Alfred Place Baptist Church

3:13-14 The Marks Of A Mature Christian

Philippians 3:13&14 “Brothers, 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.”

Later on this year I will achieve a certain ‘seniority in citizenship’. To attain that, one thing is necessary; I just have to stay alive. Whether reaching a certain age is the same as achieving maturity is debatable. There are forms of maturity some of which give a twist to the word. When the TV magazines announce that some programmes are “For mature audiences only” we wonder whether the capacity to watch sexually explicit material isn’t a mark of immaturity rather than maturity. When a couple tell people that they have a “mature relationship” we are not persuaded. We believe that chastity before marriage is the mark of maturity; faithfulness within marriage is a mark of maturity.

What is a mature Christian? What would characterise such a person? J.C.Ryle makes some suggestions. He says that in mature Christians their “sense of sin is deeper . . . faith stronger . . . hope brighter . . . love more extensive . . . spiritual-mindedness more marked” (J.C.Ryle, “Holiness,” James Clarke, 1956, p.85). Maturing in that way is the only reason to go on living. Nothing else can be called ‘maturity’. All the rest is simply a journey to death and worse. In this passage the apostle Paul gives us four or five descriptions of a mature person.

1. THE MATURE CHRISTIAN KNOWS HIS OWN HEART.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (v.13). The apostle has been through so much for the Lord. He has walked with the Lord for many years. He’s enjoyed an intimacy of fellowship with him, and been entrusted with many conversions and the building of vital churches. He has done what scarcely a hundred Christians of his generation all together achieved. God’s blessing continually rested on Paul’s life and labours. He has known wonderful deliverances from threats and dangers. He has been given gifts of the Spirit and by stirring up some of them he has written large sections of the New Testament. At the end of time people will be saved on the day that Christ comes through the words Paul wrote down. What experiences of God he has known: he has been caught up to the third heaven – what sights he has seen; what words he has heard. Paul had spoken in tongues more than anyone in the whole Corinthian congregation, and no one could deny the fact. If anyone in the whole church in all the world could make the claim that they had spiritually arrived it would have been the apostle Paul. Yet he says here that he doesn’t consider himself to have reached where the Lord intends him to be.

If the apostle Paul himself hadn’t attained to the fulness of the blessing of God filling every single part of his life please don’t think you are going to pick it up in tongues-speaking. Maturity doesn’t come instantly anywhere. We grow spiritually as we grow physically by inches, and one essential mark of the growing man is that he knows he has a long way to go. But I can turn that observation this way: some of you are new Christians; your experience of life, let alone your experience dealing with the living God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is from the perspective of a young person who is beginning the Christian race, with a young person’s confidence, and prayers, and hopes, and certainties. We don’t expect you to behave like an old man. We would be horrified if you clothed yourself in the persona of elderliness. That will come soon enough I tell you, with all of its privileges and trials. The grace that would impress us about you would be to know that you have come to terms with yourself, that you know your own heart, and that you have a strong desire to mature.

Of course Paul knew his glorious status in Christ. He knew that his sins were all forgiven sins. Paul knew that to him the righteousness of Christ had been imputed. Paul knew that he had been made a new creation. Paul knew that he had been adopted into the family of God and that he was a joint heir of a glorious inheritance. Paul knew that he was in Christ and Christ was in him. Paul knew that the reign of sin over him had ended and the Good Shepherd was now guiding and keeping him. Paul knew that all things were working together for his good. Paul knew that the Lord who had begun a good work in him would complete it in the day of Christ. Paul knew all those things were true of himself because they are true of every single Christian. Of the newest believer taking his toddler steps in the Christian race they are true. But all that still didn’t mean that Paul had now attained the goal for which Christ had laid hold of him all those years ago.

Men and women, we have scarcely begun to be Christians. There are mountains before us and we haven’t climbed their nursery slopes yet, let alone reached their summits. There is a knowledge of God in Jesus Christ which we haven’t started to understand. There are blessings and buffetings, a work to do and a rest to take, glories and humblings, exaltations as well as the deepest ravines on the journey to the Celestial City, and all that lies ahead of us. There are deep strata of revealed truth in Old Testament and New Testament which we haven’t begun to mine. Charles Wesley once said, “In vain the first born seraph tries, To sound the depth of love divine.” If in heaven now the archangel Gabriel every day has a new understanding of why God created him how much more do we have only the first beginnings of why God has taken hold of us.

