Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12 - "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." This verse continues the thought of 3:11 where Paul spoke about the resurrection. Paul's desire was to be found among the faithful on that final day. Let it be understood that Paul did not doubt his salvation even though he says here that he had not yet attained or been made perfect. Recall that he had declared in 1:21 that for him to die would be gain. That doesn't sound like something a person would write if he had doubts regarding his salvation, does it? Paul knew that he would one day have a home in heaven!
However, in contrast to that point, Paul seems to admit that he is human and could lose what he had if he did not continue to "press on". All humans have free will. Even if we are in a saved state currently does not mean that we won't forsake the Lord later or wander from His paths. Paul wrote about this possibility in I Corinthians 9:27 - "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."
Please reflect upon that thought for a moment. Of all who will make it to heaven someday, one would tend to assume that the apostle Paul would be guaranteed a home there! Yes, it is true that he started off persecuting the church, but when he finally obeyed the gospel, he changed completely! He became perhaps the most evangelistic, hard-working, self-sacrificing Christian who has ever lived. Yet, in spite of those facts, he acknowledged the possibility that he could lose his salvation. That should be a wake-up call to all of us. If the apostle Paul could not say that he would never lose his salvation, then who today could rightly think they have arrived in such a place of absolute security? Such an attitude would reflect great arrogance, which is dangerous according to I Corinthians 10:12 - "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Anyone who cannot see that there are improvements to be made in his own life is tragically blind.
We must adopt the attitude of Paul. We can and should be confident in our salvation as long as we are faithful; that is, as long as we are pressing on in our walk of faith and remaining in the light (cf. I John 1:7). Paul would have us guard ourselves against complacency! No Christian should ever be satisfied with the present strength of his relationship with God. The Christian life is intended to be one of continual growth and development. Pleasing God is a perpetual pursuit! No one, other than Jesus, has achieved perfection, but that is what we must strive for. We must keep pressing on!
The end of Philippians 3:12 is difficult to understand, but I believe the meaning is this: Jesus had "laid hold" of Paul to preach the gospel to others so that they might possess eternal life, and, while Paul is thrilled to do this, he is simultaneously trying diligently to grasp heaven for himself!
He continued in 3:13,14 - "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Here Paul explains his attitude regarding the past, present, and future. Paul chose to forget about his past. This verse is often used to teach that Paul tried not to dwell on the heinous acts he committed as a persecutor of Christ. Although I believe it is true that he tried to put those days behind him, I don't believe that is his point in referring to the past on this occasion. Contextually, it makes more sense to understand Paul as saying that although he had done much good for the Lord and His church in the recent past, he would not dwell on his successes and get a big head. He would forget about those things and keep reaching forward. He wasn't about to rest on his past achievements. There was still much work to be done and many good things to be accomplished. Paul would not let his past sins or successes slow him down in the present!
Not only would he forget the past, but he would also reach forward to the future. What future? "The goal" or "the prize" (i.e., eternal life in heaven). Paul's focus in the present was upon the future glory that would be revealed (cf. Rom. 8:18)! Remember, Paul had the heavenly perspective. While he was here on Earth, he would serve God will all his might. But, ultimately, the things of this life didn't matter to Paul because he intended to make heaven his home! While he was alive he would do what he could to bring glory to God. He would obey God to the best of his ability and keep pressing on toward his final goal of heaven. That was his prize! As he later wrote to Timothy - "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing" (II Tim. 4:8). Paul pressed on in faithful Christian living that he might receive the crown of life someday.
Is that your goal too? I understand that everyone desires everlasting life in a place of bliss, but do you genuinely have heaven as your goal? Is it something that you are truly motivated for and dedicated to achieving at any cost? Sadly, heaven is not a goal for most people but only a dream. Do you see the difference? If a person isn't willing to put the Lord first in his life, he doesn't really have heaven as his goal. If a person isn't willing to give up the lusts of this life, he doesn't really have heaven as his goal. If a person isn't willing to make significant sacrifices for God in accordance with the Scriptures, he doesn't really have heaven as his goal. Dear listeners, are you pressing toward the goal of eternal life or just dreaming about it and living life as you please?
"Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind" (Phil. 3:15,16). Paul again encouraged them to be like-minded (cf. 2:2). He wanted them to possess the same attitude he did and think the way he did. He wanted them to put God and His kingdom first and strive toward achieving the goal of heaven. He wanted them to be united and "walk by the same rule". In other words, he wanted them to live according to the gospel message the apostles had received and delivered to them. Although the process of revelation was not completed until the end of the first century A.D., they were to be faithful to that which had been revealed through the Holy Spirit. Paul didn't want them to make up their own rules or bind matters of the Old Testament upon their brethren like the Judaizers were doing. In order to achieve like-mindedness and unity, great maturity is required. When we pursue what we want, as opposed to what God wants, our immaturity is exposed. Division often results from this selfish mindset.
