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. 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. Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV
We talked last week about struggles, which as we all know, most of us have if we choose to be truthful about it. My personal struggle is impatience; that is, specifically I am impatient for the rapture of the Church which by all accounts is not only imminent, but to many, already overdue. This in effect makes it even more difficult for me and my impatience as I, just like you, see all the things happening in the world around us and wonder why we are still here. Dealing with this struggle more often than not leads me to this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, and to his perspective on having to “press on”.
Something I noticed about this passage and something that I find reassuring is Paul's use of the phrase “press on” twice when referring to this life. It is actually a rather interesting word because if you look closely at its meaning, it's not as simple as it might first appear. My first thought was we are being told to “grind it out”, but if you examine it, it's something quite different. In the Greek, the word for “press on” is diōkō, which means;” to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away.” So actually Paul is instructing believers to do two things at the same time. When we are told to press on towards “the goal for the prize” which comes at the end of race, in essence, Paul is saying we need to run FROM the things that might hold us back and TOWARDS the finish line where we will receive our reward.
If this passage from Paul is any indication, it would seem that our focus should not be on the past, and the disappointments we might have experienced, as much as it should be on the future. The Greek word for forgetting is epilanthanomai, which is a verb meaning; “to forget, neglecting, no longer caring for, forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for”. Paul, as he reflects on his present life, understands that his focus and ours as well, needs to be on the future and not the past. As I considered this it became apparent to me that I need to focus on doing and serving and living, just as Jesus did with the knowledge that our time is indeed very short.
It’s important to remember that in this letter Paul was writing to the believers in the Philippian church, people who had already made the decision to give their lives to Christ. What Paul tells them in this passage, and tells us too, is that our focus should be on becoming more Christ-like in our daily lives as a witness to those around us. This is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” that he speaks of and it should be the focus of every one of us who have chosen to believe the Gospel. When we made that decision we became “sons of God” and as His children we not only accept but follow the direction He has for us in our lives.
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. Philippians 3:15-16 NKJV
What have we already attained? When we made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we became children of God, and His heirs. As part of the family of God, we are instructed to live in such a way as to bring glory to God as His representatives on earth. Jesus set the example we should all strive to follow by becoming a servant to all, and humbling Himself to the point of death. Pressing on in light of our struggles and disappointments is not only our service to Him, but it serves as an example to those around us of our faith that God is in control of our circumstances.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV
The words “work out” are actually one Greek word “katergazomai” which means "to work in order to fashion a result making one fit for something". That is fit as in fitness. In other words, as we would say today, you need to “workout”. Paul is simply telling the believers that in order to grow the first thing they needed to know was to “workout”. Of this passage Charles Ryrie comments that they needed to “learn to stand on their own feet”. So this passage is all about the individual learning how to grow strong in their faith in order to stand tall in light of the discouragement we often suffer from.
The word for salvation in this passage is most often used to refer to an individual’s personal safety. With that in mind, and seeing that in the context of this passage where Paul is discussing the believers responsibility to exhibit humility just as Jesus did, it seems they are being told that they would need to grow strong in order to withstand the trials that would come their way. Doing this with an attitude of “fear and trembling” refers to someone’s anxiety because of their knowledge that they might lack the strength necessary to do this. Paul addresses that anxiety by telling them that God is in charge of not only providing the strength they will need, but also engineer the circumstances that they will find themselves in.
My personal feeling is that the closer we get to the rapture of the Church, the harder it will get to deal with what life will throw at us. Satan knows the time is short and he will do everything in his power to make us stumble and grow weary. Discouragement and disappointment are powerful stumbling blocks but Paul’s advice to us is sound. Forget the past, “press on” and focus on what is ahead. Above all, remember the prize that awaits us when we finish the race.