‘I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the only thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Jesus Christ to the life above.’ (Philippians 3:12-14)
Perhaps like me you enjoy watching sport on television, and because of the current situation have appreciated the re-runs of many of the great sporting achievements of recent years. Over the past few weeks we have revisited the Great North Run, World Cup Football, Wimbledon, and most recently the 2012 Olympic Games held in London.
Possibly the most gruelling race for any athlete is the marathon – a taxing 26.2 miles. Even though I have never taken part in running a marathon I can appreciate the time and effort the competitors put in whilst training to participate in the race. For professional athletes the goal is to win the race in a personal best time. For the majority it is just to finish the race – to cross the line one way or another and receive their prize. The only way that this can be achieved is through sheer hard work – an ongoing process of continuous training to keep in the physical condition needed to last the course. There are no shortcuts in a marathon. A mind-set of determination is needed. With the help and encouragement of others, a passion and the will to cross the line becomes the ultimate goal.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul shows this same mind-set. There was nothing more important to Paul than reaching the ultimate goal of knowing Christ completely and sharing the joy of that with others. This was his race, his marathon.
As I reflect on Paul’s words, I am reminded that I, like Paul, have to keep living for the glory of Christ, constantly ‘training’ to be part of the most important race of knowing him. And whilst I may think because I have been following Jesus all my life that I am there, that I have crossed the finish line and don’t need to work at my faith any longer, this is not the case. According to Paul, if I truly want to win the prize of knowing Christ completely, I should never be content with how far I’ve come on my faith journey for there is always more to learn. Consequently I have to continually strive to ‘run straight toward’ the ultimate goal of knowing Christ more by reading God’s word, praying, meeting with other believers, giving and receiving encouragement, and worshipping regularly. This is my ‘training’ and, as with any marathon runner, this takes hard work, determination and support.
Of course during these last seventeen plus weeks we haven’t been able to gather regularly with one another, but I am sure you, like me, have appreciated the support, care and encouragement received through phone calls, emails, texts, and the weekly worship offered by the Ministerial Team. Paul did not have the benefit of 21st Century technology during his lockdown (he was in prison when he wrote to the Philippians) yet he still managed to convey the urgency and need to that 1st Century community of how important is was to continue in the faith and keep striving to win the prize of truly knowing Christ.
Faith was just the beginning of their race as it is just the beginning of our race for we need to exercise regularly by developing our faith, and putting it into practice. Our actions, our words, our daily living should be a reflection of our objective of working toward the goal of knowing Christ completely. Although this is hard work – perhaps more so in the climate we find ourselves in today – the joy and the benefits far outweigh the time and effort we put in.
This is the attitude that Paul encouraged the Philippians to adopt – an attitude that we ought to adopt today. We have to keep striving to live for the glory of Christ, constantly ‘training’ to be part of the most important race of knowing him; always pressing forward toward the ultimate goal ‘in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Jesus Christ to the life above’.
This is a divine marathon. There are no shortcuts here either.