Summary: Release your past to Christ, both successes and failures. Reach toward your glorious future, living with one foot in eternity as you remember where you’re heading. And daily seek to grow closer to Christ. Make it your daily ambition to know Christ better.
Forgetting and Focusing
I noticed an odd phenomenon in the military. When people were drawing close to retirement or their discharge date, their whole demeanor changed. They started dragging to formation. Their PT efforts became weakened. Their work grew subpar, or average at best. They looked like a zombie, like the walking dead. Now to be fair, it was not their fault. They had an STD, which in this case stands for: “short-timers’ disease.”
What about you? Do you ever feel like you have short-timers’ disease in life? Do you ever feel like, why make the effort? Maybe you’re just going through the motions. Maybe you feel like you’re just surviving, going in circles on the treadmill of life. Today’s scripture may give you a whole new attitude: about your past, present, and future. If you look at Paul’s words, first he advises us to ...
1. Release the past.
In verse 13, he uses the phrase, “Forgetting what is behind.” Is Paul asking us to suppress those troublesome memories of the past? No. Paul is talking about letting go of things that still have a hold on us. If we don’t release our past, two things will get us into trouble: past failures and past successes.
Past failures make us think we are a failure. Paul could certainly recall his failures. He supervised the death of the first martyr of the church, Stephen. He could have carried a lot of guilt for his persecution of Christians before his salvation. But no, he said we need to release all of that to God. God can forgive your guilt, if you give it to him. God can forgive all the woulda/coulda/shoulda decisions you’ve analyzed to death. Give it to God and let him take it away. 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We need to forget our failures, and also our successes. Why? If we concentrate on them too much, we’ll rest on our laurels and never want to do more. In business, the biggest threat to future success is past success. That’s why companies always keep reinventing themselves. We say in marriage seminars, “Being married is like riding a bike: it takes some work, some peddling. If you’re coasting, you’re always going downhill.”
Paul had much success under his belt. Earlier in the chapter he listed his pedigree as a learned Jewish scholar and Pharisee, trained by the best. Yet, he said, compared to knowing Christ, all his Ivy League prowess was garbage (verse 8). The actual word there means dung. All of our earthly efforts amount to nothing compared to knowing Christ. Don’t let those past successes go to your head!
Now I’m not saying the past isn’t important. We need to learn from the past. But life is like driving a car: Most of the time you want to look out that large front windshield; every now and then you need to glance back through the tiny rear view mirror. Too much looking back will get you in trouble. Or for you Navy types, use the past like a rudder to guide your future path, but not like an anchor to drag you down. Learn from the past. Make peace with the past. Celebrate the past. And then let go of the past, so you can, #2,
2. Reach toward your future.
Paul says in verses 13 and 14, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. [In other words, “I haven’t arrived yet!”] But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul pictures here the sprinter straining forward to cross the finish line. Commentator Gordon Fee recalls the famous “miracle mile,” the first time two milers ran under four minutes in the same race. Roger Bannister and John Landy competed in Vancouver, B.C. in 1954. Landy had led all the way, but coming off the final turn toward the finish line he looked over his shoulder to find out where Bannister was, only to be passed on the other side and beaten to the tape! [Gordon Fee, “Philippians,” IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 155.]
You can’t worry about what is behind you. You need to lean into the run and give it all you got, keeping your gaze on the finish. And what a finish it will be. What is our goal? What is the prize? It is the heavenward calling of God in Christ Jesus! There is nothing finer. Heaven will make it all worth it, you just wait and see!