It seems to me that in every vocation one of the conditions for success is that a man has some awareness of the vast scope of his work. If it is finance, economics, science, business, farming then he must be conscious there is so much to learn. We talk with disdain about the ‘know all’ – the boy or girl who never expresses any wonder at anything they are told. They know everything. They refuse to be surprised. They suggest they’ve been there, seen it, heard it, done it. You can’t tell them anything. What an appallingly unhappy future lies before them. How different the man who is attentive, all ears and eyes, certainly in the Christian faith, listening, watching, learning, appreciative, self-deprecating, with low self-esteem, yes, the grace of low self-esteem – “I pour contempt on all my pride. My richest gain I count but loss.” He considers every other Christian better and wiser than himself. He genuinely feels that other people are far more important than he is, and he humbles himself to serve. What a glorious future lies before that man! What usefulness he will have in the world and especially in the kingdom of God.

The apostle has a great series of exhortations to the church in Rome in the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans. He sets a tremendous standard for the Christian life, the chapter almost crushes you when you read its exhortations, but this is where Paul begins – this is his first words to them. He says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Roms. 12:3). Now I have always pointed out that that also means that we should not think of ourselves more meanly than we ought to think. Do not underrate yourself – “I am such a poor Christian.” Do not always be refusing the invitation to office. Do not protest about any new responsibility the church offers you. That will produce despondency, and gifts will languish. That point is true, but the main thrust of the exhortation is directed at the fact that most of us overestimate our talents, and that produces vanity and pride, and once some people have seen a vision of pride in their preachers’ hearts they are unable to hear anything he says to them. What a barren future lies before a proud servant of Jesus. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. So let us strive to know our spiritual state, to always see ourselves as God sees us. This is a condition for a useful life, knowing just where we are and where we are going.

Let me tell you a story of Al Martin’s: “Many years ago a missionary friend was going to a preaching assignment in rural South Carolina and eventually became hopelessly lost. He didn’t have any idea where he was, he couldn’t find any signs pointing to his destination, and his map was of no help. He was all turned around backwards and didn’t have a clue where he was. He concluded, however, that if he could find out where he was, he would be able to find his way to his destination. As he was driving along, he saw a little boy on the side of the road. He pulled over and said, ‘Sonny, I’m lost! But if I knew where I was, I think I could get to where I have to go. Can you tell me where I am?’ The little boy looked at him with amazement and said, ‘Mister, you’s right here! That’s where you are, right here. You’s nowhere else.’ God has brought that little boy’s words back to me time after time to remind me of the truth that ‘right here’ is exactly where I am spiritually. What I really am is what I really am and where I really am is where I really am!” (A.N. Martin, “A Life of Principled Obedience,” Banner of Truth, 1992, p.14).

Do you know where you are spiritually? I am in Christ. Do you know where you are going? To be conformed to the image of Christ. That is the beginning of Christian maturity.

2. THE MATURE CHRISTIAN CONCENTRATES ON PRESENT DUTIES.

“But one thing I do” (v.13). I am told that there are five such ‘one things’ in the New Testament. What does that suggest? That there is a certain single-mindedness about the Christian life. Let me sort out some misconceptions from the start. Paul does not mean that for the Christian nothing matters but religion. I don’t believe that God wants us to become people who talk only about Christianity. The writers of the Bible like Moses, and the author of the Song of Songs, the psalmists, and the prophets are interested in such things as mining, cosmetics, building, romance, climate, matters military and the behaviour of birds and animals. They are conscious that the earth is the Lord’s and its fulness. The Christian does have a world and life view.

What Paul is saying here, so devastatingly, is that the Christian life is an intensely focused life, and that our faith constantly calls us to concentration, and dedication, but not fanaticism. Fanatics are blinkered. Fanatics would never confess what Paul says here, “I don’t consider myself to have attained my ultimate vocation.” The fanatic is convinced that he has it all and he will lay down his life for what he has. But Paul has said how much he comes short of what he should be or will be. So this ‘one thing’ Paul mentions here is his single-mindedness. Jesus Christ matters to him supremely. He doesn’t pick up Jesus on his way to other more interesting activities. There is nothing more important for the Christian than the Lord Jesus: “for to me to live is Christ.” Whatever it takes, the Christian is going to keep pressing on to become the best Christian he can be, in other words, to love God with all his heart, to love his neighbour as himself, to glorify God in all he does and enjoy God more and more. That is what was the priority in his life – this one thing! To obey the Lord cheerfully in everything – that is the one thing we must do. The body may have two eyes; the soul has only one.

