12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
In 1955, Col. Harland Sanders was having a career crisis. He was 65 years old, and his beloved Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant (of which there was only one at the time) was failing due to a new highway that diverted most traffic away from the town where the restaurant was located. He knew, however, that his secret recipe was a winner.
Col. Harland Sanders
So he went around looking for people to help him market it. One person who agreed to help was a restaurateur named David Thomas. Thomas suggested several ideas to the Colonel, but the most helpful idea was the simplest one. At that time, the Colonel’s restaurant served many types of foods, not just chicken. Thomas suggested that the Colonel focus on just one thing. Instead of trying to do everything, he said, just do one thing and do it better than anyone else. The Colonel agreed, and decided that any future restaurants that he would open would only serve fried chicken. And the rest, as they say, is history…
David (Dave) Thomas, the man who saved KFC (and then went and founded Wendy's!)
Colonel Sanders did one thing, and he did it well. And St. Paul would have us do one thing. Let’s see what he has to say about this one thing.
Having just expressed his heartfelt desire to attain to the resurrection of the dead (that is, to obtain eternal life), St. Paul is quick to emphasize that he has not already attained it. The apostle would be the last person to affirm “I’m saved and I know it!” In St. Paul’s thinking, salvation is a process that he was still in the middle of. As he will say later, it is like a race, not a one-time event.
Not only has St. Paul not yet attained eternal life, he also has not yet been perfected (from the Gk. verb teleioo). The Greek word teleioo and its cognate adjective teleios (“perfect”) do not necessarily mean “perfect” (as in “sinless”) in the English sense of the word. It can also refer to becoming fully mature, or even to reaching a goal. The latter sense is most probable in this passage, especially given the subsequent comparisons St. Paul makes between salvation and running a race. St. Paul, then, is saying he has not yet reached the maturity of the age to come, nor has he achieved his goal of reaching the kingdom of heaven.
Rather than resting on his accomplishments, or even on his simple faith in Christ, St. Paul presses on, never ceasing to struggle toward salvation, which he refers to here as “that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me.” Christ had “laid hold” of St. Paul in a very forceful way, in an effort to bring him to Himself, and to one day bring him into heaven. And St. Paul wants to do everything he can to get there!
In his effort to gain salvation and a place in the kingdom of heaven, St. Paul says “this one thing I do.” What is that “one thing?” It is the same thing that a runner does in a footrace. For a runner must not look back, or he will waste precious time and risk losing his balance. He must forget everything that is behind and focus on just one thing: the finish line. Only one thing matters: the prize that the runner gains for reaching the goal. Our prize as Christians is eternal life.
In verses 15 and 16, St. Paul goes on to state that the striving that he does is not just “his thing” – it is something all Christians must do. We must all forget the past and continue to run our race of the Christian life. We must do whatever it takes to win the prize of salvation. FF comments eloquently on these verses:
“[St. Paul’s] opinion is not just his own opinion—it is the truth of God, and St. Paul claims that God will vindicate his teaching in the hearts of the Philippians. However, he adds, keep walking-straight (Gr. stoicheo, ‘to walk in a straight line’), following the same rule [Gr. kanon] to which we have attained. Whatever God will reveal to you in the future, St. Paul concludes, will be consistent with what He has already revealed through the apostolic preaching , the Rule of Faith. They must continue to walk straight in that way and not swerve off into heresy” (55).