Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life ~ #14 “How to Go for the Gold” – Philippians 3:12-16

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How to Go for the Gold

Philippians 3:12-16

Well if you would, please take your Bibles now and turn in them to the book of Philippians, chapter 3, in the New Testament. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You could grab that Bible, and in the back portion, turn to page 155, and you would be at Philippians, chapter 3.

There are several forms of imagery that are used in the New Testament as pictures of what it means to live the Christian life. One of those images is the image of farming where our life is pictured as a field and there is sowing and reaping that we do. Another image is the image of fighting…that we’re to fight the good fight of faith.

And then another image of the Christian life we see in the New Testament is the image of running, where we are running a race. And as we come to Philippians, chapter 3, verses 12-16, the Apostle Paul is going to use terminology here that comes from running the athletic games of his day…which, by the way, was the precursor to the Olympic Games that we know today.

And when I think about how running is a picture of living the Christian life, one event that is a modern-day event to me that is a very good parallel of the Christian life is what is called the steeplechase.

Now if you go back in history, the steeplechase race comes from, originated in, Britain. And what they would do is people in one town…they had a steeple there, and then they would have a steeple in another town. They would run from one town’s steeple to the other town’s steeple. And as you would do that, you would have to go over fences, and you would have to cross creeks. And they called that a steeplechase.

We have a modern version of that even in the Olympics today. And today’s steeplechase is 3,000 meters. It’s a little more than two miles long. And what is involved in that is a course where you have four rigid          barriers that you have to go over, and then there is one water jump that you have to go over, and right at the other side of the water jump, the water is 27 inches deep and then it begins to get shallower. So, the farther out you jump, the less of an obstruction it is. And you go around this course seven times, which means there are 28 rigid barriers you have to go over, and you have to go over the water jump seven times.

Well, the steeplechase is a good picture, I think, of the Christian life because in the Christian life as we seek to live it out, there are hurdles and hazards we face. We can grow tired in living the Christian life, and at times, we will trip and at times we will fall.

And if you’ve been a follower of Jesus for a while, you know there are times when you feel, on the inside, I can’t face another hurdle. Well, what drives a person on when they’re involved in a steeplechase? What drives them on is the prospect of the gold medal.

I really think that in our culture today, perhaps the most touching moment we see on a regular basis comes when you have, like in the Olympics, and you have the winners who climb up onto the platform and their national anthem is playing. And you can see in their faces that they are reflecting on the sacrifice and the perseverance they had to put in. And as you’re watching them, and TV cameras allow us to see their face up close, you can see the emotion oozing from their faces. And a lot of times there are tears of joy either welling in their eyes or falling from their eyes.

And as followers of Jesus, we’re all involved, every one of us are involved in a race. And every one of us can gain gold in that race. We’re in a race toward maturity. We’re trying to, in this race, grow in our Christ-likeness.

And one day, men and women, there is going to be a time when Jesus is there to greet you and the believing family will be there. And the anthems of heaven are going to be playing. And it’s going to be so wonderful to be able to experience the joy of a race run well…to have Jesus say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So what we want to do today is talk about how to go for the gold. That is the title of our message today…How to Go for the Gold. And in Philippians 3, it’s in verse 10 that the target is really laid out. We looked at these verses before, but he says, “The target…what I’m really racing after is that I may know Him.” The idea is that I would have a deep knowledge of Jesus.

You know knowledge comes on different levels. If I were to say to you, “I know President Obama.” Well, I know President Obama in that I know he is the President. I’ve watched his speeches. I’ve seen his picture. I’ve seen some interviews with him. I know him. But if I were to say to you, “I know my wife, the one I have been married to for 36 years.” That’s a different level of knowledge. There is deepness there in my knowledge of my wife.

And that’s the kind of thing he is communicating here when he says, “I want to know Him. I want to have deep, deep knowledge. I want to know the power of His resurrection. I want to see His power transforming my attitudes and transforming my actions. And I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings…those difficulties as I come face-to-face with Him, and realize they’re just nothing more than a venue for His grace in my life.”

I also want to conform to His death…the dying to sin and the dying to self in my everyday life. He says that is the target. That is what I’m racing after. But the key question is…how do you get there? How do you accomplish that?

And I believe He sets forth for us four principles, we could call them four training rules, for how to get the gold. And I’m just going to give them to you, and then we’re going to read the verses, and then we’ll look at them in more depth.

