Not as though I had already attained - Ουχ ὁτι ηδη ελαβον· For I have not yet received the prize; I am not glorified, for I have not finished my course; and I have a conflict still to maintain, and the issue will prove whether I should be crowned. From the beginning of the 11th to the end of the 17th verse there is one continued allusion to the contests at the Olympic games; exercises with which, and their laws, the Philippians were well acquainted.
Either were already perfect - Η ηδη τετελειωμαι· Nor am I yet perfect; I am not yet crowned, in consequence of having suffered martyrdom. I am quite satisfied that the apostle here alludes to the Olympic games, and the word τετελειωμαι is the proof; for τελειωθηναι is spoken of those who have completed their race, reached the goal, and are honored with the prize. Thus it is used by Philo, Allegoriar. lib. iii. page 101, edit. Mangey: Ποτε ουν, ω ψυχη, μαλιστα νεκροφορειν (νικοφορειν )σεαυτην ὑποληψη· αραγε ουχ ὁταν τελειωθῃς και βραβειων και στεφανων αξιωθῃς "When is it, O soul, that thou shalt appear to have the victory? Is it not when thou shalt be perfected, (have completed thy course by death), and be honored with prizes and crowns?"
That τελειωσις signified martyrdom, we learn most expressly from Clemens Alexand., Stromata, lib. iii. page 480, where he has these remarkable words: -
τελειωσιν μαρτυριον καλουμεν, ουχ ὁτι τελος του βιου ὁ ανθρωπος ελεβεν, ῳς οἱ λοιποι, αλλ 'ὁτι τελειον εργον αγαπης ενεδειξατο·
"We call martyrdom τελειωσις, or perfection, not because man receives it as the end, τελος, or completion of life; but because it is the consummation τελειος, of the work of charity."
So Basil the great, Hom. in Psalm 116:13; :
Ποτηριον σωτηριου ληψομαι· τουτεστι, διψων επι την δια του μαρτυριου τελειωσιν ερχομαι·
"I will receive the cup of salvation; that is, thirsting and earnestly desiring to come, by martyrdom, to the consummation."
So Oecumenius, on Acts 28:
Παντα ετη απο της κλησεως του Παυλου, μεχρι της τελειωσεως αυτου, τριακοντα και πεντε·
"All the years of Paul, from his calling to his martyrdom, were thirty and five."
And in Balsamon, Can. i. Ancyran., page 764:
Τον της τελειωσεως στεφανον αναδησασθαι
"To be crowned with the crown of martyrdom."
Eusebius, Hist. Eccles, lib. vii. cap. 13, uses the word τελειουσθαι to express to suffer martyrdom. I have been the more particular here, because some critics have denied that the word has any such signification. See Suicer, Rosenmuller, Macknight, etc.
St. Paul, therefore, is not speaking here of any deficiency in his own grace, or spiritual state; he does not mean by not being yet perfect, that he had a body of sin and death cleaving to him, and was still polluted with indwelling sin, as some have most falsely and dangerously imagined; he speaks of his not having terminated his course by martyrdom, which he knew would sooner or later be the case. This he considered as the τελειωσις, or perfection, of his whole career, and was led to view every thing as imperfect or unfinished till this had taken place.
But I follow after - Διωκω δε· But I pursue; several are gone before me in this glorious way, and have obtained the crown of martyrdom; I am hurrying after them.
That I may apprehend - That I may receive those blessings to which I am called by Christ Jesus. There is still an allusion here to the stadium, and exercises there: the apostle considers Christ as the brabeus, or judge in the games, who proclaimed the victor, and distributed the prizes; and he represents himself as being introduced by this very brabeus, or judge, into the contest; and this brabeus brought him in with the design to crown him, if he contended faithfully. To complete this faithful contention is what he has in view; that he may apprehend, or lay hold on that for which he had been apprehended, or taken by the hand by Christ who had converted, strengthened, and endowed him with apostolical powers, that he might fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life.
Not as though I had already attained - This verse and the two following are full of allusions to the Grecian races. “The word rendered ‹attained‘ signifies, to have arrived at the goal and won the prize, but without having as yet received it” - The Pictorial Bible. The meaning here is, I do not pretend to have attained to what I wish or hope to be. He had indeed been converted; he had been raised up from the death of sin; he had been imbued with spiritual life and peace; but there was a glorious object before him which he had not yet received. There was to be a kind of resurrection which he had not arrived at. It is possible that Paul here may have had his eye on an error which prevailed to some extent in the early church, that “the resurrection was already past” 2 Timothy 2:18, by which the faith of some had been perverted. How far this error had spread, or on what it was founded, is not now known; but it is possible that it might have found advocates extensively in the churches. Paul says, however, that he entertained no such opinion. He looked forward to a resurrection which had not yet occurred. He anticipated it as a glorious event yet to come, and he purposed to secure it by every effort which he could make.
