Paul the Apostle in his epistles often used athletic metaphors to help explain spiritual truths to the readers. He spoke of boxing in I Corinthians 9:26, wrestling in Ephesians 6:12, fighting in II Timothy 4:7. Paul's favorite much-repeated metaphor was FOOTRACE, which he used in Acts 20:24, Romans 9:16, I Corinthians 9:24-26, Galatians 2:2 & 5:7. In Philippians 3:12-21, he reveals one of the greatest characteristics of his life, he understood he was in a Race of Life! He knew he had been given a christian race to run, his race was to win a prize and at the finish line his prize would be Christ, Himself! Paul lived with one primary goal of life and that goal was an upward and high call from God. He lived each step of life with that goal in mind. Every step of life must be toward Christ. For Paul every decision, purchase, relationship, thought, needed to fit into his primary goal and if it didn’t he understood it would affect how he ran this race which was set before him and there would be a possibility that he would not finish this race in the fashion that the Lord would be pleased with.
Paul was not only a participant in his own race but he became a coach to all believers running their particular races. The Holy Spirit gave Paul some RULES for SPIRITUAL ATHLETES which he shares in Philippians 3:12:-16. I would like remind myself of these rules today and encourage each reader as well to run by the rules in order for each of us to finish our races and not end up on the sidelines.
RULES FOR SPIRITUAL ATHLETES
I. NEVER CEASE TO IMPROVE ! ( 3:12 )
Paul understood that the Christian life is a lifetime process of growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Paul knew he was not perfect and his pursuit in the flesh for perfection was in vain and his pursuit in the Spirit would be a process. It was clear to him that what he was seeking was perfection (Christlikeness), and every step he took should help him become more like Jesus but that would never be complete till he left this world and was then made completely perfect in glorification. The Apostle Paul was undoubtedly the most committed, dedicated, spiritually mature christian who ever lived yet he confesses that he has not attained perfection 30 years after his salvation experience! God uses Paul to teach us “ perfection in this life will always be a goal (for the believer ) never an achievement in this life”. The Christian must never stop running the race toward the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus as long as they have breath. So every day lets get up and join the race again to become more and more like Jesus. Follow after this ONE thing! Give this your MAXIMUM EFFORT 24/7!
II. ALWAYS STAY FOCUSED! (3:13)
Every runner in a race knows they must fix their eyes ahead of them. Those who watch the crowd, look at their feet, glance backwards are likely to fall. Maximum effort must also have focused concentration on a point ahead. Pauls says, “ this one thing I do”. Many dabble in a lot of things and accomplish very little and succeed in nothing. Verse 13 teaches us that we must “ forget things behind and reach forth to things ahead”. To STRETCH every spiritual muscle! Distractions are the enemy of success in life. It is like texting while driving or looking in the rear view mirror constantly. These bad habits will take you out of the race pretty fast and often permanently. The spiritual athlete must say focused on Christlikeness.
III. HAVE A PROPER MOTIVATION! (3:14)
The motivation is to win the race, cross the finish line, finish the race. The race is often not fun, it will be painful at times and is exhausting. But the finish line is what it is all about. PRESS ON is the heart of this passage. I PRESS is in the present tense and suggests we are to continuously, constantly run. We are running to the prize and not lose the prize. We will have opponents and obstacles in this race. What is our ONE consuming passion of life? Why do we get up every day? For Paul it was a passion to know more of Christ so he could become more like Christ! It wasn’t food, job, career, friend, family, pleasure, recreation a vacation. Everything the spiritual athlete does must come under the authority of the HIGH CALLING of God in CHRIST JESUS upon our lives. EVERYTHING must fit into the goal of becoming like Jesus! The proper motivation is a HEAVENLY MOTIVATION not an earthly one.
IV. RUN YOUR OWN RACE! (3:15)
Paul addressed the issue of others in the Philippian church who were teaching that you could become totally Christlike in this life. They taught that perfection was possible in this life and the result of such fales teaching was people ceased attempting to become like Christ. They were SPIRITUALLY SIDELINED! Paul encourages them to continue running their own races, and he actually uses sarcasm with those who teach the possibility of complete perfection this side of heaven. Paul exhorts the believers to have THIS MIND- to continually think you are not perfect, you need to keep running at maximum effort, your OWN RACE because you know by experience you have not attained perfection yet. Be a BIBLICAL THINKER as you run your personal race we each run the race according to God’s gifting us, assigning us a particular race, giving us allowed times and abilities.
V. KEEP RUNNING YOUR RACE! (3:16)
Paul gives one more rule - let us walk. The word walk in this verse is in the (continuous tense) and is used for living one step at a time. LET US KEEP WALKING, LIVING, PARTICIPATING in the RACE of LIFE. Keep attempting to become like Jesus until you see Jesus! Don’t retire from this at age 48, 62, 70 ! RUN TO THE FINISH! NEVER QUIT! PRESS ON ! We so often give up to soon. We don’t finish because we give up. We are to endure in this race and persevere. Don’t give in to pain, laziness, pleasure, opposition, obstacles, age, fatigue, sickness, nothing! Keep your passion no matter your age. Keep your fire for God. DIE CLIMBING! You may have to pace your race! You may need to adjust your race but never stop running your race till Christ comes for you in death or rapture. Then you will receive your TOTAL PERFECTION, your CHRISTLIKENESS and you will have FOUGHT YOUR FIGHT, FINISHED YOUR COURSE , KEPT YOUR FAITH! YOU WILL HAVE BEEN A SUCCESSFUL SPIRITUAL ATHLETE, one who hears the words WELL DONE!
Terry has been the Senior Pastor of Liberty for 30 years. He and his wife, Karen, have 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and 1 spoiled dog named Cooper.