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Focus on the Goal! (Week 4 Lecture)

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How many of you wear glasses, either for reading or distance? How many of you did wear glasses but fixed the problem with surgery? Since I was 12 years old, I have worn glasses to see objects in the distance. Everything more than a foot away is out of focus, and the further away it gets, the fuzzier it becomes!

That’s why I wear contacts for distance—so I can see all of you just fine. But when I have them in, they prevent me from focusing my eyes on what is right in front of me. Then, I have to use glasses in order to read. So every day I have to make a choice about what to focus on in order to get anything done. If I am out and about, I wear my contacts, but if I am reading, I don’t because they keep me from being able to see the words. My goal determines my focus. The same thing is true physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Without focus, we will not achieve the goals before us; without focus, we will not gain the reward in the race.

We’re all aware that highly successful people focus on what is important. They learn to mentally fix their sights on what is ahead. We see it in business, politics, and in the athletic world.

One of today’s most-focused athletes is swimmer Michael Phelps. Although he has recently been in the news in a more unfavorable light, smoking pot, he is truly a great athlete, having won seven Olympic gold medals in Athens in 2004 and a record-setting eight gold medals last year in Beijing.

In order to achieve his goals, Phelps has been training for years, learning the techniques of swimming and building up his body. He began competing when he was only seven-years-old. To concentrate on one thing for that many years and to train an additional four years after having already won seven golds indicate great focus and determination.

Watch this video where Phelps describes his focus. (clip)

Basically, Michael Phelps keeps his eyes on his objectives. He thinks of nothing else as he approaches the race; he is single-mindedly focused on his goals.

The apostle Paul modeled that same kind of focus. He was motivated to continue his race by keeping his eyes on the goal before him; thus, he kept on keeping on despite hardship, persecution, and opposition.

What was the goal that motivated him to continue running when the race grew hard? By extension, what goal will keep us going in our races?

Let’s look at Phil.3 to answer. I know that you read this passage along with some others in your homework, but now we’ll look at it in more detail.

Begin in v. 10:

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul said in vv. 10-11 that his aim or his goal was to know him, meaning Jesus. Your translation may not use the word “aim”; however, the Greek construction apparently indicates purpose so the translators put the word aim here to clarify Paul’s meaning. It was his purpose, his aim to know Jesus.

The Greek word for “to know” is ginosko, which is also used as a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse. It involves the idea of intimacy. The term wasn’t used to avoid the word sex but to suggest more than simply physical union, to indicate an intimate knowledge of someone else. The word suggests the difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing them personally.

Our goal should be the same as Paul’s—to intimately and experientially know Jesus.

Your goal: intimately experientially knowing Jesus

In Jesus’ prayer the night before his crucifixion, he said this in John 17:

“Now this is eternal life– that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.”

So often we think eternal life means life after death. That’s wrong! Eternal life begins as soon as we trust Jesus because it’s all about knowing him. Eternal life is about life on earth as well as life in heaven, life that is all about knowing Jesus more and more.

Are you motivated by the thought of increasingly knowing Jesus? What difference would it make in how you accepted what is happening in your life right now if you saw it as an opportunity to know him more personally? Paul described in detail what is involved in growing intimacy with Jesus; it involves experiencing the power of Jesus’ resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, and becoming like him in his death.

So first, intimately knowing Jesus involves experiencing his resurrection power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us as believers, and through it, we experience the presence of Jesus. But how do we know that power? It happens as we serve with the gifts that he has given us; it happens as he carries us through hard times; it happens as God works to answer our prayers and as we lean on his strength and his grace.

It was only as an adult that I really began to know in a personal way the power of God. He was there as I walked through my father’s illness and death; he was there when I taught the Bible; he was there when I showed love for my husband that I didn’t always feel. Every time I relied on him rather than myself, I experienced his power came to know him more.

According to Paul, knowing Jesus not only involves experiencing the power of his resurrection, it also involves knowing the fellowship of his sufferings. Jesus dealt with suffering both as he walked through life and as he accepted the abuse and sin involved in his passion. But Jesus viewed his suffering as purposeful; he did it so that we might be reconciled to God.

How do we share in Jesus’ sufferings? He has paid the full cost of our sins; our sins are gone forever. So what does it mean to partner with him in his sufferings? In Philippians, Paul connects sharing Jesus’ sufferings with becoming conformed to his death. We share in his sufferings as we die to ourselves and live for him, as we give up what we want and serve others for a greater purpose, just as he did in his suffering and death.

We see this in 1 Peter 2:20-25:

For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

When we die to self and give ourselves to others for the sake of Jesus, we may suffer; it’s hard! But when we respond as Jesus did, we come to know him. When we don’t retaliate but love our enemies, when we don’t speak in anger to someone who is angry with us; when we don’t do what we would enjoy to give time to those who need our encouragement and help; when we give up our own aspirations to focus on the needs of our families—these are the ways that we begin to know Jesus more intimately and personally because we experience his suffering and his death tangibly.

As we have followed Paul’s life so far, we have seen him experience the sufferings and death of Jesus. Over and over and over he was persecuted, beaten, and imprisoned for the sake of Christ. Yet, he never stopped but joyfully stayed faithful to his race.

A member of my extended family is going through a divorce. She and her husband agreed not to talk about each other. But will she do that if he slanders her to mutual friends, his parents, or their children? I am praying that she will be like Jesus in the situation, even if she suffers for it. I am praying that she will refrain from retaliation and bitterness and be forgiving and gracious. That would be a tough thing: to forgive if there’s no repentance, and to refrain from retaliation if there is slander. However, in doing so, she would share in Jesus’ suffering and death by living out of his resurrection power, and thereby come to know Jesus more.

