Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after…
The Grecian racecourse was well known to Paul and to all his readers, and hence he often uses it as a figure to illustrate the Christian life. The subject is spiritual advancement, onwardness in Divine excellence. The words suggest that this progress implies three things.
I. A CONSCIOUS DISSATISFACTION WITH THE PRESENT. By this I mean, not dissatisfaction with the events and circumstances of life - Divine providences - this would be foolish and impious, but with present moral attainments, for he says, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect." He was not satisfied with his present assimilation to Christ. He painfully felt the discrepancy. This dissatisfaction is ever the first step in soul-progress and the impelling motive afterwards. Indeed, dissatisfaction with present attainments is the spring of all advancement in everything in life. Dissatisfied with huts, men build houses; with the loose skin of beasts for their covering, they manufacture garments; with caligraphy, they invent the printing-press; with waggons, they construct steam-engines. He who feels satisfied with what he has, whether it be material, mental, or spiritual, will never seek to lay hold of something yet unattained.
II. A COMPARATIVE OBLIVIOUSNESS TO THE PAST. "Forgetting those things which are behind." The Olympic racer did not look behind him on the course, but on to the goal until he reached and grasped the pole. In soul-onwardness there must be a comparative obliviousness. We say comparative. Of course there must be and ought to be remembrances of past mercies to inspire our gratitude, of past sins to humble us before God. But attention to the past should be as nothing to that which we give to the future. Let the past go: it is irreparable and unavailing; the grand future must loom before us and absorb the soul. Look not behind you. Keep your eyes right onward upon the enchanting scenes that are spread out on the sunny heights.
III. A CONCENTRATED STRUGGLE FOR THE FUTURE. "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." The prize of the Grecian racer was a garland of olive, or laurel, or pine, or apple. What is the moral prize? Moral perfection. To this all men are divinely called in Christ. In the true moral race men are to reach forth, not after happiness as an end, but after holiness; not after Paradise, but after perfection. This requires concentration. There must be no half-heartedness, no divided faculties; it must be the one thing; the whole soul must be set upon it. Concentration is essential to success in almost every department of life. Noah built his ark because he concentrated his being on the work. Abraham lived a pilgrim life because he set his heart on a city that had a foundation. Napoleon became nearly the master of Europe because he had set his heart on the infernal work. Demosthenes became one of the greatest orators of the world because oratory was the work on which he set his heart. So in all things. The attainment of holiness must be the "one thing" in life. Learning, literature, business, recreation, must be rendered subservient to this "one thing." - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.