Part 9 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians
You can listen to this sermon here.
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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).
Life's a Race
Paul writes that Christians are in a race. And this race is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
At the 1980 Boston Marathon, a relatively unknown runner named Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line with a time of 2:31:56, making her the winning woman. But her lack of any sweat stains immediately raised suspicions. When the male winner asked her about her splits, she had no idea what splits were. Then two Harvard students came forward claiming to have witnessed Ruiz run out of the spectator section into the race only a half a mile from the finish line. Eventually, Ruiz was disqualified.
Paul, unlike Rosie Ruiz, was determined to run well. Twice he says, “I press on” (vv. 12, 14). He would keep on running toward the finish line no matter how difficult the race became.
Running the Christian race well is to be our lifelong pursuit.
You might be thinking, “Is it really important to run well?” Paul would answer that question with an emphatic “Yes!”
The Race's Prize
Most races have a prize. (In the Olympics, the prize is a gold medal.) Winning the prize is the goal of a runner. The Christian race also has a prize. Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). But Paul repeatedly states that he hasn’t yet received the prize (“Not that I have already attained this,” v. 12; “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own,” v. 13).
What is the prize of the Christian race? What is the “this” that Paul had not attained? What is the “it” that Paul had not made his own? Look back at verse 11. Paul desires “that [he] may know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
1. The prize of the Christian race is knowing and becoming like Christ.
If anyone could say he knew and had become like Christ, it was Paul. But he says he hasn’t reached this goal. So the prize must be a full experience of knowing and becoming like Christ. We strive for this goal, though in this life we will never fully reach this goal. The goal will not be reached until “the resurrection from the dead” (v. 10; cf. v. 21). This is the completion of our salvation (1:6).
The prize is not won by us (by our works); it was won for us by Christ (through his death and resurrection). God has determined that all who put their faith in Christ will receive the prize. In the NIV, verse 12 says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Paul is saying, “Because Christ took hold of me, I will one day take hold of the prize.”
The Runner's Motivation
A runner needs motivation to run. Paul was a motivated runner. He says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead (v. 13). But if every Christian will receive the prize (because of God’s grace), what’s the motivation for running well? (If before a marathon, the runners were told, “All of you will receive a gold medal,” how would their motivation be affected?)
In verse 18, Paul refers to people who are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They were either legalists (e.g., the Judaizers, v. 2) or hedonists (“ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness,” Jude 1:4 NASB). The legalist and the hedonist are enemies of the cross because they twist the grace of God into something it’s not.
Grace makes the legalist nervous. Grace makes the hedonist excited. The legalist says, “I am obligated to do everything I can.” He doesn’t believe that grace is enough. The hedonist says, “I am free to do whatever I want.” He thinks grace is a license to sin. The legalist robs grace of its happiness. The hedonist robs grace of its holiness. The legalist has the wrong motivation. The hedonist has no motivation.
2. The motivation for the Christian runner is love for Christ.
Paul had received “the upward call of God” (v. 14; cf. Rom. 8:29-30). There is a delicate balance between God’s call to salvation and the believer’s works. “It is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13), but we are to “work out [our] own salvation” (2:12).
Those who have been saved by God’s grace desire to please him (run well). (Some people love to run. I have no desire to run. I’m not a runner.) If you have no motivation to run the Christian race well, perhaps you’re not a Christian.
The Race's End
Running a marathon is difficult. (A marathon is over 42 kilometres.) And living the Christian life is not easy. There may be times when we feel like giving up, but in the end we will say, “It was worth it to run well.”
Our running will cease when we go to be with Jesus when we die or when he comes to us when he returns (whichever occurs first). “From [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).
3. The end of the Christian race will bring immense joy.
(Have you ever watched marathon runners cross the finish line? They’re exhausted, but they’re also joyful.) Imagine what it will be like to hear Jesus say, “You ran well.”