Summary: Christians are never, ever truly defeated
“Eyes on the Prize”
Text: Philippians 3:13, 14: “…but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in God in Christ Jesus.” (Written by the Apostle Paul from a jail in Rome)
The Apostle wrote this letter from prison knowing that his head was almost certainly going to end up on Nero’s chopping block, yet he still says: “I have more to look forward to.” He is saying, “All those things that have happened to me in the past are gone – they’re over and done with; I’m about looking forward to what’s ahead.” The Lord Jesus had set him on a great adventure, and it wasn’t over yet, and he was looking forward, not backward. He remembered that Jesus said, “He who puts his hand to the plow, and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.”
He was making the point that Christianity is about activity and it’s forward-looking. Look at the words he uses: “reaching forth; I press toward.” He is reminding us that Christianity is a pressing way.
Paul also often used sports analogies in his writings: such as, wrestling (we wrestle not against flesh and blood; in Ephesians); boxing (I have fought a good fight; in Timothy) and running (run with patience the race set before us; in Hebrews). In our text he was writing to the church that he founded in Philippi, which was in Greece. He says he is pressing toward the mark for the prize that comes for victory. That word “press” is from the Greek: “dioko” and means “to pursue; to follow after.” The prize he is pursuing is “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul, being well-versed in history and obviously a sports fan, knew this sports metaphor would be familiar to these Greek Church members. The following illustration is from the website: Olympic Legacy.com.
“It is impossible to overstate the glory of being an Olympic victor in antiquity. An Olympic victory was the highest honor for a mortal to attain and Olympic victors shared in the divine splendor and immortal fame of the first mythical heroes. The winner’s crown was made from an olive branch. This crown was a symbolic and sacred honor and was believed to transfer mystical powers to the athlete.
The crowns were displayed on a gold and ivory table, and the senior judge crowned each victor while the onlookers tossed petals. Then the winners would be celebrated at a grand feast. With this reminder of the earthly glory attained by the winner at an Olympic Game, Paul was saying, that the Christian’s prize is much greater than anything this world might afford. Our prize is union with Christ, and being seated with Him and in Him at the right hand of God the Father.
Paul said that even though he was under house arrest, waiting on a trial, it was all in the Lord’s will. He said in Chapter 1, verses 12, 13: “I want you to understand brethren that the things which have happened to me, have only served to advance the gospel; so that it has become known throughout the whole Imperial Guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” From the outward appearance, things didn’t look good for Paul; in fact, from a natural standpoint, everything looked pretty bleak.
But Paul had a clear understanding of the truth God had given him for the Church at Rome, that “All things work together for the good, for those that love God, for the called according to His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28), and this too, he believed, God would work for his good and God’s glory. And it did. Tradition tells us that Paul did end up on Nero’s chopping block and had his head cut off, but as a result of his life and the letters God inspired him to write, untold multitudes of people down through the ages have been blessed, instructed, edified, strengthened and encouraged through his blessed and famous words.
What God was saying through him was that this life and the material things it offers are not the prize – Jesus is the prize. He was saying: keep your eyes on the prize. He was saying, that even with all the obstacles life throws at us, we must always remember what it is that keeps us motivated, and what our final outcome is to be. And always remember that NOTHING happens to a Christian unless God ordains it or permits it. Our Lord is directing the affairs of our life. We ARE NOT the victims of happenstance and chance. We ARE NEVER victims of cruel, blind fate. Our loving heavenly Father is directing all the affairs of our life.