Grace Bible Church
Pressing On – Philippians 3:12-16
(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 25, 2002
Do you ever consider the Christian walk to be difficult, like it is always an uphill climb? Maybe your doing okay, but does there still seem a long way to go? Perhaps you have even become weary and tired or even a little frustrated at times? I have felt that way at times.
Ever wish God would give you some sort of spiritual zap by which you would be immediately transformed into someone who would always say and do the right thing with a perfect attitude? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
Ever wonder why some people seem to have it all together while your still trying to find all the pieces, much less put them altogether? That is just a misconception, because no one has it altogether, including the Apostle Paul, as we will see our study today. Turn again to Philippians 3.
Remember that I said last week that Paul is a wonderful example to model ourselves after, and that it is realistic to believe that we can be like him. While many may put Paul on a pedestal of a state of maturity that is not reachable for the average Christian, Paul never did such a thing. In this passage we find that Paul was an ordinary human who, though mature by comparison with most people, still had a long way to go. Let us read again verses 1-16 so that we make sure we have set the context of our study this morning.
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things [again] is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the [true] circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained [it], or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 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; 16 however, let us keep living by that same [standard] to which we have attained.
After warning the Philippians to beware of the “dogs,” “evil workers” and “false circumcision” who would seek to lead them astray from the gospel, Paul went on to clearly state the reasons why. Paul had been like them, and though he could boast in his heritage and past works more than any of them, he counted all of it to be loss for the sake of Christ (vs. 1-7). In addition, Paul counted all things as loss and rubbish in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Paul valued and placed all his hope in only one thing, having the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. Only that righteousness imputed by God’s grace could restore him to a right relationship with God. Only the righteousness of faith allowed him to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul’s greatest desire, as should the desire be of every Christian, was to know Jesus Christ to the greatest depth humanly possible. He wanted to see the power of the resurrection changing him from the inside out and making him a vessel for Christ to live through. That is what Paul was talking about in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” Paul even wanted to know the fellowship of His suffering, for as I said last week, there is an aspect of a deep fellowship with Christ that only those who suffer for Him can know. Paul had already suffered much in the cause of Christ, and his response to it is recorded in 2 Cor. 12:10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Pressing On (vs. 12)
In verses 12-14, Paul makes it clear that the doctrine of perfectionism, which is held by some Christian groups, is wrong. There are several varieties of perfectionism, but the basic idea is that at some point in your Christian life you reach a stage of maturity in which you no longer sin. Whether this comes through self-effort or a claimed second blessing by the Holy Spirit does not really matter. Either way, there are a lot of theological gymnastics that must take place in order for a person to actually believe this, in view of their continued failures to live completely by God’s standards, but man has always been good at self-deceit and self-justification. A person who misses the mark of God’s perfect standard of holiness might feel better calling it a “mistake,” but God still calls it sin.
Paul states twice in verse 12 that he still had room to improve, and in doing so, he destroys anyone else’s claim to reach perfection. The Apostle John was even more blunt about it saying in 1 John 1:8 & 10, 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. All claims to eradicate sin in this life are false. Such a person is self-deceived and the truth is not in him.
Paul states in verse 12, Not that I have already obtained [it], or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
What is it that Paul has not already obtained or received? (From lambanw / lambanô – to take, obtain, receive). He is certainly not referring to salvation, for Paul was confident that he was made righteous in Christ through faith by God’s grace and therefore was saved and would be with Christ forever. Paul expressed this confidence back in Chapter 1 when he said that for him to live is Christ, and to die is gain (21), and that he was hard pressed between the desire to depart and be with Christ or to remain on in the flesh for their sake (23). Paul’s assurance that to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord, as he put it in 2 Cor. 5:8, was not based in himself or anything he had done or could do, but in God’s promises. Those promises include John 3:16 that whosoever believes should not perish, but have ever lasting life. Jesus said in John 10 that He would never lose anyone given to Him and that no one could pluck them out of His hand. In Romans 8:35-39 Paul elaborates on that point that nothing could separate the believer from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul had obtained salvation and was fully confident of it, but what he had not yet obtained was the fulness of knowing Jesus Christ in the way he described in verse 10. There was still a greater personal knowledge of Jesus Christ available to him. There was still more in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering for Paul to experience. Paul was not yet fully conformed to Jesus’ death. Though Paul’s position was that he was crucified with Christ and no longer lived, but Christ lived in Him, we know from Romans 7 that Paul still had a struggle with his flesh that desired to sin.
