The Christian's Glorious Prize
William Nicholson, 1862
"I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14
The service of God is not an empty one. It produces great bliss in this life — and it shall be crowned with everlasting honors. How cheering was this truth to the Apostles amid all their conflicts I How it stimulated them to perseverance! "I press on toward the mark!" says Paul.
The text evidently and beautifully alludes to the Olympic games among the Greeks, in which rival candidates fought, wrestled, or ran to obtain a prize. This prize was of little value; but it was anxiously sought as an honorable distinction conferred on the successful candidate. Consider,
I. That the Christian's prize is preceded by the Christian race, or a course of piety.
God has called his people from the pursuits of sin — to engage in his service. This is called . . .
a holy calling, 2 Timothy 1:9,
a heavenly calling, Hebrews 3:1; and
frequently the calling of God, Ephesians 1:18.
And to denote its dignity and glory, it is here said to be "the high calling of God."
He has called them by his word and Spirit. He calls them . . .
to practical holiness,
to holy labors, and
to Christian enjoyment.
This calling is of God's free grace, and not from anything meritorious in man, nor from any power in the creature. "It is the Spirit who quickens — the flesh profits nothing!"
It is a high calling.
Look at its origin, at its source; "of God."
Look at its nature; it is holy, honorable, useful. It is the service of God — akin to that of angels.
Look at its termination — Heaven, and all its glory.
It is a high calling.
II. That this high calling of God is followed by a glorious prize."For the prize."
The "prize" mentioned here, and in 1 Corinthians 9:25, refers to the crown awarded to the successful foot-runner in the Olympic games. The immediate reward of the victor was a garland of leaves, which faded and perished soon.
The victor's garland . . .
in the Isthmian games, was of pine leaves;
in the Olympic games, of wild olive;
in the Pythian games, of laurel; and
in the Namasan games, of parsley.
Besides these 'prizes', there were some important emoluments and privileges, which rewarded the victor. But the "corruptible crown" was the immediate and sensible reward of the victor in the games, and probably was at the time more thought of than other ulterior benefits, since it gave the right to them all, and covered the person who wore it with honor and distinction in the eyes of assembled Greece.
1. The Christian Racer's prize is invaluable and everlasting, especially as contrasted with those of Greece.
It is eternal life and glory. It is called . . .
a crown of gold,
a crown of life,
a crown of righteousness,
an incorruptible crown, not like their fading and perishable garlands.
Such language indicates . . .
exalted honor —
all crowned by an endless perpetuity.
It is a throne, but not an earthly transitory one — the throne of God and the Lamb. "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" Revelation 3:21
2. This prize is faithfully promised and presented to us by Christ himself, to stimulate us forward.
In the Grecian games the leafy crown was placed upon a pole at the end of the race-course, that those who ran might see it.
Just so, Jesus in Heaven holds up the crown of life to the eyes of his people's faith, and says, as they run, "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life!" Revelation 2:10
What a glorious hope is this! "We are saved by hope." "Looking for that blessed hope." "The hope that is laid up for you in Heaven." This hope animates and gives life to action. It cheers the laborer and the sufferer for Christ. It supports the afflicted, and animates the dying.
Moses "was looking forward to his reward."
Paul and his colleagues endured the sufferings of persecution in hope of the "glory to be revealed."
And for the "joy that was before him, Christ endured the cross."
3. The prize shall be publicly and honorably bestowed.
This will be at the last day. "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing!" 2 Timothy 4:8
"When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory!" Colossians 3:4
"Then the King will say to those on his right: Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world!" Matthew 25:34
He will not be ashamed of his people then, but will confess their name before his Father, and before his angels. "He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels!" Revelation 3:5
Holding up the crowns of life, the garlands of immortality, before an assembled world, Jesus will say, "These, my beloved, are for you. You have been despised and persecuted on earth, and your name cast out as evil; but I honor you now. Take these crowns and wear them forever. Enter into the joy of your Lord!"
III. This prize was purchased by Christ, and will be given by virtue of his sacrifice.
Glorious, but affecting thought! His humiliation, the scorn which he received, the persecutions which he endured — purchased my immortal honor! That crown of thorns was worn by him — that I might wear the diadem of glory, etc.
Hence the glorified saints say, "Unto him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever!" Revelation 1:5-6
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:13
"And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" Revelation 7:10
IV. The Christian race and the prize to crown it, demands intelligent and vigorous exertion."I press towards the mark."
1. A knowledge and adoption of the prescribed course.
"I press towards the mark." This refers to the white lines that marked the ground in the stadium, from the starting-place to the goal, on which the runners were obliged to keep their eye fixed. Those who trespassed beyond these lines, diverging from the path which they marked out, lost the prize, even though they got first to the goal. "I press towards the mark. I pursue along the prescribed line. I do not run uncertainly. I know what I am about."
Our conduct must be according to the Divine will. It must be regulated by the precepts and example of Christ.
2. A constant animating view of the prize. "For the prize." The racer kept the prize in view. He thought of the honors awaiting him. And should not the Christian? Keep that crown ever before you — in every scene. It will animate and encourage and inspire you!
3. Perseverance and determination to win. "I press towards."
This phrase, and "reaching forth," verse 13, point out the strong exertions made in the race. Every muscle, every nerve, is exerted, and he puts forth every particle of his strength in running. The original expresses the manner in which the racer stretches his head and hands forward to reach the goal.
And Christians are called upon to strive, to run, to endure, to be steadfast, to fight, and faint not. There is to be a holy agony. "The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence." Press forward!
There are impediments — and you must overcome them.
There are many enticements to draw you aside — and you must resist them. Let the superlative glories of Heaven cast the pleasures of sin into the shade!
There are many discouragements — and you must surmount them.
We are all apt to tire. Press forward. "Be not weary in well doing."
Time is flying!
Eternity is at hand!
Your all is at stake!
4. Reliance on Divine strength. "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint!" Isaiah 40:29-31.
1. See the value of true religion. It terminates in eternal glory.
2. What is the state of our piety? Is it vigorous? Do we press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?
3. How important it is to run well! We are made a spectacle to all. Our false brethren, our persecutors, and Satan, long for our fall. Angels, Christ, God, all Heaven urge us to press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!