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. PRAY It’s good to be back with you this morning, the mission trip to Honduras was wonderful, and we are today continuing our study of Philippians. Lord willing we will have three more sermons in Philippians, and then begin a new study in the Old Testament this fall on 1 Samuel, where we will look at the events leading up to and the life of David. I’ve actually wanted to preach on that for at least six or seven years, and this fall we plan to do so. I’m very excited about that. But today we are in Philippians 3, and in our text this morning Paul talks about the “prize.” He says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” God has a prize for us. Who doesn’t like winning a prize? Everyone wants to win a prize. In children’s sports today, who gets a prize? Everyone – why? Because the parents and the coaches know that everyone wants a prize – every kid wants a trophy to put in their room. But how much more do you want the prize when you’ve earned it? When you really have, as Paul says, “strain[ed] toward what is ahead,” exerted yourself, pushed yourself? Why do you think these coaches and athletes and Ole Miss work so incredibly hard on their skill and craft? They want more than anything else to win the prize – their conference championship, the national championship. But, there is a supreme prize, friends – far greater than any prize any organization of athletes can come up with on earth. There is a prize for which God has called us, and think about it like this: if the God who created you has a prize for you, it must be the most superlative prize available. And that’s what we’ll talk about this morning: first, what is the prize? Second, when do we get it? Third, how do we get it? First, what is the prize? In verse 12, Paul writes to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this …” What is the “this” to which Paul refers? To find out, we have to back up a few verses and look at some of the text Jim taught on last week. Verses 811: 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness
of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (italics added).” Paul says the prize is knowing Christ. That’s the prize for which we strive and the thing for which we’re made – knowing Christ. Nothing is greater, nothing is more wonderful, nothing is more important to you than knowing him. I know at first it may not sound that way – knowing Jesus Christ, the prize? Is that such a big deal? Think about it like this: knowledge is the pathway to all kinds of pleasure. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, several of us just returned from a mission trip in Honduras. And while you did not at all have to speak Spanish to go on the trip, it certainly enhanced the trip for you if you did. Why? That knowledge gave you freedom – it gave you a freedom to speak to the team that is based in Honduras, to speak with the villagers with whom we worked, you were in on a bunch of conversations that, for example, I wasn’t. I struggle enough with English as it is, and therefore my experience was limited. Knowing a language led to a pleasurable experience. Some of you know how to play a musical instrument. I sit down front virtually every Sunday and I’m somewhat jealous of our musicians – the drummers, the guitarists, the keyboardists – because they know how to play these instruments and therefore they are able to experience a pleasure that I’m not able to. Knowing how to speak a language and knowing how to play a musical instrument – those are good things. But what’s really wonderful is to deeply know a person. To develop close ties to another human being. So to see two people who are obviously very close – whether it’s two friends, or a father and son, or a husband and a wife – and they know each other very well, and they love each other, and they enjoy being around one another – that’s a beautiful thing. In these kinds of close relationships, you can get so caught up in just the joy of being with the other person that you really do, even if it’s for a few moments, get lost in the relationship. You can forget where you are when you’re with this person, you can forget all your worries and fears and concerns because the sheer pleasure of knowing drives it all from you. In fact, in the Old Testament, we see that the Hebrew word for “know” means more than just intellectually grasping some facts. It can mean having this kind of powerful experience with another person. So when we read in Genesis 4 how Adam and Eve had their first child, the Bible says, “And Adam knew his wife and she conceived …” It is a wonderful, powerful thing to know another person. Now, that may make you feel a little downcast, because you may think, “I don’t know a language, I don’t know how to play an instrument, and I don’t have any relationships in my life right now that bring me that kind of joy.” Is that you?
