As we continue walking through the small letter of Philippians, we are hopefully noticing every layer Paul is using to enhance our understanding of faith and community. In the middle part of chapter 3, the metaphor shifts from accounting to athletics. If you recall, Paul was passionately talking about everything in his life being a loss in comparison to the gain that he has found in Jesus. He went so far as to say that everything is garbage in comparison to knowing Jesus. In 3:12-16, Paul uses runners and racing as the image for us to keep in mind when moving forward in our walk with Christ. Actually, moving forward, and letting go of the past, is what Paul wants to get across.
Here’s what the text says…
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
1) no one has ARRIVED (3:12)
As Paul continues this theme of considering everything a loss compared to knowing Jesus, he let’s us in on something that is huge for our faith journey – he has not arrived…and we have not arrived.
Arrival is a false stop in any journey, especially our spiritual one. What holds us back more often than not is that we think we’ve arrived at our destination, when in reality, we are still on the move.
We use the word ‘becoming’ a lot in referring to our faith journey. We should use this word in all area’s of life: I’m becoming a father, a friend, a husband, a musician, a wife, a student, etc. Most importantly, we’re becoming Christians. We’re further than when we started, but not yet where we are destined to be.
One thing this idea warns us against is ‘super-spirituality’. You know those people who have nothing to learn and only things to teach. Let’s not be those people.
FORGET what is behind you… (3:13)
What comes next is great advice for anyone who wants to move forward in life. Don’t dwell on your past. It’s an essential step in moving forward. In Philippians 1 we read that chains shouldn’t hold you back, here Paul says your past cannot and should not hold you back either.
Gordon Fee helps us here…“Forgetting is not obliterating the past, rather, it’s not letting it absorb our attention or impede our progress”. It’s still part of your history…of your story…it just doesn’t have a hold on you any longer.
So what kinds of things should you forget? What do we put behind us?
- our shaded past…
- our glorified past…
Move FORWARD / PRESS on (3:14&12)
The next step in this equation must be to move forward. This race/athletics metaphor is a favourite of many. Why? Because either they can identify with it…or they desperately want to see themselves like that in their heads. We want to be winners. We want to cross the finish line…in whatever it is that we do.
Paul takes this common metaphor and applies our faith to it. The words are powerful:
- straining (toward what is ahead)
- pressing (on to the goal)
- I‘ve got my eye on the goal (msg)
- I’m off and running (msg)
It’s not just about running, but about finishing. Finishing well is an important part of this journey.
Ravi Zacharias says it like this, “Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing.”
what does MATURITY look like (3:12-16)
We do all this for one thing – the same thing Paul so passionately writes about earlier in chapter 3…knowing Jesus. We are to take hold of Jesus, as he takes hold of us. As this text comes to a close, Paul introduces the word ‘mature’. We are to strive towards maturity in our faith. What does it meant to be a mature follower of Jesus?
- one who doesn’t feel like they’ve arrived
- one who forgets what’s behind
- one who strives forward in and to Christ
- one who lives up to their present understanding of faith (vs 16)
- one who understands that everyone discovers Jesus at a different pace (vs 15)
In light of this text, ask yourself these questions…
What are you holding on to that needs to be forgotten?
What is holding you back from being ‘you in Christ’?
Are you putting your best foot forward when it comes to reaching God’s purpose in your life? Pressing on? Moving Forward?
Is your spiritual journey leading you towards the most mature version of yourself today?
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
small(er) group questions: (read through the 3:12-16 before the discussion)
Is a sense of ‘arrival’ a hard thing to avoid? If so, why? How can one with lower confidence apply this?
Why do people have a hard time forgetting what’s behind them?
How can our past effect our future?
Forgetting isn’t just for the the bad/difficult stuff, but also the victories and accomplishments. Why?
Does this sound like a good description of our faith journey, ‘God is always pulling us forward’?
Do you like Paul’s metaphor? Can a non-sporty/non-athlete get this? If so, why? What does it look like to press onward, to strain ahead?
Spiritual Maturity sounds so good. How would you define it? Before you read this text and after you’ve read it?