Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 3.12-14

When a child is born he soon begins to recognize the voice of his mother and his father. In a real sense, the child knows his parents, can recognize his parents, loves his parents, is dependent upon his parents, derives security from his parents, and will someday receive an inheritance from his parents. But the child still does not know his parents very well. As time passes, the child grows in stature and in his ability to see and understand. This enables the child to more carefully scrutinize his parents, to observe their behavior, to weigh and evaluate their judgment, to consider their actions, and to learn their personalities. Really, over time, the child gets to know his parents more fully, though he will never become more their child than he was the moment he was born.

Is there ever a time when a child knows his parents fully? Will there ever come a time when one or the other parent no longer possesses unseen character traits or unappreciated tendencies that reveal the child’s incomplete knowledge of his parents? Is it not always possible to learn ever more about your parents over time, no matter how old you are and no matter how probing has been your curiosity about them throughout your life?

With these questions fresh in your mind, related to the relationship between a child and his parents, stand with me and read the Apostle Paul’s comments about the relationship he cherished between himself and his wonderful Savior. Philippians 3.12-14:

12     Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

13     Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14     I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

There is knowing Jesus Christ and there is knowing Jesus Christ. You must know Jesus Christ to be a Christian, to be saved, to have your sins forgiven, and to have a hope of heaven when you die. However, 1Paul speaks here, not of knowing Jesus Christ, but of knowing Him, of coming to know Him more personally and more intimately after initially coming to know Him.

At this time I will attempt to set before you two parts of Paul’s description of what is probably best understood as his pursuit of Jesus Christ to know Him more fully:


In Philippians 3.12, Paul explains to us what, in verses 13-14, he will illustrate to us:

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s explanation begins with a disclaimer. Here we have an opportunity to set right some misconceptions that stand in the way of a proper understanding of what Paul’s example for other Christians to follow properly is. Note that his disclaimer is double-pronged: First, Paul denies that he has already attained. Observe that he writes “Not as though I had already attained.” When reading this phrase, an awful lot of people think the Apostle Paul is referring to having already attained unto the resurrection of the dead. But, of course, that’s ridiculous. A man resurrected from the dead would not be awaiting possible execution in Rome. Still others think that Paul is denying that he has attained unto sinless perfection. Of course, that suggests the Philippians, or other rational people, would think sinless perfection was possible. Not likely, in light of First John 1.10, which shows that no one who is genuinely saved thinks he is sinless. Consider the context of this passage. We understand that of late in this epistle Paul has been describing for his readers his autobiographical theology. We have observed that what permeates Paul’s personal theology is the importance of knowing Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul is not here denying that he is resurrected. And he’s not here denying that he is sinless. Neither of those issues has anything to do with the real thrust of what he is writing about here, which is the importance of really knowing the Lord Jesus Christ in an intensely personal and intimate way. What Paul is here denying is that he has arrived in the sense that he knows all there is to know about the Savior. He most certainly does not know all there is to know about the Savior. Second, Paul denies that he is perfect. The text continues, “either were already perfect.” This word teteleiwmai is jumped on by people who know little more of the Greek language than to look up words in a concordance. Don’t get me wrong. Looking up words in a concordance is wonderful, but there are some things that can be missed when all you do is look up words. What is important to realize about the word translated “perfect” in this verse is that, like every word used in every language, the context affects and determines the meaning.[1] This word “perfect,” being perfect passive indicative in its form, refers to reaching the goal, to being perfect with consequential results.[2] When taken with a proper understanding of what Paul is dealing with, it helps to support the apostle’s disclaimer that he does not know everything there is to know about Jesus Christ, that he has not plumbed the depths, that he has not reached the summit of the mountain, of achieving his final goal of fully knowing this One Who he loves and is devoted to. A lifetime is simply too short to know Christ fully.

Beginning with a disclaimer, Paul ends verse 12 with determination.