Let me illustrate this: “What is an obedient son? When Dad says, ‘Son, it’s time to come in from play,’ do we regard a child to be obedient who, though he actually comes into the house, yet comes pouting and dragging his feet in an evident spirit of rebelliousness? Can you imagine Dad saying, ‘Thank you, son. That was a wonderful display of hearty obedience to Dad.’ No, of course not. The feet may be coming into the house; but there is no sense that the child believes that Dad has a right to be obeyed because of who he is. At best this kind of grudging, reluctant adherence to parental commands is concerned merely to escape the application of the rod of correction; but there is no true biblical obedience. But if the child responds to his father’s call with prompt and cheerful compliance, with a co-operative spirit as well as co-operative feet, everyone senses the difference. In such a case there is true heart obedience and not just a kind of reluctant external conformity to parental authority” (A.N. Martin, op cit, p.4)

Think of a coach talking to a Second Division soccer team. He says to them, “Now this season I just want you to think of one word. One word for the whole season, nothing else . . one word . . .and you know what that word is? It is the word “Promotion!.” This one thing was to dominate all their activities on and off the pitch. So it is with us: the preacher is like a coach and we gather together each Sunday and an important part of our meeting is to make this vision a priority for every one of us, – “this one thing I am going to do – glorify my Saviour.” There was a particular day on which Jonathan Edwards felt a deep longing to rededicate his life to God. He wrote that evening, “I have this day been before God, and I have given myself – all that I have and am – to God; so that I am in no respect my own I have given myself clean away.” There was a total commitment of all he knew of himself to all he knew of Jesus Christ “I have given myself clean away.” That act of consecration is something the Christian needs to repeat again and again in his life: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all” (Isaac Watts). Sometimes when God has met with us on a Sunday we stay in our pews at the end of the service; we sit and we pray; we freshly yield ourselves to the Lord. “Again, Lord, this one thing I do.” Of course, such an activity must result in our banishing from our lives every rival. Thy kingdom come, and my kingdom go! We take the crown off our heads and we place the crown of Jesus there in its place.

“One thing I do”: Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was quite sparing in his use of illustrations but when he did use them how memorable some of them were. He uses one to illustrate what Paul is saying here. “The man who runs in a race must not be interested in the landscape. If he begins to look at the mountains and the charm of the flowers in the hedgerows, he will not win the race; he must be intent on one thing only. There was a story I once read in a newspaper which struck me as a charming and perfect illustration of what I am saying. An agriculturist was describing how he was driving his car along a narrow road on his way to visit a farm, when suddenly he came upon a flock of sheep and a sheep dog. His problem was how to get past these sheep. Then he described the amazing way in which the sheep dog dealt with the situation, how he kept and had his eyes upon the flock and made his calculations, running backwards and forwards.

“But the interesting thing was that a little terrier belonging to a nearby house came out and tried to pick a quarrel with the sheep dog, coming to him and barking at him. The writer of the article pointed out the magnificence of that sheep dog who completely ignored the yapping terrier. He knew he had a great job to do – he had his sheep to get past the car – so he did not pay any attention to the terrier: ‘One thing I do,’ said the sheep dog. That is the way in which Christians are to work. They don’t look at these distractions – the world is full of distracting interests, some of them legitimate, some not. But those who want to be like the Apostle Paul don’t look at them – only at one thing!” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace: Studies in Philippians 3&4,” Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1990, p.99).

The famous New England preacher, Phillips Brooks, pointed this out “The more we watch the lives of men, the more we see that one of the reasons why men are not occupied with great thoughts and interests is the way in which their lives are overfilled with little things.” What a privilege to be a man of a single eye. What Christian maturity it displays.

