A sermon on Philippians 3:4b-14
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
October 4, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
For most of the worship services and activities at First Baptist Church, the lack of a video screen and a projector is no big deal. Honestly most of the time we really do not have much of a need of them. We don’t flash the words of the songs up on them nor do we show videos as part of the worship experience. But…this is one of the few times that I actually wish we had that capability in our sanctuary. To begin today’s sermon, I want to describe to you a play that occurred last Sunday afternoon in the NFL. It was an embarrassing play that I imagine one player will not forget for a long time. I will do my best to describe to you what happened. But to tell the truth, I wish that you could see it for yourself…
It happened during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks. Here’s the situation: Seattle had the ball on their own 26-yard line. It was second down and nine yards to go for the first down. The score was all knotted up at nine points apiece…There were 20 seconds left on the clock in the first quarter.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson took the snap and faded back to pass. He spotted veteran wide receiver DK Metcalf streaking down the right side of the field. Using his great speed, Metcalf had managed to get behind the entire Dallas defense and was all by himself. He had put about five yards of distance between himself and the nearest Cowboy defender. For football fans, the pass that the quarterback threw was a thing of beauty. Wilson lofted the ball in Metcalf’s direction. Metcalf caught the ball in full stride at about the Dallas 12 yard line. And he sprinted toward the end zone for what seemed to be a quick and easy score.
But it was not to be. Around the five yard line, Metcalf slowed down and started celebrating before he had actually crossed the goal line. Meanwhile Dallas defensive back Trayvon Diggs—an outstanding rookie who played college ball for the Alabama Crimson Tide—hustled enough to close the gap between the two players. At the one yard line, Diggs reached around and punched the ball out of Metcalf’s grasp. The ball squirted loose. It bounced into the end zone and then squibbled out of the back. No score. Instead of a 74 yard touchdown pass that would have given Seattle the lead, the play was ruled a 73 yard pass reception, followed by a fumble and a touchback. Seattle turned the ball over and the Cowboys took over possession of the ball on their own 25 yard line.1
1 Video of the play can be seen at (Accessed September 29, 2020) It must be said that Mr. Metcalf redeemed himself somewhat later in the game when he caught the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left.
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DK Metcalf is regarded by many as one of the premier wide receivers currently in the NFL. At the end of the NFL’s third week, he ranked third in the entire league in receiving yards. He’s a really good player. And yet—if you’ll pardon the pun—he dropped the ball on that play. It was not due to a lack of ability by him or his teammates. Nor was it due to a lack of opportunity. The problem was that he got distracted. He failed to score because he lost his focus. He did not keep his eyes on the goal ahead of him…
In today’s text from Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul uses a different athletic metaphor to picture of the life of the Spirit. But the point is still the same. He compares the life of the Spirit to a footrace. And he counsels us to press on toward the goal and to not be distracted…
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul speaks to the people about how to live life in the new Christian community. More than one commentator has suggested that the most predominant idea in the book is the joy that Christ brings to the life of the individual believer. The word “joy” in various forms occurs sixteen times in the book. But that’s not all. He talks about more than joy. Paul also warns the people to look out for perils that they should watch out for. He tells them that there are enemies of the church, and they can be found both inside and outside the fellowship. He also warns them concerning a self-seeking attitude and pride which can poison the believer and harm the gathered community of faith…
In chapter three, he warns his readers about those who would pervert the faith by insisting on strict adherence to a bunch of laws and regulations. He especially calls out those who would have the church believe that, in order to be a follower of Christ, one must be circumcised in accordance with the Old Testament law.
For as long as I have been a follower of Jesus, I have never heard anyone ever make that kind of statement. (I am sure that there are probably some people somewhere who promote circumcision as something that is necessary to salvation. But they are out on the fringe of Christian faith and practice.) However… the spiritual descendants of these people? They are still alive and well in our midst…and they are numerous and often vocal about it…
These are the Christians that insist that, if you are really going to follow Jesus, then you have to subscribe to a set of do’s and don’ts. You all have heard them before. It is the hallmark of fundamentalist Christianity. These are the folks that say, if you are going to be a Christian, then you can’t smoke, or drink, or dance, or cuss, or whatever else they might deem to be sinful behavior. (In an earlier generation, that list would have included such supposed “sins” as playing cards or going to movies on Sunday. I am thankful that is no longer in vogue…) I’m not advocating for doing those things. I am saying that none of those things are the test of one’s relationship with God…
In Southern Baptist life, these would be the folks who wave the Bible around and loudly proclaim their belief in a literal interpretation of the “infallible, inerrant Word of God.” And if you do not agree with their particular understanding of the Bible, then you are obviously not much of a Christian…
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That is all hogwash. Not a bit of truth in it. None whatsoever. That is not what life in Christ is about. This is something that our fundamentalist friends simply do not understand, regardless of how good their intentions may be. Following a bunch of rules and laws do not make you right with God.
