The Truth about Fellowship: Unity in Diversity

Reading: Philippians 4:1-9 | Preaching Text: Philippians 4:1-3


We enter the final chapter of Philippians today, and it is filled with spiritual treasures.

True fellowship is exclusively available to those who are believers. It is made possible only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

When real fellowship is experienced it is a foretaste of heaven. Believers living in harmony, mutual edification, deep worship, loving exhortation, humble reconciliation, and spurring one another on to greater sanctification is more precious than anything this world affords.

A church that is unified in love and doctrine can set the world on fire. Similarly, a church that is marked by conflict and division will impact the world negatively and severely hinder attempts to reach people with the gospel.

Acts 2-5 traces the origin of the early church. In these chapters we find believers meeting together daily, devoting themselves to Scripture, fellowship, the Lord’s Table, and even selling houses and lands for the benefit of the entire Body of Christ. However, Acts 6 begins with a complaint from the Greek speaking Jews who felt they were being unfairly treated.

In this example we observe how quickly issues can arise, and how important it is that the church as a whole exercise their commitment to true fellowship, dealing with differences, offences and conflict.

It is an utter inconsistency for those who are “in the Lord” to be at variance with one another. Christ does not permit it; the apostles would not allow it; and we must not legitimise it either.

In this sermon we are introduced to the kind of fellowship that Paul expressed, an important instruction he gave to the Philippian church, and his plea for unity in the midst of a broken relationship.

Join me as I preach a message entitled: The Truth about Fellowship: Unity in Diversity.

Fellowship Expressed

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” Philippians 4:1

Consider the change that grace wrought in Paul’s life. In Acts 9:1 Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord! Now consider his attitude toward Christians!

When the grace of God enters the soul of man, that individual will never again be the same. The sinner becomes a saint. The haughty become humble. The persecutor becomes the peace-maker. The murderer becomes a minister. The hater becomes a healer. The fiendish becomes the friendly. This alone is a work of God in the soul of man. Such is unmistakably seen in the life of Paul the Apostle.

Take note of the endearing terms used in this first verse: “brothers, love, long for, joy, crown, beloved.”

I’ve organised this verse into five small compartments which should help us to appreciate how fellowship is expressed.

  1. Spiritual Connection
    1. “Brothers” (not males, but brethren).
    2. The church is not a club. It is the household of faith. A living organism.
    3. Our “connection” is not based upon personalities, hobbies, ethnicity. Our fellowship rests entirely upon Christ and the salvation He has brought to us.
  2. Tender Affection
    1. “Whom I love” – A derivative of “Agape” which speaks of divine love. Not based upon appearance, commonality, loveliness, but dependent on the Spirit of God who pours out heavenly love into our hearts.
    2. “And long for” – Literally “yearned for”. This is the only time this word (in this form) is used in the Bible. Paul earnestly desires to be reunited with these believers.
    3. “My beloved” – Same as “whom I love” but repeated to emphasise his deep affection.
    4. Paul uses this word for “beloved” 27 times throughout his writings to describe the church! How he loved, cherished, and tenderly cared for the church.
  3. Present Joy
    1. “My joy” – Paul’s fellow-believers were a great source of joy. Knowing the reality of their faith and commitment to the gospel provided present comfort and peace.
    2. In writing to Thessalonica:For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? (1 Thess.2:19)
    3. Again Paul writes:For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God” (1 Thess.3:9)
  4. Future Reward
    1. “Crown” – There are a number of different Greek words for crown. This particular word (“stephanos”) is the victor’s crown for winning the race. It stands in contrast to the “diadema” which is the king’s crown.
    2. The Philippians were Paul’s trophy. His future reward, and the fruit of his ministry.
  5. Exhortation
    1. “Stand firm thus in the Lord” – This is not a suggestion, it is an imperative – a command.
    2. Paul does not operate as some dictator who barks out orders, he lovingly issues a command with the authority of heaven.

True fellowship involves each of these components: a real connection through Christ; tender affection made possible through the Spirit; present joy through unified faith and service; evangelism and discipleship which produces eternal fruit; and loving exhortation and instruction which finds its source in divine truth.

Steadfastness Instructed

“Stand firm thus in the Lord.” Philippians 4:1

To “stand firm” is to “keep one’s footing, persevere, to be unmoved.”

It is precisely the same word used in Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

The Christian is NEVER to stand still in relation to growth and service, but ever to stand fast as to faith, hope, love and the gospel!

