New Year’s Resolutions

It is the end of another year.  The end of a decade.  This time of year, people talk about what we have done the past year and what comes next.  If you turned on the news at all this past week, you likely saw a “year-end wrap-up” with all the big news stories and celebrities that passed away in 2019.  Its an easy mindset to get yourself into when the calendar pages start running out. 

Today I want to talk about this phenomenon together today and what the Scriptures have to say about it.  We are going to turn to Philippians chapter 3 and verses 7-16.  Philippians 3:7-16 together today reads,

7 Yet whatever gains I had; these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

This letter is a letter from Paul to the church at Philippi, which is a town in the Northeast of Greece today.  This town had been the site of many important historical moments to the Greeks and Romans, including many famous battles.  The town was named for Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great, after he drove out the Ottoman Empire from the region.  Paul visited Philippi on his second and third missionary journeys and it was on his first visit to Philippi that we get the story of Paul being arrested and an earthquake allowing him to escape the city.  This particular epistle, which is likely a combination of three separate letters to the church in Philippi, was written during Paul’s house arrest in Rome prior to his execution.

So we have a bit of a background here on what the letter is about and where it came from.  Now let’s look at what’s actually here for us to learn.  In this passage of scripture, Paul is reminding the people of the church of where he came from and who he was now.  You see, there were members of the church that were focusing on the new converts and claiming that they weren’t as important or as devout as some of the others because they were new.  They hadn’t lived a Jewish life or had a Jewish upbringing before Christ came along.  Now they were joining the church in unbelievable numbers.  The hierarchy that the church was used to was being washed away and they were trying to cling on to what they had been raised knowing, even though they knew that Jesus had changed their faith. 

Paul spends the verses before this reminding them that he had been a Roman citizen and a devout Pharisee.  He had renounced all of that to be a follower of Christ and a teacher of God’s message.  He tells us in this passage that at one time he had gained so much wealth and power, but now, looking back on it, it hadn’t been a gain but it had been a loss.  In fact, everything that anyone has ever sought to attain on earth is a loss when compared to the salvation of Christ.  He reminds us of his own goals and encourages them to be ours as well.  God should be at the center of our lives and the only goal we should be trying to get to, is to know God and grow in his righteousness.  Everything else is “rubbish” as Paul puts it here.  

Like I said at the opening, its easy this time of year to think about all the things that we have done this past year.  I’d love to look back and tell myself that this year was great because of all of the things I accomplished, or we accomplished as a family together.  We had a really good 4H year this year.  We went to Disney World this fall.  Cheris got promoted twice at her job.  There are tons of material “wins” I can find over this last year if I look hard enough. 

Here’s the other thing that comes up this time of year, New Year’s Resolutions.  I usually try to share this fact every New Year.  The Top 3 most common New Year’s Resolutions are: 1. Start Working Out, 2. Quite Smoking, 3. Eat Healthier.  Here’s the facts: 80% of resolutions fail by February.  After that, only 46% of those remaining last six months.  That means that out of every 100 people, only 9 are still maintaining their New Year’s Resolutions in July.  That’s honestly better than I thought, but still not great at all.

So why are New Year’s Resolutions so hard to keep?  Mostly because of what they focus on.  Exercise, smoking, and food, these are earthly things with earthly ramifications.  It takes a long way down the list of popular Resolutions before you get to anything about God.  When I take a look back on my year, I rarely look at my spiritual life and where I’ve grown and failed.  My mind is filled with earthly things.

This is what Paul is warning us against in this passage.  In the second half of the passage today, Paul reminds us that he himself has not attained perfection in Christ, nor will he ever.  He will continue to work and strive for it each and every day.  He won’t worry about what is behind him in his past, good or bad, but he will stay focused on the future.  That future isn’t focused on earthly material things, but on God only. 

This is where we sit in our year right now.  I want to challenge all of you to take the words of Paul to heart today.  We spend too much of our lives and energies working on things that don’t matter.  The things of this earth are not important to our salvation.  So we can win all the ribbons and medals we want.  We can save up as much money as possible.  We can live in the biggest house or drive the nicest car.  However none of those things matter.  We have to have a mind focused on God and God alone.  We should find joy in growing closer to God through study and prayer.  We should happily find ways to serve Him in our world.  We should measure our lives at the end of the year by our relationship to God.  Anything else, any other measuring stick we use, is garbage. 

We are on the brink of a new year and a new decade.  The next time we see each other we will have said goodbye to the 2010s.  I, for one, am looking forward to the 2020s with a renewed optimism and hope in Christ.  My comfort will be in God, not in earthly things.  If you have spent the last ten years or more searching for comfort among the world and haven’t found it yet, its because you’re looking in the wrong place.  Turn your eyes away from the world and look to Christ for the only comfort you will ever need.  Start the year off right.