Philippians Bible Study (To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain)

Philippians 3:12-16, Straining Forward

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Lately we have seen some strange things in the sports world regarding the athlete’s effort. You may have seen this on television. A University of Oregon runner, Tanguy Pipiot, thought he had the race all locked up. He began to slow down before the finish line, waving to the crowd, getting them excited about his victory. However, he did not see a University of Washington runner quickly coming up behind him. The other runner passed him by and Tanguy lost the race because he let up at the end. He laid on the track in shock and disbelief. All because he celebrated too early. Football players have had an outbreak of this problem. They will slow up in their celebration only to have the opposition tackle the player or cause a fumble from behind. Occasionally I have watched players drop the ball before the goal line to start their celebration, not realizing they had not made it all the way into the end zone yet. We have the temptation to think that we have attained the goal and begin to celebrate and relax before the goal has actually been achieved.

The first words of verse 12 are, “Not that I have already obtained this.” What is the apostle Paul referring to? In verses 7-11 Paul has been referring to his resume of accomplishments. He declared that he will count everything in his life and any gains that he may have as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. The reasons he wants to know Christ so desperately was so that he may gain Christ, be found in Christ as righteous, and know Christ and his resurrection. So Paul is counting everything as loss to know Christ so that, as verse 11 says, that by any means possible he may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Resolved: Maximum Effort (3:12)

What we immediately see with Paul is that he has a proper perspective on where he is in his spiritual journey. He knows he has not attained this yet. He knows that he cannot sit down and say that he has done enough and can spiritually coast to the finish line. Friends, if Paul had not attained it yet, we have not attained to it yet either. So do we give up? Not at all. Listen to the resolve of Paul.

“But I press on to make it my own.” With the proper perspective of our position before God, understanding that we have not attained to knowing Christ and sharing in his resurrection, we press on to make that possible. We press on to know Christ. I want us to see the intensity of Paul’s words and how he looks at pursuing and knowing Christ. He makes every effort to make his goal of knowing Christ and knowing the power of the resurrection possible. The goal is set before him and so he presses for that goal.

We will notice in this paragraph some reasons that Paul gives for pressing on. The first motivation is declared here in verse 12. He presses on “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” What a beautiful thought and a powerful motivation. I press on to know Christ because Christ has made me his own. Christ has taken possession of me so that I would take possession of him. Christ has captivated me. He possesses me so I must give all my effort to know him. Living is Christ and dying is gain means that continued spiritual progress is critically important. If we are not pressing forward, we are falling backward. Paul is only satisfied in so much as he has as much of Christ as he possibly can. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews described this pursuit.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1–3 ESV)

Notice that we must pay much closer attention because we will not escape if we neglect this great salvation. The writer does not say they are forsaking the salvation. They are just neglecting it. But neglect is falling way. If we are not paying closer attention then we are drifting away from it. There is no point that we can no longer pay close attention to knowing Christ. So Paul says that he presses on to make it his own.

Resolved: A Focused Mind (3:13)

Paul declares it again to make sure we hear what he is saying. He has not attained this. He has not made knowing and possessing Christ his own yet. He is pressing on toward that goal. How do we press on? Paul explains and I love how he describes his effort. “But one thing I do!” Here is the one big thing for our lives for pressing on. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” What is Paul saying that he is forgetting? Our context indicates that he is forgetting all the achievements he has. He forgets about those things and presses forward. It does not matter what his spiritual success or spiritual accomplishments may be. He forgets those things. Paul describes the need for a focused mind. We need to have a particular mindset and that mindset is not our past accomplishments. If we have been successful in past, we forget what lies behind. If we have been a spiritual failure in the past, we need to forget what lies behind. The past is past. Too many people try to live in the past and dwell in the past. Too many want to talk about the past. It is past. There is nothing anyone can do about the past. What matters is today.

