“The Goal of an Eternal Home” (Hebrews 11:1-16)

Financial planners advise us about prudent ways to live and invest our resources over the course of many years, with a goal toward these disciplines paying off in the climatic moments of later life.

It would be a foolish person who had more than enough resources to not only meet their needs comfortably, but to also have sufficient to wisely invest for the larger picture … yet who chose to lavishly spend their abundance upon silly pleasures and personal indulgences. Such a person might well come into their retirement years and lack sufficient resources for even their basic needs.

We would not respect these choices nor the person making them. We would regard this pattern as one that lacked a big-picture, long-term perspective. We would see it as a bit crazy to live a life that indulged the present while ignoring the future.

Yet that is what I fear I see too many Christian people – those who would name Christ as Savior – as essentially doing with their lives. Their values too often do not differ significantly from the people of the rest of the world who know not Christ. These Christians are comforted by having a “fire plan of faith” that they know will save them from eternal doom and separation from God, yet they do not choose to dramatically value their connection to God by living a life that is categorically different. And this will not yield success in the long run of life in this world. And this becomes particularly evident when there fails to be a passing on of faith values to the following generations.

We would say of such people that – like the unwise investor – they fail to have the big picture in mind. They fail to live with goals. And they fail to live seriously in light of their profession of faith and connection with Christ and the church.

The Scriptures – in more than just a couple of places, and by more writers than simply the Apostle Paul – talk about having goals in our lives.  And a final passage of this “Seriously?” series is that which is found in Hebrews 11:1-16. And the writer to the Hebrews wrote of those who in Israel’s history were commended for their faith and were commended for this attitude … they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

As we turn to Hebrews 11, and whenever we study anything in this wonderful epistle, we do well to be reminded of the background of the recipients of this letter. They …

… were Jewish believers – well-versed in OT ways and Jewish faith.

… had trusted Christ, and experienced the Christian life.

… were severely persecuted and felt isolated.

… were considering a return to Judaism.

… found the memory of a priest whom the eyes could see was especially appealing.

And so, the major theme of the writer is the encouragement of perseverance, because the reward is worth it. The writer is encouraging his readers to persevere in light of the examples of famous people from their own ancestry who persevered in faith in spite of their circumstances.

Here now is a quick 3-part outline of what we’re going to see …   

The statement of a principle (1-3)

Four illustrations of that principle from the lives of real people (4-12)

The application of the principle (13-16)

So the first thing we are going to see is the statement of a principle …

HEB 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

HEB 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Many of us who were raised on the KJV will remember the word “substance” used here about faith. Other translations since have used words like “reality” or “assurance.”  I’m good with any of these words; but I was especially interested in my research of the Greek term used here to see that in secular Greek, it was used of a “deed of title” to a property. It was not the property itself, but it was what gave assured confidence of the reality of ownership. And this reminds of us Paul’s writing about the Holy Spirit being the “earnest” or the “down payment” of our inheritance in Christ.

Putting this together, the first verse is saying the first of three things we’ll see in these opening verses: Faith is assured confidence.

And secondly, in verse 2 – This is what the ancients were commended for. The main thing that immortalized the great characters of the Old Testament was their faith in God and their confident willingness to follow His leading, no matter what. It made them “pleasing” to God. And is that not what we all would want to have as much as anything else?!?  So our second truth in these opening verses: Faith is the means of divine approval.

And then a third truth in verse 3 – Faith is the basis of all lifeBy faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

There was no one at creation to verify it. Mankind is confronted with a universe already existing. And in spite of all the theories that have come along and whatever fractions of truth that are in them, in the beginning, God spoke the universe into existence. Faith is at the basis of all life.

So, let’s take these three verses and state their content as a principle …        

The principle: Faith believes in the reality of the truth of things that cannot be seen, just as certainly as it believes in the reality of truth that can be seen!

So, just as any good sermon does not merely state facts, but also gives illustrations and applications in real life, the writer shares such with the readers by pointing to a variety of human illustrations who demonstrated these truths – both for their good and for God’s approval. We’ll look at four such illustrations in verses 4-12 …       

Four illustrations of that principle from the lives of real people (4-12)

HEB 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

The story of Cain and Abel is in Genesis chapter 4.  These first two sons of Adam were very different fellows: Abel raised livestock, whereas Cain raised crops. A time came when each brought an offering to the Lord – Abel an animal, Cain some crops. And Abel’s offering was accepted, though Cain’s was not pleasing to God. And in his anger, Cain later killed his brother Abel.

