In Philippians 3:14, what does it mean to press on toward the goal, and what is the goal?
After his salvation and ministry call, Paul’s life was marked by one pursuit: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). Paul’s conversion drastically changed the course of his life from self-focus and self-righteousness to a life of faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9). This life of faith Paul pursued for the rest of his life. His goal was the heavenly reward that awaited him at the end of that life of faith.
Prior to his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul, took pride in his Jewish heritage and in his zealous following of the Law. He was a Pharisee who persecuted the church and considered himself faultless in terms of righteousness based on the Law (Philippians 3:5–6). Yet Paul’s following of the Law could not produce true righteousness. No one, not even the most zealous Pharisee, is justified by keeping the Law (Galatians 3:11). No one can press on toward the heavenly goal without being forgiven and saved by the blood of Christ.
After Paul placed his trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross, he desired to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). All previous things were considered “rubbish” in comparison to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). The trajectory of Paul’s life changed from death to life on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. Now he could truly pursue the things of God.
Like Paul, believers today “press on toward the goal” as a runner runs a race, keeping his eyes on the finish line (Philippians 3:14). The previous verse gives a picture of how that is to be done: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). The compound Greek word translated “straining forward” gives the picture of a runner in a race bending forward, stretching his whole body toward the tape. We are focused on finishing, straining to win, and expending all our energies on what God has called us to. For other biblical metaphors involving a race, see 1 Corinthians 9:24, 2 Timothy 4:7, and Hebrews 12:1–2.
Believers today press on toward same goal that Paul pursued: the heavenly prize. Paul mentions this prize elsewhere, too: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). This is the “imperishable" crown (1 Corinthians 9:25).
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14, NLT). Believers are in a race, and the stakes are high. For that reason, we cast off “everything that hinders” our relationship with God (Hebrews 12:1, NIV) and pursue God in every area of our lives. Prayer, worship, obedience, reading the Bible, and fellowshipping with other believers are some ways we can draw closer to Him. Ultimately, our goal is Christ Himself, not just the gifts He gives. As we run this race, may we always be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
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