The Olympic Games are coming soon. What a great remained of what we find in Scriptures. Paul, in many of his writings, speaks about being an athlete of God. He talks about being a competitor, about running a race, about finishing well and winning the prize.
In fact, the word for prize in Greek is “athlon” which gave our word athlete. Athletics were greatly valued by the Greeks. The Olympic Games began in Greece 8 centuries before Christ, in Olympus, where every 4 or 8 years athletes competed to gain the prize: a crown in olive wood. This prize had two values: first, every winner received material goods such as cattle or money; second and most importantly, the winners were honored for the rest of their lives, for bringing honor to the city that they represented, and to the god of their city. The athletes who won were those whose gods were the greatest and the most powerful. And this was something which was way more important than the material reward.
And the reason for that was that the Greek culture was one based on honor and shame. Honor, for them, meant everything. And sadly, this is not something that we understand in our culture and day and age. When we look at our modern athletes, it is not their city or their country that they represent, but their sponsors: Nike, Reebok, Puma and Adidas. And none of their sponsors care about honor: what they want is publicity, so that they can make more money. No one runs and wins and say to the medias: “I worked for years and years for this day, so that I could tell everyone how proud I am to be sponsored by Reebok. Long live Reebok!”
Paul was not running for sponsors. He wasn’t running for money. He was running for honor, because he had been given a jersey with the name of Christ on it, and he was proud of it.
Paul was proud, but he was proud in a good way. He was proud of his identity in Christ. He was proud that he could represent the Almighty God. He was proud of his heavenly citizenship and what it meant. At salvation, He had been given a jersey with the name of Christ on it, and he was proud of it. He wanted to show it off, and to bring honor to it. He was proud of his Savior, proud of his team, and proud of the method by which they competed.
That’s why we often see him boast throughout the Scriptures, and mainly of 3 things: (1) in his Jesus Christ and His cross (2) in those that Christ saved through his ministry (3) in his weakness, because it is the proof that he belongs to Christ, and that anything good that he does is a sign of dependence.
Life, for Paul, is very much like a race. It is a race for several reasons. It is a race because time is limited. There will be a time when the race will end, and then the opportunity to run will be forever taken away. It is also like a race because it needs to be focused towards a goal. Life for Paul is purposeful. It is also a race because there are many competitors to stand against and because it is intense and without breaks. But more important than anything else, life is a race because you are wearing a jersey and people are watching you, and it is your one chance to bring honor or dishonor to what or who you represent.
So let me ask you a question: Are you proud of your jersey? Are you proud of what you stand for and live for? do you know what jersey you wear? If people were to read the name in the back of your jersey, would it be that of Jesus Christ?
So I invite you to turn to your Bibles to Philippians 3:7-14, and we will look at how Paul ran the race while proudly wearing Christ’s colors.
In this passage we will look at 3 challenges from Paul’s life, so that we would step up to wear with pride Christ’s Jersey
I. First Challenge: Run For Christ’s Name (vv.7-8)
« But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. » (Philippians 3:7-8)
Paul, as we see in this passage was running not for his sake, not for pleasure sake, not for fame sake, not for money sake, but for Christ’s sake. Twice in this passage, Paul repeats that he lives for the sake of Christ. Christ, for Paul, was the treasure of unsurpassed worth. For Paul, the race was all about Christ’s name. Christ’s name was on his jersey, and he ran to honor him.
And the reason why he was so committed to run for Christ is because in his early days he had worn a different jersey. He had worn a jersey that bore his own name on it, and all that he ever lived for was to honor that name and give it a good reputation. Yes, he had been proud of his jersey before. He had a good family name (v.5)a. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, the only tribe that remained with Judah when the 10 other tribes separated after Solomon’s reign. His tribe was respected and honored. He was also among the religion elite (v.5b). He was leader among the Pharisee, and he had been educated with the best of the best, with Gamaliel the famous Rabbi of Jerusalem. To the eyes of the Jews, Paul had been a man who deserved respect and honor. In fact, he was even the protector of their faith (v.6a), for he had been persecuting the church, that group of apostate Jews and Gentiles. He was for the Jews a hero, a savior, one of courage who did not fear to step up to protect the cultural and religious heritage of his people. Finally, Paul was an example to follow (v.6b). In the standards of his people, he was blameless.