So there is one thing that Paul does. We forgets the past and strains forward to what lies ahead. This pictures the person who keeps stretching and reaching forward. We never stand still but are always reaching forward. We are not running this spiritual journey aimlessly. We run forward, reaching and straining forward.

Resolved: Reaching Toward the Prize (3:14)

Where is Paul straining forward toward? In verse 14 he describes his second motivation for running forward with great effort. He presses on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He looks forward to this future hope. Christians must keep their eyes on heaven. Christians must keep their thoughts heavenward. But don’t think of heaven as having tears of sorrow wiped from our eyes, walking streets of gold, having a mansion over the hilltop, eating good food, or riding on clouds. What has Paul described is the reason that he is pressing forward and has his eyes on the heavenly prize? He wants to know Christ fully. Knowing Jesus is Paul’s goal. The prize is Christ. The prize is being with the Lord eternally. The prize is not some sort of selfish physical fulfillment. What made the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 paradise? God was there! They had unhindered access to God that was blocked when they sinned. As we studied in Leviticus, holiness is what separates us from God. We are so sinful that we cannot be in his presence at all. But knowing Christ, being declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus, and experiencing the power of the resurrection is how we can return to his presence unhindered!

Friends, this is why we must know him now and must desire to know him! What do you think heaven is about? Heaven is knowing Christ. Heaven is being with God. Heaven is seeing him as he is (1 John 3:2). Heaven is not playing tennis all day and never having to work. Heaven is not some physical fulfillment. Heaven is joy in being in the presence of the Lord. This is why I am so troubled by people who claim to be Christians but do not enjoy worship, do not enjoy fellowship with other Christians, do not enjoy studying God’s word, do not enjoy talking to God, and do not enjoy assembling to learn about God. What do you think heaven is going to be! If you do not like it now, you will not be in heaven because that it what heaven is all about. That is the upward call that we have. This is the prize: Christ and knowing him fully. We are looking forward to that time in the future.

If we have the prize of the upward call awaiting us, then that means we have a calling in life right now. So many are looking for a life calling. Some seek for a purpose to their life, wanting to know what their calling is. The upward call is our calling according to Paul. We have a high calling from God, not a worldly, earthly calling. It is a heavenly calling. Align your life to this calling from God.

Resolved: Mature Thinking (3:15-16)

Notice verse 15. This is the way mature people in Christ think. This is the way we think about what we are doing here. It is all about knowing Christ and pursuing him. Life is about pressing forward to this goal. Life is about counting everything as loss and pressing on to know our Lord. The mature think this way. The mature understand that they have not attained this. The mature recognize that they are not perfected. They understand that they are not there yet. The prize is not awarded before the race is completed. The prize is for those who finish the course.

Paul goes on to say that if you do not understand this that God will reveal that to you as well. I do not believe that Paul is telling them that if you do not agree with Paul, God will directly intervene and give them this knowledge so that they will know Paul is right. God did not work this way in the New Testament. Rather, the idea is that there are people who are against what Paul is teaching. God is going to reveal their error of their thinking the more they listen to Paul, the apostles, and the rest of the word of God. God will show you through his word that your perspective on life is out of sync with the standard God has revealed through Paul. The word of God is what tells us that our thinking is wrong. The word of God shows us that we are darkened in our understanding and broken in our thinking (cf. Ephesians 4:17-19). We must listen to what God is revealing to us through his word and not ignore it or argue with it. Maturity is having the same attitude that Paul has regarding this spiritual race.

So do not fall backward (3:16). Do not drift away from the standard you have been taught and attained to. Hold on to the progress you have already made. Rather than falling back, press on. Strain forward. Keep reaching forward for Christ. Neglect is drifting. Doing nothing is drifting. The current from the world will pull you away from the Lord if you are not straining with every effort to remain with the Lord, diligent to know the Lord because Christ possesses you. Three resolves for your life today: give maximum effort, have a focused mind, and reach forward for the prize of the upward call.

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