I Press On
Paul knew what it meant to overcome obstacles. He himself participated in persecuting Christians, and he was determined to overthrow Christianity. It must have been a great shock, then, when He turned his life around and converted to Jesus Christ. He also knew, up front, that serving Jesus would mean he would undergo suffering and hardship (Acts 9:16). As he went out preaching, he did indeed come to know what it meant to suffer for the Lord’s sake. He also knew that he needed to press on and endure the difficulties. As he and Barnabas went about strengthening the souls of the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith, they taught that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Paul had much to give up. In facing false teachers who boasted of their own abilities, Paul spoke to the fact that if he had confidence in the flesh, he had much to boast about: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:5-6).
He had a new perspective, however: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). He would not be relying on his earthly accomplishments or background. Instead, he would focus on Jesus, and this meant counting those things as loss:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
This is strong terminology. He was willing to give it all up for the sake of Christ. He was also willing to suffer whatever was in his path if it meant knowing Christ and being found in Him. He knew that righteousness would not come from worldly accomplishments, but through faith in the Lord. For that reason, his desire would even be to participate in Christ’s sufferings: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (vv. 10-11).
Paul saw this as part of a greater goal. He had not yet attained perfection. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” (v. 12). Once a person reaches the goal, he quits striving for it. To know there is something yet ahead for Christians is vital to our endurance. To have hope is everything. Note further then Paul’s attitude about reaching that goal: “but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (v. 12). Paul’s reasoning is built on the fact that Christ made him “his own.” We belong to Jesus, and this ought to inform everything else we do. As Paul wrote elsewhere, Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15).
Paul again reiterates that he had not obtained the goal just yet, then tells us how concentrated he was on reaching it: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13-14). Notice how twice he says he pressed on:
“I press on to make it my own.”
“I press on toward the goal…”
Note, too, how singleminded he is about what he was doing: “one thing I do.” He did not want to be distracted by the world. He wanted his focus to stay on Jesus. We can think of a runner stretching out to the goal line, reaching as far as possible to cross the finish line. To do that requires not looking back, not looking around, but keeping our eyes on that goal at all times. We have “one thing” to do, and it requires pressing on to the goal.
What is the goal? Paul said it is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This appears to parallel his earlier point, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” In other words, the final prize is the resurrection. This is based on Jesus’ own resurrection (1 Cor 15). While we may depart and be with Christ before then, the Lord intends for there to be a resurrection of life for His people (John 5:28-29). Until that happens, we have one thing to do: press on to that upward prize!