Commentary on Philippians, 3:12 (Toward the Goal)

Scripture quotations are from the English Majority Text Version (EMTV) unless noted otherwise. 

Philippians 3:12

3:11 if in some way I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
3:12 Not that I have already obtained [it], or have already been made perfect; but I press on, if also I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

Here Paul makes the clear statement that he had not yet experienced the “resurrection from the dead.” Interesting that he would make a statement about something that was already obvious. Why? I think perhaps it’s because there were some who were spreading the false claim that the “resurrection has already occurred; and they overturn the faith of some.”:

16 But shun profane and empty babblings; for they will advance to more ungodliness.
17 And their word will spread like gangrene; of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
18 who have strayed concerning the truth, asserting that the resurrection has already occurred; and they overturn the faith of some.  (2 Ti 2:16-18)

Thus I think Paul wanted to put everyone at ease, that they had not missed out on the resurrection, and that he himself was still awaiting his own. 

As I explained in my previous commentary (verses 7-11), there are differing viewpoints regarding the resurrection: Is it a physical, immortal body like Jesus’ resurrected body? Or is it simply a reference to our spirit? Does it occur for everyone at the same time, or at different times? Does it occur at the return of Christ, or at the point of death? Furthermore, when does the return of Christ take place? And how many resurrections are there?

For my position on this subject, please read my commentary on Phil 3:7-11:

Consider what Paul says about our citizenship in this same chapter:

20 ….our citizenship exists in heaven, from which also we eagerly await for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
21 who will transform our lowly body, that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subject all things to Himself. (Phil 3:20-21)

Here Paul says that our citizenship is in Heaven. He also says that our body will be transformed to be like Christ’s own body, and indicates that this will occur when He returns.

As to what form we go into Heaven with, here is what Paul says about that:

1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.
4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.
8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  ESV (2 Cor 5:1-10)

Paul indicates that once we leave this life and this earthly body, we will be “further clothed” with our “heavenly dwelling,” and that we will one day stand before Christ to to give an account of what we did while in our “body.” Thus it appears from this passage that Paul is equating our “heavenly dwelling” to be our departed spirits, and that we will one day stand before Jesus to give an account of our life while in this current body, to be distinguished from our glorified body….which we will receive at the time of His glorious return. Again, please read my commentary on Phil 3:7-11.

Continuing now with verse 12:

“or have already been made perfect”

Here Paul is referring to his (our) final eternal state, that form in which he (we) will be throughout eternity, which Paul equates to his (our) resurrection. 

“but I press on, if also I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

Paul “pressed on” toward the goal of the Christian life, to be in our eternal state in the presence of Christ, with all the rewards that await the faithful. Paul always had his sights on the end of the race, to “lay hold” on the “prize” (vs. 14) that awaited him at the end of that race. 

Paul strove to lay hold on that prize that awaited him, just as Jesus had laid hold on him in regard to salvation and service. Jesus had a sure hold on Paul, and Paul had a sure hold on those things that are eternal. As was Paul’s mind-set and manner of life, so should be ours. We should always be living with eternity in view.