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Press On

Philippians   •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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INTRODUCTION

Imagine that we were gathered to watch the Summer Olympics, specifically to watch the 100 meter sprint because a young American sprinter was set to not only defeat the other runners but to set a new world record.
We watch with anticipation as the runners take their mark, get set, and… then the sound of the staring signal and the runners bolt out of the blocks.
But as the other runners strain with all their might toward the finish line, we watch in amazement as our young American sprinter takes two strides out of the blocks and then stops, lifts his hands in the air, and declares victory.
If we saw that we might think that those drug testing procedures need to be a bit more strict.
At the very least, we would think that the young man was confused. No one declares victory at the starting line. Victory is declared at the finish line.
[CONTEXT] In the previous passage, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians about his coming to trust Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ; how he counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord; but Paul realized that his words may have sounded a bit too much like a victory speech. It may have sounded to the Philippians like Paul was declaring victory at the starting line, but Paul wasn’t perfect and he knew it. He hadn’t arrived yet and he knew he still had a long way to go.
[CIT] That’s why in Paul told the Philippians that he hadn’t won the race just yet, but that he was still pressing on.
But Paul realized that his words may have sounded a bit too much like a victory speech
[TRANSITION] You’ve heard people say, “No one’s perfect.” And that’s true but, as followers of Jesus, we are striving for perfection. We know that we won’t attain it this side of eternity but that’s still the goal. We are working and striving to be holy as our Father in Heaven is holy.
[PROP] Like Paul, we are pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
[INTER] But what do we need to press on?
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Chapter 16: Reaching for the Prize—Part 1: The Prerequisites (Philippians 3:12–16)

The previous passage (3:4–11) described Paul’s transformation when he encountered the risen Christ on the Damascus Road and understood the gospel. In that powerful and moving passage, the apostle recited his impressive religious credentials. Then, dramatically, he declared that compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ, those achievements were mere rubbish. Paul exchanged his useless human achievements for the knowledge, righteousness, power, fellowship, and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some in Philippi might have mistakenly assumed that, having gained those marvelous benefits, Paul had reached spiritual perfection. The Judaizers may also have taught the Philippians that spiritual perfection was attainable through being circumcised and keeping the Law. There were also heretics (forerunners of the second-century Gnostics) who taught that spiritual perfection awaited those who attained a certain level of knowledge. To counter such false ideas, Paul quickly added this passage, which is a forceful disclaimer of spiritual perfection. Though he was a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), with a new heart (Ezek. 36:26), a new disposition that strongly desired holiness (Rom. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16), was united with Christ (Gal. 2:20), possessed a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23), had the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), had right standing before God (Rom. 8:1), had been justified (Rom. 5:1), had been forgiven (Eph. 1:7), had Christ’s righteousness imputed to him (2 Cor. 5:21), and was indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:14), Paul was not perfect. He was still subject to temptation, still possessed his unredeemed flesh, and was still a sinner (cf. Rom. 7:14–25; 1 Tim. 1:15). Far from having obtained perfection, he was pursuing it with all his might. Like Peter, Paul understood that the Christian life is a lifelong process of “grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18; cf. 1 Peter 2:1–2).

Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Chapter 16: Reaching for the Prize—Part 1: The Prerequisites (Philippians 3:12–16)

No Christian will ever become perfect in this life; that awaits the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23). Perfection in this life will always be a goal, never an achievement. If we say we do not sin, we make God a liar, because He says we do (1 John 1:7–9).

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 243). Chicago: Moody Press.
[TS] In this passage this morning, we’ll look at the three NECESSITIES in order to press on; in order to run this Christian race so as to win and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant...”
Some may question why they should bother to pursue spiritual growth. After all, believers are promised “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for [them]” (). But that question is a moot point. Spiritual children, like physical children, cannot help but grow (cf. ); they have a built-in desire and drive for growth. - MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 243). Chicago: Moody Press.
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Awareness

Knowing that we are not now what we should be, and what we someday will be in glory, must not produce apathy and indolence, but a zeal for moving in the direction of the prize.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 243). Chicago: Moody Press.
[INTER] What will we need to press on?

MAJOR IDEAS

Need #1: We’ll need humility (vv. 12-13)

Philippians 3:12–13 ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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,
[Exp] Without humility we will see no reason to press on because we will think we’ve already arrived.
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Awareness

The awareness of the need to improve one’s spiritual condition is a necessary prerequisite to pursuing the prize of spiritual perfection.

Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Awareness

Obviously, pursuing the prize of spiritual perfection begins with dissatisfaction with one’s present spiritual condition.

Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Awareness

Such complacent, contented people are in grave danger of becoming insensitive to their sin and blind to their weaknesses. It is only those who are aware of their desperate spiritual need who come to Christ for salvation (Matt. 5:6). And it is only those who continue to recognize the need to eliminate sin and cultivate holiness who will make progress in the Christian life.

