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This is a tremendously encouraging passage. We are going to look at the idea of pressing on, at the reasons why we can and should press on, both as an individual Christian in your own life and also as a group of Christians, as a church.
Paul has numerous reasons for writing this letter to the church in Philippi. Some of those are quite practical, some are a little bit concerning, as this young church begins to show signs of being vulnerable to this unity and to legalism. The reason I like for Paul’s writing of this letter the most, and that fits best with this morning’s message, is this: Paul’s writing was also an opportunity to encourage Christians to suffer bravely, to live in single-mindedness and to trust their lives to the Lord in all things and under all circumstances.
Before we jump into this passage, I want to share with you the reason for my desire to bring you a message of encouragement. I have been coming here, to Penuel, close to two decades, for many times. I have seen many changes. I have got to know you and share fellowship here with you in this historic building, on the beach and in some homes. It’s been limited to the times of year that we’ve come down as a family for a holiday. But over the last few years, through the wonders of technology, I have had new opportunity to see more of the work God is doing in this church. I want to share with you how much it uplifts my spirit, how much it encourages and inspires me to see what God is doing with you guys here in Roch: the youth work, Sunday ministry and other times of fellowship that you share together. It is really amazing. Firstly, this morning, I want to give glory to God for what He is doing with you guys. I hope that you can join me as you reflect for a moment on the vitally important work that God has given you to do here, in Pembrokeshire.
God has even more to do with this church, in your community and in the wider area of Wales that you are connected to through your partnerships, and the groups of other churches that you have connections with. God has so much more that He wants to do – so many more people that He wants to reach with the gospel, and so many more opportunities for you to take.
Your opportunity, as Christians here in this community, is even bigger than the wonderful things God is already using you to accomplish. I want to encourage you to press on.
- The cost associated with pressing on.
- The crown. The reward we will receive as we do so.
- The command Paul gave the church in Philippi, and that he gives to you and I today.
- The cost.
The first thing Pauls tells us of the cost associated with pressing on is pursuing an increasingly Godly standard of living. It cost Paul his prestige (v4). Paul gives his credentials as a Jew, his resumé. Paul is a Jew if ever there was one: he was circumcised on the eighth day of his life, he was from the tribe of Benjamin. He calls himself a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews.’ He includes ‘Pharisee’ in the recent occupation section of this resumé. In his culture and in his circle of influence, Paul has that pure bred pedigree. As a result, he occupies a prestigious position within the Jewish community.
Some of you may well occupy prestigious positions, professionally or socially. Like Paul was able to do in his days as a Jew, you might be able to sit here this morning quite content with where you have found yourself in the world’s hierarchy or in the hierarchy of your friendship groups in your company or places that you find yourself.
Remember, Paul wrote about his desire to see the church at Philippi live in single-mindedness. What Paul is telling us about the prestige that he’s given up is that not only does he no longer derive confidence in his own resumé and in his pedigree and history, that whole way of life and thinking which sought self-promotion and prestige, is actually detrimental to his ability to live that single-minded life that he wants to see the church in Philippi live. It is in direct opposition to his calling and to our calling to live with 100% focus on Jesus Christ. We have to be ready to throw away the pursuit of worldly prestige and throw away the confidence which we often fall into deriving from it.
The second cost Paul outlines for us, that he has given up in order to press on and pursue Godly living, is his power. Paul’s role as a Pharisee will have come with the ability to influence and control the lives of those around him in his community, to direct the lives of the Jewish people. Even more than that, he has the power to negatively impact the lives of others, as he reminds us of his time spent persecuting the church (v6). But Paul gives up this power. This is not to be glossed over. We see in the world today the negative consequences that we can experience when people gain power and are unwilling to give it up, using it for the wrong purposes.
Power is addictive and intoxicating. It becomes very difficult to give up on. A fundamental fact of our relationship with God is that His omnipotence leaves no room for our potence. For us to press on successfully as Christians we must lay down our power in order to benefit fully from God’s. This is something that Paul has realised during his journey towards his faith. He wishes to encourage the church in Philippi, as well as you and I, today. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that your ability to make decisions, or to control and influence, is a demonstration of strength. When it comes at the expense of your reliance on God’s power and strength, it becomes a weakness and a drag on our ability to press on.
Finally, Paul gives up his self-righteousness. That is something we all do when we become a Christian, we give up our self-righteousness. We accept our inability to chase down our own righteousness. This can be extremely liberating. But for some people it’s a huge challenge and a big stumbling block to overcome. Something to keep in mind when we are seeking to reach out to people is that not everyone is going to see this relinquishment of their ability to try and control their own destiny as a positive thing. Some people want that in their own hands. Let’s be sympathetic to others who struggle to let go of their self-righteousness.
The other aspect of giving up our self-righteousness is that it makes it very difficult to be self-righteous. Yet, how many times do we find ourselves guilty of thinking, ‘We’re not as bad as that guy,’ or ‘This sin isn’t as bad as that sin.’ As easy as giving up our self-righteousness to make way for the righteousness of our sacrificial Saviour sounds, we find it quite difficult to fully implement in practice. But in order to press on we must forfeit our right to be judgemental and critical of others because we have to fully acknowledge our own shortcomings.
As we press on and seek to make ourselves increasingly available to God, we must completely surrender self-righteousness and all the behaviours it can give birth to in our lives. Paul sums up the cost of pressing on in chapter 3 verse 8, when he explains that he has lost all things for Jesus. Everything Paul has written down on his resumé he has had to discard and let go of in order to benefit from the resumé of Christ, our perfect and eternal Saviour.
