide and expansive and powerful the work of Christ is for our lives. Just as we died along with Christ, just as we will rise along with him, so also we will be exalted just as Christ was exalted. Our lowly bodies will be conformed to his glory. Just as we died along with Christ, just as we are called to make real and painful sacrifice, so also we will personally experience his glory. All the things that I am not right now I will be then.

This is exactly the prize for which Christ has taken hold of us for, but now we have a goal: to know him more and more day by day. So we run with single minded focus. 

You know who won the 2015 World Championships? Usain Bolt. Some of his races in previous rounds didn’t go so hot. His form was poor. His seemed unfocused. But he found his groove again and he wen to win the championship by one hundredth of a second… he was dialed in and focused on his goal. 

In the same way we forget what is behind, and we press on to win the prize. Amen.