Paul's Greatest Desire
Tim Temple

Introduction

Our passage is Philippians, chapter 3, beginning with verse 10:

Philippians 3

10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12Not 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.
13Brethren, 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,
14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Notice in verse 10 once again:

Philippians 3

10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

We want to think about Paul's greatest desire, his desire to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you ever had the experience of having someone ask you if you know another person? This usually happens when we go to another state. It is always interesting to me how folks, particularly two or three states away from here, assume that just because you live in Texas you may know someone who lives in Houston or in Dallas. The other states are small enough that there is a possibility of that, but in Texas it is a little difficult to know everyone whom we may be asked about.

You have had the experience of having someone say, “Do you know so-and-so?”, and by some chance maybe you have been introduced to that person. If you have been introduced to that person, then you can legitimately say, “Yes, I know him,” even if you only have been introduced to him. I had the opportunity several years ago of being introduced to and shaking hands with President Ford. I can legitimately say, “I know President Ford.” And yet when we can legitimately say something like that, it is nothing like being asked about somebody we really know intimately and well. There is a difference in the way we can know someone.

The Apostle Paul, in the passage before us, is saying that his greatest desire is to know the Lord Jesus Christ. But that is an interesting thing, because obviously, as we have studied through the book, so far from everything else we know about Scripture, the Apostle Paul was already acquainted with Jesus Christ. He could legitimately say, “I know Jesus Christ.” And yet we find him saying, “My greatest desire is that I may know Him.”

Paul's Example of Confidence

We want to think about this desire that Paul had and to see the implications that are involved in coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ. We have divided the chapter into three parts. We have talked about this before, but just by way of review and to keep the passage in its context, you will remember that in verses 1-3 Paul talks about the prerequisites for confidence. In verses 4-14, he gives himself as a personal example of confidence. And then in verses 15-21, which the Lord willing we will look at in our next lesson, he gives a public exhortation to confidence.

Thus far in the chapter, Paul has basically been saying that confidence can not be based on any human accomplishments or any human background or possession, that confidence in the human life must come from our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. His reasoning is this: Everything in life that we know as human beings is temporary, and what we must do is build a bigger frame of reference. Paul doesn't use those terms, but that is the idea. We must look at things with not just this life in view, but with eternity in view. Paul is saying in this chapter, “When we look at life from an eternal standpoint, we realize that our confidence does not come from anything we can do in this life because this life is only part of life. When we look at life from an eternal standpoint, we recognize the real basis of confidence is how well we know the Lord Jesus Christ, what kind of relationship we have with the Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is in that regard that Paul is saying, “This is the basis for confidence.” And in the verses that we are in the midst of, he is giving himself as a personal example of confidence.

In verses 4-6, we talked about the past drives that used to give him confidence, or at least that he pursued in the hope of having confidence in life, the things that he used to depend on. Then in verses 7-9, the things that he has now found to be the present determination of his life. This is where he specifically elaborates on the importance of knowing Jesus Christ, as we have just been saying, when you look at it from an eternal standpoint.

That brings us to his personal desire in verses 10-14. Because of the things that he has been saying about the basis of confidence, Paul says that he has a strong desire to know the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 10 and 11, Paul lists things what this desire includes. He says in verse 10, “That I may know Him,” but then he lists some other things. He specifies some other things.

The Power of His Resurrection

The statement of the desire is here in verse 10–“that I may know Him.” But the specifics include the power of His resurrection in verse 10, the fellowship of His suffering, and being made conformable unto His death.

Again, for purposes of keeping notes, we have listed these in an alliterative way. The first thing that we want to notice that Paul says in verse 10 is, “That I want to know the power of His resurrection, that I may know Him, but specifically, that I may know the power of His resurrection.”

There are many examples that we could give of God's power, many examples that the Scripture refers to. Whether it specifically says that these are examples of God's power or not, they are things that the Scripture gives us as illustrations. For example, God's creative ability is an example of His power–the fact that He created the earth and everything on it, the fact that we are told in Colossians that all things continue to consist because of the power of Jesus Christ. Certainly that is great power, the power that keeps the molecular structure moving as it does and the structure of the universe moving as it does. The miracles of Christ are certainly evidence of the power of God, but it is interesting to notice that God Himself chose one specific thing as the illustration of His power.

