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May 23, 2023

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. 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14).

Goals! We love talking about and setting goals. We have personal goals; family goals; church goals; corporate goals. No politician gets elected without setting forth their goals. A plethora of books have been written on how to reach individual and communal goals.

And so, we find ourselves in familiar territory with our text. Paul is telling us about his goal. Of course, this may be off putting for some of us who have heard too much about goals. Gaol talk causes us to roll our eyes and find something else to do. If that’s you, I think you would do well to ponder Paul’s goal.

As you may recall, Paul’s goal is simply this: to know Christ. He expands this a little by adding, “to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (10,11). It’s worth noting that in our text Paul adds that God has called him heavenward.

The term “call” in Paul’s letters is rich with significance. God calls people from many ethnic and social background into fellowship with Jesus Christ and into his kingdom. It is his grace that gathers us. This will not be fully realized in the present life. Thus, the heavenly call toward which Paul stretches with all his might is God’s call to be part of the diverse people who will stand purified before him on the final day.

How many of us have joined Paul in setting this goal for ourselves? He does not mention all ‘his converts’; nor the churches he has planted. We get distracted by such things. Joining Christ in his suffering will probably include giving up some of the goals we have set for ourselves because they do not align with the big goal.

Paul is not there yet. He has not yet arrived. But he is pressing on. He uses sports metaphors to illustrate the effort he puts into the goal. In watching professional basketball games, it occurred to me that often the winning team is the best conditioned team. Endurance is as important as skill in the game.

He refuses to allow the past to hinder his progress. He is not specific about what things he means: it could be is strident persecution of the church, or the mistakes (sins) he made as a less mature Christian or a lack of knowledge of Jesus. Whichever he might mean, it does not hold him back. Forward, always forward, straining, yearning for the goal; like a child eager for birthday presents.

But what keeps Paul reaching? How does he keep focussed on the goal? Why is he not distracted by mistakes and setbacks? Why does he not consider all his successes important?

One reason: Jesus took hold of him for this one singular purpose. Yes, he was called to be an apostle. Yes, he was called to preach to the gentiles. Yes, he was called to nurture the young church. All these things are true. But all are secondary to the call to know Christ Jesus, to being like him in his life, death, and resurrection. This is the main thing. And it stays the main thing because Jesus is ‘seeing it to completion’. This is what keeps Paul going. Christ will see it accomplished.

There are many things that discourage us in the Christian life. Our own sinfulness and backsliding, chief among them. When you get discouraged, when you think no progress is being made, when you fail one more time, don’t spend days moaning and groaning and beating yourself up. Look to Christ. He has called you. He is at work in you. He will see you perfected. Count on Him. In the end, we will discover that he has done all the work. Strangely, that does not make us passive but rather energizes us to walk in step with His Spirit.