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Let's Win the Race
Scripture: Psalms 42:1-2; Philippians 3:12-16; mark...
Track 4 of 6 in the Philippians-A Life of Joy series
Running time: 1 hour, 01 minute

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

In your dream of the ideal lifestyle, are you more like the pioneer (always pushing on) or the settler (planning to settle down)? What drives people to always push on for something new, the great adventure? Why did the pioneers move west and face all the dangers that were out there in the great unknown? What were they looking for?

I love reading about famous people and learning the history that surrounded them. Men like Lewis and Clark seem fascinating to me because these guys loved to discover what was out their in the great unknown. I always wonder what secret these people had that made them great. I love watching the History channel and I always try to put myself in their place and ask myself what I would do if I were faced with the same challenges. What is the secret that drives people we consider great to do the things they do?

Today there seems to be a flurry of new biographies being written and movies being made about the great people of the past. These give us a better understanding of who these great people were and what circumstances they faced in their lives. We can learn from their successes and mistakes and we can better our lives by finding the secrets that made them great and successful in all that they attempted to accomplish.

In Philippians 3, Paul is giving us his spiritual biography. In chapter 3 he writes about his past, his present and his future. We have already met Paul the accountant who discovered new values when he met Jesus. Today we will meet Paul the athlete with his spiritual vigor, pressing toward the finish line in the Christian race. Next week we will meet Paul the alien having his citizenship in heaven and looking for the coming of Jesus. In each of these experiences, Paul is exercising the spiritual mind.

What role does your perspective play when evaluating your circumstances, the people you deal with everyday and things in your life? How do you develop the proper perspective on life and how do you know if it is correct or not?

Paul looked at things on the earth from God’s point of view. As a result he was not upset by things behind him, around him or before him. Things in his life did not rob him of his Joy because he developed the proper perspective and he understood what they meant to his spiritual life.

There is no doubt Paul was interested in athletics. The Roman world was full of sports and athletics was a major part in the social life of the Roman citizen. Today as archeology uncovers the past history of Rome and its colonies, there is no doubt that every citizen was somehow affected by the sports culture of its time. Jesus also would have encountered athletics while in Palestine. There is little to no mention of sports by Jesus but it was all around him.

How important is sports to our culture and what role does the lifestyle of the athlete play in our society? How are we like the Romans and how are we different? Would Paul relate to our sports culture?

Scholars are unsure what sport Paul is describing. Some think he is describing the runner while others feel he is describing the life of the charioteer. As he uses his illustrations, we have to remember he is not telling us how to be saved. He is writing to the saved church so working to become saved by working for it is the wrong picture. To participate in the Olympic Games, a person had to be a citizen. The participant didn’t compete to gain his citizenship; he could compete because he was a citizen already. This fact is very important to understand what Paul is telling us.

Here is the point to all that Paul is going to teach us today: Because we are already the children of God through faith in Jesus, we have the responsibility of running the race and achieving the goals God has set for us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

For what purpose were you saved? Why did Jesus die to save you?

In athletics, why do the players compete? What is the ultimate goal to win? For the Christian, what is the ultimate goal for winning? To receive the reward. What are the essentials for winning the race and one day receiving the reward that is promised? Philippians 3:12-16 gives us the answer.


Philippians 3:12-13a: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

A great athlete never allows himself to be satisfied with his achievement. He always strives to be better. Perfection is the goal even though perfection in most sports is not possible. The same with the Christian; we should never permit ourselves to be satisfied with our spiritual achievements. Paul was satisfied in Jesus but he was not satisfied with his Christian life. A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.

Harry came out of the manager’s office with a look on his face dismal enough to wilt roses on the secretary’s desk. “You didn’t get fired?” she asked. “No, it’s not that bad. But he sure did lay into me about my sales record. I’ve been bringing in plenty of orders. I thought he’d compliment me, but instead he told me to get with it.”

Later in the day, the secretary talked to her boss about Harry. The boss chuckled, “Harry is one of our best salesmen and I’d hate to lose him. But he has a tendency to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with his performance. If I didn’t get him mad at me once a month, he’d never produce!”

Many Christians are self-satisfied because they compare their running to other Christians, usually those who are not making much progress. Paul was different, he didn’t compare himself to others, he compared himself to Jesus. Paul could have compared himself to other Christians and would have been the Michael Jordan of Christianity (no one was better). But when he compared himself to Jesus, he fell far short and that is what caused Paul to strive harder in his Christian life.

What are the dangers of a false estimate of our own spiritual condition? What can happen and how can Satan use that to his advantage?

