I was not much of an athlete at school and merely dabbled with cross-country, resulting in only once being asked to represent the school in a sports competition! I learned from the experience that sport requires singleness of purpose, dedication, serious training, and sacrifice of other pursuits. The Greek athletic games would have been well known at the time Paul wrote his Epistles and he drew on the image of a race to illustrate the Christian life and experience.1 Paul uses that technique here in Philippians chapter 3.
We will look at an overview of the teaching Paul is presenting in this section of Philippians, particularly that linked with ‘the race’. We will also focus on the statement, ‘I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’, v. 12, before concluding with some applications for us as believers in the Lord Jesus.
In the first section of chapter 3, Paul outlines his ‘CV’. He had an impressive Jewish heritage and, whilst he would have been proud of this before he was saved, now he has no ‘confidence in the flesh’, v. 3. He counts it all ‘loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his] … Lord’, v. 8. As a believer in the Lord Jesus, Paul is now relying on being ‘found in’ Christ, v. 9, and his ambition is to ‘know him’, v. 10.
It is in verses 12 to 16 that Paul explains his present status and goal as a follower of Christ. We learn that Paul’s experience was progressive, ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect’, v. 12; he recognized that perfection and full enjoyment of redemption would be in his resurrection body, cp. ‘I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead’, v.11.
Also, we see ‘the race’ as an example for Christian experience:
‘Apprehended’ comes from the Greek word katalambano. According to Strong, it means to ‘lay hold of so as to make one’s own’ and also has the idea of ‘Christ by his holy power and influence laying hold of the human mind and will’.2 Paul experienced this on the road to Damascus when his life was transformed through salvation; the risen Christ apprehended him, taking ownership of his life. Think of the dramatic effect that his conversion had on Paul’s mind and will – from having a single purpose to arrest and even kill those who followed the Lord Jesus, to immediately becoming a follower himself! The persecutor became a preacher! Such change is only as a result of the power of God.
Before Paul states, ‘I am apprehended’, he indicated that he was apprehending, ‘but I follow after, if that I may apprehend’, v. 12. Because Christ had apprehended him, Paul was following after, to lay hold of the life and experience that the Lord desired him to have. The ESV puts it like this, ‘I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own’, or, as Hendriksen puts it, ‘Paul is pursuing with the purpose of overtaking and laying hold on’.3 It seems from verses 13 and 14, that Paul recognized that he would need to continue pursuing until the point when he was with the Lord Jesus in heaven.
Whilst the change of life brought about by Paul’s conversion was spectacular, all believers can say with Paul, ‘I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’. At the point of salvation, every believer comes under the ownership of the Lord Jesus who, by His power, lays hold of the mind and will to bring about a complete change. Positionally, ‘I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’ and that will never change. However, the challenge of this verse is practical: do I live day-by-day in the enjoyment of being within the complete ownership of the Lord Jesus? Or do I allow the world around me and the flesh within me to influence my actions so my life experience conflicts with this? May the Lord help us to live out what we are.
Just as Paul desired to follow after, or pursue, in order to lay hold of the kind of life that demonstrated he was owned by the Lord Jesus, we should do the same. As with the athlete running in a race, dedication and a single purpose is required. May we, with determination and with the goal in view, seek to live for the Lord Jesus.
Paul refers to running or a race in several passages, including: Rom. 9. 16; 1 Cor. 9. 24-27; Gal. 2. 2; 5. 7; Phil. 2. 16; 3. 12-14; 2 Tim. 2. 5; 4. 7, 8.
James Strong, Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers.
William Hendriksen, Philippians, The Banner of Truth Trust, pg. 171.