I thought it might be appropriate, as we move on into 2020, to consider, briefly, Paul's zeal for "pressing on" with the Lord.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus - Philippians 3:7-14 ESV
Like many biblical statements, it should not be absolutized, particularly when it comes to forgetting what is behind.
The apostle almost certainly takes this metaphor from the arena - the length of the course in Athens was 607 feet from starting blocks to finishing post.
In order to get the prize, runners must not get distracted - looking back not only spelt danger but also made athletes decelerate: dithering delay would result in defeat.
To reach the racer-goal, and receive the 1st-prize call, needed total mental focus, eyes fixed on the finish, motivated by smell of success, to make sinew-strain worthwhile.
When we translate this metaphor into the spiritual arena, it is helpful to think of the following when applying it to ourselves:
It is good to look back in the following circumstances:
- To commemorate what God has done - in redemption, in history, in revivals, through heros, for churches and in believers.
- To reflect on God's work of grace in our own lives - predestined, called, justified, progress to date in sanctifying grace, and all that precedes the glory that awaits.
- To repent or deepen repentance of unconfessed or superficially confessed sins.
- To repair relationships which should have been put right long ago - it is tragic when a brother or sister dies to whom we main unreconciled.
- To lead us from contrition, to the promises of the Gospel, for grace and glory which is located in Christ, in the pursuit of holiness.
Why is it good to look back to such things?
A. It speeds (and actually is part of) sanctification and the progress Paul pursues in seeking full conformity to Christ - ingratitude and impenitence will actually slow our walk and hinder us in this race.
B. It cheers us up and spurs us on when we think of what God has done already, and knowing He is faithful, and will surely go again - He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
C. It glorifies God and is commanded in Scripture - as A and B it will all work for good.
It is bad to look back in the following circumstances:
- When it fills us with improper grief, bitter resentment or gloomy discouragement - there are some things that need decisively 'put to bed' if we are to run well.
- When we turn in on ourselves in unhealthy introspection about former sins, we cannot undo problems which cannot be resolved and which we did not cause.
- When we are filled with vain regrets about decisions we made which were foolish or injudicious and which leave us in pain, hesitant or confused - Christ shed His blood and offered Himself for (and to) us to remove these shackles from our feet and nooses from our necks (instead we must trust God, as we look forward optimistically, to see how our numerous, tragic, mistakes will be sovereignly overruled, in love, for good).
- When we start to boast before the Lord in our pedigree, heritage, religion, rituals, service, efforts as works of righteousness by which we justify ourselves.
- When we start to boast before God in any of the above and thereby turn our gaze onto self (and away from Christ who is freely offered to us in the means of grace).
How and when should we look back?
So look back to the God who has done great things for us, and look back to confess your sin in order to move forward; but don't look back to amass credit for yourself - instead look forward to Christ, who is both goal and call - the Risen, Exalted, Savior has grace in the present, more grace for the future, and glory in the end, when the upward call is complete, when you see His smiling face.
Remember, always, to look up to Christ!
And if you are plagued by the tendency to look back in wrong ways, or be always glancing over your shoulder at sin, smarten up the pace, look up to Christ - His gaze was always right! He fixed both eyes on the Cross! He did that to win (then grant to those who ask) superabundant grace to keep eyes fixed on Him.