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A Journey through the book of Genesiswith Willow Creek Community Church

Today's Reading

DAY 13 // PRESSING ON TOWARD THE GOAL

Tyler Hoff

 

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 3:13-14 

 

LISTEN


COMMENTARY

In the Greco-Roman culture where the Philippians lived, sports were a big deal. This is demonstrated by the many stadiums and athletic statues that have been dug up by archaeologists throughout Greece. In Philippi itself, there was an athletic facility known as a palaestra where local citizens would train in athletics. Because of the prominent role sports played in this society, Paul frequently used athletic metaphors in his letter to illustrate the nature of Christian living. For example, in Philippians 1:27-30, Paul uses gladiator language as he encourages the Philippians to continue “striving together” in their “struggle” with outside opponents. Later in Philippians 4:1, Paul refers to some of his own disciples as his “crown,” a reference to the olive wreaths or celery wreaths that champions received in the ancient Olympic and Isthmian Games (for other athletic references, see Philippians 2:16 and 4:3). 

In today’s reading, we encounter Paul’s most famous and vivid athletic metaphor in this letter. He writes, “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 3:13-14). In these verses, Paul portrays his Christian life as a footrace. In ancient footraces, runners would fix their eyes on a “goal” which appeared at the end of a track. Those who won their races, were “called . . . heavenward (literally: upward)” by officials who would give them their “prize” on a podium. By using this racing imagery, Paul is teaching that there is a prize that Christians are called to receive from God above. But if we are to receive it, we must “press on,” “straining” with every ounce of our being until we’ve reached the finish line. 

This was an important message for Paul to share at this point in his letter. After emphasizing that “righteousness” comes by faith and not by works, Paul wanted to make sure that his readers didn’t draw the conclusion that their work on earth was now complete (Philippians 3:9-11). In reality, their work had just begun. This is a good reminder for us in the church today. It can be easy for us to conclude that the goal of the Christian life is to make the decision to follow Jesus. The truth is that following Jesus entails so much more than a one-time “yes.” It is a decision we make each and every day to press on, saying “yes” to whatever God has in store for us that day. In some seasons of life, this can be easy. In other seasons, this can be strenuous. What makes it worthwhile is knowing that God has guaranteed the prize at the finish. Jesus has won the race for us. We just need to get to the end.

The ancient stadium at Delphi

The ancient stadium at Delphi


SCRIPTURE

PHILIPPIANS 3:12–16

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.

FOLLOWING PAUL’S EXAMPLE

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.


REFLECTION

1. Paul makes a somewhat paradoxical wordplay in this passage. In verse 12, he uses the Greek verb teleioo¯ to indicate that he has not yet “arrived at [his] goal.” Then in verse 15, he uses the related Greek word teleios to say that those who are “mature” should have this same view. In effect, he is saying that Christians who are mature understand that they are not mature. What do you think he means by this? What does Christian maturity look like and how do you gain it? 

2. How do you need to press on in your own Christian race? What are some things you
need to forget and leave behind so that you can move forward?