And the Apostle Paul would agree…although he did not call it “hogwash,” as I did. In verse eight of today’s text, he calls it by the Greek word skϋ’-bä-lon. This is the only place in the Bible where this word occurs. Skϋ’-bä-lon is a crude and vulgar word. Politely translated, it means “barnyard waste” or “animal excrement.” Paul says that no amount of good moral works—or abstaining from this or that—by themselves will make you right with God. It doesn’t matter if they are socially approved or even if such rules can be found in the Bible. By themselves, Paul says that such human deeds are worthless. He says that the only way that one can be made right with God is through faith in Christ, which brings to us righteousness by faith. We are not reconciled to God because of any good deeds we have done…or sinful things that we don’t do. We are made right with God through Christ and the power of his resurrection…and that alone…
It does not end there. The Apostle Paul concludes this section of Philippians by writing, “Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it on my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is comparing the life in Christ to a footrace. He says that he does not want to be distracted from his task. He does not want to make any detours. Instead, he wants to concentrate on growing and being in Christ, making that his one goal and purpose.
Paul had used the same metaphor about running in a footrace in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 when he wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one wins the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly…” There was purpose in his relationship to God. There was a point to it. It was not a relationship that came and went. It was not something that he counted on only when he got into trouble and needed God to bail him out. It was not something that he did one day a week. NO—it was a defining characteristic of who he was. Becoming more Christ-like—being more like Jesus in all his actions and thoughts—was his life’s goal and purpose. And he would keep at it for as long as the Lord gave him breath…
Dumitru Staniloae was a prominent theologian and priest in the Orthodox Romanian Church. He is probably the most-known interpreter of Orthodox Christianity in the latter half of the 20th Century. In the years following World War 2, he spent five years in various communist prisons for his practice of the faith and for teaching others the way of Jesus. Concerning the purpose of the Christian life, Staniloae wrote,
Too often we are satisfied with stunted and undeveloped lives because of a lack of vision and hope. Many devout people remain for a lifetime at the beginning of the way, content to be like children, blind to possibility and promise. Implicit in authentic Christian spirituality…is the possibility and promise which
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arise out of the events of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Informed by Christian theology and visibly expressed through the various aspects of Christian living, these bring to the surface the essential relationship between God and [humanity], forming the fabric, as it were, and the goal of the authentic Christian spiritual life.”2
The Christian life is a journey. Just as newborn babies are not fully developed humans when they leave the womb, Christians are not born again as fully developed, fully mature followers of Jesus when they are saved. We are all on the road and we are all on the road together. We are not in the same place, for sure. Nor are we all at the same level of knowledge and experience of God in Christ. Yet, none of us has yet arrived at the place where we can rest on our laurels. None of us have yet arrived at the place where God desires us to be in our relationship to him.
The Apostle Paul encourages us to keep pressing on toward the goal of the high calling to which Christ has called us—the calling of being all of who God created us to be, to be closer to the Lord through the daily stresses and trials that we face, to continue to grow and mature in Him until we finally meet him face to face. And to put away those things that slow us down—distract us—would make us lose our focus on being all that God has in store for us to be…

We’re going to end the sermon with a well-known sacred folk song known as “Gospel Plow” or, in some circles, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” It is a folk song that is thought to have originated during the 19th Century in the southern Appalachians, but the song spread throughout the South. Versions of it can be found as far away as eastern Texas and in communities in coastal Georgia. It is a song chock-full of Biblical allusions. And it seems to me that the general theme of the song encapsulates what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the spiritual life in today’s passage. Keep your eyes on the prize. In the life of the Spirit, the Apostle Paul counsels us to not be half-hearted in our devotion to the Lord. He says in essence, “Be in it to win it”…
Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to pay their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on
Paul and Silas thought they was lost
Till the dungeon shook and their chains fell off
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on
REFRAIN: Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on
2 Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality Trans. Archimandrite Jerome and Otila Kloos (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2003), 13.
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I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on
Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there are paved with gold—hold on
The only thing that I did wrong
Was stay in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on
The only thing that I did right
Was when I started toward the Light
Keep your eyes on the prize—hold on