When we think of a race, we tend to think of winners and losers. We focus on who holds the medal or trophy on the podium at the end of the day.
However, even the most unathletic spectator knows the athletes do not simply show up on race day and perform.
Instead, they have spent countless hours preparing for the event. They have a rigorous training regimen, and we all admire their meticulous, committed discipline.
In Philippians, the apostle Paul uses an athletic comparison to describe his Christian walk. According to Paul, he is running a race.
As Warren Wiersbe explains, “In this section, we meet Paul ‘the athlete’ with his spiritual vigor, pressing toward the finish line in the Christian race.”
Now, this doesn’t mean Paul is competing against other Christians. Instead, Paul is instructing fellow believers to strive towards the goal God has set before them.
Wiersbe writes, “Each believer is on the track; each has a special lane in which to run; and each has a goal to achieve.”
Those who follow Jesus want to run this race and win, but how do we win the race? Simply put, we put in the training time.
In these few verses, Paul explains how it is possible to win the race while remaining joyful.
For this joy-filled series, we are following along with Warren W. Wiersbe’s outstanding commentary of Philippians, Be Joyful: Even When Things Go Wrong, You Can Have Joy. We encourage you to pick up your own copy to study this book with us. This week we are focusing on Philippians 3:12-16.
Win with Divine Dissatisfaction
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.”
– Philippians 3:12-13a
We are taught to be satisfied. Contentment is a spiritual virtue.
However, when our satisfaction leads to contented laziness, we have missed the mark.
Unfortunately, many believers and unbelievers reach a point in their lives when they feel satisfied to stay right where they are spiritually. They feel they don’t need to work any harder or do any more.
Paul was not satisfied to stay still in his Christian walk. He continuously desired to grow closer to God and do more for the Kingdom.
By reflecting on our own spiritual state, we can see where we need to improve.
The things that are holding us back or keeping us from moving forward should stir a divine dissatisfaction within us.
“A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress,” Wiersbe explained.
Win with Devotion
“But one thing I do.”
– Philippians 3:13b
We are all simply too busy.
We fill our calendars and our minds. We live at the speed of life. Everything is cluttered, all the time.
Paul, however, focused on “the one thing.” This type of “one thing” devotion makes all the difference when it comes to finishing a race.
Consider it carefully. Athletes who specialize in one sport tend to do better than those competing in several.
Wise people understand it is far better to do one thing well than to spread yourself too thin, doing numerous things poorly. You’ve heard the axiom, “He’s a jack of all trades, and a master of _____.”
When it comes to our Christian walk, we learn much by focusing on the one thing God calls us to do and removing all distractions.
Win with Direction
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
– Philippians 3:13c
Part of what makes Christians different is our focus on the future rather than the past.
We have an eternal reward continuously capturing our attention to which we look forward with eager anticipation.
It is for this reason Christians are called to forget the past and press towards the future.
Wiersbe claims, “Too many Christians are shackled by regrets of the past. They are trying to run the race by looking backward.”
It is important to note “‘To forget’ in the Bible means ‘no longer to be influenced by or affected by’ (Wiersbe).”
When we say, “Forget the past,” we mean no longer being controlled or influenced by our past, not amnesia.
Forgetting the past is only possible by God’s grace manifested in godly sorrow and genuine repentance. Repentance typically involves reconciliation, confession, and a renunciation of sins, not just with God but also with one another.
You cannot get free from sin by simply confessing your sin to God. This is typically cheap grace. You must confess your sins to one another, especially to the one against whom you sinned.
Win with Determination
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 3:14
The verb “press” implies an intense determination.
Paul was determined to finish the race and win the prize.
“The same zeal that Paul employed when he persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6), he displayed in serving Christ,” says Wiersbe.
If we want to finish the race, we need to be actively training.
We must determine to know and do more for God.
By drawing closer to God, we allow Him to help us win the race and receive the heavenly reward.
Win with Discipline
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
– Philippians 3:15-16
Spiritual maturity is key to winning the race.
As we mature, we continuously strive to follow Jesus closer.
This is not salvation by works.
It is simply the spiritually mature believer considering his or her sins and shortcomings, seeking forgiveness, and continuing to press forward with the goal of eternity in mind.
Win with Joy
We know winning brings joy.
Sometimes, however, it seems difficult to be joyful during a challenging race. It is possible as Paul explains.
“Paul was exercising the spiritual mind; he was looking at things on earth from God’s point of view. As a result, he was not upset by things behind him, around him, or before him – things did not rob him of his joy (Wiersbe)!”
You can’t win the race with only one of these tools. You must strive to race with divine dissatisfaction, devotion, direction, determination, and discipline. Press on!