PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK FOR THE PRIZE
The church at
One would be hard pressed to find one single passage from the book, which might serve as the key verse to the book of Philippians; there are a number that would serve well. However, one verse that is certainly at the heart of the book would have to be Philippians 3:14. Paul expresses his desire to go to heaven so strongly, as well as his encouragement of others to do the same, that this verse has become one of the highlights of the book, as well as, the entire Bible. Therefore, this chapter will focus upon Paul's statement found in Philippians 3:14. It will discuss it from the standpoint of its context and make application to us today. It is hope by understanding this verse better we, too, will grow in our desire to go to heaven and to help others go as much as we possibly can.
In chapter one after expressing his gratitude for
the church at
Chapter three expresses a major concern that Paul has for his Christian brethren. Here Paul warns them against the Judaizing teachers who were insisting that Gentiles Christians obey the Law of Moses in order to be saved (vv. 1-11). Paul will have nothing of such a false view. Beware of them he warns, those who act like dogs (v. 2). Paul meets their challenge by showing the advantages of birth and education, which surpassed them all (vv. 4-5). He renounces all of these advantages as being worthless in the matter of salvation. Christ was more to him than all the privileges of birth and rank.3
BRETHREN, I COUNT NOT MYSELF TO HAVE APPREHENDED (13)
Paul reaches the point in his discussion, where he describes his own purpose and desire for himself, as well as, for the church). Throughout these verses Paul makes allusion to the ancient Greek games that were so familiar to all of his readers. Even though he has given up all for Christ, he does not consider that he has arrived spiritually. He has been converted (v. 9); he has been raised to a new life in Christ Jesus (v. 10); he looks forward to a resurrection that had not, as yet, taken place (v. 11), but he had not come to the completion of his hopes. As he puts it, he does not count himself as having "apprehended." He was not a perfect man ("either were already perfect," v. 12). He is not satisfied with himself spiritually, nor has he attained the prize (the word "attained" refers to having arrived at the goal and having won the prize.) Paul has reference to his moral character here, though all who know the life of the great apostle would not question his love, zeal, self denial, and devotion to the work and cause of Christ--still for him he was not yet complete. This completeness would not come, until he was perfectly free from sin, delivered from trials and temptations, and in possession of eternal life. All this would be needed for him to come to complete happiness.
In order to come to this understanding of himself, he says that there is some counting and evaluating to be done in his life. In other words, he looks at himself spiritually and realizes that he has not reached the level of spiritual maturity that he wants. As a Jew, he was as near perfection as one could be. Notice his discussion of his attainments in that respect (vv. 5-7). However, when Paul compared those matters with Christ, he says that his accomplishments were really worthless (vv. 7, 8). He says, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ" (v. 7).
The counting and spiritual evaluation that Paul gave to himself must be a continuous process for us, as well, if we are to grow as we ought and in turn be pleasing in the sight of God. We cheat ourselves, as well as, deprive ourselves of eternity, when we fail to under-go such a self-counting. Which one of us can truly say that we have reached perfection or completeness spiritually? However, by the action of some they seem to think so. For instance, many do not give attention to reading and studying, as they ought. They do not read the Bible, which is the most important book of all to read, nor do they read good biblically based material designed to help them understand the Bible, as well as, understand the complex issues we face to day. Many have simply stopped studying God's word. The Hebrew writers exhortation is sorely needed today, when he told them that by now they should be teachers, but they need to be taught the simplest things that God has said (Heb. 5:12). As a consequence, many have stopped growing spiritually. They have failed to do as Peter taught, "add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity"(II Peter 1:5-7). The first step in real growth is to realize the need. Paul realized his need to grow, and so should we. However, if Satan can keep us busy with the material things of life, so much so, that we never take the needed time to give ourselves the counting and spiritual evaluation that we should, then he has won.
THIS ONE THING I DO (13)
This phrase is a significant one. Actually, the original has "one thing." In other words, Paul had eliminated from his life all the superficial goals of worldly accomplishment. He wanted to accomplish one thing: that was to receive eternal life. Eternity was the focus of his life. The New Testament has emphasized the importance of this focus for man from beginning to end.
One will find that there are many things that
will vie for first place position in our lives. Money, for instance, will be
a strong temptation for many. Only God would know just how many have money
being the "one thing" of their lives, the accumulation of more and
more. Some will put power, influence, or their job as life's top priority.