What should the believer stand firm in?

They were to moor their spiritual lives to the unchanging truths of the gospel. Though there were many “enemies of the cross” (3:18) who would seek their destruction, they were to remember their “citizenship in heaven”, their glorious future, and the reality of the resurrection (3:20-21).

Paul’s command was simple: DO NOT DEFECT; do not turn to the left or the right; stay the course; Run the race; Persevere in the fight of faith.

The Bible is replete with commands to remain steadfast, and there are many promises made to those who endure.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

Revelation 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Since a glorious future awaits the believer (3:20-21), let us press on and remain steadfast until He returns.

Unity in Diversity

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:2-3

Let me begin this third point with a shocking statement. Are you ready for this….?

The church is not inoculated from disagreements, disunity and dissent! All Christians are humans and like families, have tussles. Believers are still living in the flesh, and where people are involved, there will be problems.

James wrote:What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1).

One thing that we can all be assured of is that pride will always be at the centre of disunity.

King Solomon wrote:By insolence [pride] comes nothing but strife…” (Proverbs 13:10).

Even the blessed church of Philippi had problems with disunity.

Paul introduces us to two individuals in that local church: “Euodia (not Euodias) and Syntyche”.

All that we know of these individuals is found in these two verses.

Let’s get the facts straight first:

  1. Pronunciation: “You-o-dear” and “Sin-ti-chee” – It is a little humorous that at the centre of this conflict is “sin” and “o dear”!
  2. These were two women at variance with each other in the church at Philippi – Some believed that they were husband and wife, but the Scripture plainly says: “help these women”.
  3. The issue(s) that existed between these women was public enough for Paul to be made aware of it in a Roman prison, and the impact was serious enough for him to include it in this epistle.
  4. The word “entreat” is used twice indicating Paul’s STRONG desire for reconciliation to take place.
  5. Paul does not join sides in this issue, but simply pleads for their unity.
  6. Paul enlists the help of an unnamed individual to assist as a mediator between these women in the Philippian church (“true companion” v.3).
  7. Both of these women have worked alongside the apostle in gospel ministry in the past.
  8. Paul calls upon these women to “agree in the Lord” not necessarily agree in every sense!
  9. Both of these women are believers and named among others who are written in the Book of Life.

That gives us the facts. Now let me throw in some possibilities and implications:

  1. Euodia and Syntyche had some significance in the Philippian church and were likely deaconesses.
  2. The issues that exist were probably not doctrinal because Paul gives no specific instruction as he does on many other occasions. It is also hard to believe Paul would beg for unity when serious doctrinal issues exist. Although I cannot be sure, it is my contention that this was a “personality issue” which resulted in serious, ongoing conflict in the church.
  3. The issue between these women is probably not as big as the impact that their broken relationship has had on the church.

It is an
utter inconsistency for those who are “in the Lord” to be at variance. Although this occurs, it must not be sustained.

The desire for unity in the church is not only a Pauline notion.

Jesus prayed for unity in His church:

“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)

Peter encouraged unity in the church:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)

Paul appealed for unity in the church:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Cor.1:10)

David knew the Value of Unity:

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Biblical Illustrations of Reconciliation or an Attitude of Forgiveness:

1. Jacob and Esau – Jacob had deceived his father into giving him the blessing which was rightfully Esaus. He also operated as an opportunist and convinced his brother to sell his birthright.

Esau had every reason to hate his brother and even exact vengeance on him in the form of death. However, instead of operating with this attitude, Genesis 33:4 says, “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

2. Joseph and his brethrenThey sold him into slavery. He was left in a prison for years. When God allowed their paths to cross, Joseph did not exact revenge on them. Genesis 45:15 says, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”.

3. Jesus at the crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

4. Stephen at his death – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).


Disagreements, conflicts, hurts and offences are part of life and as a church we have and will continue to experience them. To help us work through these matters, I have produced a few questions and comments for us to consider.

Question 1

Is there a brother or sister in the Lord from whom you are estranged? I’m not asking whose at fault! I am asking whether an issue exists.

Remember, it is NEVER ok for disunity to exists between brethren.

Question 2

Am I willing to initiate reconciliation despite where the fault lies and regardless of how I think the other party will respond?

In other words, will I humble myself and be obedient to the command of Christ to be unified with the brethren?

Question 3

Can I absorb this issue in love and relegate it to the category of trivial without it having any impact on the relationship?

This requires honesty and a searching of the heart. Lots of people say “I’ll just cover this issue in love, but never do!

