The Prize (Philippians 3:4-14)

Main Idea: Jesus is the greatest prize.


Much of my life can be characterized by the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I’ve never really been the best at anything, but I am proud to say that I’m mediocre at a ton of things.

Back in high school, I remember competing to be the best in a lot of areas. I competed to get the best grades, and I ended up graduating second in my class, not first. I competed in 5k races, and I never got the gold medal, or any medal for that matter.

What are you really trying to gain in this life? Maybe you’re trying to gain enough money to retire, or a certain level of comfort, or a certain way of life. Maybe you’re trying to gain something for someone else, like a happy life for your kids or your spouse.

So take just a moment to try to answer this question for yourself. What is the prize that you’re trying to gain in your life?

However you answer that question shows what it is that you value the most. Maybe you value your reputation, or your family, or your accomplishments. Maybe you value your possessions, or your bank account, and you look forward to walking on streets made of gold. Maybe you have young children and you just value peace and quiet. All of these things have their place, and they can be good things. But I hope to remind you this morning of what is most valuable in life, so that you might see what it is that you can most gain.

Please turn with me to Philippians 3. We’re going to begin reading at the end of verse 3. Please stand with me for the reading of God’s word.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:4b-8a)

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

I hope I didn’t just spoil the movie for any of you, but I think you’ve had time to watch it by now. It’s only been out for almost 80 years.

In the movie Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane is basically abandoned by his parents, given over to be raised by the manager of his trust fund. And when he turns 25 years old, he gets access to his trust fund so that he never lacks anything ever again for the rest of his life. He has it all. He becomes successful, and famous. He could boast about his charm, and his intelligence, and his wealth. But ultimately he ruins himself and all those around him, so that at the end of his life, at the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the thing that he most valued was a sled that reminded him of the simple life as a child with his parents.

And it’s interesting to me that in the last scene of the movie, even Rosebud was burned up in a fire.

And the more I think about it, I kind of think that in the end, all of the things that we cling to so fiercely in this life need to be burned away from us like chaff, so that we’ll finally see what really matters.

So first, we probably need to answer this question: what really matters?

Our society today would say that nothing really matters. I mean, most people probably wouldn’t say it that way, but they would say that we should each decide what matters to ourselves. According to an atheistic worldview, nothing matters intrinsically, so it’s up to each individual to invent meaning for themselves. And that sounds appealing to us. We like the idea of deciding for ourselves what matters to us. We like to decide what our own prize is. Our own Rosebud. I might decide that my family matters the most to me, while you might decide that your job matters most to you. And that sounds awesome, because then both of us can be right. But if there’s no ultimate meaning in anything anyway, then in actuality, both of us are wrong.

So we don’t get to decide what really matters in life. The One who created life does. So here’s what God says really matters.

John 8:12.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

1 John 5:20.

We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Hebrews 1:3.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)

And check out this one. Colossians 1:15-20.

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20)

You see, according to the Bible, we’ll see that in the end, that all that really matters is Jesus, and that everything else that has any meaning has meaning only because of Him.

So how valuable is Jesus to you, now?

Like Citizen Kane, the apostle Paul had a lot of reasons to boast. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, and blameless according to the law. As a Pharisee, he sought to obey to the letter not only the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, but also laws that weren’t even in the Hebrew Bible, so that he wouldn’t even come close to disobeying the letter of the law. And he was so adamant about the truthfulness of his faith that he persecuted the church, early Christian believers, because they claimed that Jesus was God, and according to the Pharisees, that was blasphemy.

And Paul was proud of this persecution. He boasted in it. And yet, because Jesus really was and is God, we know that Paul’s boasting was evil.

What are your reasons to boast? Maybe you’re proud of your history and your heritage. Or you’re proud of your accomplishments, or your outstanding morality compared to others. Or maybe you’re proud to be an American. And maybe you boast about some of these things. But could it be that all such boasting is evil?

Ouch. Stepping on some toes. But let me say it like this. It’s good to be thankful for things and rejoice in things that God gives us, and sometimes we call that pride, and I think that’s fine. But if your pride in something leads you away from obeying God and rejoicing in Him, then it’s sin.

And even when it’s not sin, sometimes we need to keep it in perspective, or else it becomes sin. Yes, I’m a citizen of a great nation, but I’m primarily a citizen of the kingdom of God. Yes, I’m the pastor of a great church, but I’m primarily just one beggar showing another beggar where to find food. So I have absolutely no reason to boast.

In fact, looking back at all his reasons to boast, Paul wrote that none of it even mattered because knowing Jesus is so much greater. It wasn’t even close! He wrote in verse 7:

whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)

All those things, being a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, a persecutor of the church, and even what everyone considered to be blameless according to the law, Paul considered all those as a loss for the sake of Christ. They weren’t worth anything.

