Philippians 3: 12 - 14
“Worry has become part of our culture. You could write on countless gravestones the epitaph: ‘Hurried, Worried, Buried.’”
Newspaper article begins with these ominous words:
“The dawn of a new year is usually a time of hope and ambition, of dreams for the future and thoughts of a better life. But it is a long time since many of us looked forward to the new year with such anxiety, even dread.” The article mentions the possible collapse of the Euro, trouble in the Middle East, the rise of China, and the possibility of further global recession.
No wonder we feel shaky and uncertain.
I can’t blame anyone for feeling a bit worried right now. Even though the Bible says “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4: 6), most of us are anxious about something. One writer called worry “a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind.” Surely that stands as a good description for the fear that grips many hearts around the world. Against the prevailing uncertainty in these early days of 2013, we have a clear reminder from our Lord in Matthew 6: 27, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Think about it. Can you add an hour to your life by your worry? No, but your worry may actually shorten your life by causing so much stress that your health breaks down. Jesus gave us this practical admonition that seems well-suited for these days: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6: 34). You’ve got plenty of trouble right now. Why borrow trouble from tomorrow?
There are at least 7 reasons why worry is counterproductive: It wastes time that could be spent in better ways. It focuses on the problem, not the solution. It causes us to assume responsibility that belongs only to God. It paralyzes us with fear. It saps our joy. It drains our energy. It keeps us sidetracked when we could be doing God’s will.
If we want to get off to a good start this year, we need to begin in the right place. Our text helps us at the level of personal motivation by revealing the heart of our faith. It begins with a very frank admission.
1. A Humble Evaluation v. 12a
There is a refreshing honesty about these words. If anyone had reason to brag about his accomplishments, you would think it would be the Apostle Paul. But he doesn’t do that. Despite having met the Lord on the Damascus Road, despite having preached across the eastern Mediterranean region, despite being an apostle called by God, despite writing letters inspired by the Holy Spirit, despite all that he had endured, he does not brag about anything he has said or done. None of that matters to him.
He knows that he is a sinner saved by grace. In another place he even calls himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Despite all that he had done, he makes no claim of being perfect or having arrived in his own spiritual journey. There is no perfection in this life.
That fact is hard for some people to grasp. Whenever we face a difficulty in life, we must begin by saying, “It is what it is.”That’s not easy to do. Often we would rather play games, make excuses, cover up, pretend, ignore the obvious and live in fantasy land.
You can’t get better until you come to grips with reality. “It is what it is.” It’s hard to admit your marriage is in trouble. It’s hard to admit your career is on the rocks. It’s hard to admit your dreams are smashed. It’s hard to admit your children are struggling. It’s hard to admit you’re broke. It’s hard to admit you have a problem with alcohol. It’s hard to admit you’ve got a critical spirit. It’s hard to admit you’re filled with anger.
But there is no getting better until you say, “It is what it is.” First we begin by saying, “It is what it is.” And then by God’s grace we move on from there.
Notice that Paul plainly says, “I have not yet obtained.” “I do not claim that I have already succeeded.” Phillips - “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’, spiritually.” That’s always a danger, especially for those who have been Christians for a long time. It’s easy to become such a “professional Christian” that you look down your nose at the struggles of others and go, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like that man.” It’s easy to become insensitive to sin because you think you are above it. Were it not for grace, none of us could ever stand before the Lord.
A good thought to start the year . . . I’m not as strong or as wise as I think I am, but God is stronger and wiser than I can imagine. In our better moments we know the truth about ourselves: We’re not as smart as we think we are. We’re not as clever as we think we are. We’re not as wise as we think we are. We’re not as good as we think we are. We’re not as strong as we think we are. The only thing that keeps us going is this. Jesus is a wonderful Saviour and He is everything we are not.
He is strong. He is wise. He is good. He is holy. He is righteous. He is loving. He is merciful. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is all these things all the time far more than we can imagine.
2. A Holy Aspiration v. 12b
Pause for a moment over that phrase: “Christ Jesus took hold of me." The whole Christian life can be found in those 6 words. Christ found me. Christ saved me. Christ has a purpose for my life.
The supreme purpose of my life is to discover his purpose for me! 1. It takes a lifetime. 2. It involves hard work and concentration (I press on....). 3. It leads to progressive growth in grace. 4. It develops the character of Christ in me.
3. A Hearty Determination v. 13
Note the fierce concentration implicit in the words “one thing I do.” Here is a secret that applies across the board. To excel in any area of life, a person must say, “This one thing I do,” not “These 20 things I do.” A single-minded focus in any endeavour generally wins a great reward.