Here’s the good news: all of that knowledge – as good and right as all of it is, languages, music, relationships, as worthy as all of it is – it is all nothing compared to knowing Christ. “ I count everything as loss because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Knowing Christ, Paul says, is the prize. Knowing Christ, Paul says, is the goal of life. Compared to knowing Christ everything else is rubbish, it’s dung, it’s crap, it’s excrement. Nothing else matters compares to knowing Christ. So do not feel left out! No matter how crummy your relational life might be right now, it is all rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The more exemplary the person, the more pleasure you get in knowing the person. Well, no one is more exemplary, no one is more excellent, that Jesus Christ. In him all the fullness of God dwells. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning and the End. He is the Lily of the Valley, the Fairest of Ten Thousand, the Lion of Judah and the Lamb who was slain. And therefore knowing him, Paul says, is all that matters! Knowing him is the prize! Johann Sebastian Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring has been at just about every wedding I’ve officiated as a minister, usually the seating of the grandparents. You know which one I’m talking about? It has lyrics – I don’t know that I ever knew of them until this past week. Just goes to show you how unenlightened your pastor is. But these lyrics express as wonderfully as human language can the surpassing greatness of the prize, of knowing Christ: Jesu, joy of man's desiring, Holy wisdom, love most bright; Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring Soar to uncreated light. Word of God, our flesh that fashioned, With the fire of life impassioned, Striving still to truth unknown, Soaring, dying round Thy throne. Through the way where hope is guiding, Hark, what peaceful music rings; Where the flock, in Thee confiding, Drink of joy from deathless springs. Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure; Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure. Thou dost ever lead Thine own In the love of joys unknown.
Knowing Christ – Charles Wesley put it like this at the end of one of his hymns, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: to know Christ is to be “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” Knowing Christ is the prize. Second, when can we get it? Again, look back at verse 12-13a: 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. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own …” Paul was a man used mightily of God. He was an apostle. He wrote half the New Testament. Jesus appeared to Paul bodily in order to convert him on the road to Damascus. In the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul even writes about an experience he had with the Lord Jesus Christ – some think this was the Damascus Road encounter, others don’t. But here is what Paul said: “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. Paul was all this, had all this happen to him. Yet he says, “I have not yet obtained the prize.” What does that mean for us? We will never get the prize in this life. If Paul, with all his gifts and with all the revelations of Christ that were given to him, could not obtain the prize, neither will we. Two things flow from understanding that – both of which I hope encourage you: first, Christian perfection is impossible. There have been those throughout Christian history – but especially associated with the Holiness movement and the Pentecostal movement, which both come from Methodism, the Methodist church – who have taught that it was possible to achieve Christian perfection. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, gave a lot of energy to this movement when he preached a sermon on “Christian Perfection” from this passage. And in it he said that Christians could achieve a state of perfection in this life, and he says that because of verse 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.” The word translated as “mature” is the same word translated as “perfect” in verse 12 – it’s teleos, and in fact the old King James version of the Bible does actually translate it as “perfect.” It reads: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded …” Philippians 3:15 (KJV). So Wesley taught, and many of followed him, that Christians could eventually attain to a perfection in the Christian life – they could grow to the point to where they would not commit any more outward sins (like lying, stealing, sex outside of marriage), but also sins of the heart – including evil thoughts and attitudes. And those who followed Wesley in this tradition increasingly taught that what Christians need in order to reach perfection is one big experience – one big deliverance at a worship service, revival meeting, prayer gathering – where the Holy Spirit would come and cleanse their hearts and once and for all make them perfect. Many of you I’m sure have been involved in faith traditions
where that was the basically the only focus – constantly trying to whip up a church or congregation so that they could have this experience, this second blessing, and be forever changed. Now, if that’s true, that Christian perfection is possible, then nothing could be more important than seeking it – but if it’s not true, then all the practices that have sprung up around the doctrine of Christian perfection is at best a huge distraction to how the Christian life really needs to be lived and, as worst, they become the kind of thing that can cause Christians to grow so discouraged because they haven’t received their promised deliverance that, eventually, they leave the faith altogether. Is Paul teaching here that perfection is possible for the Christian? No – the Greek word teleos literally means “goal” or “end,” so it can mean something close to perfection (like in verse 12), but in the context of verse 15 it means having a mature view of Christian things, and the ESV translators rightly translate it as “mature.” Christian perfection is not something possible in this life, and 1 John 1:8-10 ought to make that clear: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Friends, we will all struggle with sin of some type the rest of our days. I suppose it is possible for someone to mature to the point that they rarely if ever commit the outward sins – in word or deed – but that’s in my experience very unusual. But we will always wrestle with evil thoughts and inclinations of the heart. That never stops. No experience or revival meeting or prayer gathering will fix you once and for all. So, don’t be discouraged, don’t feel like you’re somehow a second-class Christian, because that kind of Christian perfection is impossible. Second, the Christian perspective must be eternal. What you’ll notice if you read the New Testament carefully is that the apostles were all looking forward to a deliverance, to a complete healing, but it was not one that would take place in this life. They were looking forward to the end of the age, to the coming of Jesus, and then and only then would they be perfected. Only when we see Jesus face-to-face will perfection come. 3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-7.