1. Be authentic.

2. Don’t coast.

3. Focus forward.

4. Be faithful.

So if you have your Bible opened, I would like to read verses 12-16, and would invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read what Paul says here…a message for you and for me.

He says, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

So, we’re going to see four training rules that He has for us in how to go for the gold. The first one is that we need to be authentic. We need to be honest and humble. We see that at the beginning of verse 12 and at the beginning of verse 13. And I find it interesting here that he has to clearly say this two times, back to back. He is emphasizing something here.

He says, in verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect.” It’s not that I’ve already reached spiritual perfection. And then he just repeats it again for emphasis at the beginning of verse 13, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet.” The New Living Translation says, “I’m still not all that I should be.”

I just want you to think about something for a moment. Do you realize who is saying that? I mean this is the great apostle to the Gentiles. This is the apostle Paul…the one who founded more churches than anyone else in history, the one who would write 13 letters that would be included in the New Testament, nine of which, by this time, had already been penned by him.

And it’s that guy who says very clearly, “I haven’t arrived yet.” Do you see the transparency here? Do you see the humility in the apostle Paul? I haven’t arrived, men and women. He said, “I’m still a work in progress.”

Now I want you to think about that for a moment. On the one hand, it is absurd really to think that anyone would think that they had arrived spiritually, that they were close to full Christ-likeness. I mean one part of us says, “That would be absurd for anyone to think that way.” But on the other hand, what happens with us as followers of Jesus from time-to-time?

We can have a tendency to become spiritually prideful. Sometimes we get just a little bit cocky. And we can have the attitude…we don’t announce it this way…but we carry the attitude that we have a sense that we have arrived spiritually.

You know, we have four children, and at one time in our home we had three teenagers. And one of the things I have observed, even before we had teenagers, is a phenomenon (because I experienced this in my own life) of adolescence that goes something like this. There is a point that you commonly reach…not every teenager has this, but most teenagers…you get to this point in adolescence where you have this attitude, My parents have no clue. And what you’re really thinking as a teenager is, I have it together. If only they could have it together like I have it together.

And it was interesting with my kids…when they were very, very little I told them this time was coming. There would be a time coming when, I said, “You’re going to act a little bit crazy, and what you’re going to actually think is that you know way more than your mom and dad. And when they were little, they would kind of look at me like, “What? That’s not going to happen.” But it’s a very common thing that occurs.

In fact, over the years I’ve heard this little saying. It has come in different forms, but it goes something like this, “When I was 18, I thought my father wasn’t very smart. When I turned 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned in three years.” You see that is part of that attitude that happens…I have it all together.

You know there is a real parallel to that in the Christian life I have observed over the years. It’s something that a lot of people tend to go through this phase and I like to call it spiritual adolescence. It’s where suddenly you get this idea that I have really arrived. I can’t wait to just tell everybody else exactly the way that it ought to be.

And it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch. I know there have been situations and times when I’ve actually had someone say, “I need to talk to you for a minute.” They come in my office, and what they proceed to do is tell me everything that I don’t have right, and then of course, they have all of the answers. Now you have to still be open because you can learn things from people…I have.

But when I have someone just sitting there telling me, “Hey, you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. Here is exactly…blah, blah, blah.” And I’m sitting there listening very kindly, but I’m thinking to myself, A spiritual adolescent is in my office. And we have to talk and walk our way through that.

Here is what I want you to know. If you get into spiritual adolescence, and you stay there, it will hinder you in going for the gold. It will hinder you in advancing in maturity, and it will hinder you in increasing in Christ-likeness. We don’t see that from the apostle Paul. What do we see? We see someone who is authentic. He is honest. He is humble. He is transparent. “I’m not there yet.”

By the way, if you struggle with this a little bit, if you think you’ve arrived spiritually, here is a little suggestion for you, go ask your spouse (if you’re married) if they think that you have arrived, or ask a close friend. And they will be more than happy to help point out to you the areas of growth that you still have to look forward to.

So if we’re going to go for the gold, if we’re going to advance in our maturity, we need to follow some training rules, some principles. The first rule is…be authentic. Be honest and humble and transparent. You haven’t gotten there yet.

