What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? Maybe it’s a professional success or a solid marriage. Perhaps it was meeting a difficult physical challenge or surviving a particularly trying season of life.
Whatever that accomplishment, it’s probably never far from your thoughts. You hold it up to remember what’s possible, how far you’ve come, and that you are capable. That can be helpful and healthy – sometimes.
But other times we need to forget our accomplishments. To put our successes behind us. God’s Word even encourages us to do this (Philippians 3:12-14).
Before we go further, let me warn you. You may have heard these passages taught a different way. You have probably heard that “forgetting what is behind” refers to “past mistakes and failures.” And while there is a time for that as well, that is not the context of this passage.
For the past 6 Thursdays, we have been taking a weekly look at a verse or passage of Scripture that is often misunderstood, abused, or taken out of context. Philippians 3:12-14 is one such passage. When verse 13 is read alone, it’s easy to think Paul was referring to past failures.
We can imagine him encouraging the believers in Ephesus to “Don’t dwell on your past mistakes! Don’t let your failures keep you from moving forward now! Continue to push ahead toward God’s goal for you!” There’s just one problem with that – the larger passage that surrounds it.
Let’s back up and consider the larger passage in order to determine Paul’s original meaning of “forgetting what is behind.” Here is a quick “outline” of sorts of Philippians 3:1-12:
- Paul reminds the Gentile believers in Philippi not to fall for the false teaching that they must be physically circumcised to be saved. (Philippians 3:1-2)
- Those who have been saved by the Spirit (spiritually circumcised) know that human effort cannot save us. We are saved solely by what Jesus has done for us. (Philippians 3:3)
- But if anyone could save themselves from sheer effort, it would have been Paul! He was the most religious, the most zealous, and the best “law keeper!” (Philippians 3:4-6)
- But none of his effort came close to comparing to what he found in Christ. He happily lost it all to gain Jesus. He longed to follow Him in complete obedience to know Him more and become increasingly more like Christ. (Philippians 3:7-11)
- Paul is not yet where he needs to be spiritually. He is not yet “perfect,” but he the journey is not over. He continues toward that goal. (Philippians 3:12)
For Paul – and for us – the thing that would most likely trip him up, that thought that would prevent him from pressing on to win the prize in Christ, is not a failure. It’s not a past mistake. That thing that would have held Paul back – and often holds us back – is remembering the success of our own effort.
When we think we can do it, then we’ve already fallen behind. When we think we can do the work in our own power that only God can do, then we trip over ourselves.
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14 NLT
Oh sisters, let us “forget what is behind” and strain forward in God’s strength and power. Not our own!
What success do you need to “forget” today?
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Remembering in Scripture really does focus on what God has done and what he’s brought us out of. I did a study on that recently, and it was interesting to see that pattern throughout Scripture.
Kari, thanks for sharing that! God’s Word does consistently tell us to remember God’s character, ways, and mighty deeds! We humans tend to focus on ourselves – successes and failures – rather than God!