“but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”

Let’s first look at this word “follow after.” The word is pronounced diwkw, and its primary sense is to push, to drive, to set in motion.[3] The word came to be the most common Greek word for persecute, in the bad sense, but also means to strive hard after something, when used in the good sense, as here. So, Paul is here referring to really pursuing after something with everything he’s got. The question, however, is what is this Christian man pursuing? He is pursuing so that he may apprehend that for which he has already been apprehended of Christ Jesus. Katalambanw, to apprehend, means to seize, to grasp, to take hold of something, to grab it.[4] Paul, then, is pursuing after something so that he can grab hold of what he was grabbed hold for by Christ Jesus. In other words, Paul was apprehended by Christ Jesus. That occurred when he was saved. Now, having been apprehended, or grabbed by Jesus Christ, he responds by pursuing so that he may grab hold of something. The question is what is Paul after? He is after the Lord Jesus Christ, so that he may know Him more intimately, more thoroughly, and more perfectly. Years earlier the Lord Jesus Christ had apprehended him when He saved his wretched soul. Since that time Paul’s Christian life has been a pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who he knows, so that he might know Him better. Paul’s opinion of his Savior is that Jesus Christ is simply too wonderful not to know better. Therefore, rather than just sit back and wait until he gets to heaven, he’s going to expend every effort to get to know Jesus Christ better now. To understand this is to understand the Apostle Paul.


13     Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14     I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Again, we observe that Paul begins with a disclaimer. His disclaimer begins with an address. Paul is directing his comments, very consciously, to believers only. Only those who know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are in view when Paul writes the word “Brethren.” That clearly understood, he makes his assertion. “I count not myself to have apprehended.” In other words, Paul has not yet achieved the goal for which he has been striving throughout his Christian life. “But Paul, you already know the Lord Jesus better than anyone on earth. Why not kick back and relax in your old age?” Paul would respond by saying, “Because I do not yet know Him well enough to satisfy my longing to know Him even better.”

He ends with a description. What does most of verse 13 and all of verse 14 describe? A runner, racing with everything he has to the goal, to the finish, to the tape on the finish line. This is a description of three things related to a Christian who is running the Christian race: First, we see the description of the runner’s direction. “but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” Mexico City, 1968, Summer Olympics, the finals of the men’s 200 meter sprint. As John Carlos powered through the turn in the lead he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was his team mate Tommie Smith. John Carlos turned his head with a look of surprise and astonishment, and then he broke stride just enough that not only did Tommie Smith pass him, but another runner did, as well. John Carlos finished third. The Apostle Paul would never have allowed that to happen to him. Not that he calls for you to forget your past and never remember anything about it. Not at all. But don’t allow anything in your past, whether good or bad, to adversely affect the race which you are running at present. Christianity is lived in the present for the future. Eyes front, Christian. Eyes always front. The prize is before you. Not behind you, not to the side of you. Always before you. Next, we see the description of the runner’s exertion. “I press toward the mark.” This word “press” is a word we have seen before, diwkw. It’s the same word that is translated “follow after” in verse 12. Remember, it means to strive hard after something, to push, to drive, to set in motion. And is this not what the runner does when he is in a race to win? He needs to run loose. He doesn’t want to tie up. But he gives it everything he’s got. Should you do less for Christ? I don’t think so. Better to burn out than rust out. Finally, we see the description of the runner’s expectation in Jesus Christ. “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The runner presses, ever presses, toward the goal. And what is the goal? In this final portion of verse 14 we see that God has called Paul. We see that God’s call of Paul, both to salvation and to service, is in Jesus Christ. And Paul’s response to God’s call in Jesus Christ is to race toward the mark. When he reaches the mark he gets the prize. The prize of the high calling of God is the full knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Reflect for a moment or two. Does this sound anything like the Christian life you have ever been exposed to outside the walls of this church? My friends, I’ve attended churches all over southern California and around the world and I’ve only rarely seen this held up before God’s people. However, this is the life Paul lived for Christ. What an example he has set for his readers to follow. Not an example of super salesmanship type soul winning or the ivory tower kind of unattainable leadership. Neither does he portray a deeper life kind of Christianity that accomplishes nothing for Christ, but which feels so good to the self-satisfied and slothful Christian.

This is an example of energetic Christianity. This is a man who wanted nothing more than to know his Savior more intimately while serving Him. He knew that knowing Jesus Christ better entailed living the Christian life, seeking the salvation of the lost, paying the price of self-denial and sacrifice, and working with other Christians in the church to get the gospel out. And he showed how much the Christian life can be compared to athletic endeavor.

Are you in the race, or are you sitting in the bleachers watching others run? And when you run, are you easily distracted, or do you keep your eyes to the front, forgetting those things which are behind? Do you press? Do you exert yourself for Christ? And do you have that motivating expectation of reaching the prize which is set before you?

This is the type of Christian life we should strive to live at Calvary Road Baptist Church, by God’s good grace.

[1] Moisés Silva, Biblical Words & Their Meaning: An Introduction To Lexical Semantics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1983), page 139.

[2] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 557-558.

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 254.

[4] Rienecker, page 558.

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