Question 4

If I say nothing, will this issue have ongoing repercussions to our fellowship? Grudges, bitterness, critical spirit, etc.

Question 5

Is this a biblical issue or a personality conflict? E.G. a man with long hair vs. clothes that don’t match. E.G. foul language vs. jokes that aren’t funny.

Question 6

Is this issue an offence which needs confrontation according to Matthew 18? Is this sin in the life of a brother or sister as defined by the Scripture?

Question 7

Is this “feelings-based” or fact-based? E.G. “I feel like you don’t like me” etc.

Question 8

Is this issue petty? Does it really matter?

Question 9

Have I prayed and searched my own heart for pride and bitterness? What is my motivation for confronting this person? To help them see how wrong they are?

Question 10

Am I willing to forgive the faults, flaws and offences motivated by Christ’s forgiveness of me (Ephesians 4:32)?

Question 11

Am I willing to suffer injustice and false accusation for the greater cause of unity and the furtherance of the gospel?

Question 12

Post-Reconciliation: Can I worship the Lord alongside the brother or sister with whom I have been reconciled? In other words, have all offences, sins, differences of opinion etc. been absorbed in the love of God?

Dealing with Issues in Practical Terms:

I don’t want to be too prescriptive. Here is a general “cheat-sheet” for restoration and reconciliation and they are all based upon Scripture principles and precepts.

  • Recognise the fragmentation – something is wrong.
    • Maybe a snide comment, an angry glare, or something else.
  • Seek the wisdom of God in prayer and in the Scripture.
    • Do not spring into action, fall on your knees!
  • Consider your ways and determine the state of your soul (inner man).
    • Take inventory of your own spiritual life (check for logs and specks).
  • Begin to identify any relationship breakdowns – find the roots (not the tree).
    • Don’t let your “feelings” govern this aspect!
  • Humbly and lovingly approach the individual.
  • Be swift to hear and slow to anger.
  • Speak the truth in love.
  • Enlist the help of a godly, unbiased mediator.
  • Sincerely seek forgiveness and restoration.
  • Worship together.

Let us be always ready to reconcile. Always ready to work through issues in love and humility. Always concerned with the testimony of Christ in His church. Keeping short accounts with Christ and one another.

Heavenly Citizenship

Reading: Philippians 3:12-21 | Preaching Text: Philippians 3:17-21


In verses 12-16 Paul used an athletics metaphor to encourage the believers at Philippi to press on towards perfection. He himself confessed that he had not attained this in his own life, but was striving and straining towards that spiritual goal. With every muscle and nerve exercised in this spiritual race, and all former failures and successes behind, he reached forward to the final prize of being ushered into the very presence of God, and the perfection that would be his for eternity.

Verses 17-21 are a new paragraph in this chapter. The athletics metaphor is somewhat continued, but Paul now gives specific exhortation.

In this final part of chapter three we learn that the Christian is not a permanent resident, he has only a temporary visa.

The believer should not feel at home in this world because his citizenship is in heaven. Because of this reality, how he lives and what he does will be vastly different from those around him.

Join me as I preach a message entitled: Heavenly Citizenship.

Watch & Imitate the Spiritual

“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17

Although the believer is to be focussed on the finish line, Paul here calls upon the Philippians to imitate his manner of life as they run the race.

This exhortation does not stem from pride or an exaggerated perspective of himself. However, it is a tribute to the apostle’s exemplary life. We often hear the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Not so with the apostle! He could hold up his own life as a model of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to His cause.

The words “imitating me” are one Greek word in the original which is only used in this text. It means to “live as I do, to mimic.”

Practically speaking, this means to think and behave like another.

This is not the first time Paul has said this:

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”.

In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, the apostle applauds the church because they “…became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

John MacArthur writes, “Since all believers are imperfect, they need examples of less imperfect people who know how to deal with imperfection and who can model the process of pursuing the goal of Christlikeness.”

The second part of verse 17 exhorts the believers to “mark out” or “take note” of other believers who are also concerned with living in a godly manner.

The words, “keep your eyes on” is the Greek word “skopeo” (scop-eh-o) which is where we derive the English word “scope”. In shooting terms, this refers to the magnification tool mounted on the top of a gun, providing specific focus and aim.

This is where that metaphor ends. We are not to “shoot one another”, but we are to “take aim” and focus on those whose lives are moving in the direction of Christlikeness.