The question over time has been as to why it was that Abel’s offering was accepted, though Cain’s was not. Among those theories …

  • Abel’s was a blood sacrifice; Cain’s was of the ground. This is not generally accepted.
  • Abel brought a larger quantity… again, not an issue.
  • Abel brought the best of the flock, whereas Cain just brought something from the crops.
  • Abel had a proper attitude, whereas Cain did not.

It is probably a combination of the last two. Abel went out of his way to bring the best and did so in the right attitude. Cain merely did it to “get it over with.”

But the passage says that Abel, though he died, still speaks – the voice as being a person in whom God was pleased. He operated in faith, receiving ultimately His eternal reward.

The second illustration of the faith without sight principle is Enoch …

HEB 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Go ahead, list all of the accomplishments of Enoch!  We really don’t know of any, specifically. He is mentioned in Genesis 5:21-24. He was the father of Methuselah and some other people. And it simply says of him: Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

And then in Jude it says of him that he was one who spoke truth about God to his generation, though most did not listen to him … so what’s new?  But he was a man who was commended by God above all his contemporaries, simply for knowing and trusting God in the midst of a dark time. Others “lived, begat, died.”  Enoch walked with God, and one day God said, “Come walk up here with me.”

We could say of Enoch that he was SERIOUS about his faith – God liked that.

The third illustration of the faith without sight principle is Noah …

HEB 11:7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Again, this is a character from Genesis – one we know more about. He is mentioned and commended in various places in Scripture; and though not a perfect man, he was one who operated with incredible faith.

Imagine the life of Noah!  Apparently even his family did not necessarily believe at the time God called him to build that boat. It’s a long story and explanation of biblical texts, but rain and flooding were not a part of the experience of mankind at this time. Building a boat in the middle of nowhere – something that took years and years – demonstrated a tremendous faith in the unseen.

Understand also that Noah is regularly pictured as a preacher of righteousness to his generation around him. And there was no fruit for his faith beyond his own family. Yet he trusted God.

Living for God and believing in the message of the Gospel and the truths of Scripture will be mocked by the masses of others in civilization around us. But, like Noah, we must persevere, we must make it a priority to move toward the higher goal of God’s calling.

The fourth, and best, illustration of the faith without sight principle is Abraham …

HEB 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

HEB 11:11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Of course, we know Abraham even by the title: “father of faith.”  Again, he was not perfect; the Scriptures reveal certain flaws in his life, even some lapses of faith. But in the big picture, he trusted God in incredible ways. The text here reminds the reader of the two largest components of his faith: his journey to the promised land, and his belief that God would grow a nation from him – though he was childless and old.

  • His journey – He was in latter years and was successful in his homeland. Yet when God told him to pack it all up and go – along with his entire household, being sent to a place he did not know – he did it. This was crazy!

And then when he got there and wandered around for many years, living in tents as a nomad, never actually owning any land (other than a cave he bought to bury Sarah and his family), he remained faithful.

Why did he remain faithful, even in the absence of physically seeing and gaining his promises?  The text says it was because he had a bigger vision – a more permanent one than anything in this world. His eyes were on eternal goals. Seriously?  Seriously!

  • His childlessness – He had a problem. He was old. But the bigger problem was that Sarah was herself nearly as old, and definitely TOO old. Yet he believed God would do it somehow, someday. And even when he was called upon to sacrifice his son of promise, we see (actually later in this chapter) that Abraham was so sure of the promise of God, that even if Isaac was sacrificed, God would resurrect him. What a preview of God’s big plan!

So there are the four illustrations of the principle: Faith believes in the reality of the truth of things that cannot be seen, just as certainly as it believes in the reality of truth that can be seen!

The application of the principle (13-16)

Now we look at the application of the principle – as was written to the Hebrews receiving this letter, as it is to us by extension as God’s word for us …

HEB 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Here are some quick facts about these people illustrations of faith …

  • They were faithful to the end.
  • They did not get in this material world everything that they were promised.
  • They never ceased to look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises, be it in this life or the next.
  • They never emotionally over-invested in the things of this life.
  • They understood that this world is a temporary thing where we live like aliens in a foreign country.
  • They never looked back; they always pressed forward only.
  • Their focus was on a goal, and that goal was not of this world – it was a heavenly one. And this served as the guide for all they did in their years in this life.

