Living a Life of Joy 8) Running with Joy

Running with Joy

Text: Phil 3:12-4:1

 

Have you ever run in a marathon? I would like to come across all knowledgeable but the last time I did a marathon was 24 years ago, and I say ‘did a marathon,’ rather than ‘run a marathon,’ because I don’t recall doing all that much running. Actually, last year I went along to my kids’ cross-country and I ran in the dad’s race. It was only 500 metres, but it felt like 5000. But despite my lack of experience in running marathons I’m going to be talking a lot about running this morning. When Paul talks about ‘pressing on,’ he’s talking about running towards something. Paul even uses words like ‘the goal’ and ‘the prize,’ both of which were used in the context of the Olympic races to describe the finish line and the laurel wreath that they received as a reward. Paul sees the Christian life as running a marathon. Our series has been all about ‘Living a life of Joy,’ and this morning we’re going to look at what it means to ‘Run with Joy.’

Now you may be wondering after last week what Paul is running after? I mean last week he established that all his efforts to make himself right with God were a load of rubbish, so what’s with all the frenetic activity, what is Paul trying to achieve? Paul tells us in the opening verse of our text. He says, ‘12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect… (Phil 3:12a)’ Paul comes right out and says it, ‘I’m not perfect. God hasn’t finished with me yet, I haven’t yet attained the life that God desires. I don’t yet know Christ as well as I want to. I’m not as like Christ as I want to be.’ The goal that Paul is trying to attain is to be like Christ, to know Christ fully, to be perfect. We’re going to look at that idea further in our last point this morning, but you need to know why Paul is running to make sense of the rest.

 

1) The Runner’s Starting Position

But first let’s start with the start – the runner’s starting position. It’s no good starting in the middle of the race, you have to start at the beginning. And Paul describes the start of the Christian life in three ways.

a) Seized by Christ

Firstly, he talks about how we have been seized by Christ. In verse 12 Paul says, ‘12 …I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Phil 3:12b)’ We’re going unpack what Paul is trying to ‘take hold of’ a bit later, but the thing I want you to see here is that Jesus has already ‘taken hold of Paul.’ Jesus has already grabbed Paul. Jesus has Paul in his grasp. Paul is not running in order to grab hold of Jesus, he’s not striving to save himself. The goal, or the prize, that Paul is running for, isn’t his salvation. Rather he is running because Jesus has already grabbed hold of him, Jesus has already saved him. The starting point of the Christian life is that by his grace Jesus has reached out to us and taken hold of us. In fact, before we became Christians we were running the wrong direction, but Jesus grabbed us and turned us around. Jesus is the starting point of the Christian life.

And isn’t that a great image. Jesus has grabbed you. And the most comforting thing about being grabbed by Jesus is that he doesn’t let us go. Jesus, talking about us, says, ‘28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; (why? because) no one can snatch them out of my hand. (Jn 10:28)’ Our eternal destiny is secure because once Jesus has grabbed us he will never let us go. If Jesus has got you, he will keep you until the end. ‘6 …he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)’ We can run with joy because Jesus has hold of us, and he won’t let go, no matter what life brings.

b) Called by God

Secondly, Paul talks about how we are called by God. In verse 14 Paul writes, ‘14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)’ Again, we’re going to talk about the goal and the prize a bit later, but here I just want to reflect on that idea that God has called us. According to the Greek God’s call is upward, which is why the NIV translates it as ‘heavenward.’ And our call definitely has a future direction which we’ll see later, but for Paul God’s call also looks back at the things that God has done in our lives. In Romans, we read that ‘30 …those [God] predestined, he also called… (Rom 8:30a)’ God’s call there is a call to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul expresses the same idea in 1 Corinthians where he talks about how ‘9 God has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 1:9a)’ But for Paul the point is that ‘15 …God called me by his grace… 16 [and] revealed his Son to me… (Gal 1:15b-16a)’ For Paul the Christian life starts with God’s call, and specifically God’s call to faith in Jesus Christ. The beginning of the Christian life starts with faith in Jesus.

