PRESS ON LIKE WINNERS
20th after Pentecost
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
“I won’t grow up. I don’t want to go to school, learn to read a lot of books or recite the Golden Rule … I’ll never grow up; No, sir!” For decades children have latched on to those words from the Peter Pan musical, wistfully fantasizing that such magic could be their own.
Sometimes God’s people seem to want to do the same regarding their spiritual lives. They look for release from responsibility, like Moses, who implied that God had made a mistake in making and choosing him because, he complained, he was not a good speaker. Then there was Jeremiah, who asserted that he was no good for serving God because he was still too young. And we fit right in with a host of musings of our own to excuse ourselves from Kingdom service.
St. Paul once stated the goal for us that “we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” GROW up, in other words!
“No, Lord,” we plead, “Don’t make me have to stand out in faithfulness like Daniel.” “I’m too weak to resist temptation as Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife.” “YOU made me with this temper, so other people should just be able to accept it.” And “I want to fit in with my peers, so please don’t ask me to stay pure like Shadrach and Meschach when everybody else is giving in to ways that don’t revere You.” “You don’t want people to think I’m a fanatic or ‘holier than thou’ do You?” But all such whining essentially says that we’re content with being and staying “losers.” IS that what we want to be?
WE BEGAN AS LOSERS
BUT WE REALLY DON’T “LIKE” TO BE LOSERS
No, of course we don’t want that! Were you ever involved in a sport where they chose teams? You were the last one picked. You were left over. Your team’s captain tried to trade you plus even another player for anybody else on the other team just to get rid of you. That’s what a loser feels like.
YET WE MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE WERE
Let’s note, though, that Scripture often talks of the “loser” status of Christian believers in the past tense:
“You WERE dead through trespasses and sins in which you ONCE walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air …”
“Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness … In these you ONCE walked, when you lived in them.”
Those are the kinds of people for whom Jesus came. He said, “I came to call sinners, not the righteous.” He came for the unscrupulous tax collector, the harlot and other sinners. He came for each one of us. He CAME for “losers.”
If you have it all together and are in complete control of yourself and your life and desires, then you don’t need Him, or at least won’t much think that you do. Luther once said that the ultimate proof of man’s sinfulness is for man to refuse to recognize that he IS a sinner. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter and Paul – ALL the spiritual giants of Scripture first recognized that they were really only midgets. God chooses only those who say with St. Paul things like, “The good that I wish I don’t do; and the evil I don’t want is what I do.” “I am chief of sinners” and “… least of the Apostles.”
Yes, we WERE “losers” each and every one, and we need to humbly admit it, but it can also just BE a thing of the past. God wanted and chose you in spite of that and is working a wonderful plan for you!
WE WERE MADE CHRIST’S OWN
HE WANTS US
In the Philippians chapter 3 Text from Paul, he admits, “Not that I … have already been made perfect, but I PRESS ON to take HOLD of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of ME.” And He has made YOU His own, too! He says, “I WANT you on MY team.” And He really does and is not about to trade you for anybody else. He wanted and made each of us who WERE “losers” to BE His own, and we belong to Him as treasures so precious that we were bought at the price of His own Blood!
HE DID THE WORK TO MAKE US HIS OWN
Let’s get the picture of who Jesus is: the very and only-begotten Son of God, whose home was in Heaven being served by adoring Angels; and yet who was subjected to the harsh realities of this world that we live in by becoming also one of us, the Son of Man. Not just a number or statistic from long ago and with whom we don’t really identify, like so many troops who were present at Gettysburg or something, but a real live flesh and blood Human Being just like us in our humanity, and yet the sinless and glorious Lord of Lords!
And let’s get the picture of the work Christ did to make us His own: He didn’t peacefully lay down to rest and inadvertently slip into the sleep of death. He purposely and willingly offered His Body to be torn with lashes and gored open with the cold heavy iron spikes of crucifixion, hammered in, one blow after another, through His wrists and ankles. As He became more and more dehydrated of Blood and sweat, gasping for air from the cramped position of His chest, he entered that state of the very punishment of hell for the sins of the whole world. He didn’t deserve even one disapproving word from God, much less all the torture He DID endure. But He willed Himself to suffer for us all because He so sincerely wanted each one of us personally as His own, such was His love along with His Father’s.