3. THE MATURE CHRISTIAN FORGETS WHAT IS PAST.

“Forgetting what is behind” (v.13). Should we really forget what lies behind? Shouldn’t we learn from our own histories – as we learn from church history? For example, didn’t the Lord Jesus tell his disciples to remember Lot’s wife? Yes, and shouldn’t we remember God’s past mercies to us? Yes! Forget not all his benefits. Did not the Lord institute a feast of bread and wine by which we were to keep in remembrance his death for us? Obviously there are blessings and lessons and warnings which we must remember. What then are the things we must forget?

i] Let me say a word about the bitterness of past wrongs (real or supposed). What other memory has the power to lock us into the past than harbouring some grievance or other? Let’s forget them. Let’s ask that the blood of Christ shall do for them in our minds what it has done with our sins before God himself – “their sins I will remember no more.” But let me move on:

ii] The successes of the past. There is a man described to us in Zechariah 2 who wants to go back from the exile in Babylon and measure the ruins of Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed for over seventy years, but this man wants past glories and past failures to decide the dimensions of the future. God tells the man that the future Jerusalem is going to be a city without walls because of the great numbers who are going to be its inhabitants. Let’s forget the glories of the good old days. My school motto was “Ni Ddychwel Ddoe” -“Yesterday never returns.” Let’s concentrate on where we are going. There is something else in the past we must forget.

iii] The pleasures of sin, and the taste of the forbidden fruit we must forget. The sweetness of the gossip, the taste of the drugs, the excitement of the illicit affair, the fast lane, the clandestine meetings, power we wielded over people, and so on. Let us forget all those ugly things. Think of all the pain that came from them for ourselves and others. Did Eve ever dare to say to Adam wistfully, ” . . . but didn’t that fruit taste like nothing else you’ve ever tasted,” as they daily walked by the grave where their murdered son Abel lay buried? Remember the children of Israel in the wilderness how they were given all they needed for the journey to Canaan – manna, fresh water, quails, a divine Guide by night and day, and all the protecting power of Jehovah. But there came hard times when they started to look back at everything they had left in behind: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:5-6). They let sinful nostalgia for what they could never have again destroy their satisfaction with what they had now. They looked back selectively at the life of slavery in Egypt through rose-tinted glasses. How pleasant they made it seem. They failed to trust God for the present and be grateful for all his mercies.

Dr. James Montgomery Boice says, “There are many leeks-and-garlic Christians among us. You are one if you are constantly looking to the past. If your Christian testimony is entirely taken up with what God did for you thirty or forty years ago, or you are constantly talking about the old days when God’s blessing on your life seemed great, then you are looking to the past. You can never keep doing that and also be moving forward. One of my good friends describes old age as the point in life when a person ceases to look forward and always looks backward. If that is accurate, then there are certainly a lot of old Christians – and I do not mean in terms of their years. They are living a leeks-and-garlic type of Christianity and Paul warns against it. He would say, ‘Look! Past blessings are fine. We have received them from God’s hands, and we should be thankful for them. We rejoice in everything that he has done in our lives. But now we must let those things lie in the past and move forward.’ There can be no progress without this proper forgetting” (James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians,” Baker, 1971, p.198). Again, let us move on; there is something else we must forget:

iv] The guilt of past sins. There can be a despair over our past falls, and in their severest form they can make us doubt if we have ever been forgiven. Or they can encourage us to defeatism and a backward-looking mentality. Think of a husband who is wasting away about some incident in his past for which he is continually coming to his wife and saying, “Please forgive me for what I did,” but she has forgiven him and put it out of her mind long ago. Yet there is not a month in which he does not come to her with red eyes and a lump in his throat and he pleads for her to forgive him again. She has done so long ago! She is forgetting all about it, but then he comes and raises it again. She fears for him, for his mental health. So it is with our heavenly Father when we go to him and start to describe to him yet again the follies and falls of yesteryear. “They are forgiven sins, my child,” God protests to us. “Don’t you believe me when I’ve told you this again and again? They were red like crimson but now they are whiter than snow.” You hear a Christian say, “Yes we can forgive other people their sins, but we cannot forgive our own sins.” Why not? If the blood of Christ can completely answer the justice of God it can certainly answer our own consciences!

You say to me how hard you find it to forget those things, and I say to you that that I understand, but what we are being asked in our text is not to remember them. God can forget nothing, but he chooses not to bring to his remembrance our sins . . . never! We cannot simply forget something in response to some command. When you forget something, it just happens. Refusing to remember simply means not bringing a matter up to use against ourselves or another person. When you promise to forgive another, you promise not to remember his wrongdoing by bringing it up against him. That means you won’t talk to others about it, and you won’t allow yourself to sit and brood over it either.

