Text: Phil 3:12-21
Read Phil 3:14.
Today, we are going to talk about the prize of Christian life. I’m sure everyone here loves prizes. What about unexpected prizes like winning a raffle ticket at a social function? We’re happy because we didn’t expect it but we got a prize anyway. Or did you ever get an unexpected check in the mail from some lawsuit that you didn’t even know you were a part of. Like some gigantic, multi-national corporation who lost a class action suit for some unlawful business practice. And they lost tens of millions of dollars but you have to share the settlement with a million other people so your portion like $5 bucks, but hey, you’re happy because it was unexpected. We love prizes, especially those that you didn’t expect to receive.
There are also prizes that you prepare for over the course of many years. And there is a deep satisfaction when you win such a prize. Like an Olympic runner who has trained for years and he or she crosses the finish line and it’s a gold medal. Or a team winning a championship in their sport. I don’t what it is, but I don’t remember the prizes that I won, but I remember the prizes I didn’t get. Or the prizes I almost had it, but I let it slip out of my hands. I remember getting second place in the spelling bee when I was in the second grade and I still remember the word I got wrong–refrigerator. That’s how scarred I am, I still remember the word. How could I get that word wrong? I was kicking myself all the way home.
Or in the fourth grade, my math teacher, Mr. Kenny, he would have these multiplication table contests. The challenger would go around the room and then he would give us a times table like 5×7 and whoever answered correctly the fastest would continue and the loser would sit down. And I wanted to be crowned the fastest multiplier in the class, but there was this one girl named Sam and they gave me the nickname of “Superman” because I was so fast in answering multiplication tables and I went around the room beating student after student. But they gave Sam the nickname “kryptonite” because she always beat me. Later, we went to the same high school and she was our co-valedictorian and eventually she went to Stanford and became a Rhodes scholar so I don’t feel as bad now losing to her, but at the time, I was crushed. I had the prize but I let it slip through my fingers.
Or the ninth grade, I finally mustered enough courage to try out for the high school freshman basketball team. Trying out for the school team is nerve wracking, esp. since I never played organized ball. I just played in my own room on a nerf rim and there, I was a Hall of Famer, but I had never competed in the real world and so this was my big chance to see if who I was in my room was fantasy or reality. And I went to the first practice and tried out and then the following day, they posted a list of names of boys who made the team. For me, just being on the team would’ve felt like I won the championship, but I looked with anticipation for my name on the list and sadly I didn’t see it. I had gotten cut.
Or in my senior year in high school, I was on our school Academic Decathlon. The year before, we had won the national title so there was high hopes for us. And the year I was on the team, suddenly, we were no longer championship contenders. We got bounced in the first round. If we didn’t win a team prize, at least, I have 10 events, 10 chances to win a personal prize. And in 2 events, I got fourth place. Fourth place is the worst. You might as well get last place because 1st, 2nd and 3rd get a medal, but fourth? Nobody cares.
Or about 7-8 years ago, I don’t know why, but I entertained the thought of going to grad school after seminary because I didn’t want to go back to work and so I crammed for the GRE for a few weeks. And the prize was to get a respectable score so that I would have a fighting chance to go to a good school. And after cramming, I was taking the math section and you know nowadays it’s computerized and if you get one of the early questions wrong, they move you into a lower tier of questions, which means even if you get them all right, your score will be in much lower. And so question #5 was something related to the equation of a line and I totally blanked out about what the equation of a line is. By then, I hadn’t taken a math class for about 15 years. To make it worse, it was one of the earlier questions and I knew couldn’t afford to get it wrong. Plus, I used to be good at math. Remember, fourth grade, my nickname was Superman. And I was on the Math Team in 8th Grade and Academic Decathlon in high school. And at the time, I was teaching Bible studies to Caltech students. How can I face them if I bomb my GRE math test? How can I face every other Asian on the face of the earth if I bomb the math section? How can I not remember the equation of a line? I must have stared at that thing for 15 minutes and I had like 5 minutes left to do the rest of the test, and of course, I bombed the math section.
I don’t know why I am telling you all of this. I’m getting depressed. I remember, not the prizes that I won, but the prizes I didn’t win. Maybe you are the same way.
For Paul, there was only one prize that mattered. And for the Christian, it’s the only prize that you and I should care about. What is the prize that Paul is talking about? Phil 3:12-14 [READ]
When it comes to interpreting what the word “prize” here refers to, there are two options. One, the prize is some kind of a heavenly reward for faithful service. If you happened to be an undercover missionary for several decades in Iraq or Iran or North Korea and you were imprisoned and tortured for your faith and your wife and 3 kids died of disease while you were serving, man, you suffered, but boy, it’s your lucky day. Bro, sista, God is going to hook you up! You got a FAT reward waiting for you in heaven. When you die, instead of the regular pearly white entrance that most Christians enter through, you are going to get a special backstage, VIP entrance. And guess what? While others might be greeted by some no name such as the invalid at the pool of Bethesda or the thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus at Calvary, for the missionary, you’re going to get welcomed by Apostle Paul and he is going to take you to a back room with the 11 apostles and guess who’s coming to dinner? Yup, you guessed it. Jesus. And Jesus is going to give you a personal tour down Heavenly Way and he is going to introduce you to some important people, like God and the Holy Spirit. Missionary, pastor, think of how great your reward will be! Be faithful. Work hard.
If you are Ravi Zacharias and you go around the world engaging the academic elites with the gospel, then compared to a Christian instructor at a small no name school, Ravi’s prize must be considerably larger than the school instructor. Or bringing it closer to home, if you are Rick Warren and thousands of people attend your church and millions have read your book versus me, a pastor of a small church plant called Hill Community, Rick Warren must be getting a prize that is several times larger than mine. This is one way to interpret the the word “prize” of the Christian life.
I am not saying there is absolutely zero distinction or difference in reward between a Christian who worked hard as a missionary or suffered as a pastor versus your average Christian because the Bible does talk about reward, but from this text, I don’t think this interpretation holds any water.