Title: Pressing On
Text: Philippians 3:7-16
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.
We need to be mindful of our context as we begin this text. Paul, in the preceding verses has been discussing his Jewish resume, his accomplishments, and his former position. Yes, he was an accomplished man, well-educated, influential and a member of the ruling elite of his day, and he has given all of that up to follow Christ.
Here, almost talking like an accountant, he is writing off losses and seeking gains. What is it that he considers to be losses? His former life, its accomplishments and position. We need to recognize that he isn’t lamenting his loss of position and all the rest, he is considering these things, his training, his accomplishments and position as losses in and of themselves. Those things he declares in verse 8 to be “garbage”. His training is garbage, his accomplishments are garbage, his former position is garbage, not the fact that he has given them up.
Why did he give them up? Simple, he gave up everything he had for Christ. In all of those former things, Paul was trying to attain righteousness by his own power and effort; now he has obtained God’s righteousness through his faith in Jesus Christ. It would seem that in Paul’s estimation, he has attained a very strong bottom line as a result. Check out verse 10: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Interesting isn’t it, how he has tied together knowing Christ with “the power of his resurrection, and participation in his sufferings” and death. Then, notice in verse 11 how he links this with the attainment of His resurrection and eternal life. It would seem that Paul’s whole point is that those attainments of this life, when compared to resurrection and eternal life, are just garbage; utterly worthless.
In light of all this, how should we look at our earthly life, its achievements, its positions, its ‘glories’? If we dare to follow Paul’s example, then they must all be nothing more than garbage!
OK, so maybe we aren’t willing to follow Paul’s radical example. Yet maybe we should rethink this, for Paul was following Jesus’ example, just like we are supposed to be doing.
Not 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. Brothers 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul was just telling us about giving up his past to follow Christ to salvation and eternal life, and you will recall that he called all of his past accomplishments “garbage” in comparison to what he would gain as a follower of Jesus. Now, in some of the most memorable verses in the whole New Testament, Paul tells us that he still has a way to go before he will reach his goal. Before we get into these verses, I would like to remind you that he is still speaking in the context of being “worthy of the gospel” which is a theme he began back in the first chapter.
Verse 12 is quite telling: Not 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. If we aren’t careful, we might misunderstand this verse. At first glance, it would seem to mean that Paul hasn’t yet arrived at Christ-like perfection, and that would be true. However, is that what Christ took hold of Paul for? Is that what He took hold of you for? Is that why Christ died on the cross? No, it clearly is not why Christ “took hold” of Paul or any of us, for in order for Christ to take hold, He first had to die, so we need to take the cross into account. As I see it, the key to understanding this lies back in verses 10-11: 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. Why did Christ die on the cross? It was for forgiveness of sins, that we might receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and to be able to have a relationship with us. What was Paul’s goal in all of this, and what is he urging us to embrace? The same thing (Phil. 3:11). Paul has not yet attained the goal of eternal life; he is still alive in the body, so there is still work to on this earth.
Let’s be careful that we don’t stray too far from the path here; it isn’t that Paul is seeking to earn his salvation, for that is assured through grace by faith. Paul is still in this life concerned with his response to salvation, and that’s where being Christlike comes in. Paul’s goal is eternity, his journey to eternity is by imitating Christ and spreading the gospel, and by the way, that’s our journey as well. See how all of this comes together? Simple!
Brothers 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Thus, Paul ties this together for us with a rallying cry that has spanned two millennia, thrilling the followers of Jesus, encouraging all of us to strive to take the gospel to the nations, and moving us to minister to one another in His love. This is where Paul takes his stand, and this is where we stand with him for the cause of Christ.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Following his great rallying cry of verses 12-14, Paul will make a plea to the Philippians and by extension to us, to continue forward in Christ. He begins with these two verses. This is a transition into his exhortation for us to follow his example. You can see that by the way he links the two sections with the first sentence, yes; we who are mature should take the view that he has expressed, and if we find ourselves disagreeing on some point, don’t worry for God will sort things out. I sure wish more Christians in our time would take this view!
Notice he goes on to urge us to live up to what we have already attained, which moves us to his larger exhortation. Before we get to that exhortation, maybe we should ask ourselves what it is that we have attained. By our faith we have entered relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and received forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. In chapter one he urged us to be “worthy of the gospel” and now he urges us to “live up to what we already attained”.