As always before studying scripture, we should read the whole passage and then break it down. So, here we go.
"12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained." ~ Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)
We see that this passage is focused on "straining" or "pressing" towards the goal. What is that goal? Well, we are about to find out.
We have to look at the passage in context of the verses before it. The first verse says "not that I have already obtained this." What is "this"? It's the ressurection from the dead spoken of in the previous verse. That is talking about when Jesus comes back and ressurects the bodies of the believers who have died.
So Paul is saying, "not that sin has already been gotten rid of by God, or that I've completely killed it myself, but I want to be as close to perfect as possible because Jesus loves me and wants to make me that way."
Paul then restates that he knows that he has not made himself perfect, but he knows that he is going to strain forward for what lies ahead. Now, what does lie ahead? Well, we'll get to that. First, what does Paul mean by "strain"? Paul uses the word picture of a race, but before we can race, we have to forget what lies behind.
When God saved us, He erased our past. We should also leave our past behind us and strain forward to what lies ahead. Once we have dropped our baggage, we can then race forward with all of our hearts. Now, without our baggage, we can give all that we are to following Jesus. The Greek word used here denotes an idea of "following after." I think this is significant because we should follow after Jesus in order to reach the goal.
So, we have defined the straining, but what are we straining towards? We are straining toward perfection.
I wanna say that again. We are straining toward perfection.
Is that even possible? Truthfully, probably not, but we can get closer everyday. God wants to "sanctify" us. Sanctify means "to make holy." If you don't know what holy means, the best definition is "perfect" or, more accurately, "set apart." So in that frame of mind, God wants to set us apart as his perfect creations. He knows that we will never be perfect in our flesh, but we should still try to be made more like Jesus.
Verses 15-16 basically say "you guys should think this way too, and don't forget what we already have, which is salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish whatever God calls us to do." Verse 14 is what I want to end with.
We have talked about following Jesus, straining hard, and trying to be made more like Jesus, but why do we do this? Verse 14 helps us with that. The Greek word for "goal" is used for a finish line in a race or an archery target. So I think Paul had a twofold meaning. First, we should strain to hit the mark on the target, which is perfection. But secondly, he speaks of the finish line
The prize spoken of in verse 14 is what lies beyond the finish line. Why do we strain to be like Jesus? We do that simply for one reason. All that God has done and will do for us. First, He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins, and secondly, He did that so that we could spend eternity with Him in heaven.
That's the prize. That is our hope. Heaven.
Everything we do on earth is in anticipation of the day we go to heaven. The day that we finally meet the creator that we have seen glimpses of throughout our life. Don't skip over this. Let it seep into every pore in your body. Let it invade your soul. Let this truth wash over every part of your body. God has prepared a place for us to go when we die, and that place is a place full of His presence. This is unfathomable.
I want you to do something. I want you to think of all the times that you have felt God's presence. Hopefully, you have had a time in your life where you just knew that you had felt the very presence of God Himself. Imagine the time you felt that presence strongest. Got it? Remember how sweet it was? Remember how you just never wanted to leave that moment? Now multiply that feeling by an unimaginable amount and imagine that feeling forever.
Wow. That's what heaven is guys. It's not some pretty city with golden streets, great tasting fruits, and some old guys sitting in chairs around God. Heaven is eternal bliss with our creator.
Like I said, don't forget this truth. Every time you get discouraged, doubtful, or worried, just think about heaven and all its glories. Fight the temptation of pleasure with the promise of a greater pleasure. ~ the disciple Jesus loves.