Thoughts from Philippians 3:1-16.
We have just discussed several aspects of our spiritual walk that may need further development. A great passage of Scripture that complements these discussions is Philippians 3:1-16. This passage deals with the subject of “Managing Your Maturity.” We will discuss this topic for a few days.
In verses 2-3 Paul issues a warning. We must beware of those, among the Jews, who rely on circumcision in an attempt to become righteous. They often hurled epithets at the uncircumcised Gentile people. Paul answered them in strong terms. At the same time, he corrected their ideas about true circumcision. Those who have faith in Christ are those who are truly circumcised. This entire passage is addressed to us. It teaches us how to grow in the Lord and improve our relationship with Him.
To set the context for the lessons we can draw from this passage, let us begin by talking about the Great Exchange. When we make the great exchange, we exchange all our reliance on human factors and put our full faith and trust in Christ. Having made this exchange, the way ahead to spiritual maturity is very clear for us all.
We begin by rejecting all reliance on human flesh to save us. According to our text, Paul could have had much confidence in the flesh. If anyone could have relied on the flesh, he could have. In verses 4-6. Paul lists his qualifications in ever more exclusive concentric circles!
We must exchange all our righteousness for the righteousness of Christ. Christ is superior to all human heredity, environment, effort, and resumes. Nothing compares to Him (verses 7-9). Nothing about Paul in his past life brought him the righteousness he desired. By giving up all of that and having faith in Christ, he has obtained the righteousness of Christ. This is not the righteousness based on the Law, but that which is based on faith.
Sometimes we put a lot of confidence in the flesh. We tout our experience or our degrees. We take pride in our neighborhood and our friends. We drop names with ease. All of this may be OK, providing it is kept in the right perspective. However, it is only through faith that we have salvation. As believers we must make the choice; we must glory in Christ or human achievement. When we exchange all our effort for Christ’s gift of salvation, we can live with all confidence in Him.
More Thoughts on Philippians 3:1-16.
When we believe in Christ, we exchange our righteousness for His. This great exchange forms the basis for the maturity that Christ desires to see in us. So, now, we will turn to some principles that will help us build on this basis.
As Paul tells us in verses 10-11, he made the great exchange so “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Through the process of knowing Christ better, we become more like Him. We grow and develop in His image.
Paul wanted to know about Christ intellectually, I am sure, but also he wanted to know him experientially. After stating that he wants to know Christ personally and intimately, Paul mentions three things about Christ he wants to pursue:
(1) The power of His resurrection. In our walk with Christ, this is the power over sin and death. For example, during a conversion, people experience the power of a spiritual resurrection. They have new life. Later, at the time of the Lord’s return, believers will be resurrected from the dead to live eternally with the Lord.
(2) The fellowship of His sufferings. The suffering of Christ was that which He endured because of His purpose in atoning for sin and in bringing us to a place of salvation. The suffering is that which is necessary for the fulfilling of the will of God for our lives.
(3) Being conformed to His death. The sufferings we endure for the sake of the gospel help us more and more to conform to the Christ who suffered Gethsemane and the cross. Sometimes, we, too, have to go through great suffering. Also, we bear the imprint or marks of what that suffering won for us in our lives.
Now, Paul tells us why he wants to know Christ. He wants to know Him (verse11) “so that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul sought the Way that promised resurrection from the dead. Because he knows Christ, he will be resurrected to live with Christ. He will be glorified with Christ.
When we realize how well Paul already knew Christ, we are astonished that he makes this declaration now, near the end of his ministry. This just demonstrates that getting to know Jesus, and becoming like Him, is a life-long process.
We might have expected him to say this very early in his walk with Jesus. But now? After so long of a ministry and after enduring so much for the cause of Christ. Like Paul today, let us concentrate on knowing Christ.
More Thoughts from Philippians 3:1-16.
We are discussing how to manage your maturity. In my last “thoughts” we talked about the supreme importance of knowing Christ. The second step is to realize that we are not perfect, but we must press on toward the goal.
Paul said in verse 12, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” This verse expresses two sides of the same coin. On the one side, we realize that we have not yet become perfect. On the other side, we make known our determination to press on toward the goal.
First, we must realize that we are not perfect. Paul says (verse 12) that he has not already “obtained,” “attained,” or “received.” As the context indicates, he has not fully obtained maturity in his knowledge and experience of Christ. Paul says that he has not already “become perfect.” Then, in verse 13, Paul says he does not regard himself as having “laid hold” of complete maturity.
Wherever we are on our spiritual journey, we have to recognize that there is further to go. We have not yet fully arrived. Christ is the perfect standard by which all conduct is to be measured. Only Christ has attained that perfection. As one writer puts it, the only persons who can claim to be part of the “perfect ones” are those who know that running the race and seeking the goal is the only mark of perfection possible on earth.
Second, along with Paul, we must press on toward spiritual maturity. We must lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us. Christ saved us to be united with Him in eternal fellowship. He laid hold of us. We now must put Him first in our lives and become like Him. Paul will amplify this point in verse 14.
