A POST-OLYMPIC THOUGHT
Going For The Goal
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 3:14 NASB
The Goal Or The Gold?
“Go for the gold” was an expression heard frequently during the recent 2012 London Olympics. It will be another four years before the average sports fan begins to think about these words again. But it’s a different story for the athletes! Already they have their sights set on the next Olympiad and are well into their training programs. What is the aim of these intensely dedicated men and women? Is it the gold medal, or is it the goal of the finish line? Isn’t that saying just about the same thing in slightly different terms? Not quite. Though the prize and the goal are intimately connected, and both motivate the athlete, they are distinct from one another. The Olympic racer must set his eyes on the goal and not on the prize if he is to win the prize. He cannot run directly over to the table containing the medals! In order to “go for the gold” he must first “go for the goal.”
What is so ridiculously clear in terms of athletics and the Olympics is not so obvious to many of us when it comes to the spiritual analogy. Too often we set our sights on the prize and lose sight of the goal. Philippians 3:14 above refers to both the prize and the goal of Christian living. What is the difference, and how do we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call”?
Let’s start with the prize. Like the gold medal, the prize is given to the winner at the end of the race. Now what is the prize for us Christians at the end of life when we are called home to heaven? Is it salvation? No! We begin the race with salvation. Without salvation we would not even be officially in the race! Is the prize then our entrance into heaven? Well, that’s part of it, but there’s more to it than simply our admission into heaven. We’re going to see the Lord in all His glory and share with Him in that glory forever (2 Th. 2:13-15). Philippians 3:21 informs us that even our present bodies are going to be transformed into glorified bodies like that of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 15:42-49; 1 Jn. 3:2). This is all part of the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ.”
Getting The Glory
Will our glorified bodies have the same amount of glory as His body of glory? Hardly! In fact, Scripture appears to teach that the amount or degree of glory that we as individuals will have then will be in direct proportion to how we run the race in this life now. Our willingness to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ now, for example, is directly related to the glory we will share when the Lord returns (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 4:17). All the future rewards and “crowns” mentioned in the New Testament will be given for faithfulness to Christ, and are associated with the prize of future glory. So while all Christians will receive glorified bodies, it seems that the amount of glory will not be the same for all believers. Or to put it another way: The fullness of what that future glory could be will not be realized if we are unfaithful in this life (1 Cor. 3:14-15; 9:24; Col. 2:18; Rev. 3:11). It is significant, in this connection, that the word used for the “crown” of reward in Scripture does not mean the royal diadem of a king, but rather the victory wreath of a triumphant athlete! The glory of the athlete is not given by birth, but is won by running!
What kind of glory are we talking about, anyway? Is it shining faces and beams of light radiating from our resurrected bodies? Well, that’s one aspect of it. The physical side of our future glory certainly has biblical support (Dan. 12:3; Mt. 13:43). Remember that at the Mount of Transfiguration the glory of the Lord did involve a shining face and radiant light. The disciples were told that the occasion was a preview of the glorious future kingdom of God (Mt. 17; Mk. 9; Lk. 9). It stands to reason that if we’re going to have glorified bodies in conformity with His “body of glory” (Phil. 3:21), there will be a physical dimension to our future glory.
But there is another aspect to our future prize of glory. We look forward to moral perfection. Our glorified bodies will be free from sin and its effects in every way. We will not have to worry anymore about evil thoughts or bad habits. Nothing will hinder our intimate fellowship with the Lord. Such a fantastic future is not easy to imagine! However, glimpses of this future glory can be appreciated even in this life. Have you ever observed the moral beauty of a person who consistently walks closely with the Lord? This moral glory of character is possible for growing Christians now (2 Cor. 3:18), but it is only a foretaste of future perfection in heaven. Some Christians get carried away at this point and try to teach that moral perfection is possible in this life. But Philippians 3:12-13 states in no uncertain terms that we are not yet perfect. While there may be and should be glimmers of glory now, the “body of our humble state” (Phil. 3:21) still has a long way to go!
