Perfection Not Yet Reached (Philippians 3:12-16)

March 14, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Previous Weeks

Today we look at Paul’s present situation. The last two weeks we have studied Paul’s past (Phil 3:1-11), today we will study his present (Phil 3:12-16), and next week we will study his future (Phil 3:17-21).

If you have missed past studies in Philippians you can read them below:

Perfection Not Yet Reached (Philippians 3:12-16)

Photo Credit: brando.n

B. Philippians 3:12-16

12I do not mean that I have already attained it, or that I have been made perfect, but I keep pressing on to attain it, for which I have been won by Christ. 13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, but I focus on one thing: by forgetting the things behind while stretching for the things ahead. 14I press on toward the goal, to the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, let all those who are mature think about these things. If you think anything different, God will reveal it to you. 16In any case, to which we have attained maturity on this issue, let us stay there. ~ Phil 3:12-16

C. Introduction of Passage Today

While I normally try to share jokes that relate to our passage and topic for the day, these are unrelated.

Christian Pick-up Lines

  1. “My parents are home, wanna come over?”
  2. “I didn’t believe in predestination until now.”
  3. “Is it hot in here or is that just the Holy Spirit burning inside of you?”
  4. “I was reading my Bible the other day, and I was wondering if you know what Paul meant by ‘greet one another with a holy kiss?’”
  5. “How many times do I have to walk around you before you fall for me?”
  6. “So I was reading the book of Numbers the other day and realized I don’t have yours.” (from charlesspecht.com)

II. PAUL CONTINUES ON (3:12-14)

12I do not mean that I have already attained it, or that I have been made perfect, but I keep pressing on to attain it, for which I have been won by Christ. 13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, but I focus on one thing: by forgetting the things behind while stretching for the things ahead. 14I press on toward the goal, to the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

A. Paul Presses On (v. 12)

12I do not mean that I have already attained it, or that I have been made perfect, but I keep pressing on to attain it, for which I have been won by Christ.”

1. Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, — I do not mean that I have already attained it, or that I have been made perfect

This first clause is “what is so.” Paul tells what is true at that specific point in time.

a) Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον – I do not mean that I have already attained it

This verb, ἔλαβον (“I have already attained”), used as an aorist points to something that has occurred in the past. Specifically, it likely refers to Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road (Acts 9).

The direct object, αὐτο, of this aorist verb has been supplied. This direct object refers to the complete and final knowledge of Jesus Christ, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Phil 3:8–11, NLT).

b) ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, — or that I have been made perfect

This verb, τετελείωμαι (“I have been made perfect”) points to Paul’s present moral and spiritual condition following conversion. He does not claim to be perfect. It likely has been about 30 years since Paul became a Christian. In that time he had won many spiritual battles, planted churches, and growing significantly in his faith. However, he still does not count himself as perfect.

2. διώκω δὲ εἰ καὶ καταλάβω, — but I keep pressing on to attain it,

This second clause tells “what is not so.” Paul tells what is not true at that specific point in time.

a) δὲ — but

This is a mild contrasting conjunction. It seperates what is so, “I do not mean that I have already attained it or that I have been made perfect” (3:12a) with what is not so “But I keep pressing on” (3:12b).

b) διώκω . . . εἰ — I keep pressing on

This is the cooperative work with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads and we participate with him in our sanctification.

O’Brien prefers not to see athletic imagery being used by Paul here, but instead that Paul is descrpting his “pressing” toward the ultimate goal of knowledge and union with Christ as has been described in Phil 3:8-11.

c) καταλάβω, — to attain it,

εἰ modifies καταλάβω which is an aorist subjunctive. It introduces indirect deliberative questions which indicates a purpose, “but I keep pressing on to see”

This verb is used (when in the active voice) in papyri of colonies appropriating land and making it their own possession. Paul, too, wants to come into possession of something. While not explicitly stated in this clause, it is likely the same direct object of ἐλαβον above referring to Phil 3:8-11.

