I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 NLT
Paul is the one who wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). He knew that discontentment was a dangerous thing in the life of a believer. The context of that verse is important to understanding what Paul was saying. He was addressing the love of money and the mistaken understanding of some in the church who believed that a life of godliness was going to bring them financial gain. Paul was telling Timothy that godliness should produce contentment in the life of a believer, not an insatiable desire for worldly goods. If you have something to wear and food to eat, that should be enough to keep you content and satisfied.
But there was also a part of Paul that was constantly dissatisfied. He displayed a divine discontentment, but it had nothing to do with material things. His discontentment was spiritual in nature. Paul was never willing to rest on his laurels or grow content with and complacent about his spiritual maturity. He was always striving toward a deeper and greater relationship with Christ. He wanted to know Him more intimately, conform to Him more completely, and reflect His holiness more readily. Paul was far from content when it came to his spiritual life, and he expected other believers to share his passion for ever-increasing perfection. Paul knew he had been justified completely by Christ and would one day be glorified with Christ. But in the meantime, his attitude was, “I press on to possess the perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12b NLT). The Greek word Paul uses that is translated “press on” is dioko, and it means “to pursue, to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire.” It is an active verb that was used of a runner competing in a race who runs swiftly to reach a goal. Paul knew that he would one day be made perfect in Christ when he experienced glorification with Christ. But that was a future event that would take place at his death or with the Lord’s return. So in the meantime, Paul pursued perfection. He was not content to remain as he was. The goal for Paul was always Christ-likeness – ever-increasing conformity to the character and nature of Christ. He knew that the goal would only be achieved at the end of his life or at the return of Christ, but he kept his eyes focused on the end line.
Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). The Greek word for goal is skopos, and it means “goal marker, the object at the end of the course on which the runner fixes his gaze.” For Paul the goal was not heaven, but complete knowledge of Christ and conformity to His image. Paul wanted all believers to share that same goal. He didn’t want them to get distracted by the things of this world. His desire was that their lives would be possessed by a holy discontentment, not a worldly one. That’s why he described some “whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:18-19 NLT). There were a growing number of individuals outside and inside the early church who were “anti-law.” They believed that it really didn’t matter how a Christian lived their life because they were saved. There was no law. They took the idea of freedom from the law to an unhealthy extreme. These people were driven by their passions. They were shameless and obsessed with the things of this life. Their satisfaction was based on earthly, temporal things. Any discontentment they experienced was only because they wanted more of what this world had to offer.
But Paul reminds his readers, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). Paul reminded them to remember who they were and what the real goal was. They were to never forget about their future glorification and perfection. And in the meantime, they were to live with a healthy sense of divine discontentment, keeping their eyes on the goal and running towards it with everything they had in them.
Father, it is so easy to make this life and all that it offers, the goal. We can so easily become transfixed by the things of this world and end up seeking them more than we do our relationship with Christ. Paul was never content to stay where he was spiritually. He was always striving, pursuing, eagerly seeking, and working his way toward the final goal. He was not content to wait for his future glorification, but made knowing Christ and conforming to His image, his lifelong obsession. May that be true of me as well. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men