Pursuing the Prize
Passage: Philippians 3:14–3:14
Pursuing the Prize
October 7th, 2007
Way of Grace Church
I. Heading the Right Way
In the 1929 Rose Bowl, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets took on the undefeated UC Berkley Bears. As good as the Bears chances looked that day, they could have never predicted what would happen in the second quarter.
When Tech fumbled the football, UC center Roy Riegels picked it up 30 yards away from his own end zone. But somehow, in the confusion, Riegels was knocked and spun around. He remained on his feet and made a mad dash for the end zone. There was only one problem. He was running the wrong way.
He ran for over 65 yards and was eventually stopped by one of his teammates at the 3-yard line. But before he could head the other way, he was tackled by a wall of Georgia Tech players.
UC tried to punt, but the ball was deflected and Georgia Tech scored a safety that gave them a 2-0 lead.
And even though the Bears rallied, they would go on to lose. The final score: 8 to 7.
This incident, often cited as the biggest blunder in college football is a great reminder for us this morning. Yes, it's a good reminder for those of us who play football. But it's a more important reminder about the consequences of heading the wrong direction, of being confused about your goal.
Just like in football, if we're confused about the goal, our life will be spent going in the wrong direction.
To pursue the prize, you have to be able to recognize the prize.
Turn with me this morning to Philippians 3 (page 981).
This morning we begin a new three-part series entitled "Victory!" Everybody loves to win, and everyone wants to win in life, to be successful in one way or another. But over the next three weeks we need to ask and answer the question, "What is true victory? What is the ultimate prize? What does it mean to win in this thing we call life?"
II. The Passage: Recognizing the Prize (3:14)
This morning I'd like to listen to how the Apostle Paul answers that question.
Look at what Paul writes in verse 14 of chapter 3 about THE prize:
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Did you notice the athletic imagery in that verse? The opening words of that verse in the original Greek in which Paul wrote, the first words are "according to the goal" or more accurately, according to the "goal-marker".
In ancient foot races, the goal-marker was a post off to the side of the track that marked the finish line. When runners saw it, they were able to know how far they were from victory.
The word Paul uses here for prize, brabeion, is also an athletic term. In ancient Greek culture, the winner's prize was typically some kind of crown, made from either olive branches or celery, or pine needles. The winner might also be awarded with a statue of themselves, a poem, or even money.
Certainly when Paul used this word, his readers would have pictured something like this. What do you picture when you hear the word "prize"? But the real question we need to ask here is what does Paul mean when he talks about "the prize"? That's what we're trying to figure out, isn't it.
Now at first glance, it looks as if Paul has defined the prize that He is pursuing right here in the verse. It is the "prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus". Isn't the prize this "upward call"?
Well, in most cases when Paul uses this word "call", it is referring to God's call to new life that takes place when someone becomes a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ. It doesn't typically refer to something that happens later.
So I think the best way to understand the idea here is that the "prize" Paul mentions here is not the call itself, it is what we are called to by God in Christ Jesus. It is not the prize related to any athletic calling. It is the prize related to a heavenly calling.
The NIV translation captures this. It read, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
But that still leaves us with the question, what is this prize?
Well let's think about how the context of this verse can help us identify the prize.
Well if we move two verses back we read this (v. 12):
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
There's that same phrase, "I press on". But again, we have general terms like "this" or "it".
We need to go back even earlier in this passage to get a sense of what Paul is pursuing. In verse 8 we read this:
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
The "prize" seems clear in this passage, doesn't it? What does Paul want to gain in verse 8? Christ! What has "surpassing worth" in verse 8? "Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" "...that I may know him" (v. 10).
This is the prize for which Paul has been called with a heavenly calling. He has been called to know Jesus Christ.
But as we see here, this knowledge is not simply what we might call "head knowledge". Paul wants to know Jesus AND or we could say IN "the power of his resurrection", which in turn will involve sharing in "his sufferings" and "becoming like him in his death".
Now even though Paul's faith might lead to physical suffering and possibly death as a martyr, the sufferings and death he mentions here are spiritual realities. If we hope to have new life in Christ, we must first die to our old life. If we want to live each day for him, we must first die each day to ourselves.
So the prize that Paul is pressing on to obtain is that life-transforming knowledge of Jesus Christ in the everyday. It is knowledge gained, yes, through learning, but also through living, and losing, and loving. It is knowing Christ in the everyday.
III. Why We Should Prize this Prize
Is this the prize that you are pursuing? Should it be? Maybe Paul is just talking about his personal preferences here. Maybe he's saying that he is really into Jesus Christ like some people are really into Star Trek or antiques or baseball cards.
Is knowing Jesus Christ really the ultimate prize for all people everywhere? Is knowing Christ in a life-transforming way really the essence of true victory? Is this what it means to win in this thing we call existence?
If we put those questions to Paul, he would undoubtedly say, "Yes. That's exactly what is it."
But why would he say that? Why should we prize this prize?
