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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 3:13, 14 (NIV)
The 2012 American Olympic Gymnastics girls’ team, made up of mostly high-schoolers, was called the “Fabulous Five.” The team featured a young 4-foot-11, 16-year-old gymnast nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel,” an African-American youngster who, in spite of her “supporting” role on the team, won the gold medal in the women’s all-around competition.
Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas moved away from her family for two years to train and prepare for the Olympics. And anyone who is going to win in the Olympics not only must have faith (the belief that he or she will win) and training (the preparation to win). He or she also must have the goal of winning before them all times. It’s just as true in the Olympics of life.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that in order to be a winner, there must be the right amount of exertion. In verse 12 of chapter 3 he says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
It has reference to a hunter pursuing his prey. It also has the idea of a runner chasing the finish line. Whatever the goal, the picture is of pursuit. For Paul it was the hope of “apprehending” something. That word means “to lay hold on.”
So what Paul is saying is, “I am pursuing the goal of laying hold on all that Jesus laid hold on me for.” He
realized that he had been saved for a purpose and that God had a plan for his life. Paul would not be satisfied until he had apprehended that for which he had been apprehended.
Then he says in verse 13, “This one thing I do.” Paul was a specialist. Just like an Olympic athlete, Paul specialized in one thing: reaching the goal. Notice that he left the past behind him and he reached for the future. People excel when they specialize. If you want to know the secret of Paul’s success, it is that Paul had a one-track mind. Nothing was as important to him as was pleasing the Lord. Gabby had a one-track mind when she set out to be an Olympian gymnast.
In verse 13, Paul continues to encourage us by adding, “Forgetting those things which are behind.” In essence, “I refuse to look behind me at my past.” The word forgetting means “to cease to be affected by.” If one runs with your eyes on past successes, you will have the tendency to hold back and rest on accomplishments. If one runs with eyes on past failures, you will tend to stay back for fear of failing again.
Paul then helps us in this biblical text by stating that in order to be a winner, one must possess the right expectation. The Olympic athlete has one goal in view. Paul testifies that he was oblivious to his surroundings, and he was just heading for the goal. He wanted to finish well. When Gabby was preparing to compete, she was completely blind to the noise of the crowd, the music that was blaring and the applause for the other athletes who were competing simultaneously. She wanted the “prize,” the gold medal.
So, in light of the exertion and the expectation, the exhortation here is compelling. If one is to succeed in the Christian life and honor God by the lives we live, then we are going to have to run the race and compete in this life, His way.
We will have to run with our eyes upon Him. We will have to learn to turn a blind eye to the allurements of the world and a deaf ear to the siren song of compromise. If we will attain the prize, then we will have to pay the price of dedication and struggle. It will be a hard fought victory, but in the end, when we see His face, it will be worth it all.
Others have done it. Moses was a hotheaded orphan, with a troubled background, a misfit at shepherd, but he became a winner. David was a country sheep herder. The king overlooked him, and the giant Goliath underestimated him. But he became a winner. The Apostle Paul was a sickly rebel, and a religious trouble maker, but he changed and became a winner.
And with the right exertion, and right expectation…there’s a winner in each of us. I pray you find your area of concentration!
The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTR Ministries.com