Philippians 3:13-14 (New Living Translation)
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not [yet] achieved [perfection], but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
The Christian life is one of positive movement toward a glorious future. One day, God will wipe away every painful tear from our eyes. The great enemies of humanity will be no more. No more sin! No more sickness! No more Satan! No more death! No more poverty! No more crime! No more racism! No more injustice! No terrorism, no wars, no hurricanes, no floods, and no earthquakes! Our future is a bright one indeed!
One thing that excites me about our heavenly future is that God ultimately will bring us to a place of perfection, a place of completeness, a place of wholeness, a place where we will lack nothing spiritually, emotionally, physically, or otherwise. Yet now, we are far from perfect. We still wrestle with many personal flaws, weaknesses, and hang-ups. There are areas of our lives that need to be changed or improved. God is working to bring us to a place of Christian maturity. We are in a process of sanctification, a process of spiritual growth, a process of progressive transformation into the image of Christ.
As long as we are alive, there is further progress to be made. So Paul declares emphatically: “I have not yet achieved perfection, but I am pressing on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” These words from the Apostle Paul have inspired Christians for nearly two thousand years. Paul describes his spiritual journey as a race for a heavenly prize. The race requires focus. The race requires forgetting the past. And the race requires forging ahead in the strength that the Lord provides.
The Race Requires Focus
First of all, the race requires focus. Paul perceives of himself as a runner with one goal in mind: to finish the race and to win the prize. Paul presses toward the goal. In other words, he pursues the goal with the intent of capturing it. Although the race will not be complete until the resurrection and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal reward is worth every focused effort that Paul puts forth in the present.
Furthermore, unlike most athletic events where there can be only one winner, the race for the heavenly prize will be won by all who pursue a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians cannot be lax or passive. We must put our focus on the Lord and press on through the trials and challenges of life with our heavenly goal always in sight.
The Race Requires Forgetting the Past
Secondly, the race requires forgetting the past, or forgetting what is behind. “The past” or “what is behind” is that part of the race that has been completed so far. Paul could mean his pre-Christian life or possibly his past experiences as a Christian. In either case, he cannot live or dwell in the past. He must press forward. He cannot allow regrets to hold him back; neither can he become too smug because of his past accomplishments. The Christian life is a dynamic one. It’s always moving. We are ever learning, ever growing, and ever moving forward. We cannot allow ourselves to dwell in the past.
The Race Requires Forging Ahead
Paul’s third point is that the race requires forging ahead in the strength that the Lord provides. In verse 14, he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” The direction of the prize is upward. The prize is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. As the apostle says in Philippians 3:8: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
I want to encourage you at the beginning of 2019 to renew your commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and to move forward into the great things that God has for your future. Like Paul, you will need to pursue with passion the heavenly prize, but it will be a life journey that will yield an eternal reward of joy, peace, and happiness in the presence of the triune God forever.
Finally, even though we look forward to receiving our heavenly prize in the future, we can rejoice before that glorious day because God is with us now! He will sustain us; he will give us strength; and he will help us in difficult times. God has given us his Word! He has given us his Son, Jesus Christ! He has given us his Spirit! He has given us everything that we need to finish the race and to win the prize. So I encourage you to avail yourself of his great resources. Let 2019 be a year of new beginnings for you. Press toward the heavenly goal of which Paul speaks. Pursue the Lord with passion and intensity. The rewards will be well worth it, I promise. God bless you! I invite your comments!
Wilfred Graves Jr.