Mature runners face reality, forget the past, and forge into the future. These benchmarks of Christian maturity occupied Paul’s thought in Philippians 3:12-16. The apostle understands, however, that we live in a fallen world. He understands that the Christian race is filled with difficulties and discouragement.
Paul writes to encourage and motivate the Philippians. He writes to encourage and motivate us. In Philippians 3:17-21, we learn that a proper perspective goes a long way in the making of a champion. I remember my college buddy who used to run the Western States Race, a fifty-mile foot race through the state of California: “The race is 90 percent mental,” he would say. “It is all about perspective.” The same holds true in the Christian race.
So what is the proper mindset for a Christian runner committed to running the race to the glory of God?
CHRISTIAN RUNNERS REFUSE TO GET DISTRACTED
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:17–19).
Anyone who has been a participant in the Christian race for any length of time understands the lure of distractions. We get distracted by culture including music, hobbies, and the internet, to name a few. We get distracted by the flesh, be it temptation or selfish pursuits.
Follow Godly Runners
The apostle Paul urges Christian runners to join him. He says, “Brothers, join in imitating me …” He sets forth an imperative here. The New Living Translation says, “Pattern your lives after mine.” Paul makes no claim to perfection. This was the point he was making in Philippians 3:12 – “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own.” He is calling believers to follow his example of pursuing the prize, namely, Christlikeness. He is calling the Philippians and all subsequent believers to imitate his:
- Devotion to the race
- Discipline in the race
- Diligence in pursuing the prize
This is not the first time Paul has called on his readers to imitate him or pattern their lives after his. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, he urged the believers in Corinth, “…Be imitators of me.” He said the same in 1 Cor. 11:1. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” And in Ephesians 5:1, he urged the believers, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”
Focus on Godly Runners
Paul not only urges the Philippian believers to follow godly runners. He urges them to focus on godly runners: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Once again, he establishes an important imperative. He calls us to keep our eyes on godly runners. The Greek term translated to keep means to “observe someone or fix our attention on the way someone lives their life.”
Paul was probably referring to Timothy (Phil. 2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30). And he may have been indirectly referring to anyone who pursues a holy life and strives for the goal of godliness.
The halls of church history are filled with men who ran the Christian race with zeal and strived for the goal of godliness. John Calvin was such man. Calvin noted, “No man can rightly handle the doctrine of godliness, unless the fear of God reign … in him.”
Another man who emulating is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers. Spurgeon said:
Whatever may have been the feelings of my hearers, I can honestly say that scores, and indeed, hundreds of times I have gone from my pulpit groaning because I could not preach as I wished; but this has been my comfort, ‘Well, I did desire to glorify Christ, I did try to clear my conscience of the blood of all men, I did seek to tell them the whole truth, whether they like it or not.
Finally, a man who pursued God with passion was the Puritan divine, Jonathan Edwards. In one of his resolutions, the fiery preacher wrote, “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God.”
Simply put, Paul wants us to be attracted to and follow the example of godly people. We are to emulate runners who pursue holiness; runners who are on a quest for the heavenly prize. We are to emulate runners who follow hard after God. We are to emulate runners who long for God and God alone. A.W. Tozer writes, “Come never to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heart of their desire for God.” The writer of Hebrews, likewise writes, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
Flee From Ungodly Influence
We must not only follow godly runners and focus on them; we must also flee from ungodly influence. Paul’s warning here is candid and stern: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:18-19). The term translated as enemies means, “odious; one who opposes God.” Paul’s warning is against anyone who distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The apostle offer four descriptions of this enemy of the cross:
- Ultimate Doom – “Their end of their destruction.” Such a destruction consists in eternal misery in hell. This is the destination for all the ungodly (2 Pet. 3:7).
- Ultimate Desire – “Their god is their belly.” The ultimate desire of the ungodly person is sensual pleasure which stands opposed to God.
- Ultimate Motivation – “They glory in their shame.”
