Forget the Past and Press towards the Goal (Philippians 3:13–14)
The year, 2020 has been almost like a sickbed. From early March all of us were afraid of Covid-19. We did not visit crowded places, avoided going out for essential needs, did not dare to visit doctors nor did we even visit the sick in the hospitals. Our life was almost like being in a sickbed, but we all were sustained. Let’s pray and hope that the New Year 2021 will be different though the threat of corona virus is still looming large.
Our meditation is based on Philippians 3: 13-14 which will help us to encourage ourselves and move forward in these uncertain and worrying times. We will meditate the passage under three sections. First, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. Second, press on towards the goal and finally, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Here, Paul has used the analogy of a running race to convey his convictions.
In the 13th verse of Philippians chapter 3, Paul writes that he is forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. The expression ‘forgetting what lies behind’ has definite reference to the past life of Paul. Forgetting though practically, very hard, simply means ‘not to have remembrance of something’.
It is humanly impracticable to erase all the past memories both good and bad or positive and negative, or failure and success, or joys and sufferings. But at the most what we can do is not to stay in the past. We must generate the ability to move forward amidst the past.
For Paul, forgetting past has different possibilities. One is to think of getting rid of his pre-Christian days, where he was proud of himself, his status in the society, his scholarship, his popularity, his force of persecuting the church, dragging the Christians to courts, etc. He was also an active participant in the stoning of Stephen.
The second possibility is to forget his past mistakes of which he is convinced now. As an apostle, Paul, however, is sure about the forgiveness of the gracious Lord, who changed the directions of Paul and forced him to run a new race. He was also amply clear about the grace of God that is readily available to anyone who turns to God.
The chief thing Paul speaks about forgetting the past was to forget his achievements and successes. This is the most difficult practice for any one of us to follow. We have a tendency to harp on the past successes. But Paul was able to overcome this and move forward to Jesus Christ (goal). He compares this new conviction to a runner in the race who keeps running without turning back.
Another popular illustration is that the one who keeps the hand on the plough should not turn back. People who look backward keep on worrying about the past and forget that there is a hopeful future. They often fall prey to failure and defeat.
We cannot completely forget the past. Remembering the past and moving forward is different from hovering over the past. Here we do not allow the past to dominate and have control over our future possibilities.
Year 2020 was terrible for many all over the world. People have suffered heavy losses, lost dear ones, underwent suffering beyond expectation, sickness, failure and mistakes in studies and jobs, problems in relationships and many questions on our spiritual pilgrimage.
No doubt, there could have been many success stories and pleasant memories as well. Paul says we have to forget the past whether failure or success because future can be more promising. He is concerned with the past controlling the future hope. All of us have to move forward in 2021, irrespective of what was 2020.
This is true for our earthly calling and for our upward spiritual growth. Of course, Paul dwells on the upward calling. He is not conveniently moving forward but stretching forward, which means moving with strain or moving forward beyond normal movement.
God’s people cannot claim that they have reached perfection. Such a thought leads to saturation and stagnation. It deprives Christian dynamism.
Paul, when he started his apostleship felt that he was not worthy to be called as an apostle. But later he became the chief of the apostles. May we resolve with the help of God to move forward and not to hang over the past, particularly on the achievements?
Secondly, we can reflect upon - How Paul is moving forward. He says in the 14th verse that ‘I press on towards the goal’. Understanding Paul’s goal will make meditation on ‘press on’ easier.
Paul had a different goal before Jesus confronted him at Damascus. That was his past. Now he has set a new goal. The new goal is Jesus Christ himself. Paul has used the sports analogy again to explain the goal. The goal here is parallel to the one looked up to by a person running in a race. It is the mark towards which the runner runs fast.
The mark or goal for Paul is Jesus Christ. It was not his choice but Christ made him to run towards it. Once this new target is set, Paul considered all the earlier achievements as losses and his own righteousness as waste.
Paul explains his new inescapable goal, Jesus, in different ways. He wanted to get the mind of Jesus Christ, to be nearer to Jesus, to be like Jesus, grow up into Jesus, to do the work of Jesus, to put on the likeness of Christ, partake in the affection of Jesus, share in the Joy of Jesus, to excel in the knowledge of Jesus Christ i.e. to know Jesus in all fullness. Therefore, for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Having been very definite about the goal, Paul is ‘pressing on’ towards the goal. The expression ‘press on’ has the force of persecuting. That is, Paul is pursuing the goal - Jesus Christ with the same force that he used earlier to persecute the church. Another possible translation of the expression “press on” is chasing. It is earnestly chasing to catch hold of something.
In other words, with intense concentration, Paul is running towards the goal. Sometime ‘press on’ is translated as straining towards or stretching forward. This again is the language common to sports where the athletes, stretch beyond normal movements to reach the goal. All these different shades of meaning suggest that Paul’s determination to reach the goal was unchangeable.
We have two kinds of goals. One is our earthly goals and the other is our spiritual goal. Often, we are caught up with our own goals and rarely find time to think about Jesus Christ, the most important goal. There is nothing wrong to pursue our own goals, but the priority is for Jesus Christ. The Bible says, seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.
In the life of Paul, there is only one goal that is Jesus Christ. Like Paul, in 2021, we all can ‘press on’ towards our goals while keeping Christ as the utmost.
Thirdly, Paul says he is pressing on ‘for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’. Paul is clear about the distinction between goal and prize. Goal is reachable for everyone, but to get the prize there are strict rules and models. As the athletes strictly adhere to the model and rules, we need to follow them. Paul’s prize is to be ever happy with Jesus. He calls it as heavenly calling as well. The model was Jesus and the rules are the word of God.
Paul is very confident that, he had fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He was fully aware that now there is in store for him the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to him on that day.
Yet Paul is not relaxing, because he was aware that the prize can be missed at any time. An athlete can miss the prize even after reaching the goal by choosing a wrong track or having a wrong start.
We hear in our own times that many sports persons miss the prize for reasons that are familiar to all of us. There are cases many championship awards are taken away from them. For Christians the prize is for all who follow Jesus. The basic requirements are whether the model and the rules are strictly adhered to.
Jesus chose twelve disciples but Judas could not receive the prize for which he was called. Even after the great leadership of Moses he could not reach the promised land. Only, Joshua and Caleb could reach.
The most striking illustration is that, when his disciples came and reported him that they had cast out demons and healed the sick in the name of Jesus. Jesus’ response was, yes it is true, but see that your names are written in the book of life.
Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples that there will be many in the kingdom who have gone before. Jesus used the example of constructing the house on the sand and rock. The goal is constructing the house. But the prize is the house on the rock will not be destroyed. He also used the example of wide and narrow gate. No one who follows the model – Jesus and the rules – the word of God, will miss the prize.
A purposeful 2021 resolution should be like that of Paul. Yes, I will forget the past and move forward. I will not allow the past to overshadow my future possibilities. I will press on towards the goal and will not miss the prize. The prize is in the hand of God. Hence, we have to lean on God, plead for his grace, seek his strength and guidance.
Many of us are successful in reaching the goal, through some way, but let’s be watchful about the prize. When we fully concentrate on the prize, our spiritual, moral, and earthly life will be different. Love will be the guiding principle. Let’s resolve that we will forget the past, we will press on towards the goal and we will not miss the prize.
Rev Dr Selvam Robertson is presently serving as the Principal of Bethel Bible College, Guntur, India.
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
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