Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday of the New Year and I wanted to use this
opportunity for us to reflect on our growth in Christ for the upcoming year. Of course, if the
past couple of years has taught us anything no one really knows what the future holds. As
the Apostle James tells us we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or
that.” (Js.4.15) Anything beyond that is vain boasting. But God’s Word does call us to
consider our walk in Christ and for each of us to have deliberate intentions to grow in
Our text this morning comes for the book of Philippians. Paul wrote the letter to the
Philippians while in prison in Rome. The church of Philippi had sent a gift to Paul by their
messenger Epaphroditus who became ill in Rome after delivering the gift to Paul. The news
of his illness caused considerable alarm for the church, so Paul wrote this letter to calm
their fears and to express his gratitude for their love and help. Of all the churches Paul
founded none were so near and dear to him as the church of Philippi.
In this short epistle Paul calls upon the Philippians to follow his example by placing no
confidence in the flesh or rule keeping righteousness but rather to rest in the righteousness
of Christ alone. But Paul’s call to rest in the righteousness of Christ alone in no way exempts
us from pursuing more of Christ in their lives. The believer is called to rest in the perfection
of Christ while at the same time pursuing Christ more and more in their lives. Even though
the perfect righteousness of Christ has been imputed into the life of the believer, the
believer is called to press on toward the prize of the upcall of God in Christ Jesus.
This leads us to our text this morning, Philippians chapter three verses twelve through
fourteen. Hear now the Word of God.
12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward
call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil.3.12-14)
I Was Laid Hold of By Christ
Paul knew that personal perfection was never going to be achieved on this side of glory but
that didn’t stop his persistent pursuit of the glory of Christ to shine brighter in his life. Paul
openly confesses that he had not obtained perfection and that he had not become perfect.
But Paul did not use his imperfection as a reason to compromise his pursuit of Christ. No!
Paul knew that Christ had laid hold of his life and because of that he was going to press on
to grow more and more in Christ.
For Paul the overarching motivation for pursuing more of Christ was the fact that Christ
had laid hold of him. Notice that Paul writes, I press on so that I may lay hold of that for
which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (3.12b) The fact that Christ had rescued Paul
from his pride, his arrogance, and his sinful condition was the only motivation Paul needed
to pursue more of Christ every day of his life. I was thinking that maybe the reason we do
not pursue more of Christ in our lives is because we devalue our salvation in Christ. What
I’m saying is maybe we don’t pursue sanctification is because we don’t esteem our
Maybe that’s where we should start in 2022 – remembering our salvation. Not everyone
has a Damascus Road experience like the Apostle Paul but there was a time when Christ
laid hold of your life. For me it was at of my parent’s house in the month of June 1976 when
I found myself kneeling at the living room couch saying a prayer of salvation with my
father. At that moment “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and
followed Thee.” (And Can It Be) Brothers and sisters, if we don’t value our salvation in
Christ, we will not have passion to pursue sanctification. When did Christ laid hold of your
life? Let’s take a moment and thank God for our salvation in Christ.
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, (Phil.3.13)
Competing in a Race
Paul describes his intense yearning for more of Christ as a runner competing in a race.
In ancient Greece a track for foot races would be laid out in the middle of a flat area with
tiers of seats for the spectators on each side. Much like today’s football stadiums. The
runners would stand on their mark, with their feet in the grooves of a stone in the ground
for a sure foothold, their bodies bent forward, and one hand touching a pushing post. At the
signal the runners would take off. The Apostle Paul enjoyed athletics and is inspired to use
the competitive aspect of athletics to illustrate progressive sanctification several times in
his writings. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run . . . in such a
way that they may win?” (ICor.9.24) My High School coach would say, “I don’t care if you
are playing ping pong with you little sister, I play to win!” Now, that’s a little harsh but the
question is “why would you be competing in a race if you didn’t want to win?” If you just
wanted to run for exercise you don’t need to compete in a race.
Paul would write, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as
not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have
preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (ICor.9.26-27) The point is that
progressing in your sanctification, growing in Christ takes deliberate action. You don’t
grow in Christ by running aimlessly or casually. You have to get in the race, and you have to
have to in the race to win. But what is the best way to win? Well, in our text the Apostle
gives us two essential tips on how to run to win.
