Pressing on toward the goal: Happy New Year, 2023 – Philippians 3:12-21

01 Jan

What if you had $1,440 in the bank that you had to spend every day? None of it could be carried over to the next day. It would not be easy to use that money wisely!

The fact is, each of us does have 1,440 minutes every day to use for some purpose. If you live through next year, you’ll have 8,760 hours to spend. Allowing eight hours per day for sleep and eight more for work, meals, and commuting time (we’re not figuring in days off), it only leaves 2,920 hours.

New Year’s Day inherently brings with it the proverbial “clean slate”- a chance to start over, a chance to review, refresh and begin again – 365 new days. Looking back in order to move forward is a reasonable way to begin this New Year.

So, before rushing fast lane mode into 2023, let’s take a deep breath, set aside a few moments to review and to determine. Notice both God and His hand in your life in 2022. Determine – how do you want to move forward? What soul-nourishing practices will you continue or add? What is God inviting you into in this New Year 2023?

To our text: Paul changed from accounting language to athletic language, saying that his goal was to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all Christ had in mind for him.

This goal absorbed all Paul’s energy. This provides a helpful example. We should not let anything take our eyes off our goal—knowing Christ. With the single-mindedness of an athlete in training, we must lay aside everything harmful and forsake anything that may distract us from being effective Christians. What is holding you back?

3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.NIV Obtain can mean to take hold of, to receive, to make one’s own, to apprehend in the moral or spiritual sense. So Paul may have been saying that he had not fully grasped all the meaning of Christ in his life. There is more to receive by pressing on. The power of Christ in Paul’s life aroused him to want to know Christ better, and this would take a lifetime.

Paul saw the Christian life as a process. While believers are considered righteous when they accept salvation, their entire lives are marked by growth toward Christlikeness. Complete perfection will not be obtained until Christ’s second coming, when he will take his people with him. While Paul may have seemed like a nearly perfect Christian to his Philippian friends, he emphasized that he had not obtained perfect knowledge of Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering, and conformity to his death (3:10). All of these were part of the process of sanctification—of getting to know Christ better and better as he lived the Christian life. And even Paul, despite all his sufferings and victories for Christ, still had much to learn. He had not yet been made perfect. He knew that only upon Christ’s return would all believers be made perfect in knowledge and experience, but he was willing to press on to take hold of the goal—living and working for Christ—because of what Christ had done for him. “Pressing on” is a hunting term meaning to chase or hunt down. Christ Jesus took hold of Paul almost thirty years earlier when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus. Christ laid hold of Paul so that Paul could lay hold of the prize—knowing Christ completely.


True Christian faith is often called a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, and no verse describes it better than this. A relationship requires two persons, each actively searching, seeking, and building a bond between them.
In your spiritual life, God takes the initiative (Christ takes hold of us), then we enter into it (pressing on) to pursue all that our new friendship offers. We are truly relating to each other, together pursuing God’s goal for all creation—eternal life free of all pain, all death, all sin. Are you pressing on, taking responsibility for your progress in faith and character? What steps are you taking to know Christ better?

3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.NRSV Paul had not yet attained perfection or complete knowledge of Christ. Unlike the Judaizers, Paul did not consider that he had achieved spiritual maturity; he was not perfect, but he lived in absolute confidence of his ultimate salvation. Christians know they will be saved, yet they must have perfection as their goal (Matthew 5:48) while not pretending that sin does not exist (1 John 1:8). Like Paul, they should not dwell on the past. The past should not be used as a barrier to the future, as an excuse for dropping out, or for avoiding proper spiritual conduct in their relationship with God. Believers should be devoted to God whatever their present circumstances (Luke 9:62; 17:31-32) and should strain forward to what lies ahead. Paul would forget his past with all its credentials and accomplishments (and sins) and, like a runner in a race with his whole body reaching for the finish line, would press on toward the goal (3:14).


We have all done things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the tension of what we have been and what we want to be. Because our hope is in Christ, however, we can let go of past guilt and look forward to what God will help us become. Don’t dwell on your past. Instead, grow in the knowledge of God by concentrating on your relationship with him now. Realize that you are forgiven, and then move on to a life of faith and obedience. Look forward to a fuller and more meaningful life because of your hope in Christ.


3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.NRSV As a runner straining every effort toward the finish line, Paul pressed on toward the goal. In Greek athletic games, the winner’s prize was a garland or palm branch. While Paul didn’t identify the prize, it seems from his writing above that the prize refers to gaining full knowledge of Jesus Christ (see also 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul aimed to win the prize, but all who finish the race win it as well. The full knowledge of Christ is the final prize for which believers gladly lay aside all else.

