The Expository Files

Onward & Upward

Philippians 3:12-16


In the writings we have from the apostle Paul, not only do we have good, objective instruction about how we ought to live as God's people, there is also the example of the man, the apostle Paul. He gives us precepts and principles from God. He tells us about the specifics of following Christ. There is useful instruction about the local church. But also, there is the example of the man. In the following text, the principles of Christ taught by Paul are reflected in his personal attitude about both his past and future.

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

Before I get to this text, take note of these things in the context:

Paul issues a warning in the opening verse of chapter three and in giving this warning, he indicates the use or value of repetition: "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation." To repeat what you have already said, or to review a warning previously given may seem to be tedious - both to the writer and the speaker. Paul admits that, but he goes ahead to re-state this warning - for their safety. {Repetition and review is spiritually safe.}

This warning about evil workers is stated in terms familiar to us. It is like the sign you may see in front of a home or yard: Beware of Dog. In this case - not just a single dog, but many evil workers. Paul said, beware of dogs. Concerning the issue of circumcision and the claims of Jewish loyalists - Paul makes a statement about that, and this involves his own conversion from Judaism.

"For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness of the law, blameless."

Paul, before his conversion, was not just another person in the Jewish religion. If I can use the term, Paul was no "laymen" in Judaism. He was a leader, and this was his resume; his credentials. In the traditional, institutional Jewish religion this is what mattered: Birth, Blood, Tribe, Heritage and Militance. Paul is telling the Philippians - I had everything that mattered in Judaism. He especially had the zeal: "persecuting the church," and upholding the strict human legalism of the Pharisees. This is the status that Paul enjoyed in the institutionalized Jewish religion.

But, as stated with confidence in verse 7 - He gave it all up: "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ." When Saul of Tarsus witnessed the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, there was at some point in that encounter, a personal reassessment. The decision was difficult, the results of personal suffering were predictable - but in hearing the gospel he could clearly see that his advanced status in Judaism meant nothing, in comparison to "the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus."

What he found in Christ was far greater than what he had gained among men in the Jewish religion. In his former life he attained status and the esteem of men. Now, he would "attain to the resurrection from the dead." The contextual flow brings us to these words:

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

Wouldn't you agree - Paul had a very clear view of his future. I do not mean that he knew the future as God knows the future. I do not mean Paul knew all the daily details of what would happen to him. When I say that Paul had a very clear view of his future I mean, Paul knew what he would do; his attitude and perspective was plain and firm.

What a tremendous advantage we have If our heart contains this kind of determination. Regardless of what we may be going through today or what may happen tomorrow that we cannot see; what strength we can have now if we will try harder to have this commitment, written by Paul in Phil. 3:12-16. These four things stand out in the passage:

Pressing On
In the study of the New Testament and in the study of all the Bible, we may be tempted to develop an appetite that is limited to what we classify as the deep teachings of Scripture. We ought to dig deep. We should seek to grow in our knowledge. And to dig deeply into Scripture can be a richly rewarding labor. But let us never neglect the simple imperatives that demand our attention every day; look at the first two words in verse 14: I Press!

Marvin Vincent is quoted in a little booklet written by L.A. Mott: bro. Mott says, "Marvin Vincent has a great line about Philippians 3:13f: 'The whole passage is full of movement, onward and upward'." Now this simple imperative in Phil. 3:14 is what Christians must get up and do everyday -- press on. The devil wants us to think we cannot press on. The devil sends us these subtle thoughts and messages in his efforts to convince us otherwise.

We have to decide -- perhaps every day when we get up -- "I will press on, regardless of how bad it gets, I will press on." You know what this implies? It implies pressure. So long as we live here on the earth we are under pressure. This is life on the earth: stress, pressure, temptation, trials and disappointments. The Christian will press on anyway.