Because of all of this – faith in unseen realities – it says that God was not ashamed to be called their God. He was pleased with them and has an eternal city prepared for them.

So, to the Hebrews who got this letter, they should not go back to the old ways. In spite of the difficulties and persecutions, they should move forward toward heavenly goals. And this is true for us.

As a summary statement of today’s teaching we could state: To receive God’s pleasure in us, we must believe that promises made to us about things we cannot now see (contentment / relationships / security), are as certain to us as if we could reach out and touch them with our hands. And our lives should reflect this conviction by the things we do, the things we avoid, and the schedules we keep.

Think about it, how else are we going to live and find success?

Let’s turn around the words of the final paragraph and see what it will be like if we make the choice to trust this world for security, relationship and contentment. What would it be like to die, having made that our prioritized choice?

13 – All these people were living by sight and touch when they died.  They sought to receive, in the here and now, the things promised by God for heaven.  They saw them from a distance, but through impatience welcomed them into their earthly lives. 

14-15 – People who do such things show they are not looking for another country of an eternal home, for they were unwilling to leave the country of the pleasures of this world.

16 – They did not look toward a heavenly country, therefore God is ashamed to be called their God, for he has not prepared a city for people with such an attitude.

So what are you trusting in?  What path are you on?  Do you say you are on one path, but an honest inspection reveals you are on another?  And again, we want to not just exist as someone who is a little bit better than the rest of the world – as someone whose main distinguishing feature of life, versus the rest of the world, is that you have a confidence for eternity. But rather, we need to make it our goal to have a life that really looks different, a life that rings with the joy and fullness that accompany a life with trust in Christ.

That is being serious; that is living a goal-oriented life.

“The Goal of Heavenly Affections” (Colossians 3)

The simplest and easiest illustration to draw our minds into and discussion about spiritual goals and disciplines is to talk about athletics – about personal disciplines for individual prowess, fleshing out how that affects an entire team in a joint endeavor. It’s not just me who defaults to that; actually, it is the metaphor that the Apostle Paul uses on several occasions.

But let me attempt something different to draw our minds together today.

Imagine you work for a company that supplies a particular product to the public that has become rather popular. Last year was the best year ever for the company, with the highest historical revenues, reflected as well with increased salaries and production capacity. The new year was entered with every expectation that this was going to be awesome – all things were in place to excel at the highest level in the marketplace, far beyond peer competition.

But as the new year began, some problems began to develop …

  • Several high-level managers began to quarrel with each other about ongoing priorities of production and distribution. Mid-level managers began to take sides. Verbal outbreaks were not unusual as hostilities mushroomed higher and higher. The office became an awkward place with a palatable tension in the air.
  • Production floor managers did not know what to make of these conflicts. They were not sure who to listen to and what perspectives to implement, and before long this created clashes in procedures that ruined previous efficiencies.
  • Beyond a slow-down in production, the company conflicts and procedural inconsistencies resulted in flaws in the product itself. This was obvious by an unprecedented number of customer complaints and returns. Everyone could feel a decline in market share.
  • Given the salary increases from the previous year, throughout the company on all levels, managers and workers were using their vacation times at the beginning of the year – particularly to get away from the pressures and tensions. This created shortages of personnel at critical moments. And more than a few lifestyle changes were noted at all levels as well, as people took on more of a pleasure-seeking purpose that became destructive patterns for them and their families.
  • Putting this all together, it was not long before a formerly great company – one that had every resource and reason as to why it should excel at the highest level – now was in a destructive slide. Something needed to be done. Clearly there needed to be newly-defined goals and purposes – both in the lives of individuals as well as in the corporate structure.

Christian people can be like this and have similar experiences. And a “company” of those Christians together – doing life in this community and endeavor called “the church” – can also experience such calamitous results. With a new life as a result of this thing called the Gospel, God’s adopted family should have every resource for personal success, corporate success, and impact in the broader marketplace of the surrounding culture.

But as with our imaginary company, conflicts can arise on all levels of the church – creating inefficiencies and losing market impacts. On a personal level, Christian people can lose sight of the larger picture and begin to live in such a way that personal pleasure attainments end up afflicting not only the corporate community, but their individual lives as well.

The time arrives when there needs to be a, dare we say, “come to Jesus moment” when individuals realize they need to take personal inventory, that along with others doing the same, results in a recommitment to grand visions and goals.