Paul adds in the next phrase that he had not already become perfect. The word here, teleiow / teleioô, means to “bring to an end,” “complete,” “perfect,” “make mature.” As Paul expresses at the end of the verse, there was still more from him to lay hold of in becoming more like Jesus Christ.
This directly addresses the struggle that we still have as Christians today. We are not where we would like to be. We know there is still something missing. We are still frustrated by our own sinful desires, actions and attitudes. As much as we would like it to be different and easier, God has not so design it that way. Paul gives a more detailed description of his own struggle in Romans 7:14-25.
Paul would find himself not doing what he would like to do, but instead doing the very thing he hated (15). He wished to do good, but found himself practicing the very evil he did not wish (19). He had to come to grips that there was still a principle of sin present in him, dwelling in his flesh, that waged war against his mind. We have to face the same fact. There is still within us the law of sin that we must fight. Does this mean that Paul, or we, are doomed by this? Not at all. Paul had already explained in Romans 6 that though the bondage to sin was broken when you become a Christian, this simply means that you now have a choice. Prior to salvation, sin was your master. You had no choice but to sin. After salvation, your new master is God, but you have a choice to make. Will you obey God, or continue in your old habits and obey sin, though it no longer has authority over you. We are freed from our body of sin through Christ, but we still have to exercise our will and obey. If we are to know Jesus as Paul describes here in Philippians 3, we must learn to trust and walk with Christ in obedience to His commands. That is the point that Paul makes in the next phrase of verse 12.
Paul had not reached perfection and knew that he would not reach it in this life, nevertheless, Paul strives to obtain all that he can. He continues saying, “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
The phrase translated “lay hold” here (katalambanw / katalambanô) is simply an intensification of the same word translated as “obtain” at the beginning of the verse. Paul wanted to gain the very thing for which Jesus had made him His own. What is that thing? Verse 14 calls it the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27) by being humble and having the same attitude as Christ Jesus (2:3-8). It is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:1) and be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
This is not something that happens easily. The word translated “press on.” diwkw / diôkô, is the same word used in verse 6 to describe the action of Paul’s zeal in “persecuting” the church. This is an intense striving or pursuit of the goal. The general analogy being used in this passage is that of a runner in a race intent on reaching the finish line. Paul was set to put forth his maximum effort to reach the goal. The Christian life is not meant to be lived passively.
We examined this same subject some months ago when we studied 2:12,13 that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work His good pleasure.”
There are those that teach the way to a holy life is to “let go and let God.” In the sense of letting go of our own self righteousness and letting God redeem us by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that is true. It is also true that we have to let go of our own wisdom and let God direct us as Proverbs 3:5-8 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body, And refreshment to your bones.” However, it is not true that we are to “let go” of our own efforts to obey God and pursue holiness and “let God” change us through some miraculous divine intervention. Personal holiness is an active pursuit, not a passive contemplation.
Consider these various statements from Paul about the Christian life. Concerning sin; “Flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18), “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14); “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). “mortify (put to death) therefore the members of your earthly body (Col. 3:5). “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:4).
Concerning living for Christ; “pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace” (2 Tim. 2:22). “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
His advice to Timothy,“But flee from these things [sin], you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance [and] gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:11,12).
Regarding his own life as he prepared to depart from this world, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7,8).
Though we will not reach perfection in this life, and we will always be aware of our own areas of struggle against sin, as we press on we will grow and become more mature. We will come to know Jesus Christ better, become more like Him, and become more useful in His service. Though you will never be all that you want to be, you will need to thank God that you are not what you were. Are you pressing on?
Marriage is a good analogy of this. At some point you met your sweetheart and started to get to know each other. Eventually you decided you wanted to spend your lives and you got married. But at what point to you fully know your spouse? 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 25 or more? Certainly the longer you are together the better you know each other, but there will always be room to know more. There will always be room to be a better husband or wife. The same is true as believers. No matter how mature we become as Christians, there will always be room to learn more of Christ and be better followers.
