Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
What encouragement can be found in this verse. It is as if Paul had every believer in mind, could read our hearts and know our fears, as if he has reached out and touched us in inward place which so easily becomes disheartened or sorrowful, where weariness creeps in and we wonder if we should search for an easier way.
Even the strongest or most mature believer has those moments. This seem to go contrary to what we expected, or we’ve encountered obstacles or resistance, or perhaps are even enduring trials and hardship and heartache. All these things are part of life, yet they wear us down and the enemy creeps in with whispered reminders of where we’ve done wrong, gone wrong, heard wrong…
We know the passages from Scripture – that we are forgiven, that God has removed our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, that we are a new creation. We know that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. All of these truths sustain us, but today’s verse has a special perspective that is more than simple encouragement. It’s a ‘blueprint’ as it were, for the way forward.
The first thing is that even Paul, the wise, tried and tested apostle, had moments of question and weakness. He also, like us, realised how much more he had to learn, that he had not yet fully ‘apprehended’ or understood everything. He goes on, however, to state a further truth most emphatically – a truth he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was this truth, I believe, that enabled him, in all the hardships, persecution and difficulties he endured, to fix his eyes firmly on Jesus and move forward.
It’s the moving forward that’s significant. The moving on to the ‘prize,’ the upward call of Christ Jesus. For Paul, it wasn’t the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ that was important, but that to which he was called upward, Christ Himself. I once heard an expression from a visiting pastor, who had heard it from his mentor, and it has stuck with me ever since – ‘when you feel like you’re going through hell, whatever you do don’t stop.’ The inference being, of course, that you’ll be stuck there if you don’t.
That, in layman’s terms, is the vital truth that Paul is sharing here. We just have to keep going – take hold of the Word, fix our eyes on our ‘prize’ and keep moving upward towards Jesus – upward is the surest way to get out the hole we’re in. If we keep our eyes focused on the mud at the bottom of the hole, we’ll never look up and find the way out. So why, then – when we all know this in principle, and know the Word that applies in any given situation – do we seem to get a little stuck along the way?
The key is ‘forgetting those things that are behind.’ This involves a few different things. First, we should always honestly recognise our errors, shortcomings or lack of wisdom. Forgetting doesn’t mean pretending they aren’t there. We need to acknowledge them and our part in ending up in the place where we’re at, because, to a greater or lessor degree, we have some responsibility. The second part of forgetting is repentance. Where we recognise our failings or sin, we should immediately repent and ask forgiveness. It is impossible to forget something that we haven’t first acknowledged, repented and received forgiveness for.
Receiving forgiveness means understanding that God Himself, once He forgives, no longer remembers our sin – unlike us, who have a tendency to dredge them up in these darker moments. We find it hard to forget, and I believe it’s a tendency within us that the enemy exploits. I think of it as the ‘flipside’ to pride – the very human propensity to hang on to things and to use past sins, failures and shortcomings to explain the things we are facing in that moment. We have a weakness, as human beings, to focus on self, even if that is in the negative sense of being unable to forget what God has already forgotten.
Remembering what is past is kind of an ‘alibi’ for not moving forward. Yet, if we manage to keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be drawn upward, out of the mire, and will find ourselves moving forward. It is impossible to dwell on the past mistakes and failures when looking at Christ. He knows we will fail. He knows we will sin, make mistakes, miss things and mess up. That’s why He went to the cross, to make the way for us, and He goes ahead to reveal it to us. Pushing onward is seldom easy. The very nature of it is struggle, exertion, patience and endurance – all of which pretty much sum up the Christian walk.
Yet, like Paul, we have an eternal truth that sustains and strengthens us. With each new day, God is doing a ‘new’ thing. Today is not yesterday. What happened yesterday, once repented and forgiven, is gone. It no longer exists. Nor is today tomorrow. It is this moment, the opportunity to fix our eyes on Him and give our all. Tomorrow is what we look forward to, the hope and the future. Today is what we live in Him – a new creation, no more in condemnation. That is grace, and providing we fix our eyes upward on Christ, that grace is always there in abundance.
Thank You, Lord, for Your grace, for showing us through Your Word the way to overcome. Thank You that You will always be the way, the truth and the life, that if we fix our eyes on You, we will find the way out of the mire and move onward and upward, sure of Your gracious mercy and forgiveness, and Your unfailing love and strength.