The Apostle Paul exhorted several of the New Testament era churches along these lines, including the one we turn to today – the Colossians. Good things had happened in this church community. As he writes to them, he immediately references them as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ, saying to them: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.

But they needed continual renewal of their commitment to this “hope stored up in heaven” – revitalizing their vision and relationships both with God and with each other.

And it is good, and appropriate that we regularly have such evaluations – personally and corporately. Seriously? Yes, seriously, we need to consider our goals for the Christian life, possessing also a renewed goal toward heavenly affections – our primary idea for today.

The Apostle Paul says, in one of our verses today … “set your hearts on things above / set your minds on things above …”  That is a challenge, isn’t it?  We are not NOW “above”.  We have to live here, and we have to deal with the things of this world; and having a prudent balance is a challenge.

The Colossians were struggling with such balance issues. A group of false teachers had set up camp amongst them – teaching that matter is evil and spirit is good. This was a common heresy in the early church era.

So Paul is giving them teaching on the balance of being already an eternal, spiritual being, living successfully in a material world. The key is to live even now with a focus upon things eternal, and the attitudes of such spiritual realities.

As we look at Col. 3:1-14… will see three simple paragraphs that fall out this way…

  1. The Goal – a heart and mind set on things above… (1-4)
  2. Attitudes and actions to lose in order to achieve the goal… (5-11)
  3. Attitudes and actions to increase in order to achieve the goal… (12-14)

So, to be where you need to be with the proper goal, there are some things you’ve got to get rid of, yet also some other things you need to increase.

  1. The Goal – a heart and mind set on things above. (1-4)

Yes, the natural proclivity will be to be continuously drawn to the things that one can see in the material world. But God’s people have to look higher …

COL 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“Since you have been raised with Christ” … This puts a new spin on everything, as we have been resurrected with Christ. We think of this as future, and it is. BUT, like many things of the spiritual realm, it is also a present reality.

For example, we often speak of three aspects of sanctification – positional / progressive / perfect. The point here is that your eternal life has begun. It is an accomplished fact. The proof is that Christ is now there, and you will be “there” one day. So, it is appropriate to see yourself in this light and begin to act like the eternal person you already are in Christ.

“Set your hearts on things above” … The word means “to seek.” In the original language it is in the present imperative form, which denotes a continuous action … “to keep on seeking.”

“Set your minds on things above” … This literally means “to think on.”  We cannot act without thinking, as everything begins in the mind. There is a radical change in a person’s status when one comes to know Christ that changes everything.

For example, when a person is engaged to be married, they are not yet fully realizing their new relationship, but the knowledge of what is someday going to happen affects how they act now. So, it is therefore not appropriate to live as if that new relationship does not exist. It changes your other relationships and values, along with the things you give time to…

… you don’t date others like you used to, that’s for sure.

… you don’t spend money on worthless things unrelated to your future – you begin to invest in a way that anticipates the future.

… it would be strange to not highly value the other person and not spend time growing to know that person more and more.

So therefore, the reality of the future relationship would affect everything about how you function. Though you yet live amongst other people as a single person, you also live in constant circumspection, because a larger, future reality governs your entire life. And so it is in regard to relationship with Christ.

In verse 3 – “For you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ” … That is the engagement. You are SO connected to Christ, who guarantees your place eternally, as he now exists eternally with God.

And then in verse 4 – “when Christ appears … This anticipates the coming of Christ. The idea here is the “unveiling” of Christ – the light of all that shines from Him at his appearing. We are a part of that because of our close connection with Him.

So Paul says that the believer has a goal – to set our minds and hearts above.

  1. Attitudes and actions to lose in order to achieve the goal… (5-11)

Here we will see a list of things to get rid of in order to accomplish the stated goal of heavenly affections…

COL 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

We have to put to death the things that belong to the natural, earthly nature we all still possess; and this is painful to do. A commentator said, “The old life is dead; we must let it die.”  But that is not what we always do. We too often tend rather to sort of let the old life hang around in the closet, or in the trunk of the car, so that we may go get it out once in a while. The verb used here “put to death” is a very vigorous word – “to slay utterly,” or to completely extinguish.

I believe there needs to be a one-time action where this is done – not that it renders a person free from sin. But is a time of declaration and determined decision. Have you done that?  It may have happened at salvation for some folks, but for many others – especially those who trust Christ early in life – there needs to be a time of commitment. As in Romans 12…

ROM 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

It is like restoring and painting an old car. You must get rid of the rust, or it will eat its way through. You can’t just cover it up, which is the way too many Christians are in their attitudes toward sinful patterns.