Although we talked about the fact that each of us has a unique calling and gifting and therefore a unique ministry, the race is equally or even more about our character and our influence. If we were to see everything in our lives as essential to developing the character of Jesus in us so that we come to experiential knowledge of him, it might transform our attitudes toward those things.

It’s Romans 8:28-29:

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

We can accept whatever comes because we believe that God will use it to make us more like Jesus and we will come to know him more and more intimately. Instead of being bitter about the way someone has treated us or angry about the circumstances into which God has placed us, our acceptance means that we will determine to learn from it and act as Jesus would.

Last week for our share questions, many of you talked about where you are in the race—full speed ahead, sidelined with injury, in training, and so on; they were great questions for sharing. But today I want you to think of the fact that whatever life situation that you felt was stopping you or sidelining you may actually part of your race. God can use it to bring you to know Jesus more and, therefore, become like him in his death.

However, if you are sidelined for your own lack of faith, your reluctance to follow Jesus, your sins, or your lack of effort, know that these are not put in your race by God. You have to determine to put those aside and get back in the race. But if you feel sidelined by circumstances that have come into your life, know that you aren’t really sidelined; this is part of your race. If you are home with children, that is not keeping you from your race, it is an essential part of your race. Or maybe you feel sidelined by an illness or a hard relationship. Whatever it is, think—how is God using that part of your race to make you more like Jesus? What people have come into your life as a result of your situation? How are you to influence them?

Every life situation is part of knowing Jesus more and more. When you work for a boss who is overbearing and unjust, you share in the sufferings of Christ if you respond in love, praying for her. When you have to care for a sick child or parent, you experience dying to self. When your husband or co-worker needs your help with something and your do so willingly despite your own busyness, you experience the death of Jesus. When you face a devastating illness, you have the opportunity to experience Christ’s resurrection power each day as you walk through it with him.

Look back at Phil. 3:12. Paul says that he aimed to somehow attain to the resurrection of the dead. If we were to read everything Paul said about the resurrection of the believer, we would see clearly that he isn’t saying that it’s an iffy thing as to whether his body is resurrected for eternity. So what does he mean? The best explanation that I read is that in knowing Jesus and experiencing his death, Paul hoped to live out on earth a glimpse of the resurrection life that Jesus brings. He hoped that others would see Jesus living in him. If we aim to know Jesus in the midst of every situation we face, we’ll live out his resurrection life and achieve the goal of knowing him.

Our goal is knowing Jesus. What is our responsibility to see that happen?

Let’s reread Phil. 3:12-14:

Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul knew that he hadn’t achieved perfection yet and would not while on earth, and neither will we. But we don’t quit trying simply because it’s not possible to be totally like Jesus in this life. Paul says we are responsible to put forth intense effort.

Your responsibility: intense effort

We see this repeated: in v. 12—Paul strives; in v. 13 he reaches out; and in v. 14 he again strives. All of these phrases suggest using our best efforts. Success in the race involves hard work. It’s not “Let go and let God.” We are to actively work to move forward with Jesus, to come to know him and to become like him.

There are many things involved in striving, reaching out, or exerting intense effort to come to know and be like Jesus. But one thing you can do and have committed to do is your weekly lesson for this Bible study. It is impossible to know someone without an investment of time. And being in God’s word is essential to spend time with him; it’s through his word that he talks to you!

Paul was actively and intensely striving toward his goal, and we must do the same if we are to run the race well. We also learn from Paul’s mindset. He said that he forgot the past and reached ahead.

Your mindset: forgetting the past and reaching ahead

Now, it’s not about totally forgetting everything in the past. We learn from the past and we are to remember God’s work in our lives. Those things help us move forward. But we must never let the past stop us in the race. There is no retirement in the race that allows you to quit serving God and to stop focusing on knowing Jesus. Paul says we must continue reaching ahead!

At the top of this chapter in Philippians Paul said that he let go of his past, which included both good and bad, in order to know Jesus. What are you holding onto? Past achievements or past sins? Or both? If you are focused anywhere but on the goal ahead, you will not exert the effort needed to achieve it.

For several years I was connected to a large Bible teaching ministry. I not only taught my own groups of women, I also traveled the country teaching workshops on how to study the Bible and how to lead small groups. But some difficult circumstances came into my life involving some other people loosely connected to that ministry. As a result, I had to determine whether God wanted me to keep going on that course or whether this situation was meant to redirect my race. The passage that he used to guide me was this one—“forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out to the things that are ahead.” I couldn’t shake the verses! I couldn’t move forward if I focused on past ministry and the hurts that had come into my life; I had to turn my thoughts to the future. That was when I went to seminary to prepare for whatever that was—and of course, that eventually brought me here.

Paul laid out his goal—knowing Jesus; he emphasized his responsibility to exert intense effort to move forward; he described his mindset as single-minded; and finally he mentioned the reward. Look again at Phil. 3:

Your reward: God’s upward call as victor

Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Apparently in the games of those days, the victor was called upward to be presented with the prize, which was often a laurel wreath or garland. At the Athens Olympics in 2004 they recreated that tradition, as you can see in this picture of Michael Phelps with a laurel wreath on his head.

The day will come when you will be called upward to Jesus where he will reward you for faithfully completing your race. Our translations of the Bible use the word crown, but it’s that wreath. What a great day on the winner’s platform that will be if we have been faithful to the race that he has given us and are recognized by Jesus as victors. The greatest part will be Jesus’ pleasure in what we have done. If we will keep our eyes on the goal of knowing him, forgetting the past and intensely moving ahead to the reward, we will hear him say “Well done, my good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your Master” (Mt. 25:21).

Related Topics: Curriculum, Discipleship

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