Philippians chapter 3 is our portion of Scripture again, Philippians 3, and we're beginning to read at verse 12. That is our text, but we'll take up verse 7 through to verse 16 to get the context. Verse 7, Paul says: "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing".
I want to speak to you this morning under the title 'Progress in Purpose', progress in purpose. Dr Dwight Pentecost, who many of you are familiar with, and indeed has preached here in the Assembly over the many years of our existence, wrote a book on the subject of the epistle to the Philippians called: 'The Joy of Living'. In the book under this particular section he commentates on what Paul has said, and he relates it to an experience that he had himself when he visited some of the art galleries in the city of London. I'll just quote it to you like this, he says: 'When I was in London I found my way to several of the art museums and galleries of that city. I wanted to see some of the famous paintings I had become familiar with through art books. It was a delightful experience to walk through these corridors. I was particularly struck with one painting: two chariots were racing at breakneck speed, their wheels were just a blur of motion, the charioteers with whip in hand were lashing their horses to the expenditure of every ounce of energy that they had. Intensity was written in their eyes, in their faces, in the set of their bodies. The horses were straining themselves, it seemed, to the point of collapse. Their eyes were wild, their nostrils distended, they gulped great breaths of air as they pressed toward the goal. With the goal before them they were giving themselves unreservedly to their race. Those who had not so extended themselves had been left behind, and were an insignificant part of the background of the painting. The attention of the viewer was focused by the artist upon the two charioteers who strained toward the goal'.
Now last Lord's day morning we looked at the appetite that the apostle Paul had for the Lord Jesus Christ, and for maturity and spiritual things. You remember he said three things - his desire was that he would win Christ, verse 8; verse 9, that he would be found in Christ; and verse 10, that he would know Christ. We saw that the spiritual measure, if you like, of how mature you are in Christ, of whether or not you grow into perfection in Christ, it's all down to one thing in particular - it's not down to the privileges that you have in the matters of your conversion, it's not even down to the knowledge that you have in a biblical sense, but it's all down to one thing: the appetite that you have for the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The desire, the longing, the thirst, the hunger after spiritual things in the Lord Jesus. After Paul has told us that, that the real common denominator of all those who have attained unto spiritual maturity - some we called last week 'spiritual giants' - have this in common: that they have an appetite, they have a hunger and a thirst and desire after Christ.
Now, after telling us this, Paul now speaks to us of his own progress in attaining that purpose and goal. He rejects right away any idea that he, as the great apostle, has already attained unto this spiritual perfection. In fact, he throws right out of this scenario any consideration the theoretical Christian perfection can be at all attained down here on earth. I don't care who you are, or what you've done, or what you've not done, or what church you belong to, or what spiritual philosophy you aspire to, Paul is quite clearly saying here that none of us down here on earth can attain unto perfection in a complete sense of being perfect, holy, no spot or wrinkle of sin within us. In fact, Paul was probably, I would say, the greatest Christian that ever lived, but he himself says that he had not attained unto this. In verse 11 he said: 'If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead', verse 12, 'Not as though I had already attained', verse 13, 'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended' - he didn't think that he had reached that spiritual perfection.
In verse 11 he had not reached that goal of resurrection perfection yet. One thing that tells us about the great apostle, and we would do well to take a leaf out of his book today, it's this: that he was spiritually realistic, spiritually realistic, and also he was spiritually honest. He saw things the way they really are, and he was honest about his own disposition spiritually speaking before God. The great apostle, consider for a moment, was not among those who say today: 'I have nothing more to learn, I have no more experiences to have, I have no more spiritual milestones to achieve' - Paul could never say that! Now note that Paul wasn't talking about his position in Christ, for in verse 15 he sees that as being perfect: 'Let us therefore, as many as be perfect', he includes himself in the number - 'Let us therefore, as consider ourselves perfect'.
