“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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
In order to obtain this goal, Paul was willing to give up anything that could hinder him from reaching it. In these verses, he said he was going to forget the past. He does not mean we should completely remove past events from our memory. Realistically, this would not be possible. Instead, Paul is talking about not dwelling on the past so that it hinders us in our present and future service to God.
We also must learn to put the past behind us. There are at least 3 ways in which we might let our past hinder us:
- Dwelling on our past sins. We all make mistakes. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But God offers forgiveness where our sins will no longer be held against us (Hebrews 8:12). Paul, before his conversion, was the “foremost of all” sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But he was forgiven. He did not allow his evil past to prevent him from faithful service.
- Thinking about what might have been. Had Paul not become a follower of Jesus, he had a promising future ahead of him among the Jewish people (Philippians 3:4-6; Acts 22:3-5). What if Paul had never given that up? Would he be suffering the persecution that he was at the time of this writing? Frankly, it doesn't matter. Paul says, “whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). What if we had done things differently in our lives, for good or bad? We cannot change the past. There is no sense in worrying about what could have been. Focus on where you are now in relation to your service to God. Look forward, not backward.
- Focusing on our accomplishments. We may do great things in our service to God. We may make sacrifices to follow Him. But just because we've been faithful in our lives to this point, that does not mean that we have an excuse to slack off. Paul had not obtained anything yet (Philippians 3:12-13). We also have not reached the goal. We must continue to “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14). “Be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). Do not fall “short of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15).