The Christian Athlete Philippians 3b

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Philippians 3:12-16

Stephen Caswell © 2004

Runners in the Greek Games

The Olympic Games was a major event in ancient Greece. Athletes competed in a number of events including wrestling, the chariot race and running. The foot race was run over a distance of 200 yards which was known as one stadia. The English word stadium comes from this word. The runners in the Greek games ran around a semi circular course towards the finish post. There were three posts between the start and the finish. On the first post was inscribed excel, on the second post hasten, on the third post turn. After passing these first three posts athletes would focus on the finish post striving to get their first. They ran with a purpose and nothing else distracted them. In his letters, Paul often compares the Christian life with running a race. Today Paul describes the qualities of a good Christian athlete.

Last week we learned that Paul the Accountant had the spiritual mind. He totally relied on Christ's righteousness. We too, like Paul, must count everything in the past to be loss so that we might gain the riches of Christ. But what about the present? How should we think now? Paul considered himself to be an Athlete who was determined to run his race well. How did Paul view the Christian race? He saw it is the ultimate challenge; like a marathon race. Paul lists 5 qualities needed to run well, Dissatisfaction, Devotion, Direction, Determination & Discipline.

Firstly Dissatisfaction


Philippians 3:12-13a Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended;


Last week we saw Paul count his past achievements as loss. Then he counted all things gain in Jesus Christ. Today Paul looks at his life and evaluates it once more. Paul said, I do not count myself to have apprehended God's purpose for me. He realized that he hadn't reached perfection yet. The word perfected τελειόω means to complete, finish, fulfill or consummate something. God hadn't finished with Paul's life yet. There was room for further growth. The first quality of a good athlete is dissatisfaction. Paul wasn't dissatisfied with Jesus Christ, but his own spiritual attainments. Unlike many Christians today, Paul didn't compare himself with other believers, but with Jesus Christ. He saw that God had much to do in his life and therefore was dissatisfied with his present achievements. When would Paul be perfect? Verse 11 tells us this will happen at the resurrection of the dead. Paul hasn't attained this yet, so he presses on to finish his race.

The Australian Cricket Team

The Australian cricket team are the current world champions. Although India gave them a scare recently. They hold the world cup and are also the top test team in the world. For a couple of years no one could come near them. How did they attain this level of excellence? By training hard. The team coach John Buchanan, sets each player an individual goal for improvement. They review their past performances on video. They seek to overcome their weaknesses. They don’t rest on their past victories, they want to improve. They have a healthy dissatisfaction of their sporting achievements. They want to excel still further. They want to win.

Although Paul had served the Lord for nearly thirty years, he realized that he hadn't arrived. Paul wasn’t perfect. His faith had grown so much over those years, but he knew that he hadn't attained the standard that Christ had in mind for him. Therefore he was dissatisfied with his life. He would not be content with anything less than God's best for him. He wanted to know God in a closer way. He wanted to become more gracious as the Holy Spirit shaped his life. Paul wanted to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. He wouldn't accept anything less. He pressed on!




Are we content with our Christian race? Are you comparing yourself with other believers who may not be running very well? Or do you compare yourself with Jesus Christ and strive to be like Him? Christ is the standard that God uses to measure us by. Do you want to be conformed to Christ? Dissatisfaction is the first  quality.


Secondly Devotion


Phil 3:13b Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do,


Devotion is the key to success in life. It is true of sportsmen, musicians, politicians, and most professions in life. Devotion is concentrating all of your energy to accomplish one purpose.


Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci, the now famous Romanian gymnast first set the World on fire by scoring three perfect 10's and also won the all-round medal at the 1976 Olympics. Jim McKay, a US Sports Commentator wanted to interview her and discover how she felt about wiping the slate clean with her three individual Gold Medals. When he was finally able to catch up with her he asked her how she felt about her wins? She replied, all right! Not able to understand why she wasn't excited he said, Aren't you thrilled? You've won the all round competition! No one has ever done that before, getting three perfect tens! She replied, I have done that fourteen times before in practice! Nadia was devoted  to one thing, her gymnastics. Her devotion motivated her to press on to perfection. Devotion helped make Nadia perfect!


Paul was devoted to his Christian race. He said, one thing I do. Paul wanted to lay hold of Christ's plan for him. The word apprehended καταλαμβάνω means to take eagerly, to seize, to possess, to obtain. In fact Jesus Christ had laid hold of him to fulfill a great plan in his life. So Paul says I am determined to obtain it. He was determined to become all that God wanted him to be. That's what devotion is, commitment to a single purpose.

Few athletes succeed by doing everything. They specialize in their sport and concentrate on that. Concentration is the secret of power in athletics. Christians can do many things in life but if we would make a mark for Christ we must prioritize. This one thing I do. One thing is a phrase that is important to the Christian life. One thing thou lackest said Jesus to the self-righteous rich young ruler. One thing is needful, Jesus explained to busy Martha when she criticized her sister.