One more point should be stressed about our prize of future glory. It is not like a bunch of golden halos that we chalk up now in reserve, and then wear around in heaven in order to draw attention to ourselves. Our future glory is always seen as inseparably linked to Christ’s glory. Our individual glory will derive from, be part of and complement His universal glory (Eph. 1:18; Col. 3:4; 2 Th. 1:10). As the gold medal around the neck of the athlete brings glory to the home country, so the crowns of glory that we win will bring glory to heaven – the home of our King (Rev. 4:10-11).
It’s All About Focus!
How can we ensure that we will win the prize of full glory? By focusing on the goal! And what is the goal of Philippians 3:14? Here the context of the whole chapter is helpful for our interpretation. In Philippians 3 the apostle Paul is refuting a false teaching of Judaism which said that an outward display of religion was always the way you made points with God (3:2-3). But Paul says, “No way!” If anyone had a right to be proud of how well he practiced his religion, Paul certainly did! Before his conversion he had out-distanced the best of the Judaizers in religious background and activity (3:4-6). But Paul had come to realize that all of those religious blue ribbons were actually a loss and just garbage when compared to actually “knowing Christ” (3:7-8).
By coming to know Christ as his personal Savior, Paul had been given a position of righteousness that he never could have attained on his own (3:9). And now, as a Christian, his goal was to know Christ more and more (3:10). And that’s the goal of living as a Christian – to really know the Lord. Our goal is not just Christian experience or Christian service. These areas of Christian living are important, but they are not the goal. In fact, if we aim just at experience or service as our goals, unbalanced and distorted Christianity could result. Christian experience (both valleys and mountaintops) and Christian service will find their proper place automatically in our lives as we focus our sights on the goal of knowing our Savior more intimately.
How do we get to know the Lord more? How do we get to know another person better? The answer is obvious. By spending more time with that person! By building a relationship with that person. By getting involved in the interests of that person. If we really want to know someone well, we will be willing to sacrifice our own interests to be with that person whenever possible – even when that person is unpopular or gets us involved in unpleasant situations.
Getting to know the Person of Christ is significantly parallel. We must spend more time with the Lord, studying and meditating on His Word and talking with Him in prayer, if we are going to get to know Him better. There are no shortcuts! How can there be a growing relationship if there is no conversation and communication? (And a few minutes a day doesn’t make for a very “knowing” relationship!) Furthermore, our lives must revolve around the Person of Christ. This is what Paul is getting at when he writes, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). Getting to know the Lord is inseparably linked with walking by faith in Him and in the power of His resurrection. That unbelievable power is available to us, but the flow is limited by our lack of faith and trust in Him.
Willing To Suffer
Do you believe that the Lord could achieve His goal through you, where you work, on your campus or in your neighborhood? Step out in faith and you will not only experience His power but you will get to know Him better!
The willingness to “suffer” for Christ’s sake is also an essential part of coming to know Him in a deeper way. This does not mean that we are to run around looking for trials, but we can be sure that they will come in one form or another as we walk with the Lord (2 Tim. 3:12). Let your ethical Christian standards become known to those around you and the sea of your life may get a little stormy. But in the storm you will come to know the Lord better and feel His presence more. Also mentioned in Philippians 3:10 is the aspect of being “conformed to His death.” The more we “die” to our own selfish life, the more we will come to know the Lord and the reality of His life within us. A Christian who has an “It’s my life!” attitude cannot even begin to know the transformation of mind, thought and life that comes about in a Christian who is willing to be “conformed to the death of Christ” (Rom. 12:1-2).
Getting to know the Lord more and more was what the apostle Paul wanted more than anything for the rest of his life (3:11). Is this our supreme desire? Is this our goal? Is it olympic in size? In view of the glorious prize that awaits us, let us go for the goal that leads to the gold!
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org