Summary: This passage reveals the character and attitude of Paul in at least two ways that, if we will follow his example, will allow us to be the kind of people who run the race well.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:4b-14 (NRSVA)
Paul the apostle considered himself in a race. This was not your average Annual Church picnic three-legged race at the park. Paul’s race was the life he was living. Particularly, it was the life he was living for Christ.
Paul did what you’re supposed to do when you are about to run the most important race of your life – he considered all his resources, all the requirements and all the rewards.
Preparing for a race is a hard thing. Lance Armstrong cycles many hours a week to fine-tune his body for competition. Pit crews practice the minutest details of their operation to give guys like Earnhardt, Wallace and others an edge in the race. Racehorses are treated like crown princes. Preparing well for the big-time is hard work!
Paul prepared hard for life. He took the blue-blooded pedigree to which he was born and added years of study, social-climbing and exhausting work, fueled by an insatiable desire to be the best. Then, one day Paul bumped into reality; he was racing the wrong way!
It was the day Paul met Jesus. Suddenly all the hard work, family pedigree and enthusiasm seemed so much a wrong fit for this life’s race. This hard-driving, church-persecuting Pharisee who had been born “Saul” became a person that didn’t fit anywhere he looked. The old life was definitely out, but how could he join-in with the church, these Christians he had been persecuting. And yet, he knew instinctively that there was still a race to run. He just wondered what to do about living.
God showed Paul that his life’s direction was going to change abruptly. There was still a race; it was just time for Paul to suit-up for a different team; the church he had persecuted for years was now to be his family and his passion. Talk about having your whole life turned upside-down!
Yet Saul accepted the new name God gave him, Paul – and he accepted the task God gave him – with enthusiasm and readiness that later would allow him to suffer great hardships in the name of Christ. Paul became one of the greatest tools in the hand of God the world has ever seen.
This passage reveals the character and attitude of Paul in at least two ways that, if we will follow his example, will allow us to be the kind of people who run the race well.
I. Paul Woke Up Every Morning Knowing That He had to Serve Like it was His Last Day and That He had to Train Like He Would be Serving for a Hundred More Years
When I was a very young Christian I used to despair over trying to memorize verses and serve Christ. I was under the influence of some folks who were as certain as could be that the Lord would return at just any moment. A dear brother straightened me out with Paul’s thinking. The Lord may not come back for a thousand years…so if you serve him faithfully for your whole life you will do well. But if He does come back next week He ought to find you working, Russell.
Remember the day-laborers in the parable of the vineyard. The ones who worked just an hour in the field got just as much as the ones who had worked all day. What isn’t said is what kind of reward there was for those who were supposed to be working and just sat under the tree for the day.