And the second training rule is…don’t coast. Don’t coast. We see that at the end of verse 12. He says, “But I press on that I may lay hold of that for which I also was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I think the idea here is avoid complacency…very strong language. He says, “I press on.” It’s a word that means to pursue after something, to chase after something. So, he says,”…that I may lay hold of it.” It means to seize something, to grasp it…that I could seize and grasp that which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

What is he talking about there? Well if you know Paul’s story, you know that he was laid hold of by Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. God just reached down and said, “You’re going to be one of Mine,” and grabbed him. And you and I were laid hold of when He reached down and grabbed us and said, “I’m calling you into My family.”

I press on so that I could lay hold of and seize and grasp that which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. The New Living Translation says, “That I could be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.” The idea here, I believe, is he is saying Christ-likeness.

Romans 8:29, “We were called, we were predestined…” What? “…to be conformed to the image of His Son.” And so what we need to do is not coast in that pursuit of Christ-likeness.

Now here is what I think often happens with us in the believing community, and sometimes we really aren’t honest enough to say that we’re really doing this. But here is what I think we often do. We know what the goal is. We’re to pursue being like Christ, but our tendency is to play what I like to call the comparison game.

See, rather than looking at what the ultimate goal is…to be like Jesus, we start to do the comparison game. We look around and we say, You know what? I know more than that person. Or we might say, You know what? I do more for Jesus than that person does. I’m spiritually ahead of that person. And when we do that, do you know what happens? We start settling for complacency in our Christian life. I know a little more than them, I know a little more than them. I do a little more than them. I’m a little spiritually ahead of them.

Let me ask you a couple of questions as you just reflect on that for a moment. Are you coasting right now in your spiritual life? Think about that for a moment. Have you settled just for where you are? Could it be possible that you have gone complacent in running the race toward Christ-likeness?

I like what James Merritt has to say He says this, “Success is not determined by what we are, but rather by what we are compared to what we could be. It is not measured by what we have done, but rather by what we have done compared to what we could have done.”

It’s very easy, men and women, to settle into complacency in our Christian life. So if we’re going to go for the gold, if we want to experience tears of joy at the end of a race run well, if we want to advance in maturity, we want to increase in Christ-likeness, there are some training rules that we must follow. The first one is we need to be authentic, honest and humble. Second, don’t coast. Avoid complacency.

Then thirdly, the third training rule…focus forward. Don’t live in the past. We see that in the second part of verse 13, down through verse 15. He says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.”

Verse 13, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind.” Forgetting the past, he says. By the way, I want you to know that I think this is the most ignored training rule in all of the Christian life. Forgetting the past. You know you cannot run a race looking backward. And he says, “This is one thing I do; I forget the past. I forget what lies behind.” Now he doesn’t mean by that you lose the memory of the past. It’s just that you chose not to dwell on the past.

Keep your finger here and turn a few pages in the right of your Bible to 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 12-16. We’re not going to read down through this, but this is an example of how Paul lived this out in his life. And in verse 13, he talks about how he had been, in the past, a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. He had done some things to followers of Jesus that he wasn’t very proud of.

But he goes on to talk about, in these verses, how God’s grace came flooding into his life. And part of God’s plan in all of that was down in verse 16…so that God could demonstrate, in the life of Paul, His mercy and His grace and His perfect patience.

Paul was saying, “Listen, it’s not that I’ve lost the memory of what happened in the past, but I’m not going to go back there and dwell there. I’m not going to spend time regretting the things I did to fellow followers of Jesus.” See it doesn’t mean you don’t learn. When you forget the past it doesn’t mean you don’t learn from the past. It’s just that you don’t live in the past.

You say, “Well, how do people do that?” One of two ways. One way to live in the past is to dwell on past failures. Another way to live in the past is to focus on past successes. And I have watched people do those two things over the years.

One way we live in the past is to dwell on our failures where we just say, “I can’t believe I tripped over that hurdle and fell. I mean, I hurt myself when I went down. That’s just horrible.” And when we find ourselves just thinking about that and focusing on that, in the meantime what is happening in the race? We’re not running the race.

And what often happens is we fail and then we dwell on those failures, and then we wallow in those failures, and we allow those failures to weigh us down. You know what I’m talking about because I think every follower of Jesus struggles with these things.

Okay, I’m pastor at the church, but I want you to know that I have said some stupid things, and I have done some stupid stuff. I’ve said some stupid things and done some stupid things with my children. I’ve said some stupid things and done some stupid things as a husband. I’ve said some stupid things and done some stupid things as a pastor. And if you go back and dwell on those things, you will find yourself paralyzed with guilt, and you won’t run the race.

