Philippians 3B: This One Thing
Have you decided what is the one most important thing in your life? Paul shares with us what is the one most important thing in his life. The one thing that is first and foremost.
Last week we saw having less of the world, having less of our old nature and its desires – enables one to have more of Christ. We have all of the Holy Spirit- the question is how much of us does the Holy Spirit have? All of me? Or Parts of me? Take all of me, Holy Spirit, should be our prayer. We agreed- less is more. We all want less distractions when we are trying to do one thing, don’t we? We even talk about: “having too much on our plate.”
For years we have strived to be: more productive to have more income; more time with family; more satisfaction in our lives; more peace, less turmoil. But sometimes the ‘mores’ we wanted increased the less we did not want, didn’t they? More income- meant less time with family. As we became busier, we experienced less peace and somehow, we did not seem to find the satisfaction we were looking for and wanted.
We have received several illustrations to help us understand the Christian life. Paul has shown us in these passages we must be like an accountant, examining our lives and evaluating ourselves in areas we are lacking, – an auditing of our spiritual bank account. Paul also told us in other passages we were like farmers- reaping what we have sown. And also Paul told us we were like builders- who needed to make sure we were building on the right foundation with the right materials. In other places Paul compares us to soldiers who must put on the whole armor and fight the good fight. And in the passage we have before us- Paul compares us to athletes who are running in a race. It is our ‘own race’; because each of us must ‘work out our own salvation.’
Now at some point in your ‘working out your own salvation’ you begin to look for the secret, the key that unlocks the way. We search out books with the titles that have the words: How to and the Secrets to, or the Keys or Steps to, as in: The Secrets of the Vine; the 5 Secrets of Living; The Pursuit of Holiness; The Key to Spiritual Growth; How to Handle Adversity; and on and on goes the titles of just a few books I am looking at among many in my personal library. But one book contains this title: “They Found the Secret: 20 Transformed Lives That Reveal a Touch of Eternity” by V. Raymond Edman. Edman was a missionary to Ecuador where he almost died of tropical diseases; later a professor at Wheaton, and then President of Wheaton, where he served until he died. He authored several books but, They Found the Secret”, became one of his most widely read. It began as a series for Christian Life magazine, where he told the stories of 20 such well known, men and women of God as: J. Hudson Taylor, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, D. L Moody, Andrew Murray , and Ian Thomas, to name a few.
Here was the pattern he saw in these lives: “The deep dealing of God with His children varies in detail but the general pattern seems much alike for individual cases. Into each life there arises an awareness of failure, a falling short of all that one should be in the Lord; then there is a definite meeting with the Risen Savior in utter surrender of heart which is indeed death to self. There follows an appropriation by faith of His resurrection life through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. As a result there is an overflow of life likened by the Lord Jesus to “rivers of water”. (John 7: 37-39)
I have read many of the writings of these people mentioned in Edman’s collection of those who found the secret. Major Ian Thomas, the author of “The Saving Life of Christ” writes of his efforts and zeal to win people to Christ. “The more I did, the less happened. It was not a question of insincerity. I really loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart; I wanted to be made a blessing to my fellow men. Thus by the age 19, I had been reduced to a state of complete exhaustion spiritually, until I felt that there was no point in going on.” Then Major Thomas read- ‘when Christ who is our life” and he knew he had found the secret. For me to live is Christ. Jesus told us – “I am the way, the truth and the life.” While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us and we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. All of us who are genuinely saved, born again, have been saved by His life. Christ is our life.
Christ wants to live His life through us. We can have all of His Life for His program, not our program. His will not my will. Many of us are like the foolish Galatians Paul wrote to and said- ‘you were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ Paul pointed out their problem, which has been a problem for all of us in our attempt to live the Christian life. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3) This is what Major Ian Thomas came to realize in his failure to win others to Christ in the futility of self-efforts. ‘Not by power or might, but by the Spirit.’
Now let’s look at what Paul writes and see Paul had also found the secret. Dr. Edman said the common denominator he discovered in each of these lives he wrote about was ‘an awareness of failure; a falling short of all that one should be in the Lord. This created a definite meeting with the risen Savior and a death to self and appropriation by faith of the resurrected life of Christ.’
Now observe what Paul says he has discovered in his relationship with the risen Savior. Death to self, to the point he counted all things he had gained in the flesh, rubbish, dung! The most important thing in his life was to know Christ and be found in Him. He wanted to know Christ, experience the power of His resurrected life; experience the suffering and become like Him in death. The death of self.
