|Philippians 3:12-14: My Very First Sermon
by jenelley (View All jenelley's Blog Entries)
Introduction: Imagine you have just been thrown into a large body of water. All you have is a tiny boat, one oar, and a map that tells you how to reach land. There’s no other form of transportation that will take you there faster, no shortcuts or other help to make things easier. It’s all on you. It’s something you know you’ll have to work hard to move toward, but the passion and will you have to survive pushes you on. You know you won’t stop until you get there. You know it will take all you’ve got. This has now become your ultimate goal in life.
With that same mindset, that urgent demand—we find in Philippians that this is how Paul felt about knowing Christ completely. There was nothing more important to him than reaching that goal.
[Background] Paul is writing to the Philippian church from prison in Rome where he has had much suffering for the sake of the gospel. He had faced fierce opposition from both the Gentiles and his own Jewish countrymen. Despite his circumstances, he maintains a constant joy and contentment in Christ.
The Philippian church was the first church Paul had founded in Europe. The majority were Gentiles, with only a small population being Jewish. They shared a deep affection with Paul. They supported him financially despite the fact that they themselves were poor.
So when Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians, we can see the love and affection he has for the people, and the appreciation he shows for their partnership in sharing the gospel as well as this financial support they have provided. They too care very much for him and Paul’s hope in writing this is that they will heed what he says and follow suit, and share the same attitude.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
The first point I would like to make is: knowing Christ takes persistence.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect (first half of verse 12)
Obtain in the Greek comes from the word from lambano meaning to receive, acquire, or attain. Paul knows despite the years he’s followed after Christ that he doesn’t completely know Christ. In order to understand what he’s saying he hasn’t already obtained, we need to refer back to verses 10 & 11. Paul wants to really know Him. But he’s letting them know: he hasn’t fully perfected the Christian walk. The Greek for been made/become perfect is from teleioo meaning to attain perfection, reach a goal, or accomplish. He cares enough about the Philippians to clarify this in order that they may also follow his example, knowing that despite how far they have may come in their walk with Christ, it doesn’t stop at a certain point. They haven’t reached the goal yet. Because he goes on to say but I press on; I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (end of verse 12). Jesus through His sacrifice, His resurrection, and His all-surpassing power took hold of Paul in order to save him. We find in Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son”. Paul wants to know Christ well enough to share in that power, suffer for His sake, and ultimately be a pure reflection of Jesus.
Verse 13: Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. This is reinforcing the fact that he hasn’t reached it yet. He goes on to say but—using that word a second time—he’s again clarifying what he does—(continuing verse 13) But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. This brings me to my next point: knowing Christ is greater than any other experience.
The words “I do” are not found in the Greek text but they have been added by translators because it is implied. Paul is letting them know ‘this is what my focus is, this is what I do’ and he goes on to explain that. He is forgetting his past, everything that is behind him now—not only the bad things such as the persecution of Christians before his transformation, fleshly desires, selfish accomplishments, but also the good things, the accomplishments he did make for Christ. He’s not discounting them but he’s not reveling in them to the point where he thinks what he’s already done is enough or even close to being enough. No, he is straining toward what else he can accomplish and what else he can improve within his spiritual condition. Straining and pressing on—these are actions that take effort. When we think of the word strain—when you’re reaching out your hand for something, reaching forward. It’s a form of stretching. And again, pressing on—he ends in verse 14 with I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. The Greek word skopos in reference to goal is the distant mark looked at, the goal or end one has in view. Paul is saying I’m pressing on, I’m moving forward toward my destination, which is in an upward direction. Everything else now pales in comparison. Paul has forsaken his old way of thinking. Knowing Christ has proven to be of much greater advantage. Paul talks about in verses 7-9 how he considers everything he had once found worthy to live for—rubbish, when compared to Christ’s greatness and all that he gains by knowing Him and how much His life has changed since then. He’s living his life in light of what he’ll gain in the end.
Finally, knowing Christ is our ultimate life goal.
When you’re truly living for Christ with the ultimate goal of knowing Him completely, you’re not just coasting through. If we go back to that situation in the water, you wouldn’t lay in your boat, relaxing after only getting so far. You’re digging through the water with that oar with all your might, making distance. You know land is out there and you have to move yourself to get there. It takes work. But the passion we have for that goal is what pushes us forward; pushes us upward. Paul is urging the Philippians: they must keep seeking to know Christ, living for Him, keeping their focus heavenward, in that direction of moving up. Keep their eyes on what is above. Paul talks about the same thing in Colossians 3:2: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Paul has this passionate concern for spiritual growth. Basically he’s telling them we’ve got to move up in order to grow up.
The application for this passage can be found in the following verses, 15-16. Paul wants the Philippians to adopt this same attitude. He wants them to follow his example and keep living as they have been for the glory of Christ and not stop there. Have the mindset that they have more to learn and more ways to grow in Christ each and every day.
Paul talks about our citizenship being in heaven in verse 20. Our destination is heavenward. To know Christ completely: that won’t happen until we meet Him face to face. Because we aren’t there yet, that should push us on.
Let that be the motivation, the driving force that urges you forward to know Christ completely by continuously going after Him, so there can be that continuous growth. We’ve got to move up in order to grow up. Never be content with how far you’ve come in your spiritual walk, know that there is always room for improvement, have your eyes fixed on the prize which is in Christ and allow that to urgently motivate you to continue pursuing spiritual perfection. We need to live our lives with this in mind. Our actions, our words, our daily living—they should be a reflection of our goal of knowing Christ completely, showing that it takes work: a clear, passionate effort.