Notes on Philippians 3:12-21

Philippians 3:12‑21  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Whatever the pathway might be, the apostle intimated, as we have seen, that he must be there. Such was the value of the resurrection of the just in his eyes. Like the Israelite in Psa. 84 on his way to Jerusalem, the ways were in his heart. He loved the way of Jesus, of His sufferings, of the cross, and not merely the glory at the end. “Not as though I had already attained [literally, received, i.e., the prize], or am already perfected.” It was not a question merely of the soul's happiness. “I would to God,” he had said to king Agrippa, “that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” Who of all men was so happy as the Apostle Paul? Yet he warns us against supposing that he had yet obtained what he desired. There is no such thing as getting the prize till we are in the resurrection from amongst the dead. But he adds, “I follow after [or pursue], if also I may lay hold, for that also I am laid hold on by Christ.” He keeps his eye fixed upon Christ all the way through as well as at last. This was the strength of his triumphing over all the difficulties that lay between. No present experience, no actual joy detains his heart from God's end. The apostle wanted to gain possession of Christ by and by; but also Christ had possession of himself already.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold [whatever others might dream]; but one thing, forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue “The apostle does not mean that one ought to overlook, or that he did overlook his past sins and failure. On the contrary, it is most evil to forget what Christ has suffered for our sakes, and also the manifold ways wherein we have dishonored God. This will not at all interfere with settled peace—rather the reverse. A man can rejoice so much the more in the Lord if he fully judge his failure. It is the tendency of a conscience not thoroughly happy to desire to escape from thinking of anything in which we have consciously turned aside to the grief of the Holy Ghost. It is a right thing to search ourselves through and through, it is right to ask God to search and try us, and to lead us in the way everlasting. Confidence in grace, so far from weakening the sense of our own shortcomings or covering over our failure, is the very spring that enables us to see and deal with the reality of things in the presence of God. Thus the apostle speaks of “forgetting the things behind,” not with reference to his failure, but rather to his points of progress, the steps or stages in which he had made advance in the knowledge of Christ. Instead of dwelling upon any attainment, as if it were something to be thought of (like the Pharisee comparing himself with his neighbor), here we have this blessed man forgetting all that might have fed self-complacency or been creditable to himself. His back was on the ground traversed. “Stretching out to the things before, I pursue towards the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This can only be in the resurrection state. Till then he was content to run. This was his one business. It was to live Christ, because Christ was his object.
But now follows another thing which we need to bear in mind. We find different conditions, and not at all the same degree of progress made by the children of God. What then is the grand principle to guide us? Let us suppose a company of believers gathered together, all of the same mind, every one of them brought up to think exactly alike, from baptism with water to the coming and kingdom of Christ, their minds made up and consenting even about points of detail. Would this satisfy the heart? Would it give a just witness to the ways of God towards His children? I dare not think so. It is sweet where God brings souls by exercise of spiritual judgment under the guidance of the Holy Ghost to feel alike. But where sameness is the result of dinning one doctrine into people's heads, and by rules and regulations which squeeze minds into monotony, can anything be more miserable? The apostle lays down the only divine rule for dealing with these cases. We have to do with a state of things, where there exist all varieties of attainments. In heaven we shall know as we are known; but the question is how to bear ourselves about these things here. It is a natural desire that all should grow and rise to a certain height of the stature of Christ. But are we not apt to confound the stature of Christ with our own idea of it? to desire that people should have our mind? This we have to guard against; and the true corrective is given here.
“As many, therefore, as be perfect, let us be thus minded.” He speaks of himself and others also, as being “perfect;” but there is no contradiction of what went before. When he had, in verse 12, disclaimed as yet the reception of the prize and being perfected, he meant that he was not yet out of the conflict in a resurrection condition. But when he here exhorts “as many as be perfect,” he means those who are of full age in the faith, thoroughly grounded in the Christian position, entering into it by faith and spiritual intelligence. It means a Christian who is not a babe, but full grown; not, of course, a Christian who has thoroughly finished his course, for this is in resurrection, but one who has become a man in Christ. We shall not have grown up into the full likeness of Christ till He comes and transforms us like to His glory. But there is such a thing even here as growing into the full knowledge of the mind of God, and it is through having got Christ in glory before us now the personal object of our souls. But suppose there are others among the children of God still in difficulty and doubt, what then? Are we to make them adopt our feelings and judgments about things? Certainly not. It would be a positive loss, unless it were by the power of the Holy Ghost leading the saints into a fuller apprehension of Christ.
