Eyes on the Prize

A jarring scene in one of my favourite films (Chariots of Fire) occurs when Harold Abrams, the famed British athlete, lost his first race ever. In fairness, he was competing against one of the top four fastest humans known at the time, the ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell. Having trained relentlessly, he made a fundamental mistake at the finish line.

Rather than looking straight ahead, rather than keeping his eyes on the prize, he turned left to catch a glimpse of Eric Liddell, who was slightly ahead. Any chance he had of winning was dashed. He learned his lesson, and he never made that mistake again.

In Philippians 3.12-16, Paul reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize. After teaching that his confidence with God is based on Christ’s righteousness, not his own, Paul turns to describe how he lives life. He wants others to live like he lives, and so he points to a prize, a posture, and a pattern.

1. The Prize: The Resurrection of the Dead

The prize Paul points to is knowing Christ. He writes in verse 12 that ‘I press on to make it my own’. The question is, ‘what is the it?’ He also references the ‘it’ as ‘this’, and both the ‘it and ‘this’ of verse 12 point back to what he described in verse 11: I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The resurrection of the dead is simply the means to the ultimate fulfilment of knowing Christ. Paul’s primary passion is to know Christ. This word ‘know’ means more than cerebral head knowledge; knowing Christ, and being known by him, is the ultimate privilege any human has.  Paul prioritizes the resurrection because this is the final step towards knowing Christ.

2. The Posture: Straining forward to what lies ahead.

Verse 14: I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

To get where he is going, Paul has to forget the past and reach forward. Paul had some bad things in his past to forget – like trying to kill Christians. But he also had some good things in his past – preaching the gospel, planting churches, enjoying God. Paul has to forget it all.
What do you need to forget? Remember, your destiny is being written by God, not your past mistakes. As long as we let the past define us, we run the risk of missing out on the ‘upward call of God in Christ’.

With the future in view and past forgotten, we live in the ‘in between time’, having tasted the kingdom but not brought home. How do we live in this in between time? Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, keep your eyes on the prize of knowing Christ.

3. The Pattern: Follow Paul’s example

Paul concludes with a simple encouragement, a pattern to follow: Let those of us who are mature think this way (verse 15). In other words, don’t over think this; don’t complicate this, don’t mess this up.

The most rationale thing you can do is adopt Paul’s attitude towards life. Because here’s the deal: this isn’t simply about our future lives in eternity; this is about living our best lives now. And regarding that best life, you will experience your greatest joy now when you have your eyes on the prize of knowing Jesus in eternity.

4. What this means for us

Look, I get it. This is hard. We are all susceptible to distraction; we can all succumb to the tyranny of the ‘lesser’. That is, we can be distracted by the lesser things of this life and devote our energy to things that in the grand scheme really don’t matter. We sometimes enter periods of fog, darkness, and confusion. The light seems to dim and the darkness speaks to us. We can lose our way.

In the face of life’s challenges, Paul’s remarkable focus is a great example for us: 1) forget the past; 2) focus on the future; 3) remember what Jesus has done for you; 4) strain forward to what lies ahead. If you find yourself drawn to what's on the right or the left, your not looking at Jesus. Straight ahead - eyes on the prize.

If this were easy, everyone would be doing it. We face too many distractions, too strong, and too compelling, to not be tempted to pull a ‘Harold Abrams’. We REALLY want to look to the right or the left. But that’s a fool’s game. Rather, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, looking straight ahead, running towards the light, our life, our destiny, our Christ.

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