"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. "
"Not as though I had already attained!" This is the statement of a great Christian who never permitted himself to be satisfied with his spiritual attainments. Obviously, Paul was satisfied with Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:10), but he was not satisfied with his Christian life. A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.
Harry came out of the manager's office with a look on his face dismal enough to wilt the roses on the secretary's desk.
"You didn't get fired?" she asked.
"No, it's not that bad. But he sure did lay into me about my sales record. I can't figure it out; for the past month I've been bringing in plenty of orders. I thought he'd compliment me, but instead he told me to get with it."
Later in the day, the secretary talked to her boss about Harry. The boss chuckled. "Harry is one of our best salesmen and I'd hate to lose him. But he has a tendency to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with his performance. If I didn't get him mad at me once a month, he'd never produce!"
Many Christians are self-satisfied because they compare their "running" with that of other Christians, usually those who are not making much progress. Had Paul compared himself with others, he would have been tempted to be proud and perhaps to let up a bit. After all, there were not too many believers in Paul's day who had experienced all that he had! But Paul did not compare himself with others; he compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! The dual use of the word "perfect" in Philippians 3:12 and 15 explains his thinking. He has not arrived yet at perfection (Phil. 3:12), but he is "perfect" [mature] (Phil. 3:15), and one mark of this maturity is the knowledge that he is not perfect! The mature Christian honestly evaluates himself and strives to do better.
Often in the Bible we are warned against a false estimate of our spiritual condition. The church at Sardis had "a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev. 3:1). They had reputation without reality. The church at Laodicea boasted that it was rich, when in God's sight it was "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). In contrast to the Laodicean church, the believers at Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich! (Rev. 2:9) Samson thought he still had his old power, but in reality it had departed from him (Jud. 16:20).
Self-evaluation can be a dangerous thing, because we can err in two directions: (1) making ourselves better than we are, or (2) making ourselves worse than we really are. Paul had no illusions about himself; he still had to keep "pressing forward" in order to "lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold" of him. A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42:1–2).