Pressing on in the race toward our spiritual goals
Have you been watching the Olympics this week? Whether you’re a sports fan or not, there’s no denying the Olympic competitors are extraordinarily talented in their respective fields. And you don’t get as far as the world stage by coasting. It requires a dedicated lifestyle of preparation – everything from diet to sleep routines, physical practice to mental endurance is focused on performing to the best of one’s abilities. As we see in Philippians 3, Paul uses races like the ones happening in Tokyo right now to highlight how our lives should be similarly trained in the pursuit of Christ.
But first he addresses the idea of sincerity. Let’s read Philippians 3:1-6:
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
1) How is repetition a safeguard?
2) What kinds of things do we as believers need repeated to us? What are some of truths of Scripture that Christians need to study repeatedly? (ex. Rejoicing in all circumstances)
Moving on to verses 2-3, Paul warns against false teachers – particularly those who use ceremony and law to define righteousness. In this case, they were focusing on the rite of circumcision.
3) How can we discern between misleading and accurate teaching? Keep in mind, circumcision was initially a sign of covenant relationship between God and his chosen people. It wasn’t something these dangerous teachers just made up. They were preaching a familiar, God-honoring tradition in a misleading way. How can we discern truth from adulterated truth?
4) What might some “evil workers” teach in churches today? Have you seen or heard scripture misused?
Paul’s phrase, “it is we who are the circumcision,” might seem jarring. What does he mean by this? In the Old Testament, circumcision was a surgical way of proving one’s relationship to God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection followed by his bestowing of the Holy Spirit, the way for personal relationship with God was opened. We no longer need to alter ourselves physically to prove this, but rather it is made evident in every aspect of how we live our lives as loving, faithful, humble followers of Jesus.
5) Can you think of some outward things done today people use to “prove” their relationship to God in this way?
Using himself as an example, Paul goes on to list some things in which he once based his faith, things like his family heritage, religious knowledge, strict observance of law and tradition, and zealous actions. Those were his priorities before encountering Christ. Let’s read verses 7-11:
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
6) Looking at verses 7-8, what does he explain is the utmost priority of a true Christian?
7) Knowing Christ is the aim of a sincere believer. Is that more of a head knowledge or a heart knowledge, do you think?
8) What is the difference between the two?
9) What are some priorities you have in your life? What do you value most?
10) How difficult would it be to forsake those things right this moment if Jesus asked you to?
11) Paul found his identity and purpose in that list of things we read earlier until his confrontation with God on the Damascus road. Here in Philippians, he says those things became contemptible in comparison to what?
12) What does Paul want most according to verses 10-11?
13) What is the relationship between experiencing resurrection and participating in suffering?
Suffering is a privileged opportunity for experiencing joy in Christ. Instead of seeing tribulations as obstacles to maturing in our faith, we can view them as opening for connecting with God on a much deeper level.
Let’s move on to verses 12-14:
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.
Matthew Henry writes in his commentary on this scripture: “Paul’s goal is Christ’s goal for him, and Christ supplies the resources for him to press on toward that goal.” Though we can look at Paul as one of if not the most influential apostle and spiritual father to countless people in the early Church, he saw himself as still having a long way to go in his spiritual development. The process of maturing in our relationships with Christ is never done.
14) Do you have a spiritual goal? Do you have a sense of Christ’s goal for you?
15) What exactly are we to “forget” and put behind us in pursuit of the goal?
Thinking more on the Olympic athletes performing this week, they have had to make many sacrifices in order to pursue the chance to win a medal.
16) What are some other habits or qualities of Olympic athletes? (Their entire lifestyles are focused on their goal. Everything from diet, exercise, time management, ability to socialize, etc. is carefully handled in pursuit of becoming the best they can be. They practice discipline, endurance, not shying away from pain or adversity.)
17) What are some habits or qualities of Christians who successfully press on in the spiritual race Paul is talking about?
Let’s finish reading through the end of the chapter:
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Paul reminds his audience to be careful about the teachings and examples they follow and warns them about being focused on earthly things instead of their heavenly citizenship.
18) Who are some people whose faith has inspired you? What is it about their example that inspires you to emulate them?
19) The totality of our lives should express our relationships to Christ. In what area of your life do you see has the most potential for growth in terms of emulating Jesus?
20) How will you press on toward the goal of maturing in your faith this week?