June 30, 2010 David Balzer

Philippians 3:10-4:1: Press on!

The City to Surf’s on in a of months. 50,000 runners who all start in the City, and then head up Oxford St towards Bondi.

And there are two sorts of competitors in the City to Surf. There are the SERIOUS runners – not necessarily trying to WIN, but still seeking their own sorts of victory. Perhaps it’s to run a personal best time. Or to beat their brother, or mate, or Dad. Or to come first in their DIVISION. Or even just to run the whole way without stopping.

They’re all worthwhile goals. And, for them, it’s that finishing line at Bondi that’s the focus. And that big digital clock over the line. And for the whole race, they imagine crossing the line, and raising their arms in victory. It’s all about the finishing line.

And then there’s the Back of the Pack crowd. They’re called that because they have a different starting line. It’s BEHIND the serious runners. So they don’t get in the way.

And that’s where you’ll find the fancy dress. The party-goers. Those out for a good time. A laugh. Or just a pleasant Sunday morning stroll.

And for THESE competitors, it’s ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY. The finishing line, and their time, are really an after-thought. It means nothing to them if they stop for coffee for an hour along the way. Or do a spot of window-shopping. Or wave to everyone watching beside the road.

And, according to Paul, the Christian life is just like a race. And like a race, you can run it in one of two ways. You can be a SERIOUS runner – like Paul. His eyes are on the goal. He’s straining towards the line. To win the prize. King Jesus loved him. King Jesus had saved him. Even when he was persecuting him. And so Paul was going to give him EVERYTHING. His mind is on heavenly things. And he’s not going to get bogged down along the way/ by earthly distractions.

And although the race can be tough, Paul couldn’t imagine anything else. Because the race of the serious runner is one of joy and purpose and progress and power.

Your feet might be throbbing, your lungs aching, the muscles in your legs burning. But it’s a wonderful kind of pain. You’re showing your body whose boss. The adrenalin’s pumping and you’re on a runner’s high. That’s the race of the serious runner.

And then there’s the OTHER type of runner in the Christian race. The BACK OF THE PACK SLACKER. They’ll tell you they’re in the race, but their mind is on everything BUT the race. Paul says their mind is on EARTHLY THINGS.

It’s the pretty trinkets along the way that grab their attention. The bright lights of Kings Cross. Or the expensive shop fronts of Elizabeth Bay. And all they can think about are their sore feet, or dry mouths, or empty stomachs. And they forget why they began the race in the first place. They don’t know Jesus. Don’t know his love. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Or perhaps they’ve forgotten it.

When it comes to YOUR Christian race – which are you? A serious runner, or a back of the pack slacker?

Whichever you are. Take the advice of Paul. And follow his example. Run with determination, keeping your eyes on the prize. There’s nothing harder, but there’s also nothing better.

(Just a word of warning. I’ll spend most of my time on the first two points. And race through the last two points. Just in case you start wondering if I’m ever going to finish)

1. Keep knowing Christ more (10-11)

And the key to the whole thing for Paul is there in v10. “I want to KNOW CHRIST” That’s what DRIVES Paul. He’s already said it back in v8. There’s nothing worth MORE than knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Everything else is RUBBISH.

He’s not saying that he DOESN’T ALREADY know Christ. Just that he wants to know him BETTER. Every Christian knows SOMETHING of Christ. But the goal of the race is to KNOW HIM BETTER.

Because Christianity ISN’T knowing about a BOOK. Or knowing a set of rules. Or words to songs. It’s about knowing a PERSON. A living, active, powerful person. To think his thoughts. To know his mind. To experience his presence. To understand more and more what MOTIVATES him. Excites him. Drives him.

That’s what Paul wants. To know Christ more.

And he goes on to give us some specifics. The two events in Jesus’ life on earth which DEFINE who he is. Look there at v10.

(Phil 3:10 NIV)  I want to know Christ and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION/ and the fellowship of sharing in HIS SUFFERINGS,

Jesus is BOTH the resurrected Saviour/ AND the suffering servant. He’s both the victorious God, and the weak and frail human being. He’s the mighty Lion of Judah/ who is ALSO the slain lamb.

And for Paul to KNOW Christ/ is to know those qualities in his OWN LIFE. To know Christ better/ means to EXPERIENCE the power of Christ’s RESURRECTION. And to join in Christ’s SUFFERINGS.

For Paul to know “the power of Christ’s resurrection” means something like experiencing victory over sin. Putting to the old attitudes and behaviours. It means experiencing the power of the gospel in his own life. And seeing how it changes the lives of people he witnesses to. And they’re all things Paul wants to know.

What about “sharing in his sufferings”? It’s false advertising whenever an evangelist promises that when you become a Christian, all your problems will be solved. If anything, the OPPOSITE is often true. Listen to what Jesus himself says. John 15 v20.