And every once in a while, those things pop back into my mind. Where does that come from? It usually comes from the enemy himself who will want to resurface those things and remind you of those stupid things you said and the stupid things you have done. And if you allow that to be played out in your mind, it will haunt you the rest of your life. So, what you need to do is you need to forget what lies behind. And then he talks about reaching forward.

Another way we can live in the past is by focusing on past successes. This is when we say, “You know what? Did you watch me clear that water hazard? I mean I know it starts out 27 inches deep and it progressively gets shallower, but I cleared that thing so far, I did so well I barely made a splash in the water. I mean, can I just tell you about what I did over…” And you know you start focusing on all these past successes. You rest on past laurels [past honors]. And when you do that, what ends up happening with the race? You really relax and you find yourself coasting along.

And that’s a problem. I know it’s maybe even a little more of a problem for those who are a little bit older, but I’ve watched it happen. You know you’re interacting with someone and they’re talking about the mission trip they took two years ago. They’re talking about the Bible class they taught several years ago. They’re talking about the ministry they did back then.

And I’ve had some people who have come to Wildwood over the years and some people you know with some gray hair and you’re talking to them about what they’re doing or how God is using them or whatever, and what you get out of them is one of these statements, “Well you know, back then, two churches ago, let me just tell you about what God was doing with my life and blah, blah, blah.” It was a those were the days syndrome.

By the way, you know that age is not a true indicator that you’re old. It really isn’t because we’ve had some people come to Wildwood who were so gray-haired that at times they were even having trouble walking because of their age, and they’re some of the most active, advancing, running-the-race people I’ve ever seen. Age is not a true indicator that you’re old. You are truly old though, when you cease to look forward and you’re always looking back. That means that you really are old.

Paul says in verse 14, “One thing I do, I forget what lies behind. I don’t live in the past, and I reach forward to what lies ahead. I press on to what Jesus Christ is calling me up to.” And notice he says in verse 15, “As many who are perfect,” which really means mature, “have this attitude.” If you’re mature, you’re going to have this kind of an attitude, and if you have a different perspective he says, it’s very interesting wording in verse 15, “God will reveal it.”

I think what he is saying is this…if you think you can focus backward while you’re living the Christian life, if you think that progress is not important, if you think it is okay to just coast, God is going to have the last word about that. I mean it’s almost like there is this little implication of Hebrews 12, where it talks about God the Father disciplines the children that He loves.

It’s almost like…you know what? If you think that is your attitude, that’s okay, but I think God just might take you out to the woodshed [place for discipline] for a few moments for a little woodshed moment to remind you that’s not okay to keep focusing backward and not okay to coast spiritually.

A guy by the name of Johnson Oatman Jr., in 1898, wrote a hymn. This is part of what it says:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

See that is what the apostle Paul is communicating here. If we’re going to go for the gold, if we’re going to advance in our maturity, if we’re going to increase in Christ-likeness, number one rule…be authentic, honest and humble. Number two…don’t coast, avoid complacency. Number three…focus forward; don’t live in the past. Then fourth, the fourth guideline…be faithful; live what you know.

That’s really the thrust of verse 16. You notice how he says there in verse 16, “However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” If you have an NIV, it says, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.” The New Living Translation, “Obey the truth we have learned already.” In the original words here, there is imagery used of walking in line, of marching in step. The idea is that we need to be faithful, we need to live what we know…faithfully live what we know.

By the way, that is one of the keys to spiritual success in the Christian life. You know it up here [point to head], so you live it out down here [point to heart]. Faithfully live what you know. And you know that not all followers of Jesus have done that. We see it in the pages of the New Testament.

We have one follower of Jesus who is a compatriot of the apostle Paul by the name of Demas, and he says at one point, “Demas, having loved this present world, has left.” What does it really mean? It means Demas bought into the values of the world’s system. He bought into the pursuit the world wants to talk about, and he fell in love with all of that, and now he is out of the race.

We see it in the pages of the New Testament with Ananias and Sapphira who, out of pride, decided to create some deception and they lied about some things.

If we’re going to run the race, we need to be faithful and live what we know, but not everyone has done that. And of course, we’ve all failed on some levels. But most of us can think of examples of people we’ve known who made a lot of poor choices even though they knew better. We need to live what we know.