And then we see a list in verse 5 of various sexual sins, which become greedily coveted and even an idol to those who do not expunge these natural desires sourced in this fallen world. These can function within in soul like computer defaults of the human condition. Therefore we must take action to change them, not just to avoid them a little bit more than the rest of the world.

In verses 6 and 7, Paul adds two more reasons to get rid of this stuff, beyond the gangrenous reasons of how these things eat away at us and are inconsistent with our position in Christ…

  1. This is the reason why judgment is coming on the world. And we don’t want to be associated with that!
  2. This is the way people lived before they knew Christ. So it is crazy to continue to act that way as if there has not been a significant change.

And then in verses 8 and following, there begins another list of attitudes and speech that must be deleted. The verb has the idea of getting rid of filthy clothes, and not by just throwing them in the hamper, but rather in the trash. Dispositions mentioned include anger and rage, malice and slander, filthy language, and telling falsehoods. The last of these gets singled out particularly, as it is the most likely and easiest wrong to do; and this relates back to the original sin.

Rather, the text says: put on the new self – again, this has the idea of an entire clothing change.

The thought of verse 11 (Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.) as compared to the preceding: whereas relationships are inevitably marred by various sins, when living in Christ, all relationships are wholesome, even those you would think make for great divides…

  • Greek / Jew – very different
  • Those with a background in the law / are now totally without that divisive issue
  • Those from a totally different “caste” or ethnicity, or culture
  • Those from differing social strata

But Christ is the great uniting agent in all these circumstances.

  1. Attitudes and actions to increase in order to achieve the goal… (12-14)

Having spoken of what must be eliminated in order to achieve the goal of heavenly-mindedness, Paul now states the positive dispositions to add to one’s attitudes and actions …

COL 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Here now is the positive “clothing” to put on…

  • Three reasons why believers should apply these guidelines …
    • They/we were are chosen by God – is a special thing for sure
    • They/we are holy – set apart by God – as examples of His grace
    • They/we are dearly loved – like Israel of the OT – special to God – with privileges and responsibilities.

And then, five virtues are given. These may seem to demonstrate weakness, but actually are great strengths, as these traits are admired even by the world.

Back in my high school coaching days I had a boy on my team who was not an especially good runner – He was rather small for his age and would never make the varsity squad. But he never missed a practice or meet. He was the most likeable fellow who spent all his time exhibiting the items in this list, as he encouraged others and just loved everyone around him. The school had a “teammate” award that was given at the end of the school year to a peer-voted-upon athlete in each sport. And this boy every year won it for cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. … People like it when you act like Jesus.

How do you know when you are gaining these things?  Verse 13 …

  • You’ll be better able to bear with irritating people – remembering that you are probably an irritant to others.
  • You’ll be able to forgive others quickly – remembering that you have been very forgiven.

The summary thought of the paragraph is in verse 14 in that it is all wrapped up in love – like an outer, overcoat garment.

In fact, we can give a summary statement for this entire chapter: Our goal as believers is to be heavenly-minded in validation of our status in Christ, by ridding ourselves of natural vices, while adding to our attitudes and actions the virtues of Christ.

There used to be an old, derisive statement about some ostensibly Christian people that “they are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good!”  But Paul’s exhortation is rather:  “Be heavenly-minded in such a Christlike way that you can be so truly earthly good, because you’re living here like the godly citizen you are from over there.”

So, where has your focus been?  Do you have the correct goal of thinking upon the future – that future that actually is already happening today?  Do you realize that this active, applicational perspective has impacts not only for you, but for the entire “company” … the church family?

You might say, “Well, I think I’m doing pretty well with this most of the time. Maybe I’m about 75% of the way there.”  Well, that sounds pretty good. And imagine if 75% of the people in the church family could say that they are 75% of the way toward being serious about their faith and lifestyle values. Sounds decent!

But, think about this. How would you like it right now if only 75% of your bodily organs were working properly?  Hey, it’s only 25% that are asleep or on vacation.  Wow … and we’re worried about a coronavirus scare!  This is worse!  (And I remind you that I’m not the first person to talk about the church family as a body; this guy who wrote to the Colossians used this illustration particularly in another letter to the Corinthians!)

