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Monday, November 19, 2012

Run Hard For Christ - Philippians 3:12-14

After church yesterday, two specific things stood out to me in the sermon by Levi Lusko at Harvest (listen here). It is easy to talk about the "forgetting what's behind" and "straining for what's ahead" content of these verses because they are simple and straight forward. However, there were two things that were not straight forward, so I decided to dig deeper. The first thing was Paul's commitment to "press on" throughout his life to make every moment count for the gospel. The second thing was Paul's ambition "for the prize" that he would receive at the end of his life.

Philippians 3:12-14, "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."

"I Press On"
The Apostle Paul made it his goal to never stop broadcasting the gospel. His joyful letter to the Philippians was based on the fact the church was advancing and progressing the gospel in their city (Phil. 1:12, 25). Paul testified in his letter that he will always "press on" through whatever circumstances he faced as long at it resulted in the advancement of the gospel.

The Greek word for "press," dioko, is a verb with the dominant sense of persecution. However, it is translated "to press on," indicating Paul’s continuous and laborious determination to obtain eternal life regardless of his trials. The "press" language echoes the process of making wine in the NT. The grapes are pressed and crushed by foot, slab, or vat into a new wine. Paul saw his trials and decided to "press on" while he was getting pressed and crushed with persecution. It was a mentality of always getting back up after being struck down. As he was getting pressed and crushed, the advancement of the gospel was being poured out of his life as new wine.

Paul mentions dioko twice in these selected verses to assure two things with one common denominator. The first occurrence was to assure his audience that he has to still "press on" through sanctification in his Christian life ["make it my own"] because of his calling by Jesus Christ ["made me his own"]. The second occurrence was to demonstrate to his audience his heavenly motive ["towards the goal"] and objective ["for the prize of the upward call of God"] in gospel-centered ministry, knowing what awaited for him in glory. This is precisely why he mentioned knowing Christ and being promised eternal life is far better and of great gain throughout the letter (Phil. 1:27; 3:7, 8). Paul wanted to make sure the Philippians were going to "press on" through their persecution knowing what awaited them in eternity.

For the Prize
The Apostle Paul uses a metaphor describing an Olympian receiving a prize. The Greek word for "prize," brabeion, is found only twice in the NT. The first occurrence is in 1 Corinthians, referring to the literal prize given to an athlete who wins a competitive race (most likely referencing the ancient games that were held in Corinth). 1 Corinthians 9:24 says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it."  Paul later contrasts how the perishable prize given to the victorious athlete [runner] is unworthy compared to the imperishable prize given to the victorious Christian who runs hard for Christ. Thus, the prize does not provide victory over opponents as the perishable prize would of signified, but the imperishable prize provides victory over the enemies of sin, Satan, and death through the promise of eternal life. What a glorious brabeion!

The second occurrence appears in Philippians 3:14. This occurrence provides more theological depth and understanding. Paul uses the same term, brabeion, yet intentionally refers to the glorious prize of eternal life. He makes it very clear that this prize is given by the prepositional phrase, "for the prize." Logically speaking, this means the prize has already been disclosed to all who desire to obtain it. Also, all those who desire to obtain it must be "in Christ Jesus." Those in Christ Jesus press on in their faith knowing the brabeion awaits them in the future.

Run Hard For Christ
In both occurrences, the athletic references hinge on the character of endurance. Runners have to train tenaciously. They have to constantly be progressing so they will finish the race. Running exerts a massive amount of energy and physicality. It is an exercise that demands sacrifice through endurance. When running a race, you have to "press on" and not give up. Paul maximizes this example in conjunction with will of God in the Christian life. Just as runners have to run hard with endurance in order to win, Christians need to run hard with endurance for Christ. To run hard means to sacrifice energy and physicality for the "upward call of God." Paul conveys a basic spiritual reality - one day we will be rewarded with "the prize"of eternal life. Thus, he was willing at all costs to "press on" to fulfill his gospel mandate while enduring through persecution, trials, and tribulations for the glory of God.

Here are a few notes of application that ministered to me as I reflected upon this text:
1. I need to have the advancement of the gospel at the epicenter of my life in order to press on through trials (as Paul did through his missionary trips). Focusing on the bigger pictures of the gospel will make my little pictures of trials seem insignificant.

2. I need to have a keen sense of my calling by the Lord Jesus Christ (as Paul did through his ministry). Reflecting on my regeneration with thanksgiving, and knowing my purpose in the kingdom will strengthen me to envision greater things I can do for Christ because of what he has done for me.

3. I need to have a heavenly perspective in order to fulfill the upward call of God (as Paul did through his life reflection). Knowing the prize of eternal life awaits for me one day will empower me to live for the glory of God in the present.

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