Try along with me to put yourself into a Roman prison during the first century alongside the apostle Paul. He hadn’t committed any crimes. His arrest had been for preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because he had preached that the Law of Moses was no longer bound on people and that now there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female in Christ, it had upset his Jewish brethren to the degree they wanted him dead. He had actually gone to Jerusalem along with a group of Gentile Christians from around the world to carry a gift to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The church had received the gift with joy. But the remedy the elders gave him to try to settle the Jews down in their hatred for him, hadn’t worked. He went into the temple to make a vow along with some other men and paid their way in the whole thing. But while he was in the temple some Jews caught him and accused him of bringing some Gentiles into the temple and were trying to beat him to death when the Roman soldiers rescued him. For the next three years he was in Jail in Caesarea until he was sent to Rome as a prisoner to appear before Caesar. He remained in chains each day as a prisoner of Rome.
If you were in that setting, without any times to get away from others or to have private meetings with people you wanted to meet with or even alone time in prayer, how do you think you would have felt? If you had been able to dictate a letter to a church that you knew cared about your situation, what would you have said to them? I’m afraid most of us would have been far down the ladder and pleading for the brethren to pray for our deliverance from these chains. The truth is Paul didn’t spend much time talking about his situation. He did say that the things that had happened to him had actually turned out to advance the gospel of Christ. He had been able to preach the gospel to the whole imperial guard along with many of the prisoners who shared his situation. Lots of brethren had become bolder to preach the gospel themselves since he was in prison. Now some were preaching out of wrong motives thinking they would add to his pain. But others preached for good reasons to reach people with the good news.
In chapter 3:12-17 Paul makes one of the most remarkable statements possible, especially for a man chained between two Roman soldiers each day of his life. He had just said his goal was to know Christ and the power of his resurrection if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from the dead. He noted that he hadn’t yet obtained this goal and wasn’t yet made perfect but he continued to press on to make it 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.” Then he adds this plea for all those who are mature in Christ. “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
Now think about this whole statement. He is in prison, chained between two Roman soldiers all day, every day. He anticipates standing before Caesar soon if he hasn’t done so already for the first time. Later he will write to Timothy when he is waiting for the second and final hearing before Caesar that he is sure will lead to his death. If church history is correct he was released for a short time between those two hearings and was able to continue preaching Christ to the Gentile world for one to two more years. But any way you look at things, from a physical point of view his future isn’t very bright. He knows his appearing before Caesar isn’t likely to turn out in his release for a long time. Yet it doesn’t get him down and discouraged to the degree he is ready to quit the whole thing. Instead he keeps his goal clearly in front of him all the time. “This one thing I do!”
No matter what our present situation may be, there is good reason to keep anticipating something better. We must never give up on the goal set before us and obtaining the prize God has to offer us. Notice what the prize was for which he was pushing. That upward call of God in Christ Jesus. God is calling everyone to live in such a way down here that they will have the full reward of glory in heaven when this life is over. The call of God is always an upward call. It isn’t so much of a directional call as a place that he calls us to obtain. He wants us to share with him in the kingdom of God forever and ever. The problem for too many people is that they lose heart and quit pressing long before they reach the end of the journey. Have you ever watched someone running in a race who got confused somehow and thought they had finished the race but still had a lap to go? It is a sad thing when a person believes they are at the finish line when there is still more to the course we are to run and if we stop at this point it simply means defeat. God’s plea to us is not to stop until we cross the finish line in eternity.
Notice Paul said, this is the way mature people in Christ think. Immature, childish thinking is, “I’m tired” or “It’s just too far and I can’t make it”. Mature thinking is “I have a prize waiting and I will keep on going until I reach the prize.” When I think maturely God has a promise for me. It is that “if in anything we think otherwise, God will reveal that also to us.” God so longs for us to share the glories of heaven with Him that he goes all out to pull us in that direction. He didn’t stop with sending his Son into this world as one of us to pay the price for our sins when he is innocent. He was tempted in every way like we are yet without sin. But God doesn’t stop his work in giving Jesus to die for us. He raised him from the dead, seated him at his own right hand and has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us until the return of Jesus so that we will not be orphans in his service. If we live for God with that heart that I’m going to keep pressing toward the goal as long as I have life, God makes a huge promise to us. It is that if something is missing in our lives that keeps us from reaching the goal with him, he will reveal even that to us so we can reach the goal. “Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” Never give up. Keep pushing. Keep growing. Keep loving. Keep extending grace. It will be amazing what God can do through and in us if we stay on the course all along.
But how does God reveal to us the things that are missing in our walk with him? I’m certain it can be in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it is through other people that correct and encourage us as we live and grow for him. Sometimes it is opening something up for us to see in His holy word. A point of truth suddenly is obvious to us that we hadn’t noticed in years if at all. The reality is there are hundreds of ways God may reveal the message of what we still need to be doing to us. God’s prizes are always amazing. Don’t miss the ones laid up for you now.