Originally published in “The Voice of Truth” Autumn 2000 Edition in Chinese
written by Stephen Chan (Translated by Cathy Leung & Siong Ng)
“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. 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.”
Most people would not usually admit their complacency. Deep down, most of us probably have a feeling of satisfaction in our abilities or achievements. Regardless of our feeling about ourselves, Apostle Paul’s reminder about attitude in this passage is for us all:
Some people may belittle themselves and simply give up; some may be conceited and become boastful. These two verses teach us the right attitude so that we are encouraged to move ahead humbly
１. “Not that I have already obtained all this”
Paul did not show any complacency despite all the successes he experienced spiritually and in his ministry. He was not content as he said, “Not that I have already obtained all this …”. As compared, some Christians gradually become complacent once they are spiritually blessed, which would eventually lead to pride and stagnation in their growth. Paul did not dwell in his past success, but continued to strive for the goal ahead.
What successes did Paul achieve at that time? The Book of Philippians was written during his 4th missionary journey after he was imprisoned in Rome. Since his conversion, he had already completed 3 missionary journeys and established many churches throughout Asia Minor. His 1st missionary journey covered many cities in the south Galatia area, (see Acts Chapter 13 - 14). He was rejected, stoned, and forced to flee in that missionary journey. But the gospel message took roots and blossomed in light of his persecutions. In his 2nd missionary journey in the Macedonia region, he healed a female slave bound by a spirit in Philippi. He was treated unjustly , severely flogged, thrown into prison with his feet fastened in the stocks. Despite suffering these bodily wounds, he was able to establish the church in Philippi, as well as the churches in Thessalonica and Corinth, south of Greece. These were truly significant achievements for his ministry!
Spiritually, Paul experienced being brought to the third heaven. He heard inexpressible things in heaven, things that no one was permitted to tell. No one in the Bible had such an experience except Paul. He also reached the spiritual status of “To live is Christ and to die is gain”. Paul never became boastful and proud even with these extraordinary experiences and achievements. Perhaps our line of sight is so narrow and our capacity is so shallow; we so easily become proud or complacent on small achievements that God has granted us. We need to be like Paul, not stagnating but continue to pursue deeper and greater goals; to be molded by God to become His valuable vessels!
2. “To take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”
An alternate translation for this phrase is : “….that for which Christ Jesus wants me to took hold of.” These are our goals: (1) To pursue everything that Christ has got hold of me, (2) To pursue what Christ wants me to get hold of. To pursue these goals, we must follow God’s will, not our own desire so that we are not easily satisfied and become complacent with our minor accomplishments.
3. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”
We will be discouraged if we cannot move past our failures. We will be proud if we continue to dwell in our past successes. Dwelling in past failures or successes would hinder us from striving forward. Our past success can certainly provide comfort and encouragement. If we just linger and remain at this stage, we would be like a soldier who only fought and won a single battle, then stopped having other battle experience. We cannot please God if we act like this. We need to know what to forget and what to remember. We should forget the past injustices but remember God’s grace showered upon us; forget how we are being despised but remember how God sustained us through our difficulties; forget how the arrogants looked down upon us but remember how precious we are in God’s sight. In doing so, we will have the courage to face what is ahead.
4. “ … press on toward the goal”
Pressing forward does not mean we would make progress. Why? Of course, standing still will not give us any progress. Then, why won’t running forward result in progress? We can be running in the wrong direction or we can be running in circles; neither will make any progress. We cannot just run aimlessly. In order to make progress, we need to have a goal to run toward.
The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years. They spent the whole time circling around! Paul ran and pressed toward the goal. He said,” Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” . An athlete cannot be distracted by the applause or booing from the spectators. He needs to set his sight on the final destination - he will get his prize only if he finishes the race.
5. What is Paul’s goal?
Paul said,” … to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” The Heavenly Father had laid the prize for Paul, who knew His Father would reward him, so he spent his life striving toward the goal. At the time of his martyrdom, he said confidently, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”
What an amazing testimony from Paul! A soldier of Christ when facing death expressed his triumph from within his heart and soul! What motivated Paul to endure all the sufferings and prosecutions? It is absolutely not for vanity but for pleasing God. (Gal 1:10). Paul understood his Heavenly Father’s will, the will of the Father looking to reward His children.
The verse of Apostle Paul wrote prior to his martyrdom, “there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
All who have longed for his appearance are those who long for His Glorious Coming, that is the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23)，and the day when “…… each be rewarded according to their own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8)
Ten years have elapsed for our church. Is our love for God more or less? Is our thought more united or still segregated? Are we more teachable or remain as self-centered? Seeking God’s will or pursuing our own will? Are we loving one another or distrusting? Pleasing God or pleasing man? Trusting in God or relying on human wisdom?
Let us follow Paul as our role model, commit ourselves to please God, and strive toward the goal. Our Heavenly Father looks forward to rewarding us with His crown the same way He rewarded Paul.
Worship in the Fireside Room
Rev Stephen Chan (1924-2010)
Was Senior Pastor in 1990-1993
Volunteer Senior Pastor in 1993-1995