Turn to the book of Romans. We have looked at this verse before, but it is important to notice Romans, chapter 1, verse 1. Paul is introducing his subject here. He tells who he is as the writer. He tells what his subject is in verse 3, concerning God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Then he goes on to say in verse 4 about Jesus Christ our Lord:

Romans 1

4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, [notice] by the resurrection from the dead:

Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God, by the Resurrection. This was the sign that God chose as the evidence of His power and also evidence of the Sonship of Jesus Christ.

Resurrection Power Within Us

Going back to Philippians, chapter 3, Paul is talking about the inclusiveness of his desire, the things that his desires include, and specifically he says, “My desire includes to know Him, but not only to know Him, but specifically to know the power of His Resurrection, to know the kind of power that brought about His Resurrection.”

Acts, chapter 1, verse 8, finds the Lord Jesus Christ, just before He went back to Heaven, saying:

Acts 1

8But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…

The first thing that we need to understand about the power that Paul wanted to experience is the fact that that power is ours by means of the fact that we have the Holy Spirit resident within us. The word that is translated “power” here in Philippians, chapter 3, is the same word in Acts, chapter 1, verse 8. It is the Greek word dunamis . It is the word from which we get our English word “dynamite.” You can imagine why.

Jesus Christ said, “When the Holy Spirit comes, you believers will have that power.” What Paul is saying here in Philippians, chapter 3, is, “I want to experience that power. I want to make use of that power that God has given me by giving me the Holy Spirit.”

Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that we have resident within us the power that made possible the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? There is a little statement that is found several places in the Scripture, but one of the most specific is in Luke, chapter 1, when the angel was speaking to Mary about what was going to take place in her body. The angel knew that Mary might question the fact that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that she would conceive and bear a child that would be the Son of God. The angel said to Mary, in Luke, chapter 1, verse 37:

Luke 1

37For with God nothing shall be impossible.

I wonder–do we really believe that? Well, we should because the Scripture says that we have the power of God within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, the power that was forceful enough to raise Jesus Christ from the dead. And we can boldly and specifically say, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” God can do through us and in us anything that needs to be done. So what Paul is saying here in Philippians, chapter 3, verse 10, is “My desire is to make use of this kind of power–the power of the Resurrection–instead of depending upon my own power.” Keep in mind he is talking about the basis for confidence. And again let me ask you, shouldn't that serve as a good basis for confidence?

Paul has been talking about the past drive, the things that used to give him confidence. Is it any wonder that he says now, “I count all those things but loss.”? In fact, as we saw when we studied those verses specifically, “Those things I chalk up as a loss, just like I would in business. They are wasted time.” Is it any wonder that he says that, when he says, “I have the power of God resident within me. Why waste time on human accomplishments, and human endeavors as a basis for my confidence, when what I really need to do is develop my relationship with Jesus Christ, develop my realization, my understanding of His power resident within me?”

Participation In His Suffering

The second thing Paul says that he wants to know, the second specific of his desire is also in verse 10. We are referring to this as participation in suffering. Notice he says in verse 10: “Not only the power of His Resurrection, but also the fellowship of His suffering.”

Philippians 3

10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings…

We might ask ourselves the question. How can we participate in the sufferings of Christ? How is it possible for us living in the twentieth century, far removed from the physical sufferings of Christ, to share in those sufferings? Some suggest that Paul is referring to the mysterious sharing of the suffering of Christ that he also mentions in Colossians, chapter 1, verse 24:

Colossians 1

24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:

In this verse, Paul makes reference to filling up that which is left behind of the sufferings of Christ. The idea that he has in mind there is the idea that when we suffer for Christ's sake, we are finishing up that suffering that He would have done had He stayed on the earth, and there is a sense in which that is what he is talking about here in Philippians.

