By Rev Dr Clive Chin
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. 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. (Philippians 3:13-14)
We are already into the fourth week of January as we speak. 2020 was a terrible year for many. How do we move forward? Like many, I make New Year resolutions as we venture into a challenging and uncertain future. My New Year resolution for 2021 is based on Phil 3:13-14, where Paul gives his personal testimony to set an example of leadership to the Philippians who were struggling with some internal conflicts within the church.
In v. 13a, Paul not only admits that he is still progressing to become like Jesus, but he is a brother among brethren. Christian leadership is a very demanding thing. It is easy, therefore, to be absorbed as a leader and forget to be a Christian, doing ordinary things like reading the Bible, praying, and fellowshipping with believers. Equally important is Paul’s emphasis on focus. The Greek text of v. 13b literally says, “One thing! Forgetting what lies behind…” Paul is not saying we should forget about God’s past mercies. What he is saying is that we should stop dwelling on things of the past that hinder our present effort and our future progress. These could include bereavement, disappointment, bitterness, unforgiveness, and sins. We must let go of those things, so we can move forward with determination, such that we are “straining toward what is ahead” (v. 13c). Paul uses a running metaphor for Christian growth, whereby we extend every fibre of our being to finish well.
What compels us to move forward in the Christian race is “the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). Paul clearly shifts his focus on earthly realities to heavenly realities as his point of motivation for growth. In other words, no earthly reward will ever be enough to sustain us in our earthly journey. Our only incentive to finishing well is Jesus’ words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:23). Paradoxically, a mature Christian is one who realises that he or she is not perfect, but is determined to press on to maturity focused on the heavenly prize that awaits us (v. 15).