Paul’s goal in life is to know Christ fully. But in Phil. 3:12, Paul says that he has not yet achieved this goal. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” The false teachers taught that if you obey the Law, you will become perfect. But Paul says he has not yet achieved the goal of knowing Christ.
Now vv. 12-14 is easy to understand if you look at it through parallelism.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Verse 12 is parallel in meaning to v. 13. In v. 12, the phrase, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” is the same as, “I do not consider that I have made it my own,” in v. 13. The phrase, “but I press on to make it my own,” in v. 12, is the same as, “But one thing I do . . . I press on,” in vv. 13-14.
In v. 12, Paul says that he has not yet reached perfection. The word, “perfect” (teleioo) does not mean, sinless perfection. It means, “complete, finish, accomplish, bring to its goal.” (Gingrich) I am not yet perfect or finished. I have not yet reached the goal of knowing Christ.
Some Christian groups teach that you can reach holy perfection. They say you can reach, “perfect love.” But no, Paul says, I haven’t yet reached perfection in Christ.
“But I press on,” Paul says in v. 12. The verb, “press” (dioko) means, “run after, pursue” (Gingrich) or to chase something. I’m chasing a goal, a prize, Paul says. Picture a runner that runs after, pressing towards the finish line. His lungs are breathing hard; his chest expanding; his arms moving forward; his feet running fast; his leg muscles straining hard. This is the picture here.
I press on “to make it my own” (ESV) or “lay hold (NKJV). The word is katalambano, “seize,” “attain, make one’s own,” “grasp” (Gingrich) or “lay hold” (NKJV). What does Paul want to lay hold of? He wants to lay hold of Christ, to know Christ.
Why? The answer is in v. 12, “for which Christ has also laid hold of me.” You see, Paul used to run in the wrong direction. He was running after Christians, persecuting them. He was running against Christ.
Then one day, Christ laid hold of Paul on the Damascus road. There on the road to Damascus, Christ changed his life. On the road to Damascus, Christ turned Paul from the wrong direction to the right direction. Paul is no longer running against Christ. Now, Paul is running towards Christ. Now, Paul is saying, “I want to know Christ.”
How about you? Do you remember how Christ changed your life? Do you recall how Christ turned your life to a new direction? Towards what direction are you running now? Are you in the right direction or in the wrong direction? Is that where Christ has directed you?
If not, then run towards the direction of Christ! Press on toward the goal of knowing Christ. Lay hold of the calling of Christ in your life and press on!