Straining Toward the Goal

woman holding exercise ropes

Philippians was one of Paul’s prison letters and was the last known letter of Paul’s before he died. We’re not positive that Paul died by persecution but there is a good chance that he did while imprisoned in Rome. Paul’s intensity in this letter indicates that he may have had an idea that his end was near. That context makes our theme verse for this year all the more important. If Paul really knew that he was about to die, the intensity of his following statement seems especially appropriate.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14 ESV). The word that Paul uses for forgetting means to neglect something. In a very real sense, he is intentionally neglecting the past in order to “pursue” the future. Paul is straining toward (stretching, exerting himself) to what lies ahead. He presses on (pursues or hunts down) toward the goal.

As we begin a new year with a new theme, we Christians should really straining toward the same goal. If we are complacent we are comfortable. If we are comfortable we are not setting other goals to keep us focused on the goal. Nobody can do it for us. We each have to take ownership in our faith and how we are going to put that into action. Let this be a year of straining toward the goal of our upward call.

The Mystery of Godliness

forest at night

Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter to warn against false teachers and to encourage him to stay the course and do what is right in the eyes of God. Paul was clear: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:14 ESV).

Paul went on to explain the mystery of godliness: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (vs. 16).

Paul continues the letter by saying that some will depart from the faith but Timothy should not let that discourage him. He should command these things that are true to the gospel and should “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).

Straining Toward the Goal

brown and white track field

There is an unusual way to budget that, frankly, ought to be the norm. It’s called PYF (pay yourself first). At first it sounds selfish, right? But the idea is actually the opposite of splurging on yourself. Instead, you budget in a way that pays your retirement, investing, and giving accounts before you even pay for necessities like mortgages, utilities, and food. Those actually come second in the budget. Then follow all the other essentials. Only after investments and necessities are covered should you budget for entertainment (subscriptions, eating out, etc.).

In this way, you plan for the future and don’t have to be wondering how to pay medical and electric bills in your 70s. But the majority of people don’t budget this way. I mention budgets because it’s really about goal setting. Most Christians don’t budget their time and resources with a pay-yourself-first attitude. In other words, we don’t invest in our salvation. Instead we “splurge” on other things that have nothing to do with our salvation.

Paul told the Philippian church, “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 3:13, 14 ESV). Does this sound like someone who is wrapped up in himself or more like someone who is laser focused on “budgeting” his time and resources for the grand prize of salvation? Clearly it’s the latter. We too should be disciplined enough to strain toward the goal of salvation. One day it will knock on our door. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.

False Scales and Righteousness

a balance scale on a table

Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” In other words, God is not in favor of cheating someone by using scales that aren’t properly balanced. Notably, the word for righteousness in Psalm 89:14 means to have a balanced scale. Proverbs 11 makes a distinction between an unbalanced scale that provides riches versus righteousness: “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (vs. 4).

Not only that, but “the righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness” (vs. 5). Clearly righteousness wins the day! Being fair, honest, and treating people well is better than building riches through lying, cheating, and stealing.

Life will throw many curveballs, and it’s righteousness that will help us navigate those many storms. All the wealth in the world doesn’t make someone happy. It doesn’t stop death or disease. But righteousness makes the world a better place. It can bring peace and order, and this is what God calls his people to be!

Lay Your Treasures In Heaven

person putting coin in a piggy bank

Jesus told his followers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV).

Jesus is describing a work ethic that leads to kingdom growth. Focusing on building wealth alone shows where your heart is. In the end we will be judged on how we used our gifts to benefit others in need, not by how much we bought throughout our lives. Since WWII, consumerism became the metric for how successful people are. The economy’s strength is now measured by how much people buy. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught in Matthew 6.

If we truly want to grow the kingdom we will spend less time buying and more time investing in people. Jesus’ conclusion is very true: “You cannot serve God and money” (vs. 24).

What Should We Do?


Our theme this year is Revival. The very core of the gospel is revival. Jesus came to save that which is lost. The central theme of the gospel is repentance–literally turning around. Jesus reached into the lives of people whose worlds had crumbled around them. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He freed the oppressed. He cared for the orphan and the widow.

When John the Baptist began preaching, he immediately called for repentance. He called out to the crowd, “You brood of vipers!” John told them to bear fruits in keeping with repentance and said that the axe was already laid to the root of the trees, meaning the people who produced bad fruit would be cut off from salvation.

Luke’s account takes a turn from the other accounts. There is an interruption and the crowds ask, “What shall we do?” (Luke 3:10 ESV). Jesus’ response in in step with Isaiah 61, which is what Jesus quoted when he stood up and said, “Today these scriptures are fulfilled in your presence.” John answers, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). The tax collectors who came to be baptized asked the same question. John answered, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (vs. 13). Then the soldiers asked the same question. John answered, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (vs. 14).

Revival is rooted in repentance. God commands us to produce fruits that care for others. We need to treat people righteously, with fairness and by meeting their needs. Revival builds up that which has been broken or torn down. John’s message began quite the buzz. People were wondering if John was the Christ. When we bless people, God blesses.

Photo by Elisey Vavulin on Unsplash

Jesus’ Core Mission Was Rooted in Revival


When Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from the scriptures, he was reading Isaiah 61. Jesus indicated that the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 was happening with Jesus. Isaiah 61:1-2 (ESV) says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. . .”

Luke doesn’t record the rest of Isaiah 61, but Isaiah 61 is really about revival. God is a God who takes the broken and rebuilds. He restores. He redeems. Verse 4 says, “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” In this passage, there is rejoicing. The rebuilding that comes by God’s hand is something to be celebrated. They will receive the “oil of gladness.”

As we focus this year on revival, we should focus on rebuilding, renewing, and rejoicing! There is so much to be celebrated in the kingdom of God.