As believers, we need concrete examples. While it is wrong to place our trust in any man, it is proper and right to look for godly lives to imitate.

Although Paul did not mention any one by name at this point, it is clear from other passages that he endorsed Timothy, Epaphroditus, and other fellow-labourers as examples to follow.


As you run your race are you looking for other believers to imitate? We are usually very quick to criticise, but do we observe spiritual character in others that we might learn and grow from? We need to look around us- both in this local assembly and in others- to identify spiritual fruit that exists in others, and seek to imitate them. This requires humility.

Do some character profiling. Sometimes I “draw a spiritual sketch” of someone who demonstrates godliness to me. I identify their character traits and seek their help in growth and spiritual development.

We are misguided if we think we can do this alone. It is pride that says, “I don’t need anyone else, I can complete this race independently.”

Observing and imitating other believers in their faith and behaviour is a command we must follow. Look for those who love the Lord supremely, witness unashamedly, pray unceasingly, explain God’s truth simply, interact with other graciously, restore the fallen mercifully, work diligently, and run the race faithfully.

Find these ones, mark them, and imitate them.

Watch and Reject the Enemies of the Cross

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).

Sadly, not all who profess Christianity are really believers. This reality is especially hard for the apostle, and brings great grief even as he writes these words. It seems that Paul may have some specific individuals or groups in mind, and that it was very personal to him.

It is very likely that Paul had preached the gospel in some places and that “decisions for Christ were made.” However, the passage of time had demonstrated that these were not the “real-deal”, but false converts who, instead of walking in the truth, now operated as opponents of true Christianity.

The apostle gives four devastating truths about these enemies of the cross:

1. Their end is destruction (v.19)

Simply put, if they continue on their present path, they will be cast into hell at the final judgment. They are those who walk on the broad way and lead others away from the truth of the gospel.

2. Their god is their belly (v.19)

Paul may be alluding here to Greek mythology. A cyclops was a member of a primordial race of giants, each with a single eye in the centre of his forehead. Their god was their own belly which represented self-worship.

Note the following excerpt from “Cyclops” – the Greco-Roman writings:

“My flocks which I sacrifice to no one but myself, and not to the gods, and to this my belly the greatest of the gods: for to eat and drink each day, and to give one’s self no trouble, this is the god for wise men” (“Cyclops,” 334-338).

In this context, the apostle says that these “enemies of the cross” are primarily concerned about themselves and their sensual appetites. These men posed as Christians and yet lived with one goal in mind – self-gratification

3. They glory in their shame (v.19)

They were not prudish or conservative about their sin- they were proud of it. A true believer cannot live in a state of sin without remorse. This is because the Holy Spirit lives within, and He is responsible to bring conviction over sin.

These enemies of the cross boasted of their sinfulness and may have even appealed to their “Christian liberty” as defence for their wicked behaviour.

They gloried in things of which they should have been ashamed.

4. With minds set on earthly things (v.19)

Temporal pleasures, short-term satisfaction, and selfish pursuits marked these evildoers. They were “earthly people” who were unconcerned for eternal matters. Oblivious to the coming destruction, they devoted themselves to their own interests, and enjoyed the pleasures of sin.

They had no interest in eternal matters, nor were they seeking to honour anyone other than themselves. They paid homage to their own fantasies, and would not reject anything that brought them pleasure.


These individuals could talk the talk, but their lives did not marry up with their profession. Paul calls them enemies of the cross. God forbid that we should have in our assembly those who can sprout theology, but whose lives are a sham because they have not truly been born again.

Here are some probing personal questions to consider:

  1. Which path am I on – the broad or narrow way? What is at the end of my course – destruction or paradise?
  2. What am I living for – myself and my own sinful desires, or God and His purpose?
  3. Do I glory in my sin? Am I ashamed by the deeds of my flesh or do I enjoy them without remorse?
  4. Where does my mind reside – only on earthly, flesh-centered thoughts, or is my mind occupied with truth and that which corresponds with God?


Our Heavenly Citizenship

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21)

Before we close, I want to briefly touch on verses 20 and 21. This will be a light skim and we will return here sometime in the future to examine all that is contained in this precious text.

In great contrast to those enemies of the cross, Paul now reminds the true believers that their citizenship is in heaven.

In other words, they are members of a different colony. They hail from a foreign city and commonwealth which operates with vastly different administration, government, civil rights, and laws.

As ambassadors and envoys from that land, the Christian has no business entangling himself with earthly pursuits. He has a specific purpose, and represents the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The believer is a sojourner, foreigner and “alien”. He is not living as a permanent resident, but has a temporary visa.

