Lucia's Blog: BUT ONE THING I DO! PRESSING ONWARD
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Isaiah 55:8-9

Isaiah 55:8-9

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

BUT ONE THING I DO! PRESSING ONWARD

"Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may layhold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,  I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." 
(Philippians 3:12-14)


When a cowboy mounts his horse, he does not ride off in ten directions at once.  I sometimes feel that is how we live our lives. We are all very busy working very hard for many good reasons, but what is our focus?  Let's take a moment and think about this inspiring challenge from the apostle Paul.

I have been thinking a lot about this beautiful and encouraging passage.  As I began meditating on each word, I remembered my early walk with Christ, when I acknowledged and accepted that I had to focus on just one thing: to do what was necessary to enter the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  It would in no way be an easy task.  It would require a lot of letting go, dying to self and even pain in the journey.  It was not going to be easy to crucify the old man with his sinful habits. I knew I had to consider myself dead to sin but alive to Christ, as one that was brought from death to life to become an instrument of righteousness. As in the sentiments expressed by John the Baptist, "He must increase but I must decrease." (John 3:30).

I knew well that the cost of following my Lord was going to be very high.  But I considered the high price He had paid for my sins.  This made my journey easier, my steps lighter, and brought me much joy as I walked with my Master.  YES, I knew even then, that I had to let go of the past and stretch forward to the future; living for Jesus my Lord.  I had to learn that my life is a race to be won, a course to be completed, and a life to be lived in righteousness brought to fruition.  It would require me to set heavenly goals rather than earthly ones.  It would demand lots of discipline, like the training of an athlete or soldier so that I could press on, reaching forward to win the prize, the crown of righteousness, glory, and life.  There was no room to give up and quit regardless of my circumstances. It was going to be a continual battle, but Heaven is worth it all!  There would be times for climbing mountains peaks and times for crossing deep valleys.  Periods of sweet rest, then more troubles to come. Times of discouragement as well as opportunities for revival or refreshing of my soul.

I learned early on, that apart from Jesus and His principles of righteousness there is no way of salvation.  He is the only way to heaven (the ultimate prize).  So, I needed to fix my eyes only on Him and not on men.  I needed to walk with an unfeigned faith and a living hope that I might fight the good fight of faith and finish the race victoriously.  It would demand all of my life, energy, and enthusiasm. Heaven is not for quitters.  It is for winners!  But we must keep pressing on toward our goal until our last breath of life.  Victory is just around the corner!

Many people set high goals in things that are physical, forgetting the most significant ones in the spiritual realm. We can learn a lot from the apostle Paul about how to discipline ourselves in pressing on toward the right goals, those that pertain to the kingdom of Christ and His righteousness.

There was once a man who lived for things that seemed to him more praiseworthy. Notice what he declares in Philippians 3:4-6 concerning the external things that he possessed to a high degree:
“Though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.  Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ.”

Indeed, Paul surpassed many of his contemporaries, Galatians 1:14.  He had a lot to boast about his flesh, his externals. However, he declared that there was no virtue whatsoever in the things of the flesh. All those things mentioned in Philippians 3:4-6 in which many of his fellow Jews still trusted. Paul acknowledged that to trust in the flesh would be to give too much importance to the list of things mentioned before. He then said in verse 7 that “what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ.”  Things such as honor and distinction, illustrious ancestors, higher education, leadership among those of the strictest sect, and the great respect and honor of his contemporaries. Notice that in verse 7 Paul used the language of accounting. He put all these things under the category of “duty” and not under “having.”  The word “loss” in the Greek “zemian” is used in Acts 27:10, 21 (to save the crew, sailors, and soldiers). Many things in the ship and cargo were cast into the ocean. Significant “loss” is suffered with great joy when contemplating the lives that were saved.

We are all in one way or another “accountants.”  Every day we have to judge the worth of many things: a good education, wealth, prestige, skills or talents and so on. But are these things really “gain” or “loss”?  It all depends on how one uses them. They can indeed be great “gain” if they are employed to glorify our Lord or they can be a significant “loss” and destroy the soul. 

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”  (Matthew 16:26).

Paul learned that apart from Jesus, everything he lived for was mere rubbish. Indeed, Paul cast many things into the sea to save his spiritual ship, Hebrews 10:32-34. Paul's primary goal was to gain Christ, becoming like Him in His death and as well as His resurrection from the dead. Paul viewed his life as a race to be won, a life to be lived in righteousness and a course to be completed or brought to fruition. Although he acknowledged that he had already run a lot, fought a lot, and had won great victories for Christ, he had not yet reached the ultimate goal for the prize. He recognized that though now he was an old man who had done great things for Christ; he was not free from the dangers of sin, (I Cor. 9:27).  

