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Moving on to Maturity

Philippians 3:1-21

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

16 Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.


One of the greatest athletes who ever lived was the legendary Bobby Jones, the golfer. One of the things that characterized him was his absolute honesty in playing the game. In fact, on one occasion in a crucial match, he accidentally moved the ball as he was addressing it with his club. Though he moved it just a fraction, and though he was out in the rough and no one could possibly have known that he moved the ball, he still insisted on penalizing himself one stroke. When someone asked him about this, he explained his actions by saying, “I don’t play against men, I play against par.”

Perhaps you know that par in golf is the number of strokes required for a hole or for a round of golf to be played well. It is the standard that has been set for the hole and for the course. If a person can play that hole or play that course in the prescribed number of strokes, they are considered an excellent golfer. Golf is possibly the only game I can think of in which you really do not play the opponent. The primary objective is not to beat him; the primary objective is to beat the course. It is to shoot under par for the course.

The Christian life is very much that way. The purpose of the Christian life—either individually or collectively—is not to beat someone else. We always face the temptation to try to be better than another person. In doing so, we justify our own failures, our own weaknesses, or we are overly proud of our own success. We can look around us and feel that we are better than somebody else. We not only do that individually; we often times do that collectively. We sometimes think, “Well we aren’t doing too well here at Green Acres, but thank the Lord the Methodists aren’t either.” By comparing ourselves to them, we feel like we have obtained some measure of success, but I remind you that the Christian life is not played against men. It is played against par. Against the standard of excellence. Against perfection itself.

The goal of the individual Christian’s life is to be like Jesus Christ. I can’t be satisfied just because I am better than you. I can’t be satisfied just because my church may be doing more than some other church. I must always keep in mind that par for the course as far as Christianity is concerned is to be like Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul is talking about that standard of excellence when he wrote in the book of Philippians, chapter three. He said, beginning in verses 12-15, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

I want you to notice the fact that the word perfect occurs twice in these verses. In verse 12, you will find the word perfect. He says, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” Underscore that word perfect. Then he says in verse 15, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”

The word perfect here is the Greek word teleioi. It does not mean “sinlessness” as some people think. It rather means mature; it means to be fully grown. It is used in secular Greek in a number of ways to illustrate maturity. For example, sometimes it is used to describe a fully grown man in contrast to a little boy. You could say concerning that fully grown man, “He is teleioi. He is perfect. He is mature. He is fully grown.” Sometimes it is used to describe a person who is proficient in a subject, in contrast to one who is just a beginner. You might say concerning a doctoral student in math that such a person is teleioi. He is mature. He is fully grown in the subject, whereas a freshman student in math is just a beginner.

It is also used sometimes to describe a tool that is exactly fit for a designated task. Let’s suppose that we are repairing an automobile and I say to you, “I need a wrench.” You go and find a wrench and you bring it to me and I begin to use it. You ask me, “How is it?” And I say, “It is just perfect.” I don’t mean that the wrench has no grease on it; I don’t mean that it has no scratches or blemishes on it. What I mean is that it fits the intended purpose. It is the right size for the nut that I’m trying to unscrew, so it simply fits the purpose. It is teleioi. It is just what I need for my intended purpose. That is the word that Paul uses here.

In the first instance, he uses this word to say, “I am not yet teleioi. I am not yet perfect. I am not yet mature.” He is confessing his own failures. He is saying, “I have not yet arrived in the Christian life.” But he says, “I want to tell you about my desires. I want to tell you about the direction in my life. I want to tell you about my commitment and my dedication. I want you to know about my determination. Brethren, I don’t consider that I have arrived, but this one thing I do: forgetting everything else, I am pressing toward the mark for the high calling of God. It is the desire of my heart to reach that one goal that God has for me––to be a mature Christian. To be fully grown. To be like Jesus Christ. I am headed right in that direction. With my whole heart, I am pursuing that goal, and nothing is going to deter me.”

That was Paul’s attitude. That was his way of looking at life. He then said in verse 15, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Paul was basically saying, “If you want to be perfect, mature, and fully grown in Christ, then you must have the same mind I have. You must have the same attitude I have just described.”

There is a certain mindset for maturity, and Paul has given it to us. He said, “If you want to be perfect, then you must be thus minded: you must think like I think, have the attitude I have, give yourself as I am giving myself, and you too can reach the goal that God has for you.”

What was the mindset of the apostle Paul? What was his attitude? What characterized his life? There are four things that are evident in this passage of scripture, and they are the secrets to spiritual success. Let me share them with you and then enlarge upon them.