One thing I know exclaimed the man who received his sight by the power of Christ. One thing have I desired of the Lord said the psalmist. The temptation for Christians is to be involved in too many things, when progress in the Christian race comes from concentrating on one thing. This one thing I do.


D.L. Moody - Devoted To Evangelsim

Before that tragic Chicago fire in 1871, DL Moody was involved in Sunday School promotion, Y.M.C.A. work, evangelistic meetings, and many other activities. But after the fire he determined to devote himself exclusively to evangelism. This one thing I do became a reality to him. As a result, millions of people heard the Gospel. Believers must devote themselves to running the Christian race. It is wholly a matter of values and priorities, living for that which matters most.  




Are you devoted to your Christian race? Do you prioritize your time? Are you wasting your time on things that won't help your race, or worse hinder it? Do T.V. sport, relaxation, or hobbies keep you from running well? Devotion is needed if we are going to attain the standard Christ has set for us. Will you devote yourself to your Christian race? Will you devote yourself to one thing? Will you sieze Christ's purpose for you? Secondly we need devotion.


Thirdly Direction


Philippians 3:13c forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,


The Christian runner needs direction. Paul knew the course Christ had set before him. The words reaching forward πεκτείνομαι mean to strain toward, to stretch out. Paul was committed to making progress towards his goal. Paul ran his race with devotion and direction forgetting the past. Why is it so important that we forget the past and reach forward to the future? Because the past keeps us from running well now.

The Story of John Landy   

In 1960 there was a famous race in Canada between 2 great runners. The 4 minute mile had recently been broken by both of them. Now John Landy and Roger Banister were competing with each other. John Landy had been leading for most of the race and there was only about two hundred yards to go. They were coming out of the last corner when John Landy looked behind to see where his opponent was placed. At that very moment Roger Banister passed him on the outside while he was looking back on the inside. He lost the race and will go down in history as the runner who looked back. He should have been concerned with running his own race. But he took his eyes off the finish line and looked behind at his opponent. Looking back cost him dearly. He lost his direction and the race. Paul didn't do this, he forgot the past and focused on the finish line. 1 Corinthians 9:26a Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.

1. Past Failures

Paul had many regrets in his past life. He persecuted the Church of God. He persecuted believers causing them to blaspheme the name of Christ. If he focused on these things, they would have chained him down and kept him from running freely. So he forgot them. But how can you forget such things? Is it possible? The word forget πιλανθάνομαι means to lose out of mind, to neglect, be forgetful. It has the idea of choosing not to think on something. While we cannot change the past, we can choose not to allow it to affect our present race. We let it go and move on. Are you being held back by past hurts? If so let them go. Forgive and forget, and then move on. If you don’t let go these grievances can ruin your Christian service now. They will keep you from running well now. Look ahead and finish your race. Don’t live in the past.

2. Past Successes

Paul also had many blessings in his past. God had greatly used him to extend Christ’s kingdom. He planted many churches and led thousands to Christ. Paul could have been tempted to rest on his laurels. But he didn't. He kept looking ahead, reaching forward to future opportunities for ministry. Past sins, failures or successes can hold us back in our race. Therefore we need to look forward and reach for the finish line. Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Which direction are you looking at? Are you looking backward to the past? Are you chained down with past failures or sin? If so confess it and put it behind you, then look forward. Are you holding on to past hurts or grievances? Don’t live in the past. Look ahead and finish your race. Are we glorying in past successes? So much so that you aren't living for Christ now, you are just reliving past glory. If this is true, then change your focus and start running again.

Fourthly Determination


Phil 3:14: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


Determination To Win

In the 1976 Summer Olympics, Shun Fujimoto competed in the team gymnastics competition for Japan. In a quest for the gold medal, Fujimoto suffered a broken right knee in the floor exercise. But his injury did not stop him, for during the next week he competed in his strongest event, the rings. His routine was excellent, but he astounded everyone by squarely dismounting with a triple somersault twist on a broken right knee. When asked concerning his feat, he said, Yes, the pain shot through me like a knife. It brought tears to my eyes. But now I have a gold medal and the pain is gone.

The fourth quality is determination. Paul said he pressed on toward the goal for the prize. The word pressed διώκω means to pursue, follow after, to persecute. It describes a hunter after his prey. This word is translated persecute in v6. Paul had followed after the Christians. He had pursued hard on their heels and persecuted them. Now he follows after Christ instead. He has focused his zeal in the right direction. Acts 20:22-24 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.