If Paul, who excelled in love, zeal, self-denial and complete devotion to Christ, thought it necessary to speak this way, how much more should we who have not even begun to sacrifice like he did?! Even though Paul certainly knew he was on the right path, the Way, (John 14:6; Mat. 7:13-14; Acts 24:14), he never believed that he could not fall, (I Cor. 9:27; 10:13). He has taught us that we must run our race well until the battle is over. YES, Paul, who was so faithful and endured so much for the Lord's sake, could not “rest,” how much less we!

The word “perfect” the way Paul uses it in this text, means that absolute perfection of “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Heb. 12:23). This is accomplished when one finishes the race. In Philippians 3:15, the word “perfect” is used in the sense of maturity. (Philippians 3:8-11).

Consider what Paul had to do to keep pressing on toward the goal: to “gain Christ.”


I.   HE HAD TO FORGET THE PAST:
“forgetting the things which are behind.” (Phil. 3:13).

The key word here is “forgetting.”  
  • Forgetting what? 
  • Leaving behind what? 
  • How can we leave behind all of our past failures, regrets, and disappointments?
  • Those who have let us down? 
  • Sins of the past? 
  • Wounds, wrongdoings, and betrayals left by those who intended to hurt us? 
  • How do we let go of the past's ugliness and sorrows? 
  • Slandering and gossip? 
  • How can we leave behind honor or recognition, material gains, or pleasures? 
  • How can we prevent our past from destroying our future even as it pollutes our present?  
  • How can we do that? 

Paul gives us his attitude of heart as well as the answers found in God's revealed Word. Few can rival the apostle Paul for reasons to have regrets. Remember, he had persecuted the church and had Stephen stoned to death; he dedicated all of his energy and time as well as his greatness to chasing down Christians, throwing them into jail. He tortured them and compelled them to blaspheme. In his own words, he was the “chief” of all sinners. 

Paul chose to “forget” his past and move forward. Paul did not try to dwell on all the heinous or wicked acts he had committed when he persecuted Christ and His church, (I Timothy 1:13). He could not afford to allow success to puff him up. Not the greatness of his past, nor his great achievements, or his severe sacrifices or even the surpassing greatness of the revelations he received, (2 Cor. 11:24-28; 12:7). He was resolved not to let anything distract him. Paul refused to live in the past. He focused on the future and moving forward. The greatest prize was still ahead, at the goal line!

Perhaps, Paul in Philippians 3:13, is referring to all of the advantages or benefits he had in Judaism (verses 4-5); but it could well encompass anything concerning his past life that might keep him from running and finishing his race in Christ. Impediments such as discouragement, sorrow, persecutions, and success. Paul forgot about all those things he could have trusted in. He also had to forget all that could have discouraged him or distracted him.

So, Paul was forced to forget everything. If he didn't, it would have been like the Israelites who kept longing for and remembering all that they had left behind in Egypt, (Numbers 11:5-6).

We too must forget all that we have left behind, our forgiven sins, (Hebrews 8:12). God in His infinite mercy has forgiven us of our sins. Therefore, we must forgive ourselves. We must not continue afflicting ourselves all the time for having committed them. Sadly, many Christians have not stopped grieving. They don’t want to. Their memories are still very alive in the heart and mind. Their guilt and remorse prevent them from moving forward. They cannot win the spiritual race and the prize that God has set before them. We must move forward and not get stuck in the past. Let us correct what can be rectified and leave the past behind. It is not good for the salvation of our souls. Our goal must be the future. Our prize is future, and we have not yet reached it. The past is past and must be forgotten and left behind. It is the only way to heaven!

Moreover, we must forget past offenses. It is vital that we forgive others so that our Father in heaven can forgive us. A grudge does not edify the soul, nor does bitterness and anger, (Ephesians 4:31-32). We cannot forgive someone as if we were doing them a big favor. Because in doing this and having that negative attitude of heart, the forgiven person is still indebted to us. And it must not be this way among us!

In like manner, we must forget our past sufferings. Some are obsessed with them. We must not allow the memory of our suffering to dominate our thoughts and hearts. Rather we must focus on the kingdom of righteousness where Christ is seated and ruling. Even our present suffering should not be the focal point. I have met many Christians who do not speak of anything but their sufferings, regrets, failures, disappointments, afflictions, and trials. They are seeking sympathy and it is nothing but pure selfishness or self-centeredness. It is the desire of their flesh that they seek to satisfy.

I realize that each of us has his fair share of suffering, both mental and physical, but we Christians must be careful not to unload our sufferings on others all the time, apparently being obsessed with them.  Follow Paul’s example. He turned all of his sufferings, trials, and problems into opportunities when he said,

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14).