A great artist must say, “One thing I do.” A gifted teacher must say, “One thing I do.” A championship athlete must say, “One thing I do.” A single parent raising her child must say, “One thing I do.” A student who wants to graduate with honours must say, “One thing I do.”
Greatness in any arena comes to those who can say, “One thing I do.” In Paul’s case, it meant looking to the heavenly goal of winning the prize. That phrase covers all that God has for us when we finally stand before Jesus Christ and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord."
Most of us would rather say, “Many things I do” and it would be true because we are fragmented people. But Paul (who was the consummate man of action) could truthfully say, “One thing I do.”
Perhaps it would be good for each of us to look in the mirror and ask, “Do you know what you are doing?” We’re all good at making lists. I’m rather good at it myself. I can make a list as long as my arm and then trick myself into thinking that my list equals my life. Or I can think that as long as I’ve got a list, I’ve got a clear purpose. But it’s not true. A list without a purpose is just a list. It keeps me busy (or at least looking busy) but what good is a list without a larger purpose?
Paul clarifies his purpose with 2 key phrases:
A. Forgetting what lies behind.
Surely this is a good word for a new year. What are we to forget? Our worries. Our fears. Our failures. Our victories. Our defeats. The attacks of our enemies. The praise of our friends.
Let us lay aside even the accomplishments of the past year, our claim to fame, our name in the lights, the good things we think we have done, the stuff we do to make the world glad that we get out of bed in the morning, all the things we brag about, all the medals and honours and all the awards.
Rugby coach - “Last year means nothing.” How right they are. If we lost, it means nothing. If we won the Currie Cup, it means nothing. Whatever happened in 2012, you’ve got to let it go. We need “holy amnesia” about our victories and our defeats.That strikes me as entirely biblical. As long as we’re looking back, we can’t move forward.
B. Pressing on to what lies ahead.
When Dr. David Livingstone returned from Africa to England, he was asked, “Where are you ready to go next?” “I am ready to go anywhere,” he replied, “provided it be forward.” This must be the attitude of the child of God every single day. “Lord, I am ready to go wherever you lead, no matter where that takes me.” So many of us make our list and say, “Lord, if you don’t mind, I’m busy today so could you just initial this at the bottom, and I won’t bother you anymore.” But that’s not how it works. When people ask about the “secret” of God’s will, it begins in the morning when you say, “Lord, let me take the next step with you today."
4. A Heavenly Inclination v. 14
In the spiritual life, direction makes all the difference. True believers aren’t in heaven yet, but they aim their steps in that direction. In Paul’s case that involved both a sanctified forgetting and a resolute pushing forward.
Paul said, “I haven’t arrived yet, but I’m still climbing!” If he were here today, he would say, “Press on!!!!” It’s not enough to start well. You also have to end well. Someone has said that the chief problem of the church today is that we have too many “amateur Christians.” I think he meant that we have too many who just dabble at their faith. They are like the man who jumped on his horse and rode furiously in all directions.
Let me pose three questions for you to consider: 1. What is the goal of your life? 2. Why do you get up in the morning? 3. Why are you still here?
No one can say with certainty what the New Year will bring or if we will even be here 12 months from now. But that thought should not alarm us in any way. To all our worries the Lord says quite simply:"Fear not.”
Will things get worse? Fear not. Will I lose my health? Fear not. Will I get cancer? Fear not. Will I keep my job? Fear not. Will my loved ones undergo hardship? Fear not. Will my investments collapse? Fear not. Will I run out of money this year? Fear not. Will tragedy strike in my family? Fear not. Will my children disappointment me? Fear not. Will others ridicule my faith? Fear not. Will my cherished plans come to nothing? Fear not. Will my dreams turn to ashes? Fear not. Will I face death this year? Fear not.
We of all people ought to be optimistic as we face a new year. We have a great future because we have a great God.
So put a smile on your face. Take your troubles, wrap them up and give them all to the Lord.
When we look at the world economy teetering on the brink of collapse, there are reasons for all of us to be concerned. But is it any worse for us than it was for the Apostle Paul in the 1st century? Living under a pagan Roman emperor whose values were far from Christian, Paul nevertheless found many reasons to press on for Jesus.
So we launch out with great faith into the New Year. We’ll have our share of hard times, but overriding it all is the promise of God who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Lift up your head. Be of good cheer. The Lord is with you. Fear not and Press on!