5. Warnings and appeals, 3:1-21

iii] Seek the high calling in Christ Jesus


In this passage, Paul encourages his readers to press on toward the goal of knowing Christ, of experiencing the power of his resurrection and sharing in his sufferings. Paul wants to underline the truth that he has not yet attained this goal, but that both he and his readers must see themselves as straining toward it. Paul declares, "I press on toward the goal", a goal which, in Christ, he has already reached, but within his life experience, still lies in the future.


i] Context: See 3:1-4a.


ii] Background: See 1:1-11.


iii] Structure: Pressing toward our high calling in Christ:

Paul's ambition, his hope, v12-14;

Paul's exhortation that we be what we are in Christ, v15-16.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul now points out that despite the "surpassing greatness" that is his in Christ, he has not yet fully realized this goal / prize. So, he presses toward it, v12-14, and calls on the Philippians to take on his way of thinking about the Christian life and in like manner, press on toward the goal / prize as he does, v15-16. So, the passage serves as a straightforward exhortation: I strive to be what I am in Christ, and you should strive to be what your are in Christ - Be what you are.

As is typical of Paul's letters, having established the indicative, he moves on to the imperative. This move is indicated in the passage before us, an imperative fleshed out in v17-21. In Jesus we are God's new creature, perfect and acceptable to God, found in Christ, having a "righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith", v9. Such grace, without law, may give the impression of lawlessness, that we can go on sinning so that grace may increase, Rom.6:1. Yet, the opposite is the case, grace makes us gracious. So, although Paul has, in a sense, gained the prize already, he presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him, v12. "All of us, then, who are mature", should take such a view of things", v15, and "live up to what we have already attained", v16.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:12

Our high calling in Christ: i] The prize / goal of the Christian life still lies ahead, v12-14. Paul has found in Christ a righteousness apart from the law, a righteousness that comes through faith and with it the promised blessings of the covenant, v8-11, all that remains is to live out that reality. To this end Paul strives for complete knowledge / union with Christ, holiness and victory over sin.

Ouc "not" - We probably have an ellipsis here, so "I do not say", Reumann. Paul is correcting any idea of perfectionism that might have been mistakenly read into his proceeding words.

oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech, expressing what Paul is not suggesting.

elabon (lambanw) aor. "I have obtained all this" - [already] i obtained, received. Paul uses the aorist tense to express the action as completed (constative). The object "all this" is supplied and refers to the blessings listed in v10 and summed up in the word "the prize", v14. It is possible that the "all this" / "the prize" / possibly "the goal", is "the resurrection from the dead", v11, but is more likely the three elements referred to in v10, or simply, the promised blessings of the covenant. These elements are disputed. "I do not claim that I have already succeeded", TEV.

h] "or" - or. More comparative than disjunctive, serving to link two similar ideas.

teteleiwmai (telew) perf. pas. "have [already] been made perfect" - have been perfected, completed, full-grown, matured [already]. Paul now uses the perfect tense to locate the reception of all the goals of v10 up to and beyond the present. His point is that he has not yet achieved this goal / prize in the fullest sense, ie., he is eliminating any notion of perfectionism in what he has already said. Reumann's "that I have already been justified", is unlikely, rather "that I have already been perfected."

h[dy adv. "already" - now, already. Temporal adverb.

de "but" - but/and. Indicating a step to a contrasting point.

diwkw pres. "I press on" - i pursue, follow, press forward, grasp. "I keep on running and struggling to take hold of ("capture", JB; "win", Moffatt) the prize", CEV. The object "prize", v14, is often supplied.

ei + subj. "-" - if [and = indeed]. Possibly introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, [I lay hold of that which ....], then [I pursue]", although better taken to express an uncertain expectation, even an indirect question; "I am pressing on to see if I can capture it, because I have been captured by Jesus Christ", Goodspeed. Touching on the imperative / indicative reality of the Christian life, of pressing toward a prize which is already ours in Christ.

ef (epi) + dat. "for [which]" - upon [which and = also]. Possibly serving to introduce a final clause expressing purpose, "for a particular reason"; "the purpose Christ Jesus had in mind when he won me to himself", TH. Lightfoot opts for purpose. Yet, more likely a causal clause, so "because of [which]", "because I was indeed (kai) grasped by Christ", O'Brien, cf., Rom.5:12, 2Cor.5:4.

uJpo + gen. "[Christ Jesus]" - [i was laid hold of] by [christ jesus]. Here expressing agency.

katelhmfqhn (katalambanw) aor. pas. "took hold of me" - i was laid hold of [by christ jesus]. "For which Christ grasped me", Phillips.


