Keep Moving Forwards

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Philippians 3:12-4:1

 

Look where you want to go, and keep peddling!

Over the past year or two we’ve taught each of our kids to ride a bike. A little scary and frustrating at times, but mostly fun and full of proud moments. And I’m sure teaching them to drive in 10 years will be much scarier and more frustrating! At any rate, all my bike lessons were much more successful and far less painful than ‘the bike lesson’ in the ‘Berenstain Bears’ book, so I’m counting that as a win.

If you’ve ever tried to teach someone to ride a bike, you’ll know that one of the things you need to keep saying over and over again is ‘keep peddling!’ I would have to jog along behind them, saying over and over again, ‘keep peddling! peddle! peddle! Don’t stop! You’ll fall over if you stop… ahh, you fell over.’

You see, that’s the problem. To stay upright and not fall over or crash, you need to keep peddling. You need to keep the bike moving fast enough, or it starts to wobble and fall over.

 

The other thing I found I need to keep saying is, “Look where you want to go! Don’t look away! Keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, and peddle, peddle, peddle…” It’s no good peddling hard if you’re not looking where you want to go, because (as my kids all found out!), you quickly end up crashing into the bushes or the wall or some unsuspecting pedestrian…

Stay focused – keeping looking where you’re headed; and keep peddling, keep moving forwards, keep the momentum going. Both are essential to stay upright and avoid a crash.

 

And it’s actually very similar with the Christian life. We need to stay focused and keep our eyes fixed on the goal. We need to keep looking where we want to go. And we need to keep moving forwards, we need to keep pressing on towards the goal, or we will find that we will end up crashing… one way or another.

One of the great temptations in the Christian life is to stop moving towards the goal. Some of us are tempted to think we’ve ‘arrived’ – that we’re ‘mature enough’ now – and so we stop peddling, and just settle into cruise mode. Some of us are distracted from the goal, or even fall under the influence of people heading in the opposite direction. We take our eyes off the path. Whatever the case, the result is that we stop moving towards the goal. And we need to realise that’s a real problem.

Through our passage today, in Philippians 3, through the testimony and encouragements of the Apostle Paul, God is urging us to keep pressing on towards the goal of knowing Christ fully, of being found mature in him, and ultimately, of being transformed to share in his glory. The passage warns us against presuming to have ‘arrived’ at the goal in this life, or to settle for what we think is good enough.

It warns us against the influence of those who are ignoring the goal altogether – who have their sights set on satisfaction here and now. And it reminds us to have our eyes, our minds and hearts, firmly fixed on our true home and hope in heaven – to keep pressing on, straining towards the future we belong to.

This passage presents to us a picture of Christian maturity, not as a state to arrive at in this life, but a mindset of constantly striving towards the goal – always aware of the fact that we’re not there yet, and so never letting up. Keep your eyes focused on the goal, and keep peddling!

 

1) Keep pressing on, knowing you’re not there yet

As we turn to take a look at the passage in more detail, you’ll see that the first half really emphasises this big idea – that the Christian life is one of continually pressing on, straining forwards towards the goal, never assuming you’ve arrived.

Paul begins in verse 12 explaining, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Now immediately it’s obvious that what he says here is flowing on from what he’s been saying in the first half of the chapter – what we looked at last week. Our passage today really continues on Paul’s personal testimony about the value of Christ compared with everything else. When Paul speaks about ‘his goal’ and ‘the prize’ in our passage today, he’s referring back to his desire to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. He’s talking about becoming like Christ in his death and then also attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

And having expressed with such conviction and passion that he has suffered the loss of all things for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and being found in him, Paul wants to say two things to make sure we don’t misunderstand him.

 

Not there yet…

First, that he’s not there yet. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…” Paul immediately explains.

Now, in one sense, it might seem obvious. “Of course you haven’t reached the goal of perfection and resurrection Paul – why would we think you have? Why would anybody think they have??”

