This was my last sermon this summer here in Death Valley, CA. In two weeks I go back home. It’s been a trip!
Straining Toward the Goal
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.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:1-21 ESV
Sometimes we wonder what our goal should be in life. We live our lives looking for our “calling,” hoping that we will find it. We pray to God and ask him what we should do with our lives. We search, and we wonder. “Do I marry this man?” “Do I move to that city?” “Which job offer do I take?” How can we know what to do? Does God have a plan for me? What am I striving for?
The answer is simple. Look at verse 14: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s break down what the apostle Paul is saying here. At the beginning of the verse Paul says that he “presses on,” meaning that he keeps going, he keeps striving, he keeps working, he keeps trying. But towards what? The goal. And what is the goal? The prize. And what is the prize? The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Now, what does that mean? We know that Christ has ascended into heaven. That is where he is. Although we have the Holy Spirit now, the real prize is that we get to go upwards into heaven to be with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. That’s a pretty incredible prize.
Jesus Christ is the most amazing person you will ever meet. He did all kinds of things you wouldn’t believe. He turned water into wine. He gave sight to the blind. People who couldn’t walk, were healed to walk once again. The paralyzed regained use of their limbs. He walked on water. He calmed the storms. He even brought people out of death and back to life. He could be stern. And he could be angry, but he also laughs. And he also cries. He feels so much sorrow, and yet is still so joyful. But then he died. He gave himself up to death. His sacrifice of himself was for us. He was the perfect, sinless man. His death means that all of us who come to him are absolved of our transgressions. The way that he died, all of us were supposed to get that same punishment. But because he gave himself, and we believe in him, we no longer have to suffer that. And this man who did all of this, we get to spend eternity with him. That’s the prize. That’s the prize that we strive for. That is the goal.
With our prize in mind, let’s look back again at the beginning of the verse. “I press on toward the goal of the prize…” It’s easy to see here what needs to be done. The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon had an analogy for this striving for the prize. He said, “The Savior held the same place in Paul’s esteem as the crown did in the esteem of the runner at the Olympic games. To gain that crown, the competitor strained every nerve and sinew, feeling as though he were content to drop down dead at the goal in order to win it.” Barne’s Notes on the Bible stresses that the prize, “demands his highest efforts, and it is worth all the exertions which a mortal can make even in the longest life.”
Now we have to ask, what kind of striving and effort do we put in? A runner will practice running, she will cross-train, she will keep up a healthy diet, she will get proper rest, she will alter her entire lifestyle to revolve around that prize. It’s worth that much. Imagine then that our prize is Jesus Christ. How much more is this prize worth? And what must we do? Thankfully the instruction is also rather simple. In Philippians 2 verse 3 to 4, Paul writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” So, Imitate Christ like he humbled himself while he was on earth. In all things as well, strive to imitate Christ.
Verses 20-21 say, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” When we press on to imitate Christ in our earthly lives, Jesus will transform us and bring us to himself. As followers of Christ, we are citizens of heaven. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “We live because he lives, and never is our life more joyous than when we look most steadily to him.” 3:20-21
When you wonder what God has in store for your life, forget about worrying whether you’re working in the right position in the right place with the right person. Forget about worrying about your next meal, or about your next house or apartment. Remember that your home is in heaven with Jesus. Let this be a comfort to you. Your purpose is to be more like Christ.