Sunday Sermon: “Be a Winner!”

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1 Corinthians 9:24 You know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. So run to win! NCV From all indications found in scripture, the Apostle Paul wasn’t a great athlete. Some of his enemies criticized his physical appearance, (see 2 Cor 2:10), and most likely he suffered from certain physical ailments. (see 2 Cor 12:7; Gal 6:11) Yet he loved athletic competition. I say that because Paul often used sports analogies in his teaching. For instance: He referred to our battle with Satan as a wrestling match. (see Eph 6:12) He referred to our spiritual life as a race we are running. (see 1 Cor 9:26) He referred to Christians as those completing to win an imperishable crown. (see 1 Cor 9:25) He spoke of discipling his body as an athlete in training. (1 Cor 9:27) He encouraged Timothy to ‘exercise thyself unto godliness.’ (exercise – gymnasium) He referred to his own efforts to serve Christ as a boxer strategically throwing his punches. (1 Cor 9:26) And at the close of his life, he said this of himself – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” (2Tim 4:7) Of the many sports analogies Paul used, perhaps none is more familiar to us than the one he used in his letter to the Philippians: Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The New Living Translation says – “I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize…” The thought is a runner extending himself out as he nears the end of the race so as to successfully cross the finish line. Or in other words – “I run to win!” Perhaps one of the reasons Paul so often used sports analogies was because he could relate to the athlete who competed with intense passion. Scripture reveals to us that Paul never went after anything halfheartedly. He always gave it 110%. Before he became a Christian, he was 110% against Christianity. But after he became a Christian, he was 110% for it. As we approach the beginning of a new year, I want us to ask ourselves the question – “How passionate am I about my relationship with my Savior?” is the question I want us to ask. “Am I running to win?” If not, I pray that this message will encourage us all to get in the race and to give it all we’ve got in 2015.

I. The Winner’s Desire

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

A. Paul Wanted to Know Christ

Paul expressed his desire to ‘know Christ.’ What did Paul want to know about the man called Jesus?

1. To Know ‘About’ Christ?

Paul knew about the man called Jesus, long before Paul became a Christian. There’s a good chance that he was in Jerusalem during the time when Jesus was crucified and perhaps he even saw our Savior hanging on the cross. Paul knew the historical Jesus.

2. To Know Christ as His ‘Savior?’

Paul also knew Jesus as his Savior. There was a time in his life when Paul tried to earn his way to heaven through his good deeds. In verse 6 Paul says, “…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” But though Paul appeared to be perfect on the outside, he was still sinful on the inside. He was one of the “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones” that Jesus spoke of. Many believe that when Paul saw the Christian character and angelic appearance of Stephen as he was being stoned to death – it brought a great conviction to Paul’s heart. He knew that he was a religious man in need of something.

Then one day Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ and Paul’s life was changed forever. He went from being a man opposed to Christianity to a man who was desired to be like Christ more than anything else in all the world. From that point on, Paul gave his entire life to being a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. We read –

Philippians 3:8 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, 9 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:

At first Paul knew Jesus as a historical figure. Now he knew Him as his Lord and Savior. But still there was something more about Jesus that Paul wanted to know.

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

The way Paul expressed this means that he wanted to be completely engulfed in his relationship with Christ. He wanted to know nothing else outside of his relationship with Christ. He wanted his relationship with Christ to completely take over his life and to transform him to become more and more like his Savior.

3. To Know the Power of Christ Working in His Life

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

Paul wanted to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. What does he mean by this?

Every Christian will one day experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. The Bible says that one day every Christian’s body will be resurrected and changed into a body like the Lord Jesus’. Is that was Paul desired to experience? Was he longing to experience the resurrection out of the grave?

Paul knew that he would experience the power of Christ’s resurrection in the end, but he also knew that he could experience that power on a daily basis. The word ‘power’ here is the Greek word dumanis from which we get the English word – dynamite. Paul wanted to experience the power of Christ working in his life in a dynamic way. Consider how Paul described it in the book of Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:16 …I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. 19 I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. NLT

