Lesson for Aug. 15, 2010: Living into the Future (Philippians 3:4b-16)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for August 15) is written by Rick D. Walston, vice president of academics and professor of Christian ministries at Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota.

Living into the Future (Philippians 3:4-16)

By Rick D. Walston

What motivates you? What goals are you pursuing? Gordon MacDonald tells about pursuing a doctorate in history at the University of Northern Colorado. He was in a seminar with a dozen other graduate students discussing the economic impact of changes in tobacco prices in 17th-century Virginia. The students offered their opinions, raised their voices, and gestured forcefully, evidencing true passion.

MacDonald reports, “When I left the room that day, I never went back. It was pointless to commit to an all-consuming goal for which I had no passion.” He was pursuing knowledge that ultimately was not worth knowing.

Students often question the value of what they learn, whether a bit of poetry, some algebraic formula, or even a theological position. Perhaps you wish to learn a foreign language, play a musical instrument, or win a marathon. Before tackling it, you must know if it is worth the effort.

In Philippians 3:4-16, the apostle Paul shares with us his passion for knowing the One who has eternal significance.

Great Accomplishments (vv. 4-6)
From a human perspective, some people have many reasons for confidence. In this passage, Paul was speaking to people who valued human effort and credentials. By outward assessment, Paul was a privileged person. Some advantages were his by birth and others by personal attainment: he was not a proselyte; he was heir to the covenant, from King Saul’s tribe, a native speaker of Hebrew, a member of the most legalistic sect of Jews, a mortal enemy to those who believed Jesus was Messiah, and a strict adherent to the regulations of the Law. Paul was one of the most promising young leaders of his day, recognized as a mover and shaker in Judaism. He was a doer, not just a talker. He had all the advantages and external trappings of success.

What sets you apart from other highly motivated people? Others may put great stock in popularity, influence, religiosity, education, ambition, morality, wealth, self-determination, or satisfaction of their desires. All of these are human accomplishments. What do they gain us? Do they impress God?

A Greater Knowledge (vv. 7-11)
Are these truly advantages? If we just viewed life from the perspective of this earthly existence, these things might have value. However, we have an eternal perspective. We live not just for this existence, so we have different priorities. The important things are not what we have done or hope to do, but rather what Christ has done for us. By comparison, Paul says our human accomplishments are garbage.

We desire to know Jesus. It is not enough to have knowledge about Jesus or knowledge of Scripture; we must identify with Jesus Christ, even with his sufferings. Jesus reminds his followers daily self-crucifixion is necessary (Luke 9:23). We must deny ourselves and be willing to sacrifice just as Jesus did. Knowing Christ also means identification with his resurrection—not just belief in historic events, but transformational experience of God’s power (Ephesians 1:19-21).

What is most important to you in life? Before glibly answering, “Jesus,” consider how you spend your time and resources. We can sing “I’d Rather Have Jesus than Anything” or “Jesus Is All the World to Me,” but our words are lies until we actually do something about them.

Patrick Henry’s will declared, “I have now disposed of all of my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich, and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor indeed.”

A Greater Reward (vv. 12-16)
As followers of Jesus, we have different goals and different measures of our accomplishments. God’s heavenly future motivates our present. Like a runner straining toward the tape at the finish line, we lean forward into life in order to receive the accolades of God—not just starting well, but finishing well.

I recently accompanied my wife to an activity day for her special education students. They were so excited to break the tape at the finish line. In one race, a small girl in a wheelchair was halfway down the track when the others in her heat finished. She persisted and received the same cheers and the same medal as all the others who finished before her.

We seek God’s prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), even though his full blessing has not yet arrived. Are you seeking his reward and seizing the lifestyle for which God has seized you? Just as we cannot look back with pride, neither can our regrets hinder us. Free from sin and guilt (Psalm 103:12), we lay aside any encumbrance that keeps us from reaching the goal. We look forward to what lies ahead, trusting in the promises of God to motivate us in the present. Our hope is more than a future attainment; it is a present reality that empowers our daily choices.


*All Scripture references are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

Aug. 9: 1 John 4:7-12
Aug. 10: Jeremiah 17:7-13
Aug. 11: John 14:1-4
Aug. 12: Proverbs 3:3-8
Aug. 13: Philippians 3:1-6
Aug. 14: Philippians 3:17-21
Aug. 15: Philippians 3:7-16

ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Rick Walston is vice president of academics and professor of Christian ministries at Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota. Before coming to Crossroads, he served churches in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

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