12 Not that I have already obtained or am already perfected, but I pursue, if even I may lay hold of that for which I also have been laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
13 Brothers, I do not account of myself to have laid hold; but one thing I do: Forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before,
14 I pursue toward the goal for the prize to which God in Christ Jesus has called me upward.
Not Yet Perfected But Pursuing
In 3:7-11 Paul gives us the way to experience Christ. In verses 12 through 14 Paul applies to himself the things presented in verses 7 through 11. In verse 12 he says, “Not that I have already obtained or am already perfected, but I pursue, if also I may lay hold of that for which I also have been laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” The Greek word rendered perfected also means “completed or matured in life.” Paul’s meaning here is that he was still growing, for he did not regard himself as one who had reached maturity. If Paul needed to say that he had not already obtained or was not already perfected, even though he had so much growth in life and so much experience of Christ, how much more should we have such an attitude about ourselves!
Not many Christians speak of their conversion in the way Paul spoke of his. Have you ever heard anyone say that at the time he was converted Christ gained him so that he might gain Christ? We need to realize that Christ has gained us that we might gain Him. Then we need to use Paul’s expression to uplift our conversation about conversion. Christ gained us not merely for the sake of forgiveness, redemption, salvation, or heaven. I repeat, He gained us for the definite purpose that we might gain Him.
The Lord has taken possession of us so that we might take possession of Him. This was His purpose in grasping us. Christ wants us to gain Him. The Lord’s aim in His salvation is to seize us that we might take full possession of Him. Not even when Paul was writing to the Philippians did he regard himself as having gained Christ in a full way. Rather, he was still pursuing Christ in order to gain Him.
The Christian life is a life of gaining Christ. How much have you gained of Christ? This is a crucial question. We grow in life by gaining Christ. The degree to which we have gained Christ is the degree to which we have grown with Christ. We all need to gain Christ in order to grow in life. Spiritual growth is measured by how much we have gained of Christ.
Gaining Christ is a lifelong matter. Day by day our goal should be to gain Him. Even during his imprisonment, Paul was pursuing Christ in order to gain Him.
In verses 13 and 14 Paul goes on to say, “Brothers, I do not yet reckon myself to have laid hold, but one thing—forgetting the things which are behind and stretching forward to the things which are before, I pursue toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Even though Paul had experienced and gained Christ tremendously, he did not consider that he had experienced Him in full or gained Him to the uttermost. For this reason he was still advancing toward the goal—the gaining of Christ to the fullest extent.
In verse 13 Paul speaks of forgetting the things behind. In order to gain Christ to the fullest extent, Paul not only forsook his experience in Judaism but also refused to dwell on his past experiences of Christ and be limited by them. To dwell on our past experiences, no matter how real they may have been, frustrates our further pursuing after Christ.
In verse 13 Paul tells us that he was stretching forward to the things which are before. He knew that Christ is unsearchably rich, that there is a vast territory of His riches to be possessed. He was stretching forward to gain these riches and to advance further into this territory.
Like Paul, we have been regenerated, but we are not yet perfected, or matured, in life. At the time of our conversion, we were gained by Christ so that we may gain Him. Now as those who have not yet obtained and who have not yet been perfected, we are pursuing Christ.
The Way to Pursue
The first aspect of the way to pursue Christ is that we do not consider ourselves to have gained. Following this, we need to do one thing: forget the things which are behind and stretch forward to the things which are before.
The goal toward which we are pursuing is the full enjoyment of Christ, and the prize is the extra enjoyment of Christ. I believe this extra portion of the enjoyment of Christ will be in the millennial kingdom. In the millennial kingdom the overcomers will enjoy Christ in an extraordinary way. This extraordinary enjoyment of Christ corresponds to the out-resurrection in verse 11. This out-resurrection can be illustrated by the experience of a few members of a high school graduating class. At the time of graduation, a few outstanding students will enjoy an extra portion. Although hundreds of students may graduate at the same time, only a small number will enjoy this special portion. In like manner, all believers who die before the Lord comes back will be resurrected, but some will enjoy an extraordinary resurrection, an outstanding resurrection. Paul speaks of this as the out-resurrection from among the dead, a prize to those believers who are successful in running the New Testament race.
Do not be content with the fact that, as a believer, you will be resurrected. Yes, you will “graduate” in resurrection, but will you have the extra portion of resurrection? Do not be under the influence of the teaching popular with Christians today that all believers will be kings in the millennium. All true believers are eternally saved. However, not all Christians will be on the same level as far as reward is concerned. The time Christ comes back will be the time of reward. Whether or not we receive a reward from Him depends on how we run the race today.
The Goal For the Prize of the High Calling
We have pointed out that the goal is the full enjoyment and gain of Christ and that the prize will be the uttermost enjoyment of Christ in the millennial kingdom as a reward to the victorious runners of the New Testament race. This prize is the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
We have received not an earthly calling, but a high calling, a heavenly calling. God has called us to gain Christ as our real land. In typology, God called Israel with an earthly calling to gain the good land. Now God has called us with a heavenly calling to gain Christ.
To receive the prize we must reach the goal, and to reach the goal we must run the race. These facts are of great importance.
We should not be satisfied simply with Bible knowledge, not even with the knowledge of Philippians 3. We need to have the actual pursuing of Christ. The Greek word for pursue can also be translated “persecute.” Before Paul was saved, he was persecuting Christ in a negative way. After he was saved, he pursued Christ to such an extent we may even say he persecuted Christ, but in a very positive way. To persecute a person is to trouble him and refuse to let him go. Before Paul was saved, he bothered Christ and would not let Him go, persecuting Him negatively. But after he was saved and had been gained by Christ, he still persecuted Him, but positively, for he refused to let Christ go. We also should persecute Christ in this way. This is to pursue Christ in order to gain Him. Do not let Christ go. Bother Him, persecute Him, in order to gain Him. To persecute Christ in this way is exhausting. As we persecute Christ, we should spend ourselves completely. Our whole being with all of our strength should be consumed in pursuing Christ. I hope that many among us will be impressed with the need to pursue Christ and be stirred up to seek Him even in a persecuting way. Do not allow Christ to get away from you, but seek Him, pursue Him, persecute Him in such a positive way. Then you will gain Him.
The Life Study of Philippians, Chapters 23-25, W. Lee