THE BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS
"I Press On Toward the Goal for the Prize"
J. Deering, AncientPath.net
The Perfection of the Soul is an Endless Task (Lancelot du-Lac, Camelot)
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.
Bible verses never "stand alone" and are always in a context of other verses and ideas surrounding them. (cp 2 Peter 1:20-21)
Sometimes, like our previous study (3:3 ff); the focus is placed in the "sphere of knowledge" of Jewish heritage without the verse "saying that out loud." Those verses concern circumcision as the symbol of the truth of the "circumcised heart," but only the symbol, circumcision of the Jewish male is referenced. The connections between symbol and underlying truth are only known by the context of the verse.
So it is with Chapter three in general. These verses are placed into the "sphere of completeness," that Paul hopes will lead the Philippians into the "sphere of appropriate Christian practices" in chapter four. Paul's aim in chapter three will be to impress them with the gratitude they should have in Christ in order to lead them into proper Christian living, as a response to Christ, in chapter four.
Translators do their jobs the best they can but are also living in a context of their times. The meanings of words slowly change over the years and similarly the contexts in which they are used change with them. One of my favorite words to use as an example is "let." About the only place we now uses this meaning is in the game of tennis. There, when a ball encounters the net and is prevented from going into the other side of the court, it is still called a "let" ball (a hindered ball). However this same word was often used as we now use it (un-hindered) during the same time period. The difference between the two completely opposite meanings was, and is, the context in which they were found.
All this to talk about the word "perfect" that occurs in this verse. It surprises even me that even the NASB still clings to this word. Certainly, the bible never teaches the achievement of human perfection in this life. But we keep running into this word "perfect."
The Greek word here is tet-telie-ow-mae, , it is the perfect (happened in the past with on-going results), passive (it has been done to Paul, Paul is not doing it), infinitive (in English, a verb form that is preceded by the word "to," to do, to be). Now we have the form - Past/continuing, passive/done to the speaker, in an infinitive form - of the word tel-i-e-ow, , which means... to be complete or to be finished. An easy way to think of the word is the use of it in the following statement: "I am a pot made from clay. My maker has just finished molding me and he whispered to himself, "perfect." That clay pot may be in any condition - but to the one who has just finished it, it is perfect.
The intention of the writer, Paul, is to get you to understand that God is not finished with you yet, but there will be a time when He is, no matter what condition you are in at the time. He'll be finished, and you will be perfect in His sight - you will never be perfect - only perfect in His sight (no better way to be ever found, than perfect in His sight.)
Paul says he has not attained "being finished or completed," for he continues to strive to "lay hold of" (visualize grabbing a busy/wayward child and holding him with his feet on the ground) for that which Christ has "lay hold of" him.
The picture here is of Christ putting His hands upon the wayward Paul, and as a result, Paul is metaphorically "putting his hands" upon those things Christ has laid hold of Paul for.
Example (THE BOX):
1 - Christ has a container full of those things which will make Paul "finished." 2 - Christ has "laid hold" of Paul in order to "finish" him.
3 - Paul, in response to Christ "laying hold" of him, "lays hold" of the container of those things Christ has for him, knowing Christ's intentions for him, embracing those things in order that he may become "finished."
Verse 12b, but I press on so that I may LAY HOLD of THAT WHICH also I WAS LAID HOLD OF by Christ Jesus.
To properly understand this complicated sentence we need to take a look at the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in the book of John. John Chapter 16:5-16 deals with the coming of the Promised Holy Spirit of God and then in verses :17-22 Jesus deals with His coming death and resurrection. John places this prayer of Jesus just before the Upper Room experience. Jesus tells us, at the very end of Chapter 16 that "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." Jesus has come to that place in His ministry where He considers that His work is complete. The betrayal, death, and crucifixion are yet in the future, however those are things that will be done to Him (passive) and are not things that He will "do." For His purposes, He is finished, and at the cross in His last moments He will declare that "it" is finished, both the active and the passive events will be then complete.
