Jack Graham - Press On
What is the passion and the purpose of your life? What is the goal? The holy ambition? The one pure and holy passion of your life? What we're about to see for the followers of Jesus is that it is to pace ourselves, to push ourselves, to press on to the victory that we have in Christ. And especially to press on when it gets hard and we want to quit, and our spiritual muscles are aching; we don't know if we're going to make it, and yet, to press on. Philippians chapter 3, verses 10 to 14. Here are the words of Coach Paul, the Apostle beginning at verse 10: "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain", or gain, "the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this (I'm not there yet) or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own".
Jesus puts us in the race by His grace. "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". There it is! Coach Paul, the Apostle Paul, the Word of God teaching us, training us in the race to pursue Christ. And out of this passage I see some rules for spiritual athletes, those who are running the race and who not only run it, but finish it and finish it well. So I want to give those to you this morning.
If you're taking notes, the first one is: Never be satisfied! That's verse 12. Look at verse 12 again. Paul said, "I haven't obtained this", that is the progressive perfect knowledge of knowing Jesus, "but I press on". He said, "I'm not already perfect. I haven't arrived". And none of us will arrive until He arrives. We're all on the way. The way to get in the race is to know Christ, to receive Christ and put your hope in Him and follow Him, because He ran the race ahead of us, and went to the cross for the joy that we set before Him, and died for us and rose again. And so we get into the race by receiving His grace and trusting in Him.
And then we begin to run. At times with stumbling steps, but we're on our way. And like Paul we say, I'm not there but I'm not satisfied with not being there yet. Paul was not satisfied with where he was. He said I'm not complete yet. I'm not full yet. I'm not mature yet. There's so much more for me to know about Christ, and of Christ Himself. There's so much more for me to grow! Look if you are satisfied with where you are spiritually, you're not aiming high enough. There's always more in Christ! After all, if anyone could have been satisfied with his spiritual condition, it would have been Paul.
Paul, writing from prison after many opponents and challenges to his faith and to the Gospel; yet along the way he had led thousands of people to personal faith in Christ, he had planted churches all over the known world, he was a mighty man of prayer, he was a writer, as I mentioned, of the New Testament, on and on we could go. And yet with all of these accomplishments he was still hungry and he was still humble. He said, "I want to know Christ. I want to avoid the peril of the plateau". When he says in verse 10, "that I know him and the power of his resurrection". It's not that Paul didn't know Him as his Savior. Certainly he did, but the word to know here, it means to know Him personally, to know Him experientially. It's not to know about Christ. That's a good thing, to know about Christ. I want to know as much about Jesus as I can. Just keep telling me the story of Jesus! Amen? I want to know about Him, but beyond knowing about Him, I want to know Him progressively.
Paul would later say in 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I've believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day". Sometimes people misquote that verse and say "I know in whom I have believed". Paul didn't say I know in whom I have believed. He said I know Him! I know whom! I know the One whom I have believed. I know Jesus! Paul didn't even want a preposition between him and Jesus! Look, Jesus is not someone we just know about; He's someone we know! I know Jesus! And I want to know more of Him! Coaches often tell their teams, stay hungry and stay humble. That's what Paul is saying here. He said I haven't arrived. I'm not there yet, but I'm moving forward.
Paul, of course, was a high achiever! And the man we met before Paul was transformed by Jesus is a whole lot different than the man after. Saul of Tarsus was transformed to become Paul the Apostle. And he tells us a little bit about his pride; that his religious pride and his egotistical self-effort and arrogance brought him to the end of himself when he met Jesus. Look back up in Philippians chapter 3 and let's begin reading at verse 4. This is important, look at it. It says "Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh". Say, you know, a lot of reason to be proud.
He said, "If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin", the upper echelon of Israel, "a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee", this is someone who kept all of the minutia of the Law, "as to zeal, a persecutor of the church", he was all in. He said, "as to righteousness under the law, blameless", then he said, "whatever gain I had, whatever advantage I had, I count it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. And for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish", translated here, and the ESV cleans that one up a little bit for us, rubbish. Literally means refuse, filth, defecation.