Single Minded (vs. 13)
In verse 13 Paul again makes it clear that he has not yet become completely like Christ, but he also tells us of the mindset that is necessary in order to press on. “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.”
Paul once again addresses the Philippian believers as “brethren” as he did in 1:12 and 3:1. It is a term he uses to remind them of the close personal relationship they have with each other. Paul is making his claims and giving his advice as one of them, not someone above or below them. They still had room to grow as Christians in becoming like Jesus and so did Paul.
Paul’s advice here is straight forward. You cannot reach your goal if you are distracted by other things. Hebrews 12:1,2 puts it this way, “. . . lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” The problem is not just sin which can entangle us and cause us to fall, but also the encumbrance of good things which are either not appropriate for the task at hand, or hinders us in reaching our goals.
When an athlete runs a race, he wears extremely light track shoes, not combat boots. His clothing is light-weight and somewhat lose fitting so that it does not hinders him. You do not run a race wearing coveralls and a raincoat. When the gun goes off and the race begins, the runner’s attention is fixed toward reaching the finish line that lies ahead. That is the way the Christian is to live his life. You not only must put away sin, but you also must beware of even good things that might hinder you in your race. The Christian’s focus in upon Christ and not what lies behind, or is off to the side.
I remember the movie Chariot’s of Fire which dealt with the missionary Eric Liddel and his participation in the Olympic games in Paris. In that movie one of the athletes hires a personal trainer. In one of his races this man comes close, but he does not win. The coach shows him a picture of the finish which reveals why he lost. The runner took his eyes off the finish line and looked to the side at the other runners. We need to make sure that we are looking ahead toward the finish line and not behind us or to the sides.
In the specific context here, Paul says he forgets what lies behind. This goes directly back to what he said in verse 4-8 about his past heritage and works. He counted them as loss and as rubbish in view of gaining Christ and knowing him. This phrase also takes into account all of Paul’s past service for Christ including the victories and defeats. There were many that opposed Paul and the gospel message, and Paul suffered much because of it. There were places where the people rejected the gospel and other places where they would not even listen. There were also many victories both in his personal life as he became more mature and in seeing people become Christians and churches planted in many different countries. But Paul states here that he was purposely forgetting what lies behind.
We must always remember that we are to live in present with an eye to the future, but never in the past. Those that look to the past are in danger of becoming complacent, apathetic, lethargic, passive, indolent. If you look at the negative things of the past, you can easily conclude that “it is not worth the effort, nothing will work anyway.” If you look at the positive things of the past, it is easy to rest on your laurels and conclude you have done enough so you stop pressing on. In either case, the result is sinful.
Consider how strongly the Lord reacts to apathy. The Lord’s message to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3 is very serious. He says, ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (vs. 15,16). Be careful of your consideration of the past. It is good to review to critique (positive and negative) so that you can improve in the present, but do not allow yourself to become complacent or lethargic in your Christian life. We are to “walk” with Jesus Christ in this life. We do not sit down until the marriage supper of the Lamb.
A corollary of this principle applies to the church as a whole as well. We need to be careful as a church body not to let either the negative or positive things of the past become a source of apathy in the present. In regards to the positive things, I can assure you that they can only continue to happen as each of us is diligent to press on in our own Christian walk and use our God given gifts in serving the Lord and one another. In regards to any negative things, I can assure you that things can change and will change, but only as each of us press on to become like Christ and use our spiritual gifts to the best of our current ability.
Pressing On (vs. 14)
In verse 14 Paul emphasizes the motivation for running the race. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” As you forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead, you must keep your eyes focused on the final goal. But what is that goal? Paul says here it is the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
This prize is part of what motivated Paul to run this race. We looked at 1 Cor. 9:14-27 earlier in which he describes this prize as an “imperishable wreath.” He contrasts this to the perishable wreath made of olive branches that the winners of the Isthmian or Olympic games would have received. The wreath denoted the won who wore it as worthy of honor. The imperishable wreath here is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is the honors that will be received in heaven because of God’s calling of us in Christ Jesus and how we served Him. It includes the various crowns offered to the followers of Christ: Crown of Life given to those that love the Lord (James 1:12); Imperishable Wreath is given to those who are faithful in following Christ (1 Cor. 9:14); Crown of Exultation given to those bring others to Christ (1 Thess. 2:19); Crown of Righteousness given to all those that love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8); Crown of glory given to those who properly shepherd God’s people (1 Peter 5:4). All of these crowns require the individual to have a mind that is set on “things above” instead of the “things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
What race are you running in? What is your goal? What will be your prize? Christian, what crowns do you want to win? Don’t let the things of this earth, the wood, hay and stubble which will be burned up, keep you from God’s rewards.