So l think it might be important for us to ask ourselves: are the things that you think are worth the most in your life actually holding you back from knowing Jesus fully? Are the things that you’re most seeking to gain in this life actually distracting you from finding Jesus to be the greatest One to gain?

Paul said it another way in verse 8.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8a)

So not just your greatest gains, but everything. Not just what you boast in, but things in your life that you rarely even think about. Mundane things. Obligations. Pleasures. Anything that gets in the way of knowing Jesus more is a loss.

Going to school is a loss if it hinders you from growing as a Christian. Eating food is a loss if you think you live by bread alone. Spending time with your family watching TV is a loss if it takes the place of reading God’s word with them.

And notice what Paul says to do about that. Starting at the end of verse 8.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8b-11)

So when it comes to things like going to school, eating, and spending time with your family, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” So should we give up such things? Well, sometimes. If something is truly getting in the way of your growth in Christ, you should give it up. Or, at the very least, you should recognize how it’s been a hindrance, and start to see how God might help you to grow even in that situation.

For example, if you’re still in school, I don’t recommend that you quit school, even if school hasn’t helped you to grow in your faith. Instead, identify why school has been harmful to your faith, and seek to change that. Maybe you need to start hanging out with different friends. Maybe you need to do more studying outside of school to get to the truth about the science or history that your school has taught you. Maybe you need to be clear with your teachers and friends about your faith, so that your time at school isn’t a distraction for your faith, but actually an opportunity to grow in your faith.

I started getting really serious about my faith when I was a junior in high school. I went to a public school, so we didn’t have any religious studies as a part of our classes, but I took every opportunity I could to bring things back to Jesus. Whenever there was a writing assignment in which I could choose the topic, I talked about Jesus. Whenever we could choose a book to read and do a report on, I chose something I knew would encourage me as a Christian. When there was an assignment to memorize and recite poetry, I recited something from the Bible.

I remember once when I had to write a paper on the meaning of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” I wrote about the struggle between taking the easy road, and following Christ. When I got my paper back from my teacher, she had written on it that she thought I was reading my thoughts into the poem. And I absolutely was! Because Robert Frost’s poem doesn’t matter at all! Knowing Christ is what matters.

So in everything, pursue knowing Christ.

It’s interesting that Paul undoubtedly knew Jesus as his Lord and Savior, and yet he seems so determined in this passage about coming to know Jesus. In verse 8, he writes that he wants to “gain Christ.” In verse 9, he writes that he desires to “be found in Him.” In verse 10, he writes about his aspiration to “know Him.” Paul wasn’t satisfied with a basic understanding of Jesus. He wanted to grow in his relationship with Jesus.

What does that look like? Is it merely reading your Bible and praying? I think that’s part of it, but Paul seems to think it’s more than that. He writes in verses 10 and 11 that knowing Christ results in sharing His sufferings and even becoming like Him in His death so that we may also become like Him in His resurrection. That’s what it means to know Jesus. It’s to be like Jesus.

It’s true that once you come to know Jesus, He’s your Savior. You can’t undo that. And yet, we should always want to know Him more. We should want a deeper relationship with Him.

That comes through becoming like Him. You can study and know more about Jesus, and you should, but when Paul is talking about gaining Christ, he says we do that by living as Christ lived.

Paul said it like this in verses 12-14.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

I think a lot of Christians are confused as to what the prize is. Do we get to decide for ourselves? Do we get to claim our own Rosebud? Or do we work to attain heaven? Do we have to work to receive eternal life?

No, Jesus is the greatest prize. Jesus Himself is most valuable. Heaven isn’t great primarily because of things like mansions or streets of gold, or even everlasting life. It’s about Jesus. He’s who makes all those other things worth anything. Eternal life isn’t great because it’s never-ending, it’s great because we can spend forever with Jesus. He’s the greatest prize.

And we don’t have to work to receive Him. He’s a gift.

The comforting truth is that to be a Christian, you don’t have to be a master of anything. None of us are master Christians. At best, we’re all mediocre. To be a Christian, you don’t have to be a master of anything. You simply need to allow yourself to be mastered by Jesus. Your righteousness doesn’t come through anything you can do. It comes through faith in Jesus. Jesus is the prize that you can’t earn for yourself, and yet is given to you by grace through faith.

Put it this way: why settle for streets of gold when you can know the One who made the gold? Why settle for meanings to life that we invent, when we can know the One who made all life? Jesus is the reason for everything! And because we sinned, Jesus died for our sin, so that we could have a relationship with Him.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

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Bible Passages: Philippians 3:4-14
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