Shelby G. Floyd
Some people are two-faced. Now that I have your attention, I do not mean to be offensive to you, but some of us are two-faced in this sense—the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was pictured as a two-faced man; one face turned back toward the old year with its sorrows, disappointments and shortcomings, and the other face was toward the New Year with all of its hopes, and anticipations of good things to come.
Too many of us are like Janus, we’re trying to look back at the old year, and at the same time trying to look forward to the New Year. In that sense we are two-faced.
THE ISRAELITES GO FORWARD
A long time ago, about 70 souls went down into Egypt. Those people were the children of Jacob, along with Jacob himself. Altogether there were about 75 people because Joseph and his family were already down there. During the years that passed, those people living in the land of Goshen multiplied to a wonderful number of something like to two to three million people.
Finally, there arose a king, or Pharaoh, which knew not Joseph. He took advantage of all those people and made slaves out of them. They cried out to God for deliverance from their bondage. God raised up a man by the name of Moses. Moses spent forty years educating himself in the royal court of the Egyptians. He was filled with the wisdom and authority of the Egyptians, but he was also filled with the knowledge and wisdom of God’s revelation. Moses attempted to lead the people out of bondage, and he was rejected. Therefore, he had to flee to the land of Midian, where he spent another forty years taking care of the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro. Therefore, when he was eighty years old, God sent Moses down to deliver these people out of bondage and to be their leader.
Moses was a man that made excuses. He said, “I am a slow of speech, I cannot talk.” So God sent his brother Aaron down with him. They went before Pharaoh and told him what God wanted him to do, and Pharaoh refused. As a result, God brought ten plagues upon these people culminating in the death of the firstborn of all the Egyptians. Then Pharaoh was ready to let them go.
The people were scared, they were filled with fear, and they wanted to look back at the land in Egypt, as well as to the land that flowed with milk and honey. They were taken out to the Red Sea, and they didn’t know what they were going to do. The Egyptians were pursuing them from behind, mountains were on the each side of them, and there was the Red Sea before them.
In Exodus 14: 15, God said to Moses,
And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.
Go forward—that is what we need to do today. The children of Israel had come so far, and then they had stopped, and they started looking back. They were crying to God, and the Lord said, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the children of Israel, to go forward.” Now they had obstacles before them, but God said, “Go forward.”
Today we must go forward as a church, and as a people, or we will surely die. We need to have the courage to go forward in Bible study, having a greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible. We need to go forward with the courage to convert people to Christ. We need to have the courage to be soul winners for our Lord, to do more evangelism, teaching the people from house to house as well as publicly.
Several years ago, I read a story about an elder in the church at Lubbock, Texas. Even when he was ninety years old, he attended the elders meetings, and always the chairman at the end of the business meeting would say, “Do you have anything to say.” The elder couldn’t hear too well, so he didn’t say too much, but always at the close of the business meeting, he would say, “brethren, let us go forward.” That man was no doubt a great encouragement to that church. He was still able at ninety years old, and older, to do some good for the church. What was he doing that was good? He was urging the people to go forward. That’s what God was urging the people to do, to go forward.
THE PHILIPPIANS WERE TO PRESS FORWARD
Today, God is urging us to go forward. In Philippians 3, Paul said,
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.
►Honesty Is Required To Go Forward
Let us take a closer look at that passage. All successful people are people who are honest with themselves and others. An honest person is a person who will examine his own life, his own ability, and he will tell himself, “Now you have imperfections, you have shortcomings, and you can improve over here in this area, you can do better over there.” That is an honest person. A dishonest person will tell himself that he is perfect or that he is doing better than he really is—so he deceives himself.
We can have self-deception. Paul was an honest man. As great as he was, as much as he had accomplished, he still didn’t feel like he had arrived at ultimate perfection. So he says, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” He had not laid hold onto that goal of perfection for which he was striving even at the time he was writing this letter to the Philippians. At the time he wrote this letter he was imprisoned at Rome, and yet, Philippians is one of the most optimistic letters in all the New Testament. It is a letter that urges brethren to go forward, and Paul had that spirit about him even when he was imprisoned. Now that is the first thing—we have got to be the honest with ourselves if we expect to go forward. If we expect to go forward, we have got to examine ourselves and see where we are deficient, see where our strong points are, and then try to strengthen our hands, and improve in those areas were we fall short.
►Concentration Is Required To Go Forward
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do.” That is the second thing I want to emphasize. You know all of us can have multiple interests. If we are not careful we will start a project and we will not follow through with it until completion. We will go over and start another project, we may dabble in it for a while unto we lose interest, and we will lay it down and take up something else. You know, the world may recognize and call people popular who dabble in different things, but the really successful people are people who have had concentration. Many people who have made great inventions have been people who have worked at it for years and for years. They have persevered in one thing for years and years until they accomplished it.
