Reflections on Philippians 3:12-16
The Rio Olympics is fast approaching. Unfortunately, threats on the 2016 Games due to the potential impact of the Zika virus, militant radicals and the suspension of Russian athletes have dominated recent news headlines. The excitement in the build-up to this global event don’t appear to have grabbed our imagination as they have in past.
However, there is something awe inspiring about the Olympics as athletes compete at the highest level in various events demonstrating their absolute intention to come out on top.
The Bible frequently draws on the analogy of athletes competing in various events. The imagery helps us to relate to the obvious similarities drawn between an athlete participating in an event and a believer participating in the Christian life.
Paul identifies one essential broad characteristic that ought to define a participating athlete. This may be referred to as ‘single-mindedness’ which simply means, ‘having one driving purpose or resolve’ (merriam-webster.com).
Paul puts it like this, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Php.3:13-14).
The expression, “…one thing I do”, presents us with the single-mindedness that ought to characterise the believer’s life. The question that automatically arises from this statement is; ‘What must I be single-minded about?’ Well, the previous verses shed light on what Paul is meaning. We read, “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” (Php.3:12). Here the goal of the Christian is clearly pursuing perfection or put another way, pursuing Christ-likeness. However, just in case anyone thought that he had already reached perfection he makes it clear that this is not the case. He is participating in this Christian life in a similar manner as a runner participates in a race in order to win the prize. He is still on the track competing and has not yet reached the finish line. There is no doubt that Paul knows Christ. He speaks of Christ Jesus having taken a hold of him. Furthermore, his relational knowledge of Christ is a reality (Php.3:8), so has Christ’s righteousness become his by faith (Php.3:9), his experiential knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection (Php.3:9), the companionship of Christ in suffering (Php.3:10) and the anticipation of being glorified with Christ one day (Php.3:11).
But these benefits from being in Christ are not fully expressed through his life in day to day living although he has received them in full.
Therefore, a single-minded pursuit after Christlikeness is essential in the Christian life so that the indwelling Christ may be shown to be Lord of the believer’s life. However, being a “one thing” Christian includes two essential requirements; 1) Forgetting what is behind, and
2) Straining toward what is ahead.
No single-minded runner allows activities behind him to distract him from his objective. As believers we are to deal with our past appropriately so that we do not have any unresolved issues in our rear-view mirror. We are not to become distracted because we have unconfessed sin, resentment and bitterness dogging our every step.
To “forget what is behind” suggests that the past must not have any controlling influence upon our present and future participation in our Christian life. The message is clear, deal with the past and move on.
Every single-minded runner strains toward what is ahead with every fibre of his being. The expressions, “strain toward” and “press on” communicate the ideas of exertion, effort and also intention. This is not a casual sunset walk along the beach with a partner. Rather, this is a teeth gritting strained effort to achieve success at all costs.
As Christ Followers we are called to give everything we have to becoming like Christ as we live here on earth. This was the reason God took a hold of us, He has provided us with Christ’s righteousness and now He is working Christ outward from within us. Paul puts it like this, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom.8:29).
There is to be a single-minded pursuit after Christlikeness in our lives as believers. We are to be “one thing” Christ Followers. The on-going enabling grace of God to pursue this goal has been provided for us in God’s clear promise; “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Php.1:6). But we have to “continue to work out [our] your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Php.2:12-13).
The primary purpose in this Christian life is to bring glory to God by displaying more and more the character of Christ through our lives in the world in which we live. There is no other way, for “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Php.3:15-16).
As the athlete leads a disciplined lifestyle so ought we to do the same. Let us give ourselves to a consistent diet of Scripture reading and meditation; prayer and devotion; gospel communication to the lost; dedicated fellowship with other believers and relentless commitment to living out what we believe practically in obedience to God’s Word.
We are called to be “one thing” Christ Followers.
Ps. Deon Lombard
Being a servant of Jesus makes it a delight to reflect and write about all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word.