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Philippians 3:12-21 Forgetting what lies behind- 9/22/19

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Jesus Christ said once to some would be disciples, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31

As you turn in your Bibles to Philippians chapter 3 verse 12, I want to pray for us in regards to this much needed freedom that only comes from a full apprehension of and agreement with His truth. (pray)

Please follow along with me as I read our passage for today.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on [h]so that I may lay hold of that [i]for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 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.15 Let us therefore, as many as are [j]perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep [k]living by that same standard to which we have attained.

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their [l]appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our [m]citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform [n]the body of our humble state into conformity with [o]the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Philippians 3:12-21

When it comes to the time and energy and sacrifice necessary to truly know Christ, to follow Him, and become like Him, many of us Christians are minimalists. This morning He is calling us to be maximalists!! Do you know the difference?

Maximalists are always daily striving to know the fullness of God’s will for them and then seeking to fulfill it to the maximum degree or extent possible – knowing that much of God’s will for us is knowing and becoming, rather than frenetically doing or serving.

Minimalists are content with just being saved, attending a church service most Sundays, reading their Bible for a few minutes here and there, listening to worship music here and there, though not necessarily worshipping while listening to it.

Maximalists are never satisfied with their spiritual progress.

Minimalists are easily satisfied with minimal progress, as long as there is someone around who has made less progress than them, and thus whom they can contrast themselves with and feel good about their minimal progress.

Maximalists always long for more godliness, more holiness, more righteousness, more Christ likeness, more depth in their walk with Christ.

Minimalists long for a vacation; for more toys; more upgrades; more fun experiences.

Maximalists are glad to do away with or die to lesser things

Minimalists still try to do everything.

Maximalists have learned only one thing is necessary; or as Paul stated in vs. 13, “….one thing I do.”

The apostle Paul was a maximalist. And you and I are called to be maximalists. I bless each of you this morning with a new passion for all that He has called you to be, and a holy zeal to go after it!

I hope you know how privileged we are to have one of the godliest men in all of human history share with us his secrets for knowing and pleasing God.

Last week we talked about the pursuit of knowing Christ in vs. 1-11. This morning my original goal was to expound verse by verse the pursuit of following and becoming like Christ in vs. 12-21. But instead I’m going to sum up this passage, and then I’m going to deal with in some depth one of the most harmfully misunderstood passages in the New Testament – found in our passage for today.

If we are in a war, which we are; and if every morsel of truth is crucial for us to win this war, which it is, then every phrase or truth in this latter half of Philippians 3 is crucial for we disciples. Time only allows me to deal with one in depth today.

I believe what the Holy Spirit would have us see from this passage as a whole is that every one of us who are born again disciples of Jesus have a very high and noble calling to walk with Jesus, to become like Jesus, and to obey Jesus fully until we are with Him in heaven. To accomplish that - the Holy Spirit must train us to live life like an Olympic athlete – straining with every muscle and fiber of our being in Christ to win this race - - keeping our eyes on the goal; and not getting distracted with all of the lesser things around us.

To help you win your race, I want to deal with the phrase, “forgetting what lies behind” in vs. 13. Many say this means we should forget and never ever think again about our sins and failures in the past. I would agree we certainly should not wallow in them. But I don’t believe that is what this phrase has in mind at all. And I believe much spiritual damage has been done from the misinterpretation of this phrase. Allow me to share with you 7 or so reasons why I believe this, which will also I trust help you and I to be much more firmly grounded in truth:

First, there is nothing in the context in Ch. 3 about our sins and failures in the past. Elsewhere in scripture our past sins and failures are discussed. But not here, nor in chapter two or even in chapter one of Philippians.

Contextually – looking at the phrase “forgetting what lies behind” and what precedes it in chapter 3, what Paul made himself forget is his religious accomplishments in Judaism, and perhaps the prestige and comforts he had as a result, which the devil probably reminded him of big time in times of severe persecution or trials (see Philippians 3:4-6)

The second reason why forgetting what lies behind cannot refer to our past sins and failures is, Paul at times in his letters reminds us of how we once lived in the past. He seemingly wants us to reflect on that and not forget it. Here are some examples of that:

I Corinthians 12:2 “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.”

Galatians 4:8 “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.”

Galatians 5:1 “ …and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (implying that they were slaves to sin and Satan in the past)

Ephesians 2:1-3 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

Colossians 1:21 “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, …”

Colossians 3:6, 7 “For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.”

Titus 3:3 “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”

Third, Paul at times referred to his own sinful past.