Today we are speaking of success in our spiritual growth, but I want you to understand that these secrets apply to success in just about any realm. If you want to be a success in business, athletics, academics, relationships, or virtually anything, here is the formula right here. The formula for success in the spiritual realm is not so different from the formula for success in any realm. We simply pick a different goal and we have resources that other people do not have, but essentially the formula is the same. Here it is.

It begins with desire. What do you want to be? What is the burning ambition of your soul? Number one is desire.

Second, direction. You must begin to move in the direction of your desire. You must know what the goal is. It must be clearly marked in your mind.

Third is dedication. You must put all of your energy and all of your efforts into achieving the goal of your desire.

Finally, you need determination. You must not be deterred. You must not be discouraged. You must not let other people get you off track. You must stay with it. If you have a desire to attain a certain goal and you remain determined to let nothing keep you from reaching it, in all probability, you will reach it.

Listen to Paul as he expresses this formula and this attitude in practical terms.

1. You must have desire.

Paul begins with desire. In verses 5 and 6, Paul was reviewing his life, and mentioned all of the attainments that he had made as a man apart from God. He’s clear that these were accomplished in the flesh without the help of God.

Then he makes a shift in verse seven: “But the things that were gain to me, the things that were worth so much to me, and the things I had accomplished—I now count it as loss for Christ. Yes, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.”

Paul describes the desire of his heart is to win Christ, to be found in Christ, and to know Christ. This is now the grand desire of his life as he has reviewed all the past and evaluated the progress he has made. He has come to the conclusion that what matters most to him now is Christ. “I have counted everything else a total loss, worth nothing in comparison to this great desire of my life.” Paul uses that word counted twice in this passage of scripture. It is a bookkeeping term. It literally means “to evaluate, or to take inventory.”

Paul, the accountant, is taking an inventory of his life. He is making a balance sheet, listing his assets on one side and his liabilities on the other side. When he comes to the bottom line of the balance sheet of life, he said, “I discovered that I was spiritually bankrupt. I had done many things religiously, but the end result was nothing. The most important thing is Christ. All of these things in the past amounted to zero spiritually, and now my greatest desire is that I might win Christ, know him in the fullness of his power, and that I might be mature spiritually.”

I wonder if you have done a balance sheet on your spiritual life recently. Have you added up the things that count and the things that amount to nothing? I think there are some people here who would come out as mighty fine if they did a balance sheet on their material assets, but mighty poor if they did a balance sheet on their spiritual assets. Their status has been described as “materially rich and spiritually bankrupt.”

The great desire of our life is to know Christ. We want to know him in a personal, intimate, and experiential way. Whatever else we may attain, and whatever else we may do or leave undone matters not. Friend, if you go through this life and you do not know Christ in a personal, vital, living way, then you are spiritually bankrupt and you have missed the most important thing. It all starts with the desire to know Christ in the fullness of his power.

2. You must have direction.

Once you have a desire, your life must move in a direction. Paul expresses the direction of his life in verse 12. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Paul describes his conversion as an “apprehension.” Imagine the police answering a call that a robbery is taking place. They hurry to the crime scene, and if they capture the criminal, we say they apprehended him. The word apprehend means to grab hold of. It means to capture or to arrest. Sometimes it means to cling to and to pull down.

This afternoon at 3:00 P.M., the Cowboys are going to play the Giants. I hope they do some apprehending on the line. I hope they grab hold, hang on, and pull down. We understand what it means to apprehend.

Paul says, “That’s what Jesus did to me on the road to Damascus. He apprehended me.” In fact, the word sometimes carries with it the idea of a violent seizure. You grab a man and throw him down. That’s what Paul said God did to him on the road to Damascus: “He struck me blind until I saw the light. He captured me to be his disciple.” He describes it in contrast to the quiet way that the Lord called Peter and John to be his disciples.

Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and he saw Peter and John. Jesus said to them rather quietly, “Come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” In contrast to that quiet call that he gave to Peter and John, there was a violent seizure of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. God knows what it takes to get our attention. He knew that he could call Peter, James, and John quietly and softly, and they would leave their nets and follow him. But it would be different for this man Paul who was so hard and calloused. The Lord was going to have to do something dramatic to get his attention.

This all makes sense. You wouldn’t go out and hunt an elephant with a BB gun. You wouldn’t hunt a sparrow with a ballistic missile. You pick the kind of ammunition necessary depending on your target. God was going after big game with the apostle Paul, so God violently seized him on the road to Damascus. Paul said, “The desire of my life and the direction of my life is that I may apprehend that for which I was apprehended. God arrested me, but he arrested me for a purpose and now the desire and direction of my life is to do what God saved me to do. God doesn’t save people for them just to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. He doesn’t save us to sit, soak, and sour. He saves us to serve. That’s our purpose.”