If there had been a “Mister Israel” 30 A.D., it would have been Paul. He would have been the man of the year, the undefeated prom king , the religious Justin Bieber.
People looked at his jersey in admiration. They stopped to take pictures with him. They took his autograph. Kids in school would look at him and tell their parents: “I wanna be cool like Paul when I grow up!”
But whatever gain he had, Paul say, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
For the sake of Christ, Paul was willing to trade his family name to become a nobody. He was willing to trade his religious fame to become a reject of society. He was willing to trade his heroic titles of the protector of the Jews to become an enemy to his own family. He was willing to trade his reputation as a good example to become the symbol of shame and the loser of losers among his people. He was willing to give up wealth, power, comfort, influence, and reputation, and to erase his name that was so popular on his jersey to replace it with that of Christ.
He says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Paul knew what he had given up. He could count one by one the things that he had given up for Christ. It wasn’t something vague or distant for him. He knew exactly what he had laid aside. But he could count all of these things, and throw them in a trash pile, because of the jersey that he had found.
Paul had discovered that the “good things” that this world offered were nothing in comparison of knowing Jesus Christ as personal Lord. Here he isn’t talking about just knowing facts about Christ. He is talking about a relationship, one of loyalty, love and obedience.
For Paul to wear Christ’s jersey was the sign that there was nothing more important for him but to be recognized as belonging to Christ. He didn’t want to be known for his family, his intelligence, his strength or his position. He wanted to be known for his relationship with Christ, because for him that was the most worthy thing that people needed to know about him.
Paul cherished the name of Christ. In fact he continues “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”
In comparison to how precious Christ was for him, the rest of what he had been known for all became like “rubbish,” or more literally “waste” or “poop.”
By God’s grace, I have become a father recently. It has come with many joys, but also with the sobering responsibility of changing dippers. In the past 2 months, I have smelled, touched and been splattered with more poop than I had ever dreamed of. And let me tell you. After my little girl poops, I do not keep the leftovers. I don’t can it, bottle it, or frame it. Poop is just not attractive to me.
But if you look at how Paul used to live, he was swimming in it. His whole life could be summed up with the glittering slimy brown delicacies of the land of intestines. Why? Because it had been all about himself and nothing about Christ.
And one day he woke up and realized that Christ’s worth was like the size of the sun, and his worth like the size of a germ.
And he realized that God wanted to use him not because of who He was, but in spite of who he was.
And he realized rightly that the pursuit of knowing Christ was the most blessed task in the entire universe.
Now, it didn’t come easily. He had enjoyed for years the fruit of vain glory, and to give it up would not be easy. It came with a cost, and it came with suffering. Paul was attached to his poop.
It’s a little bit like trying to lose weight. Losing weight is not easy. For certain people it is very hard. But when someone is able to lose weight, you rarely hear him say: “Brother, I miss my fat! It was part of me, of my very body, and now it is gone forever! Please comfort me!”
No, of course. You lose it, and it’s hard, but you never regret it.
But I want you to think about it a second. Nobody turns down a million dollar for no reason. But for Paul, no amount of money would ever compare to knowing Christ. In light of Christ’s worth, a billion dollars would appear like rotten cucumbers.
Think about all the things that you love. Think about all the things that make you happy. Think about all the things motivate you and drive you. All these things, when you understand Scriptures, no matter how much you love them, compared to who Christ is, nothing compares.
Christ’s name is the most worthy name. Your family name, your talents, your abilities, your resources, your good looks, your intelligence, your reputation…those things, compared to Him, have no value. This is why, as Paul challenges us, you want to wear His name on your jersey, and why you want to know Him as much as possible.
II. Second Challenge: Run For Christ’s Strength
First, Paul challenged his hearers to run for Christ’s name. Secondly, as we see in the next few verses, Paul challenges us to run for Christ’s strength, to run for the power of the resurrection.
