Running the Race Toward the Goal

Fredy Peter

According to Philippians 3:12-16, six things are necessary if we want to press on toward the goal.

First: to pursue the goal requires an honest admission: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil 3:12). None of us should think we have reached perfection. If a man like Paul says that of himself—he who had been called by the Lord in an extraordinary way (Acts 9:1ff.), instructed by Him in a unique manner (Gal 1:17), and even caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2)—then how much more should we.

It is a perilous deception to believe that we could reach perfection in this life. That is impossible to achieve; neither by total self-denial and extreme legalism, nor by adding to or subtracting from the clear doctrine of the New Testament. As long as we, the redeemed children of God, live on this earth, each one of us has to contend with the sin “which so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1). We fail again and again and need forgiveness.

One day when we are with the Lord—by way of the rapture or death—and our mortal bodies are changed to immortal ones, only then will we be perfect. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This sincere profession by the greatest missionary of all time should not tempt us to go to the other extreme, however. Namely, to proclaim that “Jesus has attained complete victory for me; now all is grace. He will bring me to the finish line. I will be perfect then, so I no longer have to exert myself now…” Someone once said: “Complacency is the grave of progress.” We should pursue the goal of Christlikeness now and until we are with the Lord. It demands a decision: “I don’t want to be satisfied with my present state. I don’t want to be at a standstill; I want to attain the goal!”

Second: to reach the goal requires maximum effort. Paul puts it this way: “…But I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:12). The amazing free grace that we were given in no way excludes our total commitment. The apostle even uses the strong expression, “to chase after.” That banishes all thoughts of ease and indifference.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, 30 years had passed since he had been “apprehended by Jesus Christ.” First, to be set free; then, to be called; and finally, to be empowered to proclaim the Good News. But the primary purpose of the apprehension by Jesus is described by the apostle in Romans 8:29 as follows: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Do we understand that salvation is not an end in itself, but has a wonderful final goal—for us to become more and more Christ-like? Do we pursue this goal with total commitment? Is it our greatest desire to reflect the image of Christ? Is that apparent in us?

With passionate effort, however, there is also a danger of getting sidetracked. Proverbs 19:2 gives this warning: “Whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (ESV). Some things are well intentioned, but still miss the mark. Ardent resolution is easily mixed with emotional zeal, and trivialities can be turned into principal issues. How do we guard against this? By following Paul’s instruction.

Third: for the race toward the finish, we need goal-directed concentration. To get the Philippians’ full attention, Paul addresses them here very personally as “brothers” (this expression includes the sisters): “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Phil 3:13). For the third time, Paul emphasizes here that he has not reached perfection, nor has attained the goal. But he is completely focused on this objective. He is goal-directed toward “one thing.” He establishes priorities and works toward their realization with the utmost personal engagement.

Paul must have had knowledge of the Olympic Games, for he spent many months in Greece. He also stayed three years in Ephesus, which had a huge stadium that could hold about 100,000 people. Thus, to drive home a spiritual truth, he frequently used the example of an athlete, who concentrates only on his goal (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:5; 4:7-8). Perhaps you have seen reports of athletics or bicycle competitions, where the competitor who was viewed as the certain victor, looked back and lost focus for a second; immediately, the victory was snatched from him. Looking back hinders concentration.

It may be personal disappointments, failures and sins, or specific experiences, blessings and victories. This in no way means forgetting “all his benefits” (Ps 103:2). No, the important thing is that our past—the negative as well as the positive—must not be an obstacle in our present or future.

“Reaching forth unto those things which are before.” This denotes once again the focus and the total dedication of a runner. In this connection, it is worthwhile to remember the woman’s Triathlon of the Olympics in London. After grueling swimming, bicycling and running events, a Swedish and Swiss woman approached the finish line at the same time. Both had only one goal, the finish line. They pressed forward, stretched their arms—and Nicola Spirig finally won the Gold Medal by the tiniest of margins. This kind of effort is what Paul has in mind. We also should strive for the goal with this mindset.

But with all this effort, we can get tired and discouraged. Is that your experience? To race toward the goal and to reach it, we need motivation.

Fourth: to press toward the finish line requires spiritual motivation: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).

What is this prize of the high calling?

– It is unspeakable glory.
– It is the completion of our salvation.
– It is redemption in its fullness.
– It is perfect fellowship with our beloved Lord.
– It is life in His presence.
– Or, as John tells it: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 

The near-expectation of the Rapture is such a great motivator for a life that is focused on Him, because one day we will receive a reward. Many Bible references confirm this wonderful truth (1 Cor 9:24-25; 2 Tim 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4). Is that not a strong motivation to race toward the goal, consistently and fully engaged?

Fifth: the race to the goal requires God’s help: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Phil 3:15). Differences of opinion, among believers of varying spiritual maturity, should not hinder anyone from pursuing the goal. If there are obstacles in our life, the Lord will reveal them to us. God has many ways to accomplish this: He does it through the power of His Word in sermons or personal Bible study; He works through Christian brothers and sisters; He may also allow difficult times and temptations into our life. These are God’s means to aid us in our race to the goal; a special demonstration of His love. Yet we, during those moments, usually do not perceive them as such (see Heb 12:4-11). We should also consider that the word “mature” or “perfect” has several interrelated meanings. An interpreter once wrote: “Most frequently the meaning is not perfection in an abstract philosophical sense, but rather a functional perfection, namely that someone or something is suitable for a specific purpose.”

Now what does that signify? A 15-month-old baby that says only “Da-Da-Da” is mature according to its age. However, one could not say the same of a 15-year-old boy who utters the same sounds. In this sense, a Christian who has followed the Lord for two years can be more mature than one who has done it for 20 years! Let us examine ourselves: Where do we stand? Are we spiritually age appropriate?

Sixth: the race to the goal also requires that we have the same mindset: “Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Phil 3:16). Here Paul once again raises the same important issue as in chapter 2: being of one mind! Markers on the racetrack aid the runners in keeping to their specified lane. Lane markers also indicate the direction of a course. A common mindset and common orientation are of the greatest help and value in the race toward the goal. Someone once summarized it this way: “We do not gain the winner’s prize if we remain seated at the edge of the stadium, if we dream of it or make appropriate comments about it. We have to ‘chase’ after the goal by exerting our utmost effort.”       

Midnight Call - 07/2018

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