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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 1045am Svc, 2011-01-02

Text: Philippians 3:7-14

Our meditation this morning is on the theme of 'Beginning well.' There is a saying that goes, 'A good beginning makes a good ending.' This is true in almost every area of life. Couples spend much time and expense on their wedding so that their marriage will get off to a good start. Businesses that are started with thorough preparations are the ones that are most likely to succeed. In all building projects laying a good foundation is always the key to the building's structural strength. 

The same thing is true in running a race. The posture that an athlete assumes at the starting blocks can really make a huge difference in the way he will run the race. For maximum acceleration the arms have to be vertical, and body horizontal, the power leg must be in front and the quick leg behind and both must be at a certain angle to the ground. Every little detail counts. Besides physical posture, the athlete's mental posture must also be just right - a slight loss of focus can cost an athlete the whole race. 

In the passage of Scripture we will look at this morning the Christian life is likened to running a race, and as we study it together we shall learn how to begin well. The New Year has just started yesterday. We are all like athletes who have begun a race that will take us all the way to the end of the year. But how well will we run this race and finish it? Will we be able to say when we reach the end of this year: 'I have run my race well, in a manner that is pleasing to God'? I would like you to imagine that you are now on a running track, all geared up for a race in your T-shirt, running shorts and running shoes. You approach the starting blocks and get yourself into position. The starter says: Ready! Then, before he fires the gun he says 'Get set!' That's what we have have to do now - we must get set. In the outline of this message I have deliberately used the word 'set' to describe three settings that we need to make if we want to begin the year well. The first 'setting' we need to make is to

I. Set Aside Every Weight That Can Hinder You

In many kinds of sports and games, one essential part of preparation by those involved is to get rid of anything that may hinder one's performance. Hebrews 12:1 says, '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.' What does 'laying aside every weight' mean? In the language of sports, it means getting rid of any encumbrances that will slow a person down. For instance, swimmers who train very hard to win will do anything they can to reduce the effects of the water's resistance or drag on their bodies. They would shave off all visible body hair (even their eyebrows) - this alone can take 1 second off a swimmer's time for every 50 metres. They would also make their bodies more streamline by exercising away all unwanted fat. If a swimmer feels that doing all this is just too troublesome for him, he would have to face disastrous results in his race - the water becomes like a wall to him!

The same thing applies in the Christian life - we need to set aside anything at all that can hinder us. Those who take the race seriously enough to do this will run very well. But those who fail to set aside every weight will lag far behind, and find it very difficult to keep up. These weights take the form of habits and pursuits that have stayed with us right from the time of our old life before we came to know Christ. 

How should we regard these things? Let us look at Philippians 3:8 '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.' The word 'dung' here implies that we should count them not only as having no value, but as having negative value - things we must dispose as quickly as possible.

Many people today live by one very simple rule: The more pursuits they have, the better they are. Hence they will seek after wealth, popularity, power and worldly success. They want to try everything and excel in as many as they can. But what will all these pursuits finally lead to? And what will they eventually gain from them? Many have been misled into thinking that they are investing their time and efforts accumulating much that is valuable, when all they have obtained are empty assets and worthless investments. None of these things can be kept for eternity or can prepare them for eternity. It makes good sense therefore, to give up such pursuits all for the one pursuit that has real value both for the present time and for eternity. This is why Paul said in v.7, 'But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.' I trust that you will take stock of your life this morning to see whether you are still carrying any deadweight which should be jettisoned, so that you can run your race for the Lord Jesus Christ more effectively. 

Many years ago a member of a Bible study group I was leading had a great passion for the game of chess. And since he was very good at it, he devoted much time and effort to playing chess at organised tournaments, reading books on it, and keeping up with important chess matches played by international champions like Karpov and Kasparov. But his passion for chess was hindering his spiritual growth - it took up a lot of his time and energy. Most chess tournaments were organised on Sundays, and that meant that he would have to skip coming to church to participate in them. He was also unable to give much time to Bible study, prayer and fellowship because of his passion for chess. Then he said to me one day, 'I realise that all I have been so excited about is nothing but pushing pieces of wood around on a board.' From that point on, he really began to grow spiritually.