Look at the number of young people, who put sports before everything else,
and the parents who support them in this pursuit. Jesus said, "but seek
ye first the
How shall we develop this attitude and properly make an eternity with God the "one thing" of our lives? First, come to the realization that life is short and very uncertain. This important truth is taught from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Even if we did not have a Bible, we would know that this is true. Our lives are short, while we live here and, therefore, we do not have the time to become preoccupied with the superficial and the trivial. We are to buy up every opportunity to work and serve the Lord, while we can (Eph. ). All of us need those times when we are engage in the recreational, however, we have matters out of focus, when the recreational occupies the main focus of our time, and attention and the Lord is given whatever we happened to have left over. Second, realize that our turning to Christ through an obedient faith is not the end, but the beginning. Because of this obedient faith, we have received forgiveness, as a present blessing, due to the benefits of the blood of Christ and the grace of God, and we have the present hope of salvation. We have been set free from the guilt of sin, so as to live for Christ and to serve Christ. As long as Paul was on this earth, he was going to do both to the very best of his ability. When we come to realize that our conversion to Christ is not the end, but the beginning, then this will help us to rearrange our priorities to make an eternity with God the "one thing" of our lives. Third, work at growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). Come to recognize the importance of the Bible, study it regularly and consistently. Secure good research tools that will help you in understanding the background of the Bible, as well as, the important words you will read. Read good literature that has been published about the Bible, as well as, crucial issues that arise concerning what the Bible teaches. Take the opportunity to learn from men of maturity, experience, and understanding. Fourth, in your study of the sacred scriptures come to realize how important the church of the Lord is. You should come to realize that the church is composed of people; learn just how important each member of the Lord's church is. You should come to learn that each member is a source of encouragement to you to live faithfully, as you should be to others. Fifth, make the conscious effort to remove yourself from being the center by remembering that there will be a time of reckoning one great day. Remind yourself that God will judge the world one day for what we have done, or failed to do (John 5:28-29; Acts 17:31; Rom. 14:10; II Cor. 5:10).
FORGETTING THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BEHIND ME, AND REACHING FORTH UNTO THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BEFORE ME (13)
There are two important considerations to be understood from this portion of the verse. First, Paul says that there must be forgetting that takes place, and second, there must be a reaching forth that takes place. First, Paul had many memories as a Jewish leader. To see this, simply refer to what he has already said about himself (see vv. 5-6). Yet, as a Christian, he had many accomplishments. He was an apostle of Christ, sometimes referred to as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was one, who had been persecuted for the cause of Christ. Paul, the apostle, had written by inspiration more books of the New Testament than any other single writer. However, as the text indicates, Paul never thought of himself as someone who would rest on previous accomplishments. The passage states that he forgot these matters, so as to focus on what was yet to be accomplished. Jesus was this way. He could have focused on what he had accomplished in the matter of salvation. He could have stopped to think of the sermons he had preached, the lessons to the multitudes he taught, and the mighty miracles he performed. Yet his focus was always on the cross.
We need to be this way. We need this forgetting and reaching attitude. Our attitude is often to remind ourselves, and others, of what we have done. We fail to remember that when we have done all that we can do, we are still unworthy (see Luke 15:10). We need to forget the past and realize that there is much yet to do. Consider this, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 congregations of the Lord in this country. This would mean something over one million members. Yet there are 260 million people in our nation today. We have a great deal yet to do. Of these 11,000 congregations we are sending out some 600 missionaries to the 5.8 billion people around the world. Which one can say that we have so arrived that we may now relax our efforts for the lord based on what has been accomplished? Even within our own respective congregations and our communities there is much to be done. We have work to do in strengthening the Lord's church at home. Stop and consider the inroads Satan has made into so many congregations. Consider the impact that we currently have and what is yet to be made on the respective communities of each of us. We have accomplished a great deal, yet, there is more to be done both in and out of the church.
Forgetting has another important aspect to it. As the passage indicates, Paul worked at forgetting the past, not only its accomplishments, but, also, its failures. This is an enormous help to children of God, who have failed in their work and service to God. Paul, at one time was Saul of Tarsus, one who had failed God (Rom. 7:18-19; II Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:8). Paul faced what each of us must face: failure and shortcoming; the struggle to forget it and to move on. How does one do this? By remembering that the future can and will erase the past, due to our repentance and God's forgiveness. That is why this reference to "reaching forth" with regard to the future is so important, as it is a means of forgetting the failures and concentrating on what can be accomplished. To concentrate on the past is a mistake; it is to be forgotten. The things of the future are to be the focus of our mind. We do not have the time, nor the energy, to be filled with stress and strain over sin that has been forgiven.
Second, Paul writes that he reaches forth to what is yet ahead. To "reach" refers to the idea of straining forward (epekteinomenos, "to strain," Gingrich, p.284). The runner at the end of the race is going for the finish line. The athlete does not merely coast to the end, rather, he strains to give it all he has. He is racing hard for the finish line. He has eyes for nothing but the goal. His hands are flailing, and even his body is somewhat curved, so as to be the first to cross the finish line. This is an appropriate metaphor of the Christian life. This image of running the race is laced throughout this significant Bible passage (Phil. 3:13-14). Paul realized that this race, a metaphor for Christian living, was not over (see II Tim. 4:6-8 where Paul at that time in his life anticipates the end of earthly life). That is why he would press on, not looking back.
