Summary: The abundance of religious art we see may remind us of the cross, but it can also dull us to the reality that the people involved were real people, not figments of creativity. Let’s take a look at some of those real people.
PURSUING THE MARK
The starter’s line for this passage is the Apostle Paul’s polemic against false teachers, whose confidence lies in the flesh (Philippians 3:2-4). “The flesh” here represents self-help religion, which stands contrary to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses his own testimony to demonstrate the futility of trusting in things which, prior to his conversion, he would have sworn by (Philippians 3:4-6).
The turning point came on the Damascus Road, when Saul of Tarsus (as he was then known) was suddenly confronted with the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 9:5-6). From then onwards, all his former gains were counted (past tense) as loss to him (Philippians 3:7): and now he counts (present tense) all else as loss in comparison to “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Indeed, he suffers the loss of all his privileges, advantages and achievements, and counts them as the worst kind of rubbish in comparison to gaining Christ!
Paul then began to be “found in Him” (Philippians 3:9).
The contrasts continue:
“not having my own righteousness” (by keeping the law) -
but the righteousness which is
*comes through the faith (or faithfulness) of Christ,
*and which we in turn apprehend by the exercise of faith in Him (cf. Romans 3:21-22).
What is it to “know” (Philippians 3:10) Christ? Evidently this is more than knowing Him ‘according to the flesh’ - or from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). It is rather the knowledge that arises from intimacy: to be in union with Him, absorbed in Him, conformed to his image. Jesus became what He was not (Philippians 2:5-8), in order that we might become what He is (sons of God) (1 John 3:1).
To “know” Him is also to know “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10) - an empowering for the inevitability of suffering in this life. We are to be “conformed to His death” - taking up the cross, and following Him (Luke 9:23) - but always with the reassurance that arises from His fellowship in our sufferings. He is not dead, but risen!
I think the use of “if” at the beginning of Philippians 3:11 can be misleading. Paul does not intend thereby to imply doubt. On the contrary, the goal is sure (2 Corinthians 5:1): but the specific path along which the Lord is leading each one of us, individually, still remains unclear (cf. Philippians 1:23). “If by any means” or “if possible” or “if somehow” may better be understood as “by whatever route I am going to attain the resurrection from the dead.”
The Apostle considers himself as ‘not yet’ having attained and ‘not yet’ already perfected (Philippians 3:12). I “press on,” he says - (the word is the same as that translated as “persecuting” in Philippians 3:6 - ‘I am pursuing.’) The Christian life is not static, but vigorously active.
Conversion is only the beginning of the journey. Having become “the righteousness of God” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21), we now live out the righteousness which our life has become. Having entered into a relationship with Him, He having already “made me His own” (Philippians 3:12), I have a responsibility to discover ‘the works which He has before prepared for me to do’ (Ephesians 2:10).
Even a seasoned warrior like the Apostle Paul did not consider himself to have ‘arrived’ (as we might say), but he was casting the past into oblivion and stretching forward to whatever lay in store in the future (Philippians 3:13). He was pursuing the mark, dashing for the goal-line, running towards the tape at the end of the race. He was pursuing the prize - ever onward, ever upward - the heavenly reward of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).
All believers are partakers of the heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1). Having been called to belong to Jesus, we press on towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We seek to match up to the standard of holiness which He has set.
Alone or together, we press onward toward that goal, all but oblivious to the various suffering and trials which seek to hinder us: until at last we reach the mark, enter into glory, and receive the prize (2 Timothy 4:7-8).