Previously, we looked at Paul’s complete shift of basis of confidence (from confidence in the flesh to confidence in God) as a result of his encounter with Christ. In Philippians 3:12-21, Paul continues to exhort Philippians concerning the gift of salvation. He uses an athletic metaphor to show how a Christian should live in respect to the time past, present, and future.
Past: “Forgetting what is behind”- (v13b)
In respect to the past, Paul reveals, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind…”
“To forget” does not mean failure to remember, amnesia/loss of memory, or some sort of brain malfunction. Rather, it means “no longer to be influenced by or affected by.” So, when God forgives us our sins, he promises to remember them no more (Heb 10:17), or no longer hold the sin against us.
Paul found the right antidote to the past. And this was, to simply forget! to bury the past in the past. But this is not easy process because interestingly, as human beings, we easily remember what we should forget and easily forget what we should remember.
In the former section of this chapter, Paul’s encounter with Christ resulted into losses, in his past life. He lost: Jewish privileges/heritages, status as an educated Pharisee, his fervent zeal to persecute Christians, and cultural/ethnic identity. He lost all for the sake of Christ. Now, he no longer boasted in them but in Christ. Paul chose to let go of this past by forgetting. This wasn’t easy; but it was necessary for him to put off every weight in order to win the race. Clearly, he had to deal with his past in order to enjoy the blessings of God in Christ.
In his past life, Paul was a blasphemer, and a persecutor of the church. This was enough to hold Paul backward. But his surrender to the lordship of Christ unleashed upon his life the abundance of God’s mercy and grace (1 Tim 1:12-17).
Each one of us has a past, some good and some not good. What should we do with it? This Scripture exhorts us to leave the past where it belongs, behind.
Obviously, the past can positively bring some value/wealth of experience, memories of joy, victories, and gratitude to God.
But at the same time, the past can negatively hold memories of failure, loss, sorrow, sin, guilt, grief, regrets, defeat, discouragement, and difficulties.
Satan, the liar and accuser of brethren, would always like to capitalize on this; reminding and burdening believers with the cares of the past; and blinding believers from the marvelous freedom in Christ.
Today, many Christians are weighed/held down by regrets of the past; and as a result, they run the race looking backward like the man ploughing and looking back ((Lk 9:62). If you don’t deal with it rightly, one’s past has the potential to bring a negative force or enslaving/controlling power against you. So apart from forgetting, how else can we deal with our negative/evil/shameful past, once and for all.
We need to confess our sin/curse and put our faith in Jesus- the curse breaker, chain breaker, forgiver, and liberator. You need to confess and renounce your ways of darkness, your hidden involvement with the dark world, your covenant with demons or cultural ties that bring curses, and shame.
The Bible says, “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed” (Acts 17:29-31)
It is good to remember that “we cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past.” For example, when Joseph was in the land of Egypt he looked back at the evil committed against him by his brothers and interpreted, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). The evil action committed against him, in the past, did not change but Joseph’s understanding of the event changed. He understood the past in light of God’s sovereign power. As a result, he was unable to hold grudge against his brothers.
Don’t limit God’s power upon your past experience, because he can transform it for your own good. He can bring something good out of it. He can give you a good name. He can give you a new song. He can refresh and fill your life with good things. Your best days are not in the past, they are yet to come…
Brethren, to be able to run the race effectively, we need to break the power of the past, by living for the future. This power/force is broken by Jesus Christ. At the same time, we need to extend grace to each other, knowing that the Holy Spirit is working within us to make us new.
Present: “Pressing on”- (v12, 14)
Apostle Paul left the past to belong to the past so that he can concrete on the present. Yesterday’s successes, victories, failures and challenges are irrelevant today. He pressed on like a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. He truly had a true sense of self-awareness of who he was. He knew that:
-He had not obtained all that has been promised. He had only received a deposit of the full payment, the first fruit of the harvest, and a foretaste of what is to come. So, it is clear in his mind that he’s not received the full blessings of salvation. Meanwhile, according to the previous context (3:9-11), Paul sought:
- To gain Christ.
- The righteousness of Christ (v.9; cf. Rom 3:21, 23,25) – Paul did not want self-righteousness but a form of righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.
- The knowledge of Christ (v8)- Paul confesses “I want to know Christ.”
- The power of his resurrection–
- The fellowship of Christ-(v.10-11.
- Becoming like him in his death- (Phil. 1:29-30; 3:21; Gal. 2:20).
- Attain the resurrection from the death– Paul believed that the death would be raised (Acts 24:15; 26:6-8; Phil. 3:21), and that he will attain this resurrection.
It should be noted that when Paul wrote this letter, he was already a Christian for over three decades. Despite all this, he still pressed on, in this life-long journey. He desired the fullness of Christ. He was justified, but still desired to go to the deep end of sanctification, knowing Christ more intimately.
Paul knew he was not yet perfect. He was still work in progress. He knew that he had not attained freedom from sin, deliverance from trials and temptations, and had not received glorified body.
He knew he still needed to: battle spiritual battles, manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit, pray more, follow God’s leading, read God’s word more, fellowship more, be more alert because the enemy prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).
Paul had no sense of entitlement or the feeling ‘I have arrived.’ It is wrong that some Christians today feel that they have arrived. As a result, they think they no longer need to read their Bibles, go to church, preach the gospel, pray, attend fellowships. Paul’s desire reminds us that we should seek to constantly grow spiritually and not to settle on spiritual mediocrity.
Paul knew he has not yet obtained all that is promised at the end of the race.
-He knew he had not yet been made perfect– this is an important admission.
The tough experiences Paul had faced had not made him fully perfect. He still desired perfection and completeness in Christ.
But presently, believers were to realize that the journey to perfection has both dangers and opportunities.
Dangers/Threat: There are Judaizers, “those who live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18). Believers in Christ should beware of this group which:
- Their destiny is destruction- They oppose the word of life/true gospel.
- Their god is their stomach- Not interested with honoring Christ but satisfying their selfish-interests (Rom. 16:18).
- Their glory is shame- They glory in things which they ought to be ashamed of.
- Their mind is on earthly things- They seek them, and their minds and hearts settled on them.
Opportunity: Believers in Christ are invited to emulate the example of Paul and other faithful believers in Christ (3:17). He had renounced all confidence in the flesh and trusted in God.
Believers should have an active hope toward the future.
Paul presses on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus. How does he achieve this? He focuses on one thing!
“But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (v.13b).
Paul had learned the secret of singular focus. This is a secret to success. His focus is on winning the prize! That singular thing focusses his energies and defines what is important (Neh. 6:3; James 1:8).
Many Christians get involved in “many things” or “everything” and by doing so, they get distracted in the race. Only one thing is needed (Mk. 10:21; Lk10:42; Jn 9:25; Ps 27:4).
He focuses on:
- Finishing and Wining- He eyed the victorious end (Acts 20:24); therefore, he had to leave everything that hinders him (Heb. 12:1-3). Like God, we need to deliberately finish what we initiate.
- Crown/prize- The glorious crown. His eyes focused on the crown. The incorruptible crown.
- Heavenward identity and calling- Paul lived his dual citizenship responsibly. He also longed for the revelation of the holy city of God (Heb. 11:9,10,14-16).
- Appearance of Jesus Christ- Eagerly waited for the glorious appearance of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:19, 23,25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal 5:5; Heb 9:28).
- Bringing of everything under one head-
- Change of our lowly bodies- He longed for a spiritual body that is not subject to weaknesses, disease and death (1 Cor. 15:44).