For today’s message, I’m going to begin in a rather unorthodox manner. I’m going to begin with a couple of physical demonstrations.
(demonstration 1: planking competition—state goal and prize)
(demonstration 2: saltine cracker challenge—state goal and prize)
We can laugh and have a good time about fun challenges, like the ones we just saw. And of course, there are other objectives that are more serious and consequential, such as our goals regarding our education, career, and family. And as Christians, even greater in gravity and consequence than these are our spiritual goals.
In his sermon last week, Pastor Andrew touched on the topic of spiritual goals. He asked questions like, “What are your spiritual goals?” and “What would you like to achieve for God’s Kingdom?” I hope that all of us took the time this past week to honestly and seriously think about and answer such questions.
For those of us who may still be in the process of answering the questions, I hope that the Bible passage I’ve personally been wrestling with these last few weeks may offer some additional insight and encouragement. As you may have noticed in this week’s church e-mail, I’ve been reading the book of Philippians.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 3:12-14
12 なにも、自分が完全な人間だ、などと主張するつもりはありません。学ぶべきことも、まだたくさん残っています。ただ、キリスト様が何のために救ってくださったかを知り、私に与えられている目標に到達する日を目指して、努力しているのです。13 愛する皆さん。私は、まだその目標に達してはいません。ただこの一事に、全力を注いでいます。すなわち、過去に執着せず、前にあるものを望み見、14 ゴールに到着してほうびを得るために、一生懸命努力しているのです。このほうびを与えようと、神様は、私たちを天へと召しておられます。それは、キリスト・イエスが成し遂げてくださったことに基づくのです。−ピリピ人への手紙３:１２−１４
I think that what makes a goal more serious or consequential is the prize attached to it, or the lack thereof. In our earlier demonstrations, our competitors fought for a rather trivial prize. But with spiritual goals, the prize is big! And there is a lot at stake, a lot on the line, depending on our success or failure.
The Apostle Paul talks about winning “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Depending on whom we ask, this prize can mean the promise of heaven or the riches ultimately awaiting us when we get to heaven. This is one important, valuable prize!
Generally speaking, one spiritual goal that we all have is to grow in our faith—to grow in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And as we grow in our faith, we can sense a growing assurance that we’re heading in the right direction toward our spiritual goal. Paul shares some important points on how to go about doing that.
1) Stay Humble
There’s nothing that slows the progress of spiritual growth more than the false notion that that goal has already been achieved. The Apostle Paul, with all that he had done and accomplished, said that he had “yet to obtain all of this” and that he had “not yet taken hold of it.”
If any of you thinks that you’ve prayed a lot, you still haven’t prayed enough. If any of you thinks that you’ve read the Bible a lot, you still haven’t read enough. If any of you thinks that you’re mature in your faith, you’re still not mature enough. If any of you thinks that you know God pretty well, you still don’t know him enough.
Stay humble. Accept the reality that you’ve still got a long ways to go. Readily admit your weaknesses and limitations. Otherwise, “if you think you are standing, be careful not to fall.” Do you know the foolproof way not to fall? Stay low to the ground. Why do you think we kneel in church? Stay low before God. Stay humble.
2) Forget What’s Done
There’s nothing that stops the progress of spiritual growth more than dwelling on the past, both bad and good. A lot of times, people think that this means to not let past failures and mistakes prevent you from moving forward. Being gripped by fear of reliving horrible memories certainly does immobilize people.
But it’s not just the bad things of the past that do that. Good things too, like past accomplishments and triumphs, can have an equally immobilizing effect on Christians and their spiritual growth. Actually, I believe that’s what Paul is alluding to here in this specific text, to not be content with our past spiritual successes.
Recently led a friend to Christ? Great! Go share the Gospel with another friend. Just finished your “read-the-Bible-in-a-year” reading plan? Awesome! Start with Genesis 1 again tomorrow. Learned how to play the drums for Sunday service? Fantastic! Learn how to sing and play the guitar for leading worship. Forget what’s done. Move forward.
3) Press On
There’s nothing that kills spiritual growth more effectively than the refusal to move forward. You heard me right. Kill. Not just slow it or stop it, but kill it. Living as a Christian in this world has often been compared to being in a river trying to go upstream or trying to drive a car uphill.
Since there are no salmon in our congregation, I’ll ask the kayakers. What happens when you stop paddling in a flowing river? Drivers, what happens when you put your gear in neutral on an incline? It’s the same way with our faith. If we’re not fighting to move forward, you’re going to go backward.
Many Christians have the wrong notion that they can just stay in neutral, not paddle for a while. “Yeah, I know I’m not moving forward, but it’s okay. I just want to stay where I’m at for a while.” But it doesn’t work like that. Before you know it, you’re way downstream or at the bottom of the hill. The slope of this world, the current of this society, the sin, the temptations, the influences—if you’re not actively fighting the them, then they’ve already got you.
There’s no such thing as Switzerland in the spiritual realm. Refusing to fight does not put you in neutral territory. You either shoot, or get shot at. You either take out the enemy, or the enemy takes you out. Satan doesn’t honor your white flag, your Red Cross emblem, or your time out signal. He’s out to “steal, kill, and destroy.”
The Apostle Paul understood this dynamic in the spiritual realm, and that’s why he
instructed us to “press on toward the goal as to win the prize.” The term “press on” is defined as “continue moving forward.” If you examine the term deeper, you’ll find that the ideas of “continuance” and “forward direction” are closely tied to it, with synonyms such as “advance, progress, march on, move on, plow on, push on, etc.”
I believe this idea of “pressing on,” of “continuing to move forward,” this idea of unending progress is vitally important in understanding how we reach our spiritual goal to greater faith and maturity. I think that’s why Paul also instructed us in the previous chapter to “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”
A stagnant faith is as good as dead. We need to actively work toward greater faith and spiritual maturity. We need to fight against the distractions, the obstacles, and the excuses. We need to move forward in faith. We press on.
And we can be sure that God will provide the fullness of his resources to us. He will fight for us and with us, but we have to make the decision to press on. We can trust in what Jesus taught, and we can rely on the help of the Holy Spirit. And there’s true laughter and joy in that.