August 23rd, 2023 – Late Wednesday Morning
“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” ~Philippians 3:12-16
The greater context of this section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians entails the warning regarding those who would seek to distort the gospel and put their focus on positions, status, human effort, and pride. The immediate context of this section is Paul’s complete abandonment to the pursuit of knowing Christ in every way with the goal of attaining the resurrection from the dead. With these two things in mind, let us turn our attention to the passage itself:
The first thing that stands out is the reality that Christianity is a race; it is not a race against other people or a race against time, but a marathon that requires a continuous and persistent attitude. To “press on” has the idea of “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after”; Paul understood that the high calling of God upon his life was not a one-day-a-week thing, a feel-good activity, or a walk-in-the-park-when-you-feel-like-it attitude. No, pursuing “that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” requires (and deserves) our all; it involves running swiftly towards the heavenly call of God upon our lives – even if that “running swiftly” means to run swiftly from comfort, temptation, fame, and pride towards persecution, submission, lowliness, and humility.
Notice also that Paul had not considered his race finished yet; rather, he could see that he still needed to run swiftly towards the goal, forgetting the ground he had already covered and extending himself towards what lay ahead. The failures (and “successes”) of the past where of no value to Paul; what he desired was to run NOW in such a way as to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant”. [This doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t take care of the sin of the past before God and man; instead, the scars of the sin of the past (as well as the past triumphs over sin and temptation) were of no value to him in comparison with knowing Christ now and pursuing Him to the finish line.] In the same way that a runner cannot agonize over that misstep or rest on that completed mile, so Paul knew that the victory wasn’t accomplished until the race was finished in glory.
One more thing to note: Paul seems to chide his opponents by using a wordplay; “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude…” calls those who would think themselves “perfect” according to human standards to have the same abandoned perspective that Paul has just laid out. Even if we have attained some level of “superior” maturity or position, we must keep running with the same goal in view; any other attitude is contrary to the gospel message and will be dealt with by God Himself.
So, how about you and I? Are we in the marathon of pursuing Christ? Are we running swiftly with the goal in mind? Do not be deceived: Leaning on our past accomplishments (even spiritual milestones) or being side-tracked by the sin and death of our old nature (or the consequences) are not options for those who are in Christ Jesus. Instead, let us run swiftly, by the grace of God and in submission to the power of the Spirit of God within us, towards the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us press on, my dear brothers and sisters, to lay hold of that for which Jesus has laid ahold of us!