I press on toward the goal
Key Verse 3:12-14
“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. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. But although he was suffering, he talks about his deepest joy. He was joyful because in spite of his imprisonment, God was working to advance the gospel. He was joyful because he had in the Philippians a wonderful fellowship of believers who genuinely loved Christ Jesus and worked hard to serve the gospel. So he urged them to rejoice together with him as they humbly imitated Jesus’ humility in all things. Jesus gave up everything in heaven and on earth to bring about their salvation. They should humbly pursue this salvation with fear and trembling. He also gave them examples of those who imitate Jesus in his humility. He mentioned his son Timothy who had genuine concern for their welfare, and their pastor Epaphroditus who was ready to die in his service to the gospel. Then Paul gives them his own testimony as an example to follow. It’s where we left off last time we looked at Philippians. And his testimony is remarkable because as Christ left all things in heaven and earth to bring salvation to Paul and to all who believe, so also Paul had walked in his footsteps, but for completely different reasons. Paul left everything behind because he had found Christ. And this was his deepest most precious source of joy.
Look at verse 1. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” “Joy and rejoice” is a theme repeated throughout this letter, and often talks about in his letters to the churches. We know that joy is one of the marks of the Christian life. We know that joy is one of the fruits of having the Holy Spirit live in the Christian’s heart. Most Christians know this truth well enough. But not all Christians experience joy even though the Bible explicitly talks about the joy of the Christian life. And for some who do, sometimes the joy drains out of their lives and they do not know how to regain it. When we looked at the Magi’s life journey last Christmas we saw clearly that their joy did not come from anything related to their lives as nobles or men who possessed all the comforts and blessings of life. Their joy came from the very life journey they were set on. They had followed a star that would lead them to the Christ. And when they lost sight of the star, their joy was also gone. But when they found the star again, their joy returned. Christians cannot find real genuine joy in anything in this world. Even if they do, it is only a matter of time when this kind of joy fades away and the reality of this world sets in again. Christians were meant to find and to maintain joy only in Christ. When Christians lose their joy, it is because they had lost sight of Christ. When Paul talks about his own joy and admonishes them to rejoice with him, it is clear that Paul’s circumstances were not the source of his joy. It was rather the fact that he had found Christ, and had kept his eyes fixed on Christ. This is something crucial for us to know in our Christian life. Without joy, all that we do— even if it is noble and seemingly holy— is drab and meaningless and unrewarding. But when we taste the joy of knowing Christ and remaining in him, we can rejoice even in our most embarrassing and humiliating moments as a Christian.
In this passage, Paul makes it clear that the source of his joy and ours is in Jesus. In verses 2-6, Paul warns the Philippian Christians against what would certainly drain all joy from their lives. Legalism and formalism and the dependence on human religious activities in gaining righteousness— these are some of the very things that would drain joy out of a Christian’s life. Paul warns the Philippians against those who were promoting circumcision as a necessity to gain acceptance with God. There is nothing a man or woman can do to be accepted by God except to believe what God already has done. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice for sin. Jesus died on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead. It is what Jesus has done that we boast about and rejoice in, and nothing else. When we believe the sacrifice of our Lord for us, we are righteous by virtue of God’s grace and the faith we have in him. Then the Holy Spirit whom God gives us impresses our hearts with great joy, a joy that cannot be manufactured by us, nor gained from this world. That joy is heavenly because it is the joy of knowing that Christ has fulfilled and accomplished everything that I could not, and has transferred it to me. And now I stand in the faith as a righteous man or woman before God, and fully justified. This is the source of joy, that we are God’s children by the virtue of what Jesus has done. This joy is real and cannot be tampered with whatever our circumstances. This joy is unshakable even when the world is falling apart on me. But if we begin to trust in our own ability to make ourselves righteous or acceptable to God, then the burden of Christian living will be enormous. And with that burden of maintaining a Christian façade, who can be joyful! No one.
Paul warned them not to listen to those who would tell them that the process of growing in holiness and the Christian life depends on what we now do as a Christian— such as circumcision or anything that might tarnish and diminish what Jesus has already done for us. Paul told them and us his own life testimony found in verses 2-10. In verses 2-6 he tells us about his life before he met Christ. He tells us that there were many things in his life that hindered him from seeing the truth of God in Christ. He had all these qualifications to be a good Jew. He was in fact one of the best and most outstanding of religious folk who had every reason to trust in his own ability and achievement in finding acceptance or righteousness with God. But it was the very thing that kept him from tasting the joy he so often talked about. His own self righteousness kept him on edge, always trying to live up to what he thought God demanded of him. So he had no joy in living for God at all. Everything he did for God was so that God might accept him. But something happened to change all that in his life. Christ met him. And when Christ met him and offered him righteousness and acceptance by God not by what he does but by what has been done for him in Christ, then Paul felt the deepest most satisfying joy ever. So he gives us a glimpse of the source of his joy.
