We collect an assortment of experiences throughout life. Many of them are useful and positive but so many are like the odd collection of hardware in my coffee can. They are really not useful and just take up space in my memory, so why do I keep hanging on to them? I find it an odd characteristic of human behavior in general that we don’t hang on to the more positive experiences we’ve had, but instead the negative ones which chip away at our self-esteem and replay our failures over and over again. It is a challenge to forget those negative experiences and dwell on the positive. But I know I am not alone. The same scenario is addressed in Scripture.
When Paul was writing to the Philippian church he was writing to people who faced the same challenge in life and noted that he faced it as well. He likened this aspect of the Christian life to a race. Reflecting on his own life he wrote “,3 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, 4 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14). It’s hard to think of Paul as a man of failure, but reading through the ups and downs of his ministry in the Book of Acts reveals he was well-acquainted with it. However, in the Philippian passage it becomes apparent that Paul has found a way to overcome the failures and focus on what God has in store for him.
First Paul says that he does not “regard” the goal as something he’s reached. This word has mathematical nuances in that it means to count, to add up in one’s mind, to occupy oneself with calculations (Rom. 14:14; 2 Cor. 11:5; Phil. 3:13). Paul can reflect on the things that have happened in his life, both good and bad, but they are not what contribute to his reaching the goal. Just what is that goal? It is mentioned a few verses earlier and that is to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His suffering and to be conformed to Him in life and death (Phil. 3:10). The ultimate reward is to be united with Christ and to be like Him. This goal is not accomplished through outward circumstances but by what happens inside. It is how you deal with the outward on the inside.
In order to do this Paul mentions three actions. He “forgets” what lies behind, “reaches forward” to what lies ahead, and “presses on” toward the goal. The imagery here comes from the ancient Olympic sport of foot racing. Once the runner left the starting block they only looked ahead. Glancing backwards or taking in the surroundings would slow a runner down and therefore cost him the race. Instead their focus was set on what was before them, not only where they were immediately running but also on the finish line. In forgetting Paul relegates the unnecessary experiences and negativity to the junk drawer. In reaching forward he is leaning into the race like runners who stretch out their body to gain an advantage over their competitors. And by pressing on he is diligently running the race; not letting up until he crosses the finish line and receives the prize (Rom. 9:30-31; 12”13; 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:1; Phil. 3:12, 14; 1 Thes. 5:15; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:11).
That prize is a heavenly reward, the upward call as Paul calls it. The direction is not lateral, nor down, but specifically related to a higher place (Acts 2:19; Rev. 5:3) and here in Phil. 3:14 it is equivalent to that spoken of in Heb. 3:1. Not only is this a goal, it is a call. This Greek word (klesis) is often used to designate an invitation. Metaphorically speaking it refers to an invitation to enter the kingdom of God with all its privileges (Rom. 11:29: Eph. 1:18; Phil. 3:14; 2 Thes. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 2 Pet. 1:10). God’s invitation to receive all the benefits of salvation is what this calling is all about. It is a prize-package worth more than any game show could ever offer. But for many of us, we’re more interested in sorting through the junk drawer. I think I shall go get that coffee can of experiences and throw away all those little odds and ends. The projects (negative experiences) are done. I don’t need them anymore. I’d rather run my race free of those encumbrances. How about you? Are you ready to empty the junk drawer too?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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