Philippians 3:12-21 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does Paul say he is doing as a Christian? See Philippians 3:14 (printed below)

I press on to the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

The apostle Paul testifies that he presses on in his Christian life. He presses on toward the goal for the prize. He defines the prize as “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

2. What is “the high calling of God” of which the apostle speaks in Philippians 3:14? Note 1 Peter 5:10 (printed below)

…the God of all grace…has called you to his eternal glory in Christ… (1 Peter 5:10)

The apostle Peter writes, “God has called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” God’s “eternal glory” is His majestic nature and splendor and blessedness. The Lord by His grace has called the Christian to share in His own glory “in Christ.” That is to say, by virtue of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ we are made to participate in the glory of God.

3. Why does Paul press on toward this goal (see Philippians 3:12-13 printed below?) What does this tell you about the Christian life?

It is not that I have already obtained this or have already been made perfect; rather, I press on so that I may take hold of that for which also I have been taken hold of by Christ. (13) Brothers, I do not regard myself as having already taken hold of these things; rather, I do this one thing: forgetting the things that are behind and reaching for the things that lie ahead (Philippians 3:12-13)

Paul presses on toward the goal because he has not yet arrived. Scripture defines the Christian life as being a dynamic, progressive experience with Christ (note 2 Corinthians 3:18). Furthermore, Scripture portrays the Christian life as a race to be run or a journey to be completed (Hebrews 12:1-2, 2 Timothy 4:7). Conversion and public profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not the culmination of the Christian experience, it is the beginning; it is the entrance into the Christian life, it is the embarking on the Christian journey. The Christian life is a spiritual journey that we undertake by the grace of God and with the assurance that we will arrive at our final God-ordained destination. This is an assurance the apostle expressed at the very outset of this epistle when he wrote of God, “he who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

4. What counsel does the apostle give to the Philippian church (and to all Christians) in verses 17-18 (printed below?)

Join in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who are walking in accordance with the model you have in us. (18) As I have often told you, and even now tell you with tears, many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:17-18)

In verse 17 the apostle urges us to actively imitate his conduct and take special note of those people who are doing so in their lives. Note that it is not the “successful,” nor the influential, nor the wealthy; rather, it is the devout who are singled out for consideration and imitation. Vibrant, sincere, devout Christians are to be singled out for consideration and imitation as role models because there are so many other people whose lifestyle identifies them as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (verse 18). Such people by their conduct demonstrate that they and their lives are directly opposed to and in active opposition against the whole purpose of the cross of Christ (cp. Galatians 6:14; note James 4:4).

5. In verse 18 the apostle Paul speaks of those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Of whom do you think he is speaking? What clues as to their identity are found in verse 18 (printed above under question #4?)

Who are these people of whom the apostle writes and whom he identifies as “enemies of the cross of Christ?” The fact that Paul contrasts them with devout Christian people and that he weeps over them, seems to indicate that they were present within the church. Scripture teaches that there are people who understand the dynamics of grace, but fail to comprehend and appreciate the purpose of grace. That is to say, they understand that by the grace of God the cross of Christ has provided the means of forgiveness for sins; but they fail to comprehend that the cross of Christ at the same time provides the means of salvation from sin (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:1-3).