It is easy to put this off, but it is dangerous to do so. Yes, the time has come and passed to begin getting serious about faith and living well in the faith community.  Seriously?  Seriously!

“The Goal of Gaining the Prize” – Philippians 3

It is healthy for us as believers to be introspectively evaluative. This is especially true as we evaluate if we are attuned to walking through our lives with Godly goals.

By way of illustration, we had a rough week in the stock markets last week. And every stock portfolio has issues that are producing, yet those that are languishing. And you want to regularly evaluate what is producing, in order to increase that, while also eliminating and re-depositing your assets into those issues that will bring about gains. Most often, people are managing such portfolios with the goal of retirement resources in mind. This is wisdom at work. So, if you’d do that for the temporal goal of the end of life in this material world, why would you not also apply that diligence toward spiritual disciplines toward goals that are the prize of eternity?

The Apostle Paul said, in one of our verses today, “I press toward the goal to win the prize.”  Is that true of the way you are living?  Is that your goal?  Or are you running just enough to somehow make it to the finish line without any sweat or pain?  Spiritually speaking, are you like one of the athletes we’ll see in the next winter Olympics, or are you more like an occasional snowboarder at Whitetail??

As we go to Philippians 3 today, we get a context from Paul in the first 6 verses, and from that point on the passage leads toward the big idea conclusion at the end.

PHP 3:1 Further, my brothers and sisters, 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. 

The Philippians were people who needed a lot of encouragement, so Paul tells them multiple times to “rejoice.”  Yes, times can be difficult; but even in the worst of circumstances – like writing a letter from prison – there is joy in knowing Christ. And Paul is reminding them over and over about perspectives to have, as well as goals to move forward toward.

3:2 – Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

Some of the problems the Philippians were facing were related to a group of troublemakers that followed Paul everywhere he went, and three descriptors are used of these Judaizers

  • “dogs” – not talking Lassie or Benji here. Rather, these were wild animals that roamed freely and were menacing pests.
  • “evil workers” – The “workers” word is first in the Greek text – thus an emphasis on deeds. They were all about works over faith and belief.
  • “mutilators of the flesh” – Their insistence upon this singular Jewish rite – over and over – was something that had no significance, and took away from proper emphasis. The true circumcision was of the heart … of Christians, with a settled faith in the work of Jesus.

3 marks of true believers

  • “worship by the spirit of God” – A vital spiritual experience is going on within these folks, as the Holy Spirit within is informing their lives.
  • “glory in Christ Jesus” – They understand that any good stuff going on in their lives is due to the life of Christ in them. It is not really to their credit, but to the credit of the one who died for them and now lives in them.
  • “put no confidence in the flesh” – They know what they are made of – flesh, humanity; and it is not the kind of stuff that instills any confidence.

And Paul continues … 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

… If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Paul wanted to make sure that they understood he was not criticizing the Judaizers because they possessed credentials beyond his own and that he was therefore jealous of them. To the contrary … his resume could match that of anyone else!

  • circumcised the 8th day – right on time like a good Jewish boy
  • 100% purebred all-Israeli – of Benjamin, the tribe that included Saul, first king. This was the one tribe to remain true with Judah in the southern kingdom. The Benjamites were a tough little group of people you didn’t want to mess with. And Moses, in his deathbed blessing of the tribes of Israel said of Benjamin … “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”
  • “a Hebrew of Hebrews” – a guy with a wall full of awards!
  • “a Pharisee” – not a bad title like we way think of them, as they were highly respected by the general population in Israel.
  • “zealous” – more than anyone else – standing for the ancient faith and persecuting its enemies beyond any other’s efforts.
  • “legalistic righteousness” (perfection) – He scored an A+ and was faultless.

A summary of Paul’s background: Paul would have grown up with an early Synagogue education, topped off by Gamaliel and graduating magna cum laude. He would have known Hebrew, Greek, and the Septuagint as well (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament). And he could speak the common language of Aramaic. Tarsus was in fact one of the three great “university towns” of that age, along with Athens in Greece and Alexandria in Egypt.

Paul’s advanced education and his commitment to it would lead him to become a Pharisee and member surely of the Sanhedrin. He was on track to become one of the foremost Jewish leaders of his generation.

