Forgetting what is behind
The above is a portion of the Apostle Paul’s words to us in Philippians 3:12-14. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” What was it about the past in Paul’s life and in ours as well that needs to be forgotten if we are to press on toward the goal to win the prize? As I have considered my own life and those of others, i have observed two things that are a detriment to our future progress in our life and ministry with Christ. They have different names, but they are what we all have experienced in the past. They are known by the names of success and failure. They may have been areas that we conquered, or that conquered us. There were times of encouragement, and those of discouragement. There were situations in which we received some measure of acclaim and also those when we seemed to be ignored. We have had moments when everything was in control as well as those of disarray. We have all seen areas in which we have achieved our objectives as well as those where we could see nothing accomplished. The above list is only partial, but I am sure that you can relate to these statements.
I have seen success effect others in various ways. Some look with satisfaction on what the Lord has accomplished through their lives. They contemplate the good outcome from their investment of time and resources and think they have accomplished all that the Lord had for them to do. My wife and I once took a tour through an English village featuring castles , museums and cathedrals. Our guide, noticing that we were from America, commented that England, as a country, looked to the past, while America looked to the future. This statement was true. Unfortunately, there are some in ministry as well who have created memories to efforts in the past and are content to merely remember them.
I recall others who have looked with nostalgia on former days of their ministry. They have wished to alter the seeming failure with ministry in the present by reinstitution of methods and activities of the past. What was “good” at that time, however, is not what God desired for the future. The “good” in the past was meant to prepare us to walk by faith in the future. We are to seek the Lord, not the experiences of the past.
The Lord tells us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Was Demas one of those who looked back? Paul says that “Demas, having loved the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (II Timothy 4:10) The world beckoned him. It was alluring. Gradually, not suddenly, as he contemplated the ease of a former life, with its attractions and benefits, he deserted Paul and the ministry. He had not forgotten what was behind.
The most destructive effect of success, however, is the development of pride. It is written in James 4:6 that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” If God opposes us in our work we have a mighty adversary! We might try to hide how proud we are of what God has done through us, but Luke 1:51 tells us that “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” We would do well to remember the Psalmist in Psalm 109:26-27. “Help me O LORD my God; save me in accordance with your love. Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O LORD, have done it.” Isaiah 26:12 also speaks to us with these words. “LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” Paul had chosen to forget those things of the past that might produce pride, and so must we.
The failures of the past need to be forgotten as well. The time spent with others will not have the impact in some that we desired. There will be differences of opinion that come up on spiritual topics that separate relationships. In some of those in whom we invest our lives, the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19) Those whom we anticipate as leaders in the future develop health crisis, family issues or move out of town. Funds to support the ministry diminish. The replacement of aging workers in the harvest field by younger ones does not occur as anticipated. Those from men’s ministries developed in the church transfer to other churches. The above is only a partial list of failures which I have experienced. Paul says, however, that we should forget these things. Why? Luke 9:62 applies to the dissatisfied as well as those who are satisfied with the past. If we are looking back, we are not fit for service in His kingdom. Whether encouraged or discouraged, our eyes must be directed ahead, not behind us. This is why Paul said that we must press on toward the goal. Forgetting what lies behind is not enough! We must replace remembering the past by remembering the prize set before us. This prize is not based on success or failure. It is based on faithfulness!
I remember attending a service in our church many years ago. I was working in the hospital that weekend and had a busy Sunday morning. The service was almost over when I arrived at the church. I crept into the back row and sat down just as the Pastor was finishing the sermon. His words were “Remember, God has not called you to be successful, He has called you to be faithful!“
Regardless of our past, whether there was success or failure, it should not occupy our mind. We are to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). We are certain to obtain this prize because of the following promise He has given to us. “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm, let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:58)
In Christ, Richard Spann