Well from the beginning of the Christian faith, people have presented a corrupt version of the gospel that essentially says, ‘You can and should experience the resurrection as a spiritual reality here and now.’ The hope of real, physical resurrection is traded in for a kind of spiritual perfection in this life. The technical name for this is ‘over realised eschatology’. It basically means you’ve got carried away thinking that what belongs in the future (eschatology) has been realised now. This kind of teaching was around even whilst Paul was preaching the gospel, and we see him rebuking and correcting it in a number of places. And here, he’s making it very clear that he doesn’t buy into it at all.

But even if people don’t go all the way and think the hope of resurrection is just spiritual enlightenment in this life, many have still fallen into the trap of thinking you can attain some kind of spiritual perfection here and now. If you have the right spiritual experience and blessing from God, the real, extra ‘filling of the Spirit’, if you engage in the right spiritual practices and are fully devoted to Christ, then, possibly, you will reach perfection in this life. This kind of teaching and thinking has kept popping up over the centuries right up to the present in different times and places. And it’s wrong. You can’t. You will always be ‘not there yet’.

Paul wants his readers to know that he knows he hasn’t arrived at the goal, and he wants us to know wehaven’t arrived yet. No one in this life has or will. We will never reach the top of the mountain in this life. it will never be an option to sit back, looking smugly at all the other people struggling towards the perfection that you have reached. There are no level 2 Christians who’ve ‘made it’.

 

But I keep striving to reach the goal!

But, at the same time, Paul wants to say that’s not going to stop him trying. He presses on to take hold of the prize, to reach the goal.

Our natural reaction to the realisation that we’re never going to be perfect in this life, we’re never going to reach the top of the mountain, is often to just give up. Why I am I trying so hard if I’m never going to get there? Why bother? Why not just go with the flow?

But that’s not an option for Paul. That’s not the Christian life. That’s a sure way to suffocate and die spiritually. To be alive, to reach the goal, we need to be striving towards the goal, we need to keep moving. We need to keep peddling.

 

Don’t suffocate!

Our oldest child, George, has been enjoying a book about sharks he purchased with his pocket money recently – ‘dive in and discover the undersea world of sharks’. [#shark book] And he’s been full of interesting facts about all things shark related for the past two weeks.

And one thing George was explaining about sharks (and you might already know this) is that many types of sharks need to keep moving to stay alive. They don’t have a way of actively breathing through their gills and sucking in more oxygen-rich water. They need the water to be moving past them so it moves through their gills and replenishes the oxygen in their blood. If they stop moving for long periods, they suffocate and die.

That’s what happens to Christians who stop moving. When we stop striving towards the goal, we effectively give up on reaching it. Our faith suffocates and stagnates.

Paul expands in verses 13 and 14 on what he’s already said, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

For Paul, the fact that he has not yet arrived is all the more reason to press on, to strain forward, reaching towards the goal, never giving up. This is the very nature of the Christian life. It’s a journey, the whole way through. In fact, Paul’s uses the language here of a running race – a marathon. And the key is to keep running towards the finish line. Don’t look back at how far you’ve come, who’s behind you, how you might have fallen at points or how impressive you might have looked at certain points. Forgetting what is behind, and instead focusing on what’s in front of you and just keeping on going. Keeping your eyes on the goal, the finish line, and straining forwards. You don’t win the prize by beating others, you win the prize by finishing the race.

 

You see, some of us feel like we’ve come far enough. We don’t think we’re perfect by any means, but we feel like this is as far as we need to go, and it’s as far as we can go. We know we’ve never going to reach the top of the mountain, or get to the end of the race in this life, and we feel like, frankly, we’ve given it a pretty good go, and so surely, enough is enough… it’s time to relax and cruise.

In the recent school holidays, when we were visiting Anna’s parents, we did a day trip to the Warrumbungles – a bunch of rugged mountains near Coonabarrabran formed from ancient volcanic cores. And I took George and Grace up a mountain called ‘split rock’ with their older cousins, optimistic that we could do it.

We couldn’t quite. Fortunately the steepest part – the climb to the summit – is a separate, optional part half way round the mountain, so if you don’t want to do that, you can just keep going. Not that the main track is super easy! But the climb to the summit is the most dangerous and difficult part. Now, Grace was keen to try, and so we went part way up the summit track, but after a while, we both agreed, we’d come far enough. And I was secretly glad Grace didn’t want to go any further!

