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 …
- to gain the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith
- to know Christ and His power in life and sufferings
- 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!