How to Run the Race
July 26, 2020
How to Run the Race 7.26.20
Good morning, dear church family. If you have a Bible, please go ahead and open up to Phil 3:13. That is, Phil 3:13.
So my wife loves to run. She absolutely loves it. Since we’ve been married, it’s been a hobby she’s done a lot. She’s shown this love for running by participating in various races. She’s run in 5ks, 10ks, a couple of half marathons, and a full marathon. She’s run a lot in the past ten years since we’ve been married.
Now I, too, enjoy running a bit. Key emphasis on “a bit.” I’ve never run a half marathon or a full. Never would want to. I have no interest in that. That’s too far. And I’ve always kind of felt like people who run that far are a little crazy. A full marathon is 26.2 miles. Wait, you are telling me that you would run that far for “enjoyment?” That’s a strange thing to do. So we’ve kind of had some playful banter, this fun and lighthearted debate over the this issue of running.
Well, I think the Apostle Paul might be on Kathryn’s side about the importance of running. What we were going to see this morning, from our passage, is that Paul describes perseverance in terms of running a race. When you see Kathryn make sure you congratulate her on winning the argument. (I haven’t told her I was going to say this, so she’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.)
Let’s go ahead and read the passage. We’ll read through v. 14.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul is talking about perseverance in this passage. He’s talking about “striving” in the Christian life. That’s the main idea. And that main idea shows up in v. 14. Look with me there. The ESV reads, “I press on toward the goal.” That verb “press on” is the main idea of the passage. That’s what the passage is all about. The parts that surround that verb give us the “how to” to do that striving. And what we’re going to see is that Paul uses a running metaphor to describe how we are to strive. So putting all this together, the title of my sermon this morning is this: “How to run the race.” We’re talking about perseverance and living the Christian life. And Paul talks about this aspect of the Christian life using a metaphor of running.
We Need the Proper Attitude
In order to run the race of the Christian life, to persevere, what we first need is the proper attitude. This is my first point this morning. Paul teaches that to run the Christian life we need the proper attitude. This is what Paul highlights in v. 13.
Looking with me at the text, this is what Paul says at the beginning of v. 13. He says this,
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
What Paul is doing here is he is repeating what he said at the beginning of v. 12. That’s all he is doing. Last week we covered v. 12. Let’s go ahead and read the beginning of v. 12 together. Paul writes there,
Not that I have already obtained this or mam already perfect.
Paul makes the same point at the beginning of v. 13, our passage this morning, that he makes at the beginning of v. 12. Paul is confessing here in both passages that he is not perfect, that he has not yet attained the resurrection, that he is still a work in progress. Believe it or not, there are still areas in Paul’s life where he needs God to sanctify him. Paul’s got more work to do and he knows it. Paul is saying, “I’m not perfect. God’s still working on me.”
What Paul is conceding here is that he is prone towards failure, sin, and mistake. Paul’s going to keep failing while he is in his earthly body. He knows it. He confesses it. He mentions it two times. He has not yet reached the end. He is still a pilgrim traveling along the way.
By confessing that he is a work in progress, Paul here is demonstrating a humble spirit. The virtue that undergirds this type of confession is humility. Think about it. Paul, the apostle who would influence Christianity more than anyone else, minus our Lord himself, says, “I haven’t arrived. I’m not where I need to be.” Wow. That’s humility.
To be humble is to confess to yourself and to others, “Hey, you know what, I’m a work in progress. I need help. I don’t have it all figured out. I haven’t arrived. There still so much more that I need to learn. There are so many areas that I need to grow in. Will you help me grow?” That’s the type of spirit that is absolutely necessary to Christian growth, to persevering in the Christian life.
Humility is also allowing other people to say to you, “You know, you’ve got some areas of growth that you need to focus on.” Humility is confessing with Paul what he says of himself to ourselves and to others. We just covered that. But it’s also allowing others to remind us of this truth, as well. Humility, this necessary attribute of Christian growth, means that we ourselves say to ourselves and to others, I need more growth, I’m a work in progress; and it also means allowing others to say this to us as well, “You need some growth in this or that area.”
