Look Forward - Not Back
Philippians 3:13-14
The Rev. Jason R. Grote

Many psychologists, known as Behavioralists, have supported the notion that a person’s behavioral patterns throughout life are shaped and established by their past. If a son has an alcoholic father, statistics show that they will be more likely to become an alcoholic later in life. If a child is physically or sexually abused, the probability that they will become abusive in some form is very high. Studies show that most women will marry men that reflect the same attributes and qualities as their fathers (even the ones they hated) and vice versa with the men.

We’ve all seen movies that reflect this idea. I can’t count the number of times I have seen a movie about an inner city group of kids that claim they cannot escape the ‘seedy’ lifestyle into which they were born. Over and over the statement comes, “I was born into this… I spent my whole life living like this… I can’t change the fact of who I am. I’m not as fortunate as others who were born into rich families…who go to good schools… who have a world of opportunities open to them.” Proverbs even supports this notion, “Raise up a child in the ways he should go and when he is old he will not depart from them.”

I’m not one who agrees with all that Behavioralists state but they have stated some experiential and practical ideas that ring true in our daily lives. So true in fact that many of us adopt these clinical theories without having any conscious awareness that we are. I mean, by this, that all too many people become focused solely on the past. I’d be pretty certain that there have been certain circumstances, events, and situations in everyone’s lives upon which they have transfixed themselves.

Perhaps it could be childhood abuse, a poor relationship with a parent, a sin never absolved, a family tragedy, a debilitating accident, a loved one’s death, unrealized dreams, sacrificial acts now regretted, divorce, or perhaps positive things such as a past triumph, a great time of prosperity, or a time of extreme popularity and influence.

These past events and experiences often become the focal points in people’s lives. Present emotions such as anger and depression are blamed on the past. Present circumstances are blamed on the past. The present inability to live a peaceful life is blamed on the past. The failures of marriage are blamed on the past. Everything is the “past’s” fault!! After all, our past determines our behavior now. Or so we erroneously believe.

St. Paul writes in Chapter 3 of his epistle to the Philippians about his past. He writes concerning the Jewish lifestyle he led--circumcised the eight day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, a man of great zeal evidenced by his persecution of the Church, a blameless man according the righteousness of the law. St. Paul gave all this up for Christ. If any, here is a focal point on which St. Paul can blame all his present tribulations.

But that is not what he does. Immediately following his speech about his past he writes, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for who I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung…” And again, “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.”

Instead of focusing on the losses that he suffered because of following Christ he focuses on the gain he has. He doesn’t dwell on the sacrifice that turned his own people against him. Instead, he seeks comfort in the reward to come. These words are ones that I think everyone ought to hear everyday of their lives because it is too easy to get wrapped up in things past that we fail to look forward.

Past things can turn us around on the path of our long journey called life. We ourselves, and not the past, construct a wall that prohibits our advancement. We post and follow detour signs that turn us around. We unceasingly tread new paths that lead to the so-called ‘roadblock’ of the past. Yet the more we tread the more we despair because we realize that we cannot reach or remove it. So we circle around it, we stare at it, we yell and scream at it-- but it doesn’t budge. It only seems to increase because we end up throwing more and more of our present problems and woes on top of it. And seeing the growth we again try to diminish it. It can become a never ending cycle that prohibits any progression in life.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “You’ve got to move on,” or, “It’s time you get over this,” or “stop dwelling on the past,”or “It’s all in the past now”? I think we’ve all heard them at one point or another. When we hear them we think those that say them are inconsiderate, unkind, and unsympathetic to our needs. But in reality they are offering some of the best advice. Forget the past and reach for the things ahead-- Look forward not back, to paraphrase St. Paul.

When St. Paul uses the word forget he doesn’t mean that you wipe the past things completely from memory. Even he remembered his past just verses before. He means that the past should not be the dwelling and focal point of our lives. Our eyes should be looking forward as to where we are headed and not backward. We should not be transfixed on the past but rather striving to move ahead.

But what do I do with the past then? Do I ignore it? Is it not a major factor in my life? I’ve had these questions asked to me before. And based on other scriptural readings of St. Paul I’m sure that he would agree that the past does influence and play a major role in your life. The past should inform you as you step ahead, it should instruct you as learn new things, it should help you recognize some of the potholes that you encounter along the path ahead. What you do with the past is important. But the past is to be a beneficial tool rather than a detrimental weapon in our lives.

Now that we ought to have our eyes turned from looking backward, we must consider what then lies before us. It is not enough to halt our perpetual parade around the past. We must know where we are headed. We must acknowledge and understand the place to which we must march. If we don’t then we are left without direction and dedication. Without the understanding of where we must head then all that we do will be counted as loss and as dung.

“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!!"

We must direct our path toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. What is this prize-- this high calling? If we look at the same chapter in Philippians we will see, like the Prego commercials, it’s in there. Look at chapter 3 verses 9,10,11 and 21. Verse 9, 10 & 11 read, “that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Verse 21 reads, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all thing unto Himself.”

There are two aspects of the same thing, namely the transformation of our lives by the Lord Jesus Christ. Verses 10 & 11 speak more of the temporal transformation of our lives while verse 21 speaks to our eternal transformation. Notice that 9, 10 & 11 lead us to the attainment of the resurrection while 21 describes the resurrection.

This is to be the ultimate ‘destination’, if you will, of our lives. This is the high calling towards which we must press. It is the desire of St. Paul and of God that our lives be transformed. In our Epistle lesson this morning St. Paul’s desire for the Ephesians and for us is the same as his own desire in verses 9, 10 & 11 here-- that God would strengthen the inner man by the might of His Holy Spirit, that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith, that being grounded in love we would be able to understand the width, the length, the depth, the height and finally that we would know the fullness of God through our knowledge of Christ’s love.

By the love of Christ we are able to know the fullness of God and His desire for our forgiveness and redemption. By the strength of the Holy Spirit we are able to progress in our lives moving beyond the past and weathering the storms of future hardships. By our faith in Christ we have hope instead of despair. Through the understanding and relationship we have with God our lives move forward towards the attainment of everlasting glory.

The sanctification that has already begun in you and the faith the God has given you is the beginning of the road and not the end destination. We must embrace that faith and ever press towards our continued sanctification in this life until finally He sanctifies us unto perfection.

“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.” AMEN