Either were already perfect - This is a distinct assertion of the apostle Paul that he did not regard himself as a perfect man. He had not reached that state where he was free from sin. It is not indeed a declaration that no one was perfect, or that no one could be in this life but it is a declaration that he did not regard himself as having attained to it. Yet who can urge better claims to having attained perfection than Paul could have done? Who has surpassed him in love, and zeal, and self-denial, and true devotedness to the service of the Redeemer? Who has more elevated views of God, and of the plan of salvation? Who prays more, or lives nearer to God than he did? That must be extraordinary piety which surpasses that of the apostle Paul; and he who lays claim to a degree of holiness which even Paul did not pretend to, gives little evidence that he has any true knowledge of himself, or has ever been imbued with the true humility which the gospel produces.
It should be observed, however, that many critics, as Bloomfield, Koppe, Rosenmuller, Robinson (Lexicon), Clarke, the editor of The Pictorial Bible, and others, suppose the word used here - τελειόω teleioō- not to refer to moral or Christian perfection, but to be an allusion to the games that were celebrated in Greece, and to mean that he had not completed his course and arrived at the goal, so as to receive the prize. According to this, the sense would be, that he had not yet received the crown which he aspired after as the result of his efforts in this life. It is of importance to understand precisely what he meant by the declaration here; and, in order to this, it will be proper to look at the meaning of the word elsewhere in the New Testament. The word properly means, to complete, to make perfect, so as to be full, or so that nothing shall be wanting. In the New Testament it is used in the following places, and is translated in the following manner: It is rendered “fulfilled” in Luke 2:23; John 19:28; “perfect,” and “perfected,” in Luke 13:32; John 17:23; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Phlippians 3:12; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1, Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 11:40; Hebrews 12:23; James 2:22; 1 John 2:5; 1 John 4:12, 1 John 4:17-18; “finish,” and “finished,” John 5:36; Acts 20:24; and “consecrated,” Hebrews 7:28.
In one case Acts 20:24, it is applied to a race or course that is run - “That I might finish my course with joy;” but this is the only instance, unless it be in the case before us. The proper sense of the word is that of bringing to an end, or rendering complete, so that nothing shall be wanting. The idea of Paul evidently is, that he had not yet attained that which would be the completion of his hopes. There was something which he was striving after, which he had not obtained, and which was needful to render him perfect, or complete. He lacked now what he hoped yet to attain to; and that which he lacked may refer to all those things which were wanting in his character and condition then, which he expected to secure in the resurrection. What he would then obtain, would be - perfect freedom from sin, deliverance from trials and temptations, victory over the grave, and the possession of immortal life.
As those things were needful in order to the completion of his happiness, we may suppose that he referred to them now, when he says that he was not yet “perfect.” This word, therefore, while it will embrace an allusion to moral character, need not be understood of that only, but may include all those things which were necessary to be observed in order to his complete felicity. Though there may be, therefore, an allusion in the passage to the Grecian foot-races, yet still it would teach that he did not regard himself as in any sense perfect in all respects, there were things wanting to render his character and condition complete, or what he desired they might ultimately be. The same is true of all Christians now. We are imperfect in our moral and religious character, in our joys, in our condition. Our state here is far different from that which will exist in heaven; and no Christian can say, anymore than Paul could, that he has obtained that which is requisite to the completion or perfection of his character and condition. He looks for something brighter and purer in the world beyond the grave. Though, therefore, there may be - as I think the connection and phraseology seem to demand - a reference to the Grecian games, yet the sense of the passage is not materially varied. It was still a struggle for the crown of perfection - a crown which the apostle says he had not yet obtained.
But I follow after - I pursue the object, striving to obtain it. The prize was seen in the distance, and he diligently sought to obtain it. There is a reference here to the Grecian races, and the meaning is, “I steadily pursue my course;” compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 9:24.
If that I may apprehend - If I may obtain, or reach, the heavenly prize. There was a glorious object in view, and he made most strenuous exertions to obtain it. The idea in the word “apprehend” is that of taking hold of, or of seizing suddenly and with eagerness; and, since there is no doubt of its being used in an allusion to the Grecian foot-races, it is not improbable that there is a reference to the laying hold of the pole or post which marked the goal, by the racer who had outstripped the other competitors, and who, by that act, might claim the victory and the reward.
That for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus - By Christ Jesus. The idea is, that he had been called into the service of the Lord Jesus, with a view to the obtaining of an important object. He recognized:
(1) the fact that the Lord Jesus had, as it were, laid hold on him, or seized him with eagerness or suddenness, for so the word used here - κατελήμφθην katelēmphthēn- means (compare Mark 9:18; John 8:3-4; John 12:35; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; and,
(2) the fact that the Lord Jesus had laid hold on him, with a view to his obtaining the prize. He had done it in order that he might obtain the crown of life, that he might serve him faithfully here, and then be rewarded in heaven.
We may learn, from this:
(1) That Christians are seized, or laid hold on, when they are converted, by the power of Christ, to be employed in his service.
