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. 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, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
This study focuses on a famous passage in an equally famous letter. In what could be termed “Paul’s letter of joy,” the apostle is giving the Philippians some instruction on humility and service, as well as updating them on his present situation. In the midst of that, he begins to speak as to his former life and how he could have boasted of all the things he had obtained (3:4-6). He then says that those things are now counted as loss by him and that he also counts all things as loss because the knowledge of Christ is so much better and he wishes to be found having the righteousness of Christ and not his own righteous (3:7-9). Then, and extremely important to our understanding of the word “apprehended” in verse 13, Paul says that he wishes to know Christ fully and make it to the resurrection of the dead (3:10-11). That brings us to our text, and makes us ask the question, “What does apprehended mean in this text and what bearing does it have on us?”
The word translated “apprehended” comes from the Greek word “katalambao.” This word in this context, as defined by the Greek dictionary BDAG, means “to make something ones own, win, attain.” In other words, the word translated as “apprehended” by the translators of the King James translation would be translated today as “attained” or “taken hold of.” In common language, a phrase such as “I have not reached my goal” or “I have not gotten there yet” would be used. The next question, however, is just as important: what is the goal or object Paul says he has not reached? The answer is given in the preceding verses (3:10-12). Paul says he wishes to know Christ, meaning his resurrection power and his sufferings by experience, along with one day experiencing the resurrection of the dead. Yet, Paul says he has not “apprehended” this. He has, in other words, not yet gotten to the point where he knows Christ like this. That, of course, gives us the famous phrase about forgetting what is behind and reaching forth to what is before.
Tying everything together, can we say like Paul that we wish to know Christ in this manner? Do we have a desire to experience the power of His resurrection in our own lives as we fight against sin and temptation? Do we want to know what it is like to suffer alongside Him and to be there at the Final Resurrection? Perhaps we do, but we are discouraged along the way; we did not realize the journey would take this long or be this difficult. We know we have not “apprehended,” or have not reached the goal yet. So, what are we to do? We must, as Paul says, forget what is behind and reach to what is before us. We must keep pressing towards that mark, as one day we will reach it. On that day, all of our past difficulties will seem as small and trite in comparison to the excellency of the glory we will possess.