3. ἐφʼ ᾧ καὶ κατελήμφθην ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ]. – for which I have been won by Christ

a) ἐφʼ ᾧ καὶ — for which

The antecedent is “complete Christlikeness.” While it also might have a causal sense “because I have been won by Christ.

b) ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ]. – by Christ

This is a genitive of agency, modifying κατελυμυθην. This type of genitive indicates the personal agency by which the action in view is accomplished (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 126-127; Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, Greek Grammar, 98). As a genitive of agency Paul is indicating that his “righteousness” or “complete Christlikeness” is accomplished through the person of Jesus Christ.

4. Perfection: A Believed Allusion

In our culture you probably hear people say, “I am a perfectionist” or something like, “I won’t stop until it is perfect.” However, the truth is that perfection is an allusion.

I remember watching football with my best friend and his soon-to-be wife was hanging out with us with a couple of her friends. The girls were talking while we were watching (if you know what I mean). I overhead the conversation about how my friend’s fiancé had done a good job on something to which she remarked, “Of course I did a great job. I am a perfectionist.” She did have a reputation for trying to get these “perfect.” She was about to graduate college, was engaged in a good man, and was in charge of a wedding magazine all before she had turned 22 years old.

Yet, she had not learned that perfectionism is an allusion. Not more than a month later I received the wedding announcement from her. She was taking time to design and create all of their wedding materials because she, of course, wanted everything perfect. In the mail I received a kitchen magnet with a save the date information on it and website for their wedding. However, when I looked at the website, it was cut off at the bottom. Because the magnet was designed in an oval fashion, the first to letters and last two letters of the website address had been cutoff. It read, “w.ourwedding.c” instead of “www.ourwedding.com.” Further proof and confirmation that perfectionism is an allusion.

B. Paul Looks to the Future (v. 13)

13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, but I focus on one thing: by forgetting the things behind while stretching for the things ahead.”

1. ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἓν δέ, — Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this, but I focus on one thing:

a) ἀδελφοί, — Brothers and sisters,

This word literally means, “brothers” but BDAG provides excellent extra biblical support that this word in the plural can refer to both men and women together (BDAG, 18).

b) ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι – I do not consider myself

Greek words can show emphasis by the order they are placed in. Often, nouns placed at the beginning of a sentence or clause show emphasis. Here, the nouns ἐγὼ and ἐμαυτὸν are placed first, perhaps as a point of emphasis that Paul’s own work and deeds cannot attain that which we do dearly wants.

c) κατειληφέναι· — to have attained this

This perfect infinitive is a direct object (compliment) of λογιζομαι.

2. τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, — by forgetting the things behind while stretching for the things ahead.

a) τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος – by forgetting the things behind

(1) ἐπιλανθανόμενος – by forgetting

Participle of means related to διωκω in Phil 3:14.

(2) τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω – the things behind

Referencing Paul’s heritage and work under the Law (Phil 3:5-6).

(3) Our Past Is Past

It is good to remember that things of the past will always be a part of us. While we remember the things we have been through and make sure that we learn from those experiences, it is important to leave those things in the past and to move forward with God’s plan for our lives. Let us stretch forward to the things God has designed and planned for us.

b) τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, — while stretching for the things ahead.

(1) ἐπεκτεινόμενος – while stretching

Also a participle of means related to διωκω in Phil 3:14. This is, according to O’Brien, “a vivid word, drawn from the games, and it pictures a runner with his eyes fixed on the goal, his hand stretching out towards it, and his body bent forward as he enters the last and decisive stages of the race” (O’Brien, Philippians, 429).

This is a graphic word that pictures a “runner who strains every muscle to press forward in the race” (Comfort, Philippians, 206).

(2) Athletic Imagery

Robert Jamieson pictures this “with hand and foot, like a runner in a race, and the body bent forward” (Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997], 367).

Footrace or chariot race? Warren Weirsbe prefers chariot race, “The Greek chariot, used in the Olympic Games and other events, was really only a small platform with a wheel on each side. The driver had very little to hold on to as he raced around the course. He had to lean forward and strain every nerve and muscle to maintain balance and control the horses” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996], 88).

c) Forget the Past, Look to the Future

One thing a runner can do is look back when he runs and that will slow him down. Therefore, Christians need to forget what lies behind (good or bad) and focus on what lies ahead!

