Strong Finish #2: Running the Race
Text: Philippians 3:12-16
The most amazing thing which meets one perpetually in the prolonged and deep study of such a treatise as this, is that those early believers should have been able to appreciate and digest such compressed and profound teaching. When we bear in mind all the explanation, expansion, application, and enforcement which these apostolic paragraphs have received in the course of the centuries, and when, after we have done our best, we are still conscious that we have by no means plumbed the depths, or scaled the heights, or explored all the treasures, we are compelled to feel that the Divine Fire is burning here, and to take off the shoes from our feet in acknowledgment that in a pre-eminent manner, God is here. Every blue crevasse, every far horizon, every glimpse into a perfect human love, and every word of God has the same characteristic of Infinity. - The Epistle to the Philippians: A Devotional Commentary, F. B. Meyer
How we should think of all scripture, but it is especially apparent in the book of Philippians and you can see it in out key verse: Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
Joke: The story is told about a pastor who was into telling stories to the children. He'd bring all the children up, and they'd sit on the floor, and he'd tell them a story. One day he said, "Boys and girls, I want to tell you a story about someone who likes to live in the woods, but sometimes we can see him in our yards. Anybody have any idea who I am talking about?"
No takers. He said, "I want to tell you about a creature that lives in the woods and sometimes in our yards, has a big bushy tail, likes to eat nuts. Anybody have any idea what I'm talking about?"
No takers. He said, "I'm talking about a creature that lives in the woods, sometimes in our yards, big bushy tail, eats nuts, likes to climb trees, jumps from tree to tree--now, does anybody know what I'm talking about?"
One kid raised his hand to take him out of his misery. The pastor said, "Do you know what I'm thinking about?"
The kid said, "Yeah. I know the answer should be Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel to me." -Haddon Robinson, "When Good Snakes Become Bad Snakes," Preaching Today, Tape No. 145.
Those young children had a misconception. They had come to expect the obvious, the simple, the easy. They are like the man in this poem.
Opportunities Missed (or The Curse of Permanent Potential)
There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played
He never risked, he never tried
He never sang or prayed
And when he one day passed away
His insurance was denied
For since he never really lived
They claimed he never died.
These two illustrations describe most of Christianity today. We crave the normal, the easy, the mundane in our Christian experience, but that is not real Christianity. Real Christianity is a daily challenge that will you lift your eyes from the mundane, the easy and the normal and let us see that there is a prize set before us.
I. Start Strong Phil 3:9-12
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. 12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
A. Paul Begins The Race.
1. Vs. 9 The Start:
a) Paul’s race begin where vs 8 ends, Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
He ends his old race by shedding his life of those things that identified himself with the old Paul, the old Saul and starts his new race by being found in Him (Christ). Paul says the power for this race is the righteousness of Christ, which is of God by faith.
2. In vs. 10 we he states the Reason he runs, “That I might Know Him and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His suffering.”
a) This is not a mere intellectual, head knowledge, but a personal intimate experiential knowledge gained only by walking with and talking to the savior.
b) To really know Christ in this race, Paul says is to know the power of His resurrection, to experience in our life the same power that brought Christ from the dead and brought salvation to mankind.
c) To know Christ, Paul goes on, is to also know the fellowship of His suffering.
(1) This is more than suffering for Christ, it is suffering with Christ. It is to have the heart and mind of Christ in the midst of our suffering. It is also being willing to suffer that others might live.
d) Finally Paul says, to know Him is to be made conformable unto His death. For Paul this was a very real possibility because he was writing this letter while under arrest and on trial under a capital offense from the Jewish government.
3. In vs. 11 see The Pace:
a) Paul gives the extreme he is willing to run by, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” He is running as if it were possible to work hard enough to attain eternal life. He is not striving to earn it, it is already his through faith, but he is working with the same dedication as though he could earn it.
