17 February 2010

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (3:13-3:16)

One thing I do—I move forward. There is a goal, a finish line, ahead of me. I don’t know how far away it is. But I know I'm gonna get there. I'm going to win this race—but only if I finish. Because if I stop, and walk away from the race, then I have run in vain. If I think I've come far enough, then I was never really in the race to begin with. These are all different ways of saying what we read in our text today. That we don’t just sit down and take it easy. That we are in a marathon, and it is not over until we break the tape. If I am building a bridge, and I stop 2 feet from the other side—is that bridge finished? “But look how much we've done!” Don’t look back at how much is done—look ahead to how much there is to go.

There is a saying that some people like to use about those of us who have our eyes fixed upon our heavenly reward. They like to say that a person is “so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.” Wrong. If a person is NOT heavenly-minded, they ARE NO earthly good! In fact, the reality is, a person is so caught up in the past that they do no good for the future. Because if a person’s sole focus is on this life, then they are not really living for anything other than what they can get right here in this life. Is that the kind of person we are called to be?

A Christian is to renounce his citizenship of this world, and consider himself a citizen of the kingdom of God. We will see that in a couple of weeks when we get to Philippians 3:19-20. Because if we feel more comfortable surrounding ourselves with the things that the world says we should be comfortable with, then we make ourselves an enemy of God (James 4:4). There are only, ever, two kingdoms. And these are always at war with one another. The slave of God cannot serve Satan, and the slave of Satan cannot serve God. There is no dual citizenship. A person cannot walk “with one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world.” And you are either looking back—or you are looking forward.

Philippians 3:13-16Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

You are either in or out of one kingdom or the other. Period. Paragraph. And that is the distinction Paul is making here in verses 13-16. He’s saying, “I'm not looking back at what I've accomplished. I'm looking forward to what lies ahead.”

Verse 13. …one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching—I like that, reaching forward, it’s activereaching forward to those things which are ahead. I have yet to find any Scripture that says anything good about wavering. Time and again—Old Testament, New Testament—warns us about trying to play both sides. And we are especially warned about looking back while trying to go forward. Remember the story of Lot and his wife? What happened? The third-shortest verse in the New Testament is Luke 17:32“Remember Lot’s wife.” What’s the warning there? Don’t hold on to this world—keep looking for the next. 2nd Corinthians 7:10For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Jesus, many times, warned His disciples—and us—to always be watching. Matthew 24:42“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” Matthew 25:13“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Mark 13:37“And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Luke 21:36“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass.” If we are always looking over our shoulder, can we be looking ahead to the hope that is before us? Let me give you a brief illustration here. My wife and I went out to get a bite to eat last Sunday. And I noticed something as we sat there. I noticed many African-American families sitting down to eat. And all the waitresses were white. Was it very long ago, relatively, in this nation’s history, that a scene like that would have been unheard of in this part of the country? We wouldn’t be worshipping under the same roof together. We consider that—but do we live with that mindset? No, but there are still far too many people who do. Is everything perfect in that regard? No, I would never say it is. But listen to the words of Roland Dykes III, son of the first black mayor of Newport, TN:
[H]e remembers being the first black to play [basketball] for Cocke County against cross-county rival Cosby…“I got hit in the side of the head with a chunk of ice on the way out…the things they said, all the racial [slurs]. The hatred from someone that you didn't know and didn't know you but was so worked up about you being there that they would do something like that, for no other reason but the color of your skin.” As an adult, Dykes was in management after Quaker bought Stokely-Van Camp Co. in 1983. “I just didn't expect that I would ever hold a job like that in Newport…shortly after that, Dad was elected an alderman and subsequently has been elected mayor, which I would never have expected in my lifetime.” (David Keim, Cocke County was 'step ahead' with integration, February 22, 2001, Knoxville News-Sentinel, http://web.knoxnews.com/web/blackhistory/stories/0222cocke.shtml).
Now, suppose if Mr. Dykes—and others who had gone through the same things he did—if they had spent their lives dwelling on the fact that they had a rough time in high school. If Mr. Dykes had kept bringing up all the things that happened to him—would he have become a manager at his company? It’s not easy to forget that stuff, don’t get me wrong. But if his focus was on what was (in the past), instead of focusing on what could be—would anything have changed? No. If he had done the opposite of the apostle Paul, and spent his years neglecting those things which were ahead and reaching backward to those things which were behind, nothing good would have come out of it.

The same is especially true of our life in Christ. If our thoughts and our goals are centered on this world, we will never live the life that we are called to. Which is why he goes on to say what he does in verse 15. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. "I press." Running, sprinting, training and straining, bringing my body under subjection. "Toward the goal." (The mark, KJV). Literally, “A mark on which to fix the eye.” We get the English word “scope” from the Greek (σκοπός, skopos). When you look through a telescope, when you look through a microscope, when a hunter looks through the scope of his rifle—does he see everything else around him? What does he see? Does he see what is behind him? No. All he sees is what is ahead.

I was listening to Paul Washer preach on Psalm 7:11-12, where King David says that God bends His bow and makes it ready…He makes His arrows into fiery shafts. He made this observation: a bowhunter would sit in a tree for hours visualizing the shot. He would focus on one spot where he would take it. And all the things that went through his mind—the direction and speed of the wind, all the variables—for one reason—the shot. The goal. The mark. That should be true of us and the goal that has been set before us in Christ. What is that goal, that mark? The prize. I press toward the goal for the prize. “The award to the victor in the games.” Are we victorious in Christ? Yes, Hallelujah! If we are in Christ it is not a matter of “I will be victorious when God gives me my miracle!” We ARE victorious over pain and sickness and anything else because our victory is not in this world!