C. Paul Presses On (v. 14)

14I press on toward the goal, to the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul uses similar athletic imagery when writing to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 9:24-27.

1. κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω – I press on toward the goal,

a) διώκω – I press on

This verb is a progressive present showing the continuous action of Paul. This is something he was striving for every day.

b) κατὰ σκοπὸν – toward the goal,

Paul’s eyes are fixed on the finish line.

2. εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον – to the prize

This is the final result of God’s call and grace in our lives. It will be eternal glory in the presence of Jesus.

In the Greek games the winning athlete was called to the place of the judge to receive his prize. Paul might be using an analogy here to describe ultimate salvation in God’s presence or the reception of rewards at the judgement seat of Christ, “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body” (2 Cor 5:10, NLT) (Lightner, “Philippians” in Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, 662).

3. τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ — of the upward calling of God

a) τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως – of the upward calling

This genitive construction has several translation options. Apposition, “The prize which is the upward call.” Possessive, “The prize which belongs to the upward call.” Means, “The prize which is by upward call.” Source, “The prize which is from the upward call.”

b) τοῦ θεοῦ — of God

These two words are of most importance.

III. HOLD TO THE PROGRESS ALREADY MADE (3:15-16)

15Therefore, let all those who are mature think about these things. If you think anything different, God will reveal it to you. 16In any case, to which we have attained maturity on this issue, let us stay there.”

A. The Spiritually Mature Agree on these Things (v. 15)

15Therefore, let all those who are mature think about these things. If you think anything different, God will reveal it to you.”

1. Ὅσοι οὖν τέλειοι, τοῦτο φρονῶμεν·Therefore, let all those who are mature think about these things.

a) οὖν – Therefore,

This is an inferential conjunction. Other mature believers should also strive toward the same goal in the same manner. That manner started in Phil 3:12 and then concludes that manner in Phil 3:16 saying that all mature believers should agree on it.

b) Ὅσοι – those who are

An implied ἐσιτιν is here and as a result “are” has been added to my translation.

c) τέλειοι, — mature

Literally, “initiated” or “spiritually mature” (O’Brien, Philippians, 436).

d) φρονῶμεν — think about

This is a hortatory subjunctive used as a customary present.

e) A Positive Example

Before Paul says it directly in Phil 3:17, he shows that he is an example to the Philippians. He has been an example to their congregation, his life reflects a appropriate Christian attitude, and those who are “mature” or “initiative” are supposed to do the same as he has done and believe in the same things that he has.

f) A Negative Example

“One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the United States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and was undoubtedly the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant that he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and that his Olympic achievements were erased from the records. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules. (Thorpe’s medals were reinstated in 1985 by the Olympic Committee.)” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996], 90).

2. καὶ εἴ τι ἑτέρως φρονεῖτε, καὶ τοῦτο θεὸς ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει·If you think anything different, God will reveal it to you.

a) εἴ — If

This is a 1st class conditional statement which means that it is assumed true for the sake of argument.

b) καὶ τοῦτο ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει — God will reveal it to you.

The word used here for “reveal” is a loaded word! Ἀποκαλυπτω describes God’s gracious activity and unique knowledge. Out of the four categories that BDAG provides for this word, two are worth mentioning. Broadly, this verb means to cause something to be fully known, reveal, disclose, bring to light, make fully known.

(1) Divine Revelation

This is especially of divine revelation of certain transcendent secrets as in:

  • “At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike’” (Matt 11:25, NLT).
  • “Jesus replied, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being’” (Matt 16:17, NLT).
  • “At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and he said, ‘O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way’” (Luke 10:21, NLT).
  • “They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen” (1 Peter 1:12, NLT).

(a) Divine Revelation from Jesus Christ

Other times the word reveals of that revelation are Christ as in:

  • “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27, NLT).
  • “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22, NLT).