Now, that was a smart decision. It was right to conclude we’d come far enough, and there was no point trying to go any further.

But that’s not how it works in the Christian life. There is no point that’s ‘good enough’, and so you can sit back and wait. It’s not about how high you get up the mountain, it’s about whether you keep climbing.

 

This is Christian ‘perfection’

In fact, this mindset, this continual striving forwards towards perfection, knowing that you haven’t arrived yet, is the very essence of Christian maturity in this life. In verse 15, Paul invites the Philippians to share this attitude by explaining that ‘all of us who are mature should take such a view of things.’ You might be surprised to know that the word for mature here is the same word Paul uses above to talk about not having arrived at his goal. It’s a word that conveys the idea of reaching the end point of something, the goal or even perfection.

So it’s like Paul says first, ‘not that I have already reached maturity or been perfected’… and then later, ‘so all us who are mature or perfect should take such a view of things.’

It sounds contradictory, but what Paul’s saying is that Christian maturity, the goal in this life, is not a matter of actually reaching the final goal, but instead it’s about continually striving towards the goal. Maturity is keeping on moving towards the goal. In the end, that’s all you can really do, and it’s what you must do!

 

Because Jesus has taken hold of us!

And one final thing from this first half of the passage… did you notice how our striving to take hold of the goal is ultimately grounded in God taking hold of us and calling us to himself in Christ?

In verse 12, Paul explains that he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. And in verse 14, he explains again, he presses on ‘toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’

This part of Paul’s letter seems full of human effort and striving. It makes it seem like the Christian life requires lots of perseverance and determination. And that’s because it does! We’re meant to hear that message loud and clear.

But we’re not meant to hear the message that it’s all about us and our determination to make it on our own. We strive towards the goal because Jesus has taken hold of us and is dragging us towards the goal. We are responding to God’s call in Christ and the work of his Spirit in our hearts and minds. As Paul already explained in chapter 2, ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.’

Hear the message to strive and reach and keep going – making every effort. Keep peddling! Keep climbing! Keep swimming! (whatever metaphor works for you!) But hear the message that you do this in God’s power and in his calling. You press on to grasp hold of the prize, because Jesus has already grasped hold of you.

 

2) Be discerning in the company you keep and the example you follow

Now, we’re going to speed up a little as we turn to look at the second half of the passage. And what we see here are two things that will help us ‘keep striving towards the goal’.

 

The first point that Paul makes here to encourage and help us keep striving is to be careful and deliberate about who’s example you’re following.

From verse 17, Paul invites the Philippians to…

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.

If you’re going to keep growing and moving forwards as a Christian, you will need to be deliberate about keeping your eyes on those who live faithfully for Jesus. It’s not a solo race. It might be a marathon, but it’s a marathon you run together in a pack with others.

Paul set the Philippians an example of striving forwards, seeking more and more to follow in the humble, loving footsteps of Jesus. And he now encourages the whole church to pay careful attention to those amongst them who live as they do. To keep learning from their example.

And it’s something that need to do proactively isn’t it? ‘Keep your eyes on those who live as we do’. It’s not a passive activity. You don’t just accidently end up following good examples.

In fact, the opposite is what happens naturally. If we’re not deliberate and proactive about who’s influence we put ourselves under, more than likely we will be influenced by people who are heading in the wrong direction.

As Paul goes on to say, “18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

If we don’t keep our eyes on those striving towards the goal of knowing Christ, more than likely we will find ourselves influenced by people who in fact live as enemies of the cross of Christ. People who will encourage us to stop peddling; to just give up and settle where you’re at; or even head in a different direction – off the path or even backwards!

 

When I was in high school I didn’t hang out with Christians very much. All my close friends were non-Christians. Not bad people. We had fun, we respected each other. I wish I still had contact with them today. But they weren’t Christian, and over time I soaked up their attitudes and values and behaviours. Ultimately their mind was set on earthly things, and over time, so was mine.