The High Priestly Prayer
John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
Now Jesus turns His attention, speaking with His Heavenly Father, to those who had, and will, believe in Him as Savior and Christ.
John 17:6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.
Please note that Jesus states that there is a select group, called out from the world, that the Father has given Him (the Son).
John 17:7 Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
Jesus has now identified this select group as those who have believed (and will believe).
John 17:9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are. 12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
The scripture being fulfilled concerns the one that was lost.
The Disciples in the World
John 17:13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus speaks of "sanctify;" made holy; set aside, telling us that Jesus has kept every moment of His ministry on earth holy and completely dependant upon the will of the Father in order that believers may be able to participate in this holiness with Him, "in truth."
John 17:20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Here, Jesus tells His Father that it is not just those who followed Him, through belief (i.e., the apostles), but all who believe and would believe. All men and women of belief would be called upon to go into the world that the world may believe that the Father sent Jesus the Son - perhaps the many would never believe upon the name of Jesus, but there would be clear evidence that Jesus came from God, His heavenly Father.
John 17:22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
It is Jesus revelation that believers form a select group who will be with Him and share with Him in His Glory, and that this was formulated before the foundation of the world.
John 17:25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Here in these last two verses Jesus delineates that there are two classes of people in the world; those who have and would believe, and those did not and would not believe upon His name for salvation.
These verses are so very important to the understanding of Paul's statement here in verse 12. These verses lay out for us that Jesus Christ has a FINISHED WORK that was done for A SELECT GROUP OF PEOPLE. Not Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ now LAYS HOLD OF us who believe in order that we would LAY HOLD OF HIS PRIZE for us, participation in the results of His RESURRECTION.
Paul says he presses on so that he may LAY HOLD of that which CHRIST LAID HOLD OF HIM for. By the context of his statement Paul is inclusive of the Philippians and is telling them to press on and lay hold....
The thought Paul is pressing the Philippians for is that they will press on, in Christ, with the thought of collecting and applying everything that Christ has laid hold of them to possess.
Again, the context of these paragraphs is ATTAINING TO THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. Not that they don't expect that their bodies will be resurrected on "That Day," but that they may ENTER INTO ALL that the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ has for them from God the Father.
The following is a poor illustration of this process. It is like a game where you have to gather up all the pieces you can find before the buzzer sounds. Those who PRESS ON will collect MORE of what Christ has for you through His resurrection - IN THIS LIFE. We are responsible to encounter and attain to MORE AND MORE as we PRESS ON. Those who do not PRESS ON will not experience the fullness or completeness of God's offerings to us IN THIS LIFE.
Paul sees it as our responsibility to PRESS (basketball "full court press") ON ("keep on keeping on") that we may achieve more and more of what He has to offer.
Not pressing on will not keep us from entering the Kingdom of God; however we will be the poorer for it.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the "proof" that what Jesus had come to do (John 17) was FINISHED, COMPLETE, EFFICIENT, EFFECTIVE.
He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
We were able to be reckoned righteous because our JUSTIFICATION was ACCOMPLISHED through the death of Jesus Christ.
It is a case of cause and effect - for the accomplishment of the salvation of man and the glory of God the Father...
It was God's plan from eternity past
Jesus was asked to accomplish this by God the Father
Jesus, as an act of His free will, did all this
He came, lived, suffered, and died - WILLINGLY with NO OFFENSE to the Father.
Jesus Accomplished ALL the requirements set forth by the Father for the accomplishment of the salvation, i.e., justification, of the SOME that the Father gave the Son - To the Father's Glory!
So That: All of creation would be in wonder of the Father's Grace.
He was Demonstrating His Glorious Graceful Character, and that there are SOME, even though created as if they were to be gods themselves (image and likeness), who WILLINGLY chose that HE THE FATHER would have His rightful place, before them, as Almighty God, and place themselves totally under submission to Him.