Therefore, since only in the light of eternity will we be perfect, then eternity itself and the communion with Jesus that it brings must be what we look forward to the most. “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 [and some translations have it as “the heavenward call”] of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14. The most mature Christians you’ll ever meet are the ones who are focused on heaven the most. They are the ones most at rest in their hearts. They are the ones most at peace with the world around them. They are the ones most willing to lay down their lives on earth and serve the people around them. They are the ones who can say, “21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21. Do you want to really be mature in this life? Do you want to really be changed? Then focus on heaven – focus on what will happen at the revelation of Jesus Christ on the last day. Because seeing Jesus face-to-face and resting in his arms will make everything we endure on earth worth it. Samuel Rutherford, a pastor in Scotland in the 17th century, wrote to one of his church members, a woman who had gone through tremendous suffering – she’d lost three of her children to death. And to encourage her, he begged her to look to heaven. He wrote: “When you have gotten to heaven, and looked upon the celestial city, and you see the never-withering tree of life, and the river of life flowing down the main street, you will say, ‘Twenty four hours living here is worth seventy years of sorrow on earth.’” The old hymn, Come Ye Disconsolate, puts it like this: “Come ye disconsolate, where’ere ye languish; come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel; here bring your wounded heart, here bring you anguish; Earth has no sorrows that heaven cannot heal.” Our perspective must be eternal, focused on the day when we will see Jesus faceto-face, never to be separated from him again, and fully satisfied. Third, how do we get the prize? Three things: first, to win the prize, we must know that Jesus Christ has first won us. That’s verse 12: 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. The first step to winning the prize is knowing, with certainty, that Jesus Christ has already won you. Do you know that about yourself? Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you belong to Jesus? You cannot know Jesus fully, completely, in this life. The barrier of sin makes that impossible. But you can know completely, with full assurance, in this life, that you belong to Jesus. Do you know that? Do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that about two thousand years ago, God became a man in Jesus Christ? Do you know that he lived a perfect life, a righteous life? Do you know that at the end of his life, he was cursed by God, and died on a Roman cross? And do you know that he did it all for you? He did it to pay for your sins so that you could go from being an enemy of God to being his child? Do you know that?