Now what's he talking about? Is he contradicting himself? One moment he says he's not perfect, the next moment he includes himself with those who are perfect. Well, you've got to notice the distinction here: in verse 15 he's talking about perfection positionally in Christ. In other words, he's not standing before God in his own righteousness and his own sinless perfection, because he doesn't have it; but because Christ died for him at Calvary, and he has had faith in Christ, faith in Christ has imputed to him Christ's own perfection, His own sinless spotless righteousness. That is Paul's, and indeed every believer's, positional sanctification in the Lord Jesus - because we are in Christ, we are accepted in the Well-beloved, and we can approach unto God - that's verse 15. But when Paul says he hasn't attained unto perfection in verses 11 and 12 and 13, he's talking practically about his own holiness and sanctification. We could paraphrase it like this: 'We are perfect, but not perfect. We are complete, but not completed'.
It's a bit confusing, isn't it? Let me illustrate it like this: a newborn baby comes into this world, and the doctor examines it as soon as comes out of the womb, and he's able to pronounce to the mother and father on tenterhooks that the child is well - and he might even say to the mother and father: 'It's a perfect baby boy'. Now there is that child, seemingly to the naked eye right away perfect in all of its parts and development as it has come through nine months of gestation in the womb. But everybody knows, the parents know, the doctor knows, you know that that child has not come to full perfection - it's not fully grown, it's not perfected, it's not completed. It has all the organs, perhaps even the looks of its father or mother, but those organs in themselves have not fully grown or developed. Now that is what Paul is talking about here in verses 11, 12 and 13, when he talks about perfection. He's talking about spiritual maturity, he's talking about completeness, development in the Lord.
Although we are perfect through sanctification, through our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, many of us - in fact all of us - have still a long way to go. We still, no matter how mature we are, have some maturing to do. What are we all working towards? - that's the question. What is this maturity, what's the final stage of it? And ultimately what is the purpose and goal of Paul's life? When will he be satisfied? When will he have attained and apprehended that for which Christ has apprehended him? Verse 21, here it is very clearly, verse 20: 'For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself'.
Paul's goal was simply this: to be like Jesus. What a goal! Therefore, I believe that we should be dissatisfied until we have the image of the Son of God conformed in us. That should be our same goal, the achievement of this ought to be our ultimate purpose in life - not satisfied until this one thing we do, we become like the Lord Jesus Christ in every facet of our lives. Let's look at this man Paul and his progress in desire and purpose, and ask a couple of things in relation to him and apply it to ourselves. Here's the first thing I see about him: he was not self-satisfied. Paul was not self-satisfied. He didn't think he had arrived, verse 12 clearly: 'Not as though I had already attained, it's not as though I think I have arrived'. You see what Paul is saying here, and especially as we look at verse 21, is this: 'Until I am completely and utterly like Jesus Christ the Lord, I have not arrived!'.
Can I just remind you very humbly, that until you are like the Lord Jesus Christ, you can't say you've arrived either. Stand up if you think you're like the Lord Jesus in a perfect sense. If you're here today, and whatever spiritual knowledge and experiences that you've had in your past, can you say: 'I am perfectly like the Lord Jesus Christ'? For until you can say that you've no right to be satisfied with your spiritual development! If you are satisfied, and you've no desire to go on further with Christ, do more for Christ, be more for Christ, be more holy, pray more, fast more, witness more, study more, my only conclusion is that you must be like Him. You must be like Him, otherwise you've no reason to be self-satisfied. Or perhaps the problem is this, the previous one we looked at last week: you have no appetite for Him, that could be the problem, that's why you're self-satisfied.
You know what happens when you lose your appetite - what's the reason for losing your appetite? It's because you're not well! You're sick! You're poorly! What Paul is insinuating here is: if you don't have this appetite after Christ, this desire to win Christ, be found in Christ, to know Christ in His resurrection, in the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death - if you've no desire to press on, and you're self-satisfied, and you think you've got it made spiritually and you've attained everything that you need - you're sick and you don't even know it! You need to consult the Great Physician for critical heart surgery even this very morning in this place. If you look at others, and this is what people often do, this is how they become self-satisfied: they look at the standards of those around them, or simply their own ideals, or what they're trying to hurdle, the standard they're trying to reach in their own heart and mind - and when they reach that standard, whether it be that of others or themselves, they become self-satisfied because they've got their goal.
