Philippians 3:13,14

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Philippians 3:13

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead

Paul, by using the perpendicular first person singular "I" fifteen times from verse four to fourteen sets before us the development of his own soul before God. This maturity process is triggered by the cataclysmic event of becoming a Christian. Spiritual birth commences a life-long process of growth into maturity.


By the use of "brethren" he is addressing those who have come to know Christ personally. By personally addressing the Philippians as "brethren" he draws them into his experience. This reminds us that no Christian has arrived in his/her growth in time on earth.

The word "count" means to calculate. By studied evaluation Paul came to a calculation. He did not come to this decision by a snap opinion. He thought about it. He came to the conclusion that eternal values (vv 13,14) will keep his perspective right. God has a plan for him. God is managing that plan perfectly. Paul puts confidence in that plan. God has a purpose for every believer in time. Paul wants to "latch on" to the purpose God has for him.

The first calculation Paul makes is a negative one. He does not calculate himself as having reached the final destination in his spiritual growth. He says, "I do not want you to get the impression that I have arrived at the point of ultimate maturity. I do not want to leave you with the idea that I have no further room to grow as a Christian." He had been a Christian between 25 and 30 years at this time.

For the third time the word "apprehended" occurs in this context. The first use of "apprehend" pertains to appropriating God's provisions for the Christian life. The second refers to the utilization of the cross for salvation. In this verse "apprehend" refers to reward (v.14). When we think we have arrived spiritually is the point we begin to fall. We never stay at the same place in our spiritual life. We either grow or revert. We go up or down. We progress or retrogress. We never stand still. If an army sits in one place in war the enemy will target their position. An army must continue to move to keep the enemy from using them as a target. That is why it is dangerous to consider ourselves to have arrived spiritually.

PRINCIPLE: Growth is a continuing process in the spiritual life.

APPLICATION: As we eat and exercise spiritually we develop Christian character. Every true Christian develops to some extent after becoming a Christian but few grow over a protracted period. With increasing amount of light a Christian sprouts divine character that only God can give. Whatever balance of growth left over when we go to be with the Lord is given to us instantaneously. Growth is relative. Spirituality is absolute. Either we are spiritual or we are not. Growth is a matter of degree. There are horizons yet ahead. There is more grace to appropriate for life. The Lord apprehended me. Now I need to apprehend what he has apprehended me for. Do you want to realize the purpose for which you have been apprehended? What is the unfinished business God has in your life? One reason God allows us to fall on our face so often is to keep us from the delusion that we are a super-saint. We are spiritually smug. Smugness creates a spiritual self-complacency. God then will pick our inflated spiritual cranium with a needle to deflate our pride. Pride always heads us toward a fall (Prov. 16:18).

Few of us possess notable powers of concentration. The reason for this want is we do not live for a single purpose and clear goals. Our pursuits splatter all over the map. Paul was a man who incorporated purpose into his life. He knew the destiny of his life.


Even though Paul did not arrive at ultimate spiritual maturity this does not mean he was ineffective. The phrase "one thing I do" means concentrated purpose. He was a man of consolidated purpose.

Paul could have chosen many options but he chose only one. His life was not like a shot gun blast but like a rifle shot. Many purposes spread us so thin we become ineffective. We do so many things all we can do is one squirt's worth for each. We spread ourselves thin. Businesses are short-handed. That is why we suffer such poor service. Too few employees do too much. Few can do their jobs with excellence. Better paying jobs are snatched by people with better ability. The quality of workmanship is reduced by those with lesser ability. It is better to focus on God's plan for us and stick with it.

This is similar language to Matthew 6:22,23: "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" The eye is not the light. It catches the light and enables us to see. The light which gets into the soul is dependent upon the spiritual state of the eye. The word "good" in the phrase "your eye is good" means your eye is healthy. The eye can see clearly because it is healthy. The whole body will be "full of light." The person will see eternal values. However, if the eye "be evil" (out of order) the soul will be full of darkness. If our focus is on eternal values it is because we tune in spiritually.

PRINCIPLE: God wants us to concentrate on his purpose for us in time.

APPLICATION: Do you keep eternal values in view? Is your life a reflection of spiritual light shining in your soul?

Many Christians keep skeletons in their closets. They hide secret sin in their hearts. Every time some reversal comes into their lives they convince themselves that it is due to sin/s they committed in the past. Because of this they carry guilt complexes. Devoid of liberty they disqualify themselves from serving the Lord.


