Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)
Paul writes this epistle from a jail cell in Rome. He is taking time to prepare the saints in Philippi to put up a fierce defense of the Gospel. Paul knows that the Gospel is under attack. Paul is clear in his message and warning: If we want to be devout followers of Jesus Christ, we need to focus on three things:
- Worship God in and by the spirit, and not as a prisoner of weighty, abusive tradition.
- Rest or anchor all of our faith in Christ alone, whose living witness, dying sacrifice, glorious resurrection, and promised return are all a guarantee of God’s forgiveness and redemption of the human soul.
- Put absolutely no confidence in the flesh. At the end of the day, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
For Paul, making these goals his highest and chief aim helped him to ignore all of his critics around him, and allowed him to be unaffected by the chatter from others about his life, walk, and ministry. Paul stopped chasing human acceptance and focused on his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Paul describes his life as a footrace, which requires that he forget those things that are behind him. Paul couldn’t waste the time paying attention to those who considered him less than the other apostles. Paul focused on the maturing spiritual plateaus that God set before him.
Forgetting the things behind him doesn’t mean that Paul had erased his past from his memory. He often recounts events and thoughts from his past. However, he makes a choice to stop his past from impeding his progress. He doesn’t let his past as a persecutor of Christians stop him or make him feel unworthy.
He has been shown the prize, and the Spirit has given him a lane assignment for his life. Paul is determined to take his lane assignment, hit the track, and run the race with patience. He isn’t going to let his past stop his race. Instead, he looks unto Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith.
Paul says to the Philippians: stop worrying about tradition, stop worrying about critics, don’t concentrate on the person running in the next lane, and stop paying attention to their shoes or their uniform.
We need to worship by the spirit, determine not to let traditions block us from letting God’s creativity work in our lives, rest all of our hopes in Christ alone, and don’t ever trust our flesh! Look towards the author and finisher of our faith.