Philippians 3: 7-14
When I was in my early teens my friend and I often talked about our experiences in church. I attended the local Nazarene Church. He attended another church out in the country. He and I both made professions of faith and had our ups and downs in our efforts to live the Christian life. I remember one conversation that we had in which we both concluded that it was very hard—maybe even impossible—to live the Christian life. And, after a certain time, he quit trying. His life took a very different direction from mine. I lost contact with him for several years. I knew that he had moved to Indiana, but it had been years since I had any contact with him. I knew that he had problems with alcohol abuse and I learned last year that he had passed away after suffering for years with emphysema—such a tragedy.
I think back to that conversation and our conclusion that it was difficult and almost impossible to live a Christian life. I was probably 13 or 14 years old at that time. It would have been another 3 or 4 years before I really made a lasting commitment to Christ.
Is living a Christian life difficult? Looking back on the questions after all these years I now understand why we concluded it was so. We both were trying to follow a set of rules instead of seeking to have a personal relationship with the living God. We both at that time thought that being a Christian was about not smoking, not drinking, not gambling, not going to movies. The old ditty, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do!” pretty much described what we thought being a Christian was all about.
But we were wrong. We were wrong thinking that our salvation was just about keeping rules. We were wrong to think that we could discipline ourselves to the point that we could keep the rules.
The Apostle Paul in his writings stated that the Law could not save us. The purpose of the Law was to reveal to us that we are sinners that need to be saved.
A question for us today is, “If keeping the rules cannot save us, should we still try to keep the rules?”
And the answer is, “Yes, we should strive to avoid what our conscious tells us is wrong, and we should do all we can to always do what is right.” But our motivation isn’t to keep the rules—our motivation is to honor God as we seek a closer relationship with Him!
`In our scripture today, we read the testimony of a mature Christian, Paul, who had devoted his life to serving God. As a matter of fact, this letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell where Paul was being held because of his commitment to the mission God had given him of carrying the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Let’s examine Paul’s words in this passage as we think about how we are doing in our efforts to live the Christian life.
I. PAUL’S DESIRE WAS TO KNOW CHRIST.
a. Phil. 3:10 says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
b. No where do I read Paul saying, “I want to keep all the rules the Pharisees have come up with on what to eat, how to wash, with whom I can associate, etc.” And, remember, Paul had been a Pharisee himself. But now, after walking with Christ for years and after preaching the Gospel in many different places and under many different circumstances, Paul’s desire transcended any rules. His desire was to know Christ personally, intimately—Not know about Christ, but to know Him in a real experiential way.
c. This desire was what my friend and I were lacking those many years ago in our immaturity.
II. PAUL’S TESTIMONY REVEALED A NEED FOR MORE.
a. In Philippians 3:13 Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it…” What is the “It” that Paul had not yet taken hold of? It was that sense of fully experiencing the sufferings and the life of Christ for which he was reaching. It was the prize of having experienced all that Christ had in store for him to experience.
b. Now remember, this isn’t a young Paul just starting out on his Christian journey. This is the veteran Missionary who had started churches throughout Asia Minor and the continent of Europe. This is the Paul who had been mocked and persecuted and beaten, and imprisoned because of his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Paul who had encountered Jesus face to face on the Damascus Road and who had been caught up in the spirit to see things that the Spirit revealed to him (See 2 Corinthians 12). It is hard to imagine anyone who had a closer walk with Christ than Paul. But even with all that, Paul expressed his need to know Christ even more!
c. I cannot stress enough how true it is. No matter how spiritual we may be, not matter how long we have been a Christian, no matter how good we are at keeping the rules—there is still more for us to know, more for us to gain, more intimacy we can have in our relationship with Christ!
d. Whenever I meet with someone who comes across as “having arrived at the pinnacle of Christianity, I get uneasy. Several years ago I took a course at Nazarene Theological Seminary entitled “Christian Mysticism.” And one of the things I remember from the writings of the Christian Mystics was the awareness that the more their lives were purified from sin, the more pain they felt because their awareness of sin was heightened…Instead of feeling more holy, they felt more unworthy. Paul certainly did not come across in this passage as one puffed up with spiritual pride. He comes across as someone who desperately wants to have the best relationship possible with Christ!
e. Is that your desire?
III. PAUL’S TESTIMONY REVEALED A NEED TO PRESS ON…
a. In Philippians 3: 13-14 Paul said, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
b. That word “Press on” carries with it the idea of “Stretching” as far as we can. Athletes as they prepare for their game usually go through a series of stretching exercises that prepares their muscles for the tasks before them.Just what exactly did Paul mean when He said, “I press on…?” What did he do –or keep on doing—that indicated he was stretching or pressing on?
c. From Paul’s writings we are given some very important “spiritual stretching exercises”—disciplines that will help us keep in the race and not fall by the wayside. Let’s consider some of these disciplines that Paul must have practiced himself even as He command others to do:
i. In Philippians 4 He gives these instructions; REJOICE AWAYS. Whatever it is you might want to say about the Christian life, it should be a life of joy—a positive, wholesome, healthy look at life!Practice GENTLENESS. For our gentleness is a witness to others of the love of Christ.Don’t be ANXIOUS…Instead take your troubles to the Lord and thank Him. In so doing you experience His Peace that transcends understanding.FOCUS ON THE GOOD, THE WHOLESOME, THE PURE. We usually see that for which we are looking. Look for faults and you find plenty. Instead look for good and you will be surprised at how much good you will find.
ii. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul again tells the church to REJOICE. But he goes on to encourage them to be continually in PRAYER, and to be careful to QUENCH NOT THE SPIRIT…
iii. In Galatians 5 Paul exhorts the church to “Live in the Spirit” and to “Keep in Step with the Spirit.”Therein lays the answer to the problem my friend and I were having in our spiritual ups and downs. We were trying to keep rules instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our lives. And on our own and in our own strength we were trying to save ourselves by keeping the Law.
iiii. The “Pressing On” that Paul intended to do was to keep His experience with the Living Christ by honoring Him in all that he did. God had called him to Preach—so he preached. God had called him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, so he kept on sharing the Gospel with the Greeks and Romans. Paul was stating that he intended to do everything possible to live a life of obedience to Christ and to honor Christ in every way he could. Did Paul Keep the rules? He knew that the way to demonstrate His love for Christ was by keeping Christ’s commands. So he allowed His love for Christ to direct him in how he lived his life.
Why do you follow Christ?
Why do you attend Church?
Why do you pay your tithes and give you offerings?
Are you doing these things because you think that is what you have to do in order to be saved?
Or do you do these things because you have fallen in love with Christ and want to seize every opportunity to draw closer to Him?
Paul said, “ I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
That sounds to me like living everyday in His Presence, walking in His footsteps, experiencing life as He experienced it—is that really what you want to do?