I think the temptation with this is to allow ourselves to say this to ourselves and to others, but we get defensive when other people say it to us. So when people say, “Dear brother or sister, you need to improve in this area or that area,” we might get defensive. We do that as sinners, dear friend. And that’s pride. That’s pride raising it’s ugly head. And then what pride does is it manifests itself in your thoughts by saying to yourself after you hear your brother or sister mention this or that area of improvement, “Well, you know what, you’ve got some areas to improve in as well.” Rather than saying, “You’re right. Please pray for me.” We get defensive and go on the attack in our thought life.
Dear friends, that’s pride. That’s sin. That trying to deflect responsibility off of ourselves. It might be true that the other person’s has faults and mistakes. But that’s not your problem in that moment. You problem is yourself. You problem is your pride, is your inability to receive a word of criticism.
We must often say this to ourselves and to others: I need grace. I am a sinner. I need the Lord’s help. But we must also allow others to say this to us as well. And when they do, we don’t get defensive. We don’t go on the attack—“Well, ya, that might be true, but let me tell you about you!” That’s pride, dear friend. We need to repent of that. Ultimately, it’s not about our sins and mistakes vs other people’s sins and mistakes. It’s not about that. The Lord uses other people to tell us what he thinks about us. Don’t attack the person. Thank God that He put people in your path to tell you the truth. Accept it and grow from it. Don’t fight back. Don’t be defensive. Be humble. To persevere, this attitude is absolutely necessary.
We Need the Proper Mechanics
We need the proper attitude when we run. We need to be humble. We need humility. We need to be constantly aware of our faults and sins. We are no better than anyone else. We also need, in our race, in this Christian race of perseverance, we also need proper mechanics. When need proper form while we run. Here we are moving to our second point this morning. It’s this: “We need proper mechanics.”
Paul writes this. Looking again with me at the passage
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead
To understand this part of v. 13, we have to first take notice of how Paul begins this sentence. It’s not an “and,” it’s a “but.” Paul is making the same point in this verse that we covered last week from v. 12. Paul does not use the reality of his sins and failures as an excuse for more sin and more failure. Yes, we will fail in the Christian life but we ought to strive with all our might towards repenentance and faith. The “but” indicates that Paul is making a contrasting point. The contrast is this: Paul says, “Yes, I will fail, but I strive with all my might to honor Christ.” Paul is not OK with his sins and failures. He strives to honor Christ.
The ESV reads, “But one thing I do.” Another way to translate this is like his, “Instead I am single-minded.” Paul is referencing here his mental state. He’s in prison, in a bad place, but his mind is not set on that prison, on his circumstances. Instead, his mind is set on running the race of the Christian faith properly.
And how does he run the race properly, what are his mechanics? To run the race, Paul says, he “forgets what lies behind.” This word for forget can be translated two ways. The first way is this:
to not have remembrance of something, forget
The problem with this translation within this passage is that we cannot control our memory. There are many memories that we have that we wish we could forget. But we can’t. Our memories—both good and bad—stick with us, whether we like it or not. We often times can’t forget certain events.
Some people understand forgiveness like a forgive and forget. And forget there is basically never, ever think about what happened. Some people think that God forgets our sins, too, that he no longer can think about them. That type of understanding of forgetting never works. God is omniscient. God is always aware of our past—our sins and mistakes. He can’t unknow those things. He’s God! Us, too. If someone harms us, we might forgive them, but we’ll likely never forget.
Bringing this back to Paul. Paul is not saying here that in the Christian race you need to forget all of your past, like somehow wipe it away from your memory. No. That’s impossible. He’s not saying that. Rather what he is saying is this. And this comes from the second way this word can be defined. It’s this:
to be inattentive to, neglect, overlook, care nothing about
This is the correct understanding of what Paul is saying in this passage. He’s not saying, “Factually forget something.” Instead he’s saying, “Don’t dwell on it.”
τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν
Now I want you to notice that Paul is not specific with reference to what it is that he “forgets,” what it is that he chooses to not reflect on, chooses not to call to mind. The ESV reads,
forgetting what lies behind
Well, what is it that lies behind, Paul? If you read commentators on this, they say a number of different things. Most I read believe that Paul here is commenting on his avoidance on calling to mind his previous spiritual achievements—whether they be in his former Jewish life or in his Christian life. That might be true. I take it more broadly. What I think Paul is saying is that he does not dwell on anything in his past that hinders him in his running the race of perseverance. Anything and everything that distracts him from running well, he chooses to not reflect on. That’s what I think Paul is saying.
Brining this to the running metaphor, what Paul is saying is this: in the race of the Christian faith, don’t look back. You think of someone running. And they turn around to look and see what’s going on behind them. That will slow them down. That does not lead to progress. That is a hindrance to running. Don’t do that, Paul says. If that’s what should not be done, then what should be done? Paul mentions that in the very next statement.
Instead of looking over your shoulder while you run the Christian race, instead you should “strain forward to what lies ahead.” See that in the text. Picking up the running metaphor, in the Christian life, you shouldn’t look behind as you run the race. Don’t do that. Instead, strain, struggle towards what’s ahead. Be forward looking in the Christian life.
τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν
And what is it that Paul strains towards or for? Looking again at our passage. Paul says,
straining forward to what lies ahead
“To what lies ahead” is easier to interpret based upon what Paul says in v. 14. What Paul is striving for, is straining for is future redemption. His whole focus in life is to honor Christ with the mission that he received from Christ and to receive the resurrection body and know Christ forever more in the eternal state. That’s what Paul is striving towards. Paul is running this race, not looking back, but dead set on straining towards the future goal of the resurrection.
For our application, I really want to focus on the “forgetting what lies behind” portion of what Paul says. So to urn the Christian race we need proper mechanics. We can’t look behind us and instead we must strain towards what’s ahead.
Many of you have memories of the past that weigh you down in your Christian life. We might refer to those as regrets. You have significant regrets about your life and you wish that you could go back and change what happened. That is a struggle that many people have. “Oh I wish I could go back and change this or that.”
Experiencing regret can be a negative spiritual experience for you. Now I say “can be” because it can also be a positive spiritual experience. What separates the two—whether regret is a positive spiritual experience or a negative one—is whether you approach your regret with the concept of hope. As Christians, we always have hope. Always. And specifically with past regrets—whether these are lost relationships, years of sin and purposelessness, living for the wrong purpose, not shining as a light in your family like you ought, whatever—we still must have hope. And the hope is that even in our mistakes and sins, God can still use us, God can still bring his plan out of our sin and mistakes.
Listen to what Joel 2:25 through 26 says,
I will repay you for the years eaten by locusts—the swarming locust, the young locust, the destroying locust, and the devouring locust—My great army that I sent against you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are satisfied. You will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you. My people will never again be put to shame.
Now it is important to remember that this passage is not written to us. It’s written to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, we serve the same God as they do. And just as he could restore to them the years they lost, so also God can restore to you the years that you have lost.
For those who have these regrets, do you have hope in your life? Do you have the hope that God can use your lost years and restore your lost years in ways that you never imagine? Do you have that hope? Do you believe that God has a purpose in it?
IF you struggle with regrets, ask the Lord to use those lost years for his glory. Ask him to accomplish something tremendous in you through your regret and past sins. He can and he will. Dear friends, we have hope.