(b) Divine Revelation from the Holy Spirit

At other times the word is used for the revelation from the Holy Spirit as in:

  • “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets” (1 Cor 2:10, NLT).
  • “But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop” (1 Cor 14:30, NLT).
  • “God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit he has revealed it to his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:5, NLT). 
  • “to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being” (Gal 1:16, NLT).

(2) Revelation of the End Times

At other times this verb is used of the revelation of certain persons and circumstances in the end times.

(a) For the Human One (Son of Man)

“Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:30, NLT).

(b) Of the Lawless One

  • “Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction” (2 Thess 2:3, NLT).
  • “And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes” (2 Thess 2:6, NLT).
  • “Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thess 2:8, NLT).

(c) Final judgement

  • “But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value” (1 Cor 3:13, NLT).
  • “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Rom 8:18, NLT).
  • “And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you” (1 Peter 5:1, NLT).
  • “And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:5, NLT).
  • “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed” (Gal 3:23, NLT).

B. Hold on to What Has Been Made (v. 16)

16In any case, to which we have attained maturity on this issue, let us stay there.”

1. πλὴν εἰς ὃ ἐφθάσαμεν,In any case, to which we have attained maturity on this issue,

Translation options for this aorist active indicative verb, ἐφθάσαμεν:

  • constative, “we attain maturity”
  • ingressive, “we began to attain maturity”
  • consummative, “we have attained maturity.”

2. τῷ αὐτῷ στοιχεῖν.let us stay there.

a) στοιχεῖν. – let us stay

As an imperatival infinitive Paul is urging them not to deviate away from their state of spiritual maturity which was based on his past teaching.

b) τῷ αὐτῷ — there

The reference here is likely, “the same teaching” or “the same attitude regarding spiritual maturity.”

c) Staying and Walking in this New Position

The idea of a “new position” or a “new area” that believers are in because of their maturity is also seen in Gal 6:15-16, “It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God” (NLT). (See the Greek word στοιχεω used here in Phil 3:16 as well as in Gal 6:15-16.)

IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

Our perfection comes from Christ. The Bible tells us that the believers on earth will be raptured up to heaven (1 Thess 4:13-18, 5:9), there will be 7 years of tribulation (1 Thess 5:2-4; Rev 3:10), there will be a thousand year reign of Christ (Rev 20:1-10), and then God will create a new heaven and new earth where everything will be made perfect. Because of our belief in Christ we are made right because of that faith. And, as a result we will be made perfect by God in his new Jerusalem, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’” (Rev 21:1–4, NLT).

LEADERSHIP MOMENT

Perfection Among the People You Lead

As a leader, regardless of how “perfect” you think you are in your life, it is important that you do not expect the people you manage to be perfect. I remember while working as a Campaign Associate at the United Way of Stanislaus County our CEO held high expectations for us, yet she did not expect us to be perfect. On one occasion we were planning to give away about 20 backpacks to local children which had been donated by a company I regularly fundraised money from. Our CEO talked with our Community Impact Director and then to me about about giving the backpacks away at our Campaign Kickoff event. The three of us agreed that it was a good idea to publicly thank the company that provided the backpacks while also recognizing one our partners that we provided funding and support to in the community. The day of the Campaign Kickoff event came and as the event was about to start our CEO came over to me and asked, “Did you bring the backpacks?” I panicked. “No, I did not bring the backpacks.” Our CEO said she would check with the Community Impact Director to ask if she had brought the backpacks. She didn’t either! The three of us had agreed on a great idea, yet myself and the Community Impact Director had not talked about who would actually bring the backpacks to the event.

At a time when our CEO easily could have erupted into rage and yelled at us for being so clumsy, but she simply said, “That’s okay. We will just cut that section from the program.” And then she turned around and walked way. While working at United Way of Stanislaus County our CEO had often remarked to our Community Impact Director and myself were strong, hard working, and productive young employees for her. She regularly told us that we defied the stereotypical description of Millennials as “lazy and entitled.” While the Community Impact Director and I had made a mistake by not bringing the backpacks, our CEO kept that event in perspective by not expecting us to be perfect. Mistakes do happen even among the best employees and leaders must remember that.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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