(2) that there is an object or purpose which he has in view. He designs that they shall obtain a glorious prize, and he “apprehends” them with reference to its attainment.
(3) that the fact that Christ has called us into his service with reference to such an object, and designs to bestow the crown upon us, need not and should not dampen our exertions, or diminish our zeal. It should rather, as in the case of Paul, excite our ardor, and urge us forward. We should seek diligently to gain that, for the securing of which, Christ has called us into his service. The fact that he has thus arrested us in our mad career of sin; that he has by his grace constrained us to enter into his service, and that he contemplates the bestowment upon us of the immortal crown, should be the highest motive for effort. The true Christian, then, who feels that heaven is to be his home, and who believes that Christ means to bestow it upon him, will make the most strenuous efforts to obtain it. The prize is so beautiful and glorious, that he will exert every power of body and soul that it may be his. The belief, therefore, that God means to save us, is one of the highest incentives to effort in the cause of religion.
The apostle Paul had been caught up to the third heaven and had seen and heard things that could not be uttered, and yet his unassuming statement is: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after.” Philippians 3:12. Let the angels of heaven write of Paul's victories in fighting the good fight of faith. Let heaven rejoice in his steadfast tread heavenward, and that, keeping the prize in view, he counts every other consideration dross. Angels rejoice to tell his triumphs, but Paul makes no boast of his attainments. The attitude of Paul is the attitude that every follower of Christ should take as he urges his way onward in the strife for the immortal crown. AA 562.1
Let those who feel inclined to make a high profession of holiness look into the mirror of God's law. As they see its far-reaching claims, and understand its work as a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, they will not boast of sinlessness. “If we,” says John, not separating himself from his brethren, “say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8, 10, 9. AA 562.2
There are those who profess holiness, who declare that they are wholly the Lord's, who claim a right to the promises of God, while refusing to render obedience to His commandments. These transgressors of the law claim everything that is promised to the children of God; but this is presumption on their part, for John tells us that true love for God will be revealed in obedience to all His commandments. It is not enough to believe the theory of truth, to make a profession of faith in Christ, to believe that Jesus is no impostor, and that the religion of the Bible is no cunningly devised fable. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments,” John wrote, “is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.” “He that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.” 1 John 2:4, 5; 3:24. AA 562.3Read in context »
2 Peter 3:14, 18: “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.” 1T 340.1
Sanctification is not the work of a moment, an hour, or a day. It is a continual growth in grace. We know not one day how strong will be our conflict the next. Satan lives, and is active, and every day we need to cry earnestly to God for help and strength to resist him. As long as Satan reigns we shall have self to subdue, besetments to overcome, and there is no stopping place, there is no point to which we can come and say we have fully attained. 1T 340.2
Philippians 3:12: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” 1T 340.3Read in context »
But it is not only upon those who preach the word that God has placed the responsibility of seeking to save sinners. He has given this work to all. Our hearts are to be so filled with the love of Christ that our words of thanksgiving shall warm other hearts. This is service that all can perform, and the Lord accepts it as offered to Himself. He makes it efficacious, imparting to the earnest worker the grace that reconciles man to God. 8T 18.1
May the Lord help His people to realize that there is earnest work to be done. May He help them to remember that in the home, in the church, and in the world they are to work the works of Christ. They are not left to labor alone. The angels are their helpers. And Christ is their helper. Then let them labor faithfully and untiringly. In due season they will reap if they faint not. 8T 18.2
*****Read in context »
Communion with Christ—how unspeakably precious! Such communion it is our privilege to enjoy if we will seek it, if we will make any sacrifice to secure it. When the early disciples heard the words of Christ, they felt their need of Him. They sought, they found, they followed Him. They were with Him in the house, at the table, in the closet, in the field. They were with Him as pupils with a teacher, daily receiving from His lips lessons of holy truth. They looked to Him as servants to their master, to learn their duty. They served Him cheerfully, gladly. They followed Him, as soldiers follow their commander, fighting the good fight of faith. “And they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” 5T 223.1
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” “Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” This conformity to Jesus will not be unobserved by the world. It is a subject of notice and comment. The Christian may not be conscious of the great change; for the more closely he resembles Christ in character the more humble will be his opinion of himself; but it will be seen and felt by all around him. Those who have had the deepest experience in the things of God are the farthest removed from pride or self-exaltation. They have the humblest thoughts of self, and the most exalted conceptions of the glory and excellence of Christ. They feel that the lowest place in His service is too honorable for them. 5T 223.2
Moses did not know that his face shone with a brightness painful and terrifying to those who had not, like himself, communed with God. Paul had a very humble opinion of his own advancement in the Christian life. He says: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” He speaks of himself as the “chief” of sinners. Yet Paul had been highly honored of the Lord. He had been taken in holy vision to the third heaven and had there received revelations of divine glory which he could not be permitted to make known. 5T 223.3Read in context »