►Audubon Concentrated On Wildlife
Audubon is the man that is known for his pictures and writings of wildlife. I read the story of how he plunged into the forest, and lived with the birds and animals for three years, and made drawings of these animals and their habitat. Then he trusted these drawings to his friend who was careless, and he allowed them to be destroyed. Did Audubon give up? No, with perseverance for his goal, he plunged back into the forest again, and spent three more years, and he drew all those pictures of birds and animals again. Today, his name stands in the naturalist hall of fame because of his constancy and his perseverance.
Paul said, “Brethren, this one thing I do.” Now I know we have a lot of things to do, but we ought to have one thing above all that is our main goal, and that is to please Christ. Paul said he counted all things as refuse or dung that he might please Christ. That was the one thing that he was doing.
►Forgetting the Past Is Required To Go Forward
“Brethren, this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,” is the third point I wish to emphasize. There can be no success, advancement or going forward until we forget the past. I do not mean by forgetting the past that we will never recall things in the past, for that would be foolish. We will recall the past through our memory, but Paul meant by forgetting the past that we shouldn’t dwell upon it. His mind did not harbor those things to the extent that he could not get his mind on positive things.
Paul could have spent his time brooding over the fact that he held the garments of them that stoned Stephen. He could have brooded over the fact that he put Christians to death and persecuted the church of God; but that was the past and he couldn’t change that, he couldn’t undo those things. So, the only thing he could do as a wise and sensible person was to get the forgiveness he received when he obeyed the gospel. If God forgives us, sometimes we have to forgive ourselves and put our past mistakes, failures, frustrations and disappointments all behind us.
►Aiming For the Prize Is Required To Go Forward
Paul says, “Forgetting those things which are behind I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” There was a goal out there. That was his calling, and he says, “I press toward that goal.” The word “press” indicates opposition. It indicates there were adversaries. In indicates persecution. So the word press means there was a challenge out there for Paul. It means that he is going to persevere. He is going to stay with his task until the very end. So he says, “I press toward the mark.”
Back in the ancient times they had their athletic contests in Rome, Greece and Ephesus. Today, we have those same contests, and one of the phrases that are sometimes used in track events is “the homestretch.” A person may be running the mile or two-mile race, and when he gets around towards the wire, that is what we call the homestretch. That is what Paul was talking about here. “I press toward the mark.” Paul was that close to his goal. So he was pressing toward the goal for the mark or the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
SIN KEEPS US FROM GOING FORWARD
►The Cloud of Witnesses
Paul was talking in a figure of speech, an athletic contest. This same figure of speech is found over in Hebrews, where the apostle Paul says,
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Now here is the picture of a great athletic contest, and there is a cloud of witnesses that is standing around urging these contestants on to victory. Paul was talking about those people back in Hebrews 11, the great heroes of faith like Deborah, Barak, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Sarah and many others of whom he did not have time to the enumerate. These people had died in faith. They had gone on into the next world, but they are pictured as surrounding in a great enclosure the contestants and urging them to go forward to finish their task.
►Lay Aside Our Weights and Sins
Paul says, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us.” When I worked on the farm, we would wear great big heavy shoes that we called clodhoppers. I know some of you know what I’m talking about. You could wear clodhoppers all day and come home at night and put on tennis shoes, and your feet would feel so light that you felt like you could run 1000 miles. Christian people cannot run the Christian race until we lay aside our weights and our sins that beset us and keep us from achieving our goals. There are a lot of these weights and sins that we need to lay aside today.
We cannot go forward unless we lay aside our besetting sins, deficiencies and shortcomings. Some people can’t run the race because they’re spending their time, money and interest on pleasure. Others can’t run the race because they have got their worldly activities that they must engage in. Paul said let us lay these aside so we can run our race with patience, and so we can press toward that goal. Even Jesus Christ was pressing toward his goal, and he had to endure the cross, and despise the shame, but finally he achieved his goal which was to be seated on the right hand of God, and become the author and finisher of our faith, the captain of our salvation, our redeemer and our savior.
GOING FORWARD ON TO PERFECTION
Over in Hebrews, chapter 6, we have this same thought, but more in a negative way. There the writer was talking about the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchisedec, who was the priest and King of Salem, of whom Abraham recognized his greatness and paid tithes of all the spoils of war as recorded in Genesis 14. The writer recognized that the people could not receive his instructions so he says,
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
The idea here is, let us go forward to perfection.