Arm chair sportsmen will never win anything. They might claim to be experts, but really they are only spectators and not participators involved in the contest. Paul was a participator. He pressed on to finish his race. He availed himself of everything that God had made available. He relied on the Lord for strength and guidance. Paul was determined to reach the goal. What is the goal? The finish line. He calls it, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. When Christ calls us home our race is over, not before.


Eric Liddell’s Victory

Eric Liddell, the Flying Scotsman, was an Olympic national hero who gave himself as a missionary to China. His story is retold in the movie Chariots of Fire. Once he was competing in a race between Scotland and France. Eric was pushed over by the French runner at the beginning of a 220 race. Did Eric quit? Not in your life. He got to his feet and sped after the field that had gone past him. One by one he ran them down and won the race. Eric Liddel ran a determined race in life and even more so in the Christian life. He was a devoted Christian who got up before daybreak to pray and read God’s Word. He even did this in a Chinese prisoner of war camp where he would sneak out of the barracks with a candle to read his Bible.

For some runners the goal line may take 80 years to reach. God wants you to run a long distance race. For others the Lord may call you home when you are younger. Whether we have a long race or a short one is not important. The important thing is to take hold of that which Christ laid hold of us for. To finish God's plan for us. Peter Marshall died at 44, but accomplished more than most of us do in 70 years.

What is the prize? The prize was a crown kept for him in heaven. God will reward all successful athletes with a crown. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.


On The Stadium In races, athletes are not rewarded right below the stadium, but called up to the stage for reward. In our earthly race, we are rarely rewarded on earth, but will be later!



Are you determined to finish your race? Are you pressing on? Do you want to finish the race well? Or have you become a spectator in the stadium watching and criticizing the other runners? The cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12: have finished their race. We can't cheer other athletes from the grandstand until we finish our own race. Determination is the fourth quality that we need.


Fifthly Discipline


Philippians 3:15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Ben Johnson

Probably everyone here will remember how Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson broke the 100m world record. He beat a star studded field to win the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in record time. But his victory was short lived. Just after the race, he suffered disgrace and humiliation when it was proven that he had been taking performance enhancing drugs. All of the time, hard work and planning was in vain. He had not competed according to the rules. He was disqualified and forfeited his prize.

The fifth quality required in the Christian race is discipline. Runners in the Greek games had to obey the rules if they wanted to win the prize. In chapter 2 Paul commanded believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. This is because God will evaluate our Christian service. Christians who don't run according to the rules will be disgraced. They won't lose their salvation but they will have nothing to show for their time on earth. They will have no crown to cast at Christ's feet. Paul was careful to make sure that he ran according to the rules. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.


a. Discipline Commends Mature Thinking

Paul didn't want to lose his own reward after he had instructed others on how to run the race. So he tells perfect believers to think the same way he does. Perfect here really means mature believers. To realize that we haven't arrived in the Christian life is a mark of maturity. Paul encouraged them to apply discipline. He wanted them to keep developing spiritually, to press on toward the finish line. The encouraging thing in all of this is that if we desire to do the right thing but get off track God will reveal our errors to us.


b. Discipline Cooperates Under One standard


Philippians 3:16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

When everyone does their own thing you end up with division and strife. So Paul asks the Phillipians to observe the same rules, to be of the same mind. The word rule κανών means a standard, boundary or line. Athletes competing in a contest all run under the same set of rules. This is fair and right. Similarly, God has one set of rules for all Christian runners. We need to work together under the same rules. These of course are listed in the Bible. We also need to think the same way.

Paul asks them to have the same mind three times in verses 15 and 16. Previously he had commanded them to have the mind of Christ in chapter two. Christ's mind is revealed in the word which reveals in detail His humble submission to God's will. The standard and the way we should think are recorded in the Scripture. These are the rules we run our race by. Runners breaking these rules will forfeit their prize. 2 Timothy 2:5 And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.


How did Paul finish his race? 2 Timothy 4:7-8 tells us: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.


Are you running a disciplined race like Paul? Do you keep the rules? Or are you doing your own thing in contradiction to God's word? Are you cooperating under one standard with God's people? Will you receive a crown from Christ or be disqualified?



The Christian Athlete realizes that he hasn’t arrived. He doesn't live in the past, but presses on. Today we saw five essential qualities athletes need. They are Dissatisfaction, Devotion, Direction, Determination & Discipline.

Firstly Dissatisfaction - Are you dissatisfied with your spiritual achievements? Do you see room for improvement?


Secondly Devotion - Are you devoted to your Christian race? Or do many things sap your time and energy? 


Thirdly Direction - Are your past sins or successes keeping you from running well? Are you running with direction? Or have you stopped running because someone hurt you?


Fourthly Determination - Are you pressing on to the finish line and the prize? Or are you watching from the stadium?


Fifthly Discipline - Are you cooperating with other athletes? Will you be disqualified for breaking the rules?

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