Striving for the Goal

A few questions to start off:

1.)    How many times did you read your Bible last week?

2.)    How many times have you prayed over the last week?

3.)    How would you describe your relationship with God?

The Scripture we’re going to be looking at is Philippians 3:12-21

In this passage Paul compares living a Christian life to straining toward a goal.  The goal in question is eternal life and living a life that glorifies God.  He states that this is the same goal for which Christ has taken hold of him.  In other words, Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice so that we would be freed from our servitude to sin and be able to pursue eternal life and God’s glory.

This is all well and good, but how do we “strive for the goal”?

In verse 13, Paul says that while he has not yet achieved perfection he forgets what is in the past and focuses on reaching forward.  This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t remember what he has learned.  Instead, he doesn’t get hung up on the past.  He doesn’t fall in to a “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” mentality and keeps looking forward to what he needs to do now in order to reach the goal.

Verse 16 tells us that the next thing we must do in striving towards the goal is to keep doing what we already know.  Think about it in terms of physical training.  There are times when athletes hit a “wall” as it were and see little improvement in their fitness or technique.  However, when this happens, they don’t stop practicing.  If they do, they stand to lose what they have already gained.  Instead, they keep training and practicing the techniques they already know until they are able to reach their next goal.  Likewise, our spiritual lives will go through periods of growth and periods that feel like deserts.  It is important to stay spiritually active during these dry periods so that we don’t lose the progress that we’ve already made.  This means still spending time praying, reading the Word, and striving to serve God in our daily lives, despite the fact that God feels distant.

Another resource that we can draw on as we press toward the goal before us is our brothers and sisters in Christ who can inspire and encourage us.  Paul tells the Philippians that they should follow the life example that he and others have set.  When we are weary or stumbling, we can look to our fellow Christians to encourage and hold us accountable.  Again returning to the physical training metaphor, sometimes people find that it is easier to get out and train if they do it with some friends.  Friends can encourage us to be diligent in our training and help push us to achieve more than what we may if we were working on our own.  There is also a rich array of other resources that allows us to draw upon the insight and experiences of others, be they ancient saint or modern missionary.

Of course, we must be wise when deciding whose example we should follow.  Paul notes in verses 18 and 19 that there are those who profess to follow Christ but who ultimately follow their own appetites.  They are concerned with praise from people much like the Pharisees were (Matthew 23:1-12).  The people whose example we should follow are those who point to God rather than to themselves.  Who show us the way to our goal rather than to earthly distractions.

To summarize, Paul offers 3 ways in which we can move closer to God in pursuit of the goal:

  1. Don’t get hung up on the past, you can’t move forward if you’re always looking back.
  2. Practice what you already know so that you don’t lose what you’ve already gained.
  3. Let others guide and encourage you along the way.

Verses 20 and 21 give us one final piece of wisdom:  that it is the work of God through Christ that will ultimately bring us to our goal.  It is God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice that allow us to enter into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-25).  This is what gives us the hope in which we look ahead rather than behind, the hope that motivates us to keep practicing what we know, and the hope with which we encourage one-another.

Questions for consideration:

  1. In what ways are we tempted to focus on past mistakes?
    1. How does John 8:1-11 help us to understand Paul’s advice?
    2. If we are always either moving toward or away from God, how is practicing what we already know not equivalent to treading water?
    3. Who do you look up to as a Christian?
      1. Why do you look up to this person?
      2. Do you strive to imitate this person at all, or do you just admire them?
      3. How does God help us on a daily basis in order to reach the goal we are striving for?

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