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Philippians 3:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 Brothers, I do not count myself as having laid hold of it: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are ahead,
When the apostle Paul was a young Pharisee, he did some extremely regrettable things. For example, he went throughout the land with a vengeance persecuting Christ’s disciples. Immediately after he supported the martyrdom of Stephen, “But Saul [later known as Paul] was ravaging the congregation, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and would put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) As a devout Jew, Saul [Paul] believed that it was his God-given responsibility to eradicate and destroy Christianity. Therefore, he pursued the Christians with brutal cruelty, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” … he “asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” When speaking to the Jewish people, Paul regrettably admitted, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,” (Acts 9:1-2; 22:4) The moment Paul became a Christian, his values changed. Instead of being a brutal, violent enemy of Christianity, he became a zealous, passionate believer and promoter unlike any other of it. (Acts 9:3-22) Paul’s example undoubtedly shows that if we confess our sins and change our course, God is willing to forgive us of even the most grievous sins on the basis of Jesus Christ’s ransom sacrifice.
3:13. Paul, in this verse, underlines his denial of personal power or attainment and his single-minded focus. To describe that focus, he employs the image of a runner in a race who hopes to win the prize. He cannot look back. He cannot cloud his mind with past memories. He strains every muscle in his body to achieve forward motion. Eyes focus on the finish line. Paul forgets the guilt of persecuting the church. He forgets the pain of prison and physical punishment. He forgets the frustration of disobedient church members and false teachers. He looks ahead to see the resurrection, where he will meet Jesus face-to-face. – Max Anders, Galatians-Colossians, vol. 8, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 245.
Paul had one great aim and purpose of life. He did not attempt to mingle the world and religion and to gain both. He did not seek to obtain wealth and salvation too; or honor here and the crown of glory hereafter, but he had one object, one aim, one great purpose of soul. To this singleness of purpose he owed his extraordinary attainments in piety, and his uncommon success as a minister. A man will accomplish little who allows his mind to be distracted by a multiplicity of objects. A Christian will accomplish nothing who has not a single great aim and purpose of soul. That purpose should be to secure the prize and to renounce everything that would be in the way to its attainment. Let us then so live that we may be able to say, that there is one great object which we always have in view, and that we mean to avoid everything which would interfere with that.
When Paul spoke of forgetting those things which are behind, this was an allusion here undoubtedly to the Grecian races. One running to secure the prize would not stop to look behind him to see how much ground he had run over, or who of his competitors had fallen or lingered in the way. He would keep his eye steadily on the prize, and strain every nerve that he might obtain it. If his attention was diverted for a moment from that, it would hinder his flight and might be the means of his losing the crown. So the apostle says it was with him. He looked onward to the prize. He fixed the eye intently on that. It was the single object in his view, and he did not allow his mind to be diverted from that by anything – not even by the contemplation of the past. He did not stop to think of the difficulties which he had overcome or the troubles which he had met, but he thought of what was yet to be accomplished.
This does not mean that he would not have regarded a proper contemplation of the past life as useful and profitable for a Christian (compare the notes at Eph_2:11), but that he would not allow any reference to the past to interfere with the one great effort to win the prize. It may be, and is, profitable for a Christian to look over the past mercies of God to his soul, in order to awaken emotions of gratitude in the heart, and to think of his shortcomings and errors, to produce penitence and humility. But none of these things should be allowed for one moment to divert the mind from the purpose to win the incorruptible crown. And it may be remarked in general, that a Christian will make more rapid advances in piety by looking forward than by looking backward. Forward we see everything to cheer and animate us – the crown of victory, the joys of heaven, the society of the blessed – the Saviour beckoning to us and encouraging us.
Backward, we see everything to dishearten and to humble. Our own unfaithfulness; our coldness, deadness, and dullness; the little zeal and ardor which we have, all are fitted to humble and discourage. He is the most cheerful Christian who looks onward, and who keeps heaven always in view; he who is accustomed much to dwell on the past, though he may be a true Christian, will be likely to be melancholy and dispirited, to be a recluse rather than a warm-hearted and active friend of the Saviour. Or if he looks backward to contemplate what he has done – the space that he has run over – the difficulties which he has surmounted – and his own rapidity in the race, he will be likely to become self-complacent and self-satisfied. He will trust his past endeavors and feel that the prize is now secure, and will relax his future efforts. Let us then look onward. Let us not spend our time either in pondering the gloomy past, and our own unfaithfulness, or in thinking of what we have done, and thus becoming puffed up with self-complacency, but let us keep the eye steadily on the prize, and run the race as though we had just commenced it.
Before the racer, there was a crown or garland to be bestowed by the judges of the games. Before the Christian, there is a crown of glory, the eternal reward of heaven. There is the favor of God, victory over sin and death, the society of the redeemed and of angelic beings, and the assurance of perfect and eternal freedom from all evil. These are enough to animate the soul and to urge it on with ever-increasing vigor in the Christian race.
Paul’s advice here to the Philippians if followed by us today will help us to walk with God faithfully. We need to be “forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are ahead.” Take note that Paul is talking about a two-step process, both being very essential. First, we must forget our past, God has forgiven us for anything we might have done. Isaiah tells us that God ‘took all of our sins and cast them behind his back.’ (Isaiah 38:17) In other words, they can no longer be seen. Micah tells us that God has “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19) In other words, our sins can no longer be retrieved. The Psalmist tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Yes, our sins have been removed t the greatest distance possible from God, to the point where he will recall them no more. We need to do the same. We need not waste our precious life being concerned about our former sins because God is not even thinking of such things when he thinks of us. Second, like a runner closing in on the finish line of this wicked age of Satan, we need to stretch forward, keeping our attention focused on what lies ahead. Of course, God’s willingness to ‘take our sins and cast them behind his back,’ ‘cast all our sins into the depths of the sea,’ and remove our sins as far as the east is from the west,’ is based on a genuinely repentant heart.
by Edward D. Andrews & Albert Barnes
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