Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


The Stretch

Philippians 3:12-21

For a period in my life, swim team dominated my world. I was a proud member of the Chico Aqua Jets. Butterfly was my main stroke, though I also swam in the individual and team medley (which is a combination of backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle). At swim meets there would be one thing that was on everyone?s mind?and it wasn?t the pool. Standing off to one side was the podium?a set of three boxes set next to each other. Each was a different height. You wanted to be on that stand and especially at the top?because that was where they awarded the gold medal. Today we are going to talk about a medal stand everyone should want to stand on?being awarded the prize of getting to heaven (the source of everything good) to live with God forever.

The way a swim meet works is that you swam in heats. If you win your heat you move on until the medal race. Competition was fierce. I lost many races. Eventually, though, I medalled in all three categories I mentioned?and I especially remember the gold medal I won in the butterfly. To get from consistently losing to consistently winning took one thing: I wanted it more. Winning in swimming is a combination of innate athletic ability, combined with skill taught by a good coach, and drive. A champion swimmer makes decisions that lead to victory at many times during a race. They push harder to be first off the block, they streamline their bodies to go farthest on their initial dive. At the turn they roll their bodies just a little faster and at the finish they push themselves beyond their limits to touch the side tenths, or even hundredths of a second faster than their opponent.

This is the kind of attitude Paul is encouraging in his Philippian friends. It?s not ?try harder than anyone to be good and you?ll earn a place in heaven?. We?ve seen in the preceding verses that Paul was worried about people who?d come into the church with just that kind of attitude. They wanted the Philippian Christians to become circumcised and obey the Mosaic Law and Jewish customs in order to earn God?s love. Paul told them that he was the best of the best at that approach?if anyone deserved a gold medal for being a good Jew, it was Paul. But all that stuff was now just garbage to Paul compared to knowing and being known by Jesus Christ.

Paul said he wants to know Jesus in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil 3:10). In other words, it is by Jesus? efforts, and our identifying with Him and allowing our old selves to be crucified along with Him, that we obtain the goal?the resurrection from the dead?eternal life in heaven.

Today, in the final verses of Chapter 3, Paul describes the process of getting from here (this age) to there (the age to come). Some have called it the ?already not yet?. This describes a condition where positionally we are already righteous in God?s sight and justified and sin-free. Yet we do not experience this perfection consistently because our old nature hangs around like a zombie who is dead but won?t stay buried. So what do we do? Let?s find out:

12 ? 14

Paul knows that he is not ?fully mature? or completely like God in his character. But he ?makes every effort? in that direction because he has already been taken ahold of by Jesus. The words ?make every effort? comes from a single Greek word that means: ?to pursue.? Paul wants to be like Jesus. He wants to exude that character of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. He wants to consider others? needs as much as his own. In short, he wants God?s agape love to be his character. He doesn?t ?earn? it or obtain it solely by his own efforts, but it is a partnership between he and God. God took hold of Him and began that work by forgiving Paul?s sins and creating God?s life in Him?then Paul reaches toward the character and cooperates with God?s work.

Paul uses an athletic analogy?so the swimming metaphor is apt. His point is that he has left behind the righteousness by obedience that comes with being a Jew and is pursuing the righteousness that comes from belonging to Jesus. The word ?reaching forward? in verse 13 means: ?to stretch towards?. This reminds me of that final reach to the finish line of a swim. He wants that prize of going to heaven. He knows Jesus has already earned him that place, but in that place everyone lives, thinks, speaks, and acts like God. ?Pursue? in verse 14 is the same Greek word as ?make every effort? in verse 12. It?s like trying to learn the language of a country you are about to move to. He wants to fit in there. How about us? Will heaven seem like a land where you don?t know the customs or the language and have a hard time adjusting? Being transformed into God?s character now means an easier time adjusting to God?s universe.

Paul recognizes that he is not yet ?fully mature? (vs 12). That word means ?to finish? or ?to make perfect.? Paul isn?t the best swimmer yet nor has he finished the race. So what?s happening now is this partnership where through trial, tribulation, and just living in this age?God works His character more and more into Paul?s life. Going to heaven is not just a destination; it is a new dimension that requires a new character. It?s important that we start thinking like that now?the problem in Philippi was the Judaizers, as they were called, wanted to draw the Philippians? minds back to the ?I can do it on my own? attitude, which is the opposite of pursuing the character of God through the agency of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Philippians were looking at the wrong example.

15 ? 16

Paul is saying that ?the more grown-up you are in your reflection of God?s character, the more likely you are to come to the same conclusion that I have, that righteousness comes from faith, trust, and reliance in Jesus, not faith trust and reliance on my own efforts.? Secondly he?s saying that if you feel differently and really ask God about it, He will set you straight. Finally, he says to the Philippians that what they have already received as the gospel should be their guide?not some new/old way of going back to legalism.


Paul says: ?Don?t use them as an example of someone living correctly, use me.? To the Corinthians, Paul put it this way: (1Cor. 11:1) ?Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.? The word here ?join in imitating me? means: ?joint-imitator?. So all of us should want to imitate the values, thoughts, character, words, and actions of those who more accurately reflect the character of Jesus. To see how that works, Paul encourages his friends to observe the lives of other mature believers. The word means: ?to watch closely.? This isn?t a nit-picky attitude of looking for faults, but watching how others experience this character transformation and then walk alongside them to learn from their experiences.

The problem for the Philippians was they were looking to imitate the wrong people.

18 ? 19

This is, by the way, the only recording of Paul crying. That?s how much this meant to him. He describes the Judaizers as ?enemies of the cross.? The word means: ?hostile?. Legalism is hostile to the cross because legalism is all about our efforts to make ourselves better by our own strength, whereas the cross is all about dying to that old self and letting God partner with us in bringing about His character.

He says: ?their end is destruction? (which means eternal judgment, not annihilation). The end of self-focused righteousness is separation from God. Remember: (Gal. 3:11) ?Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.?

?Their god is their stomach? reflects the fact that the Judaizers focused on Jewish dietary laws. Jesus made all foods clean in Mark 7:19.

?Their glory is in their shame? is their focus on physical circumcision (?shame? referring to their private parts). They thought physical circumcision was the key to belonging to God. In reality, the key is belonging to Jesus who was crucified on our behalf.

So what should we do?

20 ? 21

Instead of trying to save ourselves, we eagerly wait (you could put it ?wait it out?). Why do we wait? Because when Jesus returns physically to earth, He will ?transform? us ?into the likeness of His glorious body.?

In short?as we pursue His character with all that is within us, we will find ourselves doing what we could not do on our own?and both our character and even our bodies will reflect God?s glory.

I repeat this again: (1John 3:2) ?Dear friends, we are God?s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is.?

Hebrews 2:8 tells us that all things are subjected to Jesus. He is the apex, the focal point, and reason and the summing up of all things. That power applied to your life means you also fall in line with that?you get to be like Him through that incredible power.


  • We?re not there yet so chill out and let God do the heavy lifting! (vs 12)
  • Reach for the future, don?t get hung up in the past (vs 13)
  • You are responsible for what you have received (vs 16)
  • Don?t let the values of this age draw you off the real goal (18-19)
  • How eagerly are you waiting for Jesus? If He arrived today would you have some ?splaining to do? (vs 20)
  • Let the power of character transformation start now! (vs 21)

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