Red Village Church

Straining Toward the Goal – Philippians 3:12-21

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.


21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”


And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”


Revelation 20:11-21:8 (ESV)


22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.


And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”


“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”


I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”


10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”


12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”


14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.


16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”


17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.


18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.


20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!


21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.


Revelation 22:1-21 (ESV)


12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.


17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.


Philippians 3:12-21



What Kingdom are We Trying to Attain?


Here in chapter 3:12, the Scripture declares, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.”


In the previous section, Paul declared everything he has surrendered for the sake of knowing Christ. He has counted all advantages in this earthly pursuit as worthless and instead only wants Christ. We see this back in verse 7 of this chapter. Verse 7 declares, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”


Then, at the end of verse 8 into verse 9, it declares, “In order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”


And then in verse 11, Paul says, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”


Jesus Christ was and is the firstborn from the dead because after Jesus Christ died, He rose from the grave on the third day to never die again. Think about that. He rose from the grave, defeating death, and He did so in a public display. And because Jesus defeated death, I now have a hope that only rests in Him and His work.


I will go to my death, unless the Lord returns. I will go to my death, but I pray that as I go, I will do so looking to Christ and the hope I have in Him. And I will be raised from the grave, the resurrection from the dead, through the saving work of the only man to ever defeat death: Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son!


Look at verse 21; it declares, “the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”


We have a hope in Christ after this life, the resurrection from the dead. But back up in verse 12, after saying he does everything to attain the resurrection from the dead, he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.”


In the church here in Philippi, we know there are some false teachers (we see that at the beginning of this chapter). It’s possible that those false teachers are teaching that they have attained the resurrection and perfection by following the Law. So Paul might be preaching directly against that false teaching.


It is also possible that, by what Paul had just mentioned in the previous verses, he doesn’t want people to think that now that they are saved, they get to just sit on the couch. Paul doesn’t want people to think that we have reached complete righteousness and there is no need to grow.


A third option could also be that Paul is saying he hasn’t yet become complete in knowing Christ and becoming Christlike, and I believe it’s a little of all these.


But whatever the reason for Paul saying this, what we see here in verses 12-17 is growth. There needs to be growth in the Christian’s walk through this life. However, how growth comes is the part we don’t like, and so some decide to just sit on the couch and not grow.


You see, growth is hard because growth comes by trials, growth comes by failures, growth comes by stepping out and making yourself uncomfortable and vulnerable. But glory to God that He doesn’t let us just sit around. He puts a fire in our bones, He gives us boldness to step out, and mouths to speak, by His power, not ours.


So although Paul hasn’t obtained it and is not yet perfect, verse 12 continues, “but I press on.” He says this also at the beginning of verse 14 as well, “I press on toward the goal.” Verse 12 declares, “but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me His own.”


The term ‘press on’ means to pursue, to seek after, or to run after. But another place that Paul uses this word in this letter is up in verse 6 of this chapter. Verse 6 says, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” This word can also mean persecutor. Paul pursued the church, and when you read about how he pursued the church, he did so to destroy it, and he did it with great diligence.


Paul hated Jesus Christ and wanted to destroy everyone who professed Him! But look at the change that the Lord does in the true believer! Paul ran a race, running after and pursuing to destroy Jesus Christ. But then, when the Lord revealed Himself to Paul, the Lord sets Paul on a new race. Paul is born again.


Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”


This is the saving work that the Lord does in the Christian, and we see this testimony in Paul as the Lord sets Paul on a new race. Paul runs after the heavenly kingdom and serves our Lord. Why? His reason for doing so is stated at the end of verse 12 of Philippians 3, “because Christ Jesus has made me His own.”


We press on and chase after the heavenly kingdom because of the saving work of Christ Jesus. We are seeking to be more like Christ, but we are not yet complete!


Verse 13 says, “but brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do.”


This is simple, not difficult. Just think if we would have only one thing we do? One mindset that rules our lives. How difficult do we make our lives by cluttering them up with so many different things?


These clusters of things we occupy our lives with are taking all our energy and time, so much so that the things of God are being put aside. We aren’t being stretched; we are living in comfort. We aren’t growing in the gifts that the Lord has given us; we are stagnant.


We are bored, and so we start to fight amongst each other. Paul is going to get into that in the next chapter.


But we forget the ‘one thing’ mindset, and we start to get comfortable, and then we start going down the rabbit trails. We lose track of what’s truly important.


