Run, Christian, Run!—Philippians 2:12-14



Most of us, at one time or the other, either come to the conclusion ourselves, or get told by our doctor or spouse, that we need to exercise more. And this time of year, after eating what we just ate for the last month, most of us are probably thinking that exercise would be good.


Our culture is now more of a sit-down to work than of a physical labor culture. Because of this and other reasons, like junk foods and passive activities like television, we have tended to become more and more complacent about the fitness of our body.


The same is true spiritually. We need spiritual exercise to stay in shape, but we tend to grow complacent, and avoid doing what would be good for us. We need a doctor to tell us to get back to it. 


Let’s let the apostle Paul be the one to give us the encouragement to exercise—spiritually.


12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 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, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12–14)


The picture that the apostle Paul paints in these verses is one of a race. 


Paul uses the image again in Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:7, 2 Timothy 2:5, 4:6-8. The race picture is also appears in Hebrew 12:1. So it’s a picture that we need to pay attention to—every Christian is in a spiritual race.


I can’t say that I am or was ever a runner, but the last time I ran in a competition, people clapped and cheered for me. I was seven or eight, running at a school track meet in Brockway. I fell down before I got to the finish line and crawled the rest of the way there—that’s why they clapped and cheered—that I had at least finished the race!


The apostle Paul seems to have been addicted to sports, and running in particular. We don’t know if he had ever ran in competition, but at the very least he knew enough about racing to know what he was talking about when he compared the Christian life to a grueling race.


Paul gives us, through his own personal testimony, three requirements to run the Christian race well.




A good runner is going to be aware of all sorts of things. If you are running on city streets, you’ll need to be aware of traffic and other obstacles. 


In fact, some running associations (like Race Montana) don’t recommend wearing headphones when you run so that you can hear and see your surroundings.


A runner needs to be aware of his or her body and what it’s telling him. He needs to be aware of the other runners around him, to know if he will have to push harder to stay ahead. 


Most importantly, a runner needs to be aware of how far it is to the finish line, to pace herself properly. This is the awareness that Paul brings out—


Philippians 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 3:13a Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended:


He says, “I am not there yet.” He hasn’t “attained” spiritual perfection. He is not yet “perfect,” (τετελείωμαι, VRPI1S, τελειόω) meaning, he’s not complete yet.


In his description, he uses the word, “apprehend” (καταλάβω, VAAS1S, καταλαμβάνω). This is a word that has the sense of seizing or winning something. A police officer might apprehend a criminal, for example.


Paul uses the same word again in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” Run that you might seize the prize!


Paul does not “count” (λογίζομαι, VPUI1S, λογίζομαι) or consider himself to have won or seized that which Christ has “apprehended” 

(κατειληφέναι, VRAN, καταλαμβάνω) him for. 


What was it that Christ “apprehended” him for? Christ seized Paul, as he does every believer, for a purpose. 


Paul was called to be an apostle, which not every believer is, but he was also apprehended to be a spiritually perfect person just has our Lord Jesus Christ is. Paul stated that purpose in Romans—


29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)


The awareness that Paul had, and that we need to have, is that we’re not there yet. The finish line for us may be years or decades away. 


Unfortunately, as Christian runners, we seem to get comfortable with where we are. I wonder how often we slip on the headphones of the world and distract ourselves from our true spiritual condition.


Let’s be aware of where we are in the race. If we’re breathing, we’re not done yet. We haven’t apprehended that which Christ has apprehended us for. We’re not perfect. 


So, like a runner in a marathon, let’s not pull to the side and rest. The race isn’t finished, so keep pushing. 


How can we keep going? We turn to the second requirement for any runner, and especially the Christian runner, which is, we must…




Paul is like an old workhorse with blinders, he is focused on the race.


Philippians 3:13b …but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 


A. That One Thing


Any athlete will vouch for the need to focus—both in their training and in their competition. Some runners will repeat a mantra over and over when the going is really tough—“Think strong. Be strong. Run Strong,” “One step at a time,” or “Can’t stop. Won’t stop.” 