Then Jesus gave up His Spirit and passed into the cold, lifeless, breathless state of death. He earned it for Himself that His and our Father God raised Him up again on the third day, warm and vibrant and full of the energy of life once again. But that TOO is something which He intends not only for Himself, but for us to share in it with Him!
No wonder the hymn writer said, “I scarce can take it in…”! No wonder another called it “AMAZING Grace!” Do we sometimes need the revival of our perspective on this? You see, Jesus is fully worthy of not only our attending church sometimes to sing a song or two of thanks or praise, but of our very best in every aspect of our lives being lived for Him, and we should take that absolutely literally! DROP the “loser” ways we once walked in and, from this moment forward, PRESS ON like the WINNERS Christ has now made us to be! When we stumble, which we will, then confess and turn back and get back in the race, never ever giving up, versus never growing up.
PRESSING ON LIKE WINNERS
SOME WILL END UP AS JUST LOSERS
Some risk ending up as just “losers.” “Whoever puts his hand to the plow yet keeps looking back is not fit,” Jesus says. “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Although it may seem like such a slight thing to us, what was it that plunged the world into the terrible state of sin which we now have? Was it not our first parents desiring and taking that which for their own GOOD was forbidden to them?
“He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption …”
“Those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
“In the last days … men will be … lovers of pleasure rather than … of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it” (to sanctify us).
(They are) “wild waves of the sea, casting up (flaunting) the foam of their own shame.”
“ … Because they refuse to love the truth, … God (sends) upon them a strong delusion to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who … have pleasure in unrighteousness.”
“ … Because they exchange the truth about God for a lie and … don’t see fit to acknowledge God, God gives them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.”
Those words are not made up, but are the sobering threats of Holy Scripture, and they can be applied as much to people who hold external membership in God’s Church as to any (even most primitive cannibalistic) idol worshippers. St. Paul wrote, “ … (I) now say again even with tears, many LIVE as ENEMIES of the Cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in Heaven!”
DON’T WALLOW IN THE LOSERS’ WAYS
Grow up! Press on! Don’t wallow any more in “losers’ ways,” thinking “Give me Your grace, God, but leave me to my spiritual complacency.” “Don’t expect anything from me or let anything test or exercise my faith.”
God forbid that we just take for granted the tremendous price paid for our forgiveness, living as WE please because God IS so forgiving. That’s the same as using our Christian liberty, the freedom of the Gospel which truly is ours, as a license to be spiritually irresponsible!
BUT PRESS ON LIKE WINNERS!
St. Paul says of himself as a prime example that he broke with his past because Jesus had taken hold of him, making Paul His own. The terms Paul uses to “Press On” picture the bulging veins and heaving breath of the Olympic runner, straining every nerve and muscle fiber in the all out finishing kick, or the single-minded concentration and full stretch of the discus thrower. “I’m here to accomplish this one thing alone,” in other words!
To “PRESS ON LIKE WINNERS” very clearly means that we do want to live as if Heaven’s final victory is ours already. It means that we will be careful about where and how we spend our time and money, and to what extent we use our own God-given talents for Him. It means crucifying the flesh and daily repentance and contrition worked by His Spirit’s power, drowning that Old Adam sinful nature continually. It means gauging the kind of entertainment we seek by how awed we are to always be in the direct presence of our great God, no matter what everybody else may be doing. It means piety and prayer and seeing to it that we are regularly receiving God’s life-giving Word and Sacrament. It means looking to the example of those who ran well in faith before us.
Pressing on means we truly want to be fully saturated in Christ here and now, because that IS how we hope to spend eternity! We desire the support of our fellow believers in the quest also, not to be torn down for pursuing it, or envied, or perceived as carrying a snobbish “holier than thou’ attitude. We’re in the race together as “One Body.”
And what is the Finishing Line to which our eyes are glued? Resurrection from the dead and the transforming of our lowly bodies to be like Christ’s own glorious Body!
St. Paul admits, even as we all must, that no righteousness of our own will get us to that goal, but only the righteousness given to us by God through faith in Christ and His action our behalf. We “Press On” not to earn Heaven, but to get there because it’s already ours through faith.
“Let us not grow weary in well-doing,” Paul wrote, “for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.” “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the Crown of Life,” Jesus says.
GROW UP and PRESS ON LIKE WINNERS! Or, at the very least and like St. Paul wrote, “ … let us live up to what we have already attained” until the day when we can say like Jesus, “It is FINISHED!”