Paul realizes his short comings of being all that he should in Christ Jesus. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I follow after (KJV) press on (NIV) to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. “ Paul as Saul of Tarsus said when he compared himself to others looking at his accomplishments in the flesh, he could have had confidence in his accomplishments. But when he compared himself to Christ, he could not say he had arrived at the point of spiritual maturity. The word perfect refers to spiritual maturity.
Now a word of caution about self evaluation: we must not think more highly of ourselves than one should; nor should you think the worst about yourself.
Paul is not satisfied with where he is in his Christian walk. He is aware of his falling short- but here is a key. He does not let this falling short and being dissatisfied cause him to give up and quit. Instead Paul allows the Holy Spirit to inspire him. This is divine dissatisfaction that leads to spiritual progress, spiritual maturity. In fact one of the signs of spiritual maturity is to recognize areas which need improving. Areas where you have not depended wholly on the Lord, trusting Him with all your heart. This is the process of sanctification. “As the deer pants for water, so pants my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” (Psalm 42) It was dissatisfaction with my life that brought me to the edge of physical death, but led me to life everlasting when I met the risen Savior and He justified me and began a work in me which He will complete. Divine dissatisfaction leads one to thirsts even more for more of the Lord, realizing where we fall short.
Paul says he wants to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. What and why did Christ Jesus take hold of you and me and Paul? He took hold of us – which assures me of my safety. He has hold of me and will never let go or depart from me. He took hold of me so we could live this life together. He took hold of me and you so we could be one with Him. The Lord can then live his life through us.
Again, let me turn to Edmans’ book and this excerpt from Hudson Taylor’s story: Taylor had served earnestly and effectively in the mission field of China for 15 years. He wrote to his mother: “My own position becomes continually more and more responsible, and my need greater of special grace to fill it; but I have continually to mourn that I follow at such a distance and learn so slowly to imitate my precious Master.” Taylor was wearing himself out- was dissatisfied with his accomplishments and overwhelmed with all he had to do. The enemy was creating unholy dissatisfaction in a man who longed to serve his Savior. A letter from a fellow missionary revealed the secret to Hudson Taylor.
John McCarthy wrote: “ Abiding, not striving nor struggling but looking off unto Him; trusting Him for present power; trusting Him to subdue all inward corruption; resting in the love of an almighty Savior from all sin.” The abiding life was the answer- Christ who is my life. I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live- yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
Paul writes he does not count himself as one who has taken hold of it. “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead; I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
The One Thing.
Do you realize there is only one thing that can be the most important thing in your life? The question you must ask yourself is what is the most important thing in my life?
Now let me assure you of this truth. If Christ is the most important thing in your life- it will create a domino effect. How do I mean this? Simply this- when the most important thing in your life is the right thing, then when it is set in motion everything else will fall into place. Like a row of dominoes set up when you focus on getting the first one in place it will topple all the other things and everything will fall into place. In one’s life, we see several areas as we try to live on this earth with heavenly goals. We need things in this life which are necessary for life- we call them the necessities of life. We also need love. We need to love someone and have someone love us. We need enjoyment, peace, satisfaction, rest and meaningful work.
We have it all in Christ. Blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus in heavenly places. We are joint heirs with Jesus. We are saved, sealed and made righteous. We have the peace of God and the faith of the Son of God. We have His Life living in us. He took hold of us that we should be one with Him.
The “One Thing” is an important phrase to the Christian life. Listen to Jesus speaking to the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack, go sell all your possessions give them to the poor and come follow me.” (Mark 10) He told Martha, who was upset that she had to do all the cooking while Mary got to sit at the Lord’s feet and absorb his teaching. Jesus said, “One thing is needful and Mary has done it.” (Luke 10) “One thing I know, I was blind and now I can see and it was Jesus who did it. (John 9, the blind man who was healed.) “One thing I have desired of the Lord, this is what I will seek- that I might dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. “ (Psalm 27)
Are you involved in too many things? Over and over again in all areas of life we see success comes with singleness of purpose. Over and over we see success comes sequentially over time. The actual path to more- is less. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the life.
Concentration is the secret of power. Multi-tasking is the opposite of one thing. It creates double-mindedness and make one unstable. Focusing on one thing is the key, if you focus on the right thing!!
Paul also says we must forget what is past. How do you forget? Is this really possible. Some things we forget with time. Other things- things that are really wonderful and meaningful we remember, but we also remember failures and hurts. I was a long snapper for punts in high school. In 21 games I had only one low snap. I remember it in detail. I also remember my first snap. First game of my junior year against Dyersburg. We were inside our own five yard line and I was scared to death. I made it. Two distinct memories for two different reasons. How can I forget sins, and forget costly mistakes of my past? I cannot forget them. But I can put them in perspective. They are under the blood. My past has no power over me. He breaks the power of cancelled sin.