This is what's happening in the church around us today - it could even be what's happening here - that you try and attain to someone that you like, someone you look up to, and once you reach their perceived standard there you stop. 'When in Rome do as the Romans' - 'if I can be like him or her, that's my goal, and when I've got it I'm going to stop'. But if your goal is Christ, that's a different thing, isn't it? You see when you follow the standards of others around you, do you know what happens to you? You become anonymous, you just blend in with the crowd, you don't stand out. Do you know what Paul says, if I can paraphrase it again for you, just to let it grip our hearts, he says: 'I can't relax, for my standard is not the standard of the saints with whom I live, my standard is the standard that God sets before me in the person of Christ'. That ought to be your standard, and if you're self-satisfied today, if you think you've arrived, you've nothing more to learn, you've no more experiences to have, you've no more milestones to achieve - God help you, because you're sick!
The self-satisfied condition is symptomatic, John tells us, of the end times. In the book of Revelation he spoke to the church of Laodicea who thought they were rich, increased with goods, they have need of nothing, and the Lord Jesus Himself came to them point-blank and told them that they were poor, they were blind, they were wretched, they were naked! They weren't rich at all, and that is this self-satisfied attitude: it breeds complacency because you think you have it made when really you have nothing and you're a pauper! But Paul had, and this is what I want you to see today, he had this holy aggressiveness. The picture that he is painting, as the great illustrator that he is, is one of an athletic arena - he's fighting, he's striving, he's competing for a prize! It's the bugle note, it's the victory cry - it ought to, as we read it, stir our hearts, make our blood throb with intensity, we ought to be given this soul-earnestness as we see the apostle's heart aflame. This spiritual enthusiasm, it ought to smite us with the desire that Paul had to win Christ, to be found in Him, and to know Him.
My question today is: does it? Does it give us that desire after Christ? Does it make us want to push on onto further ground, and win more ground for Christ in our lives? Come on now, are you self-satisfied? This is no soft spiritual sentimentalism, this is the conquering field of battle, this is akin to what you're seeing on the television screens and in the newspapers today - Paul is saying: 'Despite all that I've achieved, I can't relax, it's not time to relax, for I'm not like Christ yet!'. Until you're like Christ, my friend, I don't care who you are or what you know, you can't relax.
He was not self-satisfied, this is the second thing: he strove for perfection. He strove for this perfection, he had an appetite and that appetite made him strive for perfection. Verse 12: 'Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus'. Now that word 'follow after', literally means 'to over-extend one's self'. It's this picture of the horses that Dwight Pentecost spoke about in his book: they are using every fibre of their body and being, every bit of strength drawn upon the body for the pursuit of their goal and the prize - striving for perfection.
Now I want you to see three ways in which Paul did this. One: to the exception of everything else, to the exception of everything else. Verse 13: 'I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are to come, I press forward'. To the exception of all else, he excludes all other competing interests and influences in his life, for he knows that life's too short, life's too small to be scattered into a dozen directions. So what he does is: he compacts all of his desires, all his strengths, in just one direction over all - the highest and the best. Can you say that? 'This one thing I do'? Is Christ, and the things of Christ and of God, the highest thing in your life, the highest purpose, direction, desire and goal - is it Christ? Paul says in Hebrews that we're to set aside every weight and every sin that so easily besets us, to run the race, to win the prize, to the exception of everything else we're to strive for that perfection!
The second thing was: he did it with forgetfulness of the past, 'forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth'. I think I'm right in saying that no one ever reached Christian maturity until they were able to deal with the past. Maybe you find yourself stuck, today, in a spiritual sense, you can't move on. But Paul's formula is: you must forget the things that are behind. If you're going to strive for perfection and spiritual maturity, you've got to forget the past. It's not done by mind tricks or psychological mantras, saying things over and over again to yourself, it can't be cancelled out by wishful thinking - but this forgetfulness that he talks about here can only happen through confession, confession of your sin, correction of your life, and restitution. You've got to come to God and tell Him that you've sinned, you've got to correct that problem in your life and repent of your sin. Restitution means that you've got to put right whatever you can that you've done wrong in your past.
