Summary: Christians today can attain Christ-likeness by doing the same thing Paul did—dealing with the past, living in the present, and pressing toward the prize.
What does it take to attain greatness? First, I guess you have to figure out what greatness is. If you’re a salesman, greatness might be selling a million dollars worth of stuff. If you’re a working man, greatness might be owning your own business. If you’re a football player, greatness might be winning the Super Bowl. For a mom, greatness might be raising successful children. So, if those things are considered greatness, what does it take to achieve them? If you were to ask the so-called great people in every field what it took for them to achieve greatness, what would they say? I’m sure each of them would say different things, but whatever their response specifically said, it would all boil down to attitude. Each one of them would tell you they had an attitude of attaining greatness. No matter what you do for a living, if you’re a Christian, greatness can only be one thing. It can’t be any of those things the world considers greatness. It’s not money, or trophies, or even perfect kids. Greatness to the Christian is being like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Having that kind of an attaining attitude is what we should be about. The Bible tells us of an earlier man who had that kind of an attaining attitude. In the verses leading up to the passage we just read, Paul instructs the church at Philippi on the goal of the Christian life. He tells them plainly what that goal is in chapter 2 verse 5. Flip back a page or two and read that with me. In chapter 2 verse 5, Paul says that the goal of the Christian life is to, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Then he goes on to explain what that means. But now he’s to the point of telling them and us how to get there. He tells us that the goal is to have the mind of Christ, in other words, to be Christ-like. That’s the goal. Then at the beginning of our passage this morning, he said that he hasn’t gotten there yet. In verse 12 he said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” He hasn’t attained the goal yet. Then he uses a very important little word. He says, “But.” He hasn’t attained the goal yet, but he has an attaining attitude. I want each of us here this morning to see the attaining attitude Paul had. But not only do I want us to see it. I want each of us to leave this place determined to develop that attitude in ourselves. In order to do that, we’ll look at the three steps to having an attaining attitude. The first step to having an attaining attitude is we have to deal with the past. Read with me in verse 13:
We have to deal with the past. Have you ever walked in a room to get something and forgot what you were looking for? Come on, be honest—I know it’s not just me who does that. Well, that’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s not talking about having a well-orchestrated senior moment where we can blank out things that have happened in our past. The fact is, we can’t forget the events that make up our past. Even if we could, we wouldn’t want to. Those events in our past are some of the things that have shaped us into who we are today. Paul recounted the events in his past all throughout his writings. He traced his history of being persecuted as a Christian in 2 Corinthians 11:24-25:
Paul remembered the past persecution he had gone through. It’s understandable that he would remember the suffering he did for Christ, but what about what he did before he was a Christian? Did he remember those as well? He briefly recounted his horrifying pre-Christian lifestyle in Galatians 1:13:
He didn’t go into all the gruesome details of the persecution, torture, and murder he committed, but he didn’t ignore it either. It had happened and there was no denying it, ignoring it, or forgetting it. It was part of who he was. It was the past from which Christ gloriously saved him. So if Paul hadn’t forgotten his past in that sense, what did he mean when he said he forgets the things which are behind? He didn’t wipe those things from his mind. He couldn’t. But he didn’t dwell in them either. He didn’t dwell in the past. He accepted it for what it was and he dealt with it. The things in your past are part of who you are. They include your heritage, your traditions, and your history. They also include your failures and your flaws. You can’t forget any of those things. You can close your eyes and wish the bad things never happened, but guess what? They did. The choice you have to make is—are you going to dwell in the past or deal with it and move on? Paul knew who he was before Christ saved him—and I guarantee his past was worse than anyone’s here today. He knew his past, but did he dwell in it? No, he dealt with it. He dealt with his persecuting past, before he was a Christian, by using that as a testimony of Jesus’ wonderful grace and mercy. He dealt with his persecuted past, after he was a Christian, by fully depending on Christ.