Of all Paul’s epistles, the letter to the church at Philippi is the most personal. It reveals more of the apostle’s philosophy of life than any other.
Within that treatise is this most enlightening affirmation.
“Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
This declaration has a threefold thrust that may be depicted as: recognition, resolution, and reward. Consider these.
There is the sober recognition that even in the best of saints, there is always room for growth. The indefatigable apostle, far above the common man as he was, acknowledged that he had not yet “laid hold” (cf. Phil. 3:12). This, incidentally, reveals that Paul did not subscribe to the notion that his salvation was so secure that it could never be jeopardized (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27).
As long as we abide in the flesh, we will experience spiritual lapses that break our hearts. Each day we will strive for a mastery of the soul over the body. There always will be theological questions that puzzle us. Unless one recognizes, with brutal honesty, this reality, and learns to live with it without giving in to abandon, he will never know contentment.
One must resolve to forget the past and stretch toward the future. We should make this observation regarding “forgetting.” While one technically may not be able to “forget” his past, he may firmly determine that such events will not cumber his life. Let us now reflect upon the divine instruction concerning Christian resolve.
Former achievements can never be a substitute for present service to the Lord. Paul had an illustrious Hebrew background (Phil. 3:4-6), but from the Christian perspective, all these trophies were deemed as rubbish (Phil. 3:8).
As one develops an increasing level of spirituality, he well may wonder how he ever could have committed some of the gross sins that once dominated his life. He may grieve deeply over his wayward ways, as apparently Paul did his (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15). One must learn, however, to accept God’s wonderful grace, as offered in the plan of salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16). We cannot change the past; we can only live in the present, and look toward the future.
The wise person will forget the barbs that have wounded him in former days. If others have abused you, and you have made a legitimate effort to bring them to a state of repentance, put it behind you and move on. Don’t carry that hateful burden on your back forever.
Memory can be a door to apostasy. Many a man has let his thoughts linger on an old “love affair,” or on the “good ole days” when he visited the “honkey tonks” and played poker with the guys. Those alluring, worldly ways must be banished from the mind as much as is humanly possible.
One frequently needs to make a mental severance with his former religious practices. The ex-Catholic sometimes complains that he misses the pageantry of that system. The former Pentecostal occasionally longs for that “gospel boogie woogie” that kept him charged up in years of yore.
Not only are we admonished to forget certain things, we are encouraged to “stretch forward” and “press on” toward life’s goal, the heavenly prize. In the Greek Testament, both of these verbals are in a present tense form, suggesting the constant exertion that each Christian must manifest. Neglect or apathy is always a danger. There is to be no crown without first a cross (Lk. 9:23).
Finally, there is, at the end, the prize. The apostle would later write:
“I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Philippians 3:13-14 contains a valuable concept designed to help regulate the Christian’s life. It reflects a comprehension of current realities, it enjoins the need of concentration in our present endeavor, and it promises a glorious consummation ultimately.