Having related his own desire to know Christ intimately, Paul now shows that he like the Philippians is not a perfect
Christian but has much progress to make.
3:12–16 Perfection is the goal
It seems that there were Christians who believed that they had already attained perfection. Possibly they argued that
at their baptism they had been identified with the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1–11). Thus, when
they came out of the water of baptism they also rose up into the resurrection life and attained perfection. Paul insists
that perfection is still in the future and Christians must strive towards it (cf. Matthew 5:48). In claiming that “Christ
Jesus has made me his own” Paul may be referring to his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts
In verse 13, making use of the metaphor of the race in a sporting contest, Paul makes clear the necessity for keeping the
winning post in view and striving with all your might to get to it. The Christian should not be passive, nor must he
keep looking back to everything he has given up or to all his past achievements. The prize for which the Christian runs
is Christ himself and his gifts of grace and salvation. The “upward call” (verse 14) is either the high
vocation which Paul shares with all believers or the heavenly call which comes to believers at the end of the age to share
in the life of God’s kingdom.
Paul recognizes that not all his readers will agree with what he is saying (verse 15),
but he is confident that God will reveal the truth as he has stated it to those who disagree with him. The main thing
is that everyone needs to hold fast to that truth which they understand and have begun to obey.
3:17–21 Loyalty to Christ
Paul sets himself forward as an example of the way Christians ought to live. The goals which he has set for himself
are the goals which all Christians should set for themselves.
In verses 18-19 the enemies of the cross of Christ are not pagans who do not accept the gospel but Christians who are complacent
about their Christianity. These were those who believed they had attained perfection and had no more to do. They
could fill their lives with the pleasures of this world but in so doing were inviting God’s judgment.
In verses 20–21 Paul turns to the positive benefits of being in Christ. The true destiny of Christians is life
in the presence of God and so on earth they are as strangers and pilgrims. From the presence of God Christ will come
to earth, and he will come as Savior. (The term “Savior” was not used often by Paul because it was used
in popular speech of both the Roman emperor and the many pagan gods. Christ is a Savior of a different type.) His
saving work will include giving to justified believers a spiritual, resurrection body, a process he describes more fully in
1 Corinthians 15. Paul insists that this transformation of believers is effected by the same divine power as that by
which Christ will subject all his enemies to himself at the final judgment of the world.
1. In what ways can we describe what perfection should mean for the Christian?
2. How is the place of human effort in the Christian life to be described? Is the illustration of the race
sufficient for today?
3. Do some Christians still live as “enemies of the cross of Christ”? If so, how can we help them?
4. Is the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body compatible with the belief in the immortality of the soul?