Brothers and sisters, Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”


I forget the past, including my past success. I don’t live in the past. My salvation is not focused on some past emotional experience I had, and that’s not what I depend on for my security of salvation. I’m not looking back to past events, or even our past failures, those ones that haunt you.


I’m not looking to those, and there are definitely times when the enemy will bring those failures back to light or that past trauma. I understand, brothers and sisters, that you and I have some hard past traumas in our lives.


But that’s the past, and in Christ, I succeed. Paul isn’t saying you completely forget the past, as that’s impossible. Paul himself didn’t forget; he just mentioned his past up in verses 3-6 of this chapter.


But do you know how Paul sees his past? That’s not me anymore. I’m a different person in Christ. I’m not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, not even the person I was last year or even yesterday.


We Christians are growing day by day, more and more into the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is through the Lord opening our eyes to the sin in our lives and our deep repentance, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”


We, as the Church, are looking to the heavenly kingdom. We have set our hope on the eternal kingdom. Our focus is on Christ, and He is first, our chief desire! Paul says here in verse 13, ‘straining forward,’ which in Greek means to stretch forward.


Paul strains himself towards what lies ahead. Verse 14 says, “I press on.” As I mentioned earlier, this is the same word used in verse 12. We are called to press on, to run after, to chase after. Paul continues in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”


This is a very popular verse and has been expounded upon by many men. But let’s look at the heart of Paul and the Christian mindset. Paul now mentions that there is a goal, a finish line. Brothers and sisters, let’s not forget that we are in a race.


Perhaps the Philippian church had forgotten, and Paul needs to remind them. They got too comfortable always hanging out with other Christians, and we often find ourselves in these bubbles. We become so afraid for those bubbles to be popped. We hang around each other so much that we forget what we have been taken from and what the Lord has given to us.


But the Christian life doesn’t come with comfort; it comes with a great cost.


We are in a race, and in this race, we are completely focused on making it to the finish line, whatever the cost. We press on for the goal to be more like Christ! We press on to walk in righteousness, doing everything we do with the question, “How will this glorify God?”


We don’t walk in righteousness just to feel eternally secure; we walk in righteousness because it is the true desire of our hearts! We rebuke sin, and we call wickedness what it truly is.


Brothers and sisters, let us run the race with great endurance, focusing on the goal for the prize. And what is the prize? It is what I have already read in Revelation and in verses 20-21 of this chapter.


The prize is that we get to be with Him, and He with us, and He will be our God. We will receive the new inheritance, the new heaven, and the new earth!


Verse 15 says, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”


Those of us who are mature should train our minds to think upon the heavenly things.


Train your mind to strain forward toward the goal! Train your minds and bodies to not get lazy and take the Lord’s grace for granted, but press on, growing in the spiritual gifts God has given you!


When trials come, give them to the Lord. When you succeed in serving and using the spiritual gifts God has given you, and then people heap praise upon you, give it to God! When you fail and fall, get back up and press on, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and His promises.


We aren’t perfect yet, but brothers, that is no excuse for us to not seek perfection. But this can only come by looking upon the cross. And as I have learned, the more I grow in Christ, He has put some of my worst sins to death. But my small sins now seem worse than the ones He has put to death.


But oh, how I pray that He does not give up on us and that He finishes what He has started in us, and He will. We don’t want this world.


Verses 16 and 17 say, “Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”


The words ‘hold true’ used here in the ESV mean ‘to walk orderly, to live according to any rule or duty.’ So verse 16 could be translated as, “Only let us walk or live according to what we have attained.”


Now, Paul is calling on each of the saints in the church to live their life according to the truth that the Lord has revealed to them, and to continue to press on, to keep growing, and run the race. Grow in the process of sanctification. This WILL happen in the Christian’s life!


But if you still struggle with what this should look like, verse 17 says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”


Paul says, “Imitate me!” He says this again in chapter 4, verse 9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”


Brothers and sisters, live lives that are in order, not disorder. Walk in step with what the Lord has called us to do! We do not live lives of sin; we do not do what the world does. We live lives of self-control. We don’t engage in excessive drinking like the world. Our speech is controlled; we don’t curse or tear down others, especially in the church.


We don’t perform righteous deeds to heap praise upon ourselves. The functions of our body are under control, and we use them to glorify our Creator, the one true God! That is who we seek to glorify!