Paul's Thorn In the Flesh

Other people say that this is just a general reference to the idea of suffering for righteousness' sake. I think that is legitimate, too, but I think Paul has even something more specific than that in mind. Turn to II Corinthians, chapter 12. While both of these things that we have just been talking about are true, probably his real meaning is an incident that he describes in II Corinthians, chapter 12, something that happened to him at a certain point in his life. In verses 1-6 of II Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul tells us that he was allowed to see and to hear some things about Heaven that were so precious and were so far above human understanding that he was not even allowed to repeat them. Because of this, Paul says, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. So if you will notice in verses 7-10, he says:

II Corinthians 12

7And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

Remember, Paul says, in verse 7, “And so I would not be exalted above measure.” In other words, “So that I would not get a big-head over what I had been allowed to see, so that I would not become heady, proud, and look down on others, God gave me a thorn in the flesh.” We don't know what the thorn in the flesh was, and it doesn't really matter what it was. That is the kind of things seminarians discuss at the coffee break between classes and the kind of thing theologians argue about. I have heard all kinds of explanations, and I am sure that you have, too, ranging everywhere from sinus drainage to a wife who was hard to live with to a mother-in-law that was even harder to live with. All kinds of things have been suggested as the thorn in the flesh, but it doesn't matter at all what the thorn in the flesh was. I am sure that God demonstrated His wisdom in not telling us what the thorn in the flesh was because surely if He had specified what it was, then everybody who had some other problem would say, “Well, if Paul just had my problem, he would know what problems are. He would know what a thorn in the flesh really was.”

When God Says ”No”

We don't know what it was. The point was that it was something that was a great problem, a great burden to Paul. So much so that he said, “I asked God three times to take it away.” The concept, I think, is, “I repeatedly asked God. I pleaded with God to take this thing away from me, and God said, 'No'.”

Incidentally, do you realize that “no” is a legitimate answer to prayer? Here is a perfect example of that. God sometimes says, “No.” There was a book written a few years ago by an author who has written some other good things. That book was, Prayer, Asking and Receiving . The idea was that unless you received what you were asking for, then you haven't prayed properly. That is unscriptural. Paul prayed as properly as it was possible to pray, and God said, “No, I am not going to do it.”

Sometimes God says, “No,” in spite of strong desire on our part, and we need to be aware of that. Another thing that is comforting to know about that is what he says here in verse 9. God said, “No,” but along with that He said:

II Corinthians 12

9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…

You see, God doesn't just say no summarily and dismiss us, and say, “I don't want to hear any more about it.” God said, “No,” but he told Paul, “My grace is sufficient to make it bearable. I'm not going to take it away, but I'm going to give you the grace to live with it.”

Paul's response is in the last part of verse 9 and into verse 10. Paul says, “If I can have God's grace in my life because of this thorn in the flesh, then:”

II Corinthians 12

9…most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Remember, we are talking about Philippians, chapter 3, when he says, “I want to know the fellowship of His suffering.” Paul is saying there, “I want to know that special kind of fellowship of God that can only come through suffering.”

God's Grace In Suffering

If you want to know Christ in the way that Paul knew Christ, you are going to have to be willing to say what Paul is saying because one of the aspects of knowing Christ deeply and fully is to know His grace that comes in suffering, to know the grace and the depth of the knowledge of Christ that only comes from suffering. Paul says, “There is an aspect of God's grace, an aspect of a relationship with Him, that only comes in that way.”

That is what God is saying to Paul. “Paul, My strength is made perfect in weakness.” If you want God's strength perfected in you, if your answer is yes, then God will probably put His finger on some weakness in your life and then He will say, “I am going to give you the grace to live with that.” Then you will know the fellowship that only comes through suffering, and you will know Christ in a way that you never knew Him before, in a way that you never could have known Him if the suffering had not come along.

Paul goes on to say in verse 10, “Since that is the case, I take pleasure in infirmities. I welcome hard times as an opportunity to know God's strength.” He says in the last part of verse 10:

II Corinthians 12

10…for when I am weak, [for any of the above reasons] then am I strong.

Let's go back to Philippians, chapter 3. While we are turning back there, I ask you the question: “Do you want to know Jesus Christ the way that Paul knew Him? Do you want to get closely acquainted with Him? Do you want to have the kind of relationship with Him that brings ultimate confidence in life?” Then you need to be ready to know Him in participation in suffering because that is one of the ways that He reveals himself most deeply.

Made Conformable Unto His Death

In Philippians, chapter 3, notice in the last part of verse 10. The last thing we want to notice in this verse is that a third aspect of this coming to know the Lord Jesus more intimately, is “being made conformable unto His death.”