We Need the Proper Vision
Let’s review where we’ve been this morning. We’re discussing the “How To” of perseverance. How do we do it? Our first point was that we must have the proper attitude. We must be humble, I argued. The second point was we must have the proper mechanics. We must strain forward and not look back. Christianity is future-oriented reality. Yes the past matters but it is not ultimate. What matters in your life is how you finish, not how you are at the beginning or the middle. But how you finish.
Now for our last point. To run the Christian life, to persevere, third point, we need the proper vision. We need the proper vision. What I mean by this point is that we need to keep the goal in mind. What are we running for anyways? What’s the goal? What’s the end? These are the questions that Paul answers for us in Phil 3:14. Look with me there. Paul writes,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
To understand what Paul is saying, we have to break down three words that occur here. The first is “goal.” What does Paul mean by this word? The Christian life is not aimless. That is, we’re not just living in this life without some goal in mind. The Christian life has an ultimate fulfilment. We’re headed in a specific direction. This “goal” is what Paul mentions. There is an end in sight. Paul is headed that direction.
The end “goal” of the Christian life is actually a “prize.” You think of many people who have goals but these goals actually have no “prizes” at the end. Think of people’s who’s life goals are to make as much money as they can. Money is nice and all but it is ultimately meaningless. It is a worthless prize. It brings no satisfaction, beauty, or glory to one’s life. The goal of the Christian life is a “prize.” It’s valuable. It’s meaningful. Where we’re headed is towards a glorious end. The ”prize” of the Christian life is eternal life, eternal rest, the resurrection body, and an infinite pursuit of knowing Christ and being satisfied in him. The goal is a prize—a glorious prize to be treasured above all earthly things.
This “prize,” Paul says, “of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The important word here is “call.” What does that mean? I take “call” here as a reference to the grace of God. When we are saved, God “calls” us. Now call here is not like, “Hey, why don’t you come over here.” It’s not an invitation so much as it is a summons. It’s like when Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb. He didn’t yell out, “Hey Lazarus, do you want to come out of the tomb?” No. Jesus commanded
Lazarus to come out. He called him, he summoned him out. That’s what this call is. The prize that we seek is a manifestation of the grace of God’s call to us.
“Upward” refers to the idea that God is above us. God’s call comes down to us from heaven. God is above us and therefore calls us from below. That’s what upward refers to.
In Christ Jesus
“In Christ Jesus” refers God the Father’s salvation in our lives through what Jesus has done. “In Christ Jesus” refers to the idea that Jesus is the one who earned for us our salvation. He is the one who earned for us the right to receive the upward call of God. It’s all of grace, dear friend.
Bringing all of this to a summary. Verse 13 means this. We strive for a goal in the Christian life. This goal is a prize. It is glorious reward for faithfulness. However, our pursuit of it is the fulfillment of God’s grace in us because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
This is how I want you to apply this point. The struggle of the Christian life is real. God calls us to that. This Christian life is a race. In a race, you’re going to get tired. Some of you are about ready to throw in the towel. Lord, I want to stop running this race. I’m so tired. You might be saying that this morning.
I want to encourage you with this truth, dear Christian saint. We are not running this Christian race on a treadmill. When you run on a treadmill, you exert energy but you actually don’t get anywhere. A treadmill is basically a human hamster wheel. You ever realize that? Just like a hamster, you run and run but get nowhere. Our Christian race is not like that.
The race that we are running is not aimless. We have a reason for our running. We have a goal. We have a purpose. We have an end date. There is a finish line, dear friend. Your difficulties in your body, the struggles that you have, have an end date. And we are now closer than ever to that finish line. God is completing his work in you. God is bringing you to that glorious day. Keep a vision of the end, dear friend. Remember that your struggle and pain have an end date.
While we have energy, while we have life, let us struggle towards this goal. This goal is coming. It’s a prize. It’s a manifestation of grace. It is coming, dear friend. Suffering for the Christian is not eternal. Glory, honor, and bliss are eternal. We struggle now. But our struggles have an end date to them. Pain is temporary. Glory will be forever.