I mentioned yesterday that I used to teach at a Christian school for special needs children. Many of the kids who came to us had known only failure and frustration. Most had suffered bullying and taunting in other places they had gone to school. Our school offered them an environment where they were loved and encouraged. Part of the education process we as teachers had to include in our teaching was helping these students overcome the emotional baggage and “learned helplessness” they’d grown used to living with.
We learned to celebrate small victories. Because small victories have a way of snowballing into big ones.
A student would get a ‘D’ on a test and his/her classmates would score higher. We’d take that student aside, focus on the things they got right, showed them where they needed to improve and told them they could do better the next time. The next time would come and this time they’d get a ‘D+’. Usually, the student would look at the grade and say: “I still got a ‘D.’” We’d say, “No. You got a ‘D+.’ That’s an improvement! That’s awesome! Let’s see what we can do next time!” The student would head into next time fueled on the success of their last attempt and on the test, they’d score a ‘C’. They’d look at some of their classmates and see they’d scored higher and say: “I only got a ‘C.’” We’d say, “Yes! You came up a whole letter grade! That’s fantastic! Keep it up!” Eventually, that student who started out with a ‘D,’ would average in the C’s or above. Even if they could never get above an average grade, we’d remind them of their progress and get them focused on their successes, always reminding them that as long as they were exercising the gifts God gave them, they were still succeeding. We changed their outlook by changing their attitude. Every success, no matter how small, is still a success.
Paul told the Philippians that he was “[pressing] toward the mark of the for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The picture is of someone straining to reach ahead to a desired goal. If you’ve ever watched a football game, you’ve seen those players who make what sportscasters call “the second effort” where even as they’re being tackled, they’re striving to fall forward to gain that extra yardage. That’s the kind of picture Paul is painting for us. To keep the Philippians from seeing him as some kind of super saint, Paul was careful to give that statement a proper context:
(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.
We can all look at our Christian walk and let the failures stop us, (or let our success distract us,) or we can continue to move forward even as we’re being tackled and “press toward the mark.” Paul told his readers: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded…” (Philippians 3:15a). By “perfect,” Paul means “mature,” and when he says, “let us be…thus minded,” he means being like that football player who is constantly seeking to make forward progress. The mark of a mature Christian is not a perfection; it’s growth. Failures – and successes – happen. We cannot wallow in those things. We must keep moving and growing.
That player moving the ball forward even as he’s being tackled has one thing in mind: the endzone. The mature believer also has one thing in mind: the glory that is in Jesus Christ. In verses 18-19, Paul mourns for those who had fallen away from their Christian walk. In describing them he says they were those “whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” They took their eyes off the things that mattered. To continue the football analogy, they were tackled for a loss, which is what an immature player sometimes does. Paul thought better of his Philippian congregation and reminds them of the goal by reminding them of who they were:
For our conversation [citizenship, walk, way of life, national identity] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the [Savior], the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
Mature believers keep their focus because they are always looking to Christ. They are always focusing on the endzone.
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