If you own a car you know what an alignment is. You need your wheels facing the same direction or you are going to have problems. Vehicles go out of alignment. Every bump and turn pushes and pulls those wheels in a different direction. Periodically you need to have them checked or adjusted. Most things in life tend to move out of alignment. It happens with cars, with organizations, and with ourselves as well.
We are at the turn of another new year, and also making a turn as a church. New Years can be a time of refreshing change. You evaluate where you are going and how to get there. We are in a time of regrouping and rebuilding as a church. I want to capitalize on the new year momentum to evaluate where we are in our walk with God and where we need to grow personally and corporately. We are going to be looking at some passages that define what the church is to be and do. I hope and pray God uses this time to bring all of us more in line with his purposes and plan.
Whenever there is talk of new year and new resolutions there can be different perspectives. Sometimes there is excitement for all the change that is going to happen. Others times the opposite response where there is pessimism. “I have been trying ____ for ten years. It hasn’t happened yet and no ways it’s going to happen this year.” Today I want to look at a passage that helps us think about how to move forward.
Read: Phil 3:1-21
Prop: You have an upward calling in Christ and this is what you need to do in your calling:
V8 the main verb in this passage “gain.” That i might gain Christ and be found in him. This is what drove Paul. It is what should drive us. To gain is to profit through action. Going into business to gain money. You acquire something through work. The good and faithful servants (Matt 25) put their talents to use to gain more talent. There are many goals and resolutions but what we want most should be to gain Christ - that is, to know Him and depend on His righteousness, not our own works. We want more of him. That’s the goal and also the reward.
What does it matter if we lose 5 lbs or gain 5 million dollars. Christ is better than all these things.
All other things pale in comparison to what we have in Christ. He is the light of the world. The one who made all things. The one who judges the world. He is the image of God. He is the resurrection and life. He is the good shepherd who protects his people. In him we have a heavenly citizenship (v20). In Christ we are found to be righteous (v9). Paul considered everything else as rubbish, refuse, compared to what he had in Christ (3:8). The value of what we have in Christ far surpasses what the world offers to us.
Sometimes we have problems and think if I just had a banker to deliver me from these financial problems, if I just had a doctor to deliver me from these health problems, if i just had an adviser to deliver me from these business complications. We can look to those as saviors, but they are not the Savior. The true Savior is heavenly and offers a complete, eternal, and unending salvation. This is what we have in Christ. This is what we want to gain. This is what Christ has taken hold of us for and it is what we want to take hold of.
Paul is so certain of what he has in Christ that he is willing to lose all things in order to gain Christ (v11). He is willing to suffer loss to get Christ (v8). He knew Christ but wanted more. It’s like the parable of the hidden treasure where a man finds treasure in a field and then goes to sell all he has to acquire it. We are gaining this treasure each and everyday, and that means we are losing and giving away our lives each and everyday. Coming to Christ means you realize how inept everything in life is to save you so your forsake it and trust in Christ. Every day after that is coming to greater realization of how ephemeral the world is and why Christ is so much better.
How do we take hold of what he has taken hold of us for (3:12). Christ took hold of paul, made him his own, and part of being in Christ is being in his will and in his work. Jesus called Paul to be an apostle-- to take the gospel to other places, to write the Word of God. As an heir of the kingdom he had kingdom work to do, and Paul got busy doing it. We too, as we believe in Christ, we are in him, part of his heavenly kingdom, and we have work to do. We are to further his kingdom and glory. If you are part of the kingdom then you have kingdom work to do. Don’t be distracted from that goal.
Don’t consider yourself to have taken hold it yet. Paul was not content with what he had gained of Christ. He wanted more. If you are alive you have work to do. Work to reach others. Work to study how to reach others. How do you relate? A divine dissatisfaction or passion is essential for progress and growth.
We all have an upward calling in Christ . Typically that calling is doing our earthly calling with a heavenly mindset. We are parents with a heavenly mindset. Students with a heavenly mindset. When our parents ask us to do chores we don’t complain because we are rich in Christ. We are computer engineers who are heavenly minded-- doing our tasks with a mind towards gaining and sharing Christ.
We have an incredible hope and calling. But no goal goes untested. The greater the goal the greater the testing. If you have ever set a goal or reset a goal you know that often your greatest obstacle is yourself. In order to gain Christ you have to...
You have to “forget what is behind you” (3:13). Have you ever watched a football game where a guy catches the ball, he makes a move to dodge a tackler and then is him and nothing but green grass ahead. He has a sure touchdown, but he starts looking backward to see if anyone might catch him. You can’t run full speed when you are not looking where you are going. To go full speed you need your sight set on the goal. Whatever you are looking at is where you will go. We need to set our sights on the goal ahead of us, not the one behind us.
Forgetting is choosing not to recall information concerning a particular matter. It means to disregard and to not put weight on. To care nothing for. Here it particularly involves your reasons for boasting. It’s amazing how even the good works you have done in the past can prevent you from being fruitful in the present. Forgetting is in the present tense meaning it is continuous and ceaseless activity. The past can creep in so quickly and condemn you or make you satisfied.
