Philippians | 1:1-18 | 1:19-30 | 2:1-11 | 2:12-30 | 3:1-11 | 3:12-21 | 4:1-9 | 4:10-23 | PDF |

This small group Bible study of Philippians 3:12-21 contains outlines, commentary cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Philippians 3:12-21 Bible Study Commentary With Questions – Press On Toward the Goal


I. Pressing on toward the goal (12-16)
II. Watch out for the enemies of Christ who set their minds on earthly things (17-19)
III. Our citizenship is in heaven (20-21)

I. Pressing on toward the goal (12-16)

Discussion Questions

• Paul says I press on to make “it my own.” What does “it” refer to?
• What is Paul pressing on to lay hold of?
• Can we become perfect in this world? If it’s not possible, what was Paul shooting for?
• He mentions “pressing on” or “reaching forward” three times in these verses. What does this mean?
• What is involved in pressing on to become sanctified?
• What kind of actions might someone take who is pressing on for holiness?
• How can you press on for this in your own life?
• What changes can you make?
• Why is it important to forget what is behind?
• How could not forgetting the past hinder future service to God?
• What are the similarities between what Paul is talking about here and an athlete?
• What is the prize Paul can get if he achieves his goal?
• What prize/reward are you striving for?
• What does it take for an athlete to win at a world-class level, like in the Olympics? What is one way you can make more effort to strive for the goal?


2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 – But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

Proverbs 24:16 – For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Hebrews 8:12 – For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

Psalms 102:12 – But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations.

Hebrews 12:2 – And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 Corinthians 9:24- – Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Summary – Below is a summary of this passage.

A. Paul realizes he hasn’t achieved sanctification yet. He, like all believers, is on the way.

B. God chose Paul for the purpose of sanctifying him. This is why God chose all of us.

C. Although we may never achieve perfection in this world, it should still be our goal. Aim high. Miss high.

D. This is an athletic illustration. Like athletes, we are to press on for the finish line.

E. We are not to be complacent believers. We are to push forward, onward, and upward.

2. Paul has not yet obtained perfection – Paul recognized that he hadn’t yet reached the goal. He wasn’t yet holy. He wasn’t yet perfect. Although this seems obvious, it is important for each of us to come to the same realization.

It is effortless to become complacent, especially for those of us who have been saved for a long time. We get into a groove of living the Christian life by habit. Going to church, reading the Bible, and even praying may become second nature. When we do all of these things, we start to think we have arrived, that we are good Christians.

But a key to living a holy life is to understand that you haven’t arrived yet. There is always room for growth in every single area of our lives. If we pridefully think that we are “pretty good” or get into the habit of comparing ourselves with others, then we will not grow. And from this passage, we see that every believer needs to continually push forward to grow more like Christ each day.

Application: We need to humble ourselves. The first step is to admit to God and ourselves that we haven’t arrived. Instead of comparing ourselves to others and thinking about how spiritual we are, we need to have a passion for holiness. What is one area of your Christian life in which you have become complacent? How can you renew your energy in that area to grow this week?

3. Forget successes –

Philippians 3:13 Bible Verse

There are two aspects of this verse. The first is to forget, forget the past. Paul’s point is not that we cannot learn from the past. He is not saying, “wake up with amnesia each day.” He is saying that we should not live in the past.

It could be that you did very well yesterday in your Christian walk. Perhaps you woke up early, spent one hour in prayer and Bible reading, and were patient and kind all day toward your family, serving them with a humble heart. On top of that, maybe you resisted temptation, immediately forgave those who offended you, sang praise songs all day, shared the gospel with five people, and gave your spouse a surprise dinner of their favorite food. Then in the evening, you memorized ten verses, prayed for another hour, and finally went to sleep. Does that sound like your day yesterday?

Even if it does, today is a new day. You cannot wake up today and say, “Yesterday I did well so today I will relax.” Maybe last year you completed a read the Bible in a year plan. It’s not last year anymore. Maybe last month you completed your application each week in your Bible study group. It is not last month anymore. Maybe last week you had a good time of prayer with the Lord each day. It is not last week anymore. Today starts a new week. Forget what is behind. Do not rest on your laurels.

Application: Is there a success in your past that is hindering you from moving forward? Perhaps something that gives you great pride? Beware that Satan will use this to attack you, building up your ego or tempting you to be lazy because you did so well in the past. Take it to God, confess your pride, and ask Him to show you what new goal He would have you work toward.

4. Forget failures – But maybe when you think of your past, you don’t think of successes. Maybe failures come to mind. Maybe yesterday was a bad day. Maybe you got up late and said, “I will read the Bible at night before I sleep,” and so you skipped it in the morning. Maybe you had a short temper with your kids and with your spouse. Maybe you complained about the trials you are facing. Maybe you fell into temptation. You argued with your spouse. And when you went to bed, you were so tired you skipped Bible reading and prayer again and said, “tomorrow.”

Whether you failed yesterday or there was some other failure in your past, you might have woken up today feeling guilty. You may be reliving this past failure. It may be chaining you and holding you back from the future God wants for you. You should learn from it and grow from it. But today is a new day. 2020 is not 2019. You have new opportunities to serve God. His grace is more than enough to cover and wash away all of your past sins and failures. Forget what is behind you and push forward.

Application: Is there a failure in your life that you are reliving? A mistake that is holding you back from what God has for you today? Take it to God. Confess that sin once and for all. Move forward. Press on.

5. Straining forward / pressing on toward the goal – The second aspect of verse 13 (which is continued in verse 14) is to strain forward to what lies ahead. There will be a time to rest. But it is not now.