Having not yet attained "the goal", forgetting the failures of the past, Paul strains / presses toward the prize for which God has called him, namely, perfect union with Christ, glorification, Christ likeness, and a total control over self, v13-14. This then is the eternal prize awaiting us all.

egw emauton "I" - i [do not consider] myself. Both are emphatic by use and position in the Gk., although "I" serves as the subject of the verb "consider" while the accusative "myself" serves as the subject of the infinitive "to have laid hold of."

ou logizomai pres. "do not consider" - do not consider, think. "I do not regard", Barclay.

kateilhqenai (katalambanw) perf. inf. "to have taken hold of it" - to have laid hold of the prize. The infinitive may be treated as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to consider", but better viewed as introducing a dependent statement of perception, after a cognitive verb, expressing what Paul knows; "I know that I have not yet taken hold of it." The object "it" = "all this" = v10 = the prize, v14. The object is supplied. "That I have already won it", TEV.

de "but" - but/and. Indicating a step to a contrasting point; "but one thing I do say".

e}n adj. "one thing I do" - one thing. The adjective serves as a substantive, so "one thing". The "I do" is supplied, but given that Paul is considering at this point it is probably better to supply "I say"; "one thing I do say", Reumann, so REB.

men ..... de ... " ...... and ...." - on the one hand, [forgetting the things behind] but one the other hand, [stretching forward to the things before]. Adversative comparative construction.

epilanqanomenoV (epilanqanomai) pres. part. "forgetting" - forgetting. This participle, as with "straining forward", is adverbial, probably modal, expressing the manner by which the action of the verb "I pursue / press on", v14, is accomplished. The present tense is durative indicating ongoing action, "keep forgetting", in the sense of paying no heed to what was in the past, so "being unconcerned about the things that lie behind", Reumann.

ta ... opisw "what is behind" - the things behind. The article ta serves as a nominalizer turning the adverb into a substantive; "the things which are behind."

epekteinomenoV (epikteinomai) pres. mid. part. "straining toward" - stretching forward (like the runner about to hit the line). Here, striving to realize v10; "stretching out toward things that lie ahead", Reumann. "Strain every nerve to reach", Barclay.

toiV dat. "what is [ahead]" - the things [before, in front of]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the adverb emprosqen, "before", into a substantive, as NIV; "the things which are before", AV. Dative of direct object after the epi prefix verb, "to stretch out toward."


kata + acc. "[I press on] toward" - according to. Here spacial, direction; "up to, toward."

skopon (oV) "the goal" - the goal, mark, target. If athletic imagery is intended, which seems obvious, then the line, or mark, upon which the athlete fixes their eye is the tape at race end; "I run straight toward the finishing line."

eiV + acc. "to win" - [i pursue] into = for. Here expressing purpose; "in order to win the prize."

to brabeion (to) "the prize" - the prize (given to the winner of the race). Lightfoot says it is "our heavenly rest." It is certainly "heavenward", or literally "above" and is the fulfillment of our "calling", v10.

thV ... klhsewV (iV ewV) gen. "for which [God] has called me " - of the [high / upward] calling. The genitive is adjectival, of definition / epexegetic, limiting by specifying the prize, that which consists of the heavenly life hoped for in v10.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God" - of god. The genitive is usually classified as verbal, subjective.

ana adv. "heavenward" - high, upward. The local adverb, modifying the verbal noun "calling, possibly means high in quality, but more likely high, as in heavenly.

