“Brothers and sisters, 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
I wouldn’t call myself a track coach by any stretch (blue chlorinated lanes with goggles are my jam), but I was able to offer a few pieces of elementary help to our young daughters during family track meets last summer: stay in your own lane and don’t look behind you. These are the basal tendencies of my tiny untrained runners and my own soul today: distraction by longing for another’s life and tripping-up by looking back.
Paul uses his familiar runner analogies again in speaking with his beloved church family in Philippi. So far in the letter, he’s given heartfelt greetings and prayed with thanks for them, held high the good news of Jesus both in the advance of the gospel and also his desire in his own life. He’s unpacked the humble heart of Jesus and called us to model Him, given some practical pointers of living without grumbling hearts, and given updates on his brother-friend Timothy.
Now we find ourselves at one of my most favorite pieces of scripture; Paul builds up his own varsity-letter, Ivy-league-graduate, shiny-giant-trophy of a spiritual resume and he takes the wrecking ball of resurrected-life-in-Jesus to it. The brightness of his earthly name and accomplishments are dimmed in the shadow of standing together with Christ in His blood-bought righteousness.
“Brothers and sisters, 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 ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
“Take hold of” means to find, to make one’s own.
Paul doesn’t sit back, evaluating himself as a self-made man. He doesn’t sip an artisanal brew while pondering the pursuit of finding himself… this kind of kicks our culture in the shins, doesn’t it? We are a self-made people. It’s our dream, isn’t it? To find ourselves, take our destiny by the horns and saddle up – riding through all the right decisions and becoming the best versions of ourselves.
Paul says no. He doesn’t consider himself having made it on his own.
“Forgetting” means given over to oblivion, no longer caring for.
How do I look at the chapters behind me? Oblivion? No longer caring for? It seems that the two ditches of the same road behind us are pride and regret.
When I look behind me I see the highlight reels: admission to nursing school, wedding day, arriving in our new home overseas …mountain-top moments with the Lord.
I also wince at failures and disappointments, both massive and mundane. Off-handed comments and idle words that were spoken in stupidity. Awkward encounters (oh, there are so many), defeats that seemed to write me a new and busted up name. When I look at my history through a human microscope, I find myself camping where pride and despair take root. Forgetful oblivion is what Paul is after here.
Can I take a quick rabbit trail? I hesitate to overlook scripture that also calls us to necessary remembrances of our past. Old testament altars were built and named for what God’s people had been brought through. Festivals were celebratory for remembrance of His goodness. And sometimes those ancient ruins bear value in revisiting, either because we desperately need healing or warning from past entanglements. What Paul writes in this particular piece is oblivion to our human currency of value, whether wrought with shame or honor. His history doesn’t hold him back from running after the prize of Christ.
“Straining” means to stretch out towards.
“Press on” means to pursue, seek eagerly.
“Prize” means heavenly reward for Christian character.
“Called” means invitation to a feast, divine invitation to embrace salvation of God.
“He pressed towards the mark. As he who runs a race never takes up short of the end, but is still making forwards as fast as he can, so those who have heaven in their eye must still be pressing forward to it in holy desires and hopes, and constant endeavours and preparations. The fitter we grow for heaven the faster we must press towards it. Heaven is called here the mark, because it is that which every good Christian has in his eye; as the archer has his eye fixed upon the mark he designs to hit. For the prize of the high calling. Observe, A Christian’s calling is a high calling: it is from heaven, as its original; and it is to heaven in its tendency. Heaven is the prize of the high calling; to brabeion —the prize we fight for, and run for, and wrestle for, what we aim at in all we do, and what will reward all our pains. It is of great use in the Christian course to keep our eye upon heaven. This is proper to give us measures in all our service, and to quicken us every step we take; and it is of God, from whom we are to expect it. Eternal life is the gift of God, but it is in Christ Jesus,” writes Matthew Henry.
The more we taste of Christ, happily leaving behind the ashes of this world, the greater the joy to feast with Him again and again. The empty grave declares us victors in Christ. It is our joyful calling and invitation from the Lord Himself to strain towards, to seek eagerly, the trophy of our Savior that will never disappoint or grow tarnished with time.
He has already laid hold of us by finishing the work on the cross: He bought our right to be called children of God. We strain forward not toward a carrot dangling just out of reach, but with full confidence that the prize of Christ is ours forever. We just want Him more and more.
Don’t slow down, sister. Stay in your own lane and press on towards the triumphant crown that is already yours and waiting for you!