Why did God save you? Why did God arrest you? Why did God violently seize you and shake you and bring you to himself? There was a purpose, and the direction of your life ought to be achieving that purpose. Paul said, “That is the most important thing to me, so I am pressing on that I may apprehend that for which I was apprehended.” Every Christian ought to be able to say, “The direction of my life is to do that for which I was saved.”

My friend, Charles Tope, pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, told a story some time ago. He said he grew up in Missouri and in his hometown there were two black football teams playing. His hometown team had one of the best teams that they had had in years and years, and on that team they had a little center who could do a backward flip. The team would get in the huddle and call their play, and as they got ready to break the huddle, that little black center would do his backward flip and turn around and run to the line of scrimmage. All of the other players would follow him, and before they got down in their three-point stance to snap the ball, every man would stand up, would point to the goal line, and would say to the opposing team, “We are going that way. We are going that way.” I’m not sure why they were doing that. It could’ve been for their own concentration, or maybe they were doing it for intimidation. One thing is certain: they knew where they were going.

We need to know where we are going. Which direction are you going? Where is the goal line? There are a lot of Christians who are wandering in the wilderness instead of charging Cana. They don’t know where they are going. They have no sense of direction. We must become like Jesus Christ, and nothing short of that ought to satisfy us. There needs to be a holy dissatisfaction in our lives until we reach that. Some of God’s people are far too satisfied with where they are. We cannot rest on our laurels of past accomplishments.

Do you know that dissatisfaction is the root of achievement in every realm of life? You show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and in most instances, I’ll show you a failure. Dissatisfaction is the root of achievement, and Paul says, “I am not satisfied. I have a desire and I know where I am going.”

3. You must have dedication.

Add dedication to desire and direction. In verse 13, Paul says, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do.” That’s dedication: forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching unto those things that are ahead.

In the Greek language, that phrase, “this one thing I do” is very emphatic. It expresses a strong emotion. In fact, in the Greek the words for “this” and “I do” are not there, which adds more emphasis to the concept of “one thing.” It is a stronger way of saying, “There is a single-mindedness about me. I know where I am going and that’s the key to my life.”

In contrast to Paul who said, “This one thing I do,” most of us would have to say, “These ten things I dabble at.” We’ve got to be a part of every club, organization, and movement, and we become like that proverbial river; we are a mile wide and an inch deep, and making no big impact. It is because there is no concentration in our life. It is because there is no single mindedness in our life.

Several years ago, I read with great interest a book by Elmer G. Letterman entitled How Showmanship Sells. It is one of those success motivation books with a lot of good philosophy in it. He said, “People come to me oftentimes and ask me for the secret to success.” He continued, “There is no one simple answer to that, but there is one necessary first step to success—you must develop a one-track mind. You’ve got to decide what you want to do, and do it. You must not let yourself be sidetracked by other interests. If you find a person who is truly successful in their profession (or really in any realm of life), you almost invariably will find a person with a one-track mind.”

It’s that kind of dedication that leads to Christian maturity. If you’ve got too many interests in life, you will find yourself making little progress along the road to Christian maturity.

Along with his “this one thing I do” phrase, Paul says, “I am also forgetting those things that are behind: past achievements, past failures, past hurts, bitterness, or whatever. I’m leaving all of that behind.” You can’t forever be looking back and at the same time be making the greatest progress going forward. It’s too easy to lose your sense of direction. It’s too easy to stumble and fall. It is hard to keep up the good pace of running if you are forever looking back, so Paul says, “I am not only shooting for this one thing, but I am also forgetting all of those things that would detract me from that one goal.”

That word forget is a very strong word. It means to completely forget. It doesn’t suggest the idea of blotting the past out of your memory. You can’t do that, but it does say that you can put it so far behind that it does not dominate your life, nor does it distract you from moving forward in the present.

Someone has said that success not only consists of developing a good memory, but also of developing the ability to forget. Can you imagine how much better life would be—or how much better your marriage would be—if you would learn to forget some things? Stop bringing up the past.

One man said concerning his wife, “My wife has a terrible memory. She never forgets anything.” Another one said, “Every time we argue my wife gets historical.” His friend said, “No, you mean hysterical.” He said, “No, historical. She always brings up the past.” Learning how to forget is important in getting on with being what God wants you to be.