He said I count it but dung. That's the old King James version. Worthless! Filthy! All of these advantages! All of this ego that I had! He said compared to knowing Jesus, compared to what I have in Christ, that is rubbish, "in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith". Self-righteousness, arrogance, all the rest, he said I put no confidence in the flesh. You know what an ego is: edging God out. Paul said "All that stuff that I accomplished before I met Jesus is worthless, it's waste. So I'm not there yet, I'm not finished with my race yet, but I'm on my way and I'm going to stay on my way! I'm not going to have confidence in the flesh, but I'm going to trust in the righteousness and the faithfulness of my God"!
Look, remember, you're just one bad decision from a disaster in your life, a moral, a spiritual disaster. That's why we all need to run this race just a little bit scared. Paul did. He tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, verse 24 that he's running this race and he's running it to win. We'll get to that in just a second, but then he went on to say, "So I discipline my body, I bring my body under self-control, lest I, having preached to others, I become a default, I become disqualified".
Paul ran a little bit scared because his greatest fear was that somehow he would get out of the race and not finish. Or put on the sideline and not be used of God! We all ought to run with the knowledge that if we take our eyes off Jesus and don't control our bodies, our minds that we can all be a failure. We can all fall in faith. If you want to win in the Christian life, if you want to know spiritual success and longevity, and, yes, legacy in your faith, it's not just starting, it's finishing! If you want to run the race and finish, not just stumbling through, but with your hands held high and fall into the arms of your Savior, then never stop learning, never stop growing, never stop progressing. Never be satisfied with where you are. Never satisfied!
Number 2, stay focused. That's verse 13: "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing (You might want to underscore that in your Bible) But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and I strain forward to what lies ahead". He said I'm going to stay focused on the high calling of God upon my life. "This one thing I do, this one thing of pursuing Christ passionately, progressively, becoming more like Christ. I'm not going to get caught up in the distractions and the diversions and the detours. I'm going to look straight ahead and stay focused on the heavenly prize". Distractions are the enemy of success in life. You know, they say if you're texting while you're driving it's like being drunk, inebriated. Don't do that. That's a distraction. That'll put you out of the race pretty quick if you're not careful.
Every winning athlete must stay focused on the goal. There are no side issues. If you're training for a competition, if you're an athlete playing on a team sport, whatever, I mean you have to put aside other things in order to pursue winning, because as Vince Lombardy said, "Winning is not a sometime thing, it's an all the time thing". Paul said, "Run that you may win". Again, this isn't a fun run; this is run that you may win! I'm not a fan of getting a trophy or a ribbon by just showing up and participating. I'm sure not a fan of any sport, I don't care how small they are, that doesn't keep score. We keep score. Why? Because you learn things from winning; you learn things from losing! And when we run this race in the Christian life we are not just showing up and hanging out; we're running to win! We have opponents, rivals! The world, the flesh, the devil!
We need to make sure that we're in the contest, that we're in the competition, that there will be a total commitment. You will never be a success in the race that God has given you, if you don't have this one burning passionate controlling focus in your life! It's the same thing that David talked about in Psalm 27: "One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple".
It was the same thing that Mary had when she knelt at the feet of Jesus, while Martha was in the kitchen, getting things ready and there was heat coming out of that kitchen, not just from the oven, but from Martha because she was upset that Mary was not helping, and there was a confrontation. Martha said, "Jesus, do something here. Get her to help me". Jesus said, "Martha, Martha, you're so concerned about so many things, but Mary has chosen the best thing". And Mary did choose the best thing, which was to worship the Lord Jesus.
It doesn't mean you won't have other interests. Of course, you'll have other interests. Paul did. Paul had a job in fact; he was a tent maker. Paul traveled. Paul enjoyed sports competition. He alluded to it on numerous occasions in the Scripture. He loved the athletic arena and compared it as in this case to the Christian life. So Paul liked all of that. He liked rest and food and sleep and all the rest! These were interests, but he knew what Jesus said was true. No man can serve two masters. James said, "A double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways". Single-minded clear focus, that's what it takes to win.
Sometimes maybe in business you are given the advice, you know, you need to not put all your eggs in one basket. Someone added onto that and said no, that's not right-don't put all your eggs in one basket. He said, put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket. That's good business! And that's good for the believer! So your job, your career, your recreation, your friends, your rest, everything that you do should be underneath the authority and the anointing of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ upon your life! Everything! All of our ambitions, all of our appetites! Paul would say in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 and verse 12, talking about what we do, what we don't do in life as believers, he said, "Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial or helpful, expedient in life".