Again that’s incredibly comforting. The Christian life doesn’t start with your efforts, or your goodness, or your obedience. It starts with what Christ was done. It starts with Christ’s goodness, and Christ’s obedience. It starts with the fact that God chose you and called you. You can run with joy knowing that you have God’s favour, that you have experienced God’s grace, his undeserved love for you in Christ Jesus.

c) Citizens of Heaven

Thirdly, Paul talks about how we are citizens of heaven. Verse 20, ‘20 But our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil 3:20a)’ Paul’s point is that we aren’t trying to earn a place amongst God’s people, rather that’s our starting point. As Christians we are citizens of heaven, we belong in God’s kingdom, we are part of God’s people. You don’t have to earn a place in heaven, in Christ you are already a citizen of heaven. You can run with joy knowing that Jesus has ‘3 …prepared a place for you, [and] will come back and take you to be with [him]... (Jn 14:3)’

What I want you to see this morning is that the starting point of our race is Jesus Christ, the fact that he has grabbed hold of us, the fact that God has called us to faith in him, the fact that he is our heavenly king and we belong to him, we are his people. Paul is running this race because Jesus seized him and God called him. We run because he who began a good work in us will carry it on until completion. We can run with joy because we belong to Jesus. I want to ask you this morning: have you started the race? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ, or are you still sitting in the stands? I encourage you to put your faith in Jesus and get in the race and start running towards the goal.

 

2) Running the Race

Next Paul goes on from that starting point, our faith in Jesus Christ, and talks about how we need to run the race. In verse 13 Paul says, ‘13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do… (Phil 3:13a)’ Paul reminds us again that he hasn’t yet reached his goal, but he tells us what he’s doing to reach it. Like a coach he tells us the one thing, or the most important thing he does. And actually it’s two things, or two sides to the same coin. In the rest of verse 13 he writes, ‘13 …Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil 3:13b)’

a) Forgetting what’s behind

Firstly, he says we need to forget what’s behind. Paul isn’t suggesting that we literally forget our pasts, some of it I’m sure we wish we could. Rather Paul just doesn’t want that stuff to occupy our attention, he doesn’t want us to get distracted by our past. Paul doesn’t actually tell us what things lay behind him, but we can presume he’s talking about all the things that we looked at last week, the things he used to put his confidence in. He’s no longer distracted by his ethnic or religious heritage, that’s all in the past. He’s no longer distracted by his social standing and what people think of him, that’s all in the past. He’s not even distracted by the ways that he messed up, by how he persecuted the church, that was all forgiven when he put his faith in Jesus Christ, that’s in the past. Paul may even be thinking of his ministry successes in the previous few years. I mean for years he planted church after church, he saw hundreds and even thousands converted by his preaching, but now he’s stuck in prison, now all he can do is write letters and watch others take the baton. But Paul doesn’t want any of those things to distract him. The only thing that Paul looks back on is what Jesus has done for him on the cross. Other than that, he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the present, on what God wants him to do right here and now.

What about you? What do you need to leave behind? What things are distracting you from running the race that God has called you to? The first thing you might need to do this morning is forget what’s in your past, and start focusing on what’s right in front of your feet. What does God want you to do right now? Seeing as you’re sitting in church maybe God wants you to forget about what you had for breakfast and focus on what he’s saying in Philippians 3. Maybe you should forget about what happened on the way here, or at least confess it and then forget about it, and instead focus on singing praises to God. And tomorrow at work maybe you should forget about the frustrations of last week and instead focus on what God wants you to do before knock off time. Or if you’re at home tomorrow forget about the way you used to interact with your family and friends and instead focus on how God wants you to bless and encourage them. Don’t let the past distract you from how God wants you to live for him in the present.