You know, all of us know, that there are many prizes competing for our pursuit. For a lot of people the prize is simply to be happy. "I just want to be happy. Shouldn't I be happy? What if I'm not happy? Well, if it makes you happy."
In fact, "the pursuit of happiness" is part of our American heritage.
For others, the prize is reputation and respect. For still others, the prize that they press on to obtain is physical pleasure, or power, or wealth, or just a comfortable life.
And not surprisingly, but sadly, there are many Christians who are pursuing these things in the name of Jesus Christ; who believe that such things are evidence of real spiritual victory or victorious living.
But none of these can compare to knowing Jesus in the everyday. Why? Because...
Jesus is the One "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:3)
Because Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15)
Because Jesus is the One who "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (II Corinthians 8:9)
Because Jesus is the One who has been given "the name that is above every name". (Philippians 2:9)
Because Jesus is the One who "loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)
Because Jesus is "the way, and the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)
As the 18th century American preacher, Jonathan Edwards put it, Whatsoever there is or can be desirable in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired.
In commenting on Colossians 2:3, the French pastor John Calvin wrote that this verse means "we are perfect in wisdom if we truly know Christ, so that it is madness to wish to know anything besides Him."
The writer Oswald Chambers wrote that "The dearest friend on earth is a mere shadow compared to Jesus Christ."
If forgiveness from God, transformation, meaning, joy, peace, hope and love are only found in Jesus, then how could we settle for anything less. This is what all of us are searching for, even though we so often look in all of the wrong places.
This is why we should prize this prize.
Is this is prize that you've been pursuing this past week? Have you been pressing on toward the goal? If you're like me, then you have to admit that your racing, your pursuing, this past week was not always according to the goal-marker.
But why not? Why do we so often struggle if the value of Jesus Christ is clearly so much greater than anything else in this life?
IV. The Temptation of Trophies
Well, look at what our context tells us about Paul's own struggles. In talking about what the false Jewish teachers valued, the false teachers that Paul was contending with, Paul writes at the end of Philippians 3:4...
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.
You see, Paul used to live his life pursuing a different prize. It was the prize of self-confidence. He pressed on toward the goal for the prize of being successful, of noteworthy achievement, of personal pride, of being in control.
And as we just read, he had a lot to be proud of, didn't he. "A Hebrew of Hebrews...under the law, blameless..." These were things to live for, to build on. Without a doubt, Paul had some great trophies for his trophy case. But living for these trophies was the temptation.
But isn't this where all of us are apart from God's grace? Aren't all of us like Roy Riegels? In turning away from God, all of us fail to recognize the right goal, and thus we fail to go the right way.
We are always tempted to place our confidence in our own flesh and press on toward the goal of doing or becoming someone of surpassing worth in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. Like Roy Riegels we run hard, but in the wrong direction. And like that 1929 Rose Bowl, the consequences can be disastrous.
What prize are you pursuing? What prize is the focus of your time, talents, and treasure?
But if we recognize that true victory means knowing Jesus Christ in the everyday, what can we do in the face of these temptations to go the wrong way? Well, look at what Paul tells us he did in light of God's upward call. Verse 7:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-
And a down in verse 12 he writes...
12 Not that I have already obtained this [this what? This fuller knowledge of Jesus in the everyday...this spiritual maturity that deepens as we know Christ] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: [listen to this race imagery!] forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Do you see what Paul is doing here in light of God's upward call, in light of the prize of knowing Christ in the everyday? He is putting who he was, he is putting what he did, he putting what he once valued in its proper place in light of Jesus Christ.
Compared to Jesus, everything else can be considered worthless, like dung or rubbish as Paul describes in verse 8. Look, Paul's focus here is not everything else; he's not trying to have a debate about the merits of this or that advantage or achievement or attitude. No he is trying to lift up the prize. He is trying to point out the incomparable value of the prize, next to which, everything else looks like junk.
Have you put everything else in your life in its proper place in light of Jesus?
Oftentimes, insurance companies will have you make out a list of your most valuable possessions, just in case of something like a fire or robbery. But I would encourage you to do that right now, in your own mind. What are your most valuable possessions?
But here's an even greater question...Where is Jesus Christ on that list of valuables?
Have you counted your gain as loss in light of Christ? How different would your life look if the prize you are pursuing was the same prize Paul describes?
The Valley of the Sun is abuzz with talk about victory. The Mercury just won a championship. The Diamondbacks are heading to the national league finals. The Suns, in a few weeks, will once again have their eyes on the prize. And the Cardinals, well...we won't go there.
And in the midst of the fervor, thousands and thousands of people have and will spend of lot of time and money, they will scream until their horse, they will become emotionally invested, many will, dare I say, neglect more important things in order to vicariously pursue the prize through their favorite team.
But this morning, God is reminding us about true victory, isn't He? About a victory that will last, not for a year until the next team wins it all. No, God's victory will last forever and ever.
True victory is knowing Jesus Christ in the everyday? Recognizing the real prize is where it all begins. Next week, we will talk more about what it means to run this race, but let's pray now, together, and ask God to eyes to see the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.