Then Paul says, “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Look towards, fix your eyes on those who are walking in righteousness, not glorifying them or setting your hope on them, but striving to be more Christlike. Pushing one another towards the heavenly kingdom.


But do you know what the problem is? Instead of looking at the godly brothers and sisters in the church who truly walk in love and follow Christ, the ‘church’ seems to be looking at the world. We turn our backs to the church and we look out. And we see all that the world is talking about and promoting, and we say, “Let’s bring that into the church.”


That way of thinking is upside down and inside out. These politicians are all proclaiming to bring us peace, but I hope you wise up and see that there is only One who can promise that and hold true to that promise, and His name is Jesus Christ!


We hold true to the Scriptures. We follow and imitate those who hold true to the Scriptures, and we keep our eyes on those who walk according to the example we have in the Scriptures!


The world can try to tell us what’s wrong and what’s right until they are blue in the face, but we won’t be fooled by propaganda. We will bring it to the Scriptures, and if the world is saying something is right but the Scriptures say it is wrong, we trust in the Scriptures!


Be careful who you imitate and who you fix your eyes on. Verse 18 and 19 say, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”


Paul declares these verses with tears, expressing the deep sorrow of watching those who are running around chasing after the things of this world, thinking they are gaining something. This is the same warning that was given in verse 2, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.”


Keep watch, brothers, for they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Who are you allowing to speak into your life? Truly meditate and discern this. Are they among those who are enemies of the cross of Christ?


They are trying to desensitize us so that we follow their agenda. They keep repeating their lies, over and over again, until you become tired or it consumes your thoughts to the point where you start thinking it is normal, and then they have you.


Satan is the father of lies. But see what the Scriptures declare here in verse 19: “Their end is destruction, their god is their own belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” They are all about building their kingdom here on this earth, not realizing that this earth is only temporary.


Nobody defeats the grave except One! We deceive ourselves when we say we have time, but that’s a lie because none of us have control over time. So, quit filling your belly with all that you desire that this world can give you! Start living a disciplined life according to the Lord’s will and not the desires of your own heart.


Start thinking from the perspective of others. Plead with those who don’t know Christ. Plead for peace with your brothers and sisters. We don’t need to devour one another; instead, we should truly care for each other and engage in dialogue.


There is a world of people on a destructive path, heading to hell, and they need the gospel of Jesus Christ lived before them and proclaimed to them.


Why are we able to look at the sinner and forgive them? Why are we able to go to our brothers and sisters, even those with whom we may disagree, and still approach them in the flesh, talk with them, love them, and strive to be at peace with all people to the best of our ability?


Why are we able to do these things?


Because we have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although He was in heaven, on the throne, and truly content within Himself with no need for anything, He willingly surrendered it all, left it all, and came to this earth to live a perfect life in the flesh, under the Law. He came and healed many, performed miracles, demonstrating that He is God.


But for it all, He was betrayed by a friend with a kiss, Judas. He was handed over to the Romans to be flogged, with His flesh ripped off His bones. He was denied by those whom He had cared for, and they nailed Him to a wooden cross, where He hung naked, bloodied, and dehydrated. And He did all this willingly.


God the Father looked upon God the Son and poured out His wrath, which was deserved for us. Jesus, the Christ, hung on that cross as the perfect, spotless Lamb to be sacrificed for the sins of those who would put their trust in Him. He then gave up His spirit and died, was buried, and sin was buried in the grave.


But on the third day, He rose from the grave, defeating death. He revealed Himself to many as risen, and then He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, as proclaimed in the Scriptures.


If you have not surrendered your life to Him and His work on that day, do so now. Look to Christ, forget what lies behind, and press on forward. Know that Christ didn’t do all this to not forgive your sins. That’s just a foolish lie of Satan. Christ loves you and cares for you, even if all others may deny you and write you off. He won’t!


Trust in the saving work of the one and only true Messiah, Jesus the Christ! And to those who have believed in His saving work, stop looking back and press on forward. Keep your eyes on the One whom we wait for. If you have trusted in His saving work, Philippians 3:20 declares, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”


Keep your eyes focused on the eternal kingdom and look to the return of our Savior. He has not forgotten us, brothers and sisters. Do not let the mocking words of others deter you!


Love one another. Please do not devour one another. Be gracious with your words and do so, looking to the example that Christ Himself gave us to demonstrate.