The apostle Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

The purpose of the Christian’s life on earth is to point others to the coming kingdom while striving for perfection in his own life. He is also eagerly watching and waiting for the return of his master and Saviour.

When Christ returns to call believers home, He will transform the physical body which is ruined by sin and decay, into a new body designed by God to inhabit eternity.

All of this will be accomplished by God’s power which governs and subdues all things.

It is a certain reality.


  • Are you a citizen of heaven?
  • Is your life in alignment with your citizenship?
  • Are you seeking to imitate those who are running the race well?
  • Are you watching and rejecting the enemies of the cross?
  • Do you eagerly await the return of Christ?
  • Do you long for that new heavenly body which has been designed for you?
  • Do you long for the land that is fairer than day?

Running the Race

Reading: Philippians 3:12-21 | Preaching Text: Philippians 3:13-16


The Apostle Paul is an avid sports fan. Although his writings indicate a wide knowledge of athletics, he is particularly fond of the foot races held at the Isthmian Games. On numerous occasions throughout his epistles, Paul likens the Christian life to a race – not a 100m sprint, but a marathon.

His racing metaphors focus on different aspects:

  • Endurance throughout the race.
  • The mental focus during the race.
  • The training for the race – rigorous and disciplined.
  • The prize at the conclusion of the race.
  • The motivation for running well.

A fortnight ago we started to look at Philippians 3:12 which is where Paul introduces one of his racing metaphors.

The phrase “Not that I have already obtained” refers to a runner who has not yet reached the finish line, but is persevering that he might obtain the prize – final perfection.

Similarly the words “I press on” are the present-continuous activity of the disciplined runner who, despite the pain, feelings of fatigue, thirst, and the strained muscles, continues to run because he longs to finish his course and bring glory to the one who recruited him for this race.

Paul had not reached perfection, but he was striving for it. Every fibre of his body and mind was engaged in this grand pursuit.

Paul’s motive for pursuing perfection was that he might fulfil Christ’s purpose in purchasing hi- to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus.

Today I will pick up from verse 13 and preach a message entitled: Running the Race.

Keys to Running the Race

In verses 13-16 Paul outlines 7 keys to running the race. We will cover several today and then look at the rest at a later date.

1. Recognise your Imperfection

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” Philippians 3:13

Continuing with the racing metaphor, Paul reiterates that the race is not over at this point and he has not reached perfection.

Paul had not “arrived” spiritually speaking. He was not under any delusion about his battles with the flesh.

Unlike many “church leaders” today who would have us pay homage to their perfectionism, Paul wanted the churches to know that he was on the journey to perfection, but by no means had attained it.

In Romans 7 we are privy to Paul’s ongoing struggle as a Christian with his own flesh, but we also see that he was not prepared to simply raise the “white flag”, he was doing battle, running hard, because perfection would be realised at end of the race.

Let me suggest that there are three runners in the Christian race:

  1. The self-deluded runner who thinks he has already reached the state of perfection and whose life is now in cruise control. This individual operates with pride and because of this does not realise that he is actually losing ground.
  2. The disoriented runner who is either going the wrong way or is at a stand-still. This individual has likely become discouraged or distracted and is “spinning his wheels” without direction, and in a state of confusion.
  3. The enduring runner who knows his flaws, failings and battles with the flesh, but who is moving forward inch-by-inch, stride-by-stride with the final prize in view.

The apostle is not self-deluded, nor is he disoriented. He is running with purpose, focus and discipline.

How does he do this?

2. Run with a Single Purpose

“But one thing I do…”

Paul had one aim and one ambition. Though his life was filled with difficulties, impediments and opposition, he was largely uncomplicated in his purpose and existence.

The principal part of his life, the primary occupation and that which engrossed all his thoughts, desires, affections, time and labour, was finishing the race well and reaching the goal of perfection.

His primary concern was not the other runners, the state of the track, the spectators, the shortest route, pain management, or even maintaining the pace.


It would seem that too many of us have a multiplicity of primary goals. Our minds are not focussed on one thing, but many, and we are distracted, spiritually absent-minded, and without clear direction.

Perhaps we are absorbed in our work, or making money, building houses or raising a family.

We do not operate with clear definition. Our picture, like a TV with poor reception, is pixelated, hazy, distorted and unclear.

May the Spirit of God would move upon us today to recalibrate our thinking, ambitions and focus.

