I think it is safe to say that many people are concerned about the future. These concerns may be on their personal level, their health, their relationships, or their finances. These concerns may be on the local community level, the national level, or as we look at the various crises on our world scene.
Genuine concern is not a bad thing, especially if these concerns are brought before the Lord in prayer. But such concerns can easily move into despair and pessimism. Also, in light of the many challenges in our lives, it is very easy to lose focus. We can live day by day facing various problems, and we only have short term goals that we are trying to reach. We may find it hard to have a focus in life that gives us direction and impact for the Lord in these days.
The Christian has the privilege of living with a joyous anticipation of seeing his Lord face-to-face. It is really true that the best experience for us is still in the future. At the same time, it is the future blessing of God’s call heavenward to see His Son that gives focus for our relationship with the Lord day by day.
The apostle Paul is writing from prison. His future is not completely certain. He thinks he will be released to serve the Lord in the future. But, he is realistic about the possibility of being martyred as well. And yet he writes this little epistle with such joy and certainty in the Lord. The church in Philippi had sent him a gift, and he is most grateful for that gift. And as he writes this letter to say “thank you,” he wants to instruct the church as well. He had a wonderful relationship with these believers, and he is wanting them to experience the same joy that he is experiencing. This joy is a joy that is above circumstances, and it is a joy totally focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the section of scripture that we have read, Paul is expressing his own desire to go forward in his Christian life, and it is evident that he is very focused on this desire. In one place in our text, he says,
“this one thing I do.”
What a powerful statement! There is focus, there is direction, there is anticipation as the apostle Paul thinks about the future.
What about you and me? Do we have a sense of focus as Christians? Do we have a sense of direction as Christians? How can we have a fresh focus for our future? I believe we can learn some key truths that will lead to some choices that we need to make as we look at this passage of scripture in God's word.
In the preceding verses to our main Scripture reading, the apostle Paul shares his testimony concerning what Christ meant and means to him in a very personal way. We read Paul's testimony in the book of Acts, but he does not share this testimony as personally or passionately in any of his other epistles.
(Read Philippians 3:7-9)
The apostle Paul was a religious man. He was a man who pursued righteousness because he wanted to be right with God. On the human level, he was a respected, law-abiding, committed Jew, a Pharisee. But when he met Christ, he realized that the perfect righteousness that satisfies God’s demand is found in Christ not in himself. Paul met Christ miraculously, and everything changed after that. Paul came to realize that his righteousness was not enough. Christ Jesus came into the world to live a perfectly righteous life. Then, Christ Jesus died a sacrificial death to pay the penalty for his sins committed. And Paul came to understand that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, including Paul himself (Romans 3:23). Paul needed a Savior from sin who could fulfill God’s righteous demands. He needed someone who could pay the penalty for his sins and whose righteousness would be accounted to him as a gift. And this happened in Christ. And so Paul believed that he had a right relationship with God through all that Christ did to provide justification by grace alone. The righteousness of Christ was granted to Paul.
A genuine experience of Christ means that we are declared righteous in Christ.
But, also, Paul not only gained the righteousness of Christ, He gained a relationship with Christ. As you read these verses (3:10-12) you sense how much Paul treasured the relationship he had with Christ. In these verses, he expresses his passion for that relationship. (READ 3:10-12)
A genuine experience of Christ means that we value our relationship with Christ.
Keep in mind that the apostle Paul is writing many years after he became a Christian, and yet he says in verse 10 of this chapter that his great gain is to know Christ. Paul wanted to know him deeply. He writes that he wants to “know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.”
We are reading the words of someone who is passionate in his relationship with Christ. He wants to truly know him and to experience all that Christ has for him. If we are going to go forward with Christ and have a focus in our lives, it is based on a genuine experience of Christ. We have to know Him personally and that we have been made right with God through him. And there needs to be a heartfelt passion to know the Lord and to grow in him. Because, as we will see, the ultimate goal is to be with Christ.
As the Apostle looks forward, he realizes that he is pressing forward in his Christian life and towards a specific goal. And this goal is why Christ Jesus laid hold of Christ. This is why Christ Jesus made Paul His own. Christ Jesus is working out His purpose in Paul’s life until Paul sees the Lord face-to-face.
How about us today? There is no stopping place in our relationship with the Lord. We are heading in a specific direction. Meanwhile, there is so much more to learn, to appreciate, to treasure, and to love about our Lord. And knowing the Lord must be a priority in our lives if we are really going to move forward in a focused way.
Righteousness in the Lord and a genuine relationship with Christ are the basis of a real focus for the future. How about you today?
