As I mentioned in the last podcast, the goals in Paul’s life had changed dramatically over his 60+ years. No longer did he seek to be top dog Pharisee anymore but to live as Christ—to know Him, to understand the real impact of His resurrection, to share in HIs sufferings, to face death as purposefully as did Jesus, to be resurrected from the state of death and given a new, sinless body. All of this is Paul’s new definition of life.
It had been 30 years since he started this spiritual journey. If you have studied Paul’s life, you have seen that he had ups and downs, many battles to face.
But, Paul pursued the Christian life with the enthusiasm and persistence of a runner in the Greek games. And that’s the context of today’s passage. Running the course. To Paul, to live is That means to live as Christ. The Christian life is like running a marathon on a designated course but with Christ in you directing the run.
Are you a runner now, or have you been in the past? Paul used the analogy of running a race in several of his writings. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, he talks about running the race with enough effort to win it. In 2 Timothy, he talks about finishing the race well and getting the prize.
Let’s look at what he says in Philippians chapter 3:
“Brothers 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. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)
So, let’s explore what Paul is doing as he forgets, strains, and presses onward. What is the course? What is the finish? What is the purpose of running it? What gets us off the course? How do we stay on the course? And, what is the prize?
What is the course?
The course is your life as a believer. It is whatever personal course God has given to you. It is different for each person and contains the idea of stewardship—managing the things that God has placed in your care. That would be yourself, your relationships, your work, your money, your possessions, your talents, your skills, and your vocal ability to communicate. Some of it may be what you are given at birth for which you can take no credit—your genetics, place of birth, birth family. Be sure to include the spiritual gifts God gave you at the moment of your salvation. Your course to run includes all of this. Write down your list. Then, if you have a start, you have to have a finish.
What is the finish?
The finish line for the believer is our physical death. Only God knows when that will be for sure. In 2 Timothy, Paul said he has finished the race because he knew he would die soon. Throughout Philippians, we have seen that Paul was ready to face physical death and pass from death into life with Jesus. He reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven not here on earth and that we should all be eagerly awaiting our Savior’s coming for us—whether in life through the Rapture or at our last breath. That is the finish for our earthly race.
What is the purpose of running this race?
Well, it is to live as Christ. By faith in Him. To know Him and love Him and be faithful in whatever He gives us to do. We are here on earth although our citizenship is in heaven. While here, we are to be living a life of faith—daily. I’ve already mentioned how we are the visible representatives of God on earth. We glorify Him in our lives. And, our lives should actually be Christ living His life through us. To live as Christ.
What gets us off the course?
Not forgetting what lies behind can get us off course. Dwelling in past mistakes. I wallow in past regrets at times. Paul said he had to forget his past. In 1 Timothy chapter 1, he agreed with God that his past behavior was horrid before knowing Christ. Then, he said that he was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief. God poured our His grace on him abundantly. Then, in verse 6 he says this,
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
He could forget the past because Christ redeemed it for His glory. You can forget your past, too. Christ has redeemed it for His glory.
Lack of discernment can lead to reliance on false teaching and bad counsel. Straying away from the truth of knowing Christ well leaves you vulnerable to being swayed by every philosophy that comes your way. Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11 is for having discernment to recognize truth from error. My podcasts on the book of Colossians cover a lot of these false teachings.
Being caught up in the materialism of our society. Taking our eyes off Jesus and what we have in Him. Then, we fall into self-pity. Life is not static. One thing I’ve learned is not to count on next year being like this year or the past one. As we mature physically, our bodies change. So do our emotions, priorities, and aspirations. What you consider to be important in your 20’s is replaced by other attitudes and needs in your 30’s and 40’s. And, certainly in your 60’s.
Our circumstances have continually changed. We have been self-employed, worked for the government, worked in Christian ministry, lived on missionary support, or lived on no income at all. We have lived in places we’ve loved and places we hated. Our parents have gone through illness and death. At times, we were both content; other times, one of us has been very discontented about life. Yet the overall resolve of my life is to keep the faith—to know Him—to become like Christ.