Need #2: We’ll need tenacity (vv. 12b-14)

Philippians 3:12–14 ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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.
The Message of Philippians b. A Single-Minded Zeal

Here is the runner in the games, ‘extended’ in every fibre of his being—‘the eye outstrips and draws on the hand, and the hand the foot’—everything is at a stretch to breast the tape.

Philippians
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Maximum Effort

I press on means “to run” or “follow after.” It speaks of an aggressive, energetic endeavor. Paul pursued the spiritual prize with all his might, straining every spiritual muscle as he ran to win (1 Cor. 9:24).

The old slogan, “Let go and let God,” may have some value as advice for anxiety, but it doesn’t have any value as advice for sanctification. While it is true that those who are in Christ will grow in Christ, those who grow do so by obeying the command to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
The thing that will feed our tenacity - the goal.
The Message of Philippians c. An Absorbing Desire

Paul tells us neither what the goal is nor what the prize will be. Yet suddenly the earthly scene with all its strivings, sufferings and sacrifices is suffused with heavenly glory. One scriptural picture after another fills and elevates the mind: the Lord’s own ‘Well done!’; ‘the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day’;6 ‘the unfading crown of glory’, gift of the chief Shepherd; the privilege (above all) that his servants should worship him, see his face and have his name written on their foreheads;8 the blood-cleansed robes and the unending presence of the Lord.10 All this and, in addition, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’. That is the goal and the prize!

The Message of Philippians d. A Sure Foundation

The prize towards which he is drawn in disciplined and concentrated activity is described as belonging to (‘of’) the upward call (or ‘high calling’) of God in Christ Jesus. A study of the idea of ‘calling’ in the Epistles of Paul will reveal that its meaning is not ‘invitation’ into gospel privileges but the power of God over the wills of his people. It is not God’s invitation to be saved; it is God’s determination to save. The prize is part of, and is guaranteed by, God’s saving purposes at work in Paul, and in all his called children.

Things that kill our tenacity for pressing on include...

Goal (Gk. skopos) could also refer to the finish line in a race or an archery target. Paul’s life is purposeful, for he constantly aims toward a heavenly goal. The prize is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, most especially being in perfect fellowship with Christ forever.

Proverbs 4:25–27 ESV
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Focused Concentration

Positively, Paul maintained his focus by reaching forward to what lies ahead. Reaching forward translates a participial form of the verb epekteinō, a compound verb made up of two prepositions added to the verb teinō (“to stretch”). It describes stretching a muscle to its limit, and pictures a runner straining every muscle to reach the finish line.

Things that kill our tenacity for pressing on include...
Our history (v. 13b)
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Focused Concentration

Paul made a break with everything in his past, both good and bad. Religious achievements, virtuous deeds, great successes in ministry, as well as sins, missed opportunities, and disasters must all be forgotten. They do not control the present or the future. Believers cannot live on past victories, nor should they be debilitated by the guilt of past sins.

Luke 9:62 ESV
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Our immaturity (v. 15)

“Mature” (Gk. teleios) is the same adjective translated “perfect” in v. 12 (“not … perfect”). Thus, Paul is saying, in effect, “If you are really perfect/mature, you will realize you are not yet perfect/mature!”

Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Recognition

Paul was an experienced pastor and knew that not all believers would share the strength and relentlessness of his focus on pursuing the prize. To them Paul says, if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you. Those who refuse to heed Paul’s message will hear that same message from God. He will correct them through His Word, His Spirit, or through chastening. God will do whatever it takes to make believers recognize their need to pursue the prize of Christlikeness. He will also provide the resources they need to do that (2 Peter 1:3).

Our uniformity (v. 16)
[ILLUS] There are many similar things that make us like the man in who wanted to measure the ruins of Jerusalem, allowing bygone glories and past failures to decide the dimensions of the future. - Motyer, J. A. (1984). The message of Philippians (p. 176). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Motyer, J. A. (1984). The message of Philippians (p. 176). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Need #3: We’ll need reality (v. 12)

Philippians 3:12 ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
We want to focus on the last part of v. 12, “I press on ot make it my own,
I am owned by Christ, therefore, I am going to own this Christian life. I am pressing on! I am straining toward the goal!
Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Maximum Effort

Paul’s goal in life was consistent with Christ’s goal in saving him.

What was Christ’s goal in saving Paul? The apostle stated it in Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” God chose Paul, as He did all believers, to make him like Jesus Christ. That purpose for which God saved us is also the purpose for which we live. “It was for this He called you through our gospel,” wrote Paul to the Thessalonians, “that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). The Christian life is a lifelong pursuit of Christlikeness. That was the Lord’s goal in saving Paul and was his goal in response.

CONCLUSION

Philippians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Pursuing the Prize Requires a Proper Conformity

At the foot of one of the Swiss Alps is a marker honoring a man who fell to his death attempting the ascent. The marker gives his name and this brief epitaph: “He died climbing.” The epitaph of every Christian should be that they died climbing the upward path toward the prize of Christlikeness.

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