PRESS TOWARD THE MARK
The title of today’s sermon is PRESS TOWARD THE MARK.
So let’s begin w/ Philippians 3:13-14 where this title is taken from.
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.
& There are 2 MAIN COMPONENTS to this sermon.
The 1ST COMPONENT is that we, as believers, are all STRANGERS & PILGRIMS passing through this land.
The 2ND COMPONENT is that as strangers & pilgrims heavenbound …
… we shouldn’t turn either to the right or to the left, as we embark on our pilgrimage home.
Instead, like Paul the apostle said, in Philippians 3:14, we should be singly focused …
… & “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
& I’D LIKE TO BEGIN today’s sermon w/ Numbers 20.
Let me give you the background, while you’re turning to Numbers 20.
In this passage, MOSES & THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL are seeking safe passage to the Promised Land …
… They want to take the King’s High way, by way of the land of the Edomites.
But the king of Edom (who represents political power in this world) refuses to give them safe passage.
& this a prophetic analogy of our life here on earth as STRANGERS & PILGRIMS passing through …
… we do not belong in this world.
We’re simply on our pilgrimage to a heavenly country.
The Children of Israel had just been freed from Egypt (which represents salvation, w/ Egypt being an allegory of the world.
… & they had passed through the Red Sea (which symbolized their baptism) …
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 says that the children of Israel:
1 … were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;”
… and now in the wilderness, they are seeking passage to the Promised Land via the land of the Edomites …
14 And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy brother Israel Now Edom or the Edomites were descendants of Esau, which is why the Israelites call them brothers, having come from Jacob & Esau]. Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:
15 How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:
16 And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border: [So the Israelites were saved from Egypt, but now are on their journey to the Promised Land].
17 Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.
18 And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword. [And coming out against them with a sword, is a picture of what Satan does … he violently and makes war with the Saints. Like we see in Rev. 12:17: “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed … So this is what Edom, their brothers in the flesh, threaten to do to God’s seed.]
19 And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet. [So the Israelites plead with them, telling they will not pass through their fields or take leisure in their vineyards, but only use what is necessary for their survival. And that’s a picture of what our attitude should be in this world. Just using the resources we need to survive and to preach the Gospel and to be about doing the work of our Father].
Solomon gives us the same message in Proverbs 4:25-27:
25 Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
26 Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
27 Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
Turn back to Numbers 20:20-21
20 And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand [So the people of God were persecuted by the world.]
21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.
The Edomites were their brethren, but they were false brethren, they were biology related, but not spiritual family …
The Edomites represented the enemies of God.
And so as strangers & pilgrims in this land.
We are in the world, but we are not of the world.
John 15:19 says: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
After their redemption, the Israelites no longer belonged to any land.
They could no longer claim Egypt as their home …
… and they had not yet inherited the Promised Land.
And so they were literally strangers & pilgrims passing through.
And we also, as Christians who have been redeemed from this world …
… can identify with Moses who said: “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22).
Or with David, in 1 Chronicles 29:15, who said: “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.”
In Hebrews 11, in the famous hall of faith passage, we also read how the redeemed did not belong, but were seeking a better country.
7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
None of these men looked for a physical inheritance, but eagerly sought a spiritual one.
Hebrews 11 continues, speaking of the CHAMPIONS OF FAITH:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
Moses also sought a better country:
24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; [Moses gave up worldly power and riches to serve God and free His people].
26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
This theme continues in Hebrews 13:14 also, which says: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
And so as strangers & pilgrims, we’re not supposed to settle here …
We’re not supposed to store up material possessions, as though this were our home.
We’re to have just enough to sustain us on our pilgrimage home.
Proverbs 30:7-9 says:
7 Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
9 Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
This can be such a difficult proverb to live by …
Especially for us fathers who have the responsibility of providing for our families.
It’s one of the biggest stress factors for men, especially as it’s becoming more & more difficult to make your way in this world.
But we have to trust God to provide everything that we need on this pilgrimage.
We have to remember that we do not belong here.