The purpose is to help them focus, because they know that maintaining focus is key to finishing the race. Paul is no different in his spiritual race—he says “this one thing I do.”


It’s just one thing that he focuses on. The spiritual race is his highest priority. In Hebrews, we see also this intense focus—


1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)


Paul certainly could have been distracted by hundreds of things in his day, just as we can be today. He could have focused on his tent-making work, or gone into arguing politics, in which he would have excelled, I believe. 


He was well-taught, so he could have become a great teacher and focused on that. He even could have focused on growing the ministry given to him by the Lord and missed the Lord himself.


Instead, Paul’s focus was on Jesus and becoming like him. His focus on Jesus was fine-tuned by…


B. Forgetting What Is Behind


Paul said that he forgot that which was “behind” (ὀπίσω, BP, ὀπίσω), meaning what was in his past.


Now, it is easy for us to force a meaning into words that is not supposed to be there. Don’t misunderstand what Paul means by “forgetting” his past. 


“forgetting” (ἐπιλανθανόμενος, VPUP-SNM, ἐπιλανθάνομαι) means to “care nothing about,” (BDAG) and not just what we normally mean when we say, “I forgot where I put my glasses.” 


Paul did not really forget the past any more than we can.There are many things about our past that are helpful in our present and future spiritual growth. Paul would have remained thankful for God’s work in his past life; he would have remembered what things were temptations to him.


But at the same time, he refused to let himself wallow in guilt for past sins, like persecuting Christians before his salvation. Nor would he consider his past spiritual victories as somehow earning him special rights and privileges with God or anyone else. He chose not to care about his past.


Forgetting is not erasing our memories, it is an “active, continuous discipline of the mind and heart” to keep us focused on the race.


In 1954, British runner Roger Bannister ran the mile under four minutes for the first time in history. Six weeks later, Australian runner John Landy broke Bannister’s record and became the second person to run the mile under four minutes.


That August, the two met in a dramatic showdown at the Empire Games in Vancouver. The two runners did not disappoint the 35,000 spectators. John Landy led Bannister by a substantial margin for most of the race and then, it happened.


With only 90 yards to go…John Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position.  At that instant Bannister streaked by him to victory in a…record time of 3:58.8.  Landy’s second place finish in 3:59.6 marked the first time the four minute mile had been broken by two men in the same race. (


This is what Paul meant by forgetting what lies behind. Landy’s mind would have remembered everything about what was behind him, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that he lost his focus, just for an instant.


Does your past distract you from your running? Do you think that your accomplishments entitle you to a spiritual rest before the finish line…or a special position in the church? Do your continued feelings of guilt over past sins that have been forgiven keep you from running ahead?


You can’t make yourself erase your memories from your mind—but you can choose. You can choose not to allow them to be distractions to your running in the present. You can choose to focus your life on Jesus. One person wrote…


The point is not: never look back. The point is: only look back for the sake of pressing forward. Never substitute nostalgia for hope. Memories of successes can make you smug and self-satisfied. Memories of failure can make you hopeless and paralyzed in your pursuit of God. 


Never look back like that. Give humble thanks for successes; make humble confessions for failure; then turn to the future and go hard after God. (John Piper, Sermons from John Piper [1980–1989], [Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007])


The Bible commands us to…


2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:2)


A runner needs to have awareness, focus, and he or she must also put forth diligent…




In each one of these verses, Paul uses a phrase to describe the effort he puts into running the spiritual race.


Philippians 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 


(1) In verse 12, he says, “I follow” (διώκω, VPAI1S, διώκω) does not mean to passively follow after something, but to “move rapidly and decisively toward an objective” (BDAG). It is the exact same Greek word that is translated “press on” in verse 14.


Philippians 3:13 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,


(2) In verse 13, he says, “reaching forth” (ἐπιλανθανόμενος, VPUP-SNM, ἐπεκτείνομαι) is a Greek word (only used here) that means to “stretch and strain towards something.” Think of a runner in a race, nearing the finish line, who tries to make himself a little longer to beat the person next to him. There is great effort and exertion in this word.


