Eyes on the prize?

by | Oct 23, 2023 | October 2023 | 0 comments

…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 3:13-14 (NIV)

Straining towards what is ahead? Pressing on towards the goal? To win the prize? The casual reader could be forgiven for thinking Paul is talking here about a works-based salvation.

Anything but. We need only remind ourselves that this is the very same Paul who said, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

So what is going on here in Philippians 3?

Let’s go back to verses 5 and 6. Here Paul provides a litany of his good works: circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite, from the elite tribe of Benjamin (‘a real Hebrew if ever there was one’ as the New Living Translation puts it). And a Pharisee to boot. He continues in verse 6: zealous and righteous, in fact faultless in the eyes of the law.

In other words, if anyone deserves to be saved based on the life they have lived, Paul is saying ‘It is me!’(v.4). But (and it’s a huge but) none of this means anything to me now (v.7). In fact, I consider it all garbage compared to the saving work of Jesus (v.8). Garbage is a very restrained translation; the original Greek is much more down to earth, filth or excrement being the closest I would want to put in print.

So, returning to our header scripture, verses 13-14, what is Paul getting at then? Simply this: now that his own self-righteousness has been replaced by the only true righteousness, that is Christ-righteousness, it is Paul’s heartfelt desire to live this out to the full in the here and now; to use the goal as an incentive to allow Christ’s righteousness to turn him into a new creation; to use the prize as confirmation that we are now, already, citizens of heaven, as Paul says in verse 20.

So, Paul concludes, let us take this new life seriously and don’t take what we have been given for granted. Let us act like trained athletes, straining forwards, pressing on, and acting like prize-winning citizens of the kingdom. Which of course, we are.

Loving Father, thank you that through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ we can be sure and certain of our life with you in the kingdom, what Paul called our life in the age to come. And meanwhile, let us live out our physical lives as followers of Christ with that wonderful truth in mind. This we pray in Jesus’s name, Amen.


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