Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Phillipians 3:13-14 NKJV
One of the fringe benefits of my job for a large automobile dealership is the occasional opportunity to either deliver, or pick up vehicles from other dealerships across the state. I consider it a benefit because rather than driving my fifteen year old pickup truck, I have the opportunity to drive some very expensive cars that I would never be able to afford. Now I am usually so afraid of these cars that I just drive without touching anything, but I will admit that on my last delivery I gathered the courage to use the radio and was pleasantly introduced to something called XM satellite radio.
As I scrolled the offerings I soon found stations that played music from different decades, and as you might expect, I settled on one playing music from my high school years. I won't tell you which decade that was, but to be honest I was soon caught up in a flood of memories that at times really made me wish I could go back and live those days all over again.
As I began to think about that though, I wondered why I or anybody else would want to? The obvious answer would most often be so that we could do things different. However if that is our answer, it raises another question and that is why do we not forget the things we might want to change or do different? Is it wrong that we remember mistakes we may have made, or recall hurts and maybe emotional trauma which might have an effect on the decisions we make today?
If this passage from Paul is any indication, it would seem that if our focus is on the past and not the future, the answer to that question is yes. The Greek word for forgetting is epilanthanomai, which is a verb meaning 1) to forget 2) neglecting, no longer caring for 3) forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for. I think what Paul is telling us here is that as a believer, He too, like most of us, recognized he had made mistakes in the past. But as he reflects on his present life, he understands that his focus, and ours, needs to be on the future and not the past. In this chapter Paul is describing what is called a “faith based righteousness”, or in other words, the fact that in God's eyes our “righteousness”, or becoming acceptable in His eyes is based on our faith, and not our works. Since it is impossible for us to live this life without making mistakes, Paul tells us that we need to forget what is in the past, which we certainly can't change and focus on the future which we can.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Phillipians 3:12 NKJV
Something else I noticed about this passage, and something that I find reassuring is Paul's use of the phrase “press on” twice when referring to this life. It is actually a rather interesting word because if you look closely at it's meaning, it's not as simple as it might first appear. My first thought was we are being told to “grind it out' but if you examine it, it's something quite different. In the Greek, the word for “press on” is diōkō, which means 1) to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away. So actually Paul is instructing believers to do two things at the same time. When we are told to press on towards the “goal of the prize” which comes at the end of race, in essence Paul is saying we need to run FROM the things that might hold us back and TOWARDS the finish line where we will receive our reward.
Is there a danger in looking back? Well obviously, I'm sure most of us have experienced being distracted by something while driving and then looking back ahead only to find we are in the wrong lane. Not focusing on what is ahead of us has it's dangers, and I can't help thinking of one Biblical example of looking back in the Old Testament.
So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed."
Genesis 19:17 NKJV
But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:26 NKJV
In this instance, there was obviously a punishment for looking back and I am not saying if we don't attempt to forget the past we will suffer the same fate. Yet if we consider what happened here, it seems what God is saying is that if we do in fact look back, we are of no use to Him now. I truly believe that is what the Apostle Paul is telling us here as well. Consider how most believers look at Paul and the effect he had on the world and the evolution of the Church as we know it. Then recognize that he is willing to admit he was just as bad of a sinner as we are, and had plenty of things in his past which he would probably like to do over. Yet his advice to us is to forget the past and focus on the finish line ahead of us in order that God can use us to accomplish what He has called us to do right now.
Is it easy? Of course not, yet that is exactly what God inspired Paul to write to us today. Focus on what's ahead, and forget the things in the past that would serve to distract us from our goal. Don't look back.