Some of us live in past regret. We grieve over bad choices. We rehearse our failures and sin over and over to ourselves. There seems to be a compulsion to constantly punish ourselves for those failures lest we fall again. People who practice this belief system cripple their Christian lives.

Others nurse injustices done to them. They cannot disengage from their hurts. They cannot allow themselves to forgive. The injustice may have transpired twenty years ago but it is still present in the mind as if it were yesterday. "It galls me every time I think about it. I just can't get over it." Every time we think about the injury acid pours into our system.

Some marriages are awash with recriminations. They never let the other person forget their failure. It seems almost impossible to cease and desist from hurling barbs. This creates an almost hopeless domestic relationship. This violates a fundamental value in God's economy. The value extends beyond forgiveness; the value is to forget. If they do not own this value then the marriage is doomed to perpetual misery. We might as well lock them in a room and let them scream at each other for the rest of their lives.

The word "forget" means literally to forget upon or over, that is, we are to forget in consequence of something else. We can get over past hurts because of something more important. Since forgiveness is ours by Christ what consequence is there to past hurts? Is it worth stewing over past wrongs in the light of Christ's forgiveness? Assign to oblivion every hurt of the past in view of the cross.

We need to forget the wrong and move on. We should forgive and forget. If someone should confront us that this damages our spiritual life, we say, "Well, I will forgive but I won't forget." Then we will die spiritually before our time. Temporal spiritual death occurs in the believer because he/she wants to punish the other person for what they have done. They do not want to release the anger hold against the other person. Growth is impossible with such an attitude.

The Greek indicates that we personally benefit by forgetting past failures. We also benefit by forgetting the failures of others. We surmise that there is benefit in rehearsing our failures. We believe there is some worth in the memory of pain, "If I remember what I did I will never do it again." We believe it gives us security and a sense of control if we keep it active in our mind. However, this is what constitutes an obsession. The need to control uncertainties, unanticipated pain is a losing battle. The desire to control pain by negative thinking will lead us into destructive spiritual bondage. God says there is benefit in forgetting the past, not remembering it. Forgetting will liberate us from the bondage of thinking about it. We are then free from occupation with it.

God's solution is the opposite of obsession. It is the polar diametrical opposite of evoking memory to control pain. God's answer is I John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." It is a matter of believing that God, not our memories. We cannot continue to grow and mature as a believer as long as we refuse to forget.

PRINCIPLE: Forgetting the past is an act of faith.

APPLICATION: Only mature believers can forget past hurts. The ability to confess a sin and believe that God rendered that sin into oblivion takes confidence in God's promises. Others many remember my sins but I have rendered them into spiritual amnesia. The ability to assign into amnesia confessed sin is the principle Paul is referring to here.

A spouse may remember every offense in the marriage. They may reach into the garbage can and pull out your failures. That is a grab for power lust. It is one-up-manship. To get the best of the argument we pull garbage out to gain control of the argument. The principle is "I will get the best of the argument by putting you down. I will excuse my failure by drawing attention to your failure."

A mature believer does not enter this cycle of destruction. Mature believers assign their past and the past of others into amnesia. How ridiculous it would be if a neighbor came to our front door and said, "Look what I found in your garbage can" Any relationship in life calls for criticism. Inevitably we will do something that others will criticize. You can say "Come on in and we will talk about it" or you can run out to their garbage can to see what you can find. Typically, in arguments between husband and wife, each goes into the garbage can to find a bigger piece of garbage. Is that the way you want to live?

That is the way we live when we do not forget the past. We excuse our failures on the basis of someone else's failures. Once we confess sin we should never look back on that sin. Once others have confessed their sin we should never hold them to their sin. That takes strong faith.

Paul sets forth two perspectives-- "those things which are behind" and "those things which are ahead." Some people live in the past. Paul wants us to live in the future.

How good are you at forgetting? Why not forget your failures? Why not forget the failures of others? Some people cannot overlook injustice perpetrated upon them. They nurse injustices of five years ago. They harbor the hurt. They cannot forget it. This cripples their spiritual life. They end up spiritual pygmies.

Some people grieve over the girl they got into trouble many years ago. They remember like it was yesterday the thing they stole. Yet God himself does not remember them, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more" (Heb. 10:17). These things have been obliterated from the mind of God and are gone. God never throws things in our face he has forgiven.