There are 2 dangers:

1. Making ourselves better than we are
2. Making ourselves worse than we are

Paul had no illusions about himself; he knew who he was and he knew who was striving for. Because he had a single and submissive mind, he could see and understand his life through the spiritual perspective he needed to have to be like Jesus.

Psalms 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?


Philippians 3:13a: Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do:

“One thing” this is a phrase that is so important to the Christian life. In fact, we see this phrase used a lot by Jesus and others in the Bible:

Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 10:41-42 Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

John 9:25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Psalms 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

Too many Christians are involved in “many things” when the secret of progress is to concentrate on “one thing”. When a team is having trouble winning or an athlete is struggling with performing at a level that causes victory, usually the reason is the athlete is distracted by many things. For those in this class who have played a sport, all of us have heard our coaches yell “get focused”, “pay attention to what you are doing”, “Keep your mind on the game”.

Vince Lombardi is considered the greatest football coach of all time. In fact, the trophy that is given to the winning team in the Super Bowl is named in honor of him, The Lombardi Trophy. He is known for one of the greatest statements in athletics when it comes to the winning attitude:

“Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing”

This statement is a perfect definition of what devotion is. The believer must devote himself to running the Christian race. No athletes succeeds by doing everything, he becomes great by specializing. The winners are those who concentrate, who keep their eyes on the goal and letting nothing distract them. They are devoted entirely to their calling. And so with the Christian; things become the distraction. When we place our sights on the earthly things our devotion to the spiritual things in life usually get set aside. No wonder Christians struggle with life when they concentrate on many things.


Philippians 3:13b: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead

The unsaved person is controlled by the past but the Christian running the race looks toward the future.

Imagine what would happen if the charioteers or the runners started their race looking behind them? What would happen? What would happen to the basketball player if he or she were always looking behind them? How would it affect their play?

We are accustomed to saying past, present and future. But for the Christian, time flows from the future into the present and then into the past. The Christian is a future oriented thinker and forgets those things that are behind. Paul is not saying to fail to remember the past, what Paul is saying is Christians are no longer to be influenced by or affected by the past.

Hebrews 10:17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

Christians allow actions from the past to capture them, especially their sins and how they feel God loves them. Jesus died for our sins and he forgives us. We no longer have to worry what we have to do so God will accept us. He already accepts us and has forgiven (forgets) what we did in a former life. The former life no longer means anything to God.

The same should be with how we deal with the past of others. Joy is stolen many times when Christians allow the past of others to affect them. How many times do Christians run from or avoid other Christians because someone offended another? There are Christians today who can’t experience joy because the past still reigns.

A good example of this is Joseph. His brothers did a terrible thing to him; they sold him as a slave just because they were jealous of his relationship with their father. When Joseph met up again with them many years later, he could have easily destroyed them because of his power and his actions would have been seen as just. But Joseph reacted much differently. He loved his family and he didn’t let the past influence his future. In fact, his understanding and vision from the future caused him to act the way he did in the present; he forgave his brothers.


Philippians 3:14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

A person does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books or cheering at games. The athlete becomes a winner by getting into the game and determining to win! SLIDE 12: There are two extremes to avoid here and many times Christians fall into the trap:

1. I must do it all
2. God must do it all

The first describes the activist, the second describes the quietist and both lead to failure.

How many of you have heard the cleaver slogan, “Let go and let God”? What is wrong with this slogan? It would be like the quarterback coming into the huddle and saying let go and let the coach do it all. On the other hand, no quarterback would say, “Listen to me and forget what the coach says!” Both of these extremes are wrong.

The Christian with the spiritual mind realizes that God must work in him if he is going to win the race. We allow God to work in us that God might work through us. If we apply ourselves to the things God gives us in our spiritual lives, God is able to strengthen us for the race. The same is with a team; the coach trains and teaches the team everything they need to have to win, but it is up to the team and the individual players to actually play the game. The coach only coaches and the players participate. To win, both have to play their part together. For many Christians, they are players but they are sitting the bench, they are not actually in the game.


Philippians 3:15-16 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

What is worse than losing? Cheating and not playing by the rules, being disqualified because the rules were broken.

Verses 15-16 emphasizes the importance of the Christian remembering the spiritual rules laid down by the Word of God. All athletic games have refs, umpires or judges to make sure the rules are followed. The issue is not what the athletes think or the spectators think about the rules, it is what the refs, umpires or judges say. They have the final word. No player or team is crowned the winner unless they compete according to the rules. If we as Christians have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules, we shall receive the prize.

Bible history is filled with people who began the race with great success but failed in the end because they cheated and didn’t follow God’s rules. They did not lose their salvation but hey did lose their rewards. It happened to Lot, Samson, Saul and Ananias and Sapphira. It is fabulous to compete and to win the reward each of us has worked hard to receive.