Summary: Many Christians begin with zeal, but get sidetracked along the way. Some are distracted with career ambitions. Others let hobbies or other interests take more and more time. The most heartbreaking is when someone is sidetracked by a false doctrine. Message expounds Philippians 3:15-21.
In our study of Philippians, we find ourselves in the last seven verses of chapter 3. In the verses just prior to this text Paul introduced the metaphor of running a race like they run in the Olympics. His instruction there was that we keep our focus on the finish line; we do not look back; we run diligently to win the prize before us. The prize is Christ. The prize is knowing Christ more and more deeply.
In our text today Paul gives further instruction for running that race. Here he emphasizes staying on course. To win, a runner must stay on course. He must not get off track. He must not veer from his lane. In keeping with that theme, I have entitled this message “Staying on Track.”
Over the years I have seen many people begin their race with zeal, only to get side-traced somewhere along the way.i Some got diverted by some worldly pleasure or personal ambition.ii Others were sidetracked by a false doctrine.
There are numerous things that can capture the Christian’s attention and rob him of the prize. I listened to a celebrity whose name is well-known by everybody here. In his late teens he was gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit. He characterized it as “a once in a life-time experience.” He never rejected that experience. In fact, now in his later years he is publicly affirming it. But he does indicate that he didn’t always keep that relationship with God central in his life. For many years his time and energy were largely consumed with acting. And he was very successful doing that. We can get side-tracked by a career, and the more successful we are, the more tempted we are to invest more in the endeavor. I praise God that this famous person has the courage to publicly testify about his experience with God. That’s not easy to do in the Hollywood environment. His name is Denzel Washington, and you can hear his testimony on YouTube.iii
I’ve known people who got sidetracked with some hobby that just took more and more of their time and energy. One gifted man I knew loved to race motorcycles. He was very good at it. He won many trophies. But it kept him out of church on the weekends. He knew the Lord but that hobby took much more of his time and attention than running the race Paul is talking about in Philippians 3. I have no doubt that I will see him in heaven. But the issue is “what might have been.” I wonder what God would have done through that man had he not gotten sidetracked. It doesn’t have to be an evil thing. Just getting the priorities wrong can do it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God. We must make our pursuit of God number one. Anything thing short of that can take us off course.
The most heartbreaking diversions I’ve seen, come when someone is deceived by a false teaching. That does not happen overnight, and there is always more involved than just an intellectual misunderstanding. Deception is more of a heart issue than an intellectual issue. That’s why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart. . . .”iv
Spiritual pride is often the prelude to doctrinal deception. It’s hard to help a person who is deluded with a false doctrine. The pride that accompanies the deception often causes him to think he knows more than the person trying to correct them. I knew a couple in one church I attended who decided they were already in a glorified state of perfection. I saw no glory emanating from their bodies. I was surprised that anybody could come to that conclusion. But nobody could persuade them otherwise, even though Scripture and practical experience confirm it is not true. They felt they were specially chosen by God to receive this revelation. They felt they had “higher knowledge” than the pastor and other leaders. The deception shipwrecked people’s lives.
Paul does three things in our text that can help Christians stay on track.v I believe they are particularly important in the times in which we live today.vi
(1) He calls people to embrace what he has said in this chapter (vs 15-17).
(2) He cautions Christians against teachers who might mislead them (vs 18-19).
(3) He confirms the Christian’s destiny in Christ as a focus for their lives (vs 20-21).
I. Paul’s CALL for agreement with what he has said prior to this:
Phil. 3:15-17: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”