(John 15:20-21 NIV)  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

To follow Christ, means we WILL suffer. It MAY mean persecution for being a Christian. That certainly happens in many countries today. But it might just mean suffering the consequences of putting Christ first.

Missing out on a promotion. Or refusing to cut the corners, and not winning the contract. Or doing without the new car, or new clothes/ because you support that missionary.

But we don’t just share in ANY sufferings. We share in CHRIST’S sufferings.

Christ suffered because he put his FATHER’s will before his own. He lay down his life for his sheep. We share in Christ’s sufferings when they flow from OBEDIENCE / like HIS. Obedience to the FATHER’S will. Which puts the needs of others first.

And Paul is saying he wants to know Christ/ as he shares in THESE sorts of sufferings.

But also as he knows the “the power of his resurrection”. To TRULY know Christ, the two must go together. Power of resurrection AND participating in sufferings. Not either/or.

Some Christians like the FIRST phrase. For them the Christian life is all about VICTORY. Being in Christ is about SUCCESS and POWER. Powerful spiritual gifts. No excuses. No weakness. Victory over sin. Over sickness. Victory in witness. In relationships. Victory in wealth creation, or possessions.

But that’s not knowing Christ.

Some Christians are more drawn to the second phrase. “Fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”. For them the Christian race is more about endurance than enjoyment. A miserable, world-weary, stoic, defeatist attitude. Slugging it out in the trenches. They see this life as a trade-off for heaven. They’re prepared to be miserable NOW, compared to eternal happiness. With little sense of Christ’s presence and power.

But that’s not knowing Christ either. The key to knowing Christ is to keep the two together. In fact, it seems to me, that ONE is the key to the OTHER. It’s only by personally experiencing the POWER that raised Christ/ that Christians are ABLE to share in his sufferings.

Gordon Fee, in his commentary, puts it like this “Paul was so certain of Christ’s resurrection/ and thus of his own, that he could throw himself into the present / with a joyful and thankful abandon – not because he enjoyed suffering, but because Christ’s resurrection had given him A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE on present suffering / as well as AN EMPOWERING PRESENCE whereby the suffering was TRANSFORMED into intimate fellowship with Christ himself (Fee, 331)

You see, when we became Christians, God made us new people. And gave us His Spirit. And it’s His SPIRIT who gives us the STRENGTH to run a cross-shaped race.

To put up with the things which come when we follow Jesus. The PATIENCE to keep our mouth closed. The SELF-CONTROL to say No to the morally-dodgy short-cut. The LOVE to put the needs of OTHERS before ourselves. The PERSEVERANCE to keep going in the tough relationship. All because we’re following the way of the cross.

A cross-shaped life will show God’s power/ as we suffer for the sake of others, and for the sake of Christ.

Listen to how Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 4. He’s talking about the treasure of knowing Jesus and the power of the gospel. And how it’s a treasure that’s found in modest, weak containers like us Christians.

(2 Cor 4:7-11 NIV)  But we have this treasure (the treasure of the gospel) in JARS OF CLAY to show that this ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from God and not from us. {8} We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; {9} persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. {10} We always carry around in our body the of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. {11} For we who are alive are always being given over to for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

God’s power is revealed in the Christian/ as he follows Jesus/ on the way of the cross.

And as the Christian follows Jesus through suffering, he becomes more LIKE him. Look at the logic of v10.

(Phil 3:10 NIV)  I want to know … the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS ,

As we take on the LIFESTYLE of Christ, we also take on the CHARACTER of Christ. The fruit of obedience is Christlikeness. It’s literally that we “share in the shape of his ”. We are moulded into the shape of servants/ as we follow THE SERVANT KING.

And just like, for Jesus, resurrection followed suffering. So too for Paul. V11

(Phil 3:11 NIV)  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the .

The race might be about suffering, and following Christ. But the finish line is his resurrection. He’s certain of it. He doesn’t know how the race will pan out – what turns the road will take (That’s what the “somehow” means). But he DOES know that his own resurrection is the finish line.

2. Keep your eyes on your prize (12-16)

And even though Paul can’t WAIT for the finish line. He doesn’t make the mistake of thinking he’s arrived already. Look at v12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect..

I went to watch Lachlan’s Cross Country carnival last term. 3 km this year. Last year it was only 2.

And even though Lachlan’s not a sprinter, he’s got good endurance. And I said to him before the start, “Don’t worry if people sprint right at the start. They’ll run out of puff. You know how far 3 km is. Just take it nice and steady. Run your own race.”

And sure enough, when the gun goes off, 20 kids SPRINT for the first corner. Lachlan starts at a steady jog. They turn the corner, all bumping into each other. And a few of them slow to a trot. After the first 200 m half of them are walking. And within half a km, Lachlan’s caught all but one.

