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The Onward, Upward Call – Philippians 3:10-14

Philippians Bible Study, Week 16

. . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14 (NASB)

Things to Think About

Do you really know Jesus Christ? How can we know Jesus more?
In what ways did Paul want to know Jesus more?
What is our goal as Christians? What is the upward call of God?

Really Knowing Christ

Continuing with the thought in Philippians 3:8 of “the surpassing value knowing Christ”, Paul elaborates on aspects of this knowledge in verse 10. The word that Paul uses for “know” (epiginōskō) here, and elsewhere in his letters, is often used in the context of personal knowledge, not just intellectual knowledge.

Back in Philippians 1:9 Paul used epiginōskō with the prefix “epi” which strengthens its meaning. The NASB translates this strengthened form as “real knowledge”. Epiginōskō is a common word in the New Testament and can simply mean “recognise” or “acknowledge”; however it is the word some New Testament authors use for really knowing Jesus Christ. For example, Matthew used the word twice in Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him.”

Paul not only wanted to know Jesus Christ for himself, he wanted others to have a personal and experiential knowledge of Jesus. Paul also wanted others to have a real knowledge and discernment when it came to God’s will and living the Christian life. This was Paul’s prayer for the churches.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. Ephesians 1:17 (NIV)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Philippians 1:9-10 (NIV)

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9-10 (NIV)

Resurrection Power

Paul wanted to know and experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection. For him, the resurrection was not just a past, historical event; it had continuing dynamic power (dunamis) that enabled believers to live the Christian life victoriously. This divine power is available to us through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:11, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you.”

Sharing Christ’s Suffering

For Paul, suffering for Christ was a privilege. Suffering enabled Paul to access greater depths of Christ’s grace and power (2 Cor. 12:9-10; 13:4). Suffering also facilitated greater depths of intimacy and fellowship with Christ. Earlier, Paul had told the Philippians that suffering for Christ’s sake was a gift granted to them by God (Phil. 1:29-30).

Paul was not only willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, he wanted to literally participate and share (koinonia) in Christ’s suffering. Paul wanted to fully identify with his Lord. He wanted to experience both the power of the resurrection and the suffering of the cross. He wanted to be fully conformed into Christ’s likeness, even into Christ’s death. This was in no way a morbid desire, for Paul’s hope and expectation was to fully experience for himself resurrection from death.[1] Paul saw death as the gateway to life and “gain” (Phil. 1:21-26). Even on earth he desired to die to himself so that he could live for God (Gal. 2:20 cf. Gal. 5:24; 6:14). (Martin 1983:150)

Pressing On

In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul again emphasised to the Philippians the progressive nature of the Christian life. It seems that, like the Corinthians, the Philippians believed that they were already living in the eschatological age where salvation is fully consummated and realised.[2] To counter this belief, Paul mentions the coming Day of Christ three time in Philippians: the end time had not yet come (Phil. 1:6,10; 2:16).

Moreover, Paul made it clear that he had not attained his lofty goals of total identification and fellowship with Christ or his aim of spiritual maturity and perfection. Paul understood the dynamic nature of the Christian life and was intent on exerting himself so that he might become more mature and complete in Christ. Paul uses the word agōn in his letters, which means striving, to describe the effort and exertion necessary for spiritual growth and progress in faith and ministry.[3]

There is no doubt that Paul is here speaking to the antinomians. They were those who denied that there was any law at all in the Christian life. They declared that they were within the grace of God and that, therefore, it did not matter what they did; God would forgive. No further discipline and no further effort were necessary. Paul is insisting that to the end of the day the Christian life is the life of an athlete pressing onwards to a goal which is always in front. (Barclay 2003:78)

The Upward Call

Very few of us have had an encounter with Jesus as Paul did on the Damascus road, or have received such a clear call to ministry. Paul recognised that Jesus had taken hold of him for a purpose, a purpose that Paul had not yet fully taken hold of; but he was committed and determined to pursue this purpose. We also, as believers, have been taken hold of by Jesus Christ, and we have a purpose. God’s purpose for us includes that we become more and more like Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).

Paul was not lumbered with past regrets or even past triumphs. His focus was onward and upward. The upward call of God has been thought by some to refer to heaven which is often spoken of as being “up”. However, heaven was not the focus of Paul’s goal. (Some Bible versions, including the NIV, use the word “heaven” in their translations of verse 14, but the word does not appear in the Greek text.) Paul’s real pursuit and goal was Christ-like spiritual maturity and perfection. This was his high and holy calling; a calling he encouraged others to heed (Gal 4:19; Eph 4:13).


[1] Paul speaks extensively about the mystery of resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. In this resurrection, our physical bodies will become like Christ’s glorified body, which will happen on the Day of Christ.

[2] The Corinthians seem to have believed that because the Holy Spirit was living within them, they already belonged primarily to the heavenly-Spirit world (cf. 1 Cor. 4:8), rather than to the world of the flesh and blood (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13). They understood the gift of the indwelling Spirit as a powerful, divine substance from the heavenly world, and so they believed that they had already experienced the full arrival of salvation. They did not regard the Holy Spirit as merely a down-payment or seal in anticipation of the complete salvation believers experience at the resurrection on the Day of Christ. To correct this over-realised eschatology of the Corinthians, Paul insisted that believers are not yet spiritual bodies belonging to the heavenly sphere. This would only occur after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:45-49). Adapted from Max Turner’s The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 103.

A significant difference between 1 Corinthians and Philippians is that throughout 1 Corinthians Paul corrects sexual licentiousness and immoral behaviour, which seems due to the Greek concept of the separation of spirit and body, and antinomianism, whereas there is no hint of sexual immorality in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

[3] Phil. 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Col. 1:28-29; 2:1; 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7. Agōn can refer to contention, struggles, and conflict as well as athletic activities such as races and fights. The word “agony” comes from the word agōn.

« Week 15: Righteousness and Justification – Philippians 3:9
» Week 17: Maturity and Perfection – Philippians 3:15-19

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6 thoughts on “The Onward, Upward Call – Philippians 3:10-14

  1. THANKS.

  2. This indeed is a wonderful presentation

  3. Thanks Daniel and Timothy. 😀

  4. (ginosko) ”Know is often used in the context of personal knowledge and not just some intellectual knowledge”. Thanks for the presentation.

  5. Thanks Artwell.

  6. A greater insight into Paul’s Ministry and for us to spread God’s word to everyone.

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