“Holy Spirit, today we come to you seeking your wisdom in understanding the Scripture. We thank you for the example of St. Paul, who provides a model for us to follow.”
12 Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.13 Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule. Let us be of the same mind. 17 Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example. Link to WEB Link to MOUNCE
First, let’s deal with vs. 15: the word translated as “perfect” is translated by the NKJV, the NIV, and others as “mature”. I’ve included a link to the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear to give you the actual Greek word and it’s meanings. If you don’t understand MOUNCE or how it works, please ask through the Comments. Someone had to show me about MOUNCE. (Unfortunately, small screens like a Samsung Tab 4 or an iPhone 6 do not show all the benefits of MOUNCE. You will need a large tablet or computer for that. The problem seems to be at Gateway.)
Okay, so you may have to take my word for the translation…the word in both verses is “teleios” and probably is better translated as “mature”. That should help reconcile this verse with vs. 12.
Lets look at vs. 13, “Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before”. I’d like to point out that, in other letters (such as 1 Corinthinas 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1) Paul compares our Christian Life to that of a footrace. So his admonition to “forget the things that are behind” can be seen as something an athlete should do. That is, in a race, one is concerned about those who are in front of you, not those you have passed. The same for our sins: Jesus has forgiven us, we need only worry about those ‘in front’ of us. However, just a good athlete concentrates on the finish line and not on the distractions of the other runners, we Christians need to concentrate on Christ and not on the distractions of the World. Therefore, we ‘reach out’ to the ‘things that are before’ that is, the finish line, which is Christ.
Now I certainly do not want to sound like a Gnostic here. But this is where we can get trapped in Gnostic thinking. Do not think that ‘all you need to do is concentrate on Christ’ and not worry about any sins you might commit, because you are already forgiven. That’s Gnostic style thinking. It sometimes comes out as thinking that ‘my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds’. That will not do. Nor will thinking that all Sin is forgiven, so we can do what we want. That’s why St. Paul uses a footrace as an example:
Consider how an athlete runs his race. He watches his opponents and does his best to avoid letting them trip him. For, if he sees you passing him, your opponent may try to trip you. Sin is like that. It sees you ‘running past’ and does its best to trip you. That’s part of the race. Not every one is honorable. You must be on the lookout. Nor should you ‘look back’. Paul tells us that he is “stretching forward”. The past, his Jewish/Pharisee mindset, is of no use now. He keeps his focus on Christ. Yet, we mere mortal, sinful, distractable humans have a very hard time doing just that. We always look back. We always worry about that which is ahead. It seems pointless…
But there is Good News! The Holy Spirit is here to assist. You can depend on Him to guide you. Through prayer and meditation, through Bible reading and study, through fellowship with other Christians, we can learn to hear the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is difficult to know when the Holy Spirit is talking to you. The evil spirits try to imitate Him and lead you astray. Well, consider the following:
I know more about bicycle racing than foot racing. There are teams. The goal is for as many team members as possible to finish together. They work together to assist their fastest rider and to ride across the finish line with him.
Throughout our history, Christians have banded together to support each other. The Church is the Body of Christ. We, individuals, are ‘team members’ supporting each other. Unlike the bicyclists, we do not have ‘stars’ who lead us over the finish line. Instead, we work together to carry each other. I think every successful Christian is part of some sort of “team” or “Accountability Group”.
Reread the text for this lesson. Note what St. Paul is saying in vs. 15-17. Look at how St. Paul conducted his life. Note that he surrounded himself with believers. In this letter several are mentioned. He does worship with a body of believers. But he has close friends who can hold him accountable. As you read his letters, you’ll discover more about that. But most of it is ‘between the lines’ as that is not why he is writing the letters.
The links to the commentaries are: The Asbury Commentary, which has an interesting perspective on “Christian Fitness”. Matthew Henry is, as usual, full of details. The IVP Commentary is also detailed. They describe some of the wordplay St. Paul is using. They also, in a section titled 2. Pursuing the final prize discuss a famous race and how looking back cost one man the prize.