Then when I moved to Sydney, in God’s kindness, he surrounded me with Christians in lots of different circumstances – at uni, a network of friends through my sister and brother in law, at Flo Harris Lodge, the residential college I lived at, and Petersham Baptist church. These were people I could relate to, and that were convicted about living for Jesus and reading and trusting God’s word. Not perfect, but striving forwards in their own way, at various stages in the journey.

And the affect on me was profound. Over a few months, knowing Christ and living for him went from a peripheral concern, something that was barely on my radar, to something that gripped my heart and mind. Again, I was far from perfect – I still am! – and it took time to work through sinful habits and ways of thinking, but I began striving forwards with my eyes on the goal.

 

Who’s influencing your thinking and behaviour? Who’s example do you soak up, perhaps without even realising it? Are you deliberately and proactively keeping your eyes on those who live as faithful followers of Jesus? Are you taking steps to make it possible and plausible to soak up the example of mature Christians? Or do you surround yourself and crowd your life with TV narratives and colleagues and friends who are all essentially tripping you up and shifting your focus onto pleasure, security and comfort here and now…?

Be discerning and proactive in the company you keep and the example you follow.

 

3) Know your true home and hope

Finally, the last thing Paul says to help us keep striving towards our goal in Christ is to know our true home and hope in Christ.

 

Remember your true home

In contrast to those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, and who’s minds are set on earthly things, Paul reminds us in verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven.”

Our minds are set on heavenly things, because that’s where we belong. That’s our true home. And this identity drives our striving. We press on towards the prize of heaven, because that’s where we really belong.

This statement would have had a special resonance with the people of Philippi, because the city of Philippi was part of the commonwealth of Rome. As one commentator writes, it was ‘governed as if it was on Italian soil and its administration reflected that of Rome in almost every respect.’ Paul’s Christian brothers and sisters in Philippi knew what it meant to think and live as people who belonged to another place. And Paul now reminds them that they are not merely citizens of Rome, living in Philippi, they are citizens of heaven.

That’s where you belong, and your life should reflect it. The more you set your mind on your identity and home in heaven, the more your values, priorities and behaviour will reflect it. The more easily and eagerly you will keep striving forwards. The faster you will peddle…

 

Remember your hope in Christ

And that’s because of the hope that belongs to us as citizens of heaven. We lift our eyes to our true home in heaven, and we wait in sure and certain hope for what is coming from heaven. And that hope energises us.

Paul finishes by saying, “And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

I feel bad that I don’t have more time to give justice to these words! This is the Christian hope in a nutshell. These are profound truths! Amidst the difficulties, the pain, the frustrations, the decay, the death that plagues all of us in this world, we live in hope of Jesus appearing one day as our saviour. And we live in hope of Jesus then transforming us, transforming our bodies, which are currently subject to frustration and weakness and death, so that they will be like his glorious body. That’s the essence of the Christian faith. First and foremost, following Jesus is about living in hope of Jesus transforming you to be like him.

And it’s not a wild, misplaced hope. It’s based on the knowledge that he does have the power to bring everything under his control. Just as Jesus’ disciples witnessed him bringing nature under his control, so that the wind and waves obeyed him when he spoke. Just as Jesus turned 5 loaves into 5000 when he wanted to. Just as he walked on water and cast out demons and healed the blind and the paralysed and even rose the dead. Just as he rose from the dead himself, exercising absolute control over his own physical existence and personal destiny… so we live in confident expectation of him transforming our lowly bodies to be just like his.

This is our hope that belongs to us as citizens of heaven. Live as people who know your true home and hope, and you will keep striving towards the goal that God has called you to.

 

Stand Firm

I’m going to finish now with by pointing us to Paul’s conclusion – his summing up statement – in Chapter 4, verse 1.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”

The affection drips off these words doesn’t it? My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, my dear friends… Paul is no bully pushing us and beating his readers towards better behaviour and results. He writes out of overflowing affection for these people – he wants what’s good for them.

And what he wants is for them – for us – is to stand firm in the Lord in this way. To stand firm in Christ by moving towards the goal – towards our true home and hope in Christ. Just as you can only stay upright on a bike when you keep moving forwards – when you keep peddling! – so you can only stand firm in Christ, you can only stand mature in him, when you’re constantly striving towards maturity in him.