Last week I lost a friend. All funerals are sad, but this one was especially tragic. He was young (only 37-years-old), the father of young children, and had been entangled in the suffocating web of alcoholism. The despair that led to his death was especially powerful for me because this Fall our church is launching a Celebrate Recovery ministry. I have sensed the Spirit moving in the start of this ministry, but felt the weight of its importance as I sat through the funeral.
As we all tried to navigate meaning from this tragedy, I continued to go back to Philippians 3. The Apostle Paul models some very important things in this passage. Even though Paul was imprisoned and abused in his life, he still had the perspective to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). There were moments he suffered greatly, but he embraced it as an opportunity to “gain Christ” (3:8).
Philippians 3:12-14 gives us some needed insight on how to overcome our pain and sufferings. It reads, “(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. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: 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.”
First, like Paul, our goal should be the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Our hope for happiness is not in the circumstances of this world. Our hope for happiness is being with Jesus and looking increasingly more like Jesus.
Second, like Paul, none of us “have already obtained this” nor are “already perfect.” No one at our new church is perfect like Jesus. The more they get to know me as their pastor the more they see moments when I am not like Jesus.
But, third, is what we need to hold onto. Paul also explains how Christians live in this tension of not being like Jesus, yet having a hope to be like him. We have a tension of not being with him in perfect joy yet, but having a hope that we will some day. Paul explains how he did it and thus gives us what we need to hear. The Word of the Lord tells us to go about our days “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
The past can be dangerous. The past can entangle. The past can reach up and choke out our lives. The past can be like Darth Vader hands reaching up to choke us. The past can destroy the present. Friends, hear me, I am someone who has made real mistakes in the past. If you have blown it in the past, you are in good company. We don’t need to make light of the past, but we MUST fight against letting the past strangle our present lives.
Our present task is to struggle toward Christ. It is never too late to start. It is never too late to say I have made a mess of things and I want to now struggle toward a new hope, I want to press toward Christ. Some of us have heard wrong voices or had faulty expectations. We think that this present life is going to be without struggles. We think that if we are faithful then we won’t have failings or difficult circumstances. Don’t mean to be too harsh, but you and I are not as faithful as Paul and he had extreme struggles that the average American Christian will never face. As Christians, we should expect struggles. Then, we should remember that our prize is not health, wealth, or prosperity. We should remember our prize is Christ. We should resolve to struggle toward him, because he is where our joy will be found.
This passage is especially important when we feel like we are between a rock and a hard place. Pressing toward Christ is the really the only happy joyful way out. I promise you he is where happiness and freedom are found. Even in your struggle, do you believe Christ is your prize?