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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, (Philippians 3:13)
In this verse, we see how Paul operates in his life. Paul understood that we are to seek perfection. (Matt. 5:48) However, he knew it was a lifelong goal that only comes after one is resurrected or upon Jesus’ second coming. Anyone who assumes that they are perfect, they are deluded. – 1 John 1:8-10.
Paul had a singleness of purpose in his life, and he shared what it is back in chapter 1 and verse 21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was not going to let anything distract him or divert him from this goal.
He goes on to say that there is one thing (Greek word eis), and the words “thing” and “I do” are not separate but help to develop the understanding of what Paul is saying. His life was not simplistic, but he had an uncomplicated plan of living. His plan involved just one part – forgetting and stretching forward.
These are not two separate areas in Paul’s life; they are flip sides of the coin. He knew it was vital not only just to forget what had already happened – one must be moving forward in the right direction at the same time.
Paul says that one needs to leave behind and forget (Greek epilanthanomai) the past. He is speaking of both his pre-Christian life and the things that had happened in his life as a believer. The future goal claims all of his attention now. Looking back can often hinder us from moving forward. Looking back can often cause us to turn back. It is good that we forget all that hinders us and remember that which will move us forward.
Paul not only leads us to understand that we need to move forward, but that this is a concentrated, concerted effort. He says he is stretching forward (Greek epekteino) an emphatic intensive form of the word for stretching.
He is continuing the visual image of a runner striving to reach the finish line. For a runner to look back, he will have the tendency to slow down or possibly trip. But, as he approaches the finish line, he leans forward; he tenses all his muscles, bent forward, straining every muscle, nerve, and fiber in his being to come across that finish line successfully.
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Brothers, I do not count myself as having laid hold of it. Paul has not obtained that for which he was called into his ministry. There is something that he strives after that had not gained yet. We will remember from 3:12 that Paul stated that he was not already perfect. This is not his referring to his heavenly hope, but rather his not being perfect. Like Paul, we realize that we are not “already perfect” or that we have not yet gained the prize of eternal life, as Christians, we need to keep observing and examining ourselves and our attitude toward our ministry.
But one thing I do. Paul had one focus in his life that took priority over all else. He was no part of the world of mankind that is alienated from God. He did not mix his Christian faith with worldly pursuits. He was not busy pursuing wealth, prestige, an important station in life, and working out his salvation too. A Christian who is sidetracked by the glitz and glamour of the world will accomplish nothing in the outworking of his salvation. The primary purpose of all Christians is to finish the race honorably, to secure the prize of eternal life. Therefore, our lifestyle should be indicative of our focus. We want to set aside anything that may get us sidetracked from our mission. Now, this does not mean that we must avoid getting married, having a family, building a home, getting an education, having a career. We should live as though Christ is returning tomorrow [maintain a continual righteous standing], but plan as though he is returning fifty years from now. We can have these things, but the center of those things is Christ Jesus and our ministry.
Forgetting the things which are behind. Paul did not mean that we were literally going to forget “the things which are behind,” erasing them from our memory. He means calling them to mind, not more. The Greek verb (ἐπιλανθάνομαι epilanthanomai) indicates an action in progress, not yet completed. Paul says that we are “forgetting” not that we “have forgotten.” The sense of the Greek word is to dismiss from the mind, stop remembering, stop recalling to the mind, be unconcerned about / neglect. This is what “forgetting” means at Philippians 3:13. Paul was not sitting around dwelling on the things he had given up for Christ. For him, they were of little concern. He ‘counted them as but rubbish in order that he may gain Christ. (Phil. 3:8) We might apply Paul’s words here in yet another way. What about a Christian who lived a horrendously sinful life before becoming a Christian? (Col. 3:5-7) Or, maybe after he became a Christian, he committed some serious sin or fell into the practice of some sin; then, the pastors helped him to get his spirituality back. (2 Cor. 7:8-13; Jam. 5:15-20) If he has truly repented and has alter his ways; then, he has been ‘washed, sanctified, were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ (1 Cor. 6:9-11) What took place before this will not be forgotten, but he will dismiss from his mind, stop remembering, stop recalling to the mind, be unconcerned about / neglect. He has learned from that experience so as not to repeat that bad behavior, but he will also not be internally scolding himself.
And stretching forward. This is what one does in a literal foot race, and the Christian should do in his race for life.
To the things which are ahead. In the Greek Games, there was the crown for the winner, given to him by the judges of the games. The Christian who wins or crosses the finish line of the race of life will receive the “crown of glory.” (1 Pet 5:4) He will also be victorious over sin and death. We notice that there are really two steps to this process: (1) Forgetting the things which are behind [not squandering our time be devoured by these things] and (2) stretching forward [concentrate on what is ahead]. The runner in a foot race looks ahead, not behind. So, too, the Christian needs to look ahead to the prize of eternal life, not the things he left behind. Paul also says: “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” (Phil. 3:15) Through the Holy Spirit, God will help us not to be worried about what one has left behind.
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 Consider the Old Testament account of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26; Luke 9:62; 17:31 – 32).
 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1996). Page 604.
 Holman Bible Editorial Staff, ed., HCSB Study Bible (Kindle Locations 147153-147159), ed. Holman Bible Editorial Staff (B&H Publishing Group Kindle Edition, 2010).
 Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 30.
 hroneo … signifies (a) “to think, to be minded in a certain way”; (b) “to think of, be mindful of.” It implies moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.