Reaching for the Prize-1 Philippians 3

read part 2 of this sermon here


Points Covered: As believers we are in a running race. Every race has a finish line and a prize. This sermon focuses on how reaching for the prize in Christ should be the priority for a believer.

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

The theme here is reaching for the prize. I think Apostle Paul must have loved athletics and he uses it in his writings. The analogy is that of a runner who is running to win in order that he might gain the prize. Paul is talking about Christian effort toward growth. Many believers live stagnant spiritual life because all their focus every year is worldly gain, wealth and prosperity and then people think once they come to Christ, saved and baptized, all their work is over.

Earlier in this chapter, Paul gives his credentials in before coming to Christ. Philippians 3:5-6 5Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. He was a God-fearing, law-abiding Jew. So he assumed that all of these things made him right with God. Then on the Damascus Road he was confronted with the living Christ. And he saw that all of those works and achievements hindered him from being right with God. Then he abandoned everything and received Christ. Philippians 3:7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 

In verses 8 through 11 then he began to recite what he gained in Christ when he was saved.

I. What do we gain when we receive Christ.

1. The knowledge of Christ.

Philippians 3:8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

2. The righteousness of Christ.

Philippians 3:9 Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in  Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

3. The power of Christ.

Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection…

4. The fellowship of Christ.

Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

5. The glory of Christ.

Philippians 3:11 …and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 

Now, when Paul says he gained all these things in Christ, we may assume that Paul had reached spiritual perfection being just saved. So, to answer anybody who feels that because we are in Christ therefore we are perfect, Paul quickly launches into a passage which is a total disclaimer of any spiritual perfection. Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. He is not reached perfection. He is still temptable. He still has the flesh.

When God looks at us, he looks at us with the covering of the perfect Christ. But when we look at God we must recognize that we don’t have it yet, we have to grow. We have to mature.

Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’s a growing process. When you’re saved yes you receive everything Christ has offered you, but not in perfection. And so there must be growth. There must be the running of the race in pursuit of the goal. That’s his point. The pressing forward toward the mark.

Some of you may say, “Why bother to grow?” If you need to reach heaven there should be growth. There should be a hunger and thirst for righteousness. But apart from that there reasons why you should pursue the prize and run the race.

II. Why reach out to the prize?

1. Glorifies God. When you grow, your life brings glory to God.

2. Verifies regeneration. It makes demonstrable the fact that you are truly changed.

3. Adorns the truth. It lets you literally wear the truth of God so others can see it.

4. Grants you assurance. When there is spiritual progress in your life there is the sense that you belong to God because you can see His work and your calling and election become sure.

5. Preserves you. It preserves you from the sorrows and the tragedies of spiritual weakness.

6. Protects the cause of Christ from reproach. When you live a godly life and you pursue the goal, your life is consistent with the character of Christ and the Scripture and thus you’re not a reproach to Him.

7. Produces joy and usefulness in your life. You can minister in the church.

8. Enhances your witness.

There are myriad reasons why then to run the race, pursuing the prize. So, Paul like a runner in a race is doing just that and he is exhorting us to do that. 1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:27 I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. He says I do everything I can not to be disqualified. I run to reach the prize with maximum effort.

So Paul says that he hadn’t reached it and this is thirty years after his salvation. Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. And then he goes on in verses 13 through 16 to talk about how we must pursue that.

III. How to reach for the prize?

1. Look forward for a better condition.

Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. The word “press” meaning I pursue, I chase it, I run after it.

I am not what I should be in Christ, so there must be a looking forward for a better condition. Don’t become content with your condition. It all starts with a dissatisfaction. Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal.. And that’s where he starts, an awareness that he hasn’t arrived.

Paul the Apostle, 30 years after his conversion is saying I’m not what I ought to be. Whatever we achieve spiritually begins with dissatisfaction. I am not pleased with where I am in my spiritual life. I am not content with my spiritual condition. If you are content, you have reached a very dangerous point. It is a point at which you will find yourself insensitive to sin.

So spiritual growth, this whole pursuing starts with a recognition that you’re not where you ought to be. It’s a runner at the beginning of the race saying the whole idea is to get to the end of this thing. I’m not there; I’ve got to run this course.

Paul, but you have the knowledge of Christ.” Yes, but 1 Corinthians 13:9 For we know in part ..

1 Corinthians 13:12  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

But, Paul, don’t you have the complete righteousness of Christ? 2 Corinthians 7:1 Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. Yes he had righteousness, but not perfect practical outworking of that. 

You say, “But, Paul, don’t you have the perfect power of Christ?” Yes I have the power of Christ but I don’t have it so perfectly in my life that I never sin and never fail, and that’s why God, 2 Corinthians 12, has put a thorn in my flesh.

“Well, Paul, don’t you have the fellowship of Christ?” Yes, but it isn’t a perfect fellowship. I don’t even know how to pray as I ought to pray so the Spirit has to make intercession for me with groaning.

“But, Paul, don’t you have the glory of Christ?” Yes, in me is the indwelling Spirit but I am waiting. Philippians 3:20-21 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.