So, why not have this attitude of heart like Paul did?!


II.   REACHING FORWARD TO THE FUTURE
“Stretching forward to the things which are before.” (Philippians 3:13)

Paul redirected his focus by moving forward with the work he had at hand to do. We are either moving forward, standing still or falling behind. Paul believed in moving forward, and we must use all of the forces God has given us to move on and not get stuck in the past. We must meet all the challenges that our God has for us. We must accept this challenge and make a difference. The difference must come as we live rooted and grounded in the Word of God. 
  • Accept and embrace the challenge to move forward in evangelizing even if many are not open to the Gospel; 
  • the challenge of leadership; 
  • the challenge of obeying God's Word; 
  • the challenge of praying more; 
  • the challenge of rejoicing more and being content rather than being anxious and ultimately
  • the challenge of moving the Lord's church forward into the future, but that involves every member. It is the only way to bring souls to the foot of the cross.  
Life is too short to get stuck in the past, not moving forward for the glory of God.  Life is too short to neglect the opportunity to move forward with joy doing good for others, enriching them spiritually as you speak to them about our Savior and His plan of redemption. Let us not get stuck in self-pity. Let us move forward and let go of whatever impedes the furthering of our souls and the church.

Paul knew he could not afford to get stuck in the past and fail to move forward. There was strenuous work to do. He did what was in front of him to accomplish as his utmost goal. Getting ourselves busy helps us with so many afflictions of the flesh: depression, valleys of suffering, and problems. We must leave behind the negative conversation within our heart because it will not amount to anything and never get the job done. It dooms us and keeps us in the past. But we must get down on our knees that we might be able to press on toward the goal, “to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. “ (Acts 20:24). It is all about our journey, forgetting what lies behind and stretching forward, always pressing on toward our goal.

In this same letter, Paul speaks with a singular voice, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” There is nothing to be anxious about. Worries choke the Word, (Luke 8:14) and are incompatible with peace, (Phi. 4:7). So let us resolve our worries and anxieties, with joy and gentleness, casting all of our fears and anxieties on Him because He cares and loves us immensely. Let us be careful and grateful about our circumstances. Every suffering, affliction, and heavy burden has a Bible solution, (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And let us fix our eyes only on Jesus rather than men. Our Lord and Savior is the “goal” and nothing else. Let us not be moved from our hope. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Therefore, let us be successful athletes who play to win, (I Cor. 9:27). But strong desire and motivation are vital to reaching forward to those things which are ahead, (Phil. 3:13).

So, let us find true contentment, (Phil. 4:11-13).  Let us change how we react to all of our problems and sufferings. There is no tranquilizer that can alleviate even one of life's problems or the anguish of heart we feel. Pills cannot change our circumstances. We must find our strength in Christ. It is all about an attitude of the heart. Paul did not become bitter, angry, anxious, or worried but chose to say, 

“To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Cor. 4:11-13).
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Oh, how I love to read these passages when my heart is overwhelmed with the heavy burdens of this world. It fills my soul with joy and hope!!


III. HAVING OUR HEARTS FIXED ON THE GOAL
“I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

The Greek word for “press toward” is a stronger word than the one in verse 13 translated “reaching forward.” "Reaching forward" implies the direction one is headed toward the goal. On the other hand, “pressing forward” indicates using pressure that one may advance toward that goal. Likewise, it conveys the idea of intense endeavor.

The word “goal” refers to the “target” which is the primary objective (target, goal) that is reached by the one who is running. Now, the “prize” is the reward given by the Author and Finisher of the victorious race, that is, the “crown of righteousness,” (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:8); the “crown of life,” (Revelation 2:10), the “unfading crown of life,” (1 Peter 5:4).

Regarding this race, Paul exhorts us saying, 
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Cor. 9:24). 

So, what is the final goal or target?  The final meeting with our Lord Jesus, either when one dies (1:23) or at “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13). Paul's primary focus in his life was on the future glory that was to be revealed, (Romans 8:18). Paul is our greatest example of heavenly perspective. Heaven was his primary target. He would obey God with all his might, pressing on toward his final goal of heaven. He pressed on as a faithful Christian that he might receive the crown of life. What a motivator this is for us!

Paul was not controlled by his past but rather looked with anticipation toward the future. No wonder he had so much joy! He knew his life did not depend on those things of the world, but the eternal principles of righteousness found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is vital that we concentrate on just one thing,
  • "but one thing I do." (Phi. 1:13);
  • “but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:42); 
  • “One thing I do know.” (John 9:25).

