Read Philippians 3:1-41
If you had the experience of playing sports, then you probably had teammates you looked up to. The ones who excelled and would fight for the victory with every ounce of energy they had. The ones who made everyone around them better. Success didn’t just happen overnight. There were countless hours of training when no one was watching. The amount of dedication they had makes you want to follow in their footsteps.
As followers of Jesus, we have several examples of what it takes to be a follower of Christ. In today’s reading in Philippians 3, Paul, the one-time persecutor of Christians in high standing among Jewish leaders, had everything. He had success and the respect of his peers. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed. He left that all behind to follow Jesus.
In verse 13, Paul tells us that to be like him is “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead”. Leave your past behind you. The baggage, sin and shame that you put at the foot of the cross? Leave it there. Instead of looking back, “strain forward”, “press on toward the goal” for our heavenly prize. To strain is to put out “excessive or difficult exertion or labor” according to Webster. As you think about that definition, think about the ministry of Paul. He worked, physically laboring, and traveled miles and miles by foot and by sea. He was shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead. He was bitten by poisonous snakes, beaten, whipped and spent years in prison. Why? For the sake of the Kingdom. To take the Gospel to the world.
Paul was not merely sitting on the bench, content to have received salvation. He was in the trenches striving forward with the Gospel. As he was one who persecuted the Christians at one time, he knew full well what the cost of following Jesus was. He knew that persecution and possibly death may be the price he would pay. In I Corinthians 4:10-13, he says,
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things”.
And in verse 16, he once again tells his readers,
“I urge you, then, be imitators of me”.
We live where we can worship freely and face little to no persecution. What Paul endured was extreme. But he put everything aside for the sake of the Gospel. There should be nothing more important in our life than Jesus Christ and following Him. What are you going to do to follow Jesus with the same determination as Paul? It’s time to get off the bench and get in the game! What is God laying on your heart? How can God use you to carry on the message of hope?