Examining Philippians 3:13 – 14
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3: 13 – 14)
Recently, another couple of gospel preachers and I shared some experiences of our lives that were not pleasant at the time but are retained as “lessons learned.” None of us hold animosity regarding these happenings, but neither do we wish to repeat them. One of us expressed his gained wisdom in the following words, “I am a strong believer in Philippians 3:13 - 14 and think I understand what Paul meant about the past. It can have precious memories but also lessons from the school of hard knocks.” I readily concur!
Few preachers have dared to record their lives via autobiography. Most would rather have them not written; and if they are, let them be written by someone other than themselves. We that have read such histories of men we esteem as “great men in Israel” (cf. 2 Samuel 3:38) are careful to note these also faced the heat and burdens of their days. In the biography of one such preacher, a chapter is entitled “Some Unfriendly Friends.” We’ve all had them, and I dare say, wise men have learned from them! Additionally, we can forget their deeds as well, but we’ll need to work at it!
The apostle Paul was right in “forgetting the things which are behind.” The older we get, the more of the real details we forget if we try! Sure, we’ll remember the generalities of the events: but even these can be forgotten if we don’t dwell on remembering them! Paul remembered the evil deeds of Alexander the coppersmith but said God would reward him accordingly. (2 Timothy 4:14). This is the attitude Paul proclaims. Examine his statement carefully. The verb tense shows “continual action”; that is, he consistently worked at forgetting the things that were behind him. His focus was upon those things ahead of him in the work of serving Christ Jesus!
Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. “Don’t you remember it?” her friend asked. “No,” came Barton’s reply, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.” This exemplifies Paul’s statement of “forgetting those things which are behind.” Could Barton have recalled it as her friend did? I’m confident she could have, but instead, she refused to bring it to the fore of the conversation, and therefore she refused to keep it in her mind! She “remembered distinctly forgetting it.”
Frankly, remembering troublesome times is detrimental to one’s health, both spiritually and physically. Other than repenting of your sins, what can you change about your past? NOTHING! Doctors (both physical and mental) have long diagnosed the ailments of many as being attributable to their “worry” about their past. Drugs only mask the symptoms as there is no cure for such events other than ceasing to do evil and learning to do well (cf. Isaiah 1:16-17). We call that “repentance.” One precious soul used to consistently come forward and beg forgiveness for his sins. After several weeks of this action, the preacher talked with him and learned the man felt completely guilty about some things he’d done before his immersion into Christ for the remission of his sins. The preacher explained all those sins had been forgiven (Acts 2:38) and that God had forgotten them (Hebrews 10:17). But the man said, “But I can’t, and I still feel guilty.” The preacher said, “Then learn from them, and know that since God forgave you, you need to forgive yourself!” Remembering his past was destroying his soul!
Paul couldn’t have “reached forth unto those things which are before” if his mindset was in “reverse” (i.e., looking back, remembering what is best forgotten.) He had better things to do than whine about what couldn’t be changed, or the souls that did him wrong, or the indecencies inflicted upon him by uncaring and unloving people. As a Christian (let alone an apostle of Christ) he had the responsibility of “blessing them that cursed him, blessing them and cursing not.” (Romans 12:14). That must be our attitude if we desire heaven!
The phrase “pressing toward the mark” of Paul’s statement means “to vigorously pursue” with some translations rendering the word as “strive”. In our vernacular, it means, “stay focused on the prize” which Paul says is “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Yes, some things that will happen in this life are difficult to accept. But as the song says, “Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me, still will I enter in.” (#642, Sacred Selections). The question remains, DO WE BELIEVE THIS? If not, increase your faith! (Hebrews 13:5-6; 2 Peter 3:18; et al). No one can look forward when looking backward! Our goal of heaven is not on this earth! It is yonder, where God dwells and where His eternal promise to the redeemed awaits. Let’s be focused on HIM and not on things of this earth. Let the past stay in the past! Let’s go to heaven, but let’s all go! Until then, as one wisely said, “Strive for peace, brethren.”