Our victory is eternal life in Christ! Paul is saying here that he is running toward, sprinting toward, training and straining toward—is not health and wealth and prosperity. Al Mohler:
“God never assures his people of material abundance or physical health. Instead, Christians are promised the riches of Christ, the gift of eternal life, and the assurance of glory in the eternal presence of the living God. In the end, the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little.” (It Promises Far Too Little—The False Gospel of Prosperity Theology, Al Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2009/08/18/it-promises-far-too-little-the-false-gospel-of-prosperity-theology/).
If the mark, the goal, the prize, was here on earth—there would come a time when we would reach it. But we are never taught by Scripture to think that we have reached the point where we can rest from our labors. And notice something else here, too. Does he say that he is “strolling” toward the mark? Or “walking” toward the mark? Does he say that he is “moseying” toward the mark? What word does he use? PRESSING!! Moving forward, pushing forward. That’s why the book is called “The Pilgrim’s PROGRESS.” He was laboring toward the Celestial City, and he wasn’t gonna stop until he got there.

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God. I think some people misinterpret what Paul is saying here. He is not saying that the prize is the upward call of God, or that the upward call of God is the prize. That would be teaching salvation by works. Are we saved by our works? No. He does not say, I press toward the goal for the prize which is the upward call of God. Listen closely to what he says: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God. The prize is the result of the upward call of God. We are given the prize—the trophy, the crown—that Christ gives to those He calls. Go back to verse 12. I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. What Christ has promised us is not cars and houses and boats. It’s not perfect health all our lives. The prize that He has laid up for us is the crown of righteousness. That ought to be what is in the crosshairs of our scope, leaving the things of the world to the side.

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore… Because we are not looking back at the things we have accomplished. Because we have our eyes fixed on the finish line, where stands our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind. This mind. Have this mind. Have this mind in you. He brings up again this concept that he spent all of chapter 2 drilling into their heads. Have this mind. Philippians 2:2 [NASB]Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

We are a body. A body does not work very well if the various parts are working against the others. Our immune system helps to keep out things that don’t belong inside us. But that immune system can also destroy parts of our body that we need. When it attacks our joints we wind up with rheumatoid arthritis. When it attacks our pancreas we wind up with Type I diabetes and we need to take insulin for the rest of our lives. Our heart is a perfect example of the body of believers. It has its own little pacemaker, called the sinoatrial node. It sends a signal to the next pacemaker, the atrioventricular node, tells it to fire, then travels the rest of the way down the heart. But something can happen. In the upper chambers of the heart, you can have little nerve cells that give off their own charge. And when they do, the heart will beat too soon, or too late. And if this goes on long enough, the heart stops working the way it should, it doesn’t pump blood the way it’s supposed to, and what is the end result? All because it is getting information from someplace other than the pacemaker—the place that is supposed to be regulating it. Discussion time kids—how does that relate to the church? If we’re getting our beliefs and our information on truth from anywhere other than the written word of God—whether it’s the Book of Mormon, the Qur'an or the Catechism of the Catholic Church or Oprah Winfrey or Deepak Chopra—is the church gonna act the way the church is supposed to act?

If we know the truth of God’s word, and we don’t live like it—are we gonna be any good at teaching others the things of God? If we are getting input from here and there and everywhere, and we’re not focusing on the One who IS truth, then we are running in vain. If we are looking all around us and letting the world distract us, then we are not acting like a body.

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Remember that little pacemaker in your heart? How if all these other little nerve cells start firing, things go haywire? Well, if it gets too bad, guess what the doctor does? You do know what’s in those paddles, right? Yeah, electricity! What happens if you stick a fork in a wall socket? It’s not good, is it? But when it comes to getting your heart to beat properly, a little electricity is a good thing. Because it stops the heart for a split second, makes all the little nerves stop firing, and what is the intended result? That the heart will start beating in a normal rhythm, with what leading the way? That little pacemaker. When the church is being drawn in different directions by different doctrines, does God have a way of weeding those things out?

Does He want the church believing lies? Now, He doesn’t use a lightning bolt, or an electrical fire to get our attention. But if we are being distracted and led away from the truth that He has called us to, He will, somehow, get our attention and lead us back to the truth. Deuteronomy 32:3-4For I proclaim the name of YHVH: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. Psalm 25:4-5Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day. But we also have to be humble enough to see that we are wrong and to accept the truth. There are some people out there that believe some pretty strange things. And sometimes it’s hard for the truth to get through to them. There is this paradox when it comes to truth. We must be mature in truth. 1st Corinthians 14:20Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. But by the same token we must be as children in that we must understand that we don’t always understand. Luke 10:21“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.”

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you, if we are humble enough to let Him. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Men will allow God to be everywhere but on his throne.” Especially when we allow our ideas to be more important to us than the truth of God.

Verse 16. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. There’s that “same mind” again. We have one Pacemaker. Did the apostles go around teaching their own doctrines? What did they teach? Now, if the apostles taught Christ’s teachings, and if the early church, as it says in Acts 2:42…continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine. Then what does that say that we should do? Now, does each and every person have the same level of understanding of Scripture? No. The person who gets saved this morning will not have as great an understanding of Scriptures as someone who has been studying all their lives. But that person should have a desire to know God’s word. 1st Peter 2:1-2Laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow. But there’s a problem. Some people don’t like to “grow up.” They don’t like to spend all that time studying and searching. So they remain infants. Hebrews 5:12By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

But for those who are seeking to know more of the truth, do you think God has taken steps to help them? What does He do? I’m gonna finish with Ephesians 4:11-16 (NLT)Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Let’s all go in the same direction. Is that direction backward? No. Which way is it? Yes, forward. And I think that is gonna be something we’ll pick up next week, about going in the same direction.

Jesus Christ is Lord.
Amen.

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