The 21st Sunday after Pentecost October 18, 2015
215, 417(1-5), 447, 417(6-7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule,let us be of the same mind.Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
What things do you find hard to do? There are many things that are hard to do, but as Christians living in a fallen world, the most difficult would have to be the leading of a godly life.
The Apostle Paul himself, the greatest missionary of Christ who ever lived, expressed how difficult it was for him to avoid sin and do what was right. He wrote: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:18ff NIV). Paul was continually trying to lead a life that was more and more pleasing to God, yet he found it incredibly hard to pursue what was good. Paul admitted that he was by no means “complete” or “perfect” as a Christian. He knew that he was far from that ideal.
We can relate to the Apostle Paul because we too find the leading of a God-pleasing life to be very challenging. For one thing, God’s expectations are so high. His commandments are to be kept not only outwardly by what we do and what we say, but also inwardly in our thoughts too. Furthermore, they are to be kept perfectly, with no slip-ups.
Obstacles to godly living are all around us too. There are those near us who live as enemies of the cross of Christ, thinking only of themselves and of earthly things. They concentrate only on things like how much money they can make or what they can do that will make them happy. They worry about the comforts of living, and sometimes to get those comforts they do shameful things. They may even go so far as to take pride in what they have obtained by their shady dealings and wrong ways. Paul said “their god is their stomach,” [v.19] and they present an obstacle to our own godly living because we can be caught up so easily in that way of thinking too and be led into wrong actions ourselves.
We also find godly living to be hard because all around us we hear arguments against it. We hear excuses like “It doesn’t matter, nobody’s perfect.” We hear denial like “There is no real standard of right and wrong.” We hear rationalization like “If you've done enough good, God will overlook the bad.” We hear resignation like “Doing good won't really get you anywhere in life, so why bother?” God’s message is: KEEP TRYING TO LIVE A GODLY LIFE.
Trying to lead a godly life is hard. So why do it? Why not just “give up the ship” and say, “It’s a lost cause. Why strive for something I cannot obtain anyway? Why try to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord when I know I am going to fail anyway? Why obey God’s commands when I know it could make me unpopular, or when I know others could turn against me because of it? Why bother if I am the only one standing up for what is good among my friends or relatives?
Why did the apostle Paul keep pressing on and straining ahead? Why did he keep struggling to conform his life to the way of God? Why did he keep pushing like an athlete in a contest, trying to do better and better in the area of his Christian sanctification? It was because he had his goal in view, and planned on gaining the prize that Jesus had promised him. Paul knew that Christ had given him everlasting life, a place in Heaven forever, a “crown of righteousness” laid up for him that he would receive in full at the Last Day (cf. 2 Timothy 4:8) after he reached the end of his earthly journey. That prize could be lost in unbelief if he became careless about living a godly life, for sin could undermine and erode his faith in Jesus.
So Paul pressed on, determined to take hold of eternal life. Why? Because Christ Jesus had taken hold of him. [v.12] There on the Road to Damascus, while he was breathing out threats against Christians, the Lord had appeared to Paul. His heart was changed and instead of persecuting Jesus he came to believe that Jesus was the One sent from Heaven, the Messiah. Jesus had taken hold of him, taken hold of his heart in order to give him everlasting life, and Paul wanted to cling to that which Jesus had given him.
Why do you keep pressing on and straining ahead? It is because of the prize of everlasting life that has been promised to you too. Jesus has taken hold of your hearts too. Once you were dead in trespasses and sin (cf. Ephesians 2). When you were first conceived and born you were on the road to destruction. You had inherited the sin-guilt passed down from Adam. You had no faith in Jesus with which to receive the forgiveness of your sins. Your end would have been punishment from God.
But you were rescued. Jesus took hold of you. He took hold of your heart like He took hold of Paul’s. He pulled you up from the pit of destruction. By His cross, when He offered up His life, Jesus suffered what your sins deserved and took your punishment. By His Spirit He led you to believe it so you could be saved from sorrow and enjoy the glories of a new earth—Heaven that will never end.
Why do you keep pressing on and straining ahead? It is because you have been given your heavenly citizenship papers. You know that you don’t really belong here forever. You belong in Heaven where the redeemed of the Lord will gather around their Savior. You are already a citizen of that country as the hymn says: “I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home; Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home” (TLH 660). Jesus has given us a crown of life, and this keeps us pressing on, striving more and more to do the will of God.
We live for Jesus because our life is in Him. We live for Him because we know that our Lord Jesus will come again as we eagerly await Him and by His great power He will transform our bodies so that they will be glorious, without sin or disease or sickness. We will be raised from our graves as He was raised from His, and we will live, bodily, in our heavenly country.
Christ has taken hold of you and given you all of this—could there be any better reason to keep trying to lead a godly life than to realize with joy that you are holding onto a great and precious treasure and glorifying the One who gave it to you!
“Keep trying to lead a godly life.” That’s the message of today’s Scripture. We’ve heard the “why,” but it also tells us the “how.” For even when we want to avoid sin, it can be hard to know how because evil is deceptive and pervasive.
Just how did the Apostle Paul press on and strive forward toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward? One technique Paul used was forgetting what was behind. That is, he did not let his former sins get in the way of his thinking and keep him from moving forward. This doesn’t mean he overlooked or tried to make excuses for what he had done wrong, but he refused to live as though Jesus had not forgiven his past. Paul lived his life trusting that for the believing child of Christ, God keeps no record of sins (cf. Psalm 130).
Sometimes we need to “forget what is behind.” If Satan keeps trying to bring up past sins to burden us so that we have a hard time moving forward and doing good, we can remember that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins—and look forward with confidence.
It is also important that as Christians we follow good examples. Paul told the Philippians, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” [v.17]
All of you who have ever sent your children off to school have probably sent them off with the warning, “Choose your friends wisely. Don’t follow the students who set bad examples. Don’t imitate the trouble-makers!” We know the passage from 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
We can keep trying to lead a godly life by imitating those around us who exhibit such a life. Maybe you have trouble controlling your temper, but you have friends who do it pretty well. Watch what they do, and follow their example. Maybe you feel your faith is weak and you doubt the Lord a lot, watch those who seem to have a strong faith and see what they do. See how they react when they are pressed. Follow their example. Take note of those who are concerned about doing things to please God. Get near to them and be influenced by them.
Our lives get into bad patterns, bad habits, and we can get away from some of the things that Jesus would have us do. Looking to good examples that are set before us, we strive to break old habits and live according to new patterns.
There was a baseball coach years ago who was trying to correct a player’s faulty swing. He gave him a video of a proper swing and said, “Play this video every night and imitate it. Swing the bat correctly 60 times a day for 30 days and you’ll be rid of the bad habits in your swing!”
Doing what is right—even if our sinful nature doesn’t want to do it—and doing it over and over again, actively imitating people like the Apostle Paul and others who set a good example, “practicing” the good, wholesome, and loving behavior Jesus asks of us, will help us break bad habits and establish new patterns.
We have been given so much in Christ, even everlasting life! Let us live up to what we have already attained and keep trying to lead a godly life! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.