Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
This morning, our culture becomes disjointed based on moral relativity. Everything becomes subjective, and definite lines are seen as abhorrent. When a dedicated disciple of the cross attempts to live according to absolutes as taught in God’s word (whether theological or moral), he will be met with disdain and mocking. Such should not be a surprise, as the Lord Himself was mocked and criticized for the same thing. He even tells us to rejoice when we experience the same as it shows a kinship to our King. (Matthew 5:11-12, 10:25) However, no matter how skewed perspectives and attitudes can become, the beautiful quality about truth is that it shines exclusively to belief or adherence. Whether some, all, or none believe or follow the truth, it is still the truth. Therefore, absolute fixtures in the word of God will endure, because He who gave them endures.
Many times, good minded people get wrong ideas about things, and if we are honest with ourselves, we have things we have to clean out of our minds and hearts, sometimes repeatedly. We are all prone to getting into comfortable ruts, even when those ruts do not align with the truth. One of the biggest perils to a disciple of the Lamb is to think, “That applies to them, but not to me.” That is how the 1st century Pharisee thought, and that leaven is still running rampant today. While we all have different life circumstances, we are all held to the same moral imperatives. Even the wicked are held to these as God will one day judge them for not adhering to His moral code. (Revelation 20:12) Some might posit that a focus group is not as morally accountable as another group. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this is the realm of ministers vs. non-ministers or men vs. women. Whether male or female, minister or not, we have the same duty and obligation to the Lord, morally speaking. Yes, our roles and duties may vary, but our moral obligation is the same.
Our study verse is found in the midst of perhaps one of the most personal profiles ever sketched for us. Paul “lays it on the line” for us in this passage. He talks about himself in great detail. This is not to show us how much he thought of himself, but rather it shows us just how much this lesson touches him. Lest any think Paul was alone in this. He makes it personal to us as well by telling us to be “thus minded” (Verse 15) and to “walk by the same rule” and “mind the same things.” (Verse 16) As personal as this lesson touched Paul, it should affect all of us equally too. Paul’s point from our study verse is not that he had a standard, whereas ours is different. We all have the same standard. It is “the mar k” of Jesus Christ. Not many marks. Not many subjective standards. One standard. One mark. The mark.
This striving that Paul was working for is one that he honestly knew he had not met. (Verse 13) Though he desired greatly to get there, he knew that he was not there. So what happens when we take this message personally? When we internalize what Paul has said, we then cease the incessant comparisons that we make of ourselves to others. One of the observations that I have made and repeatedly stated over the years is that by looking hard enough you will find two things: 1. Someone doing better than you and 2. Someone doing worse than you. When you make these “finds,” it will not lead to treasure, rather ruin. Finding the people doing better breeds jealousy, bitterness, and contempt. Finding people doing worse breeds pride, laziness, and contempt. None of these finds are conducive to the life that honors the King.
Also, internalizing this lesson urges us to take the two fold approach to how Paul got here. In the previous verse, his one desire (to hit the mark) entailed two things: 1. Forgetting the past and 2. Reaching forward. This two fold act helps us hold on to what we should and let go of what we do not need. Notice how the passage describes Paul’s past. Many times, we need to forget about past failures, of which Paul had many. No doubt he had to let go of the guilt of the past as the murderous Saul of Tarsus. To be a successful laborer in God’s kingdom, he could not be consumed with and obsess about past ruin. While that applies and is certainly true, the passage actually urges us to consider that Paul had to let go of past successes. He was the pride and joy of the Jewish religion. Nobody was better. Nobody. Paul said it specifically about himself. No matter how much you could glory according to the flesh, he had more. Touching the law: a Pharisee. Touching the righteousness in the law: blameless! You need to know what Moses said about something? How about Jeremiah, Isaiah, any other Old Testament lesson? He had the answer. How should this situation be handled according to the law? Over here! Saul has the answer. Want an example of perfect execution and application of these things, look over there at Saul!
What was all that now worth? Nothing! Paul considered all of that to be dung next to the knowledge of Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. (Verse 10) Paul had to get over past success. It could not help him now or going forward to dwell on how good he had ever been. Though I am still a young preacher (some might argue middle-aged by now), I have learned a valuable lesson, rather painfully. When you preach poorly, you have to forget it. When you preach well, you have to forget it. Yes, you learn from mistakes and can rejoice in the blessings of the Lord when they are had, but dwelling on past failures and previous successes will only damper what service can be done today and hinder your next preaching effort. To the disciple in the trenches, remembering past failures can lead to despondency, whereas remembering past successes can lead to pride headed for the pit of destruction.
The second part of this act is reaching forward, which is something that helps us today as well. No, we cannot live in the future any more than we can successfully dwell in the past, but as we learn lessons from yesterday, so can we have hope for tomorrow. No matter what we face and go through, there are things before us that never go away. Jesus is present in all the tomorrows just as He is with us right now. No matter what happens in the future, He will be there, and the resurrection is sure and absolute because the Absolute has already been resurrected as the firstfruits for us. Therefore, to hit the mark that Paul strives for, we need to keep a firm view of Jesus Christ before us, while not looking back and making crooked furrows in our field. Our gaze should be set like a flint upon Him, not giving heed to the doctrines of devils, vain jangling, and profane and vain babblings of this world. All these various and sundry distractions do is get us to either look back with regret or look forward in fear. You ever heard the expression “going around in circles”? When the distractions point us towards both things, we will do nothing but go around in circles never accomplishing anything the Lord has set before us.
By the time Paul gets to “the mark,” he has laid himself “wide open” for us. This lesson should lay us “wide open” to examine how we are getting along. Where is the mark? Where am I? Again, we all have the same standard. It is the same mark? Is it good or bad that I am closer than you are or that you are closer than I am? It is immaterial. Your walk and life is not dictated by me being better or worse than you. Our lives should be dictated in that He is supreme, and I have much work to do. Like Paul, I freely confess, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended…” I am not there yet, and though I have already fallen so short so many times, my desire now is to get closer and closer and closer. If we start holding one another to varying standards for morality and life, we become guilty of being respecters of persons, which ought not so to be. (James 2) My goal is Jesus. Your goal is Jesus. Let us walk together minding the same things, and trying to be steadfast in our love for Him and one another. Let us run with patience, knowing that we have something awaiting us that is enduring and eternal and not become distracted by the vain and perishable things of this old world.