3. Lose the Baggage

“forgetting what lies behind…”

Again Paul alludes to the Grecian Games. A runner would not stop to look behind him to see how much ground he had covered, or to observe how close others were to him.

The no.1 rule in competitive running is that you must not look behind or beside you. Keep true- look straight ahead, see the finish line and move towards it with every ounce of energy and strength.

Like the runner, the Christian cannot afford to be distracted by what is behind or beside.

Paul is not suggesting that Christians should completely disregard the past and forget every aspect of previous “spiritual laps”, but simply that those are behind and should not directly impact the present endeavours.

There are two aspects of looking behind that will bring distraction and even paralysis to the Christian runner:

  1. Past successes.
  2. Past failures.

Too many Christians are either living in the past or in the future, but God has called us to press on in the present.

Sometimes we can be inclined to run the spiritual race based on past victories. Yesterday’s spiritual success does not guarantee todays victory.

Any attempt to live on the successes of the past will result in failure because we will not be depending upon the strength of the Lord.

John MacArthur: “The believer must refuse to rely on past virtuous deeds and achievements in ministry”

On the flip side, many are trying to run the race paralysed by their past failures. The discouragements, hurts, fears and defeats are being carried into the present and causing immobility, numbness, and powerlessness.

Perhaps we are looking backwards and remembering our unfaithfulness, sinfulness, and coldness.

To be distracted by the past debilitates the believer’s efforts in the present.

What if I am stuck, paralysed, immobile, numb? What if I am wracked by fear, doubt, self-condemnation? How can I move past these feelings?

This is a struggle that I am seeking to work through in my own life at the moment.

The answer (as always) is to return to the truth of God’s Word and His gospel.

  1. In Christ I am set free from the penalty of my sin.
  2. In Christ my sins and failures (past, present and future) have been atoned for.
  3. In Christ I am empowered to live victoriously as I walk in the Spirit.
  4. In Christ I can cast all my cares upon the Lord.
  5. In Christ I have a glorious future which motivates me in my present struggle

4. Strain Forward with the Future in Mind

“and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13

The Greek word here suggests strong exertion. The runner puts every particle of his strength into the task. Every muscle and nerve is exercised. He reaches with hand and foot, and body bent forward.

The picture is of absolute commitment and dedication.

What is it that lies ahead? Glorification, perfection, Christlikeness.

5. Press On Toward the Goal

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

The “goal” or “mark” was the object set up in the distance to which one would look or aim.

The apostle was pursuing the ultimate prize of being ushered into the presence of God (the “upward call”) and the final perfection which would be his for eternity.

6. Operate with Mature Thinking

“Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Philippians 3:15

Those who are truly operating with spiritual maturity will understand and obey Paul’s words because they know that this is their responsibility as a Christian.

The mature recognise their imperfection.

The mature run will single purpose.

The mature have lost the baggage.

The mature are straining forward with the future in mind.

The mature are pressing on toward the goal.

A wonderful truth exists at the end of this verse: “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

There is still hope for the distracted and disoriented Christian runner who is not operating with maturity. God will correct the erroneous thought patterns of those who are weak or immature.

Adam Clarke writes: “If ye have not yet entered into the full spirit and design of this Gospel, if any of you have yet remaining any doubts relative to Jewish ordinances, or their expediency in Christianity, God shall reveal even this unto you; for while you are sincere and upright, God will take care that ye shall have full instruction in these Divine things.”

7. Stay the Proven Course

“Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Philippians 3:16

The truth that brought us thus far in our Christian experience will lead us home.

Here Paul encourages the believers, like he does at other times to, “…continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:14).

The Greek denotes “staying on the same path”.

Kenneth Wuest (Greek Scholar) literally translates this verse as: “so far as we have come, let us keep our lives in the same path.”

Solomon wrote: “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27).

As we draw to a close, let me challenge our thinking with some application:

  • Are you in the Christian race?
  • Do you think you have arrived? Are you resting on your laurels? Or do you recognise your imperfection?
  • Are you running with a single purpose? Or are you disoriented and unfocused?
  • Have you laid aside the baggage from previous laps – the victories and defeats, the successes and the failures?
  • Is every muscle strained in the pursuit of perfection?
  • Are you pressing on? Has you run become a walk? Have you thrown in the towel?
  • Are you operating with mature thinking?
  • Are you staying on the proven track which God has laid out, the one which has already brought you to this point?

Let us press on to perfection as we run this race!