We are referring to this as “permeation with His death.” The reason that we are using the term “permeation” is the fact that the word “conformable” here–“being made conformmable to His death”–is a translation of the Greek word summorphos . This word means to “press into a mold,” “to fit a mold.”

Paul says, “I want to fit the mold of the death of Jesus Christ. I want to be permeated with all that is involved in His death.” To be made conformable to His death is to fit the pattern that was established by Jesus Christ and His death. What was the pattern? It was a pattern of complete submission to the will of the Father. “Not my will, but Thine be done,” Jesus said.

It is interesting to notice that when Jesus was on earth, in that last prayer that He prayed, as He prayed there by Himself with the disciples at a little distance, He said:

Matthew 26

39…O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

You see, Jesus knew what He personally would prefer for His own comfort, for His own well-being. He would have preferred not to have gone to the Cross. That may sound surprising, but I think it is wonderful to recognize how realistic the Lord Jesus Christ was, and it puts His sacrifice in all the more brilliant context.

Matthew 26

39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…

Jesus Christ went to the Cross willingly, but He went recognizing the depth of the suffering and the sacrifice that He was going to perform. He was not a robot. He didn't go unthinkingly and unfeelingly, but He went willingly. And Paul says, “I want to fit that mold. If I am going to know Jesus Christ intimately, I am going to fit that pattern and fit that mold.”

Christ's Willingness to Suffer Death

Remember back in chapter 2, he had said:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Be willing to conform to the thinking of Jesus Christ. “I want to be permeated with His death,” he said.

Going on to verse 11, he says:

Philippians 3

11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

What he is saying in verse 11 is, “If I can fit the mold of the death of Jesus Christ, if I can recognize all the death of Christ means to me, and if I can have the same kind of attitude that Christ had in being willing to suffer that death, then I will know what resurrection life really is.”

The way verse 11 is worded, we might get the idea that he has some question about whether or not He would be involved in the Resurrection, that he hoped by some means to participate in the Resurrection. But he is not expressing any doubts there. He is simply saying, as I have already mentioned, that to really set the pattern of the death of Christ, to live with the power over sin that the death of Christ makes possible, would be real resurrection life.

True Meaning of Freedom

One of the subjects that we talk about a lot in this generation is the subject of freedom. Our attention at this particular time seems to be focused most largely on the rights of women. Many women claim that they want their freedom, the right to achieve all that they can achieve. A few years ago, it was the teenagers who were talking this way, the hippies wanting the right to do “whatever I want to do, freedom to do whatever I want to do.”

Do you realize that rights and privileges can very quickly become enslaving? You see, freedom is not the right to do anything that you want to do. Freedom is not the right to eat as much food as you possibly eat. Freedom is not the right to eat as much as you want. Those of us who have that problem, and I recently think that I have gotten into that category of having that problem, we realize that to eat all that we want to eat is an enslaving thing. That is not freedom. That is slavery. We very quickly become slaves to our belly. Freedom is not the right to drink as much as we want to drink of alcholic beverages. The person who drinks all that he wants to of alcoholic beverages is quickly enslaved by those things. Freedom, rather, is the power to do the things that we ought to do.

That is what Paul said. “If I can be conformed to the death of Jesus Christ. If I can become conformable to His death, if I can do His will at all cost, I will have Resurrection life. I will know what it is to have freedom and power in this life.” He is saying, “Whatever it takes is worth it if by any means I might attain unto that Resurrection life.” And of course, he is talking about eternal life also.

Baptism - Identification With Christ's Death

Paul has already stated this a little more specifically back in Romans, chapter 6. Turn there for just a minute because this is a very important concept that we need to understand as we think about the Christian life. One of the important mechanics of living the Christian life is Romans, chapter 6. He is talking about the crucifixion of Christ and our identification with the crucifixion of Christ. Notice in verses 4 and 5:

Romans 6

4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

Think very carefully what Paul is saying. First, in verse 4, he says:

Romans 6

4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death…

We don't begin to have the time to go into the details of this, but let me say, and you can take my word for it or investigate it on your own as you have the time, he is talking not about water baptism primarily there, but rather baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit placing us into the Body of Christ. That is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The word “baptize,” baptizo , in the Greek, means “to identify with.” Our water baptism ritual is a means of publicly, physically identifying with Christ. But it is really only an outer picture of that spiritual identification with Christ that the Holy Spirit has already performed.