b) Straining towards what’s ahead

The second thing you need to do is strain towards what’s ahead. Paul doesn’t just forget the past to focus on the present, he also looks towards the future. The thing that motivates Paul to run isn’t just what Jesus has done for him on the cross, but what Jesus is doing in his life through the Holy Spirit and what Jesus has promised in the future. Paul uses a word that doesn’t just describe reaching for something, but that describes the effort to do so. He’s straining forward, he’s exerting himself. This is the runner who is throwing his body forward in an effort to cross the line. And the point isn’t what he’s doing but why? He’s not just busy for the sake of being busy. He told the church in Corinth, ‘26 …I do not run like a man running aimlessly… (1 Cor 9:26a)’ Paul is running in a particular direction. Paul is living his life in such a way ‘20 …that now as always Christ will be exalted... (Phil 1:20b)’ Paul is straining ‘12 …to advance the gospel. (Phil 1:12b)’ Paul is straining ‘25 …for your progress and joy in the faith. (Phil 1:25b)’ Paul is straining to see God’s people united (Phil 2:2).

I want to ask you this morning: Are you running aimlessly, or are you straining towards the finish line? Are you busy doing all sorts of stuff, but in reality you’re just running around in circles? For some us the challenge might be to get off our butts and start running, but for most of us the challenge is stop running around in circles, stop wasting our efforts on stuff that doesn’t matter and start doing what has eternal significance. I want to encourage you this morning to direct your energy and your time and your thinking and your money towards the things that really matter. As Jesus said, ‘25 ….don’t worry about your life…33 But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness... (Mt 6:25a,33a)’ Maybe like Paul we should strive towards spreading the gospel, and growing people’s faith, and building community.

c) Following godly examples

In fact, that’s exactly what Paul’s suggesting, to follow his example. In verse 17 he says, ‘17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (Phil 3:17)’ The phrase ‘follow my example,’ is one word in Greek, which literally means ‘co-mimic.’ We are to mimic Paul. We are to run like he runs, prioritize the things he prioritizes, get excited about the things he gets excited about, live like he lived. And we’re not just to make that our personal goal, but we’re to make that the goal of our whole church, we’re to do this together, we’re to be co-mimics of Paul. That’s what Paul meant when he talked about ‘27 …standing firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. (Phil 1:27c)’ And we’re not just to imitate Paul, but others who are like Paul, people like Timothy and Epaphroditus, and others as well. Paul is challenging us to intentionally and deliberately find people who love and follow Jesus and imitate their way of life. Take note of how they treat other people. Take note of how they deal with personal difficulties. Take note of how they live out their faith in Jesus Christ. And follow their example. We can run with joy because we don’t have to carry around the baggage of our past, we can forget what’s behind us. We run with joy when we run in the direction that God wants for us, when our desire is to build God’s kingdom, and bring glory to Jesus’ name. We run with joy because we get to do life in community. We can run with joy because other’s have run before us and they help us in the race.

 

3) The Runner’s Mindset

According to Paul the race starts with Christ, and it is run, not by looking back, but by focusing on what God wants us to do in the present, not by running aimlessly, but by straining towards the things that matter to God, and by following how others’ run. But to run well isn’t just about physical strength, it’s also about mental resilience. Paul doesn’t just want us to run ‘flat out’ he wants us to run with a particular mindset.

a) Running with Humility

The first mindset that we need to run well is humility. Paul started our passage this morning by admitting that, ‘He’s not perfect, he hasn’t attained perfection yet, he’s still a work in process.’ And it’s in light of that statement that he says, ‘15 All of us 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. (Phil 3:15)’ Paul’s making a bit of a play on words there. Basically, he saying ‘All of us who are perfect understand that we’re not perfect!’ Mature Christians realize just how immature they really are. Followers of Christ realize just how poorly they follow Christ. People who have been declared right with God realize just how unrighteous they truly are. One of the commentaries I read this week put it like this: ‘The closest to perfect any of us will get in this life is to see that you have not reached the finish line but must keep on running toward the goal.’ This sort of humility helps us run well with others. After all if we realize that we aren’t perfect, it’s not such a shock to find out that others aren’t perfect either. Like Paul we put our confidence in the fact that God will complete his work in us as well as in others. If we think differently, we know that God will one day make things clear. It might not be in this life, but it will happen. We need to run with humility.