I can assure you that you will grow and can even be confident of receiving rewards from God if you will do the following. Recognize the areas you still need to grow. Put your maximum effort to pressing on to grow and become more like Christ. Do not let yourself become distracted by sin or anything that hinders. Keep the goal in view and keep in the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus in focus.
God’s Conviction (vs. 15)
In verse 15 Paul turns the corner slightly and gives an encouragement and correction. “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.” There is some word play that goes on in this verse. The word “perfect” could be taken as either those who are positionally perfect in Christ, that is, they are true believers who stand righteous before God because of their faith in Jesus. Or it can be taken as those who think that they have arrived at perfection and which Paul is therefore correcting. To the former, this is an encouragement to have the same attitude or think the same way as Paul. To the latter this is a correction that they need to change their thinking and adopt Paul’s attitude. If they do have a different attitude, Paul will leave them to God’s correction.
There is a comfort in this last statement. God cares more about His people that we do, and He will reveal the error of those that belong to Him. As Hebrews 12 tells us, God is a loving father that will discipline His children. Ideally, it will come through the person’s own walk with the Lord by his personal Bible study and prayer. It might also come through God’s people as the practice the many “one another” commands including admonishing one another. It may even escalate through all the steps of church discipline. It could also come through God’s chastening of the individual through divine providence or direct intervention.
(vs. 16) Paul concludes this section in verse 16 with the simple statement, “however, let us keep living by that same [standard] to which we have attained.” Essentially, Paul is telling us to be consistent and do not go backwards. To continue to use the running metaphor, it means to keep going forward in your lane. Don’t waver. Don’t stray. Stay on track.
God will always do His part to help us along. We need to make sure we do our part in having the right attitude, making the right effort, and keeping the right focus. Are you taking advantage of what God has provided for us: His word so that by it we can grow in knowledge of Him and His will. The Bible is “inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Be faithful in prayer, for by it we help one another to be made complete and abounding in love (2 Cor. 1:11; 13:9; Phil. 1:9). Be involved in the fellowship of the saints, for it is through our interaction with each other that we are built up in Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). This includes following the godly example of others as they follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). And finally, recognize that God is at work in you, and that the difficulties you may be facing are being used by Him to make you mature in Him (Rom. 5; James 1).
God knows what He is doing. Do you trust Him enough to diligently follow Him in obedience and through that, let him mold you into the image of His son? A fitting conclusion are Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not [in] vain in the Lord.”
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times for terms “perfect” and “mature” are used. Talk with your parents about what it means to be mature in Christ and how develop your walk with Him.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Do you ever consider the Christian life to be difficult? Why or why not? What has Paul been talking about in Philippians 3:1-11? Why is perfectionism wrong? What does “obtain” in vs. 12 refer to? Why was Paul confident of his salvation? Are you confident of yours? Why or why not? What does “perfect” mean in vs. 12? Why did Paul say he was not perfect? What does it mean in vs. 12 to “press on”? What is correct about the phrase “let go and let God”? What is wrong with it? Cite several verses that show that the Christian life requires action on the part of the believer to become holy in this life? What is the danger of an “encumbrance” in Heb. 12:1? What are the dangers of looking at the past? Have you ever done that, if so, how did it affect you? What is the Lord’s response to apathy and lethargy? What does Paul press on toward in vs. 14? Explain. What rewards are available from God to believers? How does God correct an erring Christian? Are you fulfilling vs. 16 in your own life?
Sermon Notes – July 25, 2004
Pressing On – Philippians 3:12-16
Introduction & Review
Pressing On (vs. 12)
What is Obtained
Single Minded (vs. 13)
Pressing On (vs 14)
God’s Conviction (vs. 15)
No Backsliding (vs. 16)
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