Philippians Study #5

Matthew Destry – Communications Pastor

Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)

“Brothers, 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.”

It’s said that an elephant has such a good memory, that it never forgets a face. In fact, an Elephant relies on it’s vault-like memory to survive in the wild – discerning friend and foe, places for food and water, even recognising other Elephants with which they may have cursorily passed in the jungle. Of course, there are limits to an Elephant’s mind, but it’s memory is something that has become legend.

Often it is our temptation to live our Christian lives in a similar way – holding on to and locking down every memory, every experience, every encounter, just in case we need it to ‘survive’ the future. Our emotions catalogue events and experiences of our lives – we can’t always remember exactly what happened, but we can certainly remember how it made us feel. While our memories are certainly helpful for survival and the avoidance of pain (a child will always remember the first time their fingers touch an open flame, and hesitate to do it a second time), they can also hold us back from leaning toward the glorious future we have in Christ.

The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. In the immediate context he is referring to any grounds for boasting in salvation; boasting is excluded on account of the all-sufficient grace and mercy of Jesus. No matter what your pedigree, the ‘good’ you’ve done, the people you spend time with, none of it makes us ‘fit’ for salvation, which is only found in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But there is also something else: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a)

Our lives should not be shaped by even what God has done in the past – they should be shaped by God’s glorious future. The ancient Israelites remembered the Exodus to confirm their identity as beloved children of God – but under the New Covenant our lives are shaped not by the stories of the past. Today the follower of Jesus looks forward to a new heaven and a new earth to confirm their identity as sons of God, and to give impetus to living for Jesus now. In order to not be held back by our history (good, bad or ugly), our future must be bigger and brighter than our past. Thankfully, for those in Christ, there has never been anything truer. Let’s not forget it.

Reflection Questions:

1/ Is there anything in your life that you will sometimes trust in other than Christ (good behaviour, church attendance, Christian background, anything else)?

2/ Are there any negative past experiences that are currently holding you back from living a full life for Jesus now?

3/ How could a big, bright and beautiful vision for the future influence your living today?