en + dat. "in" - in [christ jesus]. Local, expressing space / sphere, incorporative union, "the high calling of God realized in union with Christ", but here possibly instrumental, expressing means, "through Christ Jesus."


ii] Paul now calls on the Philippians to be what they are in Christ, v15-16. Paul now addresses those who are spiritually mature. Although they have efqasamen, "attained, reached" the prize, their task now is to stoixein, "to press toward" it on a straight path. Some in Philippi may not yet accept this fact, but Paul knows that God will inevitably make this truth plain to them.

oun "therefore" - Drawing a logical conclusion / inferential; "as many then / therefore who are mature / perfect."

teleioi (oV) "who are mature" - [as many as would be] perfect, completely good.... / full-grown, mature. Predicate adjective. The assumed "who are" seems better than "would be." "Called perfect", JB is a possibility, but the sense of having reached maturity in the Christian life is more likely. "All of us who are mature Christians", Barclay.

fronwmen (fronew) pres. subj. "should take such a view [of things]" - let us think [this] (= take on this way of thinking, take on this attitude). Hortatory subjunctive. Think about the Christian walk as Paul thinks about the Christian walk, its imperative / indicative, ie. be what we are. "This must be how all of us ... feel about life", Barclay.

ei + ind. "if" - if, as is the case, [you think anything different, then and = even this god will reveal to you]. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition stated in the protasis is assumed to be true. "If at any time such different thinking occurs, God will provide a revelation about it", Reumann. Paul recognizes that many will think differently, but ultimately truth will out.

ti pro. "-" - a certain thing. Indefinite pronoun; "if on a certain point you should think otherwise / differently."

eJterwV adv. "differently" - different, otherwise. Hapax legomenon - once only use in the NT as an adverb. Lightfoot suggests that here the word may mean "amiss". So, "if on some issues our attitude is amiss ......", "if at present you cannot see this", Phillips.

kai "that too" - and this certain thing. Adjunctive; "this also. "Time will come when God will reveal the truth to you", Cassirer.

apokaluyei (apokaluptw) fut. "will make clear" - reveal, unveil. Possibly here "remove", so if on some points we are amiss (our thinking and behavior is otherwise than it should be) God will "remove" the failing; "remove any remaining inadequacies or inconsistencies in the Christian outlook", Bruce, rather than remove any associated guilt. Yet, possibly just in the sense of "clarify"; "this also God will make plain to you", REB.

uJmin dat. pro. "to you" - Dative of indirect object.


Paul now sums up his exhortation. Although we have realized this goal, we must still press on to the finishing line. Note the textual problems caused by the elliptical nature of this verse (words seemingly left out for brevity), and attempts to rectify the problem by copyists. Lit. "nevertheless / whereunto, to what we attained, we are to walk with the same" = "let us mind [think] the same thing", AV. Possibly; "Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it", Peterson, or as advertisements for Morteen Fly Spray put it (an Australian product), "When you're on a good thing, stick to it."

plhn "only" - nevertheless, but. This adverb, used here as a conjunction, often takes an adversative sense, "but", sometimes, as possibly here, a condition, so NIV. Possibly introducing a concluding statement, a summing up, a kind of "but I would make this point"; "this one thing I say", Barclay.

stoicein (stoicew) inf. "let us live" - to walk in a straight line as in marching order, to carefully follow a direction or principle, to live... Most likely an imperatival (commanding) infinitive standing in for a hortatory subjunctive, rare in the NT. An exhortation to press on toward the finish line, "the goal."

tw/ autw/ dat. "up to" - We may classify this dative as a dative of rule, "by the same, in conformity with", although technically stoicew takes a dative, so a dative of direct object after the verb "to walk with."

eiV o} "to what" - The preposition + the accusative of reference; "with reference / respect to what we have attained."

efqasamen (fqanw) aor. "we have already attained" - we arrived at, come to reach. Although "anticipate / precede" is not the usual NT meaning, the word does carry this meaning and may suit the present context. Yet, it is more likely that Paul is pointing out that we have gained the prize, v10 (arrived), and now we must actualize it - be what we are; "Let us live up to what we have already attained", ESV.


Philippians Introduction


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