“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
At the start of each New Year I tend to experience 2 overriding feelings:
1. Regret for things I know I could have handled better in the year just past;
2. Fear of what a new year may bring: “how will I deal with challenges and set-backs”?
This morning I was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter which when writing Paul would have been going through a wide range of emotions:
Firstly, he was writing from the discomfort of a prison cell;
Second, Paul had opponents he couldn’t defend himself against. He speaks in 1:15-17 of those who “preach Christ out of envy, rivalry and selfish ambition, whose aim was to stir up trouble for me while I am in chains”.
In 3:18 he mentions “enemies of the cross of Christ”, that is, people who opposed the message of the cross that Paul preached;
Third, Paul is unsure whether he will get out of prison alive. He writes in 1:22, “If I am to go on living in the body....”;
Fourth, there were problems in the church in Philippi, a church close to Paul’s heart. It is clear some of the Philippians were not getting on. In 4:2 Paul pleads with two ladies, Euodia and Syntyche, “to agree in the Lord”. In 1:27 he has to encourage the congregation to “stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”.
As mentioned, these issues must have caused Paul to experience a host of emotions during the time he wrote Philippians. However, in the midst of this; in the midst of set-backs and trials; in the midst of the coldness and dampness of a prison cell; in the midst of feeling helpless that he couldn’t be with this young church to help them resolve what they were going through, Paul refuses to lose heart and refuses to lose focus. Instead he says in 3:12 “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. In other words, “I will not give up and not give in, for Christ Himself has taken hold of my life”;
In 3:13 Paul speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead”, and v14 of “pressing on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus”.
Perhaps like me you look back to 2018 and think “I wish I’d dealt with that better”, or you look ahead to the rest of 2019 and wonder “how will I get through the trials I know this year will bring”?
Let us together learn from Paul:
• forgetting what is behind - which we cannot change;
• taking hold of that for which Christ took hold of us, and pressing on towards the goal - which we cannot lose.