Pete continues our series 'Letters from Lockdown' preaching from Philippians 3:12-21. In this passage Paul compares the Christian life to a race to win the prize which is Christ. Pete explains what this might look like for us during the lockdown.
Laziness begets laziness. Apathy begets apathy.
How many times have we planned things such as DIY projects for the day ahead, only to wake up late, linger over breakfast, spend a few minutes looking at social media on our phone, and before we know it half the day has gone. This is the point when lethargy persuades us to think, ‘I’ve already wasted this much of the day, I can’t really be bothered anymore.’ Even when friends might suggest meeting somewhere later, lethargy answers ‘No!’ The sofa is calling us. The faithful sofa, always there to provide comfort and safety. We actually find ourselves feeling more tired after an unproductive day such as this.
We all know the saying, if you want a job done, ask a busy person. A busy person is usually disciplined enough to push through the lethargic impulses.
Have you been affected by Lockdown Lethargy? For many of us this is a real battle.
Our passage today points out three things which are relevant to this theme.
1) The first thing is the image of an athlete, pressing on to finish the race.
2) Secondly we need to look at good examples to follow, and bad examples to avoid.
3) Thirdly as Christians, we are to keep straining forward, without looking back, in order to gain our citizenship in Heaven.
There is nothing lazy about the Christian life. It is about our relationship to, and growth in Christ. If we are lazy in any relationship, that is where things can go wrong. But if we have lethargy in our relationship and growth in Christ then we really need to hear Paul’s advice.
1. Press on. A picture of an athlete.
“but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.
‘Press on’ means to pursue like a hunter, to hound, or to persecute. It is a ‘straining towards’ like runners straining even more, as they approach the finish line. The phrase was used to describe charioteers in the ancient Olympic Games, who would stand on a small platform, balanced between the two wheels of their chariots. These men had to strain forward to keep their balance as their horses galloped to the finishing line.
What is it that Paul is pressing on toward?
In preceding verses, he has been describing a life worthy of Christ, which has the same mind set and attitude as Christ. He is working out his salvation, pressing on towards righteousness. He is yearning to know Christ, being prepared to suffer and die in resurrection power, as he brings the Gospel to others.
But he is not there yet. There is no room for complacency, no time for sitting on the sofa congratulating himself. Even in Paul’s lockdown in prison, he is pressing on.
This is the Christian Life
In verse 12 where Paul says Jesus ‘took hold of me’, this has the meaning of being apprehended in a rugby tackle.
Christ has dragged us from the aimless sofa life, pulled us out of our life of ‘self’ and put us on the track for a greater calling.
In Verse 14 Paul says:
“I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.”
God has called us, and Jesus has put us on the track. In fact, Jesus is the track we’re running on, and the prize. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. (John 14:16) He’s everything.
Press on in this amazing calling.
Verse 13 emphasises: “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,”
Keep facing forward. Don’t look back.
A runner is only concerned about how far he has to go. That’s the difference between us and other runners. We’re not in a race, where we weigh up the opposition, and compare our performance against theirs. No, our goal is the finish line.
Don’t think about yesterday’s successes or failures as a means of measuring your progress. How are you doing today? Are you pushing forward today? It’s how you’re doing now that’s important. So, keep going.
Paul had a dreadful past, he was a ‘mutilator of the flesh,’ but he says ‘That’s what I was, but I’m running from that, in Christ, towards Christ.’
Look at the title of Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress’. How’s your progress?
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that, too, God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
A mind of maturity knows we’re to press on without looking back at what we’ve already attained. Keep going forward and God will bring you to maturity.
Don’t be like Lot’s wife who looked back to the world, with its sin and judgment. She was turned to a pillar of salt.
Remember you’re not perfect yet, and that’s OK but keep making progress.
Other Christians aren’t perfect either, so keep forgiving them and encouraging them.
If Lockdown has taken its toll on your life, get ready for the race now, by dying to self and living for Christ.
Can you imagine witnessing Christ’s death whilst sitting back on the sofa?
Just think about the words of the Hymn: Fight the good Fight
Fight the good fight with all thy might
Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right!
Lay hold on life, and it shall be,
Thy joy and crown eternally.
Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes and seek his face
Life with its way before us lies.
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.
These words should be turned into a prayer. Use them to ask God to help you run the race.
If you’re experiencing Lockdown lethargy, commit now, to reading the Bible and praying. Start small and build up gradually. Try watching Corona Chronicles, three times a week, and pray short prayers through the week. This would be a really good way to start.
Reading the Bible daily to your children would be another good thing to get you out of this Lockdown Lethargy.
Also ask yourself is there is any way you could serve others at the moment?
So, the aim is to get out of Lethargy!
2. Examples: good and bad
Read verses 15-17 again.
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that, too, God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
The word ‘us’ in these verses is important. It’s not a solo run. It involves teamwork.
When a brother or sister is out of breath, be there to encourage and to be an example. There are lots of examples of believers pressing on and inspiring others. In the preceding verses Paul had commended Timothy and Epaphroditus and there are many other examples in scripture to inspire you.
Verses 18-19 warn us that there are also bad examples.
“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”
This breaks Paul’s heart. There are many such as this, who live as enemies of the cross. They give up the race and become enemies. They have no need, or authority, beyond their personal desires.
In Greek mythology a one-eyed giant called Cyclops mused: ‘My flocks which I sacrifice to no one but myself, to my belly, - the greatest of gods. For to eat and drink each day and to give oneself no trouble, this is the God of wise men.
He loves his belly! It’s all about him!
In the same way, those who turn from Christ make their glory their shame. They are earthbound. All their desires are of this world.
3. Be a citizen of Heaven! Look onward! Run towards that!
In order to compete in the ancient Olympic Games, you had to be a Roman Citizen. And if you read verse 20, this is what Paul is referring to. We press on towards Heaven because we already have citizenship there.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,”
Citizenship has meanings associated with homeland and conversation. It illustrates the kind of interaction we have with loved ones when we are away from home. Citizenship also has the meaning of ‘trade’. So, heaven is our homeland, we are invested in it.
Do you have Lockdown Lethargy with regard to Christ?
The first step is to do something. Stop being proud and making excuses. Begin now and take it slowly, having faith that God will mature you as you run.
The second step is to look at good examples. Read or listen to Christian biographies. Be inspired by other Christians.
Be on your guard against the enemies of Christ too. Look at those who have given up the race.
The third step is to invest in Heaven! Take up your citizenship now.
Talk to Christ now!
Let’s get out of the sofa and invest in the King of Heaven!
Philippians 3:12 - 3:21
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.