PRESSING ON – Philippians 3:12-16

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INTRODUCTION;

Most of us have probably read biographies – books that tell the story of another person’s life. Maybe we were curious, and hoped to discover what made that person great. In Philippians, chapter 3, the apostle Paul is giving us his own spiritual biography. In verses 1-11 Paul tells us about his past. Here, in verses 12-16, Paul describes his present spiritual journey. He compares it to a race, and he gives us the essentials for winning that race and one day receiving the reward that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised.

I. DISSATISFACTION (verse 12)

The first essential for winning the race is dissatisfaction. In verse 12 the apostle Paul says, “not that I have already attained it, or have become perfect”. Paul is not saying here that he is dissatisfied with Jesus Christ. In verse 8 he talked about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ”. But Paul is dissatisfied with his Christian life. Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention. Because man was dissatisfied with carrying and lifting loads on his shoulders, he invented the wheel and the lever. Because he was dissatisfied with walking, he invented vehicles to ride in. Many Christians are self-satisfied with their Christian lives because they compare their spiritual progress with that of other Christians, usually with those Christians who are not making as much progress as themselves. But Paul did not compare himself with others. He compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! In verse 12 Paul says that he had not arrived at perfection. One mark of spiritual maturity is realizing that we aren’t perfect. The process of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ is much like riding a bicycle: either you keep moving forward, or you fall down!

II. DEVOTION (verse 13a)

The second essential for winning the race and receiving the prize is devotion. Paul says in verse 13, “but one thing I do”. “One thing” is a phrase that is very important in our Christian lives. “One thing you lack”, said Jesus to the rich young ruler. “One thing is needful”, He said to Martha. “One thing I know”, said the man who received his sight by the power of Jesus Christ. “One thing I have desired of the Lord” said the psalmist. Many Christians are too involved in many things, when the secret of progress in our lives is to concentrate on “one thing”. For example, the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world. He lives on the plains of Africa, and when he’s hungry he chooses one specific animal in a herd of deer or antelope and goes after it. Ignoring others, this swift cat has been clocked at nearly 70 miles per hour in hot pursuit of its prey until he catches it.

The same kind of determination and single-mindedness has been shown by some people. One of them was a man named Howard Marvin. First, a numbness crept into his fingers. Then weakness progressed quickly through his body. Within hours he was becoming paralyzed. Howard had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that causes paralysis and sometimes causes death. He lived, but he was left totally paralyzed. Recalling Howard’s attitude of mind in those months that followed, his son said, “Dad’s one goal was to survive”. When he was told that his best friend had died, he accepted it and put it out of his mind.” He cared very deeply about his friend, but he refused to use up any energy in grieving because he needed every ounce of strength just to get well. Howard Marvin is walking again. Did God do it? Howard would be quick to say “yes”. But without a single-minded, dogged determination, he might still be helpless.

The prize of becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ takes that same kind of devotion. Becoming like Christ is the one thing worth giving up everything else for.

III. FORGETTING THE PAST (verse 13b)

The third essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “forgetting the past”. In verse 13, the apostle Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind”. Sometimes Satan will remind us of our past sins, trying to convince us of our unworthiness to serve Christ. When you are under attack, it’s a good idea to thumb through your Bible and notice the many people who were failures, but who went on to do great things for God. Would the apostle Peter have preached that wonderful sermon on the day of Pentecost, when 3000 people responded to Christ, if Peter was continuing to dwell on his denial of Christ and refused to believe that all had been forgiven and forgotten? Would the apostle Paul have founded churches, written epistles, and traveled across the country if he had allowed the memories of his persecution of Christians to make him feel guilty and discouraged?

When we confess our sins, they are forgiven and God will never mention them again. The choice is ours. We can either brood over our past or “reach forward to what lies ahead”. We can’t change the past, but we can trust in God’s forgiveness and live for the future. The words “reaching forward” picture a runner leaning forward to touch the tape first and win the race. If you watched the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, you saw that happen many times.

IV. DETERMINATION (verse 13b)

The fourth essential for running the race and receiving the prize is “determination”. The apostle Paul says in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal”. The point that Paul is trying to make is that we are not to give up, in spite of obstacles that may cross our paths. The Christian life is like a steeple chase, which is a long foot race that has many hurdles to jump over and many large puddles of water to slosh through. You may have watched that race during the Summer Olympics. Many of the racers fall at least once, but they immediately get up and continue running in spite of the aches and pains because they are determined to run the race to its completion.

A man by the name of Johnson Oatman wrote a song about this verse of Scripture. The first stanza of his song goes like this: “I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day; Still praying as I onward bound, ‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground’.”

