Summary: The Prize of heaven is Waiting. Don’t look back. Keep moving forward.
One of the best part-time jobs I ever had in college was as an assistant high school basketball coach. No, the pay wasn’t great ($150 a season) but I did get to work with one of the most successful coaches in the state of Wisconsin. In his twenty years of coaching, Coach B. led his teams to at least 6 State titles. While Coach did have some talented players to work with he was successful because he knew how to get the most out of them. He did that by keeping the team focused on the goal they had set for themselves at the beginning of the season. That’s important because athletes tend to dwell on their past successes and when they do they stop striving to become better never reaching their full potential.
Did you know that the Apostle Paul would have made a pretty good coach, especially in track? I say that because in our text this morning Paul demonstrates that he knows what it takes to win an important race. In encouraging the Philippians and us in our race to heaven Paul gives us this advice. The Prize is Waiting. 1) Don’t look back at your past accomplishments; 2) Keep moving forward in your life of faith.
Have you ever tried walking forward while looking behind you? It’s risky business isn’t it? You never know what you’ll run into. In our race to heaven it’s not just risky but downright foolish to run while looking back at our accomplishments. Paul tried doing that for the first part of his life when he was still known as Saul. At that time he took great pride in his Jewish heritage and the fact that he had strived not only to keep the laws in the Old Testament but the extra laws the Pharisees had made up as well. Paul felt that if there was anyone who should have made it to heaven based on his accomplishments it should have been he. Paul wrote, “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” (3:5, 6).
Jesus changed Paul’s mind about his past accomplishments when he appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). There he told Paul that he was doing the Devil’s work, not God’s, by persecuting Christians. Later he led Paul to see that what he had once considered to be accomplishments were not only worthless but harmful in his race to heaven. Paul said, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. 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 when he realized that you can only get close to him through Jesus. Only Jesus can give us the true righteousness, or perfection that God demands from us. In order to show that righteousness is not something we can earn on our own Jesus once told this parable about a wedding banquet (Matthew 22). A king sent out invitations to everyone in his land to come to the banquet he had prepared for his son. With the invitation everyone received a set of clothes they were to wear to the feast. When one gentleman showed up to the banquet wearing his own clothes he was promptly rebuked and thrown out. In the same way if we think we can enter heaven clothed in our best efforts to be a good spouse, obedient child, or friendly neighbour we are thumbing our nose at the beautiful clothes of righteousness Jesus has won for us. As a result we will not be accepted into God’s kingdom but be thrown down into hell.
But wait a minute! Are our accomplishments really that awful? If you have been looking with pride on the kind of life you’ve lived it’s time to take a candid look at it. If we are honest with ourselves we’ll admit that when we think about our life we tend to block out the bad while remembering the good. For instance when we think back to our college, or high school days we have no problem remembering how hard we studied but forget about those drinking parties at which we got a little tipsy. When we think back to our childhood we remember how we faithfully did chores around the house and farm but forget how few times we did them willingly and joyfully. When we think back to our confirmation days we take pride in how many Bible passages we memorized, but forget how Mom and Dad had to prod us to memorize them. Brothers and sisters, don’t kid yourself. Our past is not great, nor are things worse today than they were twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago; we just think they are because we have forgotten, or minimized our own sin.