I have always been one of those people who loved school, but there was one class that I hated. Yes, hate is a strong word, but from kindergarten through college this class was at the top of my list, right before mathematics. For many, this was a cake class, but alas, not for me. The dreaded class was physical education (P.E.). Why you may ask, other than the fact that I am completely uncoordinated, did I have such disdain for this class? Well, the truth is that I really dislike running and I detest sweating. In fact, I pretty much boycott the Summer Olympics because it pains me to watch the athletes sweat. You get the picture, right?
I couldn’t comprehend why someone would run till their side hurts, just to smell like a locker room the rest of the school day. Logic would prevail and I would convince myself just to show up and to do the minimum necessary to get a “C” and pass the class. Unfortunately, about the time I made mental peace with getting a “C,” or perhaps a “B,” if the teacher was gracious and took pity on me, I would begin to grapple with the reality that just getting by was not the best that I could possibly do. So what did I do? I ran the race, I sweat, I smelled, I pushed, I came in last, but I fulfilled the class requirements and got that “A.”
Why am I sharing my P.E. woes in this blog? I can’t help but ponder my P.E. days when I read Philippians 3:12-14. It states: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In these verses, Paul is comparing our spiritual lives to a Greek foot race and yes, there is sweat and running involved. But Paul also gives us guidelines so we can win this race, so let’s look at what he shares.
Anyone running a race must know where the finish line is and Paul, in verse 14, tells us that the goal of our Christian life is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Paul tells us in verse 12 that he has not obtained this goal, but that he still must press on so he can fulfill the call that Jesus rescued him for. But wait, this is Paul! Have you considered his spiritual pedigree?
- Both of his parents were Jewish and he could trace his lineage back to Abraham.
- He was from the prestigious tribe of Benjamin where the first king was chosen.
- He was well versed in his own culture, customs, and language.
- He was a Pharisee, which was the strictest religious sect.
- When he wrote this letter, he had been a believer for about 30 years, not a novice.
About now, I’m thinking that if Paul, with this list of “religious” accomplishments, hasn’t obtained the goal, what chance do I have? But the goal isn’t a “religious” accomplishment; verse 12 states that we are to “become perfect.” The word “perfect” is the Greek word teleios and it refers to a state of maturity. It is a qualitative difference; for example, the difference between an almost ripe tomato and one that is ripened to perfection. Both are edible, but there is a difference in the quality and the same is true for the quality of our spiritual maturity or perfection.
Paul establishes the truth that “pressing on,” maturing, running the race, is a life-long process. Paul reminds us that even after thirty years of being a believer he has only begun to scratch the surface of this race. You see, our finish line is not just salvation, it isn’t even sanctification, because 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Our aim is an ever-increasing glory. This means that “spiritual plateaus” or “spiritual withdrawals” are never an option.
It is significant that in this passage Paul references the “goal.” It appears that he wants the reality of this final goal to frame all of our thoughts and actions. Athletes who are training for an event know that every aspect of their life ultimately impacts their training and therefore, the possibility of winning the race. The food they eat, the amount of sleep that they get, the type and intensity of their physical training, following their coach’s direction, their state of mind, and their tenacity all impact the final outcome. It is the same for believers; every choice, thought, action, and voice that we give attention to impact the final outcome of our spiritual race. Where is your focus these days?
Since we now know what the goal is, continually being increasingly transformed into Christ-likeness, how do we accomplish this goal? Paul tells us in verse 12 to “lay hold” or “apprehend” the prize. Remember Paul’s analogy of our spiritual life to the Greek foot race? The goal at the end of the Greek foot race was marked with a pole. The victor was the person who first gripped or apprehended that pole, and that required determination and tenacity. To be the victor, they had to push past fatigue, thirst, pain, plateaus and then with everything they had, while digging into the depths of their training, grab that victor’s pole. That picture of the victor’s determination is the picture Paul is giving to every believer as we run this race.
So, don’t be a quitter. Don’t become distracted. Let’s continue to press on and apprehend the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Father, I am blessed to think that there is always more and that your plan for my life is to obtain the goal that you have placed before me. I am committed to train and run this race for your kingdom, amen.