- Ultimate Focus – “They set their minds on earthly things” (c.f. Col. 3:5-9).
The enemy of the cross lives for the moment. Such a person refuses to think with an eternal perspective. He lives for pleasure instead of purity and repudiates what is eternal. The enemy of the cross either adds to grace or refuses to believe that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.
Hebrews 6:11-12 sums up the challenge for Christians in the race: “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
CHRISTIAN RUNNERS REMEMBER THE FINISH LINE
Christian runners must not only refuse to get distracted. We must also remember the finish line: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20–21). Paul calls us to remember three things, in particular.
Remember our Status
First, Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Citizenship refers to “the place where one has official status, the commonwealth where one’s name is recorded in heaven, their Savior is there; their fellow saints are there, their inheritance is there; their reward is there, and their treasure is there.”
The Bible its clear about our citizenship. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:5). We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet. 1:4). And we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
Remember our Savior
Second, Paul urges us to remember our Savior. Verse 20 says, “We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Await means “to be diligent; to wait patiently for Christ” (c.f. Heb. 9:28). When we remember our Savior, we acknowledge his sovereignty and trust that he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do.
Remember our Salvation
Third, we remember our salvation. For “He will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (v. 21). We remember that God will finish what he started: “… Since God never abandons his plans or purposes for our eternal destiny, he will not leave this work unfinished. He refuses to give up on us until he makes us like Jesus Christ.”
Glorification is the final step of our salvation. To be like his glorious body means “to be conformed to the image of Christ.” Scripture guarantees that all of God’s elect will be glorified: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
When Christ returns, he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body. These glorified bodies will never grow old, get sick, or feel pain. All traces of sin will be forever gone (1 Cor. 15:42). We shall be raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43), raised a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), and receive new resurrection bodies (1 John 3:2). Millard Erickson observes, “Part of the glorification of man will be the provision of a perfect environment in which to dwell.” These new bodies will dwell in a renewed creation and glorify God unto all eternity!
Remember our Security
Finally, Paul speaks of “the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (v. 21). Subject comes from a military term that means “to arrange under one’s authority.” It means “to bring all things within his divine economy, to marshall all things under himself.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones adds this note of truth-filled triumph:
Let hell rage, let the kingdoms of this world arise in their fury, whatever they may do, we know that the day is coming when the Savior will return, our Lord Jesus Christ. He will come from his throne in heaven back to this world as King. He will have the ultimate victory over all and will reign supreme.
Because he wins, we win. We win!
When we get distracted in the race, perspective is everything. We follow godly runners and focus on godly runners. And we consciously commit to flee from the enemies of the cross.
When we grow weary in the race, perspective is everything. The finish line is just around the corner. We must remember our status, remember our Savior, remember our salvation, and remember who wins in the final analysis.
When we are tempted and tried in the race, perspective is everything. We have a Savior who chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight. We follow a God who promises to conform us to the image of Christ!
Do you have the mindset of a champion? Are you running hard to the finish line, staying faithful to Christ, and building up the people of God along the way? Christian runners refuse to get distracted and remember the finish line!
Some of you have yet to enter the Christian race. Today is the day to enter that race. Today is the day of salvation. If you are not a runner in the race, the Bible calls you an enemy of the cross. You are on the wrong team. You are on the losing team. Won’t you cry out to God to have mercy on you as you enter the Christian race? Then and only then will you truly have the mindset of a champion. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2).
 John Calvin, Cited in Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 43.
 C.H. Spurgeon, The Early Years – Volume 1 (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 378.
 Jonathan Edwards, Cited in Stephen J. Nichols, Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001), 17.
 A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1982), 15.
 John F. MacArthur, Philippians (Chicago: Moody Press, 2001), 260.
 James Boice and Phillip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002), 160.
 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983).
 Kenneth Wuest, Philippians in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1942).
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Peace: An Exposition of Philippians 3 and 4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 126.