There are some things that are not good for me because they don't move me forward in life. And sometimes you have to say no to lesser things in order to say yes to better things. I often find in my own life that I have to choose, not as much between what is good and bad so much, but what is good and what is best and what is better. All of us have to make decisions like that. In Hebrews chapter 1, we're told to "lay aside the weights and the sin that so easily holds us back". Lay aside the weights, those things. You know, when a runner runs they strip down sometimes to almost embarrassing proportions because they don't want anything to hold them back! And the Scripture says, Don't run with weights, run with wings! Don't let anything trip you up or ensnare you! Do away with it.
Run your own race, that's the third thing, very quickly. Run your own race. We're not in a competition here. Sometimes we fall behind because we're looking around to see what someone else is doing because we don't have their gifts or their abilities, or their applause. Have you ever been at a workout facility and you're on a treadmill and you're competing with the person next to you? I do that some. I don't know what that is. But we've got our own lane to run, we have our own gifts, our own talents, our own spiritual goals. Run your own race! God has not called you to run my race, nor me yours! Stay in your lane! Keep your eyes on the Lord, on the prize! Run hard! Don't try to impress me or outrun me. Just stay in the race in your own place at your own pace. And remember, we're all on the same team, right, if we're in Christ.
Okay, here's another one: Never quit. Verse 14, he says, "I follow after, which means I sweat, I strain, I press on", verse 14, verse 12. It means to pursue relentlessly. So often we don't finish the race well because we quit too soon. We give up. We must endure. We train to persevere. So many people have the want to win but they don't have the will to win, and it takes both. Some have the desire to win spiritually but don't have the discipline and the determination.
Paul said, "I'm pressing on. I may be in prison, I've been beaten, I've been nearly stoned to death and left for dead. I'm facing an uncertain future, but I'm not defeated! I'm going to keep running. I'll never stop"! Never stop serving Christ! Never stop giving your life! Never stop witnessing to your friends! Some of you, you have given up and you're just watching others now. Don't give up. Don't retire from life. Keep running! No matter what age you are. Some people, about forty they quit. You know, they die at forty but they don't get buried till about eighty. Keep your fire!
And then, number five, don't be paralyzed by the past. Paul said, "Forgetting". Look at verses 13 and 14. He says, "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward, straining". Very strong, competitive word straining. Every ounce, every inch of us straining to the tape. He said, "Forget those things which are behind, moving forward to those things which are before". The upward, onward call. We can learn so much from the past, but we shouldn't ever live there! You can't live your life looking over your shoulder, looking in the rear view mirror. You can't run a race like that.
Satchel Paige used to say you're running, don't turn around, somebody will be gaining on you. So we keep our eyes on the prize, focus; and we don't get paralyzed by the past. Have you ever noticed how often we remember those things that we ought to forget, and we forget those things we ought to remember? Maybe your husband left you or your child did the wrong thing and you're just living in that shame. Listen to me, somebody else's sin is not your shame. Live in the freedom of your life in Christ. Don't be bogged down by sins in the past, the shame of yesterday. Some of you just keep playing that old movie again and again. You're watching reruns of the past. Cut it out, throw it away.
And then one final thing: forget about past sorrow. I know some of you have great grief in your life. I tell people through times of grief, "Look, you never get over it but you will get through it". I was talking to a man yesterday whose wife of many years had passed away, and it's been a while, but he still just can't get through it. He's still so grief-stricken and he can't move forward with his life. And we were just praying together about that, and I told him exactly what I'm showing you today in Scripture, and that is, you can't live grieving the rest of your life. Let the Holy Spirit comfort you. Let God strengthen you even if it means just taking one step at a time. Get up, keep moving, don't stay in your grief and your sorrow and your depression. You can't keep licking your wounds from the past. Get up, get on with your life.
One final thing, finish! Paul finished well! He said, "I've finished the course, I've run the race"! He said in Acts 20, verse 24, look on the screen. This is becoming a maxim verse for me, a marker verse in my own life these days. This is what I want my life to be. Paul said it as he faced the future. He said, "But I don't account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and ministry that I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God". I know these are challenging times. I know our religious freedoms are under attack and are being diminished day after day. I know there are new challenges to the Christian faith daily in your own life there are personal challenges, but now is not the time to give up. But to keep going forward! And when your day comes to finish, you'll break that tape with hands held high and celebrate your victories forever with Jesus!