B. How Are We Running the Race?
1. First, let me ask, “Have you started this race by knowing Him through faith?
a) Have you accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Do you believe that His death on the cross paid the price for your sin? Have you confessed that sin and accepted Jesus as your savior?
d) Quote: “Jesus Christ never asks anyone to define his position or to understand a creed, but "Who am I to you?" ... Jesus Christ makes the whole of human destiny depend on a man's relationship to himself.” - Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)
2. If you have by faith in Jesus, started this race then, you should know why are you running this race.
a) You are running this race to know Jesus, as Paul was running to know Jesus. And just as Paul we know Jesus in the power of His resurrection and through suffering for Him as he suffered for us. God’s word is telling us that know about Jesus is not enough, we must know Him, by working with Him, by walking with Him, by listening to Him, but experience the hardships, pain, joy and victories of life with Him. Knowing Jesus this way is not what most Christians think of when they think about being a Christian.
b) Quote: The teaching of Jesus Christ does not appear at first to be what it is. At first it appears to be beautiful and pious and lukewarm; but before long it becomes a ripping and tearing torpedo which splits to atoms every preconceived notion a man ever had. - Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)
c) Not only should we be running this race with the right understanding of how it is run but we must also run at the right pace. We should be running as if eternity depended on it. The way you run the race will not determine your eternity, but it very well might determine someone elses. If you run to know the power of his resurrection, if you are willing to know the fellowship of his suffering, if you are willing to die to yourself that others might live, if you work as though eternity depends upon you, then you will tell, you will give, you will pray, you will learn, you will work as a God called, God ordained, God commissioned, servant of the Almighty God should work.
3. Paul said, this is how I run, but most of us are not running like that at all. You know where most Christians today are in their race? Still at the starting line, they’ve never gotten out of the starting blocks. They are saved but they are waiting for the finish to come to them rather than running to the finish in the power of God.
4. Roland Q. Leavell in his book, Evangelism: Christ's Imperative Commission, stated that of all the reported Church members:
5 per cent do not exist,
10 per cent cannot be found,
20 per cent never pray,
25 per cent never read the Bible,
30 per cent never attend Church services,
40 per cent never give any money to the church,
50 per cent never go to Sunday School,
60 per cent never go to Church Sunday night,
70 per cent never give to missions,
80 per cent never go to prayer meeting,
90 per cent never have family worship, and
95 per cent never win a soul to Christ.
There are too many Christians who never left the starting line. They never knew why they were running, and they certainly never really knew the One they were supposed to be running with. If all of us knew that Christ was our running partner, we would get out off the starting line.
Once we get off the starting line then what is should we be doing next?
II. Face Forward Phil 3:13
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,…
A. Paul Didn’t Look Back
1. Paul says, he has not “apprehended”. You know what he is saying, he hasn’t yet done what was necessary to receive the reward. For him there is no sense of self-satisfaction, no looking behind at past accomplishments. He did not believe he had done all nor achieved all he could. He would not rest upon His laurels, he wouldn’t coast to the finish line, but continued to work as though he had accomplished nothing at all.
2. He is also saying that there is no self-condemnation, no looking behind at past failures. Paul refused to allow past sins, failures or sorrows to haunt Him and take his eyes from race he was now running.
b) Paul, who was once called Saul declared himself the chiefest of sinners. He was guilty of self-righteousness, guilty of fighting against the Lord, guilty of murder, but through faith, he had experienced forgiveness and now the past was the past.
3. By getting past the past Paul removed one of the largest obstacles to serving Christ in the present and into the future.
B. Getting Past Our Past
1. In our race, our Christian life are we guilty of not facing forward and not being able to get past the both the good and the bad of the past?
a) Are we satisfied with our present condition as Children of God. Satisfied and comfortable as a church? Quote: MR Dehaan said, "Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Pity the man who is content with his own progress and feels he has arrived. Nothing here is as deadly as self-satisfaction.”
b) Are you satisfied to the point that you have quit dreaming, quit trying, quit hoping, quit praying?
2. On the other hand are we glancing over our shoulder at self-condemnation instead of self-satisfaction? Are we not able to put the sin, the pain, the sorrow of the past where it belongs and then leave it there.
c) If Christ is my Savior then the sins of the past should not affect my present Christian life. They are gone, they are forgiven!
(1) 1 John 2:9 If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
d) Believe what God has promised and live in the reality of His forgiveness. Quit being defeated by sin or sorrow that has been forgiven and overcome! How sad that sometimes we call God a liar and tell him you’d rather have our guilt than His love by keeping our eyes focused on what is behind us.
C. Illustration: Husbands, wives unable to forget or forgive the past.
1. Ruined any chance their marriage had because they could not forgive their spouses hurts of the past. And sometimes even when that marriage was over then could not move on as Christians because they couldn’t quit looking back.
Transition: Paul now bring everything down to one thing. In vs. 13 he write this one thing I do, if you remove the italics which were added by the translators to make it read better, what Paul simple wrote was “but one thing” it all comes do to but one thing.
