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Pressing Toward The Goal

Goal

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

The apostle Paul was not shortsighted. His vision reached beyond this present world to that above where he stored his heavenly treasures. Yet, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50). So, Paul wished to “attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11). While all men will be raised in the end (cf. John 5:28-29), those who long for the “resurrection of life” must live in such a way to attain it. So, Paul pressed on.

The Christian should always view life through a spiritual lens. He should “not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). While this should already be our daily focus, the new year is a good time for introspection, and improvement. Spiritual goals and resolutions should outweigh the physical. In 2018, heaven should be our constant focus. We, like Paul, should “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

While we dream of heaven, imagining how wonderful it will be, we must be aware of God’s design of our hope. The Holy Spirit calls it “a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) for a reason. Not only because it is constant through the good and bad of this physical realm, but for its motivating power – “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance(Romans 8:24-25). The one who truly hopes for the promises of God is not idle. Hope is meant to activate the Christian toward spiritual living – “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

This can be observed in the life of Paul. Truly, he pressed toward the goal. He gave up all he counted as gain to “know [Christ] and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). The knowledge of Christ’s victory over death is transformative. It is powerful toward those who believe. As Paul grew in knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection, so he did in “the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (v. 10). This was necessary to appropriate the strength of Christ in the power of His resurrection. He explained, “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). Jesus requires His disciples to follow Him in His suffering, even to the point of death (cf. Mark 8:34-38). It is the necessary path to glory. Paul was devoted to Christ to the degree of suffering for His sake. As he lived faithfully for Jesus, he grew in the hope of the resurrection. Such hope of being raised to live with Jesus forever in heaven activated him to a life of faith. He was made able by his hope granted him in Christ to press on through temptations, trials, and tribulations. In the weakness of his flesh, he was strengthened by the grace given him by Christ in the gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

If we make heaven our goal for 2018 and always, it will be manifest in drastic ways. Pressing on is not simply an expression of desire, but a constant action which reflects that desire. The way Paul lived was an exclamation to the world that his home was elsewhere; that what he valued could not be held in his hands, nor gazed upon with his eyes. His actions were perplexing to those who did not share in the same faith, hope, and love. Festus called him mad (cf. Acts 26:24), and he was beside himself for God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:13), but he was able to write these words with utmost assurance – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Let us not forget what Paul added to his exclamation of victory – “and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Let us press toward the goal in the year 2018.

When tempted, make heaven your desire.

James described what occurs when one is tempted. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Temptation is not sin. It is the Adversary exploiting the weakness of our flesh, drawing us away with what we know to be transitory, and corrupt. When we are tempted we must acknowledge that we have the desire. To deny that such a desire exists is to deceive yourself. An enemy must be identified for it to be destroyed. Our desire must be identified as existing, and as that which is evil for it to be denied. We must not yield to temptation and become enticed by it. For when we become entrapped with the pull of fleshly lusts they conceive, and the end of such is spiritual death. To yield to temptation is to sin.

God has given us the hope of heaven, empowering us to deny fleshly lusts. These “war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). They pull us to the realm of the flesh which will not endure, and away from the presence of God in which is eternal life. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The carnally minded man is the one who chooses to gratify the flesh while neglecting his spirit. The spiritually minded man is the one who, although drawn to carnal matter in the weakness of flesh, denies his fleshly appetite to receive that which is truly substantive – spiritual life. Heaven is his goal, and such outweighs the lure the Devil dangles before him. When we sin, it is because we do not weigh our options and the end to which they lead. We show our shortsightedness. Instead, when we are tempted we must look to the goal of heaven. We will be strengthened in hope to sow to the spirit instead of the flesh, for we wish to reap everlasting life (cf. Galatians 6:7-8).

Paul urged the Philippians to follow his example in pressing toward the goal because of the negative influence among them. “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation” (Philippians 3:2)! These false teachers were a danger because of their evil doctrine, and the depraved living to which it led. An earthly doctrine inevitably produces an earthly life. If it is not from God, it will not end with God. He described these enemies of the cross of Christ, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things” (v. 19). The Philippians were not to be led away by these deceivers’ way of life. Why? “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (vv. 20-21).

When suffering, make heaven your relief.

Suffering is inevitable for two reasons. 1) We live in a sinful world, and 2) we are Christians (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). God prepares us for the inevitable. He has given us the knowledge in the gospel necessary to endure suffering. Most in the world do not understand the necessity of suffering. This is because they are carnally minded. However, the Christian is given to know.

Our natural reaction to suffering is to search for a source of relief. But, we must not let that relief be what Job’s wife suggested. After Satan took from Job his property, children, and his health, “his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die’” (Job 2:9)! She reached the conclusion that God had either forgotten about the man who had dedicated his life in service to Him, or simply turned His back on him. Yet, Job did not seek relief from his suffering by turning from God. He answered his wife with wisdom – “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v. 10). Job may not have had an answer for everything that was happening to him, but he knew the solution would not be found in turning from God. It was not logical for Job to delight in the goodness God had blessed him with, only to curse his great Benefactor when adversity struck. His God was the source of blessing in prosperity, why would He not be the same source in adversity?

