In the previous chapter, Paul wrote about Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were good examples of his teaching regarding selflessness. Here in Philippians 3, Paul writes about bad examples, those who add works to salvation, putting confidence in oneself. Paul describes these religious Pharisees as evil dogs, quite harsh! Yet, what bigger lie could there be? If we could attain righteousness in ourselves, then why did Christ die for our sins?
Confidence is an essential attribute in competitive sports, for, without it, one will give up during times of adversity. In the running, confidence will give you the boost of adrenaline needed to run hard even when tired. Yet, in the race of life, self-confidence will be your end. Paul had every reason to boast, especially in comparison to the religious Pharisees who he was addressing. He could easily relate with them, for he was once one of them, for just as they persecuted the church, he once persecuted the church, even to the point of murder. But, in verses 7-9, he states he now counts his accomplishments as worthless garbage, he no longer depends on his righteousness, His confidence comes in the form of the righteousness of Christ.
To advance the kingdom of God, we must discard our past, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It may be easy to let go of the things we regret and want to forget about, but how about the things we are proud of, like our accomplishments and earthly possessions? These can be giant stumbling blocks than the big sins we committed. If we desire, like Paul states in verses 10-11, “to know Christ and the mighty power that raised him from the dead, even suffer with him, sharing in his death, experiencing the resurrection from the dead,” we must surrender all! All means everything. Experiencing Resurrection power can only come by death. Resurrection power is not just for the afterlife but in the here and now. At the front of the race in advancing the kingdom of God are those to whom the King has the most domain.
Another vital attribute in competitive sports is the innate ability to press on through suffering and pain. Many are those “who when the going get’s tough don’t get going but rather give up.” The Lord did not promise that life would be easy for those that follow Him. He made it clear that His disciples will suffer. Paul rejoiced in suffering; why? For he knew it was necessary to conform him into the image of the Son. James chapter 1 tells us when facing tests and trials to count it all joy, for through it we gain endurance, leading to perfection. Paul, in verse 12, says, “I have not already reached perfection, but I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” If Paul had reached perfection like Enoch, he would no longer be present; he’d be in the air. Enoch gained perfection through continual fellowship; Jesus was made perfect through obedience.
It is how we respond when we are tired that reveals our level of maturity. Most people are at their worst when they are tired, Isaiah 40:29-31 tells us, to “wait on the Lord, and He will renew our strength, then we will run and not go weary, and walk and not faint.” When we are tired, we wait; it doesn’t mean we stop; instead, we serve the Lord. Waiting is serving! The Lord imparts strength to those who serve Him. To serve the Lord is to give Him what He desires; intimacy! Like Paul said in verse 10, “I just want to know Him!” Pressing doesn’t mean striving harder; it means yielding more! Spiritually, waiting and running do not oppose each other but are needed together. We wait on the Lord, gain strength and instructions, and then we run with God’s Word to perform it.
The goal of the race is Christlikeness; it is the prize that we earn, not by our works but His work in us. Many things can distract us and cause us to stumble and fall, but just because we get knocked down does not mean we are out. As long as we learn in every situation, we’ve gained something. Runners are to look forward, for one can not run unless both feet move ahead; if we have baggage from our past, we are stuck there. If we are serious about winning in life, we must forget those things that once beset us and press on.