The Prize of the High Calling. (Phil.3:14)
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” (Phil.3:10-11)
There is something about Paul’s emotive earnestness in this chapter that captures our attention. There is something here that doesn’t seem to fit into a neatly formed theory about the time of resurrection. Notice in the above reference his use of the expression “if by any means.” Does that imply that believers do not in fact possess a certain hope to be included in that great event? Didn’t Paul tell the Corinthians about the orders of resurrection – “Christ the Firstfruit, then those who are of Christ at His coming”? Doesn’t that mean everyone who is a Christian? Why is Paul saying something different to the Philippians, years later, when he was a captive in Rome?
We shall have to unlock the truth of this apparent contradiction. In order to do so, a brief résumé of the chapter would not be out of place. Paul starts by giving his credentials as they were before he came to know the Lord Jesus. Here is the impressive list –
- Circumcised the eighth day
- of the stock of Israel
- of the Tribe of Benjamin
- a Hebrew of Hebrew (parents)
- according to the law, a Pharisee
- by way of zeal, persecuting the Church
- as touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.
This sevenfold accolade is indeed impressive, and apart from the 6th item, about persecuting the Church, he might well have remained inwardly pleased to have such a magnificent Curriculum Vitae. But he immediately casts the whole lot away as of no value. “What things were gain to me, I have counted loss for Christ.” In fact he goes further by speaking about them as “refuse, that I may gain Christ.” Then begins another list, to replace the former one. Here it is –
- that I may gain Christ (not a reward for my own endeavours)
- and be found in Him (not just of Him, as in the Corinthian passage quoted above))
- not having my righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, (the righteousness of God based on faith)
- that I may know Him (not know about Him, but know Him personally)
- and the power of His resurrection (not focusing so much on my own resurrection)
- and the fellowship of His sufferings (not keeping a list of my own sufferings)
- being made conformable to His death (not worrying about my own death)
Here then is another sevenfold list, but notice the striking contrast to the first list. Every item now focuses on the Lord instead of himself. But this new list is merely a precursor to what follows. The sheer power of Paul’s words begins to build up as a result of this sevenfold foundation –
- if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead
- not as though I had already attained
- but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus
- brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended
- but this one thing I do,
- forgetting those things which are behind
- and reaching forth unto those things which are before
- I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
In this eightfold list, the first and last items are Paul’s goal – the resurrection which is the high calling of God. At this stage in his ministry and life he is not at all certain that the prize is within reach, but at the end of 2 Timothy, the Lord assures him that he has achieved the goal. “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but to all those who love His appearing.” (2 Tim.4:7-8)
I have used the Authorised Version in all these quotes, so as to get an overall picture. But clearly there is something lying hidden here that still remains unanswered, and causes us a degree of consternation. If Paul, after some 20 years of ministry could say that he was not sure about reaching this goal, what possible chance have most of us of ever getting there? Few of us have had a mission such as Paul’s. Few of us have had to suffer to the degree he mentions in 2 Cor.11:23-28. Few of us have had the joy of planting churches throughout the world, and ministering to their needs as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher. How then can we possibly aspire to the goal he mentions, and be sure of receiving the crown he mentions, even if we are amongst those who “love His appearing”?
I think it is possible to get a clearer understanding of what Paul meant in this Philippians passage by looking at the original Greek, but I cannot answer the questions in the last paragraph. Only the Lord knows the “qualifications” He is looking for in each one of us, and I suspect that we shall be saying, with Paul, “not as though I had already attained.”
“That I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” This is the verse that needs a bit of clarification. Sadly the A.V. translators have not been too helpful here. Literally it reads, “that I may attain unto the out-resurrection, out from amongst dead ones.” It is not so much a mention of a resurrection of the dead, as a rather special resurrection from among the dead. Also the word for resurrection here is EXANASTASIS, rather than the usual ANASTASIS. The word ANA-STASIS means “standing up again”, or resurrection. But the EX prefix gives the additional emphasis of “standing up again out of”, in other words a selection from amongst those who would normally enjoy the resurrection promised to all those who believe in Christ.
This is why Paul then refers to it as a “prize”. Some believers may be a little offended here, thinking there is a possibility of a “creaming off” process being suggested, which savours of a “works-related” resurrection, instead of the “blessed hope” of all the saints. But there is nothing one can do about it. We are handling Scripture, and not making invidious distinctions between saints of our own designs. Paul does speak about a prize, and there can be no doubt about that. But elsewhere he also speaks about the absolute certainty of resurrection for all those who believe in the Lord. There is a distinction, and it is of the Lord’s design and purpose, even if we cannot fully understand why.
The other word that needs attention in this verse is “attain.” KATANTAO is used elsewhere in the N.T., for example Acts 27:12. ” . . . if somehow they might attain unto Phenice, there to winter.” This reference shows more clearly what Paul meant in Philippians. Paul was running a race, and those who run need to “attain” the finishing line, and thereby receive a prize. Hence there is a process involved in this “race”. Paul tells us that we need to leave everything behind that relates to ourselves, and reach out to that which may be summed up as in Christ, rather than just of Christ.
I am going to stop there, because an expansion of this theme is clearly necessary, so in the next number we shall gather more information to help us in a practical way to follow Paul’s advice, when he said, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect [i.e. mature] be thus minded, and if in anything you be otherwise minded, God will reveal this to you.” (Phil 3:15)