The Bible never commands “forgive and forget.” That is one of those old, unbiblical statements by which people often try to guide their lives that is utterly incorrect. If you try to forget, you will fail. In fact, the harder you try the more difficult you will find forgetting. That’s because the more you attempt to do so, the harder you concentrate on the incident you are attempting (unsuccessfully) to forget.

Dr Jay Adams tells the tale of a king whose exchequer was running low. “So he called in all his alchemists and said, ‘Fellows, you’ve been working at this process of turning baser metals into gold for quite some time now. I need gold. This is Monday; I’ll give you till Friday to come up with the formula or off go your heads.’ Friday came and heads rolled, one after another, until the king came to the last alchemist who said, ‘I’ve got it!’ The king replied, ‘You’d better, or your head will roll too. Let’s hear the formula.’ So the alchemist told him: so much limestone, butterfly wings, a dash of lizard tongue – you name it! When he finished the king asked, ‘Is that it?’ ‘That’s it,’ said the alchemist, and headed for the door. ‘Don’t leave town,’ said the king. ‘Right,’ said the alchemist. But as he was leaving, he turned and said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you, King; if you think of an elephant while you are stirring the pot, it won’t work.’ Needless to say, the alchemist died a natural death.” (Jay Adams, “From Forgiven to Forgiving,” Calvary Press, 1994, pp 57&58). Every time they brewed the potion they had to say to themselves, “I mustn’t think about elephants . . . I mustn’t think about elephants . . .”

So, we just can’t forget on order, and the Bible doesn’t require us to do so. It asks only that you model your forgiveness after God’s, and God promises not to remember. You see, the wonderful thing about God’s forgiveness is this: when you make the promise not to remember your old sins anymore, or the sins of anyone who has hurt you in the past, and keep that promise, then you will find that you will forget! God will give you grace to forget those sins. They are forgiven sins. Indeed, the very best way to forget is to keep the promise not to remember your sins, and not to remember any other sins in the past. If you don’t rehearse the wrongdoing to yourself, then more quickly than you’d realise it will fade away. Forgiving is the only way to forget. So I have spoken to you about forgetting the bitterness, pleasures and guilt of past sins.

4. THE MATURE CHRISTIAN STRIVES FOR WHAT LIES AHEAD.

“and straining toward what is ahead” (v.13). Now there is a familiar enough point here, and I will make it too, but briefly. The point is this: this is a trumpet call to Christian energy. Paul says, ‘I strain,’ and then he says, ‘I press on.’ Literally he is saying, ‘I pursue . . . I chase,’ and the point that is always proclaimed is that all this is a far cry from lying back, relaxing and so getting filled with the Spirit. Rather, we appropriate the sanctifying grace of God by laying hold of it, by zeal in good works, by not neglecting to meet together, by praying without ceasing, by using the Bible as the Sword of the Spirit, by sitting under big Biblical ministry and listening as if eternity depended upon it. So the point is this: Do not trade on your maturity, your position, your years of experience, your office as a Christian, a minister, an elder, a deacon, whatever. The moment you take for granted your status in the church, then you are done for! Always strain toward what is ahead! Always press on! Always grow! Always be stretched! Always risk! Always venture! Such exhortations are valuable and familiar to us all. We must never grow weary of hearing them.

That is not the chief point here. It is this: see that these two exhortations are bound together: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (v.13). You must do them both, in other words, failure to forget what is behind you will create failure to strain toward what is ahead. Your remembrance of the past will stop you getting on with serving Christ energetically and sacrificially in the future.

Let me put it like his. You have these liabilities, your failures and sins in the past, and I am urging you to deal with them in a biblical manner so that you can be active for Christ in the future. Think of how Charles Colson has utilised his liabilities as an asset. He had been sentenced to imprisonment for conspiracy after the Watergate break-in. His familiarity with prison life has done much in informing him in his work for prisoners. I hope Jonathan Aitken can do the same. But every Christian may enter into the possibility of redeeming for the Lord the consequences of his sins, sometimes immediately.

Consider the following story told by Steve Brown: “I have a friend who recently became a Christian. She failed miserably in her sexual relationship with a young man who saw nothing wrong with having sex with anyone who was willing. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘it is just a normal need like eating and exercise. How could it be wrong?’ My friend fell for that type of idiocy and then came to my study sobbing her heart out. I listened to her confession, and then I reminded her of the reason Christ died for her.

