Bible Topics
in the Christian Library

Philippians 3:12-16

John L. Kachelman, Jr.


I. General remarks on the context:

1. In the verses found just before this section we read of Paul's decision to obey Christ. His obedience resulted in recognizing new goals and prompted him to have a desire to know Christ to an even greater degree (v. 10-11).

2. In the present section Paul tells us how this decision has affected his present life in pursuing his desire to know Jesus.

3. The overriding figure used here by Paul is the attitude of an athlete in a foot race. Paul uses this same figure elsewhere in his writings to stress faithfulness in advancing toward the completion of faithful Christianity (cf. Hb 12:1-2; 1 Co 9:24; 2 Ti 2:5).

II. The basic thrust of this paragraph is to offer encouragement to fellow believers.

1. We are involved in a foot race and MUST finish the course. We are tempted to become satisfied with our progress and position and consequently relent in our efforts to publish the gospel message.

2. As we run the Christian race there are dangers to be reckoned with. But there is joy of completion which must be kept foremost in our minds.

3. It was because Paul ran according to the principles of this passage that he could triumphantly assert the words in 2 Ti 4:6-8. He found joy in running the race because of the points in our lesson text.

III. It is possible for us to share Paul's joy as we run the same race! How can we be joyful when we are tempted, discouraged, often fall, and see so many others ahead of us? Do we not often feel that it is hopeless to run this race? Carefully consider the following points which tell you HOW you can run the Christian race and find joy in doing so.


I. Run toward the RIGHT GOAL (v. 12; also note v. 14).

A. Paul's goal was just stated in v. 10-11 -- He desired to reach the point of maturity which afforded a complete knowledge of Christ. This goal directed every aspect of his life.

B. The goal of Christianity is understood by two words -- holiness and usefulness. These are the two supreme objective of every Christian in their race.

1. Holiness -- 1 Ths 4:7. We have been called to holy living and must diligently strive toward such every day! We are God's to please him!

2. Usefulness -- Jn 15:16. Certainly one has overlooked an extremely important point if he professes to follow Christ but is not useful to his Master!

3. These two goals of Christianity are often stressed (cf. 2 Ti 2:21).

4. Serious questions should be answered at the end of each day we live: Is my life one which follows a holy course? Am I useful to the great God in heaven? In what things have I lived more holy today? How have I been of greater use to God today?

C. Those aged saints in God's Kingdom who are joyful, are so because of the one supreme aim in their life. May we carefully direct our life by this twofold goal! 

II. Run with three REALIZATIONS (v. 12-13a).

A. Realize that you are not perfect (v. 12, 13a).

1. Paul never permitted himself to become satisfied with his spiritual attainments. He compared himself with Christ and God (Mt 5:48; 1 Pt 2:21-24).

2. Some Christians compare themselves with other Christians who are not making much progress, and them conclude that they are doing a pretty good job!

3. The Bible offers examples of those who felt they had arrived at perfection (Rv 3:1; 3:17; Jud 16:20). Every time the self-satisfaction failed! We should never compare our running with any other except Christ and God! (Ps 42:1-2).

B. Realize that you must press on (v. 12).

1. "Follow after" -- literally is "to overextend oneself." Every fiber of his body, every ounce of strength is spent in pursuing this goal. 

2. Paul is saying that he was intense in following Christ. He could not relax and lessen his intense posture.

3. There have been various illustrations of this in professional sports, entertainment, business, etc. There are those who exert themselves in the greatest effort and devote full attention of attaining a goal. Yet many of these are destitute of such fervor in spiritual matters!

4. May we be extremely careful that we do not place a greater determination in golfing, baseball, fishing, bowling, etc., than in spiritual things! (Cf Ps 119:30- 32).

C. Realize that Christ EXPECTS you to go on! (v. 12).

1. Your race is not lost from sight (Hb 12:1-2). There is an innumerable host cheering you on to the end.

2. You must realized that you do not run by yourself. Christ is present to give you strength and help (Ps 46:1; Ep 6:10; Philip 4:1, 13, 19).

3. You will deeply disappoint God if you succumb to the temptation to quit and never complete the race (Ep 4:30; Hb 3:10, 17).

D. Note the personal nature of these realizations -- I must personally realize these things. I should not look at others for these things. I am not yet perfect; I must press on; I must not disappoint God!

III. Run the race after making THREE DECISIONS (v. 13).

A. Decide about PRIORITIES (v. 13) -- "This ONE thing I do" (13).

1. The Christian must devote himself to a singular objective. He refuses to become involved in every little project that seeks to draw his efforts and energies away from Christ (Neh 6:3; Jas 1:8).

2. Those who allow themselves to be caught up in trivial doings are not wholly devoted to their calling! (Lk 14:16-21a).

3. Can you say that your priorities are grouped around "one thing" and that is the gospel's objectives of holiness and usefulness?

B. Decide to FORGET (v. 13) -- Should there be a universal need for all believers, here it is -- they need to forget the past!

1. "Forget" -- Not a failure of remembering but understanding that the has no bearing or influence on our present outlook or conduct! WE ARE NOT TO BE GOVERNED BY THE PAST!

2. We must forget: old sins (Hb 10:17; 1 Jn 1:9; Micah 7:19); former failings; past experiences; past successes. 

3. Far too many have lost happiness and joy because they spend their present reliving the bad past and fretting over forgiven sins!

4. The runner who constantly looks back will never be able to finish the race!

5. Our yesterdays are irretrievable, we cannot erase the mistakes made. We can only rest in Christ assured that our sins have been forgiven!

C. Decide to STRETCH FORWARD (v. 13).

1. The runner strains every muscle to cross the finish line first.

2. As we race, our day should be spent grasping every opportunity of service; seeking to make advancements in the things of God.

3. It will take disciplined efforts to do this!

IV. Run the race with the proper ATTITUDES (v. 14-16).

A. A ready resolve to go forward regardless of the cost (v. 14).

B. A determined effort to mold our thinking as it should be! (v. 15). See NASV.

C. A desire to obey God's will and change if necessary (v. 15b). There must be strict adherence to the rules (1 Co 9:24-27; 2 Ti 2:5).

D. A steadfastness in daily living -- never retreating from the marked path we tread (v. 16). Failure to do so will mean that we lose what we already have gained!


I. What an encouraging passage to study!

1. We are involved in a race that is crucial to our eternal destiny. We MUST run it to completion.

2. The one who runs the race with these principles just stated will find great joy in life.

3. "It would be so easy to become satisfied, to become complacent, to become lax, to become indifferent. Beloved of God, there is a race to be run; let us run with patience" (Pentecost).

II. Consider the phrase "lay hold of" in verse 12.

1. The idea that God "lays hold of" our life is taught often in the Bible. But in all cases it is in cooperation with the human will.

2. God will never call those who will not cooperate with His directions.

3. Today God seeks to lay hold of all who will obey Him and respond to His will. Will you cooperate with God's commands and strive to lay hold of the goal for which you were laid hold on?

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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