The Christian Athlete Philippians 3b1
Stephen Caswell © 1999
The Story of John Landy
In 1960 there was a famous race in Canada between two great runners. The four minute mile had just been broken by these two men. Now John Landy and Roger Banister were racing against each other. John Landy had been leading for most of the race and there was only about two hundred yards to go. They were coming out of the last corner when John Landy looked behind to see where his opponent was placed. At that very moment Roger Banister passed him on the outside while he was looking back on the inside. He lost the race and will go down in history as the runner who looked back. He should have been concerned with running his own race. But he took his eyes off the finish line and looked at his opponent, and that cost him the race.
In the first 9 verses of Philippians 3 Paul describes himself as an accountant. He counts up all the things that he had accomplished before he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road. He then compared it to what he gained from Christ after his conversion. Paul discovered that his " so called good deeds" were nothing but rubbish compared to what he had gained in Christ. In the verses we are looking at today Paul compares himself to an athlete running a race. He has now been a believer for about thirty years and describes for us his present commitment to running the Christian race. He tells us his secret. He describes three qualities needed to finish the race well.
I. Dissatisfaction II. Determination & III. Discipline
Philippians 3:10-12 That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Paul had now served the Lord for many years. He had been greatly used of God. He had planted many churches, worked miracles and written much of the New Testament. Paul suffered greatly for the Lord who had appeared to him a number of times. Yet Paul says that he still that he hadn't arrived yet. He wasn't yet perfect. Paul was not satisfied with where he was in the Christian life. He knew there was still room for improvement. He wanted to go further in His walk with the Lord. Paul's dissatisfaction caused him to seek a deeper walk with Christ. He pressed on!
a. To Know Christ
Paul wanted to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way than he did at the present. He wanted the Lord Jesus to share every part of his life. Paul wanted to know the things that were most important to Christ. This meant suffering for Christ in order to have sweet fellowship with the Lord. It meant putting to death all of his own goals and desires and living only for the Lord. This deeper relationship with the Lord meant experiencing Christ's resurrection power in a fuller measure. He wanted to know the Lord as his closest friend. He wanted to know how to please his Lord in every area of life. Even as a husband and wife grow closer through the experiences of life.
Are you dissatisfied with your Christian life now? Do you desire to know the Lord better? There is always room for growth! God's richest blessings are given to those who earnestly seek Him.
b. To Grow In Christ
Not only did Paul want to know Christ better, he wanted to become like Christ himself. Paul's desire was to grow in Christ into a mature man. He was not yet perfect. Paul knew that he had many areas of weakness in his life. He wanted to overcome these. He wanted to attain to the position that Christ had chosen for. Paul wanted God to change him and shape him after the image of the Lord Jesus. Paul wanted to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus had also laid hold of him. This required determination to go forward. It made Paul press on in his Christian race. Do you long for Christ to work in your life? Is your desire to become still more like Jesus Christ? I hope it is! Dissatisfaction motivated Paul to know Christ more and become like Him.
Nadia Comaneci, the now famous Romanian gymnast first set the World on fire by scoring three perfect 10's and also won the all-round medal at the 1976 Olympics. Jim McKay, a US Sports Commentator wanted to interview her and discover how she felt about wiping the slate clean with her three individual Gold Medals. When he was finally able to catch up with her he asked her how she felt about her wins? She replied, all right! Not able to understand why she wasn't excited he said, Aren't you thrilled? You've won the all round competition! No one has ever done that before, getting three perfect tens! She replied, I have done that fourteen times before in practice! Nadia had practiced what she needed to do to win so many times that she did it perfectly time after time. Practice made Nadia perfect! If Nadia had been content with just getting a good score she would never have gone on to perfection. Her dissatisfaction caused her to practice until she was perfect. Paul's second secret was:
Philippians 3:13-14 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.
Runners in the Greek Games
The runners in the Greek games ran toward a post fixed at the end of the stadium. The distance was 200 yards or 185 meters. They would focus on the finish post and strive with all their resolve to get their first. They ran with a purpose and nothing distracted them. To win in any sport takes self control and denial. But it also requires determination. Athletes must have a one tracked mind. They must be totally committed to winning and plan how they will train and compete. Paul had a one tracked mind to press on toward the finish line. The word press describes a hunter pursuing his prey. They don't quit until they catch it! Paul wasn't distracted by the trials or triumphs along the way. He set his mind on the finish line and determined to win the prize. Often the past hinders Christians from finishing their race. They stop short of the line.
The past may contain bitter memories of failure or pain. If we are not careful these things will prevent us from running well in the present. Paul didn't allow that to happen. It may be that you have special memories in the past. The Lord may have blessed you greatly and used you in His service. Again we must be careful not to allow the past glories from preventing us running well now. It's not only how you start the race that's important, but how you finish it! Paul couldn't erase the memories of his past anymore than you or I can. He persecuted the Church at one time. Then God saved him and used him greatly. Paul couldn't forget all of this. But he chose not to let it affect his race now. He chose to finish well by leaving the past behind him. He knew he wouldn't be perfect until Christ took him home! Are you determined to finish your race well? Is the past holding you back from going forward in your Christian race? If so you need to put it behind you and press on for the prize. Paul's third secret was:
Philippians 3:15-17 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. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.
The Greek Games
Athletes who entered in the Greek Olympic Games or Isthmian Games were subject to a ten month training period. They were under the direction of judges for this training period. They had to observe a strict diet, that prohibited them from eating delicacies and drinking wine. They had to live on spare food and abstain from confections. They had to exercise at the appointed times in the gymnasium whether it was hot or cold, and get the necessary rest. They were to live in isolation from their wives and denied the pleasant things of life. This was so that they could concentrate on being in the best physical and mental condition possible. If the athlete did not train according to the rules he was disqualified. The NIV brings out this idea: " Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. "
For an athlete to do well requires discipline. They have to train hard. They have to keep the rules. Paul closes this section by saying that those who are mature will think this way too. Mature believers don't claim to be sinless or perfect. They acknowledge their faults and need for further growth. Paul says that this is a mark of maturity. He then says that mature believers will walk by this rule to. The word walk in verse 16 means to advance in a straight line. It describes soldiers marching in a straight line. Mature believers should work together in unity. They don't do their own thing. Paul commanded the brethren to follow his example. How did Paul finish his race? 2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Are you running according to the rules in the Christian race? Do you realize that their is always room for growth in your Christian life? Are you pressing on to perfection?
Perfection won't happen till Jesus calls us home. Meanwhile let's press on toward it. Let's attain the standard Jesus has chosen for us. Let's finish our race like Paul did! Amen!
Numbers 6:24-26 “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” ’