Paul exhorted them further in Philippians 3:17-19 - "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their mind on earthly things." Verse 17 is similar in thought to 4:9. Paul urged these Christians (and us today) to imitate him as he imitated Christ (cf. I Cor. 11:1). He also encouraged brethren to note those who were among them who walked faithfully after his example.
However, in addition to noting those who walked worthy, they were also to be alert to the fact that many Christians were behaving in such a way that they could rightly be called enemies of God! For example, consider the Judaizers that Paul had warned them about. He had called them dogs, evil workers, and the mutilation (Phil. 3:2)! Does Paul take pleasure in reporting the fact that many are enemies of the cross who claim to be allies? Certainly not! It grieved his heart to inform them of this. Paul wept over these souls who were causing division and teaching false doctrine in the church. He also wept for the souls that they were misleading. Undoubtedly, he also wept over the fact that "many" who claimed to follow Christ had actually become enemies of the cross.
Paul stated that he had warned them often of these matters. Take Acts 20:31 as another example - "Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears." Warn them about what, Paul? "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves" (Acts 20:29,30). What Paul described is tragic, yet it happened in the early church and is still happening today. Some who claim allegiance to the Lord are actually among His greatest enemies!
Those who are unwilling to preach all the truth of God's word are His enemies! Those who bind their man-made opinions upon others (as if they were the words of God Himself) are His enemies! Those who disregard His instructions in the New Testament regarding how to become a Christian and live as a child of God are His enemies! Although people may have good intentions, those who teach a different gospel than the one the apostles did will ultimately be cursed by God if they do not repent. Consider Galatians 1:9 - "As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed." Also, Revelation 22:18,19 - "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
So, we today should note those who walk after the pattern we see in the New Testament and we should also note those who walk as enemies of the cross that we may avoid them (cf. Rom. 16:17,18). Unless we labor at studying and understanding God's word, we will not be able to accurately identify these two groups.
In Philippians 3:19, Paul stated that false teachers will ultimately be destroyed. This is a reference to the eternal punishment of hell. These individuals do not have Jehovah as their God, but their bellies instead! The idea here is not necessarily that they overindulge at the dinner table but that their desire is for things of the flesh. In a broad sense they are more concerned about satisfying themselves instead of serving God. They desire the approval of men more than the approval of Almighty God. What they find glory in is sadly what shames them before God! They set their minds on earthly things. This is exactly what Christians should not be doing! Why not?
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20,21). Our minds should be focused on the things that matter--the spiritual--not the things of the flesh which are only temporary! The enemies of the cross have forgotten that their citizenship is supposed to be in heaven, not here on Earth! Christians, we must constantly be reaching forward and pressing on toward the goal of eternal life in heaven--that is where we belong. That is where our citizenship is. Consequently, our affections must be upon heavenly things (cf. Col. 3:2). We are strangers and pilgrims here in this world. It is not our true home, but we are just passing through. Although we presently live in this world, let us be careful not to be of it (cf. John 17:14-16). If we become distracted by this world (e.g., materialism, entertainment, recreation, various lusts, etc.), then we are giving up our heavenly citizenship for earthly pleasure. I am not willing to lose my soul because of earthly pursuits--are you? May we always seek first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33)!
Additionally, let us eagerly wait for Jesus to return. It is then that we will be given eternal bodies like His (cf. I John 3:2). We will no longer have a physical body that is subject to disease and deterioration. We will be given an incorruptible body (cf. I Cor. 15:53,54) and we will share in the glory of heaven! What a wonderful thought, and God, who is all-powerful, is certainly able to accomplish this!
As we conclude this lesson, let us summarize what we have seen in this third chapter of Philippians. As Christians, we need to have enough sense and Bible knowledge to recognize and beware of false teachers today. May we always realize that we cannot trust our salvation to physical achievements and reputation. It is through a living, obedient faith in Jesus that one can go to heaven, not through one's own righteousness. Therefore, we should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to live faithfully for the Lord. It is important that we continue to press on toward heaven since that is where the Christian's citizenship is found. We must not allow ourselves to become distracted by the past or discouraged by those who have become enemies of the cross. On that final day, the faithful will be given incorruptible, glorious, heavenly bodies! In the meantime, may God's children seek unity upon the standard of God's word.
We will continue our study of Philippians next Tuesday. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.