When we search the scriptures, we begin to recognize that suffering is not only inevitable, but necessary. Its source may be Satan, used as a weapon of destruction – as is seen in the story of Job – but our omnipotent God can use it as a tool for growth. When Paul was given his “thorn in the flesh,” the Lord refused to remove it at his request. He answered Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Undesirable situations of difficulty and pain expose our weakness. The reason we turn to God is because we are insufficient in ourselves. God does not need anything or anyone (cf. Acts 17:25). However, we need Him. The strength which He bestows is perfected in weakness, for that is when our need for it is most realized, and appreciated. Suffering is necessary to impress us with our dependence upon God! When we approach suffering with this mindset, we can see that the only lasting and worthwhile relief is offered by God.

The apostle Paul encouraged his suffering readers to endure – “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). He writes of Christians as the creation of God whom He has subjected to futility. But He “subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (vv. 20-21; cf. 1 John 3:1-3). When we turn to God in suffering, and look to His promise of glory, we are strengthened to “eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (v. 25).

When sorrowful, make heaven your joy.

Like suffering, times of sorrow are inevitable. Sorrowing is not wrong, but we must not let ourselves be consumed by sorrow. Concerning the man that the Corinthians withdrew from, with the knowledge of his penitence Paul wrote, “you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow…lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:7, 11). The comfort they would give to the man would include his forgiveness, thus, his regained hope of heaven. The faithful Christian can always avoid being led away with too much sorrow by thinking of his future with God. This must always be our focus.

Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)! The Christian can always rejoice, because the Lord is always the same, and His promises are certain. Even when stricken with sorrow, the constancy of spiritual blessings causes us to rejoice. Paul explained, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Thus, Christ gives us guidelines we must follow even in our times of want, and sorrow. We may sorrow, but we must not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

When weary, make heaven your reward.

“We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As we work to fulfill our purpose in Christ Jesus we must not grow weary. Weariness comes from impatience, and lost perspective. In a society which seeks instantaneous gratification, we must not lose sight of the goal.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:7-9). If the farmer grew weary of sowing and quit, he would never see produce. We must have the farmer’s mentality in our spiritual service to God (cf. James 5:7-8) – there is a time to sow, and a time to reap. While it is day we are at work, and we must continue in this work as long as it is day (cf. John 9:4). Our reward is certain, and well worth our every effort.

Feeding Our Desire For Heaven

To press toward the goal of heaven our desire to be there must be ever increasing. This is our responsibility. There are tools provided us by God to stimulate the spiritual man toward this end. In the 63rd Psalm – “A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah” – there are a few things David mentions which we can use to feed our desire for heaven.

Seek God Early

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (v. 1)

We must seek God early in the sense of priority. He should come before anything else. We must seek Him first (cf. Matthew 6:33). We should also seek Him first every day. It is beneficial to the soul to start each day out in God’s word, and before His throne in prayer.

Worship God Often

“So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory. Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.” (vv. 2-5)

God has created man to seek Him, and worship Him (cf. Acts 17:26-27). We need worship. With it our souls are satisfied as we receive spiritual sustenance. God has commanded the worship assembly for a reason (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). Those who neglect the worship assembly not only neglect the rest of the members, but themselves. We should take advantage of every opportunity to worship our God with those of like precious faith. When the doors are open we should be there, and we should be glad to enter in (cf. Psalm 122:1).

Remember God Constantly and Meditate

“When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.” (vv. 6-8)

God does not want us to simply start our day by reading His word, and then place our Bibles back on the night stand leaving our spiritual thoughts there with them. We are to have our minds filled with His word throughout the day. We are to meditate on praiseworthy things (cf. Philippians 4:8). It is helpful to not only acknowledge the ways God helps us, but to dwell on them and rejoice.

Grasp God’s Judgment

“But those who seek my life, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword; They shall be a portion for jackals.” (vv. 9-10)

David recognized that the men who sought his life – whether during his escape from Saul, or his son Absalom – would receive their just reward. They were opposed to God, and God would have His vengeance (cf. Psalm 94:1-3). “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:6). We should often visit the fearful thought of falling into the hands of the living God (cf. Hebrews 10:31), and “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).

Anticipate Glory

“But the king shall rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him shall glory; But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.” (v. 11)

Those who swear by God – i.e. dedicate their lives in service to Him, and none other (cf. Deuteronomy 6:13-15) – will have glory. God has given us the hope of heaven to motivate us toward faithfulness. The more we anticipate the glory that awaits us the greater our desire for it will grow.

Let us all press toward the goal of heaven in 2018.