I do not know Christ fully, I do not know him the way I want to know him, the way I trust I will know him in heaven, but I do really know him. Do you know him? Do you have a relationship with him? Do you talk to him and do you hear from him in Scripture, in sermons, in the wise counsel of other believers, in the promptings of your own heart? Friends, the only reason we can ever be sure that we will make the prize of Jesus Christ our own is because Jesus Christ made us his own first. We do press on, we do work to know Jesus, but it’s only as a response to how Jesus first pressed to know us. Second, to win the prize, we must focus. Verses 13-14: 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. Paul uses the image here of a man running a race to describe the Christian life. When you’re running a race, or in any kind of athletic event, you can’t allow yourself to be distracted. You can’t start thinking about what you’ll have for supper, or a bill you have to pay, or a girl you’d like to ask out, because you’ll lose your concentration, then you’ll lose your place in the race or you’ll get picked off of first base or you’ll get hit in the head when the point guard passes the ball to you, or whatever. When you’re running the race, you know that if you want any shot at the prize – you must focus. So, Christians, we must focus! Paul says, “But one thing I do…” His entire life is built around winning the prize of knowing Christ. It must be true of us as well. But what does that mean, practically? Does it mean that we must all become monks and withdraw from life so that we can become super-spiritual and know Christ that way? No – it doesn’t mean that you withdraw from all the things in this life, but it does mean that all the things in this life are but means of knowing Christ better. So, just to take one example: yes, by all means, if you’re a Christian, play sports. If you like playing sports, if you’re good at it, play sports. But here’s how you play: to the glory of God. You must play sports because you enjoy playing the game, and you enjoy pushing your body to the limit, and you enjoy being around other people. And all the while, your focus is on Christ. You thank him for the opportunity to play the game. You thank him for the strength to play while you’re playing. You praise him for how beautiful his creation is that you get to play in. You marvel at how the human body can do all the things it does. You don’t trash talk, you can’t strut around like some rooster when you do well, you must show good sportsmanship and you must appreciate the gifts and talents of people on the other team every bit as much as your own. Plus, you won’t forsake meeting with God’s people on Sunday in order to play. If you find that you can’t be happy unless you’re winning, then you’re not using the game to know Christ. Winning cannot be the only thing, but you can play, and you can win, but with the mindset of “one thing I do.” You tell yourself, “This is just part of the one thing I do – this is just a game, fun as it is, and it is but one way to know Christ fully and win the prize.” It’s the same in relationships, in work, in rest – it’s not that we don’t do those
things, but we do them with the mindset of “one thing I do, this is just a part of the one thing I do to know Christ fully and win the prize.” Third, to win the prize, we must forget. Verse 13b: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead …” What exactly is it that we must forget? One of the most tragic things that happens in our church culture here in Mississippi is when people rely on something in their past – something that lies behind – for their salvation. Some experience that happened years ago is the foundation of their faith. Once I met with a man in my church in Starkville – he was about forty years old and was a member of my church but literally had not attended in at least a decade at the time. And he told me he knew he was a Christian, and he knew he was going to heaven, because when he was ten years old he prayed a prayer and the preacher told him to write the date he prayed that prayer in the back of the Bible, and so because he remembered praying the prayer and because he’d written the date, he knew he was a Christian. Friends, writing the date you prayed a prayer does not make you a Christian any more than writing the date you first watched ER on television makes you a doctor. That’s not how it works. If that’s you, if I’ve described you just now, I’m not saying that you’re not a Christian. But I am saying that if, when you’re asked to give your testimony, all you can talk about is something you experienced thirty years ago, you have no reason to think you’re a Christian. You should have no assurance that you’re a Christian. The heart of Christianity is a relationship with Christ. You cannot say you have a relationship with someone if the last time you talked to them was thirty years ago. So, for purposes of your salvation, you must forget those experiences. Do not build your faith on them. You say God met with you twenty years ago at a summer camp or a mission trip or a weekend retreat in a powerful way. Great, but far more important than that – what did God teach you last week? What is he teaching you this morning? Remembering how faithful God has been to you is good and right. Almost every day I praise God for how faithfully he has provided for me and my family in the twelve years we’ve been in the ministry. But even more important is focusing on the present and pressing on toward the goal of knowing Christ fully. Friends, may we be a church full of people who press on to win the prize of knowing Christ for which we have received the upward and heavenly call. AMEN.
Pressing on for the Prize. Philippians 3:12-16. Introduction. If you are trusting Christ, then you have already been forgiven and justified and adopted into.
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