Playwright Thornton Wilder said, “We ought not to spend too much time in our personal past. I have learned to erase as I go along.” Some of you need to have a better eraser in life. Things happened in the past. You got disappointed in other people. You’ve let that disappointment be brought into the present to the point that it has hindered your progress in the Christian life. You need to erase that. And you need to keep on erasing as you go along.

One of my favorite sports figures is John Wooden, who was at one time the head basketball coach at UCLA. After he had won his ninth national championship in ten years, someone asked him what he was going to do next year. He said, “Next year we are going to start all over as though we had never done anything before. Forget the past. You know last year’s championship doesn’t help you one bit this year. You’ve got to go out and play every game, win every game, and you must play to your best and you can’t rest on your laurels.”

It doesn’t matter how good of a job you did in your Sunday school class last year. It doesn’t matter how much time you spent in Bible reading and prayer last year, or how many people you won to Christ last year. You’ve got to forget the past. You’ve got to keep moving on. You’ve got to say with the apostle Paul, “The supreme desire of my heart is to know Christ, and I am moving in this direction that I might gain that for which I was saved. Everything else is secondary. I look to Jesus Christ and I keep moving for him.”

4. You must have determination.

Then you add determination to that. In verse 14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.” That word press is an athletic term. In fact, all of this in couched in the athletic industry. It literally means “to bear down” or “to stretch forth.” It is the picture of a man in a race who is so straining, stretching forth, and bearing down for the goal line that he ceases to be aware of whoever is behind him. He’s not concerned with how close or how far they may be from him. He only has his eye on that goal line, and he is determined to cross it before anyone else. Paul is saying, “That’s the way I am. I press toward the mark. There is no room to rest on my laurels. No time to sit down. I’ve got to keep going.”

Maybe I’ve shared with you the experience of one of the greatest football coaches I’ve ever known. He was the athletic director at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, where I pastored, and he was a small college Bear Bryant. He had the kind of record, disposition, and reputation that Bear Bryant had. Most everybody was afraid of him. But he came to know Christ as his Savior through some witnessing, and one Sunday morning he walked down the aisle of our church. We had talked together many times about commitment to Christ—about what it meant and what he ought to do. That Sunday morning when he took my hand, he said, “Pastor, today I give my heart to Christ. Don’t put me on the bench. Put me in the game.”

Friend, there is not a bench in the Christian life. We don’t have one. You may be standing around twiddling your thumbs on the sidelines, but there is no bench on which to sit down and do nothing. As the people of God, we need to have such determination in the game of life that we know where the goal is, we are dedicated to reaching that goal, and we are giving our very best. We are straining. We are pressing on to be all God wants us to be and we won’t stop until we get there. When we have that desire, that sense of direction, that dedication, and that kind of determination, we shall find ourselves growing to be what God wants us to be.

Paul closes out this passage in Philippians by saying, “If you want to be mature, and if you want to be perfect, then be thus minded. Learn to have this same attitude. Learn to think like I think, and if you have this mindset, you can make it.”

Eleanor Roosevelt carried the following prayer in her purse: “Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to thee for strength.”

The Lord has set out a task too hard for us, and we are driven to him for strength. And when we rely upon him fully and completely, then he can help us to be teleioi—mature, fully grown, perfect. That’s par for the Christian life. You ought to shoot for it and be satisfied with nothing less.

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Today's Devotional

Applied Christianity

I once talked with a man who was convinced that Christianity was a failure. His conclusion was based on the fact that while our cities are full of churches and preachers, our world is getting worse and worse.

If you think about this criticism, you must agree that there is much religion in America that has little effect on the daily lives of people. While the number of church members may grow each year, so does lawlessness and immorality. But does this mean that Christianity is a failure? No. At the close of World War I a soap manufacturer, walking down the street with his pastor, was bemoaning the “failure” of Christianity. He said to his pastor, “After 19 centuries of preaching and teaching Christ, there is still so much evil in the world. I don’t see how you can go on preaching the Gospel.” 

“I don’t see how you can go on manufacturing soap,” retorted the pastor. “Look at the little urchin playing in the gutter. Neck and ears filthy. There’s still so much dirt in the world. Soap is such a failure.”

“But,” countered the soap manufacturer, “If people will just apply the soap, they’ll be clean.”

“Yes,” concluded the pastor, “and if men will but apply Christ to their daily living, they will also be clean.” 

The evil of today’s world is not due to Christianity’s failure, but to our failure to apply our Christianity. As writer G.K. Chesterton said, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried."

Attend church Sunday, listen to God’s word, then apply it to your daily life and you and the world will both be better because of it.

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