Shelby G. Floyd
Good morning. We need to follow Jesus everyday according to the words of that song! Welcome to 2021. We’ve all survived 2020 during the year of Covid 19! In times past we have been told to stay away from negative people, but last year we were told to stay away from positive people. It seems like the whole world is turned upside down—the old people are slipping out of the house and going out and their kids are yelling to stay indoors. But we have all survived.
Our lesson today is “I Press On!” I press on is the statement from the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12 through 16. Clay Brown, you did a good job reading that text. And I hope all of you will open up your Bibles and look at the text, because that’s where we’re going to drive the stake down today and talk about that statement from Paul to the church at Philippi. And if you think about it he had some really bad things to happen to him in Philippi. You remember it started out in a good way when he went out by the riverside and some women were having a prayer meeting. This gave Paul an opportunity for him to preach the word of God to them and then they were baptized into Christ. So they continued having prayer meeting every time they could get together.
In the meantime there were some people that served idols and Paul had preached that there is just one God, and so their idol selling business was falling apart. They stirred up the people and had the magistrates to beat them and put them in jail and the jailer put them in the inner part of the prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Now many years later after Paul baptized the jailer who became a Christian, along with Lydia, Paul is writing back to that church and he says, “I press on!”
Now I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions, because when you do, you end up breaking them anyway. But here’s one that we can all make and if we do make this resolution, it’ll take care of any others that we could possibly make. And that resolution is “I Press On.” And it’s in the first person singular, so it can apply to all of us. We can all say in 2021, I Press On and not get tied up in negativity! Paul was a positive person, so he says I press on.
When we go back to biblical times there were a lot of idols of all kinds. When Paul visited in Athens, Greece, there were so many gods that they were afraid they had left one out and so when Paul walked around through the city he found an idol with the inscription “To The Unknown God,” and he used that phrase as his proof text and preached a great sermon on the God that they did not know—the God that created heaven and earth.
The Romans also had their pagan gods and the pagan god Janus was pictured as a two-faced god—one face look back at the old year and the new face looked forward to the New Year! So Janus was a god that looked both back and forward, and that’s where we got our name for January. All of us here at Heartland are looking forward to 2021 and we’re not looking back to March, April, and May when the coronavirus started. We’re looking forward to January and the New Year.
James Stevens, one of our former elders had a saying and he said if Mother Nature doesn’t get you, Father Time will! And you know all of us are getting older and someone said, “Being old doesn’t seem as old now that I am old!” Therefore we just need to live our lives and not worry about getting older!
In today’s Scripture we have Paul’s classic statement: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). If you look back to verse 11, which is that verse before our text, he said, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Paul did not consider himself to be complete, or perfect, or full-grown. He says I’m still striving because when Jesus comes back again I want to attain to the resurrection of the dead, and we all want that! That’s what we’re all looking forward to as we go through all of the stuff down here. But in the end we look forward to attaining a new body at the resurrection at the last day.
THE ABILITY TO BE HONEST—PHILIPPIANS 3:12-13
Now let us look at this text and the first point we want to emphasize is we all need to have the ability to be honest. We should be somewhat dissatisfied with where we are spiritually. If you’re satisfied with your spiritual progress you are not going to grow. I hope all of you will read the Bible through in 2021. Sarah and I just finished reading the Bible all the way through and it’s amazing how much you will learn by just reading the Bible—Old and New Testament. Read a certain amount of passages each day and your knowledge and your devotion and service to God will increase beyond what you might expect. And so let’s read our Bibles through in 2021.
