Summary: The Christian life is a marathon in which knowing Jesus is the goal and being one with him is the prize.
Long Distance Runner
Text: Phil. 3:12-14
1. Illustration: Runner’s World (8/91) told the story of Beth Anne DeGiantis’s attempt to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Trials marathon. A female runner must complete the 26 mile, 385 yard race in less than two hours, forty-five minutes in order to compete in the Olympic Trials. Beth started strong but began having trouble around mile 23. She reached the final straightaway at 2:43, with just two minutes left to qualify. Two hundred yards from the finish, she stumbled and fell. Dazed, she stayed down for twenty seconds. The crowd yelled, "Get up!" The clock was ticking--2:44, less than a minute to go. Beth Anne staggered to her feet and began walking. Five yards short of the finish, with ten seconds to go, she fell again. She began to crawl, the crowd cheering her on, and crossed the finish line on her hands and knees. Her time? Two hours, 44 minutes, 57 seconds.
2. Scripture frequently, and particularly Paul, describes our walk of faith as a race. But in that race there are some questions we need to answer.
a. What's the goal?
b. What's the prize?
c. What kind of race is it?
d. What are the challenges?
3. Sometimes we feel like Beth Anne and we're crawling to the finish line.
a. We fall and can't seem to get up.
b. Sometimes we fall more than once and feel like we'll never finish the race.
4. However, Paul gives us two things to focus on...
a. Reaching Towards The Goal
b. Getting Rid Of Distractions
5. Let's all stand together as we read Phil. 3:12-14.
Proposition: The Christian life is a marathon in which knowing Jesus is the goal and being one with him is the prize.
Transition: First Paul tells us...
I. Reaching Towards The Goal (12).
A. I Press On
1. In a race we need to know what is the goal of the race. In all races the goal is the finish line and the objective is to get there ahead of everyone else.
a. In a track race it requires being the one to break the tape.
b. In a car race it means being the one to take the checkered flag.
c. But in the race of faith what is the goal?
2. Look at what Paul says in the beginning of v. 12. "I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection..."
a. The "I don't mean to say" which begins this sentence is an idiom that qualifies something previously said so that readers will not draw the wrong assumption.
b. Along with the repeated adverb "already" Paul offers a twin disclaimer ”what not to infer about the already present future.
c. The disclaimers emphasize that despite present realization of "the power of his resurrection" and "sharing in his sufferings,"
d. Paul has not yet reached the final goal. He has not "already reached it, nor has he "already" arrived at the goal.
e. What he has obviously not "reached" is that which he is pressing on "to posses" which verse 14 makes clear is the final goal.
f. Thus he adds, "already reached perfection." There is a sense, of course, in which perfection does happen at the end; but the root of this verb has the primary sense of "goal" or "aim," before it takes on secondary senses of "perfect, complete, fulfill, mature."
g. Nothing in context implies that perfection is an issue. Since that English word conjures up all kinds of wrong connotations here, and since everything in these final sentences indicates that the heavenly prize is what Paul is pursuing with such vigor, the verb here almost certainly carries its primary sense of "reach the goal."
3. The second half of v. 12 gives us a better idea of what our goal is when it says, "...But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me."
a. Since Paul has not yet "reached perfection" he does what he wants the Philippians to do, press on to "possess ("seize") "that for which Christ Jesus first possessed me."
b. With this wonderful wordplay he moves from not already "reached" to yet "posses" the very thing/one who "took hold of" him.
c. He will go on in the next sentence to elaborate what his own "possessing" means.
d. In context the next phrase, "that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me" points back at least to verses 8-9 (being "found in Christ" and thus having a righteousness that comes from God); but in terms of his own story, and especially the use of this strong verb, he probably intends them to hear echoes of the Damascus Road as well.
e. A good dose of memory about one's beginnings in Christ can serve as the proper shot of adrenaline for the continuing race (Fee, IVPNT).