« and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. » (Philippians 3:9-11)
Paul was running for Christ’s strength. He wanted to run like Christ would have run. He wanted to be as united as possible with His Savior. He wanted to look like Him, to talk like Him, to smell like Him and to live like Him. He was so consumed by the honor of wearing Christ’s jersey, all he wanted to do was to be as close as possible as the One who had given it to him.
And so he begins in verse 9, “I want to be found in him.” Paul did not want anything in his life to be dissociated from Jesus Christ. He wanted people to look at him and know that Paul was to be found in Christ, that where Paul went Christ went, and that when Paul spoke Christ spoke.
And this unity, for Paul, was found in several different things: (1) the power of Christ’s righteousness, and (2) the power of Christ’s resurrection.
1) The Power of Christ’s Righteousness
First, Paul wanted to know the full power of Christ’s righteousness. Paul had grown up a Pharisee, and for the Pharisees, righteousness was something that you worked for. If your reputation was good, and people liked you, and thought you were a good person (you didn’t really have to be righteous, as long as people thought that you were), then you would be righteous. But the problem with that kind of righteousness was that anyone could be good at it, even without God’s help. It was all about performance, all about externals. You didn’t need anything supernatural to achieve that righteousness.
And when Paul got saved, he realized that Christ didn’t care about what we could do. He realized that Christ didn’t care about how high your standards were, because His standards were supernaturally high, they were divine, of God, impossible to be reached by man’s efforts. But when you have faith in Him, and are in a relationship with Him, then you are found in Him, and it’s not so much about what you can do, but about what He can do.
And that rocked Paul’s world. Because he knew that when he was wearing Christ’s jersey, Christ was alive in him, and was there to give him strength.
Man’s accomplishments don’t last. I would never forget the time when I went to visit Egypt. several thousands of years ago, Egypt was the most powerful state in the world. They built pyramids, huge temples, and all sorts of antique wonders. But guess what…when I went to Egypt, all I saw were ruins. The pyramids were crumbles, the temples were in pieces, and it didn’t take long for me to start getting bored. “Oh, how wonderful, another man with a crocodile head!”
But that’s what happens with the works of man. It doesn’t matter how smart, talented, or rich you are. Without God’s help, even the greatest accomplishments on earth fall apart. They don’t last. They don’t reach eternity.
But Paul wasn’t running because it just felt good, he was running for the prize. He was running for eternity, for what really mattered. He knew that if He ran for Christ, and pleased Him, that He would get a reward. He knew that if he wanted to receive anything on the Day of Judgment, he had to do it through Christ, because there was nothing he could do by himself that would pass the death curtain.
And that’s s why it all started with Christ’s righteousness, because the first reward of running for Christ is that you make it to heaven. But you can’t make it to heaven unless you are righteous. I mean, who want to go to a heaven full of sinners? That would be nothing better than what we have here! That wouldn’t be heaven at all! No, the only way to go to heaven is if we surrender our lives completely to Christ, so that we are found in Him. When we give our lives in His hands, our sins become hidden in the shadow of His righteousness.
If you want to try to pay God for your sins, go ahead and try. But you will fail miserably. The only way you can go to heaven is if you take that jersey that has your name on it, and you put it off, throw it away, and put Christ’s jersey on. And then your life is no longer about you, but about Christ, and it is only then that things really begin to be awesome. That’s when the life of faith take off, when you stop thinking that it’s all about you, but it’s about Christ who lives in you; and when you don’t live for a human standard, no matter how high it is, but you aim for a supernatural standard, through the power of Christ that lives in you.
Think about it. How much power do you think you need to get rid of sin? Just as a remainder, in Romans 5 we see that because of 1 sin the entire world deserved to be destroyed. Because of one sin, death came in, and spread to all of mankind. One sin is powerful enough to destroy a universe. You want to pay back for your sins? Give God back a new universe for each sin you committed.
How many times have you sinned in your life? If you sin 3 times an hour, it becomes 72 times a day, and close to 25,000 times a year. That’s 100,000 sins every 4 years, and 1 million sins by the time you reach 40 years old. But Christ’s righteousness trumps this. That’s how powerful it is, and why Paul ran to know it fully.
