In Philippians 3:13-14, we finds these words written by the Apostle Paul: “13) 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, 14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
From this passage, let’s focus today on the phrase “forgetting what lies behind.” But before we do that, let’s be clear about the “it” Paul is referring to when he says, “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet.” Paul is not referring to his inheritance of eternal life in Christ. The overwhelming weight of Paul’s testimony throughout his letters is that he was chosen by God (Eph. 1:4) and that God will complete the work He started in Paul (Phil.1:6).
The “it” that Paul is speaking of is the fullness of spiritual maturity in Christ. More specifically, it is the three things he identified in verse 10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings . . .”
Now, with that behind us, let’s consider what Paul is getting at when he says, “forgetting what lies behind.” From the context, one must conclude that whatever Paul is referring to must be forgotten, because it is holding him back from reaching what lies ahead – “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v14). But what is it that Paul must forget?
As we find so often in scripture, God gives us enough to get the principle, without giving us so much that we might say, “Well, that example doesn’t really describe me.” For example, when we read about Paul’s thorn (2 Cor. 12:7), the scripture is not clear as to what it might be. It is very inclusive, leaving open the possibility that Paul’s thorn could be very much like my thorn. Ouch!
So, when we consider what Paul is “forgetting,” it could be anything. It could be failure or success. One needs only to read Roman 7 to know that, like all of us, Paul knew struggle in his Christian life. “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v19). That would certainly fall into the category of failure, which could bring self-doubt. Fear of failure can be debilitating.
On the other hand, Paul could be thinking of past success. By the time Paul penned the scripture we are considering today, he had already achieved incredible things in Christ. He championed the advance of the Gospel to the gentiles. He planted churches around the Mediterranean world. He wrote seven New Testament books. At this point in his life, Paul could have rested on his “spiritual laurels,” but he didn’t. He pressed on (v14), and he was not going to let anything hold him back.
Is something holding you back from reaching your full potential in Christ? If so what might it be? It could be past success or failure, or perhaps unforgiveness. It could be a goal, a desire or an expectation that is not from God. It might even be difficult to know what is holding you back. Sometimes it takes time for God to show us what we need to let go of. “23) Search me, Oh, God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 24) And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psa.139:23-24).
Whatever holds you back must be released in order for you to move forward. Consider the act of walking. There is one point in the cycle of stepping where you have to be willing to let go and fall forward. People who study the process of walking call this the “controlled fall.” Whether it is really “controlled” or not is a matter of discussion; but one thing is certain, if you don’t let go, you won’t move forward.
What do you need to let go of? What are you waiting for?