Perfectionist tendencies can get us off course. Do you have those? That tendency ruled my life for 19 years. Like Paul, I pursued the highest standards of behavior, achievements, and awards, just for the thrill of being the best. 4.0 in high school, cried if I made a B. Won awards in many areas. Felt I had to be perfect to win the approval of my parents and God. Then I met Jesus.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to be perfect anymore. My grades slipped as I spent more time in Bible Study and discipleship. I began the race. I began pursuing Christlikeness. And like Paul, I counted those former achievements and the previous goal of my life to be rubbish in comparison to the love, joy, and peace I finally came to know in Christ. I saw that my character was sinful. An infinite number of awards and achievements could never make up for it. The greatest burden lifted from my shoulders was finding out I didn’t have to be perfect to please God. Jesus already did that for me. Now, I wanted to be like Jesus—I was on the course, off and running. For many years now, I have been striving to keep the faith in whatever God has asked of me. I want to be the woman of God, not the woman of the world. I don’t want to be described only by what I have done in my career, the eyes of the world.
We need to recognize those things that get us off course and stop doing them. Give them up! Release them!
How do we stay on course?
We have learned from Philippians that the responsibility of working in our lives rests upon our shoulders alone. Right?? No! We have learned that it is God who is working in us. He started it, He is working now, and He will complete it. He does the working to make us like Christ because it gives Him pleasure.
God knows what we’re going through, He can get us through it and back on course if we only ask. We need to respond to Him by faith.
We should make it our goal to know Him as Paul did. Recognize Christ in every area of our lives. This leads me to one of my favorite topics—truth. When I became a believer, I realized that all the knowledge I was striving for through academics was meaningless and could be detrimental to my Christian growth if it did not come from God. I heard someone say that we have a tendency to take man’s wisdom over God’s wisdom on a daily basis without even knowing that we are doing it.
Truth is very important to me. After becoming a believer, I desired to know God’s truth on every subject—science, history, and literature. I determined early on that our children should not waste their minds learning rubbish from a secular view point that totally leaves out God but should learn truth from the viewpoint of God’s intimate dealings with mankind. To study from the Christian world view not the secular worldview. Not glorifying man but recognizing God’s dealings with man throughout history and man’s response to God. That’s what history really is. God’s dealings with man, man’s response to God, and the consequences of those responses. The Scripture continually refers to history as a teaching tool—see what God did, see how the people responded and the consequences, see what God does for them again, and see how they respond.
Consider God’s Word faithful, test it out. You will not be disappointed.
What is the prize?
Pressing on to the goal. That’s what Paul says he is doing and that we should do. The goal is the object at the end of the course on which the runner fixes her gaze. For us, that is knowing Jesus Christ.
The prize is given to everyone crossing the goal line. This is not about salvation here. All Christians get salvation. It’s not the Rapture, either.
The prize is given for the pursuit of knowing Christ and for living as Christ. We don’t know what the prizes are but we do know they will be good because they’ll be given by a good God. Paul would only reach that goal when he entered the Lord’s presence and saw Him face-to-face. Any reward comes to us at that time.
Rewards are usually mentioned in Scripture in the context of either persecution or a long hard time of service that goes unrecognized. Paul mentioned a crown of righteousness in 2 Timothy. Not only for him, but also for all who have longed for His appearing—the faithful ones. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul tells us that our reward will be a crown that will last forever. We also see the same thing in I Peter 1. It will be imperishable, be undefiled, will not fade away, and is reserved in heaven for us.
We are not responsible for the prize—that’s God—He determines what is given to each believer. We are responsible for running the course, staying true to the course and being faithful all the way to the time when we cross the finish line. We are not in competition with anyone else. It is our own personal course.
Our being in heaven would be reward enough. But for the time being, Paul exhorts the Philippians and us to live up to what we already have—a righteous position in Christ. He exhorts us to forget the past and stretch forward to the future as a runner leaning forward to reach that goal. What goal? To know Christ and to live as Christ. How? By following the upward call which is our own personal course to run. And the prize will be there when we cross the finish line—physical death—after which we experience spiritual eternity, bliss, joy, and contentment... Now, we want to glorify God—do what He has created me to do on earth. Then we will enjoy Him forever—that’s doing what He created us for then.
Want to have joy in your life?
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the fullness of His joy. Then, live in that joy!
Until next time, I’m Melanie Newton. And, this is Series 5 of Satisfied.