3 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Well, 2016 has ended. We’ve witnessed terrorism, wars, ISIS, and public injustice. We’ve suffered the deaths of loved ones. We’ve welcomed babies. Some of us have moved to a new city, started new jobs, bought new houses. God has planted this church that we gather with today. He’s made us more like Christ. 2016 wasn’t easy for many, but God was clearly at work. We may have been roughed up a little by the past year, but in the hands of God we aren’t forgotten or abandoned.
So, as we stand on the first day of 2017, what should we be thinking? Philippians 3 shows us. This really is for every day, not just today. It’s summarized for us in verse 14: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.”
Church traditions says Paul wrote this from prison, in which case his future doesn’t look bright. But he’s not deterred by that. It’s a setback, but not devastating. The life he used to live was devastating. He’s leaving something behind and pressing toward something else. Not even prison stops the pressing on.
We can break this passage down into three points:
- What Paul left behind
- What Paul pressed toward
- How we can follow Paul’s model
What Paul Left Behind
Verses 4-6 show us how Paul had built his life on being a good Jew.
4 I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
But we know this life wasn’t the life he ended up with. It was interrupted by Jesus.
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul built his house the wrong way. He didn’t just need a few modern upgrades. He needed an entire renovation. Maybe we, too, need to leave behind some wrong ways of living.
For some, we need to leave behind a legalistic worldview. We use the word legalism a lot, and often incorrectly. Legalism is not obeying God. We should obey God, and we should desire to obey God. In fact, that’s one of the blessings of the reborn heart: a desire to obey. The law is written on our hearts now.
Legalism is trying to earn salvation by obedience. That’s what Paul’s former life was all about. Then Jesus came to him, and he obeyed not out of duty but out of love. Maybe some of us need that kind of change too. Are you obeying God because you think that gets you right with God?
The gospel tells us that we can never obey perfectly. We will never get to God that way. He must come to us. Christmas is about our inability to save ourselves. Jesus has intervened. He obeyed for us and paid the penalty for our sins. Now, we are free to obey knowing that we are justified by God. We’re not under his wrath anymore. We’re under his smile.
Others of us need to leave behind a worldview of license. Some of us don’t obey enough. We think the gospel doesn’t call us to live a holy life. So, we drink too much, or watch things we shouldn’t, or say unwise things, or fail to be good stewards of God’s provision. Grace isn’t freedom to sin. It’s freedom to obey.
Paul’s change wasn’t a change from legalism to license, but a change from legalism to gospel. Jesus took hold of him and everything was different. He didn’t unbundle his life and do whatever he wanted. He bundled up his life even tighter, but this time under the kind care of Jesus who justified him. Jesus had taken hold of him and in response he presses on toward the one who loved him and gave himself for him.
We could list a hundred things we need to leave behind, but our problems start here: what we believe about our standing with God. Everything else is a symptom of that belief. The question is how do we get the righteousness of God? How we answer will determine how we start 2017.
We can think of it as the difference between stairs and the elevator. With the stairs, you are getting there by your own effort. With the elevator, you are letting something else take you up. The righteousness of God is getting in the elevator of faith in Christ and letting his work take you up. Righteousness isn’t something you do, it’s something Jesus does and you receive.
So, what do you need to leave behind?
Now, let’s see what Paul pressed toward.
What Paul Pressed Toward
Look at verses 10-14: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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.”
What is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Paul already said it in verse 10: to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection. That’s the goal Paul presses toward. That word, “presses,” is the same Greek word used for “persecute.” Isn’t that interesting? Paul chooses a violent word here. He’s not playing around. He’s laser-focused on Jesus, because Jesus is laser-focused on him.
Pastor Tim Keller puts it this way, “What Paul is saying…is the Christian life is caused by and results in a spiritual ferocity, a spiritual laser beam…There’s a laser beam that causes your Christianity, and then a laser beam is what you become. There’s a holy violence. There’s a spiritual aggressiveness. There’s a vehement, sweet, humble ferocity that is brought to bear on you that makes you a Christian and then elicits the same response in you. A laser beam causes you and makes you into its own likeness.”
