In my article last week we discovered that we are to be in, but not of the world. This means that while we live in the world, we do not adopt the world’s values, methods, or morals (or lack thereof). We are simply sojourners, passing through this age on our journey to eternity. If all this is true, what are we to do while here?
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14 NASB
Philippians 3 is full of wonderful truths and challenges to us – things, if we really understand them, will cause use to grow. Lets take a few moments and consider a few points Paul makes in these few verses.
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect…
Paul begins this section with a wonderful statement of humility and understanding of the human condition following conversion: a redeemed but imperfect follower of Christ.
When we read Pauls works, we quickly realize that he is a man who is acutely aware of his faults, his sin, and his struggles. We also become aware of his desire to be in closer union with Christ, having his life lost in His. Here in Philippians 3, Paul flatly states that he has not yet achieved the intimacy in Christ he desires or that he is already perfect. There are Christians who believe that after conversion, a person can achieve perfection. Paul performs an effective refutation of that view. Paul is setting up the rest of his argument by plainly stating that he isn’t where he wants to be.
I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…
Paul moves on to say that in spite of his imperfection, in spite of his failures, and in spite of his lack of intimacy with Christ; he continues to go forward. The phrase I press on could better be communicated with the phrase I strive. Paul is striving – pushing forward – to become more like Christ. Think of person straining to climb a hill, refusing to give up. Paul keeps moving forward in spite of the barriers – in spite of the difficulties. All that matters is that he fulfills his destiny in Christ after Christ laid hold on him.
forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
In this passage, Paul details how he will gain greater intimacy with Christ. Paul begins by stating he forgets all that lies behind. Paul chooses to neglect it, to forget it. But to what does he refer? It could be his life persecuting the church before he was saved. But I’m not sure he is doing that. I think he is probably forgetting the persecution he and the church have endured. The reason is simple: if we focus on the wrongs we have experienced, the persecution we have endured, we could very easily be paralyzed by fear or anger. Or both.
This section hits me particularly hard. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was a church planting pastor whose church plant was split and destroyed by someone who I regarded at that time as a friend. Following the death of my little church, I was hurt, bitter, and angry. For quite a while I chose not to forget those things. And that paralyzed me.
Have you had a similar experience? Have you been hurt to such an extent that you found forgetting about the experience very difficult? Regardless of how difficult neglecting to remember the hurts of the past are, we must do that if we want to progress to greater intimacy with Christ and greater Christ-likeness.
Paul states that he reaches out, or presses on towards his goal. That is his entire focus – being like Christ with the greatest intimacy possible with Christ. We could very easily see this as a race where Paul is working hard to run through the finish line. That finish line is part of the goal. I really think Paul’s goal is the Bema Seat – the judgment seat of Christ where all Christians shall appear. Paul longs to be seen as one who has pursued Christ in spite of the hardships, difficulties, and persecution. Paul loved Christ with his entire being. Paul had a short memory of wrongs done to him not because they were not important or wrong, but because his focus was on being like Christ. Boy, we could learn a thing or two in America about this.
Often times we scream and yell about our rights and liberties in the US. We stomp our feet in protest to what we perceive is persecution. We whine and complain about every little thing done that hinders us.
I think we need to read Paul a bit more.
Imagine what the Church in America would look like if we focused on the goal of being Christlike and not so much on our freedoms, liberties, and rights. I wonder…I really, really wonder.
Instead of wondering what the Church would look like by embracing Paul’s soul focus on intimacy and Christlikeness, maybe I – and you – should wonder what I would look like if I did this. What would we look like if our soul-focus was to be Christlike. Hmmm.
I think its time we found out.