I PRESS TOWARD THE MARK (14)
Much of what Paul says in this verse is based on what he has said in the previous verses. Because of these matters Paul presses on. By this he means that he pursues with the idea of speeding on earnestly. The imagery once again is the foot race. You donít just enter the race and run it. You give it everything you have. He says in this that he presses toward the mark. What is the mark? Is it just keeping peace with others? Is it running for a while, until he thinks he has gone far enough? The mark refers to the course that the contestants in the games would follow. The race in the ancient games was marked out by a line. The runners were to look at the mark frequently, which was the boundary of the race, lest they run out of bounds.4 Paul is saying, "I follow along the mark" (skopos, the distant mark looked at, the "goal," Thayer, p. 579, translated "prize," ASV). In other words, in running for the prize of righteousness he kept within the prescribed bounds; it is a marked out course of faith and holy living. To do this meant that he had suffered persecution and affliction along this route, but he did this without stopping in the middle of the race or running out of bounds. He was so determined to run all the way lawfully and legally, that he would be willing to die for the truth, if need be (see vs. 16; also Rev. 2:10). This was not the case with the false teachers, who were troubling the church (vs. 18). They were in fact enemies of the cross of Christ, due to the fact that they had corrupted the message of the gospel. Notice, also, the prepositions that Paul uses in this verse. The first one is "toward" which expresses the aim of the runner. The second is "for" or "unto" (better translated "unto" as it is in the ASV, instead of "for the prize" as in the KJV), which expresses the end of the race.5 Notice his reference to "the high calling of God" or the "upward calling" in the passage, which has reference to the prize itself: that being the living of eternal life with God in heaven. This is something that we begin to experience here, as we live our lives for Christ, but we will one-day come to experience this fully and completely in eternity. Therefore, it is God who sets before man the "mark-goal," which is the course of one's life. It is this divine course, the faithful living of the Christian life, that gives so much meaning to our work and direction to our lives. As Paul says, we must forget those things that are behind and keep in step with this divinely appointed mark or goal, that is, keep in step with God's divine revelation. The prize was what Paul was after, which would be presented to him by God, the ultimate judge of every life.6 The prize, eternal life, may be received only, if one throws his whole self into it. Hebrews 12:1 states, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily best us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." Closely related to this is I Cor. 9:25, "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."
There are a number of comparisons between the race and Paul's use of it to illustrate the Christian life. For instance, the contestant must be legally enrolled in the contest in order to win. The Christian must contend lawfully (II Tim. 2:5). Discipline is an absolute prerequisite of success; Christians must lay aside every weight and the ever-convenient sin in order to win (Heb. 12:1). Patience is required of both the athletic contestant and the Christian, endurance being necessary to win in both cases. The earthly contestant receives a perishable reward; the Christian an eternal reward (I Cor. 9:25). However, there comes a point, when the analogy becomes a contrast: only one receives the prize in an earthly contest, whereas in the matter of heaven, everyone may receive the gift, as my victory depends on my achievement and not the achievement of others. If we run well, we will win, in fact, each one who runs faithfully will win. How much better to run in such a race, where everyone may win, rather than just one.
Paul mentions the fact that this "high calling of God," eternal life, which we will one day receive, is to be found "in Christ Jesus." This, too, is a significant phrase, as there is no prize to be received outside of Chris--one must be found "in Christ." The only way that the scriptures teach that one may be found "in Christ" is for one to be baptized into Christ. Notice Galatians 3:27 states, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." In this passage Paul tells us what we are, that we are "children of God" (v. 26); he tells us where we are, "in Christ Jesus" (v. 26); and he tells us when we became children of God, when we were "baptized into Christ" (v. 27). Passages such as Ephesians 1:3 tell that all spiritual blessings are to be found "in Christ"; II Corinthians 5:17 relates the fact that if we are "in Christ", then we are considered as new creatures or a new creation, that is, a new man spiritually. Once again in Romans 6:3-4 reference is made to the fact that one is baptized into this new relationship with Christ. Faith, confession, and repentance are equally essential, of course, in enjoying the blessings that are to be found in Christ, however, it is the act of being baptized, immersed in water that is the "threshold" step, if you will, that makes that new relationship a reality.
The reader can see by now that Philippians 3:13-14 is certainly a key passage to the book of Philippians. While expressing Paul's thankfulness to the church for their help, he, also, exhorts the church (Phil. 3) in important matters pertaining to certain errors that they were facing. Paul insists that Christians are the true circumcision, the true people of God, and that having God's favor is not dependent upon the fleshly act of circumcision. Therefore, as with Paul, we do not have confidence in the flesh, but we look forward to the day, when we will attain unto that glorious resurrection referred to in the scriptures. We do not claim to have reached perfection, but we press on with purpose of heart; forgetting the things, which are behind, and reaching forth to the things ahead. We so live, realizing that our citizenship is in heaven, which we will one day, receive by the grace of God and by our obedient faith.
1. This article is primarily based upon the King James Version, unless otherwise indicated.
2. James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians (Austin, TX: Firm foundation Publishing House, 1977), pp. 249-336.
3. William Barclay, The Letters of the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonioans (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 80.
4. James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, One-Volume Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 368.
5. B. C. Caffin, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20, Philippians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 115.
6. David Lipscomb, A Commentary on NT Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), pp.208-209.
7. There have been several important works that have helped in the preparation of this material, such as the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV (Chicago: The Howard Severance Company, 1915), 2375; Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 764; Joseph Henry Thayer's, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., Gerhard Kittel, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).