Philippians 3:12-14

Basketball was a big part of my life when I was a teenager. I played the game at every opportunity with whomever showed up on the court. As the years passed, I watched a lot of college and professional basketball and heard stories of those who had excelled at the game. I have read about players like Michael Jordan who worked hard at practice and during the season to become the best to play the game. Men like this motivated me to work hard, to keep in shape, and to try my hardest during every game.

Not all of us have an interest in sports. But we all know what it means to work hard at something. Whether it is working with a garden, working long hours at your job, or taking care of an elderly loved one, we know that certain things take a lot of effort. Sometimes it seems that all the work is not worth it, but we keep pressing on because we know the end result will be worth all the effort we put into it.

In Philippians 3:12-14, we read about the effort Paul put into his service for the Lord. In today’s message, we will be looking at two principles found in these verses. As we look at what Paul wrote, let’s ask the Lord to show us how we should respond.

  1. Keep moving forward (12).

    The idea of “keep moving forward” is a good one. Even Walt Disney has been quoted as using that idea. “Around here … we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” (Beck). That idea is something that Thomas Edison also espoused. While trying to invent a lightbulb that would last longer, he experimented with many different materials until he finally had success.

    In the Christian life, we also need to keep moving forward. That is one of the messages Paul gives in verse 12.

    a. We have not reached perfection.

    If you recall what Paul had said earlier in the chapter, he was downplaying the importance of his previous religious accomplishments. He considered them garbage when compared to having Christ. But even with his high regard for what Jesus had done, he didn’t consider his salvation or even his service to have accomplished what he was striving for. He had not attained it yet.

    The idea behind the word “attained” is “to take, take up, take in the hand” (Mounce). It is one thing to talk about something and quite another to actually have it in your hand. Paul didn’t think he had attained what he was striving for. He also didn’t think he had reached a state of perfection. After all the great stories about Paul in the Book of Acts, we consider him to be a Christian hero. But Paul didn’t have that mindset.

    This is true of all of us, great and small. None of us has accomplished everything that God wants for us. No matter how many years you have known and served the Lord, there will always be room for improvement.

    b. We need to press on.

    Since none of us has reached perfection for the Lord, we need to press on. The idea is “to pursue, persecute, to systematically oppress and harass a person or group; to press on” (Mounce) I think we get the idea of pursuing or pressing on, but oppressing or harassing? Let me give you an example.

    During the third game of the 2023 NBA playoffs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New York Knicks, the latter team did their best to “systematically oppress and harass” the former team. At half time, the Cavaliers had a total of 32 points. This was the lowest amount of points they had scored during a game all season. Why was that? It was because the other team kept steady defensive pressure on them all through the game.

    While God is not calling us to oppress or harass anyone, Paul reminds us that there is some effort required in the Christian life. We don’t work to be saved, but we should work faithfully for the Lord after we are saved because we want to please Him. So we must press on and work hard at what God has called us to be and do.

    c. We need to work toward our purpose.

    Paul’s goal sounds a bit confusing. He wanted to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” It sounds like Jesus had grabbed hold of Paul for a purpose and now Paul wanted to take hold of that purpose and fulfill it. But what was that purpose?

    Do you remember when Saul (Paul’s former name) met Jesus on the road to Damascus? After being struck blind, the Lord sent Ananias to heal his blindness. Ananias was afraid of Saul, so God assured Him. “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” God’s purpose for Paul was for him to speak about Jesus before all types of people including kings and also to suffer for the name of Jesus.

    You might be a bit afraid at this moment, thinking that God wants you to speak and suffer. First, we have to remember that this was God’s specific purpose for Paul and not necessarily for us. Second, we must remember that God has called all of us to be his ambassadors wherever we go. This might include some suffering but it is still our responsibility to speak for him wherever he sends us.

    Since none of us has reached perfection or completed the task given to us, let’s keep pressing on for the Lord. Don’t let anything get in the way of you moving forward for the Lord and the purposes He has given us.

  2. Keep your eyes on the goal (13-14).

    During junior high, our gym teacher taught us how to play softball. Unfortunately, I was not very good at it. Every time I was at plate, I would swing the bat and miss the ball. The gym teacher had one of the other students pitch easy pitches to me, but I kept striking out. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that someone showed me what the problem was. I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball. As this young man talked me through it, I kept my eye on the ball and finally hit the ball over the surprised heads of the outfielders.

    In verses 13-14, Paul reminds us to keep our eyes on the goal given to us by God. As we do, we should consider several things.

    a. We haven’t accomplished it yet.

    Paul had been given a goal to accomplish, but he didn’t consider himself to have accomplished it yet. The text uses the word “count” to describe Paul’s feelings. He wasn’t counting or adding up all of his service to God and considering himself to be finished. He knew there was more to do.

    I heard about a couple in Australia who counted on something before it was in their hands. The man was diagnosed with life-ending cancer. In the time remaining together, they decided to borrow money against the million-dollar life insurance policy and then live it up with the time they had left. They spent a lot of money on trips together and then found that the diagnosis was wrong. The man was going to live but they were now straddled with great debt. They had counted on something that didn’t come true.

    We mustn’t get to the point where we think we have arrived. If Paul didn’t count himself to have accomplished the goal given to him, how can we? While God gives each of us the ability to live, we need to live like we still have something to accomplish for Him.

    b. We need to reach forward not back.