It is not enough to forget the things of the past. We should think of things ahead. There are horizons over yonder. There is so much unconquered spiritual territory we cannot waste time on past failures. We should invite God to push back our horizons. What would God do if we would let him? The best is yet ahead for the child of God. The best and most fruitful years are yet before the spiritually dynamic person.

The word "reaching forward" is an athletic term in the Greek meaning to sprint for the finish line. It is a burst of effort to reach the goal first. Now that you have dealt with your guilt complex, sprint to the tape of a Christ centered life.

"Those things which are ahead" refers to those things ahead in your life. This does not refer to eternity. We do not drive for eternity. We contend to finish our lives in the winner's box of glorifying Christ.

PRINCIPLE: It is not enough to forget the past. God wants us to enter the track meet of glorifying Christ. Our focus should change from the past pain to future prevail.

APPLICATION: A key to conquering the past is to focus on the future. How future oriented are you? Have you entered the race toward God's revealed will? Is your life designed to glorify Christ? If we do not make the transition from the past to the future we will remain religious dwarfs.

Philippians 3:14

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Now at last we discover Paul's goal. What is the goal of his life? His life-long aspiration is the smile of Jesus Christ at their meeting in heaven.


"Press toward" expresses the idea of pursuit after or follow earnestly. Paul keeps his eye on the goal. He does not allow anything to deter him from his goal. Like a marathon runner he keeps his eye on the finish. He follows earnestly after the wreath. He was not going through the paces. He would not stop to talk to the fans in the stands even though the race is over twenty miles. Time is too precious for that.

It is the devil's business to distract us from the goal. If we take time to answer the bystanders, the critics, we lose precious time and focus. If we indulge ourselves with anger, we will not finish well. "But the media told lies about me. Some of the fans made unfair remarks about my running." That thinking will deflect us from our ultimate goal.

We will get the prize when we reach the goal. The goal has not arrived yet. We look for our Savior's words, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things" (Matt. 25:21).

PRINCIPLE: We need to "press" toward the goal. Anything less will deflect us from finishing well.

APPLICATION: Have you started the race, have you received a spiritual birth from God? If so, have you left the starting blocks? Have you begun to run the Christian life? Have you ever heard the starter's pistol? Have you responded to our Lord's challenge to live a focused life for his glory? Did you leap off the starting blocks and then slow down? Is your Christian life less robust now than at the beginning? Have you slowed down to a jog? Are you loping along through your Christian life? Some of us may have slowed to a walk. Others may be standing still. Yet others have sat down. Some have even laid down their spiritual life and that is why they are called a "laymen!!"


The word "prize" is a poignant expression connoting a wreath or crown. This wreath was bestowed upon the victor in the public games of the Greeks. A garland of ivy was placed upon the head of the winner. The garland did not look like much. However, the assets which went with the wreath was the true prize. The victor was publicly lauded by his home city. He no longer paid taxes which is no meager advantage! The city made a statue of him and put it in the public square.

The Bible lists five possible "crowns" a believer may receive when he meets his Lord. At a given signal the saints in glory will cast their crowns before the throne of Jesus (Rev. 4:10,11). Will you have a crown to cast before his throne?

The prize for the believer is the place of victory. Victory is when a person reaches a place of strength and maturity in Christ. Christ has become the center of his life, not a peripheral place.

The "upward call" is the time when the believer is called to glory to meet his Lord. It is the point that God recognizes whether the believer has reached a point of maturity in Christ. The central question asked by God is whether we lived our lives centered around the glorification of Christ.

When we arrive in heaven we will receive our "prize." We do not receive the prize before heaven. We get it at the finish line. This is that for which Paul was "driving" or "pressing forward" (3:14a).

"In Christ Jesus" is our positional truth before God in Christ. We hold the same status before God as Jesus Christ. When we stand before God at the upward call we will stand there "in Christ." Our right to stand before God is our standing in Christ. Eternal life will not be more real then than it was at the moment we received Christ as our Savior. At that time God will not question whether we should be there in heaven. The question will be what did we do with our Christian life. Was it a profitable life or did we waste it?

PRINCIPLE: One day each believer will have an upward call to meet his/her Savior. That call will be based on our status in Christ. Every Christian is guaranteed to see the Lord because of that status. Every Christian will face the Lord's evaluation of the quality of life he/she spent in time.

APPLICATION: Are you living for the day you will meet the Lord? Do you anticipate that meeting? Do you focus your life around that future meeting? Paul's entire life-ambition focused around that meeting. Do you live your life around that rendezvous?


Copyright © 1995, Dr. Grant Richison. All rights reserved.

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