And so, he says in verse 5, “When we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit identifies us with the Body of Christ, makes us part of the Body of Christ. When that takes place, we are buried with Him into His death.”

This is heavy theologically, but think here what he is saying. Do you realize that when Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for your sins and mine, when we accept that fact, we die to those sins, because of our identification with Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit? It is as though we had died for those sins. We are buried with Him. We die with Him, and those sins are forgotten just as if we had died for them.

Of course, we couldn't do that, and that is why Christ had to die for them. But it is just as if we had. God looks at us just as though we had died for those sins, so we are dead to those sins.

Walk In Newness of Life

He goes on to say, because that is true, in verse 4:

Romans 6

4…that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Do you see that? Just the same way Christ rose from the dead, we have risen from the burden of that sin. That sin has been paid for. It's all in the past, and we can rise in newness of life.

Going back to Philippians, chapter 3, that is what Paul says. And that is what we should seek to know of the Lord Jesus Christ, being made conformable unto His death, recognizing His willingness to die, and identifying with that. But from a spiritual standpoint, something is even more significant–recognizing that we are dead to sin, that sin no longer has to follow us around. It has been paid for. We have risen to newness of life. Our sins are gone; they are cancelled, and that is resurrection life.

Paul has been talking about the inclusiveness of this desire–the things that are included in his great desire. I hope by this time you are thinking as I am, “I want to have that same desire. Understanding all that is included, I want to have that same desire.”

Then in verses 12-14, as is his usual pattern, Paul tells us what is going to be necessary to implement that desire. We know what it includes; now let's look in verses 12-14 at how that should be implemented, the implementation of that desire.

The Necessary Attitude

First, in verse 12, he tells about the attitude that is necessary if we are going to implement this desire and all that it includes. He says, in verse 12:

Philippians 3

12Not 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.

Here is one of the most important aspects of this teaching. It is not a one-shot deal. Notice what he says:

Philippians 3

12Not as though I had already attained…

You see, just the statement of this desire does not make it come true. Just because I want to know Jesus Christ and the fellowship of His suffering, and being made conformable to His death, does not automatically make it true.

This is the attitude that is necessary. Paul didn't want them to think that he had accomplished all that he could in the Christian life already. The wording of this verse is very specific. Notice the phrase, “but I follow after.” That whole phrase, “I follow after,” is a translation of one Greek word, the word dioko , which means “to pursue.” Actually it is an athletic term. It pictures a runner pushing toward the goal, pursuing the goal line–not necessarily chasing another runner, although he may be; he is not really chasing that other runner, he is pursuing the goal line. Paul says, “I have my eye on the goal. I am pursuing the goal. I follow after.” Actually in the English that doesn't sound quite as impressive as in the Greek.

Then he says:

Philippians 3

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

The word “apprehend,” as it is used twice there in the verse, is a translation of the Greek word katalambano , and actually that is a combination of two Greek words–the word kata , meaning “down,” and the word lambano , meaning “to take”–“to take down.” Probably the closest we could come to the special meaning of the Greek words is our English word “tackle.” Paul was tackled by Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road.

That is a good description, isn't it, of what happened to Paul there in Acts, chapter 9? Paul says, “I follow after that I may tackle that purpose that God had in mind when He tackled me on the Damascus Road.” So this is the attitude.

In verse 13 and 14, Paul says, not only the attitude, but then based on that attitude, the action that needs to take place. The attitude is an attitude of pursuing the goal, pushing forward just as an athlete would.

Cancel the Past

But in verses 13 and 14, he brings out some specific actions that will follow that attitude. If you will have that attitude, these actions will automatically result. First, in verse 13, it's cancellation of the past. He says:

Philippians 1

1Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: [this is a summary of verse 12] but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…

Cancellation of the past. Now we might think that by this time in his life, Paul had surely attained all that he could. At the time Paul wrote these words he had already established a whole string of churches, stretching all the way from Jerusalem westward into Spain. There were a number of churches that had been founded by the Apostle Paul. He had suffered greatly. When you have time, read II Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-28. There Paul lists the suffering that he had gone through in the ministry.