Philippians 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.


(3) Finally, in verse 14, there’s “I press” (διώκω, VPAI1S, διώκω) “toward the mark.” This is the same phrase in the Greek as “I follow” in verse 12, it means, “move rapidly and decisively toward an objective” (BDAG). It’s exactly what a runner does.


A runner moves rapidly and decisively toward “the mark” (σκοπὸν, NASM, σκοπός). The “mark” is the finish line and the reward that comes for crossing the finish line. He calls it the “prize” (βραβεῖον, NASN, βραβεῖον).


What is this “prize”? Paul uses the same “running for the prize” concept in 1 Corinthians—he says there:


24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1 Corinthians 9:24–25)


The prize is an “incorruptible crown,” meaning something that lasts for eternity. Paul is speaking of eternal life and all that comes with it. It is the “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” for everyone who believes.


The “prize” is the motivation for our effort. Can you imagine a runner not wanting to win, or to at least cross the finish line? They couldn’t be really called much of a runner, could they?


When a person becomes a Christian, it’s not that he or she decides to follow a certain religion. No, indeed, they are born again, they are given new desires. Sin becomes something that they hate.


The Christian runs the race not because they are afraid of losing their salvation, or that they need to earn their salvation—no, they race ahead because God has changed them into new creatures, with a new purpose and new desires.


17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)


A runner feels the exhilaration of the air in her face, her muscles working in synchronization, her heart beating and her lungs working. She feels joy because she is doing what she was designed to do—to run! 


For her to sit on the couch and eat potato chips would bring a kind of pleasure, but would it really be the kind of joy that she was designed for? Or would it be the Devil’s pleasure in degrading her until she was unable to do what God designed her to do?


A Christian is designed to grow spiritually, to become more like Christ. When we are pursuing that goal, we will find ourselves at our happiest, and we will be pursuing a happiness that will go on and on for eternity!




How do we run this race? How do we grow to become more like Christ?


A. God Wants And Enables You To Grow


God wants you to grow and change. He has made you a new creature when he saved you, and he’s given all the grace and resources you need to become more and more like Jesus.


Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, has a physical trainer that has carefully designed every aspect of Brady’s life. He has laid out what Brady can eat, on season and off season. He helps Brady understand what workouts will do to his muscles. 


He even had Brady have a brain scan and worked out a training program to help him process information more quickly and his memory. The end result is, that after almost fifteen years in the NFL, Brady says that he is faster and stronger than the day he was drafted!


God is your coach, he wants to work with you. His program is laid out in the Bible. His grace is ready to be poured out on you. But…


B. You Need To Cooperate With God


How do we cooperate?


1. Pray


Pray for change. Pray for God to show you areas that you need to change. Are you a gossip? Are you racist? Are you angry or bitter? Ask him to show you a new area of your life where he can help you to change to make you more like Christ.


2. Delight In The Lord


An idol is anything or anyone that we worship or desire more than the Lord. So delight yourself in the Lord to push away the idols in your life. As you delight more in the Lord, you’ll find that he is more satisfying than anything else in your life: your possessions, your attitudes, your dreams, even your family.


3. Study


We need to study God’s Word in order to have the transformed thinking we need to live differently.


2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)


Make it a point to read the Bible through. Use a reading plan that you can find just about anywhere. Don’t substitute Christian radio for reading the Bible—it’s not the same. If you can’t read it, then get an audio Bible. Listen while you drive. But please, feed your mind with God’s Word.


4. Practice


What you pray about and what you study in God’s Word ultimately has to be put into practice. A runner can read and think about running all he wants, but he has to practice what he learns. 


What are you doing right now that requires faith? I mean, it really requires a conscious trusting the Lord? Most of us wait until some trial comes along to practice consciously depending on the Lord. 


Maybe the Lord wants you to give more, and to trust him to supply your needs. Maybe you need to stop a bad habit and depend on the Lord to do so. Maybe you need to break off a sinful relationship.


Christianity is not about coming and sitting in a pew for an hour each week. What we learn, we must practice. When we practice, we change. So run Christian, run!

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