►Those Who Are Dull of Hearing Are Not Going Forward
In the Bible the word perfection does not mean sin-less-ness. If that were true the Bible would contradict itself, because there is no man that can say, I have not sinned,” nor can he say, “I do not sin” (1 John 1: 6-10). So perfection in the Bible is not sin-less-ness. The root word in the Greek for perfection means maturity, a full-grown man in Christ Jesus. Paul then is urging these people to go on to maturity in the Christian faith. Now there were some reasons why they had not done this, and some of them had been in the church for twenty or thirty years when he wrote this letter. The first reason they were not going on to maturity is because they were dull of hearing. I wonder if some of us are not moving forward because we are dull of hearing. Some of us do become dull of hearing. We are not interested any longer. We let our hands drop down. We need to strengthen our hands and our minds and our interest in the Christian faith. It is sad when we get to the place where we are dull of hearing.
Jesus said in the parable of the sower concerning those people who did not receive the word of God, “they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matthew 13: 13). But in contrast to his disciples he said,
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
So we are blessed if we have the opportunity to hear the word of God and truth of the gospel, but it is sad when we get to the place where we don’t care about studying the Bible any longer, and become dull of hearing. We will not go forward, we will not go on to perfection unless we have an open heart and open mind, and we are interested in hearing the word of truth.
►Those Who Continue In Infancy Are Not Going Forward
There was another reason why they were not going on to perfection. It was because they were infants. Now I wonder if we do not have some gray-headed infants in the church. Sometimes we may have evidence that we have lived a longtime on this earth, but we may be children or babes in understanding and practice. He said, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.” Wouldn’t it be terrible, if in high school or college, people had to be taught the ABC’s over again? Isn’t it bad when members of the church, who have been in the church for years and years, still do not understand the fundamentals, the rudiments, the ABC’s of the gospel?
All of us who have been in the church for years ought to be able to go out and teach other people the truth. But the sad fact is that many of us are like those people. Instead of being teachers, we need teachers to teach us the first principles over and over again. He said they had actually become babies who drink milk instead of full-grown men who absorb and receive strong meat. Strong meat belongs to people who have gone on to perfection. A preacher can preach something that is hard, and members in the church will get upset, they will criticize and they will complain. When a member of the church cannot take strong preaching that person is a babe. He hasn’t advanced, because strong meat belongs to people who have become men who have grown up and matured. It is a sure sign of infancy when a person cannot take the strong meat of God’s word. Strong meat belongs to those who are full age, even those who have exercised their senses where they can discern between right and wrong.
►Infancy Cannot Discriminate Between Good and Evil
Sometimes, a member in the church will ask a preacher or the elders, “well is this thing right, or is that thing wrong?” They are never able to make up their own judgment as to whether anything is right or wrong. What’s the problem? They haven’t advanced in the principles of the Christian religion. So the apostle says, “Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ” (only leaving them in the sense that we leave the ABC’s) we advance on to higher learning. We leave the rudiments of the gospel, and we build upon them. We don’t go back again and lay the first principles of the oracles of God, but we go on to greater things, and to more sublime subjects or goals. Now, the reason they could not do this is because they were acting like babies and they couldn’t go forward.
SELF DISCIPLINE IS REQUIRED TO GO FORWARD
So my friends, we need to be like the apostle Paul as he said in first Corinthians 9,
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Paul was saying, “I’ve got to discipline myself, I have got to bring myself into subjection, so that I can win the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
You know the wonderful thing about Paul is the fact that when he was in his second Roman imprisonment, and he was nearing the end of his life, he could still write a letter to young Timothy and say, “Timothy, go forward, advance, go on to perfection, press for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And as an encouragement he said, “Timothy, I have fought a good fight.” The word fought there means agonize—I have agonized a good fight—I have kept the faith—I have finished my course. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness and not for me only but for all them also that love his appearing.” Paul had gone forward, and now his life was over, he looked forward to the crown of life, that crown of glory that is for Paul and for all others who will go forward and love the Lord’s appearing.
As we approach and enter a new year, let us examine ourselves and look at our own weaknesses and imperfections. Let us concentrate on our goal of converting the world to Christ. Let us forget the past. Let us press toward our mark. Let us lay aside our weights and our sins that beset us. Let us look forward. Let us discipline ourselves. Let us agonize a good fight. Let us finish our course. Let us keep the faith. And if we will do that, God will bless our efforts and he will crown us with success.*
Copyright © 2013 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon January 13, 2013 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142. This lesson has been presented many times based on different texts over a period of fifty years.
Shelby G. Floyd