I remember sitting in the stands at a high school track meet watching a fellow track mate run her hurdle race. She hit just about every hurdle and tumbled on the ground, scratching open her knees. But she didn’t not stop. She finished the race, bloody knees and all. I thought of her as I was reading through Philippians 3. She didn’t quit her race because of minor setbacks. She kept going until she completed the race. Her example reminds me of Paul’s words regarding a spiritual race in Philippians 3:12. He says,
“ Not that I have already attained,[a] or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have [b]apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” I am not sure what motivated my classmate to finish her race that day. But in Philippians, we can know what motivated Paul to finish his Christian race. His focus. He focused on “one thing.” What was that one thing? Well, we know it wasn’t his earthly accomplishments. In fact, he includes his earthly resume in this chapter for us. He was: He was circumcised on the eight day He was of the stock of Israel He was of the tribe of Benjamin He was a Hebrew of Hebrews He was a Pharisee He persecuted the church He was blameless when it came to upholding the old law He had every reason to find comfort in his earthly successes. Instead, he counted them as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. I believe it was his focus on “the upward call in Christ Jesus” (vs 14). And I believe this chapter shows us a singular focus on our call can only happen when we forget the past, face the future, and focus on God. Let’s dig a bit deeper:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul shows us the importance of forgetting the past:
“…Forgetting what is behind…” (v. 13). Let’s take a minute to focus on who is writing these words. Paul! He killed and imprisoned Christians. If he can move forward through Jesus, so can we. While I believe it is important to look to the past to learn from it, it is so important not to dwell in it. We have to give our past to Jesus. There are two things we must forget from our yesterdays: our defeats and our victories. When it comes to our defeats, we have to forget our injuries and wounds and let God heal us of those hurts. We also have to put ourselves under the forgiveness of God and forgive ourselves. The devil is the Accuser. He will always bring up our past mistakes. He is out to steal, kill, and destroy us. However, it you have obeyed the gospel, have confessed it and repented of it, stop letting the accusation of the enemy keep you from victory. When it comes to our victories, we cannot become boastful in them. Paul counted his earthly victories as “rubbish” compared to his calling Christ. Next, Paul shows the importance of facing the future:
“…and straining toward what is ahead…” (v. 13). When I read this phrase, I think of my classmate, running towards the finish line. She didn’t focus on falling, or let her wounds stop her, she completed the race. Sometimes our focus can become blurred. Sometimes when we are injured or overwhelmed, we are paralyzed into a state of inaction. But it is so important to face the future and get going. Paul said he strained forward, in other translations, “press on” is used.
He pressed toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul focused on one thing and would not let those things which are behind distract him from it. He pressed on for the prize. What prize? The call to reach Heaven. If we are not careful, we will let those things which are behind distract us from the call, whether they be good things or bad things. Looking at what is in the past often keeps us from what God has for us in the future.
I read once, "It is a deception to live either in the past or in the future; God wants us to press on in the present, because the present is where eternity touches us now. He knew that a race is won only in the present moment, not in the past or in the future." Paul called the Philippians to adopt his attitude in the next few verses. He writes, “There let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example…” We are called to follow his example. Are we following it? To close, I wanted to briefly discuss and inspiring story I once read. It was of a preacher who had a personalized license plate that said, “Be there.” The reason he had this license plate was because he had always taught his children and his grandchildren that the most important thing in life is to go to heaven. He taught them it was more important than winning any sport they would play, it was more important than choosing the right college or landing the best job. He taught them it was more important than anything.
And so they had a kind of a code for this idea. They raised their thumb in the air and they said to each other, "Be there."
Even as they were heading to bed, they would say, “goodnight, remember to be there." In their minds, this meant, “when Jesus comes for us in death or at the end of the world, I want to be there in heaven with him, and I want you to be there, too.” That is the idea that he was getting across to his children and to his grandchildren. He knew he wasn't a perfect person, but one behavior that he was absolutely positive was that he wanted to go to heaven and he wanted to do anything he knew how to do to guarantee that he was on the right track to go to heaven. And so he was saying, "I'm going to heaven, "and I'm following the Bible's path to get there, "and I want you to be there with me, too." He had earned many honors and awards and all kinds of stuff, yet he never talked about that. All he talked about was going to heaven and how to get there. Ladies, as we examine our focus, our conduct, our attitude, and our obedience to the gospel, I have one question, if Jesus came for us tonight, would you be there? It's a yes or no reply.
There's no middle here. It's yes, I would be there, or no. So if your answer is no, then my encouragement to you is do what you need to do. Whether it be work on your focus, or repent of a sin that is hindering you. It may be different for every person here, but do what you need to do as soon as you can so that you can be there when the Lord comes for you, and one day he's going to come for every single one of us, some at a much later date in life and others when we least expect it. Be there.