My past will not dictate or influence my present and thereby alter my future. My future will dictate my present rather than my past. A runner knows not to look back or he will not be focused on finishing the race and crossing the finish line. Joseph understood all he had gone through because his brother meant it for evil, God had meant for good. He did not let his brother’s action from the past ruin the future God had for them. You cannot run the race God has for you if you are shackled by the past. Do not let past failures or successes cause you to look back, keep pressing toward the future God has planned for you.
Paul uses the word ‘press’ which denotes straining, all out effort, focusing on one thing.
What are the passions in your life? Let me tell you that your passions will show up in what you spend a disproportionate amount of time practicing or doing. Soon it will become evident what is your greatest passion because you spend the most time practicing it.
So here is the cycle we can observe:
Your passion for something leads you to spend more time practicing it or working at it. Passion leads to spending more time. Spending more time practicing it develops greater skills. Greater skills leads to better results. Better results leads to more enjoyment. More enjoyment leads to more passion.
Passion creates determination which leads to discovering everything you can know and do about your passion so that you might excel at this passion. It becomes your life. Basketball was Pistol Pete Maravich’s life and he spent hour after hour after hour practicing his skill. When age took away his skills- he no longer could enjoy his passion. He practiced to win. Winning was the thrill. Defeat was agony. Not being able to participate and enjoy the passion of his life left a void he could not fill, until he found Jesus. Michael Jordan said he loved winning, but he hated losing more than he loved winning. “A man is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep for that which he can never lose.” (Jim Elliott.)
All athletes know they must play by the rules or be disqualified or penalized, or even ejected from the game. They also know they must practice or their skills will erode.
Musicians are the same way. One adult music student asked his teacher what was the one thing he needed to master in order to become more proficient? He was told master the scales- for everything comes from those. Get the basics in place. Know what you need to know.
The Bible is complete with stories of those who began the race with great success but failed to end because they disregarded God’s rules. They did not lose their salvation, and neither will you. But you will lose your rewards. It happened to Samson. It happened to Saul. I happened in New Testament church to a couple named, Ananias and Sapphira.
Each day we are running in the race. “Therefore let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race set out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12) He set his face like flint and did not turn back
When you observe a marathon about to begin, there is a huge crowd of contestants. Some will not finish. The challenge we each face in our race is to quit looking around at others and look forward to the finish line. We also are told to get rid of all the junk in our lives that keeps us from running the race. It takes concentration. Focus on the Lord.
“Were it not for grace I can tell you where I would be- wandering down some pointless road to nowhere with my salvation up to me. I know how that would go, the battles I would face. Forever running but losing the race, were it not for grace.”
“This the verdict. Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3: 19, Jesus speaking.)
Their main thing was their sin- their God was their appetites.
BUT ONE THING I DO. Paul is telling us multi-tasking is a lie. Juggling is an illusion- a juggler is really only doing one thing at a time, but he does it very quickly. It takes complete concentration and a lot of practice.
FORGETTING WHAT IS PAST. Do not let your past control your present. You are a new creature. You are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has ordained for you to walk in. Let the future plans of God put your past in perspective so you can concentrate on the future He has for you by doing the One Thing in the present.. He breaks the power of cancelled sins.
I PRESS ON TAKE HOLD OF THAT WHICH CHRIST TOOK HOLD OF ME. Christ took hold of me so we could live our lives together. He wants to share his life with me. My new life is Christ in me, the hope of glory. I want to be one with HIM. I want Him to do through me what only He can do.
Success is sequential. It begins with doing the right thing. The one thing that sets everything else in motion. And when the one thing you do is the right thing, everything else falls into place, it is the Scriptural Domino Effect. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to our own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.”
In fact, if you take a domino which is about 2 inches high- and place the next one behind it that is twice its height it can topple it over easily. And if you use this progression and the next domino is twice the height – 4 inches- you can continue this progression and in just few dominos you are toppling a 10 foot domino. In fact if you take this sequence and mathematical process out within in 20+ dominos of progressive size you are topping a domino taller than the Empire State Building. And by the same progression in the 35+dominos you will topple a domino taller that Mount Everest, (29,029 feet) The power of the domino effect!
Stay on the path He has marked out for you. This is your race- working out your own salvation.. Do be distracted by the things of the world. The Main Thing is to keep the main thing- the main thing. This One Thing I do is: “I seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things you need will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
Everything will fall into place and problems and troubles will be toppled like the dominos lined up in sequence.