Do you have a spiritual ferocity? Are you a spiritual laser beam? Do you press on toward the goal of knowing Jesus and the power of his resurrection, to make it your own?
What’s the motivation for this? Look at the end of verse 12: “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Do you realize what has happened in your conversion? Jesus has made us his own! He loves us so much that he came, lived, died, rose, and now intercedes for us, and one day will return to us. He loves us with the same kind of ferocious love that he’s calling us into. Jesus’s life was a spiritual laser-beam, and his focus was you: the joy set before him. Now, we press on to know him because he pressed on to know us.
How We Can Follow Paul’s Model
So, how can we follow Paul’s model? We need to realize that the gospel isn’t one part of our life. When we become a Christian, everything changes. The gospel applies to everything – to every aspect. Our entire life is bundled up and set apart to God. That means he may take us to unimaginable places for his glory.
There was a missionary to the South Pacific Islands in the 1800s named John G. Paton. Twenty years earlier, a group of missionaries there were killed and eaten by cannibals. One older friend tried to persuade him not to go, shouting, “you will be eaten by cannibals!” Paton replied, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms.”
John Paton went. He labored to translate the Bible into the people’s language, and when he came upon the word “faith,” he couldn’t think of an appropriate word. Then he heard someone in the village cry out for help, “Please, may I come and lean heavily upon you?” He had found it! Faith is leaning heavily upon Christ.
This leaning results in a different kind of life: a life in response to the grace of God. When we lean on Jesus, he upholds us and empowers us. He presses his love into us more and more. We are weaker than we want to admit. If we’re going to endure 2017, we must lean all our weight on Jesus.
This passage calls us to a grace-driven effort, a gospel grittiness, a spiritual ferocity. What we need in 2017 is to go to a deeper place with Jesus than we’ve ever gone before. Most of us can’t jump straight from unbelief to John Paton-like life-giving. It’s gradual. We grow day by day, year by year. Even Paul says he hasn’t obtained it yet nor is he already perfect. But he’s growing. He’s pressing. He’s leaning.
So, are there weights you have not yet rested upon Jesus? Are there things you’re carrying around in pride or shame? Lean it all on Jesus. Are there successes you’re taking credit for? Paul counts all his fleshly accomplishments as nothing. The weight of our success will crush us as easily as the weight of our failures if they stay on our shoulders. But in Christ, our failures are covered by his death and our successes are empowered by his resurrection.
Paul says there’s one thing he does now: know Jesus. Paul did lots of things, but one thing defined him, and one thing only. And he’s calling us to imitate him. The most important thing we can do this year is to know Jesus.
There are lots of good things you should do in 2017. Read the entire Bible. Read great gospel-centered books. Increase room for personal prayer and meditation on Scripture. We’re going to hold membership classes soon. Join the church. We have multiple community groups. If you’re not in one, join. If you’re in one, invest. Go deeper together than you ever have before. Start meeting with another person or small group of people (men with men, women with women) on a weekly basis for mutual encouragement in the gospel. Begin discipling someone, or be discipled. Invest in the mission of Refuge Church.
But do one thing first: give yourself to Jesus. Open your life completely to him because he opened his life completely to you. It might be a good idea, if you’re one to make a list of goals or resolutions for the new year, to write on top of the page this one thing: Know Jesus. Let that define 2017.
In conclusion, look at verses 20-21, “20 Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Despite who Paul once was, Jesus sought him out and saved him. Now his worry is not righteousness with God – he has that – but pressing to know God. We could spend 2017 working and worrying about our life. Or we could give it wholly over to Jesus and subject it to his power. We can lean heavily upon him. He’s strong enough for all our mess.
We are on a journey toward the restoration of all things, to eternity with Jesus. Let’s press on. What would be worth our lives if it all ended at the end of this year? Let’s do those things. Let’s follow the Lamb wherever he goes. Let’s see what only God can do.