III. Finish Faithfully Phil 3:13b-14
13b … and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
A. Paul Set His Eye On The Prize
1. “One Thing, Paul says. All of his life and his life’s energy is now poured into “One Thing” reaching forth with his mind and heart, reaching out to the end of the race where victory was waiting.
2. Paul says he presses toward the mark. He is like the runner coming to the tape at the end of the race. He dares not look back or around, but he strains and leans forward finish the race with power. Paul is saying the closer I am to the finish, the closer I am to Jesus’ return, the closer I am to seeing a victory in my life and the harder then I should run, the harder I should strain.
3. Why work hardest at the end? Why run the fastest when there are only a few steps left? Because there is a glorious prize on the other side of that finish line. The closer I am to the prize the more glorious it appears. It is not the recognition of men, nor is it even that promise eternal crown. What is the prize that is so wonderful. What could cause us to strive and strain harder and more fervently the closer we are to the finish line? Paul fairly shouts it out, It is the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
It is the prize of forgiven sin. It is the prize of a sinless life and a sinless body, no longer weakened by disease, age and death. It is the prize of eternal life in the glories of heaven. It is the prize of that crown of life. But for Paul even more than these things it is the fulfillment, the full completion of his service and the welcoming home of a faithful servant into the arms of his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. That is the greatest prize, that is what his eyes are set upon. It is Jesus waiting at the finish with arms open wide and hearing Him saying, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
B. Our Goal
1. What are our goals today. Are they physical goals, like losing weight, or getting in shape? What about career goals? A good job, money to spend, security in our old age. Or there are relationship goals? Getting married. Having kids. Strengthening our friendships.
All those are good and admirable goals that we should strive for, but as Christians we should be challenged to set our goals on a much higher prize. So much higher that it is outside this world, outside time and space. For this goal we must stretch forth, strain in ways that will be difficult, strain and stretch ourselves in service and sacrifice for Christ.
And is that strain to on day grasp the prize of your calling of God in Christ Jesus.
a) Paul said at the end of his life “2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
b) Do you think that most Christians will ever be able to feel at the end of their life that they have finished their course, and kept the Faith? Or will they will leave this life haven never even run the race, but still waiting at the starting line. Will they grasp the prize. Will they ever realize that God had a race for them to run, a fight for them to fight, a calling for them to answer and that that there could be no greater purpose than to complete that calling?
d) Will we be so foolish to spend our lives on things, that once we die, are worthless and refuse to give ourselves to the one true calling which yields the riches of heaven for all eternity?
6. Quote: John Wesley knew he was running.
John Wesley's Rule of Life
Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
In all the ways you can
In all the places you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can. - Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 14.
Conclusion: Story of Old Missionary Couple Returning Home
Story is told of an old missionary couple who had faithfully served the Savior in the remote areas of Africa for many decades. Finally, with their health broken, and old age making it too difficult to continue they returned home to the United States. As it so happened they sailed on the same ship that carried the former president Teddy Roosevelt home from his famous safari in Africa. As they approached the dock, the couple stood at the rail and heard a band playing and as they looked out they saw banners and signs and people waiting to see the popular president come home. There were reporters and photographers waiting and so as the president went don the main gangplank to his warm welcome home, the other passengers were asked to leave by a smaller exit way so as not to be in the way.
The missionary looked out over the crowd as they disembarked, and his wife noticed him looking she asked, “What is it you are looking for?”
“Well, I thought after all these years when we finally came home, somebody would be here to greet us. Just look at all those people celebrating the president’s return, but we don’t have anyone here to even shake our hand and say, “Welcome home.”
The faithful wife thought for a moment then she put her arm in her husband’s arm and as they walked down to the dock she said, “Well I wouldn’t be concerned about no one being here today.”
“Why not?” her husband asked.
“Because we’re not really home.”
What will it be like at our finish line? Will we run and strain, pushing ourselves to the last moment as we see the prize drawing closer? Or will the race simply end for us because we never left the starting line?
Paul talked about the race of life in Hebrews 12. This is what he exhorted us to do.
Hebrews 12:1-2 …let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;
As we get closer to home, as we lift our eyes to the finish line, Jesus is there waiting. How can we do anything else but run harder, serve longer and sacrifice more? I want to see His open arms and hear his voice saying, “Welcome home, my faithful servant, welcome home.”