Many believers can't move on, many believers are stuck, stayed, stagnant, dead saints; and the reason often is because there's something in the past that's holding them back. The past is wiping out their future as it were. Paul is saying: 'The only way to press on is to wipe out the past'. 'You must deal with the past', he is saying, 'or the past will deal with you'. If you don't deal with it, it has a tendency of becoming your present and hindering your future spiritual advance and development. Unless you get rid of your past, your past will get rid of you. I hope you can see how clear this is, yet so many Christians are still stuck in the past. Their growth is stunted because of the past, and they say over and over to themselves and to their nearest and dearest: 'If only I could go back and undo that, if only I could put the clock back and do that a different way, and make a different choice, and go down a different road'. Paul says: 'You can do better than putting back the clock, you can forget it! Not on the grounds of psychology, but on the grounds of redemption - that if you're a child of God it's under the blood, leave it behind, forget it! Confess it, correct your ways and make restitution'. But be warned: if you don't, that haunting memory will sap all of your spiritual strength, it will dog your footsteps and handicap your life for God forever.
We all have things in our past that the old accuser would resurrect and bring before us, don't we? It could be that I'm talking to someone in our gathering today, and maybe that thing has kept you even from the Lord's table. Maybe that thing has kept you from the prayer meeting or the Bible study. Maybe that thing, whenever you get on your knees to pray, is the very thing that is brought before you time after time, and robs you of your liberty and your peace and communion with Christ. God's word to you today is: if it's under the blood, forget it! Isn't that wonderful? Tremendously liberating! But my friend, if you don't forget it, it will remain to be a bitter memory, and it will destroy everything that you can do for God - it'll never damn your soul, but it will take away your joy.
There was a story told once of a young stoic, and the stoics were the philosophers that believed that you shouldn't in any way let your life be rocked by circumstances or emotions - and you'll even know that we use this phrase today in a metaphorical sense, that someone is very stoic. It's like the 'stiff upper lip', you don't show any emotion. Well, this young stoic lad stole a fox, and his master came toward him and he didn't know what to do with the fox - so he shoved the fox up his tunic. When the officer came before him, the stoic appeared as usual without any emotion. He just stood there cold as marble, and as that fox was up his tunic, the fox was tearing out his vital organs until he dropped dead without an expression on his face! So much like the believer with hidden hurts and fears and torments, and memories and nightmares that aren't dealt with - they will rip out the very life from your spiritual existence!
How can you forget the past? Well, here's two ways - I presume that you've confessed the thing to the Lord, and you've repented of it - but here's another thing that will help: don't commit it again. There's no use trying to forget something that you intend doing tomorrow once more, and over and over again. Don't commit the sin again! Here's another thing: don't be historical. Don't sit and analyse over those faults, and record your faults in order to remember them, and neither record the faults of other people to throw them up against them!
A man met an old college friend downtown one night, and began to talk over old times of school with him. Before they realised it, it was long past midnight, and they went on their way home - but both of them were terrified at what their wives would say about coming home so late. The next day they met again, and one of them asked: 'How did your wife take you coming home so late?'. He said: 'Well, I explained to her and it was all right. What about your wife?'. 'Well', he said, 'when I came in my wife got historical' - 'You mean hysterical, don't you?' - 'No, historical, she brought up everything that had happened in the last 30 years'. Now we can do that in a spiritual sense for ourselves, but listen: we can do it for others; and we can laugh at this, but husbands and wives can do this! We can bring up past faults that are under the blood, that are trying to be forgotten by that child of God, but maybe you're raking it up again and again and throwing it in their face! You can't be historical with these faults, you ought not to remind yourself of them or remind others of them. This is a lovely translation of 1 Corinthians 13 verse 5: 'Love keeps no record of wrongs'.
