Our text for today comes from Philippians 3:12-16 and can be found on page 981 of the Bibles in the pew racks. These are the words of God:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Years ago, my family took a tubing trip down the New River. When you tube down a river you don’t do anything. The power of the river does all the work. The opposite of tubing down a river is rowing on a calm lake. All of the rowing team gather up their energy, their timing, and their physical power and force water behind their boat.
In this passage, Paul says that a Christian is someone who is being grabbed and moved by the power of Christ—and when that happens, they themselves begin to move with power towards Christ. They actually become like the power that empowers them.
The Christian life rests upon the great certainties of the cross & resurrection, it begins and continues because Christ powerfully takes hold of us, and it results in great personal commitment, effort, and determination.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Let’s begin by remembering the context. Paul, awaiting trial under house arrest in Rome, received financial assistance from the Philippian church whose messenger, Epaphroditus, nearly died while delivering the gift. This letter is both a thank-you and travelogue as well as an exhortation to persevere through difficulty and disunity.
Paul has catalogued his former life in which he put his confidence in his good works (3:1-6), his current life in which his only confidence is Christ (3:7-9), and his desire to be so unified with Christ that he experiences both Christ’s sufferings as well as his resurrection (3:10-11)
Paul reminds us that he is not already perfect. He is still involved in the scrapes and snarls of this life. But he’s pressing on because Christ has already apprehended him. Because Christ ran him down, he’s now running down Christ. (v. 12) In this race Paul will have missteps, but the key to victory isn’t in the mistakes that he cannot now change. Rather, he sticks out his neck like a runner towards the finish line. (v. 13)
What lies ahead: a heavenly goal. The prize is the fullness of eternal life and joy in the age to come—and that only comes through perfect unity with Christ. (v. 14) Those who are mature pursue this same goal while realizing that they aren’t yet mature. (v. 15) And, until you learn what you don’t know, hold onto what you do know. (v. 16)
What does Christian growth & maturity look like? 1. Humble Self-Assessment. 2. Aggressive Spiritual Focus 3.
v. 12 – Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect
A Christian knows he or she has not arrived. If you ever meet someone who says they have conquered sin, just ask their spouse how they did it. If the Apostle Paul says that he has not attained perfection, what makes you think that you have? We are always coming to Jesus with the empty hands of faith.
AGGRESSIVE SPIRITUAL FOCUS
Throughout this letter Paul has called Christians to “stand firm,” “work,” “run,” and “labor.” Grace gives us a backbone. Twice in the passage Paul says he presses on (v. 12 & 14). It’s the same word he used when he said, “I persecuted the church.” (3:6) How does the same word get translated “persecuted” and “press on”? Just as Paul had gathered up and beat the church down, he now gathers himself up and beats himself onward toward the goal. He persecutes and aggravates his sin.
Aggressive spiritual focus requires intense concentration: “One thing I do, forgetting…” Of course, Paul isn’t forgetting past mercies or past lessons. He refuses to dwell on the past in a way that hampers present effort. Love keeps no records of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5) Don’t keep dredging up your old sins God has long forgiven (Micah 7:19)
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The heavenly minded do the most earthly good. If you only knew the eternal weight of glory that awaited you there, you wouldn’t try to compare the snarls of life down here. (2 Cor. 4) Christians will hear the commendation our soul craves (“Well done…” Luke 19:17), recognition that will never lose its luster (“Unfading crown of glory…” 1 Pet. 5:4), a cleansing that can’t be stained (Rev. 7:14) and a love that will last (Rev. 22:3-4)
A SECURE SALVATION
When Paul refers to the “upward call” in v. 14, this isn’t an invitation, it’s a determination. When God calls to you in a saving way, you are summoned and compelled by his Spirit to come.
This call is a SWEET call. God so calls—as He allures. He does not force—but draw. The freedom of the will is not taken away—but the stubbornness of it is conquered.
This call is a HOLY call. “Who has called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). This call of God calls men out of their sins—by it they are consecrated, and set apart for God.
This call is an IRRESISTIBLE call. When God calls a man by His grace, he cannot but come. You may resist the minister’s call—but you cannot the Spirit’s call.
This call is an UNCHANGEABLE call. “God’s gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). That is, as a learned writer says, those gifts which flow from election. When God calls a man, He does not repent of it.
This is the blessedness of a saint—his condition admits of no alteration. God’s call is founded upon His decree—and His decree is immutable. Acts of grace cannot be reversed. God blots out His people’s sins—but not their names. Let the world ring changes every hour, a believer’s condition is unchangeable and unalterable.