Forgetting
In the ordinary routine of daily life we do not consider forgetfulness to be any virtue. The busier we are and perhaps the older we are, the more distressing it is to forget things. We are disappointed and we may disappoint others when we forget things. But here is a case where forgetfulness is a virtue; it is valuable and recommended.

You know, once something is done, what are your options?

If you have done something wrong, you can recognize it, repent of it, ask God to forgive you and be thankful for the pardon Jesus died for us to have. If you have done something right, you can remember that deed with pleasure and continue along the upright pathway. If somebody has done something to hurt you, you can take up the problem with the offender. If you are not willing to do that, you can ask God to help you get over it, and go on with your life. If you have done something to hurt somebody, you can take responsibility for that sin and make it right with the injured party.

The wisdom of God's Word teaches us these mature options we have about the past. But it is never recommended that we let the pain of the past keep us from the duty of today!! Here in Phil. 3:13 this word "forgetting" translates a Greek word that means to neglect. Now again, this is contrary to what we ordinarily think. When we think of forgetting or neglecting we do not think of virtues. But there are times and there are topics of memory worthy of neglect; let them go; do not be hindered by the pain of the past.

By all means do whatever you can and should do to deal with sin, and do whatever you can and should do to deal with sin in others. Learn from your own experience and your own history. But we must let go of things that hinder us. We must pray for strength and help from God to forget those things which are behind. What is urgent is the challenge of the day, not the clutter of the past.

Reaching Forward
Let's make a connection here. The connection is made in the text. We should associate forgetting with reaching forward. In all sorts of relationships there comes a time when healing can only take place, when you forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead. In marriages, friendships and local churches this is true. Sometimes, the only way for the necessary healing to take place is to forget and reach forward.

When trusts have been broken...
when damage has been done...
when feelings have been hurt...
things have been said and done to disrupt and create distance --
If everybody involved would just find the humility to confess their sin, admit their neglect, make the apologies, go the extra mile, and then forget it, get over it, and reach forward to those things that are ahead.

Isn't this why Jesus said, in Matt. 5, "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift," and in this context He said -- "Agree with your adversary quickly!" (Note -- quickly, not eventually!). All of this teaching from the Lord about dealing with problems, reconciling, forgiving and making amends; add to this all the instruction we have about humility, lowliness of mind, patience, being longsuffering and taking care to avoid resentment. All of this sometimes requires of people - on all sides of a matter -- to forget what is behind, and reach forward "to the things which are before."

And beyond the matter of relationships and reconciliation there is the personal pursuit of spiritual excellence and growth that should motivate us. We do not reach a place where we can stop growing. Paul said, "I count not myself yet to have laid hold." However impressive our past growth may have been -- we must press on and stretch forward.

Walking By the Same Rule
I know you have noticed - in your reading and study -- the prominence of this figure of speech: Walking. When Paul wrote about our behavior, our direction and progress in life he often used the figure of walking. It is appropriate because walking involves - action toward a destination. {See this figure in Rom. 4:12; 6:4; Eph. 4:1 and Col. 2:6,7.}

Here in Phil. 3:16 - what are we doing? We are walking by the same rule. Action toward a destination. The emphasis here is on the rule, the standard by which we walk. God has defined the action that leads to the right destination. In His Word He has defined the action we should take, so that we arrive at the destination in view. The call goes out: Let us walk by the same rule.

Let us not hesitate to say: There is a pattern God has given; there is a rule book; and in our efforts to please God individually and collectively - we must follow God's rules. Paul said in another place, "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules," (2 Tim. 2:5). We ought not to try and decorate this, change this, mis-represent it or minimize it. The phrase is, "according to the rules." "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17).

Here in Philippians chapter three, we cannot make the progress referred tohere; we cannot move onward and upward unless we walk by the same rule. In His Word, He has defined the action we should take, so that we arrive at the destination in view.

I hope this study will help us to reach greater heights. You begin by obeying the gospel.

(Resource - Thinking Through Philippians by L.A. Mott, Jr.)


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.4; April 2001
 



 





 

 

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