b) Running with Persistence

Secondly, we need to run with persistence. Paul adds, ‘16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Phil 3:16)’ We may all be at different points in the marathon, but Paul wants us to see how far God has brought us. Paul is encouraging us to not be daunted by how far we’ve got to go, but to remember how far we’ve already come. Yes, it’s true, we’re a long way from being perfect, from being like Jesus, but we’re also a long way from where we once were. We’re not in the starting blocks anymore, instead we’re in the race, we’re on the journey, so let’s keep going, let’s keep running. Paul wants us to run with the awareness that we’re in a race. We’re between the starting line and the finishing line. Because we’re not at the finishing line we should be humble, we’re not there yet. Because we’re not at the starting line we should be encouraged, God has brought us a long way.

 

4) The Finishing Line

So as we finish this morning I want to finish by focusing on the finishing line, and I’ve finished saying finish now! What is the finish line that Paul is running towards, what is the goal, what is the prize? Paul talks about the finish line using three different words, or ideas.

a) Resurrection

The first is the word ‘resurrection.’ Back in verse 12 when Paul talks about how he hasn’t yet obtained all this, he’s referring back to the previous verse where he talks about ‘11 …attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:11b)’ Paul runs with such enthusiasm, with such joy because of his hope in the resurrection. In Roman’s Paul makes the comment, ‘5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Rom 6:5)’ For Paul what was so amazing about the resurrection is the fact that it unites us with Jesus. The amazing things about the resurrection is that we will see Jesus face to face. For Paul the resurrection is a relational thing, it’s is where we get to be with Jesus forever. That’s what motivates Paul to keep running the race, his hope in the resurrection, in being raised to eternal life with Christ.

b) Transformation

The second word that Paul uses is ‘transformation.’ When he mentions our citizenship in heaven he adds, ‘20 …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. (Phil 3:20b-21)’ Paul’s future hope is that one day ‘42 …The body that is perishable, will be raised imperishable; 43 the body sown in dishonor, will be raised in glory; the body sown in weakness, will be raised in power. (1 Cor 15:42b-43)’ What motivates Paul to keep running the race is that one day Jesus will return and he’s going to transform our broken, frail, sin-stained bodies and make us like himself. In Romans 8 Paul talks about how we ‘23 …groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:23b)’ Paul runs with such joyful enthusiasm because he longs for the day when his whole existence will be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Do you ever stop and think about that? No more aches and pains, no more sickness and disease, no more addictions, no more sinful desires, no more tears, except maybe tears of joy. We run with joy because we have our eyes fixed on eternal life.

c) Perfection

Finally, Paul uses the word ‘perfection.’ He says, ‘I’ve not yet be made perfect.’ And yet he knows that one day he will be made perfect, because that’s why Jesus took hold of him, to make him like himself. And for Paul, perfection isn’t just about being like Christ, but being with Christ. Like we saw last week Paul ‘8 …considers everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him… (Phil 3:8-9a)’ Paul runs with such joy because he is running towards Christ, he is running towards his dearest friend, his Lord and Saviour. Jesus is the goal that Paul is running towards. Jesus is the prize that Paul desires.

What about you? What is the goal you’re running towards? What is the prize you hope to gain at the end of this life? For us as Christians the thing that defines us isn’t where we’ve come from but where we’re going. Our joy isn’t defined by the circumstances in this life, but by our hope in the life to come, the resurrection of the dead, the transformation of our bodies, and spending eternal life with Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s what we consider perfection, that’s what makes us complete.

 

We run this life with joy, because our life begins with Christ and it ends with Christ. It begins with Jesus taking hold of us, with God calling us to faith in him, with the fact that we are citizens of heaven. And it ends with our hope in resurrection, in transformation, and perfection, when we will be like Christ, when we will be with Christ. And so we can run forgetting what’s behind and straining to what’s ahead. We can run following the examples of others, who are running with us and who have run before us. And we run knowing that we haven’t arrived yet, but also knowing that God has brought us so far already. Brothers and Sisters, let’s run this race filed with joy. Amen.

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