Our prize cannot be obtained without both effort and focus. Remember that the runner presses on and finishes the race because he does not give up. He is focusing on the reward or keeping the prize in mind. Therefore, he is not willing to quit, even for a second, despite his pain, agony or exhaustion. That is what we must also do. Even in the midst of persecution, tragedy, pain, suffering, etc., he still keeps his faith. The winners of the contest will be rewarded! He will receive an imperishable crown. 
  1. So, how are you running your race? 
  2. Is heaven your goal? 
  3. Are you motivated and dedicated enough to achieving it at any cost? 
  4. If you are not putting Christ and His kingdom of righteousness first, I don't see how you can have heaven as your primary goal or target?! 
  5. Are you making significant sacrifices for God according to His Word? 
  6. Are you pressing toward the goal, the prize, eternal life, or are you just dreaming about it, and living as you please?   
Think about it! Don't let go of your prize! 


Therefore, 
  1. Let us set our “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:2).
  2. Let us not get entangled in the affairs of this life, (2 Tim. 2:4). 
  3. Let us walk like Paul and Christ, who walked faithfully, (1 Cor. 11:1). 
  4. And let us walk after the pattern we see in the New Testament that we may win the race and receive the prize.

IV. THERE MUST BE A FERVENT DESIRE TO WIN THE PRIZE: 
“for that is far better.” (Phil. 1:23).
There must be:
  • a “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” (Matt. 5:6); 
  • a thirst for the living God, (Psalm 42:2); 
  • a desire for a “better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (Heb. 11:16); 
  • a desire “to strive to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24).

VI. THE HOPE OF SALVATION IS VITAL TO RUN THE RACE WELL:

We must run our race with the full confidence of winning. Otherwise, we will not reach the goal. 

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Romans 8:24). 
“But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thess. 5:8).

Therefore, all athletes who enroll must contend to win.  They are the ones who play with the real hope of winning. This is of great importance! Revelation 21, 22 and Matthew 25:34 must be our top motivators to victory in heaven, where we will receive our crown of righteousness, glory and life. Our hope is so strong that we can almost taste it!


CONCLUSION:

Sometimes our past is our worst enemy. We struggle with our past (mistakes, disappointments, failures, wrongdoing, wounds, past sins, accomplishments, achievements, traditions, etc.), finding it almost impossible to forget and move forward. It is easier to remember than to forget.

The apostle Paul exhorts us through the revealed Word to forget what lies behind and to reach forward to what lies ahead. Paul was able to get beyond his own past mistakes and great accomplishments by forgetting the past and reaching forward to the future for the prize of the upward calling of Jesus our Lord. And though Paul had won many spiritual battles, extending the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles in Asia Minor, he did not claim to have attained spiritual maturity (the state of completion as a Christian). So he pressed on, pursuing consistently with all deliberate speed to obtain the prize that Christ had in store for him. He seized Christ just as Christ seized him (on the road to Damascus, changing his life forever). His desire was to take hold of Christ, to know and love Him as much as Jesus had taken hold of him.

In other words, Paul pursued the goal of being like Christ. He did so with the enthusiasm and perseverance of a runner like those who participated in the Greek games. He conformed to the image of Christ. He knew but one thing: “forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Indeed, Paul ran focusing on those things that matter the most, the spiritual ones and not the things of the flesh which are only temporary. He focused on his citizenship, heaven and not earth. We must be of the same mind as Paul, who kept reaching forward and pressing on toward the goal of eternal life in heaven; that is where we belong.

Sadly for many, their affections are not on heavenly things. They become distracted by this world (materialism, entertainment, recreation, lusts, pleasures, etc.). They are willing to lose their souls for earthly pursuits. Are you?  May we always seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

As Christians, we must move forward with the right attitude of heart about God, His Word, His church, the lost and our lives, accepting the challenges by focusing and being rooted in the Word of God. But to move forward, we must fight with tooth and claw the enemies of ignorance, unbelief, apathy and sin. We cannot afford to lose the battle and our race. We must run well and fight that we may win our prize.

We must fix our eyes on Jesus and not man, to reach our goal. Likewise, we must have an intense hunger and thirst for righteousness, and for the living God so that we might reach the goal. We must strive to enter the narrow gate. But one thing we must do, one thing is needful, one thing I know: “reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”

The hope of salvation is vital to run and finish the race victoriously. We must run with the hope of winning the race to win the prize.

Therefore, let us not allow ourselves to become distracted by the past or be discouraged. On that final day, the faithful will be given incorruptible, glorious and heavenly bodies. They will be with the Lord for eternity.  Such a hope is worth fighting for!!

May we continue to press on toward our goal, heaven where our citizenship is. May we never allow ourselves to become distracted by the things of this world and give up our heavenly citizenship. May we gain Christ for this is indeed gain. May we compete according to the rules, as real athletes, to win the prize. And finally, may we fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith and receive our award, the crown of righteousness.

Luci