The reference here is not to such matters of faith or practice as preclude difference. We ought not to have a hesitation where the glory of the Lord is concerned. There can be no question about sin. It is taken for granted in the Bible that no difference of mind could be tolerated where Christ is at stake. All saints instinctively see the enormity of bringing in moral evil to the table of the Lord. The Holy Ghost counts upon our resenting affronts to God. Allegiance to Him commands the conscience and rouses the heart of every saint of God if properly stated. These things God reckons upon. Nor is it only the wise and intelligent who are able to judge things of the sort, but the babes also. The only cases that ought to be brought before the Church as such are those which every believer is able to judge. It is quite a mistake to drag habitually everything before the assembly; but where things come out of an evidently immoral or of an heretical character, there any saint rejects the poison, one as much as another. It is not the babes who have difficulties or who give trouble, as a general rule. How often clever, intelligent people do the mischief, while the simple-minded would feel the evil of such things at once! Here on the contrary the matters spoken of are such as some saints might feel, and not others. There might be practical or doctrinal questions, as the particular manner in which children ought to be brought up, or the style of living, furniture or house. There one must be content to point out the holy principles of God, not to assume hastily that our own measure is such that we ought to attempt to make every other adjust his children or house by it. God is jealous that He should have the forming of His saints. A good example is precious and we cannot be too careful as to the ways we allow. But having said this, it is for the children of God to examine themselves conscientiously by His word. In such things we must be patient and look for the action of God by His own truth on the souls of His saints.
We may suggest what we can of the truth of God to influence the heart; but there is no rule absolute to be laid down by any on points like these. One has often known persons who began strongly with a certain idea which governed them, and with which they zealously sought to govern others. How long does it stand? In the very thing on which they have prided themselves, they are apt to break down. It is Christ whom God makes the standard of everything. All else fails. Why push so strongly and in haste? “If in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” There is no need then to be anxious. “Nevertheless whereto we have attained, walk by the same.” So far as we are occupied with Christ together and see His will, it is of great importance that we should walk together. But the apostle goes farther; he refers to his own example and points out as a beacon the walk of some, once owned as brethren. Need I say that it was no fleshly thing in the apostle thus to speak of himself? As a mere man, a person would be ashamed to talk about himself; it would be but a piece of vanity. The apostle was so completely raised above the thoughts of men, he so thoroughly realized the power of God in Christ, that it just illustrated the energy of the Spirit in him. He was led of the Holy Ghost to speak thus. He calls upon them therefore to be imitators together of him, and mark those that walk so as ye have us for an example. (Ver. 17.) “For many walk of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly and glory in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Ver. 18, 19.) We are not even told whether these men were put away from the Church of God. They are characterized as enemies of the cross of Christ and yet they may not have been formally without. If so, what a terrible state of things before the eyes of the apostle! persons probably not guilty of such flagrant wickedness as to require excision; and yet the source of the deepest sorrow to the apostle. They were going on carelessly, indifferently. How awful to view some within perhaps with less hope than others put away for flagrant sin! We all know how truly this is verified in the present state of Christendom. How many bear the name of Christ who by their ways show there is not the slightest breath of divine life in them! Professing to know God, in works they deny This drew out the tears of the apostle even in the midst of his joy; but he turns it to practical profit, calling on the saints to take heed. Let us watch against the beginnings of self-indulgence or allowing earthliness. “For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven,” our real association is with Him who is there. Whatever we might have been as citizens of the earth, it is at an end now and forever. We belong to Christ on high. It is not merely that we are going there, but we belong to heaven now. Our commonwealth, our citizenship is there, and therefore from thence also “we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.” He has decided to have us in entire fellowship with the home to winch we pertain, because it is His. He is coming from heaven, and, when He does, “he will change our body of humiliation so as to be conformed to the body of His glory according to the working whereby He is able also to subdue all things to Himself.” Then we shall be manifested what we now are in call, life, and desire. We are now heavenly and then we shall be declared and proved to be so. We belong to heaven even while we are upon the earth: then it will be made plain that we had no real link with the earth, but with Christ above.
The Lord grant that we may seek to bring this into everything with which we have to do, into the heart, the home, and the whole life. He has made us His friends, and may we be enabled with a purged conscience, and with a heart rejoicing in Himself, to look onward to that blessed moment when we shall prove Him true to all the hopes He has given us.