In verses 7-11 we find the best reason for that joy. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, 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 and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Whatever he had in the past, all that he was, all that he boasted in one time, now he considers them rubbish. How can anyone call all that he stood on in life, his credentials and the very things that gave him pride, how can he call them rubbish! he saw them finally as nothing but rubbish because regardless of their worldly worth, they were rubbish because they stood between him and the God whom he tried to serve with his life. It is the things that we take pride in in our lives that usually are the biggest hindrance in coming to God and seeing what God has for us. Paul had his impeccable reputation as a Pharisee. It was glorious to those around him. But it was the very thing that kept him from seeing God. But God shed his grace on him and showed him Christ Jesus. God showed him what Christ had done and accomplished, and when Paul saw that, everything else in his life, his effort, his reputation, and all looked pathetic. like garbage in comparison. When Paul saw Christ, he saw in him everything God wanted and did in and through him. And suddenly it was all that Paul had wanted as well. Suddenly he wanted to gain Christ for himself. And when he put his faith in him, he gained him.
What does it mean for Paul or us to have gained Christ. Paul describes gaining Christ in three ways. First, he describes it as being found in him. In other words, he saw that in gaining Christ he himself would be found in him. He saw that in gaining Christ, he would be united with him. Surely this is where we want to be found as well. At the end of life, we do not want to be found in the world or in anything in the world. We rather want to be found in Christ. When God sees us, he would see in Christ, and united with him. This is a treasure more than anything this world can ever hope to give us. This is the source of joy. Paul also described gaining Christ as not having a righteousness of our own. We have no righteousness at all. Even if we are the most moral and upright person in this world, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and cannot satisfy God’s standard for righteousness. So in gaining Christ, we know that we have gained a righteousness of another, of Christ himself, a righteousness that comes from faith. Paul really understood how precious this is. How can we ever come in the presence of the holy God without Jesus! We cannot. This glorious gain is worth everything in life. Paul left everything to take hold of this treasure, Jesus, in whom he wanted to always be found. He knew the value of what God had given him. Some people really do not know the value of Christ, and what God had given us in Christ. That is why they lose their joy so easily. When our hearts are still in this world, and in what this world can offer us, joy will not be found. But when we have known the treasure God had given us, we can rejoice. We can rejoice because we have the greatest treasure a man or woman can ever find in life.
So Paul said that he had found Christ. But he did not stop there. In verses 10-11 he tells us how he lives as a Christian and how he maintains the joy that has managed to grow in his heart and life. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” This verse is Paul’s testimony as well. he had further goals from gaining Christ. He now had the life of a Christian to live. He tells us what it is to be a Christian and to live as a Christian with overflowing joy in the heart. Paul knew Christ well. He already knew Christ and what Christ had done for him. What more could he know? He wanted now to pursue an intimacy with Christ. He wanted to live a life that is deeply grounded in all that Christ is and has done. Paul wanted to know Christ’s power of resurrection. It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead, and the same power that he needed to live as a Christian. He wanted to know Christ in his suffering. He wanted to deeply understand the depth of Christ’s love that drove him to suffer so much for us. To know him in his suffering also means to share in that suffering as well. Of course, if Paul shared in Christ’s suffering, it is not for salvation, but for becoming more intimate with Jesus and sharing with Jesus what’s on Jesus’ heart and mind. How beautiful are those who do not shrink back from their own suffering when God affords them the opportunity, but gladly suffer it because it identifies them more and more with Jesus. In our times, not many Christians welcome suffering. Most want a way out of their suffering when they suffer, and are glad to find a way out even if it causes others to suffer as long as they are no longer in their suffering. But part of our lives as Christians is to share in Jesus’ suffering. This is what we are called to do, if we are genuinely concerned about growing in our intimacy with Jesus. We want to be like him in his death. In other words, when Jesus died, he put to death sin, and rose to a new life. When I want to be like him in his death, I too want to die to sin, and put that life of sin behind me in the grave, and rise again with him to a new life. It is this new life day by day that Paul wanted more than anything. It wasn’t easy for him. Suffering isn’t easy. Dying to self and to sin and to all that sin calls us to do and makes us justify isn’t easy. But it is what God would have us do if we are to grow intimate with our Lord and come to know him better and better every day. This is the true source of joy.