Reading that passage of scripture should cause every Christian to pause and ask themselves – “Am I experiencing the dynamic power of Christ’s resurrection in my life, and if not – why not? What is there in my life, or what is there not in my life, that is keeping me from experiencing Christ working in my life in this kind of way?” Sin will keep us from experiencing the dynamic power of Christ. Sin will keep us from having fellowship with God and therefore render us cold and lifeless. Sin will keep Christ from seeming real. Sin will cause our relationship with Christ to be little more than a religion. So will spiritual laziness. A spiritually lazy Christian will become lukewarm and apathetic in our thoughts and feelings towards Christ. Will a lukewarm Christian experience the dynamic power of Jesus Christ working in their lives? Jesus said that lukewarm Christianity was cause Him to spew us out of His mouth. (see Rev 3:14-22)

B. Paul Wanted to Experience Christ Working in His Life

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

1. To Know What It Was to ‘DIE TO SELF’

‘Being made conformable to His death’ is the same thing that Jesus spoke of when He referred to the branches being pruned so that they might produce more fruit. In each of us there is an old nature called ‘self’. Self is selfish and self-centered and therefore often sinful. In order for us to experience the power of Christ’s resurrection working in our lives, self has to be cut away. We have to die to self so that Christ might life in and through us.

2. To Know What What it Was to Have Christ Living In and Through Him

Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Paul was passionate about his relationship with Christ. He breathed Jesus. Paul wrote –“For to me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21) In other words, my whole life is about Christ living in me and through me.

II. The Winner’s Dissatisfaction

I have often heard sports analysts talk about a particular athlete or team being ‘hungry to win.’ In other words, they wanted the championship more than the team they were playing against. If I may use that sports analogy to describe Paul, I would say that he was someone who was hungry for Christ. He was hungry to know Christ in a more real and personal way, and he was hungry to become more like Him.

Many have said that Paul was the greatest Christian who ever lived. You would think that such a great man of God would at some point in his life become content with where he was at and perhaps a little less intense about his spiritual walk. “Chill out” we might say today; or as a man once told me – “Stop taking yourself so seriously.” But Paul never did. Perhaps that’s the reason many consider him to be the greatest Christian who ever lived. He gave it 110% right up until his final breath. Like the athlete who was straining to cross the finish line, Paul was straining to know Christ and to experience Him all he could in his life. Paul never stopped running until he crossed the finish line and heard –‘Well done thou good and faithful servant.’ What made Paul so passionate about his pursuit of Christ?

A. He Believed That God Had Great Things in Store for Him

Philippians 3:12 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.

1. Paul’s Failure to Reach Perfection

First of all we see that Paul said – “I haven’t arrived.” Paul was a great Christian, yet he was well aware of his personal sins and areas of weakness. Sometimes I have wondered if perhaps his thorn in the flesh was a struggle with his own humanity. Yet Paul would not allow himself to be held in the past. He believed that God had great things awaiting him and rather than wasting his energy on lingering in the past, he chose instead to reach for the future.

2. Paul’s Focus to Realize His Potential

a. God’s Purpose for His Life

Paul spoke of being- ‘apprehended by God.’ The word ‘apprehend’ means to grasp something in order to take it into our possession. Paul believed that he had been ‘apprehended by God’ or in other words – chosen by God.

i. Chosen for Salvation

Jesus said – “the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23) One great thing about the Apostle Paul was that he never go over the wonder of his salvation. The right to be a child of God never got old or common place with the Apostle Paul.

ii. Chosen for Service

Paul also believed that he had been chosen to serve God. God called Paul a ‘chosen vessel.’ (Acts 9:15) God doesn’t save us to sit. God saves us to serve.

iii. Chosen for Sonship

It was Paul who wrote that we had been chosen by God to be ‘conformed to the image of His Son.’ (see Romans 8:29) That was the ‘the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:14. To know Christ and to be made conformable unto His death. To die to his sinful self so that Christ might manifest His resurrection power in and through him. “For to me to live is Christ…” Paul said in this same letter. (see Php 1:21) In other words, my life is not about me. It’s about Christ living in me and magnifying Himself through me.

b. Paul’s Purpose for His Life

 Paul believed that God had a divine purpose for his life, and therefore he made God’s purpose – his purpose.

Philippians 3:12 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.

Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes we make as God’s children is by having a small purpose for our lives. Some of us think our only purpose is just to survive. We’re just hanging on until Jesus comes. Others think that their purpose is to get all they can out of this life.

But Paul believed that God had great things in store for him and he was determined to reach for those great things. It was the missionary William Carey who said – “Expect great things; attempt great things,” One of the amazing things about Paul is that he never seemed to be intimidated by his enemies. Perhaps it was because Paul believed – “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

III. The Winner’s Determination

Philippians 3:13 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, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

A. Dealing With the Past

1. Living in the Past

One of the great temptations in life is to live in the past. For some of us it’s living in past glories and for others it’s living in past failures. How different that is from Paul’s approach to life.

