Intro: Our lesson tonight begins with a promise. In fact this promise is part of a series of promises known as the beatitudes. Matthew 5:6 – 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Jesus describes the child of God as one who is hungry and thirsty. I am convinced that the people of the original audience were more able to associate with Jesus’ words than you or I. There are millions of people, even today, who live every day in a constant pursuit of something to eat and drink. It is their first concern every morning. It is a serious passion and pursuit.
So there are those who are serious about their relationship to God. They hunger after righteousness – they want to be right with God above everything else.
1. The apostle Paul well understood the priority of a passionate relationship with Christ. Although he was once Jesus’ most prominent enemy, he became a serious disciple who sought a close and intimate connection to his Savior.
- The Lord had personally appeared to him, and commissioned him to be His ambassador. Ananias told him “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard”. (Acts 22:14-15)
- – Jesus promised Paul,“I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” (Acts 26:17-18)
- Paul planted churches through Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia. He personally preached the gospel to kings, magistrates, and even Caesar’s household. Paul may have been responsible, directly and indirectly, for more conversions to Christ than anyone.
- In the course of his preaching and teaching he met constant opposition. As a result he had suffered unimaginable pain and betrayal for Christ and was even imprisoned.
- Yet despite what he suffered and given up, Paul was not regretful. Phil 3:8-11 – 7 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 9 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
I. To gain Christ – Paul was willing to lose everything for Christ. Paul uses an accounting term here. To gain (kerdos) means to realize as profit, Paul had attempted to gain righteousness through perfect law-keeping, but now he accounted all that he had once valued as a loss. It was His faith in Christ that was the profit. This was Paul’s passion. He describes what he gained in Christ in these verses:
- to be found in Him – where all spiritual blessings are available
- know Him – know His words, follow His example, benefit from His sacrifice
- power of His resurrection – be a new person through the Spirit. Raised to walk in a new life
- fellowship of His suffering – share in joy and blessing of suffering for Him.
- conformed to His death – to die as Christ died, unjustly. To fully participate in the sacrifice of one’s life for another.
- attain the resurrection from the dead – to have a hope of putting of this body for a spiritual body and be like Christ, never to die again.
A. It was his constant and lifelong pursuit to be like Christ, and to grow closer to Him. But coupled with this intense pursuit and goal was the personal realization that he had not attained it yet. Phil 3:12-13 –12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended;
II. The Value of Dissatisfaction: Paul was constantly dissatisfied. He was not regretful, or discontent. But spiritually there was always a desire to be closer, and to know Christ better – “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on… I do not count myself to have apprehended…”
A. F.B. Meyers observes that “self – dissatisfaction lies at the root of our noblest achievements”. If you are comfortable with your spiritual position, you have already stopped growing, and very possibly started dying. The Pharisee who prayed in the temple in Luke 18:11-12 was quite pleased with where he was – He was not like other men- He was not an extortioner, unjust, and adulterer, and certainly not a publican. When you look at the world around you do think, “Thank you Lord I am not like that”.
B. Paul’s favorite athletic metaphor is that of a footrace. He declared to the Ephesian elders, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
- He reminded the Corinthians of the dedicated athletes who competed in the Isthmian Games the apostle wrote, 1 Cor 9:24-27 – 4 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
- At the close of his life, Paul could declare, “I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).
- Here in Phil. 3 He uses the analogy of running in a foot race to describe his intense passion and spiritual dissatisfaction. It stems from his understanding of the race he is running. It was not a sprint, but a marathon.
- He was not yet the person He could be. He was not perfected, or made complete. (“Be patient, God is not finished with me yet”)
- He had not yet gained the crown or prize. He could lose it if he does not persevere. In Gal 2:2 Paul expressed his fear that [he] might be running, or had run, in vain,” while in Gal 5:7 he lamented to the Galatians, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
III. Principles of Pursuing Christ – Paul’s words describe his intense passion for Christ. How does one pursue Christ? What type of passion does God expect of me?
A. Focused Concentration: “One thing I do…” My father has always been a better cook than my mother – He had one major complaint – “cooking from the living room” you can’t do two things at once. James condemns the “double-minded” man who is unstable in all his ways. Jesus said we cannot serve 2 masters at the same time. Paul mentions 3 aspects of this focused concentration that we must develop:
1. “Forgetting those things which are behind…” At any point in the race, your past performance has no relevance to your ability to reach your goal. We cannot spend our time looking back at where we have been, but ahead toward the goal. Jesus said if one begins to plow and looks back, he is not fit for the kingdom of God. We must be single focused.
2. “Reaching forward to what lies ahead…” The term for “reaching forward” means to “stretch to the limit of one’s capacity”. William Hendricksen says, “The verb in the original is very graphic. It pictures the runner straining every nerve and muscle as he keeps running with all his might toward the goal, his hand stretched out as if to grasp it.” Have you ever seen a relay race? – As the baton is passed, the runner looks forward. We cannot be a church that speaks in terms of “If only…”, but rather “what can I do now?”
- “stretching out after the things in front,’ after higher stages of holiness, with hand and foot, like a runner in a race the body bent forward. Christians are humbled by the contrast between what they are and what they desire to be. The eye reaches before, drawing on the hand; the hand reaches before, drawing on the foot (Bengel)
B. Maximum Effort: “I press on…” The word Paul uses here was used of a runner who ran aggressively, straining every muscle to reach the goal. It is the opposite of a casual, laid-back approach to spiritual growth. Paul elsewhere said that we must run so as to obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24). You cannot become like Christ accidentally – it takes effort.
1. “toward the goal” (I pursue along the line) “this is a reference to the white line that marked the ground in the stadium from the starting place to the goal, on which the runners were obliged to keep their eye fixed; for they who transgressed or went beyond this line did not run lawfully, and were not crowned, even though they got first to the goal. (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary)
C. Spiritual Motivation: “…upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Paul was not into material gain or social upward mobility. He was into being like Christ -motivated by spiritual things. Christ-likeness is the goal of the Christian. Notice the confidence that Paul displays near the end of his life: 2 Tim 4:7-8 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (NKJ) This confidence was not just a warm feeling of security. It was based on an intense, life-long pursuit of the goal to be like Jesus.
1. The apostle John said, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked”. (I John 2:6) – The Christian pursues Christ to be like Christ, and even his hope is rested in the prospect of being like Him in heaven I Jn 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
2. If you claim that Christ means everything to you then you must pursue Him with every ounce of your energy. How?
- It is objective, not subjective. It is not through a mystical experience, but an exposure to the truth about Christ revealed in scripture. The Bible is the only source for such knowledge, and thereby the only source for growing closer to Him.
3. How much time do you spend getting to know Jesus better through scripture & prayer?
4. How persistent are you to obey God in everything? Do you hunger to be right with God?
5. How readily do you repent and turn away from sin?
Conclusion: Scriptures are full of examples of people who wanted to know Jesus better. One of the most well-known Jesus-seekers was a man named Zacchaeus. He sought first to see Jesus, then to hear him and lastly to please him, through changing his own life. That is the journey we must all enthusiastically take.