Don’t rest on the past. People so easily rest on their past victories. Good things they have done. The mission trip, marriage counseling, their past victories mask their present unfaithfulness. As though they don’t need to work on marriage because they counseled others or don’t need to evangelize because they have “done that.” Paul shares his past with those who try to boast in what they have done...
Paul could hang with anyone on human attainments. You have victories. He has more. You have confidence in what you have done (3:4). Paul has more. He is going after people who have confidence in the flesh (3:4), that is in things they have done.
The Jewish people had the law of God, and you can observe all the rules and be more concerned with the law than with a relationship with god. That was Paul, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil 3:5-7).
Those things Paul once worked so hard for, things that meant so much to him, he considers loss for the sake of Christ. He worked hard to be right in God’s eyes and he ultimately saw how futile all his works were. Those great works were nothing compared to gaining Christ. Doing stuff can’t give you what you have in Christ. It comes from trusting him and being in him. Paul divested himself not of works, but of the mistaken confidence in his work, which only puffs people up.
Paul kept pushing forward in his calling. He never retired. He never let up. What he had in Christ pushed him forward. He was not content. A divine discontentment is key to moving gaining more. How are you engaging in the mission? How is your pursuit of Christ? Are you resting on the past? When was the last time you told someone about Jesus, when was the last time you invited someone to church, when was the last time you stood up for what is right, when was the last time you gave sacrificially? Don’t be confident in your past. And also,
Don’t be condemned by the past. Some are puffed up by their past. Others are deflated by their past. Constantly devastated by the past. This passage teaches what to do with past successes and past failures. You push them aside. In Christ all our sins can be forgiven. If he has forgiven you why do you condemn yourself??
Paul redeemed his past because he was redeemed. He was a persecutor of the church. Probably a bit embarrassing teaching something you once opposed. And yet he told others of God’s grace that changed him. He told his conversion story multiple times, in book of Acts twice (Acts 22, 26), in Philippians, Galatians, Timothy. He wanted others to encounter the same grace he experienced. He knew that if God’s grace was able to break into him that it could break into others (before Agrippa, Acts 26:11-29).
Let god’s grace cover your past. Tell others about it. Tell others what God has done for you. Maybe you were a heathen, maybe you were a lackadaisical Christian (which isn't much of a Christian!), maybe you had some missteps. Don’t be ashamed of those. Put them behind you and let them propel you toward the goal.
Paul also had skill transfer from his past. In verse 6 he talks about his zeal of persecuting the church. That word is used of a hunter hunting his prey. You can imagine what it indicates of Paul’s past and his relentless pursuit of the church. There is an intensity and resilience, and Paul uses that word in both ver 12 and 14 of how he now pursues Christ. Paul’s intensity and resilience in godless objectives are now redirected toward Godly objectives. His zeal was redeemed. This is what God can do with our past. He redirects us.
Similar to what you do with our kids. We don’t want to squash their passion and determination, but we do want to redirect it. The intensity you pursue video games I want you to pursue Christ.
The same can happen with us. Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s often not until we get past a season that we can see how we were or were not really pursuing Christ. You think you are honoring him, but as time passes you see how you were off target. God can redeem the past. It humbles us, think how humbled Paul must have been, teaching what he once tried to destroy. This is where the gospel is such good news.
Realize what an amazing thing the gospel is. People are held in bondage to the past. Do a search on escaping your past and you will see advice from Oprah and every other person. The longer I have been a Christian the more I have seen my need to trust Christ not with the future, but with the past. I have made bad decisions, things didn’t go the way I planned. You have to trust him with those things. In Christ our past is not determinative. In Christ we can be forgiven and have hope for the future. It doesn’t matter what you have or have not done. It’s about where you are with him and where you are going. There is a great dilemma in moving on from the past. Some want to say it doesn’t matter, but if it doesn’t matter then why should the future matter. If it really doesn’t matter then why care about anything. Those who say it does matter have trouble moving past it. The gospel holds these in tension. It says what we do matters yet we can be forgiven. We can move toward a different reality. The past does not determine your future. What determines your future is following Christ. That is what is most important.
Ultimately, moving on from the past is enabled because there is something greater than what you have lost.
As a teacher I love Paul says he does one thing and then gives you two parts. :-) But the point is clear: one act with two movements. looking to the goal requires turning from looking behind. And effort is required.
Athletic imagery is used (v13) to explain what it takes. The “goal” is the prize that comes from an athletic contest. “Straining toward what is ahead” is a word of intense effort. It could be used of a runner straining ahead extending himself for the finish line. Have you ever seen a runner do that in the Olympics. The guy is running as hard as he possible can, straining, and then at the end he is giving it absolutely everything he has. Running as hard and strong and also trying to put everything he has into getting that hand or head extended just a little bit more. That is how Paul exerted himself in his pursuit of Christ. How are you running after him? Does it seem more like the runner in the race or the guy watching on tv? That guy is casually sitting back, flipping through uncommitted to anything, not exerting himself. This is what much of Christianity has been in the western world.