Acts 22:4,5; 17-20 addressing a crowd of riotous Jews outside the temple in Jerusalem “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.” A little later in his speech relaying a discussion he had with Jesus in a trance “….And I said, “Lord they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.”

Acts 26:9-11 Paul’s defense before King Agrippa and other royal officials: “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they wee being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.

Romans 7:15,18,19 Paul’s very transparent confession to the church in Rome about his struggle with sin as a believer. “ For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

I Cor. 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Galatians 1:13 “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;”

I Tim. 1:13,15,16 “even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; …It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”

Paul clearly did not believe he should never ever think upon those things again. While he refused to allow any shame or condemnation to enter his mind re: his sinful past, he clearly had regrets – especially about the way he harshly persecuted believers. And it was the occasional reflection upon his sinful past that caused him to see the greatness of the mercy of God towards Him.

Fourth God at times reminds His people of their sinful past. He did it with Israel a lot (through His servants). Here are just a few examples.

Deut. 9:6-29 (Moses speaking) “…Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord. Even at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.” Vs. 7,8

“When the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea saying, ‘God up and possess the land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; you neither believed Him nor listened to His voice.” Vs. 23

Psalm 78:8-11, 17-20 (actually a reminder of the sins of their fathers so they don’t repeat them). I don’t have time to go into this passage, but I do want to say that only the Holy Spirit can help us honestly identify and face the sins of those in the older generation (fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, spiritual leaders, etc.), and yet continue to honor them as He has commanded us to do.

Ezek. 16:60-63 “Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger; and I will give them to you as daughters, but not because of your covenant. Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord God declares.”

Do we believe that the God of the Old Testament, who we know is also the God of the new Testament, felt this was necessary in the Old, but not in the New? I don’t.

Fifth, Paul in his letters is very concerned that we believers kill/put to death all remnants/every vestige of our old life and ways. For us to do that, it is absolutely necessary that the Holy Spirit help us see our attitudes, thought patterns and actions of that period of our lives the way He sees them. It is also of vital importance that He helps us see the roots and foundations of sin patterns that we have fought to overcome, else we will never fully overcome them. Once we see them we have to aggressively and mercilessly go after them. This can be seen in the following passages:

Rom. 8:13 “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (the idea here is that you and I daily as a lifestyle by the illumination and power of the Holy Spirit identify sin patterns and bring them to an end.)

Ephesians 4:22-24 “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” For the new to kick in, the old must be kicked out!

Col. 3:5 “Put to death, therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature:" (NIV)

I used the NIV translation of this verse, because in this instance it is a better, more accurate translation of the Greek than the NASV.

Listen friends – when it comes to revisiting our past - - The Holy Spirit alone can take us back into the past and make it edifying. If our flesh takes us back it will either result in pride and complacency; or shame and discouragement; or complaining and bitterness. All are destructive and distract us from the pursuit of our upward call.

Here’s the rule of thumb we have learned to live by:

If the Holy Spirit reminds me of something in my past, it is solely to cleanse me and set me free.

If the devil reminds of something in my past, it is to condemn me.

Part of maturity is learning to discern the difference.

Sixth, a major problem with the people of Israel – especially with those who were delivered from Egypt – is when things got tough in the wilderness they longed for the comfort and diet or delicacies of their former Egyptian life. They did not at all forget what lies behind. Here are a few examples:

Ex. 16:3 “The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; ….”

Numbers 11: 1-23 “….The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic….” Vs. 4,5

The Lord therefore said to Moses….Say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves …for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, “Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.” Vs. 16, 18

Finally it is very likely that when Paul spoke of “forgetting what lies behind”, he had some of the following in mind:

Gen. 19:17,26 When Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, what was she looking back at? Was she longing for what once was?

When they (the angels) had brought them outside, one said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.”….But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Vs. 17, 26

When you have the chance – take a look at Jesus’s instructions to His disciples in Luke 17:22-37, which includes a reference to Lot’s wife becoming salt.

Speaking of Jesus, one day He was walking with the 12 down a road and other would be followers came alongside and walked with them. Several of these individuals said they intended to follow Him, but then when pressed, they all gave excuses. The last one said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61,62

The apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus spoke often of the glories to come, such as in chapter 2 vs. 7, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” Do you realize when we look back, we are basically saying to God, “I prefer the niceties, or comforts or glories of the past rather than the unspeakable ones that are to come”?

Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,” ….may each of us in this room in an ongoing maximalist way - press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Let’s pray together.

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