Forgetting What Lies Behind
The first tip is forgetting what lies behind. The runner does not look back. If he does, he will
lose speed, his direction, and finally the race itself. The Apostle is telling us to deliberately
discard distractions. Distractions like worldly care and worry. Being distracted by
temptations and enticements that choke out the fruit of the Gospel. Becoming distracted by
the glamour of worldly achievement and wealth. Being distracted by the guilt and
disappointment of past failures.
When I was in Middle School, I ran in the 440 relay. This race was once around the track
with four runners running one quarter of the distance and passing a baton to a teammate. I
ran the second leg of the 440 relay. It was a beautiful spring day in Indiana and our track
team was in competition with three other schools. It came time for the 440 relay and each
of my teammates and myself took our place on the track. Our first runner ran great giving
us a tremendous lead. As he got closer, he passed the baton to me, and I took off. As I
rounded the second turn, I saw the cheerleaders and my classmates, so I raised my hands
and yelled, “Beech Grove is number one.” Beech Grove was the name of my town and
school. Suddenly, I felt my cleats slipping and my feet sliding out from beneath me. The
next thing I knew was that I was on the track with road burn on my knees and my pride
crushed like a pancake. As I limped to my teammate to pass the baton, I saw his
disappointment in my lack of focus causing us to finish last. Basically, I got distracted.
Brothers and sisters, to win the prize we must lay aside every encumbrance and the sin
which so easily entangles us, and . . . run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing
our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. (Heb.12.1-2a) To win we must keep our
eye on the prize which is Christ Jesus.
Reaching Forward to What Lies Ahead
The second tip to run to win is reaching forward to what lies ahead. The verb that Paul uses
here is very graphic and was used to describe the intensity of runners running to win. The
use of this verb would have been understood by Paul’s readers.
The verb creates the imaginary of runners straining every nerve and muscle as they keep
running with all their might toward the goal, with their hands stretched out as of to grasp
for the prize. This imagery was popular on paintings and pieces of ceramics in the ancient
world. Paul uses it here to illustrate the point that to finish the race, the believer must keep
the faith and press on with unwavering endurance and progression. (2Tim.4.7)
Paul continues, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ
Jesus. (Phil.3.14) Paul understood that there was a prize for those who disregard what lies
behind and reach forward to what lies ahead.
You see, in the ancient world the winner of the race would summon to the judge’s seat to
receive the prize.
But Paul knew that those who run for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus will
be summoned to the judgment seat of Christ to hear “well done, good and faithful servant.”
In the ancient world the winner of the race would receive a perishing wreath of leaves to
wear as a crown. But Paul knew that those who run for the prize of the upward call of God
in Christ Jesus will receive an imperishable wreath. (ICor.9.25)
In the ancient world the winner of the race was allowed to dine freely at the finest
resturants and was given a front-row seat at the theater.
But Paul knew that those who run for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus will
be given a seat at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the heavenly dining room.
The point is that Paul wasn’t running aimlessly seeking earthly prizes. Paul was running for
the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, and he was challenging the Philippians and us by
God providence to do the same.
Running to Win in 2022
This morning I want to join the Apostle Paul by challenging us to take full advantage of
Paul’s tips to run to win in 2022. In your bulletin is an insert. On one side it reads,
“Forgetting What Lies Behind” and on the other side it reads, “Reaching for What Lies
Ahead.” This morning I am asking for you to write down at least one thing you are
forgetting and reaching for in 2022.
What is it that you need to forget in 2022? What is the encumbrance you need to lay aside?
What is the distraction you need to rid yourself of? What should you be reaching forward
for in 2022? I’m not talking about a new job. Or a new relationship. Or a raise or a higher
position on the corporate ladder. I’m talking about reaching forward in Christ to be less
angry. More loving. More caring. More generous. I’m talking about reaching forward in
Christ to be more deliberate in your walk in Christ. To grow in your understanding of the
Bible. To get more involvement in the ministries of the church. This is just between you and
the Lord. No one will read these.
Transition to the Table
As we prepare to receive the Lord’s Supper, I want each one to write at least one thing in
each area. As you come forward to receive the Lord’s Supper place your insert in the box as
a prayer to the Lord for 2022.