As a result of Paul experiencing both the cost and the crown, we can learn that he isn’t really sentimental of all that he has had to give up. Instead, he describes his former way of life, and all it contained, to be garbage. He also says, in v12, that he is forgetting what is behind. In other words, his former way of life might as well not exist anymore. The lesson for us is that we cannot afford to hold onto our old way of living, not even a little bit. We must throw it all away.
- The crown.
As humans we need motivation. We are often very used to comfort, and we have ample opportunity to default to the path of least resistance in many aspects of our lives. That’s a path where the concept of pressing on is totally alien.
The reward of a new righteousness. For many this morning, this is hopefully going to be a simple reminder of something which is an unending source of joy in your life. For some of you, this might still be a foreign concept. You might be wondering what having a righteousness really means. It is a gift from God (v9) and it is yours through faith. It is a ticket, a pass to an eternity with Jesus. As you shed your imperfect, flawed self-righteousness, you are given the benefits of Christ’s perfect righteousness, making you acceptable in the sight of a holy and just God.
We also have a new goal. Some speculate that some members of the Philippian church that Paul was writing to, had already begun to believe that they had achieved the goal of Christian perfection. They thought they had completely surrendered to God. This really is the crux of this morning’s message: never be satisfied with where you have arrived at as a Christian or as a church. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus encourages people to ‘be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ That is just one aspect of this new goal that we receive as Christians. It is something that requires a lifetime of pursuit. It is something we will never attain but something which gives our life new meaning.
There is work to do, there is more life to be lived, more goals to be obtained, more opportunities to rise to, more Godly missions to accept. I encourage you to accept the reward of having this new goal. It is your reason to get out of bed in the morning, your reason to move forward in life with incredible drive and focus, your reason to press on. God has called you and me heavenwards to receive the prize of His grace and mercy, His forgiveness and eternal life.
Whilst we are journeying through this life, let’s leave no stone unturned when it comes to pressing on towards this goal of Godly living, and the goal of people reached, and souls saved. What a privilege God gives you and me, such a glorious objective to strive for together. Along the way we pray that we become fully reliant on Him, on His righteousness and on His power.
In verse 20 Paul reminds the Philippian church and us today, that we are promised a new home. Our forever home, our citizenship, is in heaven. Something far greater is waiting for us. In John 14 Jesus says, “In My Father’s house there are many mansions.”
Paul encourages us to press on beyond this life to our true, forever home where we will be with Jesus. When we get there the job will be done. The outreach programmes and the kids’ clubs will cease and we will praise and worship our God together, free from pain, tiredness, stress and busyness. Until then, brothers and sisters, we must press on, knowing this gift of a true, forever home is waiting for you and for me.
Finally, on the crown, Paul says we will have a new body. Yet another reason for us to press on. We must look after our earthly bodies. The weariness we feel now will all pass away. One day we will shed these bodies for good. We will have the blessing of a transformed, imperishable body in heaven.
Press on towards God’s promised gifts of new righteousness, the new goal, the new home and the new body.
- The command.
The command Paul gives to the church in Philippi, in verse 17, is the command that we can take on ourselves. Paul appears to undo some of the humility that he’s demonstrated earlier in the passage. He says, ‘join together in following my example.’ We need to understand the context that Paul gives this command in. Paul’s whole message, in all of his writings, is that he is pressing on towards Christ. In verse 10 he says he wants to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection and to participate in His sufferings, even becoming like Christ in his death. When Paul says to the church in Philippi, ‘Do what I do,’ he is simply saying, ‘Do what Jesus did.’
This idea of pressing on in this life doesn’t have an end in this life. The end of our pressing on comes when we arrive in heaven. It’s a relatively foreign concept in the context of our society and to many people. In our country we have a retirement age which we work towards. We plan for it and when it arrives, for some people that’s the cue for winding down and putting your feet up. There seems to be a desire to make progress and press on for a season in life. During this season we live with a certain intensity. The temptation for some people is they let go of the intensity. Paul’s command reminds us as Christians, that not only do we need to press on, continually pursuing God’s standards in the way that we live and in the way that we serve, but on top of that, as we grow and learn and get ever closer to the goal, our responsibility to live as an example to those around us also grows.
In summary, let us follow Paul’s example of paying the full cost associated with Godly living, shedding everything that hinders us from pressing on. Let us strive to become increasingly open, ready to be used by God, and ultimately to become the signpost for those around us, both non-Christians and Christians.
Here, at Penuel, God is using you. I believe He wants to do even more. I believe He wants you to press on for your own benefit and for the benefit of those you seek to serve. If you’ve been used by God in these past few years to drive this work in Penuel forward, please press on. If you’re maybe getting worn down by it, and there are days when you wonder if the work is still worth it, please press on. If you’re feeling encouraged by what God is doing in the way that I am, and rejoicing in the Lord, as Paul commands us to do in verse 1, that’s great. Use that as fuel and continue to press on.
If you’re someone who, perhaps, has been a bit more on the fringes, for whatever reason, (maybe Covid knocked you out of a rhythm and routine of service, maybe personal circumstances have overcome you, perhaps the costs associated with a greater pursuit of God’s desires in your life), please consider all that God has for you – that crown that is waiting for you – and press on. On the days when it seems that the plan might fail, take it to God in prayer. When necessary, tweak the approach but never change the goal. Continue to press on towards it.
I promise you today, through every up and down, through all the moments that the outreach feels a bit like trench warfare, when it becomes a battle of inches, it will be worth it, when in glory we’re all rejoicing together with new righteousness received, our new goal complete, our new home occupied, a new body to enjoy, surrounded by those God was able to reach through our faithful decision to press on. Praise God for all that He is using you to accomplish. Never forget that it is through Him and Him alone, that all you are involved with is possible.