2) The Power of Christ’s Resurrection
But the second thing that Paul was driven by was the power of Christ’s resurrection. Now let me ask you a question: to forgive sins, it takes a lot of power. But how much more power do you think you need to raise someone from the dead?
Scientists have tried for decades to create life out of non-life. Evolutionists have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to create life, but in vain. And you’ve got also every year, billions and billions of dollars spent in the world to try to preserve life, to protect life, to heal life, to enhance life, to maintain life. But it doesn’t matter how much is spent. Everyone eventually dies. There is only one who could raise from the dead, and there is only One who can preserve life forever, and His name is Jesus Christ.
And that power that Christ had to raise from the dead is the same power that Christ gives to those that are found in Him. And that: Paul likes.
That power that Christ had at the resurrection, he wants to know. That power that Christ had in His ultimate weakness, which was His own death, Paul wants to know it in his own weaknesses. The point where Christ had seemed the weakest was when He was the strongest, and Paul wants that. He wants to see God do the impossible, to rock his world.
And so he welcomes suffering, and he welcome weakness, and he welcome trials, because he knows that through these things he will know Christ more, that he will be closer to Him, and closer to heaven than any other way.
And that’s why he says in the following verse, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead”
Now, Paul knew that he was going to rise from the dead, and he knew that it wasn’t about him. He ran not so that he would bring his soul to heaven, but so that he would bring heaven to his soul.
What he really wanted was to know the fullness of Christ’s resurrection power, even while on earth. He wanted to be so close to Christ that his life on earth would be as close to heaven as possible.
And so he ran. He ran to know the power of Christ. He ran to know Christ. He ran to make his life as full as heaven’s power as possible.
He knew that the resurrected Christ was the glorious Christ, and he wanted to know Him as much as possible.
With Christ’s jersey on his back, he wanted to run like Christ ran. With strength and glory. And with Christ living in him, he would not contend for anything less.
III. Third Challenge: Run for Christ’s Pace
So Paul ran for Christ’s name, he ran for Christ’s strength, and he also ran for Christ’s pace. And this is what he challenges us to imitate in the next verses.
« 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. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. » (Philippians 3:12-14)
Finally Paul wants to run purposefully and intensely like Christ ran. And why? Because Christ made him his own. Christ with his blood purchased Paul. Christ took Paul when he was a condemned sinner under God’s wrath, a child of Satan, an enemy, a murderer and a blasphemer, and He made him His own. He took him when he was wearing his own jersey and when he thought he was popular, but when he didn’t know that all that he would ever produce was shame to the name of God. And Christ took Paul, saved him, and made him His own.
Christ didn’t have to do that. But He did. And by making Paul His own, Christ gave him the opportunity to know Him personally. He took Paul as a spiritual homeless person, and brought him into His own household. And now Paul has a choice. He can live in Jesus’ home and mind his own business, or he can take initiative to get to know Him.
And that’s what he decides to do. He wants to pursue Christ. He wants to follow Christ. He wants to run in his footsteps, and to be His shadow. Christ gave him an open opportunity to know Him, and Paul would not miss it for anything else in the world.
Paul had been called to wear Christ’s jersey, and because he was to run like Christ ran, He was going to run hard. He would make every effort possible to become more and more like Christ, pressing on, pressing hard, to become more and more like Him.
Now he knew that he would never quite get there. “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” The standard was high. But he would do everything he could to get as close as possible.
And so he says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
And so to run hard, Paul does 2 things: (1) he forgets what is behind him and (2) he presses on forward.
All these things that the world had offered him, Paul had put aside, and he would continue to put aside. In verse 7 he said that he “counted” everything as loss, in the past tense, and in verse 8, he says again “I count” everything as loss, but in the present tense. Paul had made an effort to put aside the distractions that would slow him down, but that wasn’t enough. He had to continue to practice wise choices day after day. The race was not going to be easy, and the best way to keep striving hard without being slowed down would be to forget about the past and to keep his eyes on the goal without wavering, fixing Christ, and running for the prize.
But let me ask you a question…what do you think is the prize that Paul was running for?