Philippians 3:13 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,

The word ‘forgetting’ means – “no longer caring for it.” In other words, no longer giving it his attention; not dwelling on it.

2. Letting Go of the Past

Letting the good of the past be for God’s glory. Letting the bad of the past be under His blood.

Recently I received an email from an anonymous person who entitled their email – “How to forgive yourself when you didn’t listen to God.” In this email they told me of some things that the regret from their past. I responded by telling them to put it under the blood and to leave it there. I shared with them that not even the great Apostle Paul felt as though he had arrived.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be…”  Paul hadn’t arrived, nor would he arrive until he stepped on heaven’s shore. But he wasn’t going to let either his past glories or his past failures hold him back from gaining what God had in store for him.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT)

B. Pressing On Towards the Future

In my reply I made three suggestions:

1. Ask For and Then Receive God’s Forgiveness

“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1 John 1:9 NLT)

Then I put –  “You may be thinking – ‘But I can’t forgive myself.’” Consider what else the Bible says to us:

“If God says something is acceptable, don’t say it isn’t.” (Acts 10:15 NLT)

Don’t continue to call something unclean that God has now determined to be clean. Do not make light of the grace of God by saying that your sin is too great for His forgiveness. The Bible says that if we ask for His forgiveness, He will grant it to us. If God is willing to forgive us, who are we to not forgive ourselves? Are we greater than God? Do we have a standard of righteousness that is higher than His? Of course not.

2. Understand that Lingering Guilt Comes from the Devil

The Bible tells us that we have an ‘Accuser’ who accuses us before God night and day. (see Revelation 12:10) What does Satan accuse us of? No doubt it has to do with some sin or area of weakness in our lives. The Bible also tells us that Christians have an ‘Advocate’ who stands to our defense.

1 John 1:1 If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. NKJV

The word ‘advocate’ means someone who comes along to be by our side and to plead our cause. When Satan attacks us with lingering guilt and our unworthiness to be forgiven, Jesus stands to our defense and proclaims that our sins are under His blood.

There is forgiveness of our sins and a cleansing of our conscience through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. The Bible says –

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:14 RHE)

NOTE – the blood of Christ will:

a. Bring us forgiveness of sin

b. Cleanse our conscience (we can forgive ourselves because of the blood of Christ)

c. Enable us to serve God

3. Move Forward into the Future in Order to Serve God

Again I call your attention to what Paul wrote –

“Dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT)

I told them –

“You need to make peace with the past and step into the future. You need to receive God’s forgiveness and to believe that God is able to – “make all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The Bible doesn’t say that all things are good. Yet God, in His grace, is able to make something good from all things. Rather than wasting the rest of your life by lingering in the past, you need to make peace with the past and focus your energies on the productive things that you can do in the future. Here are the questions you need to be asking yourself at this point?”

a. What am I going to do with the life God has given to me?

b. How am I going to help others come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

i. What kind of example am I going to set before them?

ii. What prayers am I going to offer in their behalf?

iii. How am I going to seek to bring them God’s good news of forgiveness and new life?

c. How can God receive glory from your situation and your reaction to it?

Lastly I said: “I will say a prayer on your behalf that the Lord will help you receive His grace and goodness and then to be the agent that will bring this grace and goodness all those God places in your life. I will pray that you let God use you for His glory in 2015!”

CONCLUSION

Paul wrote –

Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The imagery is a runner extending themselves out as far as they can and reaching for the finish line.

Paul had not reached perfection and neither have any of us. But it’s not a question of PERFECTION. It’s a question of PROGRESS. Am I making progress in my pursuit of Christlikeness?

I have good news for each of us. We can! God has already prepared a wonderful future for each of us, if only we will reach out and take possession of it. I pray that at the close of 2015, every one of us will be able to look back upon our lives and see how God has helped us be just a little bit more like His Son. Maybe He will give us victory over a habit or area of spiritual weakness in our lives. Maybe He will reveal some things to us from His Word that we have never known before. Perhaps He will enable us to serve Him in some special way. Maybe He will use us to help bring someone else to salvation. Perhaps it will be our prayers that will cause mountains to move. The Bible says –

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

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