Philippians 3:20 says: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”
If you remember from past sermons, “conversation” doesn’t just describe our words & our speech …
… but our lives or how we conduct our lives …
So Phil 3:20 would literally be saying: “For our life is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”
THIS LIFE IS SHOCKINGLY QUICK.
The Bible describes our lives in many ways, MOST OFTEN as a “shadow”, “a vapour”, as “grass that withereth” or as a “flower that falleth away”.
It’s amazing what a great cloud of witnesses attest to this fact, throughout the Bible …
From King David in the Psalms …
to King Solomon in Ecclesiastes …
to righteous Job …
to major prophets like Isaiah …
to the APOSTLES Peter & James in the NT …
They all understood the brevity of life.
David says in Psalm 144:4 says: “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.”
The apostle James says in James 4:4 says: “For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
Contrasting the permanency of the Word of God to the temporary condition of man, Peter says in 1 Peter 1:24 says: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away …”
This refers back to Isaiah 40:6-7:
6 The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
We see it also in Psalm 102:11: “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.”
2 Samuel 14:14 says: “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again …”
Psalm 39:5: “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.”
47 Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?
48 What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.
King David said in 2 Chronicles 29:15: “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.”
God calls men: “but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again” in Psalm 78:39.
Job said in Job 7:6-8:
6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope.
7 O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good.
8 The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.
Also Job 9:25-26:
25 Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good.
26 They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.
Job 14:1: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.”
Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 6:12: “For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? …”
In Psalm 39:4, David asks God to show him how short his days are: “LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”
Knowing that our time is short, should motivate & compel us to focus on our mission & work for the Lord.
Psalm 90:12 says: “… Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
That’s why Ephesians 5:15-17 tells us to make the best use of our time:
15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
What does it mean that the days are evil?
We will live in sinful times. There is evil all around.
& opportunities to sin abound.
So we are faced family with the temptation to veer to the right or to the left and take our eyes off the mark.
Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
He’s basically saying that we have this life and this life only to work, so do it with all your might …
Once we die, it’s too late to fulfill the Great Commission, save souls, and do good works for God.
Now is the time to work and to earn eternal rewards.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
This is talking about wordly sadness, worldly rejoicing …
What do most people mourn about or rejoice about during their lives?
The things of this world …
Paul is telling us that everything that is of this world is temporary, and not to get distracted by them.
Paul employs the same language in v. 27, when he talks about marriage: “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.”
Notice the similarity in language.
He says it again in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9:
7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
God has ordained marriage as a blessing …
But the desire for a husband or wife can be a serious distraction.
The best thing that single people can do is to focus on your mission for God, and when it’s time God will open up an opportunity for marriage.
Before I was saved, and before I was married, it was common knowledge, that you usually got into relationships when you weren’t looking for one.
& there is some truth to that.
It’s best to just focus on your mission before God, and if & when it’s meant to be, the right person will come along.
>>> PRESS TOWARD THE MARK <<< Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14: 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. Paul uses the analogy of a man running a race. A man who never looks back to what is behind him. A runner who only looks ahead towards the mark. The image of “PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK” is of a runner leaning in & towards the finish line as he runs the race … TO PRESS TOWARDS SOMETHING also implies a certain amount of pressure. It’s not EASY or EFFORTLESS to RUN A RACE … … you have to PRESS into it … … you have to pursue it with all your might in order to win … TO PRESS TOWARDS something also describes a WILLFUL, IMPASSIONED PURSUIT … In his prior life, Paul as Saul of Tarsus was in WILLFUL PURSUIT of Christians … … how he could persecute the church of God … … but after he gets saved, he transforms that same impassioned pursuit into seeking the Kingdom of God & serving other believers. Paul’s pursuit of God has an element of urgency to it. He is aggressive in his pursuit of God. He’s not laid back or laissez faire about it … Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24: 23 … If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. Salvation costs you nothing and takes no effort on your part, other than believing & receiving the free gift of everlasting life. But discipleship is a lifelong process. It takes SACRIFICE & HARD, INTENSE LABOR. Jesus says to DENY YOURSELF & TAKE UP YOUR CROSS, not once or twice, but DAILY. • Paul used the word, “MARK”, to describe the finish line. … but a “mark” is also something that people shoot at. He life was like a STRAIGHT ARROW shooting toward the mark. Picture that arrow shooting forward towards the mark. That describes Paul’s life. He had no time to waste, no time to complain, to fret, to regret, or to pine away in anguish over what he didn’t have. A PRIZE is the reward that a VICTOR receives when he crosses the finish line … there is a reward to be had … but it will only be given to those who win. To those who stay the course and do the work of the kingdom. This speaks of eternal rewards. & What is that prize? For many it is a crown of glory, eternal riches, heavenly treasures & unspeakable rewards. But for some it’s just to hear Jesus say: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” which is in itself the greatest of all prizes. There’s no greater peace or joy than to know that we are walking steadfastly according to the will of God. Earlier in the passage, Paul boasts a little of his worldly, carnal accomplishments, but then says that he counts them as dung. PAUL SUFFERED GREAT LOSS in the world, in exchange for following Christ. But it meant nothing to him … He had studied under Gamaliel, one of the most recognized doctors of the law, who was in “reputation among all the people”. Paul was a Pharisee among Pharisees … … he was learned in the Greek philosophers as well as the Jewish Law … … but he counted them all as DUNG, because they had no eternal significance. Philippians 3:3-8: 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. We should be willing to suffer the loss of all things for Christ. Men like Job endured … Job endured great personal affliction, physical pain, as well as the loss of his entire family. But Job’s immediate reaction was to worship God, despite losing everything. Job 1:20-22: 20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, 21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. 22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. Would we be able to do the same? We also see Paul use the race analogy prior to his death. As Paul neared the end of his life, he was able to faithfully claim that he had accomplished his goal. He had successfully PRESSED TOWARD THE MARK his entire life, and was about to cross the finish line. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he says: 6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. All of us will (quickly) get to this point one day, when we're nearing the end of our lives … … and we’ll look back at how we spent our time in this life. Will we be able to look back with confidence, like Paul, and say that we fought a good fight? That we finished our course? Or will we look back with regret at all the time we wasted? Earlier in Philippians 3:10, Paul said: “That I may know him [that’s the main prize, simply knowing Christ Himself, there’s no greater prize], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”” We look to our inheritance in Christ, not to earthly treasures that fade away … 1 Peter 1:3-4: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you … Whereas Hebrews 13:14 says that: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” … Jesus says in John 14:2: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” & Ephesians 2:19 says that we: “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; John the Apostle saw in Revelation 21:2: 2 … the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Heaven is our final destination on this pilgrimage we found ourselves on. So don’t get caught up in things here on earth … Colossians 3:2-5 says: 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. 5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: What do you covet today? The Bible says it IS idolatry. Do you covet riches? It is idolatry. Do you covet popularity & fame? It is idolatry. Do you covet a wife? It is idolatry. What does Jesus say in Matthew 6:33? “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” That’s why the very first psalm says: 1 Blessed is the man … 2 [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Jesus was simply reiterating Psalm 1. When we determine to follow Christ, we should never look back to what lay behind us. In Luke 9, when Jesus called a man to follow him, the man said, in v. 59: 59 … Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. [The man wanted to leave the work of the Gospel to go & bury his dead father, his dead father who he could no longer help. Instead, he should have focused on the Kingdom, in order to save those still alive and who could hear the Gospel]. 61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. The Bible is constantly admonishing us to look ahead, not to turn back, not to turn aside, but to set our eyes on the prize. 1 Corinthians 15:58 says: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” While our labor in this world is often in vain, our labor in the Lord is NEVER in vain. Galatians 6:9 says: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” A FRIEND OF MINE used to always tell me, repeatedly … … that his life’s goal is to be like Paul the apostle, as he was about to face his death. To be able to say, like Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” I want my friend to fulfill his goal. I want all of us to fulfill that goal. THERE IS NO GREATER GOAL. Hebrews 12:1, speaking of the great men & women in the HALL OF FAITH of the preceding chapter, says: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us …” Whatever is stopping you from PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK … Whatever is causing you to TURN TO THE RIGHT OR TO THE LEFT … It’s not worth it. Be like Paul. Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.