Summary: Press On Toward the Goal 1) Conscious of your limitations 2) Confident in your Lord (Sermon theme and parts by Armin J. Panning)
4,000 steps (3 km). That’s the average number of strides one takes during the course of a day (www.feetforlife.org). Over a year you will take 1.46 million steps. How many steps have you taken so far in your lifetime? It might be interesting to calculate that number but what is more important than figuring out how many steps you have taken is to think about how many steps you have left. Just as a marathon runner doesn’t take time at the water station to glory in the kilometres he’s covered but grits his teeth in determination as he thinks about how many kilometres he has left, so the Holy Spirit urges Christians to press on toward the goal of heaven. We will do so conscious of our limitations, yet confident in our Lord.
Just because you like to run around the playground or basketball court doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to breeze through a marathon. Those who think so will quickly tire and finish poorly, if at all. Paul tells us that as we press on toward the goal of heaven we need to do so conscious of our limitations. We are not to think that this is a race we can run on our own. If we do, we won’t just finish poorly; we won’t finish at all.
Paul knew what he was talking about for he had once tried to reach heaven on his own and by all accounts was doing better than most people. Paul told the Philippian Christians: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6).
In the same way we could perhaps brag that from the time we were baptized we’ve been coming to church. We could point to all the Bible passages that we’ve memorized, the Sunday School classes we’ve taught, the money we’ve given to the church, and the offices we’ve held. But Paul warns us not to take pride in these things and think that because of them we are well on our way to heaven. In spite of his outward righteousness Paul learned to say: “7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ… I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:7-9).
Rubbish! Trash! Dung! That’s what Paul thought of his past attempts to get close to God. Are our attempts to get close to God really that bad? Sure. Take an honest look at your “good” deeds. For example you may do chores around the house but how often do you do them willingly and joyfully? You may have committed many Bible verses to memory when in confirmation class but how much prodding did it take from Mom and Dad? How many church meetings have you attended out of sense of duty rather than pure joy at having been given the privilege to plan and execute God’s work? Instead of bragging about our accomplishments we should be distancing ourselves from them like cargo that’s going to sink the ship if we don’t throw it overboard. Yes, press on toward the goal of heaven, but do so conscious of your limitations!
Although his past attempts to get to heaven were nothing more than trash, Paul was still upbeat about his salvation because he knew that it did not depend on him; it depended on Jesus. Paul said in our text, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me...14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12b, 14).
The Japanese are fond of staging long distance relay races. One such race even goes up Mt. Fuji and back. To ensure their team the best chance of winning, many Japanese universities recruit athletes from African countries famous for their long distance runners. In a sense, Jesus was “recruited” by God the Father to run for Team Humanity. He became a member of our team when he was born of the Virgin Mary. But Jesus wasn’t sent to help us get to heaven by anchoring the last leg of the race after we had done our part. No, he ran the whole race without any help from us. We couldn’t give Jesus any help because sin so incapacitated us that it was as if every bone in our body had been shattered so that we couldn’t even army crawl a centimeter of the race. On the other hand Jesus ran the whole race never stopping or stumbling once. And although he won the race without any help from us, we still share in the prize because he is on our team. It’s just like when every member of a gold-medal winning hockey team receives a medal even though not every member may have played in the winning game.