When Winston Churchill visited the United States during the war years, he remarked in the course of his conversation: 'If the present quarrels with the past, there can be no future'. If the present quarrels with the past, there can be no future. Now listen: Paul isn't just talking here about the negative past, he's talking about the positive past. He causes all things to be loss to win Christ, and good things - and we saw the list of those from verses 1 to 7. Paul had a string of churches behind him that he'd planted, hundreds of thousands of souls that he'd led to Christ; he had suffered so many things that we read of in the epistles for Christ, but he saw his past not as a soft pillow to hibernate his future upon, it wasn't something to look back and say: 'I've done at all, I've achieved what I needed to achieve, I'm going to rest now - no future for me in God'. But his past, he said, was going to be a foundation, a springboard for his future - and the larger the foundation he had, his implication is this: the larger the superstructure would be that he would build for God. If you've got a great past, friend, that's tremendous, and God bless it, and God bless you - but what have you got now?
We've got a great past here in the Iron Hall...but what have we got now? The larger the foundation, the larger the superstructure should be; the larger the pillow of the past, the larger and the deeper the sleep will be. If you have greatness in your past, it demands an even greater greatness today. Let us not, as John says, lose those things which we have wrought, but receive a full reward. Thirdly, here's another thing he could do for his purpose and progress in that he focused on the future. He did this to the exception of all else, with a forgetfulness of the past, and with a focus on the future. There are souls today in our churches calling themselves Christians who have no eyes for the future, they can't see over the heads of the things that are immediately around them. You know what I'm talking about: they don't think with foresight, they're not long-sighted, they don't look at the big picture, the panoramic view. But there are souls who see into tomorrow, who see over the heads of difficulties and disasters and even death itself, and to that one God will bless, to that one God will turn. For the man or the woman who looks to tomorrow, or looks to the future, is the man or the woman that lives by faith, because faith is the evidence of things not seen, the substance of things hoped-for.
We don't have time, but if we had we could turn to where Paul said that at the end of it all, just before he was about to die, martyred for Christ, he had fought a good fight, he had run a good race, he had kept a good trust. His ultimate goal was of the high calling, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, and because he had that as a desire, and because he had a great appetite after it and he strove for it to the exception of all things, with a forgetfulness of the past and a focus on the future prize - he got it! You'll get it too, if you reach forth, if you press - an expression of the most profound earnestness which the human soul is capable of - it's not child's play, it isn't a momentary notion in a meeting like this, it is the sweep of the volcano down the mountainside, which carries everything in its fiery torrent! A.B. Simpson said 'It is the picture of a man pressing forward on the racecourse, with muscles strained to their utmost tension, with nerves alert and senses all alive to every advantage of the fray, and with his whole being intensely absorbed in the struggle for the prize which is flashing before the kindling eye from the open heavens where the great Umpire stands beckoning him on, holding out the glorious diadem'.
Well, are you self-satisfied now? How could you be? We've talked about the past, we've talked about the future, what about your present? How are you now? Where are you at this moment? Are you on the race course? Are you in the competition? Or are you in the stadium as a spectator? Are you in the fight as a contestant, or are you on the sidelines as an observer? I don't know what you're regretting now, I don't know what you're living for - whether it's your job or your family - I don't know what it is, your habits, your pleasure, your recreation, but some day, Christian, you will regret not giving your all for Christ. 'Know ye that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize; so run that ye may obtain':
'Run the straight race through God's good grace,
List up thine eyes and seek His face,
Life with its ways before us lies:
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize'.
May your desires be Paul's, and may your progress be Paul's too.
Father, we are aware that Thy word tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God, but we also know that it says that Thou art the rewarder of them that diligently seek Thee. Lord, if we have not a thirst, give us a thirst that is not quenched until we see Thee as Thou art, and love Thee with unsinning heart. Give us a hunger that will not be satisfied until we feed upon the living bread, until we sit with Thee at the Marriage Supper. Lord Jesus, give us a desire, if we do not have it yet, to win Thee, to be found in Thee, to know Thee in Thy resurrection power, in the suffering pangs of Calvary and the conformation to Thy death. Lord, let us strive towards that prize, until we see Thee and are like Thee. Let us not be satisfied with anything less, for Thy dear name's sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighteenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "Progress In Purpose" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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