Paul says, “Not that I have already attained or already perfected, but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. But I count not myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:12-13). Therefore, we all need to have a sense of deficiency and incompleteness. We are not full-grown yet! We must see ourselves objectively, honestly and personally. And we need to do a self-examination. All of us go to the doctors and we have examinations physically, but we need to do spiritual self-examinations to see where we are in our devotion and journey of serving the Lord Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:12 Paul says “Not that I have already attained”—we haven’t become full-grown yet, I’m not already perfected. The word perfected in the Bible doesn’t mean you are without sin—it just means that you are mature and you have become full-grown. The recognition of immaturity is a mark of authentic maturity, the mark of perfection is to acknowledge that we are not perfect, so just tell yourself I’m not perfect. I need to grow, I need to advance, I need to go forward, I need to press on! This is what some people call “dynamic discontent.” So we need to be somewhat discontented with our spiritual state. Do not compare yourself with other people, especially if you compare yourself with people that are not growing very far and not advancing very much. You know we make two mistakes in self-examination, and the one is we see ourselves better than we really are, and the other extreme is we see ourselves worse than we really are! So somewhere in the middle is how we should see ourselves advancing on to completeness.
THE ABILITY TO PERSIST—PHILIPPIANS 3:13-14
Number two, we must have the ability to concentrate, to be devoted to a certain thing. In concentration there’s penetration and power. You can take a hammer and if you beat on a big rock at the same place long enough, you’re going to crack that rock open. So there is power in penetration. Paul says, “this one thing I do!” Sometimes if we try to do too many things, we do not do a very good job on any. But Paul said, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to the things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Therefore concentrate on reaching forward. Paul had one dominant purpose in his life, one singular purpose and that was “one thing I do.” Athletes become champions by specializing in one sport. Once in a while we’ll see an athlete try to do football and basketball, but usually it doesn’t turn out very good. You have to concentrate on one sport to become a real champion. The Bible says a double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. So just think about Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s the one thing we need to focus on. “I press forward toward the goal for the prize—there’s a prize out there and it’s an upward call. It’s not a call down on this earth. We spend too much time on our calling on this earth. We need to concentrate on our upward call for that great prize the Lord will give us at the last day!
THE ABILITY TO FORGET—PHILIPPIANS 3:13
Number three, we must have some direction in our life as we go forward in 2021. And to do that we have to learn to forget. And you may say, “I don’t have a problem with that now.” We must learn to forget as well as to remember. We have to be independent of the past. We all make mistakes in our life and we don’t have to repeat them every day and live them over and over again. Paul says, “Forgetting the things which are behind.” Have you ever thought about what Paul had to forget?
When we open up Acts chapter 8 the Bible says that the New Testament Christians were scattered abroad because they were being persecuted. Who was the ringleader in that persecution? It was Saul of Tarsus, later to become Paul. He was bringing men and women in chains and putting them in prison. In one place, he said that when they were put to death he gave his voice against them. He thought he was doing the right thing, he thought that Christianity was a fraud, that it was not the true religion. He believed that only the Jewish religion was true. And it’s amazing that a man that was so knowledgeable of the Jewish religion had never really been able to focus on all those prophecies about the coming Messiah and what it would look like and how there would be a new beginning for the Gentiles. So Paul is persecuting the church and putting men and women to death. And you know he did forget it to some extent, but in some ways he didn’t forget it, because one time in the Bible he said when Stephen was martyred I gave my vote against him. We know it bothered Paul that he had something to do with the death of the first martyr in the church—Stephen! Therefore, Paul had to forget all that and not dwell on it, because he became a Christian and the Lord Jesus spoke to him and said, “I have chosen you to go to the Gentiles and to carry my word throughout the world.” So Paul had to forget the past and we must forget the past. We must not dwell on the past because we have been forgiven. When we were baptized into Christ his blood has been applied and we were forgiven of all those sins. So why bring them up?
We must learn to forget as well as to remember. Someone said, “I have reached the age where my train of thought leaves the station without me!” When it comes to your past, maybe your train of thought needs to leave the station without you. Remember Paul’s words, “forgetting those things which are behind.”
Now let me give you some examples of people that didn’t learned to forget the past. In the book of Genesis and shortly after God drove man out of the Garden of Eden, the whole world became corrupt. This reminds us of what’s going on everywhere today. It just seems like the whole world is full of corruption. The city of Sodom was very corrupt and it was located down south of the Dead Sea. It was practicing homosexuality, murder and wickedness of every kind. An angel visited Lot and his family and Lot didn’t want to leave that city. The angel finally had to grab hold of Lot and pull him out of there, along with his wife and his family. God told them not to look back as they headed to some of the little towns away from Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. She needed to forget that place because she was going to live in a different location.
