I love this from the apostle Paul. He never forgot the seeds he had planted, and never gave up winning souls for Christ. But he also never failed to speak the truth to those who falling away from the truth of Gods grace and mercy.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We don’t forget what we’ve done, or where we’ve come from. We don’t forget what’s been done for us. But, we don’t look back! I can’t live in the past by congratulating myself on the things I’ve overcome! If I look back at how far I’ve come, if I focus on the habits I once had, the addictions that controlled my mind for years, if I stop to think about these to say anything about them beyond “thanks be to God I’m through that,” I am endangering myself of getting caught up once again in what I’ve overcome. The picture Paul uses here is one he used in other places in his writing, a runner running a race. If a runner halfway through a race pauses and looks back at all the runners behind, what chance will he have of staying in front? Like a runner in a race, we must strain forward, never taking our eyes off of the goal in front of us. Like the first verse here says, we know we are not perfect, but we strive to move forward to get closer to that perfection we will never fully attain. Never forget, spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Paul really cared about the people he was writing to. He was a very humble man, so asking them to imitate him was out of character for him. Here he is very simply imploring those in the Philippians church to follow properly the ways of Jesus Christ. It tears him up inside to know that some of the members of the church he planted have gone off “The Way”, and he is begging those still on the right path not to follow them astray. The phrase “enemies of the cross of Christ” is not referring to any physical cross or symbol, he’s talking about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These enemies of the Gospel are church members who claim the cross, but still live for the world. They claim to be spiritually mature, but they are really only living for the comforts and respect of the world we can see. He says they glory in their shame – in other words, they live for and boast about things they should be ashamed of. Like myself, I would love to tell tales of crazy things I did while drinking. I would boast of my poker abilities. Or the businessman who boasts about getting the most for the least from his employees, then takes holy communion every Sunday. Any time we seek honor and glory for ourselves, we are an enemy of the cross. If we are more interested in building wealth or seeking our own pleasure than serving Jesus Christ, we are an enemy of the cross…
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Thank God we can know that all we have to hope for is what we see now!! No wonder even some of the wealthiest people here on earth wind up feeling as though they’ve accomplished nothing. At the end of our time here, it really us nothing. If we’ve gained everything this world has to offer, accomplished everything we strived for, seen all we wanted to see, when we come to the end of our lives none of it will matter if we have not lived for Christ, if we are going to leave all of our wealth behind and have not, as Jesus says, stored up treasures in Heaven. We live for Him, and we know that by his power our failing bodies will be transformed into our eternal bodies. We know that all we accumulate here, all that we see as important here, will be irrelevant in the day we go to our eternal home with the Father and the Son in heaven.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Philippians 3:12-21 ESV