The famous preacher Charles Simeon said that whenever he looked at the portrait of Henry Martyn, these words came to his mind: “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!” In other words, “Don’t waste your time on unimportant or trivial things”. Martyn had graduated from Cambridge University with honors in both mathematics and the classics, and had the makings of a brilliant career. But he chose to serve the Lord in India. He was almost 25 when he arrived there, and at the age of 31 he died. Yet in those six years he translated the New Testament into three languages – Hindustani, Arabic, and Persian. Only eternity will reveal how much his work meant to other missionaries, and how many people were saved because of it. It is said that Martyn’s picture still hangs in a hall at Cambridge where students go to pray, and that his penetrating gaze still seems to say, “Don’t trifle … don’t trifle!”

V. DISCIPLINE (verses 15 and 16)

The fifth and last essential Paul gives for running the Christian race is “discipline”. This means remembering and obeying the spiritual rules given in the Word of God. It is not enough to run hard and win the race. The runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek Olympic games, the judges were strict about this. Breaking any of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize.

One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Unites States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and undoubtedly was the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball, and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the record books. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules.

One day each Christian will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Greek word for “judgment seat” is “bema”, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules and to follow the example of Christ, we will receive our rewards.

Let’s run our race with joy, just as our Lord Jesus ran His race during His life on earth. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS – Philippians 3:1-11

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Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, can’t they? But so can things. And it is this thief that Paul deals with in chapter three. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in things, isn’t it? And not only the things we can see and touch, but also things like reputation, fame and achievement. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15 that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy.

The key word in our passage of scripture for today, Philippians 3:1-11, is the word “count”. It means “to evaluate”, to “examine carefully”. Many people today are slaves of “things” because they’ve never sat down and seriously considered the values that control their decisions and actions, and this has robbed them of real joy. In the case of the apostle Paul, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very noble: a righteous life, obedience to the Law of Moses, and the defense of the religion of his ancestors – the Jewish religion. But none of these satisfied him or made him feel acceptable to God. Paul had high enough morals to keep him out of trouble, but he didn’t have enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus – it was good things! Paul had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. In this passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Paul explains that there are only two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith, and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON WORKS (verses 1-6)

In verse 1 Paul says, “Finally my brethren”. It doesn’t mean that Paul is about to end his letter, because he keeps on going. The word “finally” means “for the rest” or “for what remains”. Paul is changing his topic. He has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision”. We have to go back to the beginning of the church to find out what Paul means. From the beginning, the gospel came “to the Jew first”. The first seven chapters of the book of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or Gentiles who had become Jewish converts. In Acts 8 the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of a problem since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish. But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this caused an uproar. Peter said that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, and the problem seemed to be solved, but not for long. These strict Jewish believers told the apostle Paul that it was necessary for the Gentiles to obey the Jewish rules before they could be saved. They followed Paul wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches. Paul uses three terms to describe them. He calls them “dogs” because they were following on Paul’s heels, viciously “barking” their false teachings. Secondly, Paul called them “evil workers” because these men taught that the sinner must be saved by doing the good works of the Law of Moses. Thirdly, Paul called them “the false circumcision” because they taught that circumcision was necessary for people to be saved. In contrast to these false Christians, Paul says in verse 3 that the true Christian is one who is directed by the Holy Spirit, boasts only in Jesus Christ, and puts no confidence in his sinful flesh.

In verses 4-6 Paul uses himself as an example. He was born into a pure Hebrew family, and was circumcised on the eighth day as required by Jewish law. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, the favorite and most faithful of all the tribes. Paul spoke the Hebrew language, and was a Pharisee, the strictest and most devout leaders of the Jewish nation. He was also a persecutor of the church, and was morally blameless. Paul had everything going for him.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON FAITH (verses 7-11)

But when Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, Paul believed and became a child of God. After this happened, Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost. He recounts this here in verses 7-11. What did Paul lose? Verse 7 says that he lost his reputation as a Jewish scholar and religious leader. He also lost his religious achievements and his Jewish friends.

But what did Paul gain? Verse 8 tells us that Paul gained a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 tells us that Paul gained the righteousness of Christ. When Paul trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God put Christ’s righteousness into Paul’s account, and Paul’s sins were placed in Christ’s account. His sins were paid for in full by the blood of Christ on the cross. In verses 10 and 11, Paul experienced the fellowship of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was Paul’s desire, his goal, and a source of strength and joy.

Paul gained far more than he lost. The things he had lost were like garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. No wonder Paul had joy! His life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world but on the eternal values found in Christ.

When God asks us to surrender something of temporal worth, He does so for the purpose of replacing it with a prize of eternal value. Are you willing to trust Him and obey Him? Is the Lord calling you to sacrifice something you treasure in order to give you something of lasting worth? People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their earthly treasures and worry about whether they will lose their value.

Can you say, along with the apostle Paul, that to have Christ, and know His resurrection power in your life, is your greatest joy? And can we agree that the things we left behind have become so unimportant that we consider them “but garbage”? Consider and reflect on these words written by the missionary Jim Elliot before he was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.