What a marvelous thought - God would have a people of His own who, un-coerced, would willingly and freely testify that they believe in His Son, that He sent Him, and that He alone is God.
The Past and the Future
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,
"Don't live in the past!" Either the negative past or the positive past, "Don't live in the past." If we live in the past we will stay in the past. Paul encourages us to "Forget what lies behind." A great statement I heard once was "There is no future in living in the past!"
Things that are in the past are over and done with. There is not changing what has already happened. Paul means this for all things in the past, whether those things we wish could have been different, or those things which we "glory in" today - from the past. The proper living for the Christian is in the NOW (working out our Salvation) with a "view toward" the FUTURE (Participating in the power that raised Jesus, and all who believe, from the dead). Simply put, "The past is a waste of time." Forget the things that are behind.
This is one of Paul's famous "one the one hand...., and on the other hand..." statements. He literally says, "on the one hand FORGET THE PAST, and on the other hand LAY HOLD of the things stretching before us."
Stretching out before us, like a highway, a destination ahead, everything else behind. Pressing on ... Stretching out before us - getting to fully participate in the power of His resurrection.
Paul's teaching is the attaining those things for which Christ has LAID HOLD OF US.
Specifically, Paul is reminding his readers concerning that formerly they were in the flesh, whether Jew or Greek. The Jew, bound by the Law of Moses - worshipped the thing and not the Creator. The Greek, bound by the law of their minds, worshipped the thing and not the Creator. Forget the past! You, if you believe, have been called out to live in-Him and to do so not just now but for the future.
The Upward Call of God
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Here is how Paul testifies that He has forgotten his past and it now spending his life "pressing on toward the goal, following the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Yes to reach the goal... but ... FOR THE PRIZE!
He's already told us about the prize - to participate in the resurrection (with Christ) of the dead - to newness of life in Christ. All will be resurrected, but only those who have believed in Him will be resurrected to "eternal life." The others will be resurrected, judged, found wanting, and sentenced to "eternal death."
A Word to Those Who May Think They Have Achieved Perfection
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.
We faced this issue before, but the use of the word "perfect" is not a good translation of the original word. The word means mature, complete, finished, and Paul uses this concept in irony. He's saying, "If you think YOU have arrived - your just deceiving yourself!"
Many years ago I had the opportunity to learn to ride a motorcycle. My instructor, a very wise gentleman, taught me, "When you think you have it licked..... GET OFF!" Truly, if you get to the place where you really think you have become mature and that "you have arrived," GET OFF! Paul says that we should "think again" and "Keep on Keeping on." This life is the process, completion is not here, not now, but then and there.
There are some who claim that the Bible teaches "perfection." They believe that they are able to defeat sin and therefore become "perfect" in order to attain salvation, or a "Full Salvation" that is often part of a deceptive attempt to lead you into this error. Always be careful of groups that offer a "full," or fuller version of the gospel. What they are saying is that THEY have it and YOU don't. Often these groups rely upon special gifts and or special knowledge.
However, these and those like them, have missed the most important message of the Bible. Salvation comes by the gift of faith, not a result of works, it is the gift of God, that none should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Maturity, Completion, or Perfection cannot be achieved this side of heaven. Paul, and other scripture writers, often encourage us and exhort us to aim at maturity, but they never teach that it is possible to attain to it apart from the finished work of Christ. To think that you have achieved perfection is to think that you are a god. Some believers are convinced that they have defeated sin (and sins) and have now arrived at some higher plane of existence where the work of Christ is now no longer needed in their sad little human lives. How sad it that?
We are not perfect and only the very power of the resurrected Christ holds us and keeps us from damnation itself - every moment - moment by moment, because we have no righteousness of our own and must rely completely upon His.
The end of 3:15 says that if you think you have arrived... He will change your mind for you through your experiences in the Faith with Him.
The Japanese have the saying, "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down." Perfectionism is a conceit that Christ will deal with, just like all our sins.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
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