But this leads to a second consideration as we view this text,as we consider this right focus in 2024:
Recently, I was driven through lovely scenery to a beautiful destination. Going forward in a car usually involves a number of things. You have to turn on the engine, and that is parallel to a genuine experience of Christ. At some point you take your foot off the brake, and you put your foot on the accelerator. And by making those choices, you go forward.
Let’s look at some choices that need to be made if we are determined to go forward
The apostle Paul simply states that he has not already arrived or already attained all that he should attain as a Christian. He has not been made perfect yet, and he is not with the Lord. In other words, there is more to come. In other words, he needs to move forward. And this involves being realistic about his present situation. He is not despairing. He is not regretting where he is. He is just being honest about the fact that he has not reached the end of the journey. There is more ahead. Indeed, the goal is ahead.
We need to accept that fact. Can you agree with the Apostle and the Lord, that you need to move forward?? Now, how do we do that?
This needs some explanation. I believe what the apostle Paul is saying is that we are not to live in the past. We are not to allow things that have happened in the past to keep us from moving forward. Now, if there is some sin that we need to confess right now and seek forgiveness and cleansing, that is a different issue. That is something we need to do. But given all that had gone on in the apostle Paul's life in the past, he is saying that the past is not his focus.
He is saying, I'm not looking back and living in the past. Due to the events that occurred before he met Christ, he might become paralyzed by guilt. Think of all the things he did against the Lord. He also could be satisfied with all that he had already experienced and all he had already done in his service for the Lord. Paul is saying that the past is not my focus.
It is possible for people to be stuck in their past. It is possible for people to be tied to certain things in their past. It is possible for people to think that they have done enough in their past. Paul is saying that he is consciously seeking to forget what lies behind him. That is not always easy to do. But it is important if you're going to move forward.
As you drive a car, you can glance in the rearview mirror, but you need to keep your eyes focused ahead. Someone here today may need to make a choice in a personal way to let go of the past. Let go of the past and to look to what God has in store for you in the future. And this leads to our next point.
This means a renewed commitment to focus on being ready to see the Lord face-to-face. This means pressing on or going forward in those things that the Lord wants in our lives and what He has called us to do as we await seeing Him. to walk with the Lord and to serve the Lord. Our relationship with the Lord should push us forward, and our future in the Lord should pull us forward.
A parallel passage of Scripture is found in Hebrews chapter 12, verses one and two. The writer speaks of the Christian life as a race. We are in a race that calls for perseverance. The finish line is still ahead. The writer to the Hebrews therefore charges us to lay aside sins and weights, meaning anything that would get in the way of running the race. We need to be serious about the race and run accordingly. So, anything that would cause us to give up, or give in, or lose focus needs to be set aside. Our focus needs to be on Jesus Christ Himself, who ran His race to the end. We are moving forward like Him, fixing our eyes on Him. The Lord is always to be our focus.
We have to watch out for other things that get our attention. The Lord must be our priority. So we need to make a definite choice that Christ is our priority and we are pressing forward toward the goal of seeing him face-to-face. The Apostle could write, “this one thing I do.” This is my priority.
You may be thinking how do we have the strength to give ourselves to this race. Well, the Lord Himself is our strength. He has given us His Holy Spirit to keep us focused on Himself, and to live accordingly. This is not Paul’s emphasis here, but consider two others passages of Scripture in Philippians. In the early part of Paul’s letter he states concerning the Philippians,
“I am sure of this. That he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (1:6). He was confident of the ongoing work of God in the lives of the Philippians.
He tells his readers later to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”(2:12-13). He is not saying to earn your salvation, salvation is in Christ alone. He is saying to live out your salvation depending upon the work of God within you.
And as Paul ends this letter, he states one of the most recognized verses in the New Testament. As Paul explains how he can be content in all situations he writes, “I am do all thing through him who strengthens me” (4:13).
Yes, we are to run the race. We are to go forward. We are called to go forward. We are called to use all the energy the Lord gives us to move forward in our walk, work, and witness for the Lord as we look unto Him.
The discipline and activity we need flows out of devotion to Christ. There is passionate activity through the Lord’s strength as we move forward.
It takes effort and time to come to church gatherings regularly and to worship with God’s people. It takes discipline to read God’s Word regularly and to pray meaningfully. It takes effort to maintain our walk with the Lord daily in hard places and with difficult people. It takes effort to make that needed phone call to someone who needs help in Jesus’ Name. It takes effort to deliver that meal to a sick person. I takes strength to share the gospel with someone who does not know the Lord. We must be committed to press on, to strive forward, and to do what we need to do in the Lord.
The Apostle is saying that this is the mature way to view the Christian life (3:15–16). We start where we are. We don’t go backwards. We go forward, but we do not go forward alone.