  • Yet because of Paul’s use of the metaphor of athletic games, it seems more natural to understand the “call” as the calling of athletes up to the winner’s stand. Thus, the heavenly call is the summons to win the victor’s prize of salvation.


Like a dedicated athlete, Paul wanted to run the race and gain full knowledge of Christ. The first-time marathon runner has periodic thoughts about quitting, especially during the last six miles. By then, the novelty of the experience has faded to the dull regularity of the pace; early adrenaline has given way to soreness and fatigue. Others around him or her are limping along, and some have dropped out entirely.
But dedicated runners must keep going. Somewhere out there is a finish line. Ask yourself these questions:
What kind of race are you running for Christ?
What prize do you seek?
What kind of opposition do you face in your struggle to live as a Christian?
How can Christ help you stay on track and reach the goal?
What spiritual workout or training this week will help you run your Christian marathon?
In what way can you renew your commitment to press on toward the goal of being like Christ?

3:15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.NIV After Paul described his spiritual goals, he explained to the Philippians that all mature believers should take such a view. That is, they too ought to be pressing on toward the goal. Mature believers would understand that they could not, in their own humanity, gain perfection and acceptance by God (as opposed to the teachings of the Judaizers). Yet because of their love for Christ, they willingly pressed on to follow his example in order to become more like him in life, all the while knowing that they were promised to know him fully upon their death (or his return).

And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.NIV This verse betrays some of the problems that faced the Philippian church. Spiritual pride had found its way into some of the believers; apparently a few felt that they had reached a holier status than their fellow believers, causing them to look down on those whom they thought less “mature.” Yet Paul made clear that those who were truly mature were those who realized their dependence on God. They pressed on, not to make themselves good enough or to gain credentials by their accomplishments; rather, they pressed on to know their Savior better. Whatever problem of pride threatened to divide the Philippian church, Paul stopped it. This was the final word on the matter; Paul invoked the illumination of God himself to clarify the truth of his words to those who thought differently. Those who were mature were to be committed to what Paul had said. And to anyone who thought differently about minor points, God would clarify the truth. God would lead them to the truth if they would keep their minds open.


Sometimes trying to live a perfect Christian life can be so difficult that it leaves us drained and discouraged. We may feel so far from perfect that we can never please God with our lives. Paul used “perfect” (3:12) to mean mature or complete, not flawless in every detail. Those who are mature should press on in the Holy Spirit’s power, knowing that Christ will reveal and fill in any discrepancy between what we are and what we should be. Christ’s provision is no excuse for lagging devotion, but it provides relief and assurance for those who feel driven.

3:16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.NIV Christian maturity involves acting on the guidance that we have already received. Live up (stochein) is a military term meaning “to keep in line” or “to keep step.” Paul knew the believers were in different stages, but everyone needed to be faithful to what they understood. The Christian community needed to march forward together. Paul did not want the believers in Philippi to fail to live up to what they already had been taught. As they pressed on toward the goal, they should not use their lack of complete knowledge as an excuse for taking lightly what they knew or for getting sidetracked. They should continue to learn and grow, while at the same time govern their lives by the light they had already received. Believers must live up to what they already know before they can expect to learn more.

3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.NRSV Paul used these two key words for discipleship: “imitate” and “example.” “Imitate” means not only to become like but also to obey. “Example” means a model or blueprint to use as a pattern for your life. Paul challenged the Philippians to pursue Christlikeness by imitating Paul’s own example and the examples of others whose lives were based on his (those “mature” believers in 3:15). This was not egotism on Paul’s part, for Paul always focused on Jesus Christ and urged the believers to also follow the example of others who followed Christ. They should not follow false teachers or the enemies of the cross (3:18). Instead, as Paul focused his life on being like Christ, so should they. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 niv). The Gospels may not yet have been in circulation, so Paul could not tell them to read the Bible to see what Christ was like. Therefore, he urged them to imitate him as a practical guide for conduct. That Paul could tell people to follow his example is a testimony to his character. Can you do the same? What kind of follower would a new Christian become if he or she imitated you?

William James Sidis was a well-known child prodigy who taught university mathematics at age 16, but his adult years were spent collecting and memorizing streetcar schedules. He died alone in a ragged apartment, destitute and broken. His rare talents only briefly helped anyone.

As Christians, we must be responsible to use what we have been given. We must guard against dropping out—quitting—and squandering talents. We must not worry about all that we don’t know. We’ve got plenty to do using what we have.


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Posted by on January 1, 2023 in Article


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