Great effort is required because there are obstacles: there are those dogs, those mutilators of the flesh, those evil doers (v 2), those who live as enemies of the cross (3:18). People are weak. In 4:1 Paul tells them to stand firm in the Lord. We need to do that because things try to move us! In 4:2 Paul address two ladies who are not getting along and tells them to “agree in the Lord.”
Don’t think the Christian life or church’s mission is supposed to be easy. We live in a time where people don’t realize how hard things are. Images are everywhere and those images convey so much, but they also conceal a lot too. We see images of people with the perfect body. Perfect business men. Perfect families or “Facebook families!” Maybe occasionally someone posts an image of things falling apart but even those are posted as though we see the humor or purpose behind that pain. Sometimes we see a 90 second clip of a team winning the championship and are completely ignorant of the thousands of hours that went into them positioning themselves for that moment. We don’t see the 1000 of other business people who have done similar things but rather than make it big they simply make ends meet. The vast majority of people are totally ignorant of the cost and strain required to achieve. I have seen the same thing in the Bible. People struggle with how hard life is, they see David was a king, Paul an apostle, but don’t remember the battles David fought, his persecutions by Saul and even his own son. They forget Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, thrown in prison and so much more. If you want to gain Christ, it comes at great exertion. If you want to gain Christ you follow in the footsteps of his suffering (v10).
If we are going to move forward it will require us focusing on who Christ is calling us to be now. The same is true in your life. It is so good how the gospel frees us to move forward. I remember showing up to a friends house one time at the request of he and his wife. They had hit some snags and needed help. They were not getting along. I asked what happened and it went something like this. She did something he didn’t like and he responded poorly. She then did something in return. He made another bad decision and did something he should not have. She in turn did something she should not have. They wanted to know who was right so they could move forward. I told them both of them were right. They were right that the actions of the other hurt. They were both also extremely wrong in what hey had been doing.
They were stuck. Focused on the wrongs of the other and living in the past. They were not allowing themselves or the other to move forward. I read this passage and told them they need to press forward. She is not going to be the godly wife God calls her to be with you treating her this way. He is not going to the be the godly husband God calls him to be if you are treating him like this. You both are holding each other and yourself back, and you will kill yourself trying to punish each other for their wrong. The gospel makes for new breaks and new beginnings.
If you are in a rut with your marriage maybe it’s time to stop focusing on the past and focus on the future. If you are stuck in your job maybe you need to stop focusing on how others have treated you and put a determined focus on what Christ calls you to do. And the same for our church, don’t base your current church participation on what you have done or how others have hurt you but on what God calls you to do. Our future is not defined by our past. It is defined by Christ and us gaining him. Let’s chart a new course, let’s tell others how wonderful our Savior is. Let’s tell them about the new beginnings that are in him. If we do this all the other things will fall into place.
Lastly, gaining Christ requires…
There are obstacles to push out of the way in order to push forward, but don’t think that means you push other people aside like they are a hindrance to your growth. We need others.
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Phi 3:17 ESV)
The Philippians were to look to Paul’s example. We need to do the same, and we do that by paying attention to the apostolic teaching-- the Bible. We are also to keep our eyes on those who walk according to the example of them. This is where I am so grateful for the church and am so convinced of its importance. Some of my greatest lessons have not been through sermons or seminary classes but by simply living and learning with others. Some of my greatest advice on being a dad, a husband, a friend have come by seeing those around me or asking them for advice on topics. We need each other.
If you want to reach others in the community talk with those around you. Ask what are you doing to reach your neighbors? If you want to be a great dad ask others what they are doing or have done. If you want to be a great parent talk with others about the areas you are confused or concerned about. If you are struggling to move forward then talk with a friend. Ask them for advice, prayer, Scriptures to read.
Look to those who are setting a positive example. Do you know anyone who you are looking to how they walk? Most of us are connected to hundreds or thousands of people. We are a mile wide an inch deep in relationships. We don’t really know what real relationship is. It goes beyond “liking” or “resharing” a post.
The need for others is made very clear in v16 “Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phi 3:16 ESV). “Let us live up to, let us keep living by, let us hold true to.” NAU Philippians 3:16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Phi 3:16 NAU). It has in mind a collective action or collective discipline. It means to walk but it has in mind a walk that is in line with others. Like when a platoon of soldiers moves and they are in step with one another. (Rom 4:12 Galatians 5:25).
No one wants to be an isolated soldier. The odds are not in your favor. We want to follow the Lord, and that means following in the steps of others. It means being in sync with others. If you are the enemy and one individual comes at you. You might not be concerned if you see a group of people and while one advances another falls back. But what happens when a whole platoon appears and advances toward you. Church, what might it look like if we all take a step together. If we all put things behind us, and strain toward what Christ has called us to be and do together in this day and in this place. Great things can happen in and through our church.
We are going to be looking at these things the next few weeks. I want you to start thinking of the ways you might should step forward. I don’t want you to commit to anything today. Relax! I want you to prayerfully consider where you can grow in your walk with God and take a step. Here are a few things to get you thinking:
What do you need to do to get to that place? Do you need to push things aside, do you need to look past things from the past.