The apostle Paul said to his brethren at Philippi “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 towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Ph 3:13,14). The one thing that he was intent on doing was to forget the past and look to the future. He had put to bed his former life of “making havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). We may not have committed such heinous acts as Paul, but we all have pasts dotted with words and actions that we deeply regret, and Paul is suggesting that we put those things behind us.

In what sense should we forget our past? Isn’t our past a history of what God has done for us, leading and guiding us through all the vicissitudes of life? History is important as it is HIS story and we are part of that story, beginning with the creation right through to the coming re-creation. And aren’t there lessons to be drawn from our past to aid us in the reforming and sanctifying of our lives going forward? That is all true – we should be grateful for the loving providential hand of God at work to bring good out of all our experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. In particular, we should be grateful for the circumstances that led us to embrace Christ as our Saviour and Lord. Paul is by no means minimising the importance of the past. He is simply expressing, in terms of a runner running a race, that we are not there yet, and that it is vitally important that we press on with an element of urgency towards attaining the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Runners never look back or look over their shoulder, they press relentlessly on until they reach the finish line. In the Christian life we can never rest on our laurels or be content with all that we have achieved by the grace of God thus far, or even think that we have arrived at perfection. There were some in the church at Philippi who thought they had arrived at perfection, and Paul himself recalled his pride at being the king pin of the Pharisees “concerning zeal, persecuting the church, concerning the righteousness, which is in the law, blameless”. But then he goes on to say that those things which were gain to him he counted loss for Christ. (Ph 3:6,7). Paul is impressing on the Philippian believers the importance of forgetting the past as the way to freeing themselves up to put every effort into the all-important run to the line as it were.

Paul also used the same analogy of a runner when speaking to the Corinthian believers. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus; not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body, and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27). Unlike the Isthmian Games where only one of the Corinthians could win the prize, there is room for all Christians to gain the incorruptible prize of a seat with Christ in heaven, and a crown of glory, which is much more precious that the earthen vessel that the winner of any earthly contest may win. But our race is not easy. It is a fight which involves bringing our bodies under subjection and refusing to overindulge in fleshly lusts and worldly pleasures. The gate through which we enter is narrow, and the way is difficult, and few find it (Matt 7:14). In the words of the Alexander’s Hymn “There’s a fight to be fought and a race to be won, there are dangers to meet by the way”. We cannot rest until we have heard the Master’s commendation “well done good and faithful servant….enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt 25:23).

We need to cultivate the same urgency that Paul felt, as time is always running out, and we know not when Jesus is coming again, or if we will depart this earth before he comes. In the meantime, we cannot afford to dwell on past mistakes, or to go through in our heads all of the what ifs or if onlys, or to ask the why question. All of our posturing and analysing of the past is a fruitless exercise since not one iota of our past can be changed, but more importantly any disquiet over our past reveals that we are not resting on the scripture that reminds us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Our natural tendency when dwelling on the past is to zero in on our failures rather than our achievements, and wallow in self-pity. Paul did recount his former life as a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man to his protégé Timothy, but he did so only to magnify the grace of Christ in putting him into the ministry (1 Tim 1:12,13). He was overflowing with gratitude for the great mercy shown to him in forgiving great sins, and though they were horrendous, he saw them as a product of ignorance and unbelief. He did not make light of his former life though, as he went on to tell Timothy that he was the chief of sinners. But Saul was now Paul, a sinner saved by grace through repentance and faith. His life was now lived for his Saviour. His sins had been removed entirely and forever, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12). Our past sins are remembered no more by God, so we should cast them behind our back – no more guilt trips.

When Paul said, “I do not count myself to have apprehended” (Ph 3:13), he was merely saying that he had not reached his goal yet; he was still “carnal, sold under sin” (Rom 7:14). He said, “what I will to do, that I do not practise; but what I hate that I do” (Rom 7:15). He goes on to talk about the struggle between the law in his members and the law of his mind. But Paul was determined not to be weighed down by this struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. He breaks out into effusive praise for his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who has set him free from the law of sin and death and has given him the Spirit of adoption causing him to cry out Abba Father. He concludes that nothing that the world can throw at him can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 7:25 and Chap 8). There is nothing more certain than that the world and Satan will throw everything at us, but the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ will enable us to grow in grace and knowledge, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. Our progress won’t ever be even, and we will never attain perfection in this life, but it will be sure, and it will be certain. We will even gain the ascendancy over our besetting sins. Our eyes are to be focussed on the future, not on the past. Time is a valuable gift from God, and we are to make good use of it while we have it. We are to “redeem the time because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16). “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt 6:34), meaning that there is no time to mull over the past to no good effect. However, there is one past event that warrants urgent attention – a breach in the bonds of fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ. It matters not who is at fault, reconciliation and restoration of the peace and union between us is paramount. “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23,24).