“Next I said to her, ‘Joan, you have a great opportunity to witness to this man. Why don’t you go to him and ask his forgiveness for having betrayed the most important Person in your life, Jesus?’ She did it, and he didn’t know how to handle it. She went to this man and said, ‘I want to ask your forgiveness. Sex is a beautiful thing, and I can’t say that I don’t enjoy sex, but last night I did something far worse than sleep with you. I failed to be faithful to Christ who loves me. I gave lie to the central belief of my life. I’m forgiven, and things are okay between Christ and me, but where I really failed was in not showing you clearly about Christ. When I slept with you last night, my greatest sin was in hiding Christ. Will you forgive me?’ Now, that man has not yet become a Christian because of her witness, but he is thinking about it. She had become one beggar telling another beggar where she found bread” (Steve Brown, “No More Mr Nice Guy,” Nelson, Nashville, 1986, p.90).

What was Joan doing? She was forgetting what was behind and straining toward what was ahead, and that is the calling of every one of us. You have fallen? Yes, we all do, and so did Eric Liddell quite literally in an important 440 yards race in the 1920s, but having tripped and fallen he got up again and sprinted after the other runners and actually won, and soon he was running for Great Britain in the Olympic Games winning gold. He got up and he pressed on, and that is what you must do. Let’s wake up in the morning and pray, “Lord here is a new day given to me by you. Your mercies are new this morning. There are new things to be done, and new lessons to be learned. Help me to use this day properly as I head for home.” We are daily straining toward what is ahead.

5. THE MATURE CHRISTIAN FIXES HIS EYES ON THE GOAL.

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v.14). Throughout the Second World War we were waiting for the victory. There were the ration books, and clothes coupons, and the black out, and air raid warnings. There were the bombed buildings all over Cardiff and Swansea, and then an occasional welcome letter from North Africa where my mother’s brother was fighting. But my memory of the 1940s is that they were happy years. The cause for which we fought was just. Hitler and his Nazi party had to be beaten. We went through those years in a good spirit because we knew that we could not fail. We endured privation, separation and loss because we knew that we would emerge victorious. We were on the winning side. Psychiatrists tell us that in wartime there is less mental illness, fewer cases of depression, and a greater sense of community. We were pressing on toward the goal of victory. The prize would soon be ours.

This is Paul’s assurance in the New Testament. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. The Christian life with its enormous perplexities and heartaches has a purpose. It is not meaningless: “I press on toward the goal” says Paul, and that goal is not the grave. Our Christian race will end with a prize which God is going to give. J. Alec Motyer says, “Sometimes a thing is all the more impressive for being left undescribed. Paul tells us neither what the goal is nor what the prize will be. Yet suddenly the earthly scene with all its strivings, sufferings and sacrifices is suffused with heavenly glory. One scriptural picture after another fills and elevates the mind: the Lord’s own ‘Well done!’; ‘the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day’; ‘the unfading crown of glory’, gift of the chief Shepherd; the privilege, above all, that his servants should worship him, see his face, and have his name written on their foreheads; the blood-cleansed robes and the unending presence of the Lord. All this and, in addition, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’. That is the goal and the prize!” (J. Alec Motyer, “The Message of Philippians”, IVP, Leicester, 1984, p.177). So we sing as we march: ‘Songs of praises I will ever give to Thee.’ Shouts of joy. Christ will take me home. Forever with the Lord.

So Paul kept doing these two things. He kept forgetting what was behind, and he kept straining toward what was ahead. There had been past achievements, yes, but now, looking at the goal, how insignificant they seem. We have been grasped by the Son of God, and we are soon going to grasp why, to see him and be like him and be with him for ever. Nothing else matters but attaining unto that, and so they press forward, stretching out, always reaching up, concentrating on the great goal.

Dr Lloyd-Jones says that the effect of it should be something like this: “Not a day should pass in our lives but that we should deliberately and solemnly remind ourselves of these things. I am destined for that glory. I am in Christ, I am going to be perfected in Christ – that is the goal. Do I know him? Am I like him? Am I being made conformable unto his death? I have been apprehended by Christ for that and that should be the centre of my life, the object of my every ambition. God grant that we may all see the goal, that we may be so charmed and attracted by it, that we shall have an eye for nothing but that – the prize the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace: Studies in Philippians 3&4”, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1990, p. 102).

16 February 2003 GEOFF THOMAS