Perhaps you may have a similar passion or pursuit which is hindering your spiritual growth, and holding you back from being all that God wants you to be. It may be a desire to be accomplished in a particular skill or talent. It may be a dream to achieve excellence in competitive sports or mountain climbing. It may be a personal ambition to be recognised as someone great. Whatever it is, please ask yourself this question: Is it actually a help or hindrance to the most important pursuit of your life? If it can be a help, make sure that you subordinate it fully to run your race. But if it cannot be a help at all, and is actually a hindrance to your race, then you must set it aside and be firm about it. This is the first setting you must make if you want to begin well. We go on now to look at the second setting that you must make:

II. Set Your Sights on Christ-Centred Goals

Those who want to run a good race must set their sights on their goals and they must not allow themselves to be distracted from them (Athletes call this 'tunnel vision'). Many people fail in life because they have no definite goal or direction. They merely drift wherever the tide flows. They are creatures of circumstance who will accomplish nothing in life. Unfortunately we Christians may find ourselves in a similar situation, especially when we live in our environment where there are a multitude of pursuits and opportunities beckoning us to commit ourselves to them. 

What we need to do is to follow the good example that the apostle Paul has set for us in verse 13 'Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do'. Notice that Paul did not say, 'these ten things I do,' or the like. He said, 'This ONE thing I do.' He was a 'one thing' man. His whole life was dominated by this one thing which he pursued so vigorously, and every other goal he had was subordinated to it.

For example in v.10 one of Paul's goals was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Another goal he had was to bear suffering for the cause of serving Christ. And yet another goal he had was to die like Christ. The other epistles that Paul wrote reveal some other goals that he had. For example in Romans 15:20, his goal with respect to his mission work is given: 'Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation.' He wanted to preach Christ in areas where no one else had gone before. In Galatians 4:19, his goal with regards to those he ministered to is given: 'My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.'

It is easy to see that Paul's goals for every aspect of life had Christ as its sole object. Like the apostle Paul, we also need to make Christ-centred goals for every aspect of life. In the outline of the sermon I have provided spaces for you to write out some Christ-centred goals you can set for each aspect of your life. Please take some time today to fill this up prayerfully. For example, the goal you can set for your personal life is: To know Christ fully and to make Him known. This would mean giving top priority to your daily devotions, personal Bible study, prayer and fellowship with other Christians.

What Christ-centred goal can you set for your home life? It could be: to make your home as conducive as possible for Christ to exercise His divine lordship in your home. If you come from a Christian family, this would mean fulfilling your God-given role as a parent, spouse or child, and encouraging your family to know and to love the Lord Jesus. If you come from a non-Christian family, this would mean living a good Christian testimony before your unsaved loved ones at home, praying for their salvation and finding opportunities to bring them to Christ.

What Christ-centred goal would you like to set for your working life? Perhaps it is to do your very best in your place of work so that you may eventually bring glory to Him through being known for diligence and integrity. If you are a student, the goal you can set for yourself is to study well, not for the grades or degrees you can get, but to obtain all the necessary skills and knowledge that will equip you to serve Christ better for the rest of your life.

What Christ-centred goal should you set for your social life? Perhaps you may want to build good friendships through which you can communicate Christ to others freely by your word and life. How about your recreational life? The goal you can set for this is to enjoy edifying music and art that will make you appreciate Christ's design of all things. And what goal would be worth setting for the management of your time, your possessions and financial resources? Consider this one: to be a good steward of all things that Christ has given to you. This would mean spending your time and resources wisely, with minimum wastage.

Now, setting Christ-centred goals like these is only the beginning. It will amount to nothing if you fail to carry them out. I would suggest that you make plans to review these goals regularly, perhaps even to share them with a close Christian friend you can trust to pray for you and help you to follow up on them (an accountability partner). 

Thus far we have seen two settings we need to make in order to begin well: Set aside any thing that may hinder you, and Set your sights on Christ-centred goals. We now move on to the third setting we need to make:

III. Set Yourself to Press onward to the End

Listen to what Paul said in vv.13-14: '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.' The verb 'press' in v.14 is in a form that implies continual action - an action that must be kept up with regular, diligent effort.

Some people fail to do this. They begin very well but do not end well because they do not set themselves to press toward the mark. They got themselves prepared for a short-distance race when they should have prepared for a long-distance race. But how do you prepare to run long-distance? The preparation has to start months before the day of the race. You commit yourself to a special diet so that you can shed all the excess fat and build up muscles. You get into a strict regime of exercises, waking up early in the morning to jog or run in the park or stadium. You regulate your sleep and mealtimes carefully, and refrain from taking snacks between meals. The quality that can help you do all these things is temperance. Temperance is one of the two qualities you need in order to keep pressing toward the mark.

Since you are taking part in a long-distance race, the other quality that can help you is patience. Patience is the staying power that keeps you pressing on and on through the whole length of the race until you reach the end. We shall take a closer look these two qualities beginning with-

A Temperance

Temperance means self-control, particularly with regard to one's passions and desires. For the Christian, temperance includes two things: Firstly it means abstaining completely from any form of pleasure that is sinful or that is known to be harmful to the body. Therefore we should never smoke, consume intoxicating drinks, indulge in substance abuse, or get involved in any immoral sexual activity. Any pleasure that involves breaking any of God's commandments is not for us to enjoy. 

