Phil 3:12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers and sisters, 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, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
My first sermon, and I use the word very loosely, was when I was 17 at a church youth rally. It was supposed to be based on Philippians 4:13, but in reality it was a hodgepodge of quotes and stories that I memorized from a litany of my Dad’s Zig Ziglar motivation tapes and very little scripture! I had never heard the word exegetical at that time, and couldn’t spell exegesis, much less employ it in a sermon at that early stage of my life and ministry. I probably thought I was Billy Graham at the time, but it wasn’t too long before I realized what Paul said a chapter earlier was the real “rubber meets the road” exhortation that I needed to learn and apply to my life and attitude.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use those old Zig Ziglar quotes from time to time, and in a very real way I wasn’t too far off the mark regarding the central message that Paul and other Biblical writers were constantly telling the first generation of the Christian faith, and that was don’t give up, finish the race, hold fast, and press on! But without a doubt, as Paul stated in the passage above, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…” I had a lot to learn about sermonizing and how to exegete a passage of scripture properly, and I think, perhaps, there are a few even here in our virtual world of forum debates that may think me in need of a few more lessons: frankly, I agree. And so do we all! So let’s spend a moment a flesh out what Paul can teach us from Phil 3:12-14.
The first thing I see, is that we must be truthfully humble. We chuckle, at least I do, that Moses said of himself, that “Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth!” (Numbers 12:3) But Paul acknowledged that he had not yet “obtained” or “taken hold of” or “arrived at” his ultimate goal or desire. Paul does not see himself as better than those to whom he was writing. He is putting himself on par with all believers, he is one of the gang, not different than or above anyone else.
This should be each one of our attitudes regarding our Christian walk and growth. Nobody has arrived while still in human flesh. If this is so, then what do we do? Paul tells us his point of action.
Paul says, “I press on to take hold”. The word for “press on” is the Greek word διώκω (dioko), which is a very interesting word. Used in a positive sense, as it is here, it means to go after something aggressively, as a hunter seeks his prey. If the word has a negative intent, it means to persecute aggressively.
Paul is taking a very deliberate and intensely motivated action to “take hold” of the object of his desire. καταλαμβάνω means to “seize tight hold of”, to grasp forcefully with intent to make something your own. This is a conscious effort on Paul’s part to ensure, for his part, that he gets that which he has sought for so long, but it is not only what he has wanted for himself, but also that for which God wanted him.
καταλαμβάνω is used a second time, not describing what Paul seeks to take hold of, but rather, “of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” This speaks of the purpose of God for Paul, and all other believers, and is notable in its contrast with the first usage of the verb, namely, that Paul is the object “taken hold of” and not the one doing the seizing. Paul was taken hold of by Christ for a reason, a purpose, and Paul, in response to this action, takes the same mantle of purpose for himself to make sure that the desired result will indeed occur. Paul realized that perseverance is necessary even for an Apostle, to receive the prize. And he was not going to insult the grace of God that took hold of him on the road to Damascus!
And this is Paul’s resolve: “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 Paul, and for any one of us, success spiritually boils down to this– focused prioritizing! Paul calls it “this one thing”, but it is really two sides of a singular coin: Forgetting what lies behind, and ” straining toward” what is yet ahead, which is the same Greek word as earlier in vs 12, διώκω (dioko), press on toward.
I like the 2011 NIV use of straining, because it reminds us that though we are assured of victory, only those who finish the race well win the prize, and any marathon runner knows that the hardest part in the race is the last few miles, and the runner has to strain against fatigue and dehydration to keep moving one foot in front of the other to cross the finish line. A champion in any arena knows that there are lesser things that have to be left behind and put out of mind to train sufficiently to run the entire race well enough to finish, well enough to win the prize, the βραβεῖον!
But what exactly is the prize? What is worth leaving all behind to run the race fully? Paul states this in the verses just before our text, Philippians 3:7-11: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
There are three things that Paul is straining toward: 1) gaining the surpassing worth of knowing Christ fully, 2) that he might gain Christ and be found in him, and 3) to attain to the resurrection of the dead. All of these things are related to gaining eternal life!
Paul’s message is the prize is worth pressing on, straining as it may be at times, and that finishing is absolutely necessary to gain it! As the old gospel song goes, “onward to the prize before us…when we all get to heaven…we’ll sing and shout the victory”!
The Runner’s Prayer
Grant grace that we may finish well the race
To gain the prize for which we all have run
Give strength and stamina to keep the pace
And focus til the victory is won!
Allow my eyes to see the things of worth
Compared to lesser things that hearts may love;
Lord may I long for heaven more than earth
And store my treasures up in vaults above.
Let not my legs grow weary when the miles
Grow longer as I strain to reach the end;
To persevere and not seek to defile
The grace you’ve shown to name me as your friend!
You’ve chosen me and placed me in this race
And when I win it will by your grace!
© D. Allen Jenkins