Forgetting the Past & Winning the Prize

Posted on 2007-02-07. Filed under: Thoughts |

I grew up playing sports. I loved sports. I loved the competition. I loved to win and I hated to lose but it was part of the game. I appreciate that Paul used some sports analogies in his letters because they speak to me.

Here’s my absolute favorite from Philippians 3:13-16:
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. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

There’s a few things in this passage that I really like. First, I really like the picture in my head of God calling me heavenward. I can just see him at the finish line of the race, yelling encouragements at me – letting me know that I can do it. That’s how I see him calling me heavenward. Even when I stumble, fall, or even get turned around and head in the opposite direction from the finish line (sidenote: ever seen a toddler’s soccer game? 🙂 ). That’s my Daddy.

Another thing that I really like is that Paul is describing this as a “mature…view of things”. Seeing our sanctification as a journey – a race – that has a reward at the end.

One more thing that I like is that he begins by saying Forgetting what is behind. Now, that’s an interesting statement. Remember, this is a mature viewpoint. Mature viewpoints usually come with time so there is a past to forget. And, he is  saying that he does forget it. Does that mean that he wipes his memory clean of all things that have happened? I don’t think so. Look at this passage from 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

See – here Paul is saying that history has a purpose. There is a reason to remember things. It is so that previous mistakes are not repeated. The past is a series of warnings to us. If you do “A”, then “B” wil result. So, I think Paul in the first passage was saying more to forget that we have made mistakes in the sense that we should not put ourselves under condemnation. Remember, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Instead of dwelling on the mistakes, just remember them and their consequences and put our focus on the prize, the goal, the reward!

In the above passage from 1 Corinthians, he admonishes us in this way: if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! That’s a good point – it’s always good to do a gut check, a soul check. What are my motives for doing something? What is my real hope for an outcome? These are questions that we should be asking ourselves and questions about which we should be praying to God for revelation. Later, in the passage, Paul says that when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. So, what I’m getting from this is that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall under the weight of your temptation because God has provided a way out for you so that you can continue to stand. There’s another passage (but not the only other one) wherein Paul talks about standing. It’s in Ephesians 6:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

There are three places in this passage where Paul talks about standing:

  • Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
  • Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
  • Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

This is the famous “armor of God” passage. The tools that God provides us allow us to stand. Now, this is a totally different illustration than that of running a race. But, they are both about the same thing. One is an illustration of struggle in sports and the other is an illustration of struggle in war. In this second illustration, our struggle is not to win, but to stand. Why? Well, I think it’s because in the first illustration, the focus of the illustration was on God, his promises, his prize for us, his calling. These are things toward which we are moving. In the second illustration, the focus of the illustration was on our enemy, our struggle, our battle. And, in our battle, it is not our goal to win. Why, because the victory has already been won. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:56-58: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.

Again, here Paul is talking about standing. He is saying that God gives us the victory through Jesus. Our responsibility is to stand firm and not be moved. In the onslaught of the flaming arrows, we are to stand. We are not to hide; we are not to charge forward; we are not to retreat; we are not even to dodge. We are to stand while fully clothed in the accoutrements of God. Look at these passages:

  • 1 Samuel 17:47
    All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s
  • 2 Chronicles 20:15
    He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
  • 2 Chronicles 32:8
    With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
  • Psalm 24:8
    Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
  • Proverbs 21:31
    The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.

So, remember a couple of things folks as you live your day-to-day lives.

  1. Remember that there is a battle and that you are smack dab in the middle of it. Not as a neutral observer, either. You are a combatant.
  2. Remember that you have been equipped by God to be in this battle.
  3. Remember that he is calling you towards his goal for you which is to finish your struggle.
  4. Remember that you are to put on the full armor of God “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground“. That means that you should already have your armor on you when you are faced with evil. Have you ever tried to repel an attacker while you’re trying to get dressed? It’s much easier to do so when you’re already dressed.
  5. Remember that your job in this battle is to stand with truth, righteousness, peace, faith and God’s Word – Jesus Christ.
  6. Remember that last part means that you are not alone in the battle.
  7. And lastly, remember that it is not your battle to win. The Lord fights our battles; he is mighty in battle and victory rests with him.

Praise God in whom is grace and forgiveness!

Praise God who provides all that we need to be victorious!

Praise God for the victory!

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