PHP 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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. 10 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, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

So here now we get to our area of interest, seeing what Paul states to the Philippians as the goals of his life. We can see three things …

  1. to gain the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith
  2. to know Christ and His power in life and sufferings
  3. to attain the eternal life of resurrection after death

These goals of the Apostle Paul deal with the past, present and future.

righteousness – Though a current possession with a future blessing, righteousness was accomplished in the past. This is probably my favorite word that I have shared in preaching the gospel over the years. This is the thing we need, but that we don’t have in ourselves. To understand imputed righteousness is to understand the gospel, to be daily blessed by its reality, and to know how to communicate this greatest truth to others.

power for positive living – There is a present, positive power in life that comes from, even now, possessing eternal life. And yes, sufferings are inevitable; we have them just as Jesus did … and Paul. But Paul even rejoiced in suffering, knowing he was connected to the greatest truth and the ultimate winning team. And he had found that even the treasures and accolades of this world – the stuff he had gained and lost – could in reality be only counted and valued as mere rubbish compared to knowing Christ.

resurrection in the future – somehow – At first glance it seems like Paul is doubting if it will happen. These words here are a bit difficult to translate easily. But the meaning is that Paul is expressing that whether he will be alive and translated at the coming of the Lord, or if his experience will be to meet the Lord at death … by one way or the other, he was looking forward ultimately to eternal life in its fullest sense.

 PHP 3:12 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. 13Brothers, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul says, “I’m not there yet… not perfect yet… I’m experiencing some victories … and I’m pressing on.” And what is it that he wants to lay hold of, that Christ took hold of him?  It must be the life of a relationship with God. Be it past/present/future, it is what life is all about. Seriously? Seriously!

Paul next adds that he knows there is going to be a great prize at the end. And this has become the defining goal that he is moving toward. This is where his eyes were fixed.

It is like when my grandfather would tell me stories of what it was like when he was a boy and was out in the fields of their farm plowing with horses. He told me that you could not let yourself look down or look to the sides. Rather, it was necessary to fix you eyes on an object in the distance, or you would end up plowing a zig-zag.

We could also illustrate it by the woman who is in the Allstate Insurance commercial where “Mayhem” – the scruffy fellow who is pretending to be a 70-pound St. Bernard puppy – is licking her face and tearing apart her purse. But she refuses to take her eyes off the road!

That is the way we need to lead our lives, looking toward the final prize/goal in the distance, affecting the way we live now.

PHP 3:15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

The mature Christian will see things from the viewpoint Paul has articulated. And if he does not understand it all, God will make it clear as he goes along the way.

Following God is like having a perfect GPS that never fails. When we use these devices, we might sometimes doubt them. Our lives are often like the GPS sending us up a mountain on a twisting road through the trees. It sometimes seems like it cannot be correct, but we can trust it, and clarity will come in the end.

Paul next encourages the readers to follow his example, as many others have. But also warns, as many others have not.

PHP 3:17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

This is a different group of people in view here, not the Judaizers. These folks were lawless people who indulged the flesh. The Judaizers were overly bound by the Law, a law which no longer applied in the age of grace. But this second group being spoken of here had fallen off the other side of the wagon into lawlessness and the pursuit of the flesh. The one group insisted upon doing right about something that was wrong, while the latter group insisted on doing wrong about what they should have known was right.

These were alleged believers who were living in such a way as the enemies of the cross. Though they wore the Christian “uniform,” they certainly seemed to be playing for the other side.

  • destiny is destruction – This was their eternal loss of reward.
  • god is their stomach – They satisfied all their appetites that called to them without regard for what might ultimately prove destructive;
  • they glory in things about which they should be ashamed

Paul concludes by returning to the big idea, the big goal, the big prize …

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Do you see the contrast here in these final verses?  There is this one group of people who are ostensibly Christians, but of whom Paul says, “their mind is on earthly things.”  Rather, Paul says that our mind and our gaze (meaning the values of our lives) should be higher and toward another place – our citizenship is in heaven. That is our true home and native land.

So why not live like a citizen of your homeland, rather than like the crazed natives of a country that is doomed for destruction?  Indeed, life in a foreign land is difficult and filled with sorrows and problems, even at its best. Why wait for the weight of sorrows and foolishness to bring you to a point of raising your eyes toward the true reality of heaven? … toward the PRIZE?  Why not start early in life, or if it is not early in your life, why not start now – whatever your age – to look to heaven and look and move toward the prize?

Look to the PRIZE!  Move toward the call of Christ… of knowing Him … of walking with Him. Seriously?? It’s come to that?  Seriously, yes!