“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
Today, we celebrate champions. How can YOU…and I become champions? I think we follow a great pace-setter in the race, Paul the marathon champion. Where was Paul when he was running so hard? Well, he was in his own rented condo where he could have guests and house his friends. But he was chained to 2 Roman soldiers! Have you ever been in jail, trapped so you can’t run free? What do you do when trapped? Give up? Kick back and watch TV? Fret and lie awake all night? Hit the bottle? Not Paul!
“One thing!” Paul was chained between two Roman soldiers, he’s dictating a letter to his beloved friends in Philippi and reflects that he hasn’t finished his race, hasn’t won the prize, hasn’t got hold of what Christ got hold of him for. He stops and shouts to his secretary, Timothy (Or was it Luke?) across the room as he wrote down with a brush on parchment what Paul dictated–”one thing!”
If I were in lockdown I’d be thinking of ONE thing, too. How do I get out of here? When can I get out of here and get on with life, get in the race again? But not Paul. He was in hot pursuit of the purpose God had in mind when he saved Paul. One thing! If you get focused on the one thing God has in mind for you, you’ll have to avoid all distractions. No looking back. That’s when the runner stumbles. No looking around to see how others are doing. He didn’t keep reviewing and savoring past successes. Nor did he spend a lot of time grieving past failures. One thing! I don’t look back, says Paul. I’m stretching with all my strength toward the goal Christ set for me. One thing!
What did Christ lay hold of him for? Remember when he first met Christ on the road to Damascus? He told Paul what he wanted him for–to be his agent to reach the Gentiles. How could he do that in his present circumstances – chained? Chained to whom? A couple of Gentiles! So he wins them! 4:22!! And he does more – in chains he has time to write a major part of Scripture, something he could hardly do when running so hard all over the world as a pioneer missionary. God said to Paul: hold on. I’ll re-direct you with some chains. But, trapped and house-bound, he keeps pressing on to fulfill what Christ created him for.
How about you? Do you know why he laid hold of you for his Kingdom? If you don’t, why not ask him? Are you giving it all you’ve got? Even if you seem locked up in some heartache, pinned down by some problem, chained by adverse circumstances. One thing!
But there’s more Paul had in mind. He told us in verses 8-10. To know Christ. One thing! But Paul, you’ve known him ever since the Damascus Road encounter. No, no, says Paul, I haven’t reached the goal yet. To know him in intimate companionship. We were created and redeemed for this.
How does that happen? Do verse 10 in reverse. (1) death: Jesus said over and over. Take up YOUR cross. Gethsemane – But if not. (2) fellowship of his suffering – what was that? We’re called to fill up that which was lacking. What could be lacking? Win our redemption. But I’m not capable of doing that! Right! So (3) the power of his resurrection! End result–knowing him in Scriptural sense. Is that how you know Christ today? One thing!
Will you be a champion? Getting a handle on the ministry God has in mind for you, becoming daily more like Jesus, tighter in your relationship to him. A true champion. Maybe you say, that’s for people like Paul. No, no, says Paul – it’s for YOU. See verses 15-17. If you do become a champion, give it all you’ve got, what can you look forward to? Paul looked forward to the “Upward call” grandstand in the stadium.
But he’s not there yet! Neither am I. Neither are you! Scholars agree that after two years Paul was released and what did he do? Retire? He’d reached retirement age and who wants to risk winding up in jail again? Or in the arena fighting lions again? Or nailed to a cross? ONE THING! He started out again and ran hard, pressed on, according to tradition, all over the Roman world, including perhaps maybe even to Spain. If you feel trapped, hindered, chained by your circumstances today, maybe God will release you for a new lap of the race. But maybe he’ll keep you locked down. In the end, that’s what he did with Paul. Mamertine dungeon. Under Capitoline Hill across from the famed Roman Colosseum where tradition says he died. But still, One Thing! Timothy wasn’t with him – Paul is writing his partner who serves in a distant place. In fact, Paul was abandoned by all his friends, he tells us. Lonely. What was his response? 2 Timothy 4:6-8. He could see his beloved Savior there in the celestial grandstands calling him up to receive the reward.
But wherever you are, will you be a champion?