God wants us to forget our past life and focus on the life that Christ wants us to live. Let us remember the story that Jesus told in Luke the ninth chapter. Those of us who have grown up on a farm and plowed a field can appreciate what Jesus taught. He said, “No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.” I enjoyed growing up plowing fields on the north side of Indianapolis. I would always focus on some object at the far end of the field when I would plow the first furrow. You wanted the plowing to look straight. You didn’t want it to be crooked like a snake and so you focused your eyes on the object at the other end of the field. So what God is telling us is, don’t let your life be crooked by focusing on everything in the world. Instead pick out something that’s really good and focus on that and grow and develop and you’ll be a much better person.
THE ABILITY TO PERSIST—PHILIPPIANS 3:14
That brings us to the fourth application and that is determination—the ability to persist! Some people just give up so easily and so quickly. If the task becomes a little hard and difficult and takes too much energy, they quit. We should have the determination that regardless of what is thrown against us in this life, we are going to persist and we are going to come through it successfully. Don’t ever give up! We should in fact have the willpower and determination to not let anything keep us from accomplishing our goal! We know that there is a definite need for straining and unceasing endeavor to never give up. Many Christians are Past Futurists—they live in the past and they live in the future and very little is left in the present for them to do. Don’t live in the past and don’t live in the future. Live in the present!
There are two extremes that we need to avoid. Some people say, “I must do it all.” Other people say, “God must do it all.” If you say I must do it all, that’s an activist. If you say God must do it all, that’s a quietist. But what did Paul say in Philippians 3:13-14, “I do not count myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do,” looking ahead he said, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ.” The phrase “reaching forward” in the original language means “the idea of stretching out and working toward the goal.” In track and field, people who run long distances like Eric Long, when they come to the end of the race, it’s called “the home stretch!” This word “stretching out” means that you reach down inside of you and pull out something you didn’t know you had and you give it everything you’ve got to finish the race instead of dropping out.
There seems to be a law of nature that a man will be unhappy to the proportion in which he lives below his highest possibilities. Therefore, if you have high possibilities that you could achieve and you live all the time below your potential, you will not be a happy person. God expects us to get busy and reach our full potential. This is expressed in the song we sing,
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining everyday, Still praying as I onward bound, Lord plant my feet on higher ground.
THE ABILITY TO PLAY BY THE RULES
Nobody is a success without being disciplined. This means that we must learn to play by the rules. Almost every endeavor has some rules and some people don’t want to play by the rules. They want to do everything their own way. They are stubborn. But Paul says in Philippians 3:15-16, “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” What kind of mind? He said, “…let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Philippians 3:16). We don’t have a human creed here at the Heartland Church of Christ. Our creed is the Bible! Therefore, we all walk by the same rule. Your Bible and my Bible say the same thing, so the Bible is our creed. Therefore we all walk by that rule.
Some of our athletes today haven’t learned that one must play and compete by the rules. Some win and are praised as a champion, only later to be exposed for not playing by the rules and are disqualified. It is embarrassing to be disqualified! When we get to the judgment bar of God, we do not want to be disqualified. Therefore Paul teaches us to all walk by the same rule and have the same mind:
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.”-1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Therefore, we all must play by the same rule. And the rule is that we are to be faithful, forget the past, don’t give up, and grasp the prize of eternal life.
That’s what we ask you to do today. 2020 is handing 2021 the vaccine that we all hope and expect to prevent us from getting the plague! Hopefully, we won’t have to wear these masks and stay away from everybody. I miss the sweet fellowship with everybody, and so let’s all pray that God will be with us and will have a better year in 2021.
Today if you are subject to the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Why not come forward and be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), and you will be added to the church, and your name will be enrolled in the Lamb’s book of life? If you have fallen away, come back and be restored by the precious blood of Jesus (1 John 1:6-10). We plead with you while we stand and sing the song of encouragement.
Copyright © 2021 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon, January 3, 2021, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142