I must grow. I must reach out for the prize. And if you have gotten to the place where you feel satisfied, that’s a very dangerous place to be. Look forward for 2017 for a better spiritual life.

2. Give maximum effort.

There must be maximum effort to pursue that better condition. Philippians 3:12 I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus took hold of me. I press on, I run. He says I’m running after this thing with all my might. This is the straining of every spiritual muscle, this is running to win. 1 Corinthians 9:24 Run in such a way as to get the prize.  

1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. This is running the race to win.

Hebrews 12:1-2 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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Paul is saying I am running and putting my best effort to run the race. You say, “Well, what’s he after?” Philippians 3:12 I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus took hold of me.

What are you running after, Paul?  “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” In other words, “My goal in life is consistent with Christ’s goal for my salvation. He saved me for a purpose for my spiritual progress, my maturity in Christ. You see? The reason Christ redeemed me has become the goal of my life. My will is now His will, I want for me what He wanted for me, so I want to run, to grow and mature.

Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Now why did God choose you and then save you? In order to make you like what? His Son.

2 Thessalonians 2:14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. It says we’ve been saved in order to gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul says, “Look, I make a maximum effort. I am pursuing with all my might that very thing for which Christ pursued me.”

3. Focused concentration.

In pursuing the prize it is required that I be fully focused and concentrate on the prize. Any athlete knows that when you’re running in a race you have to fix your eyes on something ahead of you. You cannot watch your feet or you’ll fall on your face. You cannot watch the people around you or you will trip or somebody will pass you on the other side. Your focus is straight forward on the goal that is ahead.

Philippians 3:13a Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. That’s a third time he’s said that.  “Lay hold” means I haven’t fully and perfectly attained to it. And he says the same thing again: Philippians 3:13b But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. The man was so focused. The man had an unbelievable level of concentration.

I believe it is totally focused people who succeed in athletics. It is those totally focused people who succeed in life. You know, the world is full of people who are clever at much and successful at nothing because they never can focus their life. A lot of energy and a lot of action, but no progress. They’re not focused. That’s why the psalmist prayed: Psalm 86:11 Give me an undivided heart. James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

 Paul was a man with a focused concentration. And the focus of his life was one thing, this one thing. What was it, Paul? It was pursuing the prize: Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

When your life has one driving compulsion and that is to be like Christ, you’re moving forward in the right direction. Christians only progress when they renounce all other things and pursue one thing. And what is it? The truth of God.

Now such focused concentration is the result of a negative and a positive. Notice the negative Philippians 3:13 But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind. That’s the negative. 

a. Forget the past. Don’t look back. We’ve all watched a runner look back over one’s shoulder and get passed on the other side. Don’t look back. It is irrelevant. Nothing happening back there is relevant. You’ve heard runners being interviewed and they say, “Did you feel the pressure of the persons coming up?” “No, I run my own race. It is not relevant to me what is going on around me. I worry only about my own effort.” Make a break with the past.

Now what does Paul mean by the past? He means forgetting everything that is behind. Good things and bad things; achievements, virtuous deeds, great accomplishments, spiritual ministries, as well as bad things…sins, iniquities, failures, disasters. Your past has nothing to do with the future. You cannot live on past victories. You cannot celebrate your value by your past. You should never be debilitated by your past sins, iniquities and burdens of guilt. And yet most people are so much distracted by the past that they never get around to running the future. From a positive standpoint, you may have a lot of great things in the Lord to talk about. You can’t move forward that way. In the negative standpoint, “You may have sinned, being short of what God wanted you to be and ask how can God ever forgive me? A lot of guilt of the past ask for forgiveness and forget it all.

The clearest vision is given to the one who forgets the past. You know Virat Kholi never goes to the crease and say, “You know, I just want you to know I’ve hit a lot of centuries in the past.” Who cares? Bat now. This is another match. If you are not good today, you’re not going to win, that’s all. Forget that stuff.

Neither does a batsman go in and say, “You know this year I have not hit a single century. I find cannot negotiate the reverse swing. I know I will get out.”  I mean, shut up and bat. Nobody’s interested in all of that stuff out of your past.

What God is interested in is what are we going to do now and where we going in the future. The world is full of people who are holding all junks from the past and they’re paralyzed by it. Put your hand to the plow, don’t look back and move, pursue the prize.

b. Reach to the future. Philippians 3:13b But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.

The word here, “straining toward,” means to stretch a muscle to its limit. Your extreme effort is in view here. This is a runner stretching every muscle to reach what is in front of him, the prize. Focused concentration, nothing with the past, just looking at the goal, moving as fast as possible.

Now ask yourself a question: Do you have that kind of focused concentration? What are you focused on? Our focused goal in life must be to be like Jesus Christ and in the pursuit of being like Jesus Christ, out of that’s going to flow an impactful life. That’s the issue. This one thing I do.

Let me conclude now. God wants you to run your race effectively and it is in your forward progress that you get the fulfillment of his promises in your life. Do you have a deep desire to be like Christ? Are you giving your maximum effort? Are your eyes focused on Jesus? Let’s do some introspection and make a commitment to grow spiritually. Let’s pray.

read part 2 of this sermon here