Summary: A new year’s challenge to faithfulness

As many of you know, I don’t follow sports teams closely. And football is not my favorite sport, but I do try to find out who is playing in some of the bowls on New Year’s weekend. This year I heard that Ohio State would play in the Fiesta Bowl, not in the Rosebowl where they would like to have played. They lost 2 games this past season so they ended up in 7th place playing Kansas State. But that was better than what happened 4 years ago when they didn’t even make it to a bowl play off.

What has happened since that low point? According to Jim Naveau in the Lima News, the team has changed its image and its attitude. It has gone from a team that couldn’t win to one that expected to win. One of the players said, “We’ve made the standards so high that not playing for a national championship is looked at as disappointing. Expectations have been raised. Winning the national championship is a realistic goal every year.” Those players have learned what it takes to be on the winning team.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he urged them toward “the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” He wanted them to be on the winning team.

The image he used was not that of a football game, but that of a race, possibly a foot race. You can see in your minds’ eye the runner, feet pounding the track, leaning into the wind, going flat out for the tape across the finish line. That is the way Paul wanted the Philippian church to run. And that is the way we are to run.

If we are going to press on, there are three things we need to do. First, we need to look forward. Those of you in sports understand that you must look forward toward the goal, not behind you to see who is coming. You know that you can’t waste time or energy looking back. You must keep your eyes on the prize. You know that just because you won the last race doesn’t mean you will win this one. You can’t rest on your accomplishments.

Paul wanted the Philippian church to under-stand that followers of Christ must forget what they have done and remember only what they have to do. Paul’s words here are all goal oriented. “I press on.” “Strain forward.” The references to the past are just that – things to let go of, to release.

Some people get stuck in the past. Maybe they have achieved well and because they have done better than someone else they aren’t motivated to go beyond that.

Warren Wiersbe (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2) tells the story of Harry, a salesman who came out of the manager’s office with a dismal look on his face.

“You didn’t get fired, did you?” the secretary asked.

“No, it’s not that bad. But he sure did lay into me about my sales record. I’ve brought in lots of orders. I thought he would compliment me, but instead he told me to get with it.”

Later the secretary talked to the boss about Harry. He chuckled and said, “Harry is one of our best salesmen and I’d hate to lose him. But he has a tendency to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with his performance. If I didn’t get him mad at me once a month, he’d never produce.”

Some Christians compare themselves with others and stop trying. They think they are good enough. Paul compares himself with Christ. He knows he has not yet arrived at complete maturity. “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal,” he says.

Some churches get satisfied with themselves, too. Maybe they have celebrated their centennial. Maybe they have welcomed new members or installed a new bathroom or sent a bunch of kids to camp. Does that mean they have achieved all that God wants them to? Paul wanted the Philippians to know that they needed to press on. They couldn’t rest on what they had done, no matter how good it was, and neither can we.

Some people get hung up on their past failures and bad experiences. Maybe a relationship has gone sour. Maybe their finances have gone down the tube. Maybe they have made bad choices and they have trouble forgiving others or forgiving themselves.

The wonderful thing about God is that he is the God of a second chance. What happened yesterday doesn’t have to determine what happens tomorrow. If Paul had dwelt on what he used to be, he would never have become what he was.

If this congregation only considered where we have been rather than what we can become, some of you might not be here today. All of us have experienced discouragement. We pass out flyers and no one responds. We see opportunities but we don’t have the resources to take them on. But you know what? God’s adequacy is more important than our inadequacies. And we press on toward the goal that Christ has placed in front of us.

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