Eye On the Prize

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. – Philippians 3:12-21 ESV

Paul has just expressed the motivating factor behind his life: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…” (Philippians 3:11 ESV). For Paul, this knowledge of Christ was to include a personal and tangible experience of the divine power that raised Jesus from the dead. This remarkable resource came in the form of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As Paul told the believers in Rome, “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). The power made available by the Spirit of God within him was producing spiritual fruit in Paul’s life: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities were the direct result of the Spirit’s presence and power, not Paul’s own self-effort.

But Paul knew that the resurrection power made available by the Holy Spirit had an even more significant aspect to it that he longed to experience: His own physical resurrection from the dead. Paul had a long-term or eternal perspective. He knew that there was much more to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ than what we experience in this earthly life. Yes, Paul was fully aware that the resurrection power he longed to experience would have short-term, in-this-lifetime ramifications. It would produce spiritual fruit and provide the power we need to live new lives in Christ.

For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

But Paul also knew that there was more. And he longed to experience the full scope of that resurrection power in his life.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

And in his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul explained what it will mean to be raised to life as Jesus was.

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NLT

And the apostle John explains that, while we cannot fully comprehend the nature of our final resurrected state, it is something for which we should eagerly long.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

So, Paul was striving to live in the power of the Spirit in this life, but longing to experience the transformative power of the Spirit that comes in death. He maintained a delicate balance between his thoughts on the here-and-now and the hereafter.

And now, Paul confesses to the Philippian believers that he is far from perfect. In other words, he had not yet attained all that he longed for. He was a work in process. But he had an unflinching desire to pursue and experience all that Christ had died to make available to him.

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 NLT

He uses the Greek word, diōkō, which has a range of meanings. It carries the idea of physical exertion and effort. It is not a passive word. It could mean “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing.” It would also refer to someone running in a race who used all their available energy to reach the finish line. Paul wasn’t sitting back and waiting for heaven. But he also wasn’t waiting for the Holy Spirit to do all the work. He knew he had a part to play in the process of his spiritual transformation.

Paul had a singular focus in life: To become like Christ. He wanted to “possess that perfection” that Christ had in mind for him. He wanted to experience all that his new life in Christ had to offer.  Which is why he says, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14 NLT). Notice where his attention is fixed: On the prize, the finish line. Paul is not insinuating that our glorification is somehow tied to our self-effort in this life. He is not teaching that we have to somehow earn our way into heaven. He is simply emphasizing that he wanted what God wanted. He understood that God had an eternal reward in store for him, and he would not be satisfied with anything less. He would not allow himself to be distracted by the things of this earth.

And Paul urged the Philippians to follow his example.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. – Philippians 3:17 NLT

Paul wasn’t bragging. He wasn’t holding himself up as some icon of spiritual virtue. He was simply encouraging them to live with the same focus on the finish line that he had. And he warns them that there were plenty of other examples they could follow that would only leave them disappointed and defeated in their spiritual lives.

…there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. – Philippians 3:18-19 NLT

Notice his emphasis on conduct. As followers of Christ, we cannot attempt to separate our behavior from our belief. The two go hand in hand. They are to be inseparable. And yet, Paul warns that there are those within the Philippian church whose conduct, if followed will end up in destruction. The Greek word Paul uses is apōleia, and while it can refer to damnation or eternal destruction, it can also be translated as “waste” or “ruin.” Keep in mind the metaphor of running a race that Paul has utilized. These are individuals who fail to finish the race well. They find themselves distracted along the way and, rather than victory, they experience defeat. Is this a reference to a loss of their salvation?  Highly unlikely, since Paul believed that salvation was the work of Jesus Christ. As he told the believers in Ephesus: “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). And Jesus Himself promised, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT).

What Paul seems to be referring to are those within the Philippian church who were living lives of licentiousness. They were what became known as antinomians, which simply means anti-law. They held a view that was diametrically opposed to the Judaizers. One group were legalists, putting far too much weight on keeping the law. The other side simply said the law no longer mattered and taught that we could live however we wanted to live. This mindset had serious ramifications and Paul points the danger behind this anything-goes mentality.

Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

Jude had some strong words for this group as well.

But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. – Jude 1:10 NLT

Paul pulls no punches when he states that their “conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18 NLT). Their conduct did not match their confession. Their behavior didn’t line up with their expressed belief. They lived for the here-and-now, failing to focus their energies and attentions on the long-term goal God had in mind.

And Paul leaves his audience with little doubt as to his point in all of this. He wants them to live with purpose. He wants them to conduct their lives according to their newfound status as citizens of heaven. That is their home. That is their destiny.

…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 is not suggesting that they be so heavenly minded that they end up being of no earthly good. He is not calling them to live with the heads in the sky. But he is calling them to live with their eyes firmly fixed on the finish line. They are running a race that will require that they maintain their focus. They will have to strain and strive in this life. They will have to fight off exhaustion and ignore the pain and suffering that comes along the way. And Paul brings it all full-circle, reminding his brothers and sisters in Christ that the point of it all is the day when we will all experience the power of the resurrection.

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That’s the goal. That’s the prize. And that should be the very thing that keeps us running the race to win.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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