As we close one year and begin a new one, let us rejoice in the good and not-so-good of the past. Let us know that, as Christians, everything works for our good no matter how painful. And as we look to the future, may we do so from a place of strength and optimism anticipating the good work of our God continuing in our lives.
This was the message of the Apostle Paul so often in his writings to the early church. Paul had an understanding of the work of God for the greater good in our lives.
I want us to observe the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3, verses 8-16, and see ...
The Contrast Between Past Good and Future Best
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— “ (Vs. 8-9)
“ ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Vs. 10-11)
What Paul is saying in verses 8 and 9 is - that all past success, while good, does not compare with the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. Whatever is gained cannot compete with what Christ offers. It is in letting go of the good that I am granted the privilege of obtaining the best. So while we praise God for all that has happened, do not hang on to it too long or we may miss what is awaiting us.
Paul goes on to say in verses 10 and 11 that our resurrection into eternal life is dependent upon the suffering of death to the old, past nature so that one can attain resurrection and life eternal. This is the product of faith - the kind that God gives to us by grace. Paul also leads us to see ...
The Contrast Between Perfect Goodness and Faithfully Becoming
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Vs 12)
Paul is humble enough to recognize the difference between perfection and perfecting! One is a finished product while the other is a formation process.
Paul was saying that although he has not yet obtained the fullness of what all this means, he is pressing on to make this his own motivated by the fact that Christ owns him through repentance and faith.
Paul was also saying that he was not naive to the power of this process. So a frame of mind is necessary - a discipline after faith is essential. And what is that mindset and discipline? Well, Paul tells us that there are five things. He says that there is Forgetting, Straining, Pressing, Thinking and Holding! Look at verses 13-16.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Vs. 13-16)
Forget What Lies Behind
What does forgetting what lies behind mean? In this particular context of our passage, Paul may be referring to his previous life and work in the religious realm. Those things that brought him pride and promotion he now works to forget. He now moves to leave these memories and actions behind like a marathon runner puts the previous miles he runs out of sight. This generation tends to be obsessed with the past (not history, but individual past). Many have embraced the idea that our past difficulties and injustices have led to our present condition and circumstances. This leads to excuses for our behavior and a justification for our bad choices.
As Christians, we are called to have a different view of the past. Of course, we can never truly forget the past (perhaps that’s why Paul says forgetting instead of having forgotten). Yet we are to look forward, not backward. We are not defined by our past. The past is merely the path that led us to this present moment. This same principle works concerning all our good works as well! Therefore we are to …
Strain Forward to What Lies Ahead
This statement indicates that there is energy related to our development. We sometimes want the result without the struggle. Of course, our salvation comes by grace through faith, but our maturity in Christ requires that we apply ourselves to the process. We are to strive or strain forward! Salvation is about an allegiance to the King. Allegiance is related to the word alignment and we are to align our lives with the process which requires action. This action is motivated by what we see ahead.
The problem is that most do not see what lies ahead. We are so preoccupied with the past and the present that we fail to understand the reward that awaits us in the future. If we truly comprehended, even to a measure, what glory awaits us, it would not be very hard to mobilize Christians to submit their lives to the spiritual process. We must …
Press Toward the Goal of What is Upward
Instead of having our eyes set on the past, we must press forward toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. There is a goal to the Christian life, and there is a prize upon reaching that goal. Our goal is upward. It is forward and onward. It is above and ahead of us, not behind us. Eternity with the Lord in the resurrection is our goal, and the prize is being with Christ. But this prize is not just what we can gain, but what our future seed can gain. We live for those to come, our children and our children’s children forward to many generations. We have been summoned to run a great race, a relay race, and the prize for completion is glorious beyond all measure. Our eyes, therefore, must be fixed upon the finish line. We will only reach it through much endurance. The life to come for us in the presence of the King as well as the life for our seed in this world must be the focus of our life now. Paul goes on to say that we must …
Think Maturely in the Ways of the Lord
Mature Christians will have the mindset outlined in verses 12-14, knowing that we are not yet perfect but pressing forward toward that glorious day when our salvation will be complete and many will be saved because of our maturity.
Interestingly, this means that confidence in having figured out the Christian life and believing that we have already matured enough is immediate evidence of NOT being mature. Those who are the most mature recognize just how much they still lack. Many read the Bible once and consider themselves experts in Christianity, but when we dive deeply into knowing God through His Word, we quickly begin to realize just how inadequate we are and how little we know. But what we do know and what we have learned, we should humbly …
Hold True to What has Been Attained
Paul emphasized that he has yet to attain the resurrection of the dead; instead, it was his great goal, to live forever with Jesus Himself. Perseverance is a great doctrine of Scripture that is often under-emphasized. We are called to persevere to the end meaning that we do not backslide, falter in our faith, or give up on God. We do not return to the world or go about life in our own way. As a true believer, we are not our own but bought with a price. We are His possession! This was Paul’s message. Therefore we persevere - we remain faithful to the end!
To once again use the race metaphor, each step takes us closer to the finish line, but we are presently still running the race. Paul is, therefore, warning us against the ever-present danger of sliding backward into that which we were supposed to forget. Let us not lose the ground that we have made and the maturity in which we have grown.
May we trust the Lord, and depend upon Him for all things while understanding our responsibility. As Paul so clearly teaches us, we must invest in ourselves by forgetting those things in our past that damage our progress forward. We must strain forward or strive toward a faithful lifestyle that brings us into greater unity with Christ. We are to press toward that which is upward. We must reach high for those things that are attainable in Christ. We must think maturely! As a man thinks in his heart so is he is still true. We are what we think. Therefore, our thinking must be properly aligned with the mind of Christ.
This is a good road map for 2024 from the Apostle Paul. May we walk this out in a way that brings forth a greater manifestation of His kingdom here on earth. Happy New Year!