Secondly, temperance means exercising good control and moderation in pleasures that are perfectly legitimate for us to enjoy. Always remember this: Anything good becomes bad when it is done in excess. There are many legitimate pleasures and comforts in our lives. Sleeping is one of them. Eating is another. Surfing the Internet and watching shows on TV are also legitimate pastimes. But if we are not temperate we will overindulge and spend far too much time in them. Such overindulgence can affect our relationship with God seriously. Instead of waking up to do our quiet time in the morning, we give in to the temptation to sleep longer. Instead of going to bed early on Saturday night, we sit before our TV screen or computer screen way past midnight and then we cannot concentrate or keep awake in church on Sunday.

God has given you many good things to use and enjoy. But if you do not exercise temperance you will end up abusing those gifts and becoming enslaved to them. Without temperance all your precious time will soon be frittered away instead of being gainfully used to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus! Time will go by very quickly. Before you know it 2011 will be over and you will find that you have not made any spiritual progress at all. 

If you don't want this to happen, you must set yourself now to press onward to the end by being temperate. This means regulating the amount of time you spend in things that you enjoy most. It means disciplining yourself to stop doing something even though you have the urge to continue, as you are enjoying it so much. But how can you get the willpower you need to be temperate? 

According to Galatians 5:22,23, temperance is mentioned as part of the fruit of the Spirit. Let us turn to this passage: 'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.' The fruit of the Spirit can only be borne as we keep walking in the Spirit consistently. Hence we must resolve to walk in the Spirit more consistently this year. Now that we have seen the quality of temperance, we go on to the other quality we need to help us to press onward to the end: The quality of

B. Patience

The word 'patience' in the Scriptures means steadfastness or endurance. And this word and its cognates are applied in three different ways in the Bible: Firstly, we need patience in order to endure afflictions in life. (e.g. James 5:10-11; 2 Thess 1:4) Life is not a bed of roses. We are often beset with trials, disappointments and frustrations that make us anxious and downhearted, wishing to be delivered as soon as possible.

Secondly we need patience in maintaining a course of action. For example, maintaining good works, refusing to receive bribes, refusing to compromise one's stand or convictions even under great pressure (e.g. Romans 2:7). The Lord expects us to keep on doing His will even under the most difficult circumstances. He wants us to live as obedient children, maintaining a good testimony for Him before a sinful world, no matter how tiring it gets to keep this up, day after day. 

Thirdly we need patience in waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:5). We are all longing earnestly for the day when Christ will come to take us home to be with Him in glory and to bring an end to all the trouble and strife in this world. But sometimes we become weary and worn with waiting, and say, 'O Lord, how long? How long more do we have to wait?'

What we need is: Patience. If have the patience to wait, and to press onward the very end, and then we will see the wonderful results it brings. But what if we are not patient? Then we may end up displeasing the Lord and falling into terrible sins. Take Abraham for example. God had promised to give him a son. He waited patiently for about 10 years and still had no son. At this point Sarah, his wife became impatient and she urged him to have a son through her maid, Hagar. He agreed, and the results were disastrous. God did not speak to Abraham for 15 years, and when Isaac was born, Ishmael, Hagar's son, became his rival and was eventually sent away.

The awful price of impatience is also seen in the nation of Israel during their journey to the Promised Land. They began their journey well, experiencing God's wonderful deliverance at the Red Sea, and God's wonderful provision of manna and of water from the rock, and receiving God's Law at Mount Sinai through Moses. But after they left Mount Sinai, and had to keep up the process of travelling in the wilderness, marching, and setting up camp from place to place, week after week and month after month, they became weary and discouraged. As a result of this many of them lost their patience and turned against God. They were sorely chastised for their impatience. 

Seeing what a great price we would have to pay for being impatient, let us then strive to develop patience in our lives. We do this by learning to trust in God's power to keep us, in His purpose to try us and in His promise to reward us. Remember what Jesus said: 'Without Me ye can do nothing' (John 15:5) Keep on relying on Him therefore, to grant you His sufficient grace to press onward to the end. And keep looking forward to the day when you will have the joy of seeing Jesus welcoming you at the finish line. As one hymnwriter put it: It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ! One glimpse of His dear face, All sorrow will erase, So bravely run the race, till we see Christ!

Dearly beloved, let us run the race that is before us well. And make sure that you begin this race well now by making these three important settings: Set aside anything that will hinder you, Set your sights on Christ-centred goals, and Set yourself to press onward all the way to the end.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25