Straining-and-pressing-on does no good if we are straining-and-pressing-on toward the wrong goal. Indeed, all our straining-and-pressing-on is making things worse! Why? Because we are going ever farther astray from the goal of knowing Christ. Instead, are getting ever more entangled by the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World. (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “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.” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul tells us to forget, strain, and press on.
What must we forget? How do we strain toward what is ahead? How do we press on toward the goal? What goal should we press on toward?
Forgetting what lies behind is a good motivational strategy. We must forget past failures, lest they sap our confidence that we can succeed in the future. (Exodus 3:10-12; 4:1-17; Isaiah 6:5-9)
Yet, we must not forget the lessons we learned from our prior failures. Such lessons make us wise.
We must not forget the experiences that taught us wisdom. Like Jesus, we should grow “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and [people].” (Luke 2:52).
I learned this from my father. He told me that he had made every mistake you could make at work. Yet, he was promoted throughout his career ahead of those who made the same mistakes.
My father explained that they never learned from their mistakes. They kept repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
In contrast, my father learned from his mistakes. He never made the same mistake twice.
In Paul’s life, he needed to forget his past failures while remembering the wisdom that his failures taught him.
Indeed, this was the very wisdom that energized his straining-and-pressing-on.
As he wrote to the church at Corinth, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul does not specify what he needed to forget.
He might well have been thinking back to his role as a young man in the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
The witnesses to the stoning “laid their coats at the feet of [Paul] . . . . And [Paul] approved of their killing him.” (Acts 7:58-8:1).
He might well have been thinking back to his role as a young man in imprisoning followers of the Way of Jesus.
Shortly after approving of the stoning of Stephen, Paul “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3).
He might well have been thinking back to when he was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way [of Jesus], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2; Galatians 1:13-14).
As you know, on the road to Damascus, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him”, leading Paul himself to become a follower of the Way of Jesus. (Acts 9:3-19; 22:2-16).
Paul never forgot the wisdom he learned from his past failures.
So, what did he need to forget?
Certainly, he needed to forget the guilt and shame and embarrassment from these experiences. Otherwise, they would hold him back from straining-and-pressing-on.
Yet, there was something else he needed to forget. He needed to forget the reasons why he had “put confidence in the flesh”. He needed to forget the false goals—the false “gods”—that he strained-and-pressed-on towards until the light from heaven flashed around him.
As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law [of Moses] a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law [of Moses], faultless.” (Philippians 3:4-6). Furthermore, Paul had been wealthy and had received the finest of educations, studying in Jerusalem under a famous rabbi, Gamaliel. (Philippians 4:12; Acts 22:3).
Similarly, some Church-Goers in the United States put their confidence in Christian rituals, in being raised in the church, in their ancestry, and in being a citizen of the United States. They boast about their zeal in persecuting those who have different beliefs, nationalities, and ethnicities. Some of them boast about their wealth and their fine educations.
Hopefully, a light from heaven flashes around them someday soon, leading them to follow the Way of Jesus so that—like Paul—they realize that they have been boasting about their confidence in things that are garbage.
Before becoming a follower of the Way of Jesus, Paul put his confidence in what he called “the flesh”—in what I call the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World.
But, after becoming a follower of the Way of Jesus, Paul “put no confidence in the flesh”—no confidence in the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, or the Power of the Kingdoms of the World. (Philippians 3:3).
Paul wrote: “[W]hatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them all garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).
What was this new goal toward which Paul would strain-and-press-on?
The goal of righteousness “which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:9-11).
Straining-and-pressing-on does no good if we are straining-and-pressing-on toward the wrong goal. Indeed, all our straining-and-pressing-on is making things worse!
Because we are going ever farther astray from the goal of knowing Christ. Instead, we are getting ever more entangled by the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World. (Hebrews 12:1-2).
It doesn’t do any good to strain-and-press-on if you are building the house of your life, your family, your business, your nation, or your civilization on sinful sands such as the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World.
If you do, then despite all your foolish straining-and-pressing-on, when the “rain” comes down, when the “streams” rise, and when the “winds” blow and beat against your “house”, it will fall with a great crash. (Matthew 7:26-27; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
In contrast, if you strain-and-press-on to come to Jesus, to hear his words, and to put them into practice, Jesus said you are like a wise person “building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” (Luke 6:48-49).
If you strain-and-press-on to come to Jesus, to hear his words, and to put them into practice, you will be a wise person who wins the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus.
To learn about how Jesus overcame the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World, please read my blogs “Beware the Power of Money”, “Beware the Power of Religion”, “Beware the Power of the Kingdoms of the World”, “Do Not Live on ‘Bread’ Alone”, “Do Not Jump Off the Temple”, “Do Not Seek the Kingdoms of the World and Their Authority”, and “Jesus Climbs the Temple Mount”.
To learn more about the evils of nationalism (as manifest in the violent assault on the Capitol instigated by President Trump to bully, intimidate and disrupt the Congress as it finalized the presidential election that Trump lost) and the virtues of patriotism (as manifest in peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter), please read my blog “Nationalism is Patriotism Gone Astray”.
To learn more about how a good civilization must be built on faith, hope and love instead of on war, arrogance and selfishness, please read my blog: “How Do We Build a Civilization That Is Good—That Is Very Good?”.
Please read my book Lighting the World, to learn how we light the world with our good deeds—not by might nor by power—but by the Spirit of the LORD Almighty.