Some Personal Application

What will be your first thoughts on rising up out of bed tomorrow morning? I love to follow the example of King David who says, “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). This verse is part of a prophesy of the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus; it speaks of the day of Christ and his coming kingdom. Every day we celebrate the Christ who has come, and who has wrought for us a place in his kingdom. Every day is a gift from God, every day is a day closer to being with him. Consciously or subconsciously, our first thoughts each day should be centred on the blessing of being in Christ, and our second thoughts should be centred on the way in which we can serve and follow him during the day. Should there be a plan for the day? Yes, because we all know that the day will just go by and we will really have nothing to show for it, unless we have a plan.

The whole idea of planning and organising does seem to be a little constricting to some, particularly for those of us who like to be spontaneous and to live in the moment. My wife and I do a bit of both in that we do plan, but we welcome interruptions to our plans for any and every reason. If our children or grandchildren invite us to this or that occasion or to do this or that, we always say yes (if we can). If our church or indeed anyone calls on us for help, we always say yes (again if we can). But we do have a plan, and our plan basically comprises two simple elements. Those things which we endeavour to do on a regular basis, and “other”. The regular part of our day is governed by the verse “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim 4:8). Godliness is profitable for all things, so our first priority is to set aside each day a time to draw near to our God in prayer and devotion around his word; and we need the discipline of setting aside roughly the same time every day, or the practice will quickly slide. If we miss a day, so be it, we shy away from any form of legalism. The other “regular” is to attend to our bodies as our verse reminds us that bodily exercise does have some profit, so we take care of what we put into our bodies and how we use them. We have specific inputs into our food/drink for the day to ensure that we have a balanced diet, and we endeavour to have regular exercise, taking care that we do everything in moderation. “Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things” (1 Cor 9:25). In remonstrating against sexual sin in the church in Corinth, Paul said “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own. For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify your God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor 6:19,20). Clearly, ownership of our bodies as well as our souls is with the Lord. Our whole being is involved in glorifying God.

We now come to the “other” part of the day. Do we have a list of things to do for the day? Yes, we do, but if you are like us, you never get done what is on the list, and there is no point in getting upset over that. We just delete or put off (manually for us, press a button for others). We should never be slaves to a list. We are just thankful for what we are able to do. The important thing is what is on the list, as that reveals our priorities in life. Apart from the reminder notes about shopping and appointments, what is the break up of the remainder of the list or diary; specifically what is the proportion of activities that serve ourselves as against serving others, remembering the words of our Lord Jesus Christ when he said “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). At a deeper level though, it doesn’t matter what is on the list or what we do. What does matter is the manner in which we conduct ourselves. Are we emulating Christ who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52)? Christ did not enjoy a good relationship with the leaders of the church who were bent on destroying this man who threatened their authority; but he was loved by the multitude. We too must cultivate a good testimony among those who are outside the church (1 Tim 3:7; 1 Thess 4:12). We must bring to bear all the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22,23); and all of our good works must be done in the meekness of wisdom (James 3:13). Finally, whatever we do, whether it is something we enjoy doing, or something which we do not enjoy, we are to do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men (Col 3:23).

What about planning into the future? James says “Come now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15). We live in humble dependence on the will of God. At the same time, we should have some sort of forward plan, otherwise we will be caught napping, we will miss opportunities, we will be left out, we will be caught red faced like the man who set out to build a tower. Jesus said “Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30). Jesus was speaking of the cost of being his disciple, but there is an underlying principle of counting the cost of entering into any project or venture with his money, it is not our own. Jesus also impressed on his disciples the need to employ their worldly possessions as astutely as the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9). The unjust steward sought to make friends as a means to secure temporal ends, but our objective is to use the shrewdness of the unjust steward to secure our future and eternal welfare. So, we are “to do good, to be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for ourselves a good foundation for the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:18,19). Jesus also gave us the heads up to take an interest in what is going on in the world. Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” (Matt 16:3). Our reading, research, and study should include keeping up with what God is doing in his world, and profitably using the discernment and wisdom that he has given us through the Holy Spirit. King David’s army included the children of Issachar who were commended for their “understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron 12:32).


Some Concluding Thoughts

As Paul was calling us to “reach forward to those things which are ahead” (Ph 3:13), he was conscious that we are all at different stages in our walk with Jesus, and he was conscious that some of his hearers were puffed up with their own progress in knowledge and understanding. He said “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Ph 3:15,16). He wants us to walk together in unity, bearing with one another in mutual love and respect, and with a common purpose to set our hearts on Christ and heaven. If we struggle to understand certain things, we need to patiently wait for further light. If we consider ourselves superior in knowledge than others, we can easily slip into judgementalism and find ourselves being judged. We are all prone to error. Even Solomon, a man who was endowed above all his fellow men with great wisdom, had to admit “I said, I will be wise, but it was far from me” (Eccl 7:23). It may sound odd, but the more we read the scriptures and the more we comprehend the scriptures, the more we realise how much we don’t know. The word of God is a never ending mine of treasures and we will never plumb the full depths of it.


“Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its path before us lies;
Christ is the way, and Christ the prize.”
(Fight the Good Fight – Alexander’s Hymnal)