It’s im to pretend you’ve made it/ when you’ve still got a long way to go. But Paul’s not like that. He knows he’s still got a long way to go. That’s what maturity is.

But what’s he talking about? What’s the “all this” he hasn’t obtained yet? It could be his resurrection. But that’s a little obvious. Of course he’s not and resurrected.

It’s the complete knowledge of Christ, and complete Christ-likeness that he hasn’t achieved. He’s not COMPLETE, or PERFECT, or , or perhaps even FULLY-EQUIPPED. The word for “perfect” can mean all of those things.

And you can see that Christ-likeness is what he’s talking about when you look at the second half of that verse. It’s tricky, but it’s beautiful. V12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect/ but I press on to take hold of that / FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of me.

In other words, I’m working towards the goal which is the very reason Christ chose me to begin with. My job-description is to be Christ-like. That’s why Christ chose me. And that’s what I’m working towards. Following him. Becoming like him. Living FOR him.

And I do it as a live a cross-shaped life of suffering and service empowered by God’s Spirit – the same Spirit who raised Jesus.

Press on to take hold/ of THAT FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of you.”

And it’s this reason for living which Paul is SINGLE-MINDED about. Look at HOW he presses on. V13.

(Phil 3:13-14 NIV)  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

One thing. Pressing on. And he does it by FORGETTING what’s behind. That’s failures AND victories.

Forget past hurts, and disappointments, and discouragements. They can sap the LIFE out of you. Make you BITTER. People who’ve laughed at you, or rejected you. Or perhaps even just IGNORED you. That can be worse. And you wonder why you’d ever bother doing THAT again.

But the way to press on/ is to forget what’s past.

And sometimes we need to forget THE VICTORIES TOO. Especially if they make us complacent and proud. And make us trust in our own abilities. And make us think we’re further along the race than we really are.

Don’t look back. Press on toward the goal. And keep your eyes on your prize.

What’s the prize? From the context it’s probably Christ himself. We know Jesus now only A LITTLE. But COMPLETE and INTIMATE knowledge is what’s waiting for us at the finish line.

That’s the prize. Eternal fellowship with Jesus. Resurrection. And turning up to the throne of judgment. And King Jesus is there. And he says, “Good friend. I’ve been waiting for you. I ran the race. And although it was tough, you followed after me. “Well done, good and faithful servant. I can’t WAIT to spend eternity with you. Enter into your rest. You should see the party I’ve got ready for you!”

That’s a prize worth striving for!

3. Keep clear of bad examples (18-19)

And yet there are plenty of people who DON’T strive for it. Who DON’T press on. They’re too interested with the scenery along the way. The back of the pack slackers.

And Paul is heart-broken by them. They’re probably people who are known to the Philippians. They probably even call themselves Christians. Notice in v18 how Paul’s shed many tears for these people, and how he’s warned then many times before.

And yet, Paul sees their Christian race differently. They think they’re in the race, just not TOO SERIOUS. Not TOO radical. Keeping some perspective. Taking time to stop and smell the roses.

But Paul says they’re not SLOW COACHES in the race. They’re NOT EVEN IN THE RACE. Look at the end of v18. They’re “ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST”.

And look at why in v19.

(Phil 3:19 NIV)  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Anything else BUT Christ occupies their minds. All Paul wants/ is to KNOW Christ. But these people – their minds are on earthly things. They’re headed for destruction. Satisfying physical cravings takes up their time. Feeling good/ self-satisfaction is the ultimate goal.

And the things they should be ASHAMED of, they GLORY in. I’m sure we’ve all experienced THAT. As we listen to workmates telling us how much they got back as a tax refund, and how they did it. Or about what they did on the weekend. How drunk they got. Who they slept with. Things they GLORY in, they should be ashamed of.

But even more subtle things. Things which Christians can glory in. Things which should be SECONDARY, but are really PRIMARY. How much money they spent on their weekend getaway, or on that new dress. How they can’t WAIT to get the partnership. Or how proud they are of their son’s new job. Or sporting achievement.

But when you ask how the son’s Christian walk is going. They becomes strangely quiet. Their glory has suddenly become shame.

What about YOU? Are you a serious runner like Paul? Or a back of the pack slacker?

Press on. Take hold of the very thing which was the reason Christ took hold of you. Christlikeness. Knowing Christ. In his sufferings and power.

Forget the past. Strain forward to win the prize.

4. Keep your perspective (3:20-4:1)

And if the glory of earthly things is distracting you, then shut your eyes, and imagine this final image. It’s how Paul finishes the chapter.

Keep your perspective. Forget the glory of earthly things. Imagine instead the glory of the heavenly city. The finish line. The new Jerusalem. V20

(Phil 3:20-21 NIV)  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.

What a prize. What a goal. What a vision.

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