By the way, just so you know, do you think this happened with Demas like that? Boom…he left the race to go embrace the things of the world? No, it happened in subtle ways, subtle little steps that were being taken.

You see we know up in our head from Matthew 6:6 that it says that the Heavenly Father sees everything that is done in secret. We know that intellectually in our head. And yet, we begin to think, Well, I could maybe get away with that as long as nobody sees me. You know, I can get away with some things in the sexual realm in terms of what I view and what I do as long as I sort of pull this off and nobody really knows.

Yet it says in Proverbs 6:27, “Can you take fire to your bosom and not be burned?” No, you can’t take those things even if it seems to be out of the sight of people, it’s never out of the sight of the Heavenly Father, and it will burn us anyway. It will get us every time.

See we know up in our head when it talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18. We know that it says that we’re not to get drunk which is useless and senseless indulgence is what it says there. And yet, it’s a very hip thing for some people to go out and get pretty soused [drunk]. It’s an “in” thing [fashionable] when you turn 21 that you go out and you get just stone-cold bombed [totally drunk].

And yet, we know what it says, you see, but we begin to equivocate. We know that it is wise to be led by the Holy Spirit. We know that it’s wise to heed wise counsel. We know that it’s wise to not violate our conscience. And yet, we will rationalize…Oh, just this once. It’s no big deal. It’s no big deal if I cross that line. Oh, I know the Spirit might be leading differently and wise counsel would say otherwise and my conscience might bother me a little bit, but, but, but…

We know that Ephesians 4:29 says, as a follower of Jesus there should be no rotten speech (literally is what it says)  should come out of our mouth. And yet we will find ourselves saying, “Well, I know I really shouldn’t say this, but…” And then after we let some rotten speech out, we rationalize again, Well you know what? They deserved it. Or, It was just so funny; I had to do it anyway.

See that’s the subtle way it begins to happen. And men and women, I want us to realize that one day…one day…the race for you and for me is going to be over. And there is going to come that time where we climb up on the platform in heaven and the anthems of heaven will be echoing there. And it will be worth it all to be able to have the joy of a race run well, to have the hand of Jesus put on your shoulder and have Him look you in the eyes and say, “Well done, well run faithful one.”

If we’re going to do that, it means we must follow the training rules. It means be authentic, honest and humble. It means don’t coast; avoid complacency. It means focus forward; don’t live in the past. It means be faithful; live what you know.

Now you know that the common practice at Wildwood is that we seek to have some life responses. We’ve opened up the Word of God. We don’t want to open up the Word of God, as it says in James, and look at it like it’s a mirror and then just walk away from it. So we’re going to talk about, today, some questions for reflection that I would like to draw out of what we’ve looked at.

I would encourage you to write these down. That’s why we have writing materials at the seats because this can become the seed for some of your quiet time with the Lord this week. So, I would encourage you to write these questions for reflection down. Here is the first one. It’s a good thing to just quietly, prayerfully ask this question before God.

1. Have you left the past? Have you left the past? For some of us today, God is saying to you, “Let it go. Get your eyes forward.”

Another good question for reflection is this…

2. Are you compromising? It’s a good question to ask in a prayerful mindset. Are you maintaining integrity in your relationships with the opposite sex? Are you maintaining integrity when it comes to how you handle money? Are you maintaining integrity when it comes to seeking first the kingdom of God? Those are good questions to ask. Have you left the past? Are you compromising?

3. Are you making spiritual progress? We’ve talked about at Wildwood three signposts for every believer. The signposts of worship, connect, and serve. Those are good signposts. Are you making progress when it comes to worship and assembling with the body of believers on a consistent basis? How about connecting to other people in relationship? This is not a solo thing we do in the Christian life. Are you connected in a small group environment?

And then the area of serving…do you do anything for the kingdom of God?Are you progressing in that area? You might even add a third one which is the word lead, because ultimately we’re all called to have some level of leadership one day. Are you progressing? Are you making progress?

 Let’s pray together: Father, we thank You for the living book, the Word of God. And we thank You, Father, for all that You are telling us about how we can run this race. And the reality is I can’t make it more real. One day the race will be over. It will be our turn on the platform, and what a wonderful, joyful thing it will be for Jesus to be able to honestly look at us and say, “Well done, well run, My child.” May that be what every one of us hears for God’s glory. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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