Summary: God enables the growth which obtains the prize.
Some say that you know you are old when you quit looking forward and only look back. Maybe some truth hides in that slogan? As we grow older, we do reminisce more about the past and become less interested in changing for the future.
This is one reason dying congregations rarely turn around and why almost all evangelism in our country occurs in churches that have been planted less than five years. Christians seem to “grow old” quickly and become disinterested in the work necessary to reach out and enfold new believers.
The Apostle Paul refused to accept “spiritual” old age. His life and teaching warn us against spending too much time looking back on past successes and too little effort growing and changing for future ministry.
[Read Philippians 3.12-16. Pray.]
Prince Hamlet’s indecision is a main theme in Shakespeare’s tragedy: “so much emotion and so little action.” In the 1948 movie, Laurence Olivier plays the title role and the narrator introduces Hamlet by saying, “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.” Someone called him, “the hero of hesitation.”
Brett Favre returned to Vikings’ Training Camp this week. One of my favorite lines in the excess of reporting called Brett, “Hamlet in a Helmet.”
Regardless of what you think of Favre or NFL Football or the Vikings organization, two things were said in relation to Favre’s return that are absolutely relevant to today’s text.
First, a Minneapolis reporter wrote: “It seems there is only one decision he is capable of sticking
with since he started flirting with retirement about eight years ago: Once he commits to a football season, he is all in.” All in—no one questions his dedication. Yes, he hesitates badly, but when he resolves to play, he gives 100%. He is all in.
Second, at his press conference, Favre clearly stated his goal in returning: “Whatever it takes for us to win. The bottom line is winning. I’m not here to set any records…. I’ve done it all. There’s nothing left for me to prove. I’m here to have fun and help these guys win.”
All in, and all in to win. That passion marks serious athletes. And the Apostle Paul must have enjoyed athletic competition as much as we do, because he used these images or metaphors to explain the Christian life.
1Corinthians 9.24-26: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
Whether running, or boxing, or football, serious athletes are all in, and all in to win. And God insists that the same attitude and effort characterize the serious Christian. We must ask, “Is that true of us?”
Are we even in the race? Sometimes people drop out—sins tangle and trip us, distractions take us off the path, fears turn us away. Are we in the race?
If we are in, are we all in? Is our commitment to the life of faith one we are fully dedicated to? A lot of professing Christians enter the race half-heartedly, not to receive the prize. If the fight grows too fierce or the demands too difficult, we may give up. If we are in, are we all in, in to the end?
Are we in to win? People get discouraged in a marathon and slow to a walk. Are we pressing on, pursuing the prize, putting in the effort required to win? Or have we settled for shuffling our feet until the race is over and we can stop for good?
Paul was old, weary, beaten, mistreated, and now even imprisoned. Surely it is time to slow down, or turn aside, or even quit. Yet he writes: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. My eye is on the prize and I refuse to be turned aside!”
How do we keep pressing on when we would rather give up? Jesus warned that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.62). How do we prevent the temptation to turn back from entangling us? I see here six principles for remaining in the race.
1. We Find Reason to Press On In Our Imperfections (Philippians 3.12a)
To a congregation divided by pride, Paul, the premier pastor and church planter, the best known missionary, the writer of the majority of the New Testament, the last and greatest apostle—Paul points to his imperfections. He says to us, “Yes, the true Christian is a new creation, a child of God, a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we are justified and our glorification is secure. We have power for victory over sin and the promise of sanctification. But I do not yet completely know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. So I press on; I pursue Christ; like a runner, I stretch toward the finish line. I have been at this more than twenty-five years, but in this life, none arrives.”