Paul was in jail when wrote this, but just because he was jailed didn’t mean he’d failed. He was Spirit-led, focused and motivated. He used his incarceration-time as a time of maturity and spiritual development.
Paul’s words can be paraphrased in this way:
Verse 12 – “Although I have not reached full maturity yet, I press on to the goal, to capture it, because I have been captured by Jesus.”
Verse 13 – “Brothers, although I am still not all that I should be, this one thing I do and I concentrate on this (forgetting my past) I stretch forward to the things which are in front of me.”
Verse 14 – “I strain and press toward the goal at the end of the race, eager for the prize of heaven, because of what Jesus has done for me.”
When we read these words, we might say, “Hey! Paul said he wanted to share one thing – but forgetting, reaching and pressing forward are actually three things!” But in the mind of Paul, they were all connected, for he knew that one cannot make progress forward while looking backward. He realized that there is no future in the past. He was living proof that “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.”
Paul was telling the Philippians, “I have not reached full maturity yet but I am making deliberate progress.” He had what might be termed “a dissatisfied satisfaction,” for Paul seemed to be dissatisfied with how little he knew about the Jesus who had saved Him that day on the Damascus road. Earlier in verse 10, Paul had expressed that he wanted to know Christ “in the power of His resurrection.” His deepest desire was not to be released from prison, but to become better acquainted with his Lord. Do you have that holy dissatisfied satisfaction? Are you hungry and thirsty for righteousness?
Ask Paul what he wanted most in life and he might have said, “That!” But what exactly is that? Whatever it is, this passage proves that it involved a more complete knowledge of Christ “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” What exactly “that” is, we are not told, but whatever it was, it involved God’s will for his life. Paul himself may not have been clear on the details, but he knew that in order to progress, he must leave the past behind him. Paul was in jail, but he knew that jail time alone would mature him. Paul was driven with a defining mission: to lay hold of that which Jesus got hold of him for.
The “that” in your life is very different than the “that” of any other Christian. It remains for you to discover–from Jesus personally–specifically what the “that” is for your life. Paul desired to discover the reason that Jesus had bestowed such great mercy upon him. Because of his great zeal for God, Paul was willing to endure hardship beyond measure and beyond reason to reach the goal God had for his life. Thus, Paul forgot, he reached and pressed on.
Paul said that he did not “count” (logizomi) himself to have completely comprehended his life’s purpose. The word logizomi is an accounting term. Paul had “done the math” and realized that the sufferings of this present world are unworthy of comparison with the glories of the next.
Throughout this passage, Paul uses the analogy of runners in a foot race. Paul would not allow anything to hinder his progress for he was driven by the call of God. He was out to attain something that he could only describe as “that.” Yet how many Christians are content to live day to day, without a definite purpose?
Paul claimed to be apprehended by Jesus. The word means “to seize, to grasp, to get hold of”. Have you been apprehended by Jesus? Are you determined to fulfill His will for your life? Do you seek to capture that for which He has captured you for? Remember that there is a vast difference between just being fascinated or captivated by Jesus and actually being arrested by Him. Paul sought the prize at the end of the race, whatever the race may cost him. Will you?
Paul’s sincerity is proven by his forgetting any and all things that might hinder his progress for God. The word “forgetting” here is epilanthanomenos and means “completely forgetting.” It is an interesting word, indicating “the opposite of remembering,” a deliberate, conscious effort to not recall and dwell on the past. Had Paul not taught us this, we might be tempted to dwell on past failures and disappointments. Although no one can completely forget their past achievements or failures, Paul indicates that he will not allow his future to be negatively impacted by living in the past. He never worried about things he could not change.
But Satan wants you to live in the past, wallowing in a mud pile of misery. When Jesus forgave your sins, He erased all former offenses because of His work on Calvary. He does not expect you to cry over forgiven sins. In fact, He taught us that “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back is fit for the kingdom,” To look back might breed discouragement, disappointment or defeatism.
Another danger is the temptation to rest on past victories. Former achievements can paralyze a Christian, but Paul knew that they were only the stepping stones to get him where he was today. He had studied at the feet of one of Israel’s finest teachers. To study under Gamaliel in his day was like receiving a double PhD from Harvard. Paul learned from his former mistakes as a Pharisee and his current experiences as a Christian. But whether good or bad, they were still all in the past tense. He knew he could not progress forward if he was looking backward.
Paul’s success was tied to the fact that he was a specialist of singleness of purpose. “And reaching forth” is another running analogy meaning to “spur yourself on; to lean forward as you run.” The picture Paul paints here is of a runner who is straining forward to reach the finish line and receive the trophy. The Writer to the Hebrews tell us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us…and to run the race” (12:1). Paul told the Corinthians to “run, so that they might attain” (I Corinthians 9:24-16). Paul indicates to the Philippians that he had not yet attained, but he was determined to. Although his destination is not specified, Paul affirms he was still on the journey.
Examine Paul’s life as he forgets, reaches forth and presses toward the mark of being forever together with Jesus in heaven. Not many years later, as Paul faced his own execution, he would write to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:6-8).
To not look over your shoulder is the first law of running. Many Christians today are looking around to see how and what others are doing what they do. Your opposition is Satan not other saints. Jesus told Peter not to worry about John’s future (John 21:22), but to concentrate on following Him.
Getting saved is not the finish line, but the starting line of the race. We are not saved to sit and soak, but to run. And Paul indicates that this must be an all-out effort. One cannot rest on their laurels and gain a laurel wreath from God. Paul sought the “high calling of God in Jesus” (v. 14).
Although he was in jail, all of Paul’s energies were centered on forgetting and reaching. He was beaten, bruised and bloody, but still in the race, still more determined than ever to know Jesus “in the power of His resurrection” (v. 10).
“I strain,” says Paul, “to visualize what’s ahead for me.” But read the list of things that might have hindered him in II Corinthians 11! Despite his trials, Paul had the attitude of a runner bent forward, with a focused concentration on the goal, his toe in the cinders, ready to sprint. And yet, the Christian life is not a dash, but a long distance race. It is in many ways like an endurance test.
Paul seemed to be dissatisfied with how little he knew about Jesus and how little he was like Him. He knew he was born for a reason, and he would not stop until he discovered what he was born for. Paul was not groping around in the dark, seeking after some illusive thing, but had a definite goal and a definite purpose. The Apostle would allow nothing to break his concentration, confident that, with God’s help, he would complete his race.
A tombstone epitaph at the base of one of the highest mountains in Switzerland reads simply: “He died climbing.” God does not expect His children to simply “move on.” He expects us to move up. We are to set our affections on things above not on the things of this world.