We are not in this race alone. And the apostle Paul specifically encourages these believers to imitate him and to learn from others. Christian growth and maturity is enhanced by fellowship with passionate believers who have the same focus. We need examples. We need encouragers. We need those who can hold us accountable. This is an important part of life in the church together.
I was listening to a message that was presenting this same challenge to have good examples. And a businessman that I know came up to me and said, “Push me.” In other words, keep me moving forward with the Lord. I returned the comment, knowing that I need like-minded brothers to help me stay focused.
I had a phone call recently from a precious pastor in Kenya who has had a close relationship with our family. He has been ministering for many years, and God has directed and blessed his ministry with much fruit. As we talked, he repeated a phrase that has been on his lips from the very beginning: “we serve until He comes.” In other words, our mission is to serve the Lord until we see Him. Knowing the commitment of this dear brother is an encouragement to me. You and I need good examples and good guides in this Christian life. They can help to keep us going forward.
The Apostle Paul mentions these good examples that we need right before he talks about “enemies of the cross.” All around us are people who really don’t make Christ their focus. There are those whose only concerns are things of this world. There are those who are involved in shameful activities. And these people can be a distraction and can pull us away from undivided devotion to the Lord. There is no need for these people to influence us. Rather, we need to have good examples and fellowship with those who can encourage us in the Lord.
You may need to make a choice today to get into a Bible study with people who have a passion for focusing on Christ. You may need to make a choice to pursue fellowship with a committed Christian who can encourage your growth in Christ. We don't run the race alone.
We could talk about other choices that could be made like regular worship, Bible reading, prayer, loving service, and witnessing for the Lord. But I believe that these activities will take place with the help of the Holy Spirit if we choose to forget what's behind and choose to move forward in the Lord and for the Lord. We need to put the car in drive, press the accelerator, and go forward in the right direction.
Lastly, to have the right focus for 2024 and to sharpen our focus:
The Apostle speaks of the goal being the prize of the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This prize is not a prize that we earn by our own works. It is the prize for which Christ saved us and made us his own in the first place. By God’s grace, Christians are heading towards the goal for which Christ saved us and made us His own. Isn’t that a wonderful thought. Christ made us his own with an ultimate purpose in mind. And that ultimate purpose is to see Christ, to be with Christ and to be like Christ. All three of those future expectations are tied to the upward call of God. The prize is being resurrected and ultimately seeing Christ and being with Him. This is the end of the journey. Later in our passage of Scripture (3:20-21) the Apostle states that we are awaiting our Lord and that he is going to transform our body to be like his glorious body. It is at that time that we will be like the Lord, which is his purpose for our lives. The goal in the journey of faith is to be with Christ and to be like Christ. This is the ultimate focus and that's the finishing line. And having that focus gives direction and consistency to our lives.
Being with the Lord and being like the Lord can sometimes be vague ideas way off in the future. But it should not be. We go forward until He comes or calls.
Lord willing, when I finish this time of ministry, I will be journeying home. Now there are many good things to anticipate when I go home. But, there is one primary goal, prize and anticipation. There is one special treasure and expectation that stands out above all others. And that is seeing and being with my beloved wife. Oh, it will be nice to be home. It will be nice to see other friends. But what draws me back is to see my wife and to be with her.
Seeing our Lord and being with him ought to be like a magnet that pulls us into the future. We are pushed because of what Christ has done for us and we are pulled by seeing him face to face. Meanwhile, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we need to make these definite choices to have a fresh focus for the future. Understand and reckon on the fact that we have not arrived. God has more for us. We need to be freed from the past if there are things that are hindering our progress. We need to forget what lies behind. Then, we need to commit to press forward in Christ, knowing and growing in him and following the example of other focused believers. We do this as we anticipate the ultimate prize which cannot be measured: being with Christ eternally.
Have you had a genuine experience with Christ? Is he your Savior? Are you desiring to grow in your relationship with the Lord? Without this experience of Christ and this desire to grow, you will not be able to have true focus for the future.
Assuming for the moment that we have a genuine relationship with the Lord, maybe today we need to make some definite decisions. Are we willing to let go of anything in the past that hinders us? Then make this a day of fresh surrender. Taking your foot off the brake and putting it on the accelerator of your life. This we can only do through the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. Make your ultimate goal that of seeing our Lord Jesus, and anticipate his coming and our total transformation. It may be that today is a day to commit to having fellowship with other believers, learning from other believers, and having good examples in our lives that hold us accountable. You need good team members—not just casual friends, but team members with the same goal.
Make your ultimate goal that of seeing our Lord Jesus, and anticipate his coming and our total transformation. This will give you direction and focus as you move forward in the future God has for you.
Pray your response to the Lord personally, meaningfully, and genuinely.