By James Metsger
…but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Have you ever used every last bit of energy or strength to complete a task? Maybe you competed in athletics and can remember colliding with an opposing player. Maybe you work with your hands and bear the scars. Maybe you perform manual labor for a living and daily come home exhausted. Interestingly, Paul uses the language of war and athletics, physical exertion, to describe his pursuit of Christ in the Christian life. He describes an ongoing, grasping, strenuous pursuit. It is a gritty, almost gutsy “I will not be denied” mentality.
but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)
When it comes to his spiritual formation, Paul’s language is not one of a passive observer, but an active participant. Growth in the Christian life does not just happen. There is striving, but it’s not a self- improvement project. Spiritual formation happens by the power that God provides, but this is not a sit back and watch endeavor. He states the dichotomy well in Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul toils, he labors, and struggles to proclaim Christ, but he does it with God’s energy working within him.
Paul essentially doubles down in the imagery here.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
Straining forward. This is a strong desire to give the utmost effort. This is the picture of a runner, as she nears the finish line, stretching out her neck, head, and hands to cross the finish line first. A race is a metaphor to describe the Christian life, and we are the runners doing everything we can to cross the finish line. It takes effort to finish the race well.
Yes, Jesus said, “Come unto me all who weary and are heavy laden…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus tells all who are weary and burdened in this race to come to Him for rest. He isn’t speaking of a physical burden, but the heavy spiritual burden of legalism that the Pharisees laid on the backs of the people. Nevertheless, the Christian life is not a life of laziness. It is movement fueled by a clear mission. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
You can see it. There it is! The finish line of the Christian life. Paul eagerly pressed towards the prize, writing near the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). At times you experience the exhaustion, the pain, and you fight the voice that says, “Quit!” Don’t quit. Paul includes you at the finish line receiving your righteous award from the Lord. Press on!
Does the imagery of war or athletics that Paul uses to describe the Christian life change the way you view your walk with God? How?