Why would running make a difference? Why would it matter? Wasn’t Paul going to make it to heaven anyways? Why did it matter that he would run? Knowing Christ is great, but why does it make a difference? Why should one make sacrifices and run hard every day, if all believers make it to heaven anyways?
Well, Paul concludes his train of thought on the whole race metaphor in the first verse of the next chapter:
Phil 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
We mentioned earlier that the athletes that competed and won received a crown. That crown was their reward. It was their honor, it symbolized everything that they strived for. But what is Paul’s crown? Is it to get a bigger mansion in heaven? Is it to get a better looking body in heaven? Is it to get more power and influence in heaven? No, for Paul his crown was the people that he had ministered to and that had been changed because of his life. His crown was to see that when they had seen him run they had seen the name of Christ on his jersey, and it had changed their lives.
Paul’s reward was to know that the way he lived on earth would affect lives eternally in heaven; that because of how he lived people got saved.
That is the prize of the upward call of God. And we see this perfectly in the example of Christ, He lived a life that bore testimony of God, and He lived and died so that people could be saved, and at the end of the age He will receive His reward, the Bride of Christ, the assembly of all the redeemed. That is what Christ was all about, and that is what Paul is all about. When Jesus walked on earth, He honored God, He was the one “in whom God is well pleased,” because He served others. Honor comes with testimony. Honor is others-oriented.
Paul was running towards the goal: Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven.
Paul was running for the prize: the honor to participate in making Christ’s Bride pure and ready.
Paul was running for the upward call: to do things that would have an eternal impact in heaven.
And because these things were worthy, he wanted to run as fast as Christ ran. He wanted to be faithful, to be purposeful, to be effective, to make a difference with his life. And so he was going to sweat. Because Paul was so saturated with his hope for heaven, he knew that all the rest did not matter. He knew that what was the most important would be to be ready when he got there, and to bring as many people with him as he could. And to do that, he would sweat.
Because Christ sweated, and he was to represent Him, Paul would sweat. Anything short of that would be an affront to His Lord.
So as we come to a conclusion to this message, I have two questions for you: do you wear Christ’s jersey, and do people know about it?
We live in the generation of the I’s. I-pod, I-pad, I-phone, I-want, I-deserve, I-time, I-desires, I-priorities, I-preferences, I-reputation. We can spend our entire days living just for ourselves, never thinking about God, and not even feeling bad about it. We live for our own pleasures, on our own schedule, with our own agenda, and God is just something we do on the side when we feel like it. But today you must decide what jersey you want to wear.
Are you going to live for yourself, or are you going to live for Christ? You might wear your own jersey with your own name and you might be working on making yourself comfortable or popular or whatever. But know something: the race will one day end, and you are not going to win.
Maybe you claim to wear Christ’s jersey. But let me ask you. Can people tell? Can people tell by looking at your life that you have Jesus’ name written on your back? Can people tell that you are not living for yourself but for the sake of Christ? That you are running for Him, to please Him, to honor Him, and to know Him?
Oh, I wish that you would all realize how precious it is to pursue Christ, to pursue knowledge of Him, and to live by the power of the resurrection! I wish you could all realize that representing God is the most amazing privilege on earth, and it comes with the display of His grace and power and strength beyond measure! I wish that you could all realize that Christ wants to be known, and that the knowledge of Him is the most precious thing in this universe!
I would never forget the story of John Stephen Akhwari. He was a runner from Tanzania who had been selected to run a marathon for the Olympic Games of Mexico in 1968. He began the race, but because of the high altitude, he started to have cramps. But he kept going. About halfway through the 26 miles race, he was pushed around by other runners and fell on the ground, hurting his shoulder on the pavement and dislocating a joint in his knee. But he kept running. 2hours and 20 minutes into the race, news came that someone had finished the marathon. But he kept running, and it took him over an hour to finish. By the time he arrived, most of the spectators in the stadium had already left, and they were about to give away the medals. But he kept running and finished the race, although he finished last. When the media asked him why he didn’t stop, he responded: “My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”
Listen. Christ did not come all the way from heaven to die on the cross for people to just begin the race. He died for you so that you would run hard, all the way to the finish line.
So here is my challenge for you: you put on the jersey, and you run so that people can tell you who sent you on the course.