TIMOTHY AND EPAPHRODITUS – Philippians 2:19-30

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A newspaper reporter in San Bernardino, California arranged for a man to lie in the gutter on a busy street. Hundreds of people passed by the man but not one stopped to help him or even show sympathy. Newspapers across the country several years ago told how 38 people watched a man stalk a young lady and finally attack her, and none of the spectators even picked up a phone to call the police.

Even in the apostle Paul’s day, concern for one another was not popular. The Christians in Rome were not very interested in the needs and problems at Philippi. Paul could not find one person among them who was willing to go to Philippi. Times have not changed much, have they?

Paul is still discussing humility and concern for the needs of others. He has given the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has also talked about his own experience and his own concern for others. Now Paul introduces us to two of his helpers in the ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and he does this for a reason. He knows that the people reading his letter would think, “It’s impossible for us to follow examples like Christ and Paul. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and Paul was an apostle who has had great spiritual experiences”. Therefore Paul introduces them to two ordinary Christians.

I. TIMOTHY (verses 19-24)

The first person Paul talks to the Philippians about is Timothy. Timothy’s name means: “one who fears or honors God”. Paul probably met Timothy when he traveled to Lystra and Derbe on his first missionary journey because, in I Corinthians 4:17, Paul later called Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord”. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we learn that Timothy’s mother and grandmother became Christians before he did. Paul left him there, encouraging him to become a part of the church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra, and it was in that fellowship that Timothy grew spiritually and learned to serve the Lord. When Paul returned to that area a few years later, he was happy to discover that young Timothy was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium”. We find this information in Acts 16:2. Paul saw in Timothy the qualities needed for missionary work and he asked Timothy to join him. In Philippians 2:22 Paul makes this wonderful statement about Timothy: “you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father”. Timothy had the humble heart of a true servant of God.

A popular nightclub singer in Chicago many years ago visited a pastor and announced that he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?”, he asked.

“Well, I’d suggest that you unite with a good church and start growing”, the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”

“No, she isn’t”, the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something right now.”

“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord”, explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”

“But you don’t know who I am!”, the man protested. I’m a big performer. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”

“If you go too far too fast”, warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. The place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”

The man did not take the pastor’s advice. Instead he set up a big organization and started off on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant travelling destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. He disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.

“His branches went out farther than his roots were deep”, the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually fall.”

Paul didn’t make that mistake with Timothy. He gave Timothy time to get his spiritual roots down deep, and then asked Timothy to work with him on his missionary journeys. Perhaps the greatest reward God gave to Timothy was to choose him to be Paul’s replacement while Paul was in prison in Rome. What an honor! Timothy became Paul’s substitute!

II.  EPAPHRODITUS (verses 25-30)

The other man that the apostle Paul mentions in this passage of Scripture is Epaphroditus. He was a Gentile who had become a Christian, and he was a member of the church at Philippi. Paul couldn’t say enough about this man. In chapter one, Paul calls Epaphroditus “my brother”, “my companion in labor”, and “my fellow-soldier”.

Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian. Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was concerned about both believers and non-believers. Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the sharing of the Gospel message with the lost. Others are so involved in defending the Gospel that they neglect building fellowship with other Christians. It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished. Dr. H.A. Ironside, the great Bible teacher and preacher, used to tell the story about a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship”. They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign, which said: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians. Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus volunteered to make a dangerous trip to Rome in order to be with Paul and assist him while he was in prison. He also brought along with him a love offering from the church at Philippi. With Nero as emperor, Rome was a very dangerous place for Christians. In verses 26 and 27, Paul says that while Epaphroditus was visiting him, he became very sick and nearly died. Yet his greatest concern was not for himself but for the church in Philippi. He didn’t want them to be distressed about his illness. Epaphroditus knew the meaning of sacrifice and service, and Paul encourages the church at Philippi to honor him.

CONCLUSION:

In Hebrews 11:32-40, God’s Word tells us of many giants of the faith – some named, some anonymous. They are measured by their willingness to serve God and others. Their faithfulness makes them great. God is not looking for bigness or status. His giants are ordinary people who do their best at whatever God calls them to do because they love God.

So, in Philippians 2:19-30, we see in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, the secret of true contentment – the giving of themselves without feeling sorry for themselves. Do you want to be an encouraging Christian? Remember, the ultimate source of encouragement is not people, but God. Go to Him for fresh encouragement from fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer; then go out and encourage others. Even if we have nothing else to give, we can always give encouragement. God is looking for ordinary people to do an extraordinary work for Him!

PRACTICING HUMILITY – Philippians 2:12-18

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The apostle Paul has presented the Lord Jesus Christ as the great example of humility. But how do we go about practicing it? How can we hope to be as humble as our Lord?

