Php 3:13-14 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.
It is hard to forget, isn’t it? And there is definitely a certain aspect of forgetting that really cannot happen. Just before Paul wrote these words to the Philippians, he told them about how he had persecuted the church and how following Christ had cost him everything. This forgetting that he is talking about is not, then, a matter of our minds being erased. We remember the wicked who, out of their hatred for Christ, hate all who belong to Him and persecute them.
Paul had once enjoyed “career advancement” in this world. He had developed quite a reputation among his fellow Pharisees, exceeding them in the righteousness that is of the Law. But all that was gone now. We can assume with some confidence that all of his past company, his parents and any siblings he may have had, declared him dead to them. No doubt this was very painful to Paul and he would have felt grief at times, sorrowing that he had experienced what Jesus told us would happen to those who follow Him:
Mat 10:35-36 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (36) And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
What, then, is this “forgetting what lies behind” that Paul is talking about here in Philippians? This “straining forward” and “pressing on”?
It is a conscious act on our part to focus our thinking upon Christ and upon His certain promises to all who belong to Him. It is resolving to change our mind’s “aim” from what is behind us to what lies ahead. And the key to doing this is to fill our minds with God’s Word, with His certain and infallible promises, to the New Creation to come which He has shown us in Scripture. You cannot press on toward the prize if you don’t know much about that prize. We cannot focus upon where we are going if we are foggy about that destination.
Your mind is like mine. Thoughts come at us. Thoughts and memories of the past. Some are painful and others are pleasant, but even the pleasant ones are past. Done. Finished as time has moved along. I can think about good times fishing with my dad – maybe even pull out some photos or videos. But even here there is a certain sorrow. My dad is gone. Those times are gone because time is fleeting. When we focus our minds on the past we are eventually overwhelmed with what we cannot recover.
But the future. Now here is a different story altogether. The future in Christ is not gone – it is yet to come and it will never end! I suppose we can even say that there is no time there to pass away. What is here and now is temporal. But what is to come is eternal. And so Paul says, press on! Set your mind on things above, on things ahead. Make traveling to glory the focus of your thoughts. Forget what lies behind and strain forward, because like Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, you are on a journey. It began when you came to faith in Christ, and it will end – that is, you will arrive – when you see Christ face to face. At that time, everything that has been lost to you in this fallen world will fade away into insignificance.
When we allow our minds to drift into thoughts about past hurts, wrongs done to us, or even ongoing suffering in present time…when we permit these things to become our focus, nothing good is going to result. Oh yes, we can learn some lessons and be wiser by examining the nature of evils done to us, but staying that past pain will lead to nothing good. And so the Christian is told – press on. Look up. Look ahead, not back.
Heb 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.