So we would think, as many of Paul's friends thought, “Surely, Paul, you have done enough. Surely it's time to relax now, Paul, and take it easy.” In fact, you remember, as Paul went to Jerusalem for his imprisonment, from which this letter was probably written, multitudes of Christians met him in various towns along the way, and said, “Paul, don't go to Jerusalem. You have accomplished enough. You don't need to go there. When you go there you are going to suffer.” Paul said, “I'm not going to rest on my laurels. I'm not going to consider that what I have done is enough. I don't consider that I have paid my dues, but rather just the opposite, forgetting those things which are behind, and continuing to press toward the mark.”

Incidentally, “forgetting those things which are behind,” would include successes as well as failures. Did you ever think about that? Often we hear folks quote this verse, and they say, “Well, I lived a pretty scummy life before I met the Lord, and that bothers my conscience. Sometimes I have nightmares about the bad things I have done. But 'forgetting those things which are behind, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God',” and that is fine. That is a legitimate application of this verse, but I want to suggest, too, that it includes forgetting those successes that are behind, and that is a lot harder to do, isn't it?

Those of you who have been successful to some degree or another in spiritual things know what I am talking about. Satan loves to get us to think, “Well, you have done enough. You have led a soul to Christ. You have done this or you have done that, and surely that is enough. Now relax.”

Paul, from the human standpoint as successful as anybody here and more successful than most, said, “Forgetting those things which are behind.” That is cancellation of the past.

Concentrate On the Present

In the last part of verse 13 and going into verse 14, he talks about the second action, and that is concentration on the present.

Philippians 3

13…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14I press toward the mark…

Cancellation of the past, concentration on the present.

When he says in the last part of verse 13, “reaching forth unto those things which are before,” he writes in the present tense. The present tense in Greek carries a little more of an implication than it does in the English. What it means is “continuing to strive.” In English, the present tense can describe just an immediate situation with no implications of continuing action. But in the Greek, when something is written in the present tense, it means doing it now and continuing to do it. That is what Paul says. “I am concentrating on the present. I am presently reaching forth unto those things which are before.”

We need to think carefully about the wording of the last part of this verse, because we think of it as the future, because he is talking about “pressing unto those things which are before us.” Actually he is talking about “right now pressing.” He is not looking at the future. He has cancelled the past, and he is concentrating on the present.

One Step At a Time

Let me remind you that as Christians, we have a tendency, I think, sometimes to look too much at the future or to dwell in the past. So we think about the “glorious hope,” and we think about all the things that are in store for us as believers, and sometimes we become, as Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. used to say, “So heavenly minded, that we are of no earthly good.” Paul says, “I haven't attained yet. I'm not perfect. I concentrate on the present.” Again I say, Satan can easily trip us up when we begin to get preoccupied with what is ahead of us and not look at what is going on right now. So the second action is to concentrate on the present. Galatians, chapter 5, verse 16, carries the same idea. That is the famous verse that says:

Galatians 5

16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

That is written in the present tense, and it means, “take one step at a time. Do it now, and keep doing it. Walk in the Spirit.” Isn't it interesting that God chose the terminology “walk in the Spirit” to describe our spiritual life? He didn't say “glide, float or fly, or roll.” He said “walk.” Walking is a series of individual steps, one step after another.

Capturing the Prize

Concentration on the present is one of the most important things that we as Christians can purpose to do. The ultimate aim of all of this is in verse 14:

Philippians 3

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

We refer to this as “capturing the prize.” That is the purpose of it all, “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

In the New American Standard version, this phrase is translated “the upward call of Christ Jesus.” That is because again Paul uses an athletic term when he says, “the high calling of God.” It is a term that describes the judges up in the observation seat, calling the winner up to receive his prize. That is exactly what Paul says. “I am looking forward to the day when the Lord Jesus Christ will call me up, [probably what he has in mind is the Judgment Seat of Christ] and he will give me the prize.” The “upward call”–is not specifically the Rapture, although that might be pictured, but really it is the Judgment Seat of Christ, at which all of this life will be examined and will be revealed as it pertains to honor and glory for Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

As we conclude, I wonder what is your greatest desire in life? Is it some desire that is going to be fulfilled next month or next year or ten years from now? Is it like the Apostle Paul's desire that will only be fulfilled at the upward call from the Great Judge, the only Judge that matters?

How are you going to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ? How does your goal in life relate to that upward call by the Judge that will examine all that we have done?


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