Paul isn’t asking us to “reach for the stars” by giving us a goal that is so awesome and difficult that it’s frustrating and hopeless. He is telling us that a humble, submissive attitude and lifestyle are a process, and that God wants to give us everything necessary to develop them in our lives.

I. ENCOURAGEMENT TO GROW (verses 12 and 13)

Paul begins by encouraging us to grow. The words “work out your salvation” in verse 12 don’t mean “work for your salvation”. The Greek word translated “work out” means to “work to full completion”. The word was used in Paul”s day for “working a mine shaft”, getting all the precious ore out of the mine that you possibly can. It was also used for “working a field” so that you could get the greatest possible harvest. God wants us to become Christlike. There will be problems along the way, but God wants to help us “work them out”. Our lives have tremendous potential. He wants to help us get all we can get out of our lives. God is a God of variety. No two flowers are exactly alike, no two snowflakes are the same, and no two fingerprints are identical. All of us are called to be like Christ, but we must also be ourselves.

II. ENCOURAGEMENT TO BE WITNESSES (verses 14-16)

In verses 14 and 15, Paul compares the life of the believer with the lives of those who live in the world. Many people think that Christians are always negative and fighting against something. That’s sad because we should be known as positive people who promote what is good and right. One newspaper columnist stated that he wondered if we Christians are really loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Are we feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison? Jesus told us to do these things in Matthew chapter 5 in His Sermon on the Mount.

If we went through life each day without complaining, how would that affect others around us? They would enjoy being around us, wouldn’t they? We would be an encouragement to them and God would be able to shine through our lives. Two small children were seated on an airplane and they weren’t happy about it. Their cries of complaint filled the cabin of the airplane. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant stopped next to them and said with a big smile, “What is all that squawking up here?” After charming the fussy 3-year-old and his younger sister for a few minutes, the flight attendant bent down and whispered very seriously, “I must remind you, this is a non-squawking flight”. The little ones became unbelievably quiet. That made everybody feel better. It’s a long journey when you have to sit in the squawking section. I’m sure that God would like to remind us every morning that He wants this day to a non-squawking day.

This kind of problem happens in churches and among Christians also. A specialist was called in as a consultant by the board of a church that was having a lot of disagreement over a small issue. Two committees had given conflicting recommendations on how to redecorate the church building. One committee said that it should be painted white. The other committee insisted that yellow would make it look more attractive and up-to-date.
Both groups wouldn’t give in, and there were angry speeches and many harsh words. The specialist listened to their heated arguments until he finally said quietly, “Here’s my advice to you. Don’t paint it white; don’t paint it yellow; paint your church black! That would be an appropriate color for a church board that is having such a shameful quarrel!”
The members of the committees were put to shame. They now realized that their arguing and hateful comments had grieved the Holy Spirit. After some calm reflection and discussion, a peaceful agreement was reached.

In verses 15 and 16, Paul reminds us that we are God’s children and He wants us to shine as lights in this sinful world. Beatrice Tice tells of a tenement district in New York City where a boy in ragged clothes was seen with a small piece of broken mirror in his hand. Holding it high in the air he moved it slowly back and forth, watching the narrow slit of a window above him as he did so. “What are you doing?”, a man suddenly demanded as he shook the youngster roughly by the shoulder. “Like most boys in this neighborhood, you’re probably up to some mischief, aren’t you?” The boy looked up into the stern face of this man and said, “See that window up there? Well, I have a little brother who has a room on that floor. He’s a cripple. The only sunlight he ever sees is what I shine up to him with my mirror!” The man was ashamed that he had spoken to him so harshly, realizing that the boy was doing a kind deed by reflecting the sun’s rays to his lonesome brother in that dark tenement building.

We don’t have to be preachers or specially trained people to shine for Jesus. We can radiate His light to others by the thoughtful way we talk, live, and love. In verse 16 Paul tells us that if we follow these principles from God’s Word, then we’ll have the joy of knowing that our lives were not lived in vain, and our unselfish efforts will have eternal results.

III. A REASON TO REJOICE (verses 17 and 18)

In verses 17 and 18, the apostle Paul gives himself and the church at Philippi another reason to rejoice. Paul rejoices in spite of the fact that he is being “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.” Paul established the Philippian church, and their growing faith has been the result of his sacrificial love for them and service to them.

The “drink offering” or “libation” that Paul speaks of was not an offering that was offered by itself or separately. It was an offering of wine which was poured on or around another offering. The wine represented Paul’s blood. Paul was writing this letter in a prison cell in Rome, and he knew that very soon he would be put to death because of his faith in Jesus Christ. But the main sacrifice for which he was being poured out as a drink offering was the Philippian church’s’ testimony and service to God that would continue on after his death. This was the source of Paul’s joy as he writes this letter to them, and he wants them to share in this joy together with him. Joy comes in this life from sacrifice and service to God, and from looking forward to the day when we’re promoted to glory.