One of the great things I learned from my father is that “God takes you from where you are, and not from where you should have been.” All of us are sinners, and so none of us are where we should have been. The glory of forgiveness is that God can bring glory out of a shapeless ruin, and in the gospel, this is precisely what He has done. He provides the glory. We contribute the shapeless ruin.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Philippians 3:13–19).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul is not claiming that he has somehow “arrived” (v. 13). He knows that he has not. But he does know what direction he is facing, what direction he is running. Like a runner stretching toward the finish tape, he is leaning toward the end of the race, and has forgotten the past (v. 13). What is that prize that he is running for? It is the high calling of God in Christ (v. 14). He is doing this, but he is also actively recruiting all other Christians to do the same (v. 15). He knows he is not perfect, but he urges this duty upon as many as are perfect. This is the goal of Christian maturity—complete maturity (v. 15). If you are lacking in your understanding of this, God will fill in the gap. We all need to live up to what we have already attained, and not turn back (v. 16). We should all think this way. He then urges the Philippians to imitate him, not to mention imitating others who walk the same way. They all serve as examples (v. 17). This is necessary, he says with tears, because there is another way of walking. There are many who walk as enemies of the cross of Christ (v. 18). These are not pagan outsiders, but rather false teachers within the church. It didn’t take long for corrupt teachers to infiltrate the church. Their finish line is different from Paul’s—their finish line is destruction (v. 19). Their god is their belly. Their glory is in their shame. Their mind anchored down here on earth (v. 19).
RUNNING WITH PURPOSE
In order to run with purpose, which is what Paul is urging here, it is necessary to lay aside every weight (Heb. 12:1-2). That weight, for many of you, is a backpack filled with regrets. But how can you run the Christian race if you are running with a pack filled with guilt-bricks?
In order to run the race that is before you, it is necessary to forget what lies behind. And what lies behind? All your failures as well as your previous victories. Remember what we said last week about repenting your virtues. You must not only forget your stumbles and errors, but if you are on the fourth lap, you can’t be thinking about the second lap—however well you ran it. The Christian life is directional. It is purposive. It is all geared to the last day.
IMITATION IS THE WAY
The way of godliness is learned by imitation, as in our passage here. Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children (Eph. 5:1). The Thessalonians learned by imitating the churches of Judea (1 Thess. 2:14). Paul summons the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1). Hebrews tells us not to be sluggish, but rather to imitate those who through endurance inherited the promises (Heb. 6:12). We learn by imitation.
But this godly way of learning to walk faithfully is discredited by those who imitate foolishly. Instead of imitating the walk, the things that are imitated are the haircut, or the clothes, or the accent, or the mannerisms. That is not what we are talking about.
Imitate character, not personality.
ENEMIES OF THE CROSS
The cross deals with our little lizard egos. The cross crucifies all selfish ambition, carnal striving, lustful yearning. And yet there are those who see the religious world as containing a great number of opportunities, with not a few chumps, and so they gravitate toward us, with easy sermons laced with easy lies.
“Which say to the seers, See not; And to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, Speak unto us smooth things, Prophesy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10).
“If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; He shall even be the prophet of this people” (Micah 2:11).
All their sermons run downhill. Everything is tailored to suit, and slathered with the heated butter of flattery.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3).
By way of contrast, our salvation is all of grace. But it is a grace that works in us, both to will and to do what God has purposed for us (Phil. 2:12). And what He has purposed for us is to run this race. He works in the heart to run, and so we run, forgetting what lies behind.