As in all of Pauline theology, we can say that an “already-not yet” condition exists about maturity. Later, in verse 15, Paul includes himself among those who are spiritual adults, but here he says that he has not yet fully arrived. He is already mature, but he has not yet arrived at complete maturity. So Paul is committed to pressing on toward the goal of maturity.
More Thoughts from Philippians 3:1-16.
As we manage our maturity, the first step is to know Christ. Second, we must realize we are not perfect, but do all we can to lay hold of complete maturity. Third, as Paul says in verse 13, we must forget those things that are behind us.
Paul says (verses 13-14): “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul does not explicitly say what he means by “forgetting what lies behind.” One possibility is that he had in mind his old life as described in verses 4 through 6. Paul had a lot of past wrong-doing to forget. No doubt many things in his past could have weighted him down with guilt. He was a very proud Pharisee. He was a persecutor of the church. He was a Christ denier. He put people to death. All of this, he had to forget and move on in his journey with Christ. In his new life, these things that he previously valued and took pride in were now evil.
Another thought is that he had in mind all the good things that happened in his ministry. Along with the good things came the hardships that Paul endured. All of this came with a lifetime of ministry, often in pioneer situations. There were great tests and greater victories. All of this, however, Paul puts behind him because he keeps his eyes on what the Lord still has for him to live and do.
Very likely by “forgetting” Paul simply means that we should keep our focus on the future and what is still to be done. In his book “Don’t Park Here” Fisher writes: “High up in the Swiss Alps there is a memorial tablet in honor of a famous climber who went out one day, never to return. Beneath his name are these simple words: ‘He died climbing.’” In our spiritual lives, this does not require us to absolutely “forget” the past, but only that we keep climbing toward the goal of spiritual maturity.
More Thoughts from Philippians 3:1-16.
We have been discussing how to manage our spiritual maturity. In our walk with Christ (1) we must focus on knowing Christ, (2) we must realize that we have not fully arrived at complete maturity, (3) we must forget those things that are behind, and (4) We must press on toward the goal and live up to what we know. Today, we will focus on pressing on toward the goal.
In verse 14 Paul amplifies the last part of verse 12. He says more about pressing on toward the goal. He states: “I press on toward the goal [mark] for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul employs athletic imagery to make his point. We can see the runner straining toward what is ahead. His eyes are focused on the finish line. At the finish line is the “goal marker” that was the focus of the runner’s eyes as he runs the race. At the end of a race, the winner is called from the floor of the stadium to the judge’s seat to receive the prize, which includes a wreath of leaves.
To understand this statement, we need to consider the goal, the prize, and the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. First, the goal (literally “mark”) that Paul has in mind is complete maturity in Christ. Christ is the model of the perfection that Paul seeks. Paul is righteous in Christ in an objective sense, but in his experience, he must grow in his maturity. He wants to have complete experiential maturity in Christ.
Second, the prize was identified by Paul in verse 11 as the resurrection from the dead. The resurrection from the dead includes all that follows after the resurrection. The resurrection is the entry into eternal life in the presence of Christ. All of the benefits of heaven are graciously bestowed. Not least among the benefits will be the “crown of righteousness” that Paul (I Timothy 4:8) will receive. Maturity in Christ will be bestowed.
Third, it is God who calls us upward with the resurrection and all that goes with it in view. While on earth, the apostle Paul was running the race. He ran it in obedience to the upward call of God. All that he did was in harmony with what the future held for him. He knew that God would graciously give him the prize. He answered the upward call!
All who believe in Christ are called to eternal life with Him. We who run the race will receive that prize at the resurrection. Meanwhile, we are living for Christ and are doing those things that the upward call demands that we do. We are obedient to this call even now. As Paul exhorted: “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”
More Thoughts from Philippians 3:1-16.
Before we turn to another text, let’s summarize Paul’s message to us from this passage. Paul begins this chapter by talking about the great exchange. When we believe in Christ, we exchange all of our “righteousness” for the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s righteousness becomes the basis for our spiritual maturity.
From the point of faith forward, we must manage our maturity. In our walk with Christ: (1) We must focus on knowing Christ, (2) We must realize that we have not fully arrived at complete maturity, (3) We must forget those things that are behind, and (4) We must press on toward the goal and live up to what we know.
As Paul says, he had exchanged his righteousness for Christ’s so: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Through the “power of His resurrection,” we can live victorious lives. This does not mean that we can avoid all suffering. Rather, on the way to victory, we are sustained through trials. Just as Christ suffered, we sometimes suffer. When we do, we experience “the fellowship of His suffering.”
The challenge for all of us is to keep on maturing spiritually through suffering and victories. Each life stage has its special challenges. Also, some challenges span the life stages. At each step of “the way” we have to commit our lives totally to God and seek His will.
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;
3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
4 although I might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gained to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss given the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God based on faith,
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
11 so that I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching 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 us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you;
16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.