union with christ

Week 9: The Art of Abiding: Sailing

“Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.”
[Psalm 2:11]

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp
Else what is heaven for.”
[Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto,” 1855]

A Helpful Word in Preparation of the Study

Hear this word from Rev. Robert Rayburn from a 2006 sermon on the book of Philippians. You can read or listen to the entire sermon here:


A Christian’s reach in this world always exceeds its grasp. But that does not mean that we are not tempted by the very self-satisfaction that concerned Paul. We may not be perfectionist in our thinking, theologically speaking, but we are often perfectionist in our thinking practically. And the proof that we too apparently often feel that we have arrived is that far too often we also are not straining forward to reach what is ahead. We would vehemently deny that we have reached perfection or that we ever imagined any such thing, but the practical effect is the same. We aren’t working very hard to move forward spiritually and morally for Jesus sake just as if we felt we didn’t any longer have to.

We might have stopped pressing forward out of weariness or frustration, feeling the effort was useless, we’ve disappointed ourselves too often, but given the fact that we haven’t given up being Christians, the practical effect is that we obviously have concluded that what we are now is good enough. We might have stopped striving out of laziness or worldliness, but, since we are still Christians and intend to be Christians, the practical effect is that we have concluded that what we are now is good enough. Is that not perfectionism of a kind? Is it not, in effect, the claim that we have gone as far as we need to go and have reached as high as a Christian needs to reach? What difference does the particular form of a Christian’s perfectionism make, or its motive, if the practical effect is the same? You’ve stopped moving forward and are no longer making much of an effort to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you.

Nothing is more essential to achievement in life than clearly defined goals and the commitment to reach them. Paul uses athletic imagery, you remember, to make this point. In a passage not too different from this one, in 1 Cor. 9 he writes:

Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets 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; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it may slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Intentional training with a specific goal in view: that is what Paul is talking about. I had a delightful conversation with one of our young people a few weeks back at the Wednesday evening supper. She was describing her participation in her high school’s cross country team. “Why cross country?” I asked. “Well,” she said, “she wasn’t particularly good at any other sports and nobody gets cut from cross country.” So she was running in a race, enjoying being outdoors on an autumn afternoon, neither concerned to win the race nor imagining that there was any possibility of her doing so. Not far from the finish line still another runner passed her by. She thought of trying to catch up but then thought, “Well, that runner probably needs a higher finish than I do,” so she finished contentedly behind her and many others.


Now, there is nothing wrong with that. I actually found her attitude quite charming! But she would be the first to admit that this is no way to win a cross country race! With an attitude like that she will continue to enjoy running in the out-of-doors on autumn afternoons, but what she will not enjoy is the thrill of victory!…

No, says Paul; in the spiritual life as in other things run so as to win the prize. Or, “press on toward the goal,” “press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of you.” And this focused attention, this drive to be more and do more, this determination to grow in the grace of God and in holiness of life has always been characteristic of the happiest, most fruitful, and godliest Christians. They were driven people, animated by the fact that Christ had summoned them to live godly lives, empowered them to do the same, but that they had not yet attained nearly as much as they knew they should and could. There was about them what one writer calls “a sovereign energy of mind.” They thought about where they were and where they ought to be. They saw the path that led from the one to the other. And they took the path.

Lyrics & Chord Sheets


For the “Praise” section of each lesson, we look at a song from the WEPC Doxology Album. As a resource to you, here is a link to the lyrics for each of the songs.

Lyrics for Doxology Album

Chord Sheets are also available. If you would like them, please contact Tiffanie Chan.

2019-01-25 10.00.39Missed a week?

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All previous weeks of Union with Christ can be found at www.joebrownrva.com.

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