Paul did not want the Philippians to remain immature in faith and in the Christian life. They would become stagnant and joyless if they only believe and receive salvation, and no more. Rather Paul wanted them, like him, to pursue the Christian life with all their hearts. To give their whole hearts to living the Christian life in all its glory and grow in their maturity into wonderful and fruitful Christians. he wanted their lives to be exemplary like his. Look at what he tells them in verses 12-14. “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. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
How precious are these words to Christians. “Not that I have already obtained all this.” In other words, “Not that I have already obtained this maturity and perfection in the Christian life myself” or better yet, “I’m not fully Christ-like yet.” Paul was radically transformed when he met Christ personally. His life had become truly wholly devoted to Christ. When others saw him, they saw Christ in him. They truly marveled that a man who killed Christians was now one of them. But in his radical transformation— and every Christian must experience a radical transformation in his or her life— but in his radical transformation, the impression might have been that this man Paul had already become perfect and mature in every way, that there was nothing more for him to grow into. Some might have even thought that he was now sinless and incapable of committing any sin or error in his Christian life. If that is the impression some may have gotten, those who view Paul may themselves despair and think that God is not working in them at all, and that even if God was working, they are far from becoming what God would have them become— Christ-like. Thankfully Paul contradicts this kind of thinking in his words here. “Not that I have already obtained all this” are truly wondrous words of hope for the Christian.
People like the circumcision group, claimed perfection and a better knowledge and better life results in the Christian journey. Today some are like them who promote the false idea that unless you have another spiritual experience or unless you submit to some rule or other, you cannot grow and mature into a the Christian God would have you be. They seem to have it all together. But in reality they are false teachers and hypocrites and charlatans who only seduce weak minded people and those who don’t know better, or even those who let others interpret the bible for them. Today they masquerade as spiritually gifted people who promise a second blessing after conversion. The truth is that the gospel is for transformation and not for self betterment. The aim is not self betterment but being in Christ and living for Christ. Let us not be fooled by those who claim spiritual superiority. When we think of Christ and his perfection we who have been washed and cleansed in him and through him stand as perfect and mature in the faith with Jesus. That’s our destiny even while we are being perfected day by day not by our effort but by the transforming with of the spirit. It doesn’t mean we do nothing in our Christian life. Rather the opposite, when we are in Christ and live for him, we manifest the fruits of our transformation by the good work Jesus calls us to do. It is important to know that even Paul had not been perfected, that he was still being perfected.
Paul says: “But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul wasn’t perfected yet to the likeness of Christ. But he had a goal in mind for his life. And he wanted to press on towards that goal. In his effort to press on towards that goal, he would leave everything behind and press on ahead towards his goal. Remarkably Paul set a goal for his life and he worked hard to achieve it. You cannot have a goal unless you are purpose driven in life. if you have a Life purpose to honor Christ and receive his rewards, then you will have a goal. Otherwise most people live haphazardly without aim or purpose. They live now without a goal. Even if they have a goal it’s usually money or success or fame or something earth bound (19b) But Paul had a single goal. He said: “One thing I do.” What did he do in pursuing his goal of christ-likeness? He did not think about the past. He put his life in the past, whatever it is behind him, and he strove on ahead single-mindedly towards the goal of becoming more and more Christ-like. That was his greatest joy. He was not perfected yet. he had made many mistakes. he had done what he should not do. He had grieved the holy spirit. But now, in pursuing his goal, he forgets what is behind in order to pursue this single goal, to win the prize, to attain to the resurrection after Christ’s perfection.
Many people talk about having goals, and struggling to grow spiritually into the likeness of Christ. But they only talk and do nothing about it. If they truly have this goal, then they should do everything possible and grab every opportunity to achieve that goal. I praise God for our growing shepherds here. In their effort to grow in Christ-likeness, they do everything in their ability to pursue that goal, and depend on God for the rest. Our young shepherds are pursuing the purity of Christ-likeness under the servantship of Dr. Alex every Tuesday morning they gather to pray together and to study the essence of purity. I can see how determined they are to become like Christ. Others talk about it, but when it comes to pursuing it, pressing on as Paul says, they are not willing to pursue and to press on. How wonderful it is that when we have a problem, and God presents us some opportunity giving us some solutions, to make every effort to pursue holiness and to press on even when the cost is high. And this applies to all other areas of our lives. The year 2014 may have been not so good, or may have not had the victories we longed for, or it may have been tainted with failures and mistakes and sin that wear us down. But as Paul says to us, there is one thing we must do, one thing we must pursue in our desire to be more like Christ, and that is, to forget what is behind, and press on toward the goal ahead of us. This is what we must do this year, one and all. Pray that you may have a goal in life. And pray that your single goal may be to be more like Christ. And pray that you may press on, do everything to achieve that goal. And may God bless you and this ministry.