Saturday, December 31, 2016

Watchnight Sermon: Philippians 3: 13-14 Pressing on

In a matter of minutes, we’ll be into the new year. For many people, that means that their new year’s resolutions kick in. I wonder if you can guess what the top resolutions in the UK are?

1. Lose weight. 2. Get organised. 3. Spend less, save more. 4. Enjoy life to the fullest. 5. Stay fit and healthy. 6. Learn something exciting. 7. Quit smoking. 8 Help others achieve their dreams. 9. Fall in love. 10 Spend more time with family.

I wonder if your resolution is in that list? Or maybe you’ve resolved something else? This time last year, a group of people resolved to read through the Bible in a year - and they’ve now done it (and are starting through it again tomorrow!). Perhaps you could join us this year - pick up a reading plan in the porch.

When you think of it, most resolutions bring about some sort of change - we say to ourselves, things are going to be different this year. Our resolutions make us say no to some things, in order to say yes to our target. So if we want to lose weight, we say no to the sticky buns and yes to the fruit and veg. Or we’ll say no to just dumping everything in a big pile, and yes to putting everything neatly in its place, if we want to get organised. It takes some effort, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

Well, in our reading tonight from Philippians, we find what looks like a new year’s resolution. Except, this isn’t just something to try for a week or two; this isn’t just for one year; this is Paul’s lifetime resolution. His ongoing aim:

‘But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 3:13-14)

This is the one thing Paul does; the aim and direction of his life. His eye is on the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, he cannot wait to be face to face with God in heaven. As he presses on towards the prize, he cannot go in any other direction.

When I was learning to drive, I had a bad habit. When reversing, I didn’t shift around to look out the back window; I would try to use the mirrors. My poor driving instructor told me that I wouldn’t look out the back window when I was going forward, so why would I look out the front when I was reversing. There’s wisdom in that. Look the way you’re going! Or, as Paul says, ‘forgetting what lies behind.’

This past year may have been one of joy, or one of sorrow. You may have enjoyed everything about it, or struggled to make it to this point. No matter what, Paul urges us to (respectfully) forget about it. Don’t dwell in the past - either your successes or your failures. Don’t look backwards at things which can’t be changed.

Earlier in Phil 3, Paul tells us about his own past, his confidence in the flesh - how he worked so hard to earn his way to heaven with God. He thought he had it all, only to realise that it was all loss, rubbish (dung). Perhaps this year we’ve been trying to work our way into God’s good books; we’ve been putting our efforts into things that don’t profit. Listen to Paul: he forgets what lies behind.

Instead, he strains forward to what lies ahead. When I take our dogs for a walk, you would think that it’s them taking me for a walk. They don’t walk sedately by my side, no, they’re straining forward, almost pulling me along. It’s that sort of image Paul gives us of the one thing he does. He was probably thinking of the Olympics, the athletes straining forward for the prize. We watched the Rio games this summer, Usain Bolt winning even more gold medals. Even now, three and a bit years away, athletes are training to win gold at Tokyo 2020.

But our prize is more certain. The upward call of God is made possible through Jesus - our place in heaven is secured by his death for us. We receive his righteousness by faith (not by our works). Our future is secure; and so we can press on, straining forward to what lies ahead. As Paul puts it in verse 12: ‘I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.’

In verse 10 Paul tells us what this straining forward looks like - knowing Christ, and the power of his resurrection, AND sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. It’s not always easy to press on. And yet, with the prospect of heaven before us, it’s no wonder Paul makes this the one thing he does - forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Will you make this your resolution this year?

This sermon was preached at the Watchnight Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Saturday 31st December 2016.

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