Exchanging Failure and Pride for the Hope of Heaven

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In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul spoke about setting aside the things which were significant to him so he might gain Christ. He then mentioned the great blessings which were found in the Lord (verses 8-11). Our text this week (v 12-14) has Paul discussing growth in faith and the pursuit of salvation in heaven.

Paul had not attained or been perfected

If anyone might have attained or been perfected, we might suspect it was Paul. As a Pharisee his zeal was misguided, but he was zealous, nonetheless. Likewise, Saul of Tarsus was a diligent student and self-professed meticulous observer of the Law. I have no doubt he brought these same qualities to his faith and devotion to Jesus Christ. And yet for all his resolve and perseverance regarding the gospel, Paul bluntly stated, “…I have not already attained…” and “…I do not count myself to have apprehended…” (v 12, 13).

Victory does not come until the end of the race. There are many video clips of competitive cyclists celebrating mere meters before the finish line only to have an opponent blow by them and snatch the win. It is unwise to claim victory and stop working before the race is done. That doesn’t mean we cannot have assurance. The cyclist in the peloton is in an excellent place; the one in a decent size breakaway is even better equipped. The fervent child of God who is serving the Lord and seeking to grow in faith can have surety regarding salvation (1 John 5:11, 13) but must guard against over-confidence (1 Corinthians 10:12).

If Paul had not attained, apprehended, or become perfect, neither have we. And that’s OK. The apostle lays out the steps we need to take moving forward.

I press on

Since he had not attained or been perfected, Paul aspired to advance and develop as a Christian. He said in verse 12, “I press on” and again in verse 14, “I press toward the goal.” The Greek word dioko, rendered “press” in these verses was used already in the context. In verse 6, the apostle wrote, “…concerning zeal, persecuting (dioko) the church…” What a stark contrast between Paul as a Pharisee and as a Christian. He was devout in both scenarios. Formerly, he passionately sought to harm the church. Now, he was zealous for Christ and His people, seeking to serve the Lord, prepare himself for heaven, and influence as many for the gospel’s sake as he could.

As we press on, it is enlightening to notice some of the occasions Paul used dioko in his writing:

  • “…let us pursue (dioko) the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19)
  • “…persecuted (dioko), but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians 4:9)
  • “…always pursue (dioko) what is good both for yourselves and for all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • “…pursue (dioko) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)
  • “…pursue (dioko) righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
  • “Pursue (dioko) peace with all people, and holiness…” (Hebrews 12:14)

Let us press on. Or in other language used by the Bible writer, we must “…fight the good fight…” (1 Timothy 6:12) or we need to “…run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). May we fix our eyes upon the Lord and eternity with Him and earnestly follow Him.

Forget the past and reach ahead

Pumbaa, the warthog from The Lion King movies, eloquently stated, “…you got to put your behind in your past.” Well, at least he’s got the right words. We need to leave our past behind. Do not allow what you were or what you did dictate who you will be or what you will do. For some, it is a matter of nostalgia, yearning for bygone days and past glory. For others, it’s about being consumed by guilt and shame over wickedness and wrongdoing.

Paul already addressed his illustrious past as a Pharisee. He counted it as rubbish, trash, dung. The things which once brought him pride and gratification no longer motivated him. But there’s also his actions against God’s people to consider. He “…was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man…” (1 Timothy 1:13). He sought to destroy the church (Galatians 1:13; Acts 9:1; 22:4; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9). Christians were arrested, punished, and even put to death because of his efforts. He could carry on in life, loathing himself for his prior conduct, or he could trust in the forgiveness of God and use each day to do better. The former would render him useless as a servant of Jesus Christ, for he would be consumed in the misery of what he had done and the agony of knowing it could not be undone. He chose the latter, “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead…” (Philippians 3:13).

We need to leave our past behind us so we can be effective followers of Jesus Christ.

Keep your eye on the prize

The marksman must stay focused on the target. The sprinter must be aware of the finish line. One who is jumping must concentrate on the landing. Whatever the discipline, distraction and preoccupation will make success more and more difficult. No one will be received into heaven accidentally. Yes, we are afforded entrance by the grace and mercy of God, but if it were these and nothing else, then all would go to heaven, for God is not willing that people perish (2 Peter 3:9). Time and again in Scripture, our work, our service, our walk is mentioned as important (2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7). Our service to God must be purposeful and resolute.

Heaven is the goal; thus, we need to be focused on heaven. Many things in this world will vie for our attention, our time, our energy. Some are God-given responsibilities (family, work, community), others are good and wholesome, but may be discretionary in nature. And it can be enjoyable to share in service groups, sports leagues, clubs, etc. But may we realize, these things are supplemental, they are secondary. Do not allow temporal amusement and comforts to distract us from our eternal pursuit – heaven. As we engage in the supplemental or discretionary things of life, always keep in mind we are called to be lights shining in a dark world (Philippians 2:15-16). May our aim always be to glorify God in our lives and to influence others to that end as well.


Like Paul, we have not yet attained, we have not yet been perfected. But the Lord has laid hold of us, calling us by the blessed message of the gospel. May we lay hold of that for which He has laid hold of us. Let us devote ourselves to serving the Lord, not distracted, or discouraged by past failures but motivated to new opportunities from and for the Lord. Friend, keep your eye on the prize – “…the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  

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