    One of the things that limits our ability to press on for the Lord is what happened in the past. Paul had already listed his religious resume. It included what some would consider to be a long list of religious accomplishments for God. But Paul didn’t look back at those things and stop working. No, he looked forward to what he could do for the Lord now and in the future.

    Have you ever seen a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line ahead of the other runners? It is exciting to see them running as hard as they can and then reaching their head forward to cross the line first. This is the kind of effort that Paul was putting into his service for the Lord. No amount of effort was too much for him to give for the Lord. But what was the goal he was striving for?

    c. We must have the right goal.

    When LeBron James won the NBA championship for the city of Cleveland, it was a dream come true. He had tried many times before but never could get that elusive trophy. It wasn’t until 2016 that his goal was accomplished. Many of us cheered as the final shot and final block was made to secure the championship.

    Paul also had a prize he was straining toward. The goal was the prize given to faithful Christians. He described it as “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” What exactly was this? As mentioned in an earlier message, I believe this refers to the “Well done, good and faithful servant” and the special “entrance” into the kingdom mentioned in 2 Peter 1:11. This goes along with what happened at the ancient Olympic games. “The winner in those games was called to the place where the judge sat in order to receive his prize” (Lightner 661). Paul wanted to hear the Lord’s happy call for him to stand before him and to be recognized as faithful.

    This is the goal we should keep striving toward. No matter what age you may be, no matter what has been accomplished in the past, no matter what troubles may be in your past, the Lord wants each of us to keep moving forward and to keep our eyes on the proper goal. In other words, don’t stop now! Keep going. Our time to rest will happen at some time in the future and so will our time of reward. So keep plugging away. Be faithful and look forward to meeting the Lord someday.

Conclusion

Do you ever stop and think about what it will be like when we arrive in heaven? We have read about the pearly gates and streets of gold and wonder just how incredible it must be. Last week, someone we all know of finally got to see what heaven is like. Ron Hamilton, also known as Patch the Pirate, was an influential song writer and music publisher for almost 50 years. His Patch the Pirate adventure stories were filled with songs, smiles, and spiritual lessons that touched the lives of many people around the world. After writing almost 1,000 songs, Ron Hamilton was diagnosed with dementia. This last week, the Lord finally released him from his tired body and took him home to heaven.

I wonder what it must have been like to finally meet the Lord in the splendors of heaven. Someday, you and I will get that opportunity. If you are not a believer at the time of your death, you will eventually stand before Him to be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. All unbelievers will eventually be cast into the Lake of Fire. Please turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus, so you will miss that great judgment.

But if you are a believer, you have the opportunity to enter into heaven with great joy or with embarrassment. If you are a believer who has been squandering time, imagine the embarrassment of entering heaven’s splendor and seeing the Lord’s face. After wasting your talents on earth, you will be deeply disappointed in what you have to present to the Lord on that day. But if you have been pressing on toward the goal and have been faithful to the Lord, it can be much different. While none of us is perfect, it will be much better to step into heaven and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Christian, be faithful, keep moving forward, and keep your eyes on the goal because someday, you will stand before the Lord and give account of yourself. Will you do it with embarrassment or with great joy? With God’s help, let us each strive toward pleasing the Lord and hearing his commendation on that great meeting day.

Bibliography

Beck, Jerry, “Keep Moving Forward” as viewed at https://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/keep-moving-forward-2918.html on 4/22/2023.

Lightner, Robert P., “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1983, pp. 661-62.

Mounce, Bill, various entries at https://www.billmounce.com as viewed on 4/22/2023.

Notes

Verse 12
ἔλαβον (aor act ind) from λαμβάνω – “to take, take up, take in the hand, Mt. 10:38; 13:31, 33” (Mounce).
τετελείωμαι (perf pass ind) from τελειόω – “to perfect, complete, finish; (pass.) to reach a goal, be fulfilled, completed, made perfect” (Mounce)
διώκω (pres act ind) – “to pursue, persecute, to systematically oppress and harass a person or group; to press on” (Mounce)
καταλάβω (aor act subj) from καταλαμβάνω – “to obtain, attain, take hold of; seize, overtake; (mid.) to grasp, understand, realize, find out” (Mounce)
κατελήμφθην (aor pass indic) from καταλαμβάνω – “to obtain, attain, take hold of; seize, overtake; (mid.) to grasp, understand, realize, find out” (Mounce)

Verse 13
λογίζομαι (pres mid dep ind) – “to credit, count, reckon; regard, think, consider” (Mounce)
κατειληφέναι (perf act infin) – “to obtain, attain, take hold of; seize, overtake; (mid.) to grasp, understand, realize, find out” (Mounce)
ἐπεκτεινόμενος (pres mid dep ptc) – “to stretch out farther; in NT mid. to reach out towards, strain for” (Mounce)

Verse 14
σκοπός – “a watcher; also, a distant object on which the eye is kept fixed; a mark, goal” (Mounce)
βραβεῖον – “a prize, bestowed on victors in the public games, such as a crown, wreath, chaplet, garland, etc.” (Mounce)
ἄνω – “above, upward, heavenward, top” (Mounce)
κλῆσις – “a call, calling, invitation;, in NT the call or invitation to the privileges of the Gospel, Rom. 11:29; Eph. 1:18; the favor and privilege of the invitation, 2 Thess. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:10; the temporal condition in which the call found a person, 1 Cor. 1:26; 7:20” (Mounce)

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