First Mennonite Church
January 7, 2018
Forgetting the Past and Looking Forward
Text: Philippians 3:1-14
Today is the first Sunday of 2018. We well know that the God we serve is not bound to the limitations or pressure of time, nor does he change with passing of the seasons. Yet, time for us does matter. Our finitude makes the passing of time or the arrival of time markers, such as the New Year, significantly important to us. Therefore, the arrival of a New Year is a good time to ponder and to reflect about where we have come from, where we stand at the present, and more importantly, where we want to go. We can take it that God established the cycle of seasons to be a gift to us. Every new season allows us the opportunity to break away from what could be an endless monotony. We need the cycle of the seasons, maybe to renew our vision and our spirit. We need the cycle of seasons to allow us time to rethink our ways, to reassess what we have been doing, and to renew our approach to life. In that regard with the coming of a new season or new time marker we are given an opportunity to write the story of our lives afresh on a blank slate. God’s gift of a New Year should energize our efforts and give us hope to do a better job this year in our personal lives within his holy will.
With the coming of a New Year we can pause to reminisce. It is good to cherishing the memories of the good times we had in the past year. Doing so brings us joy and makes us to feel good. As for us here at FMC, one major achievement we had last year was to paint the exterior of the entire building. Elaine was very instrumental in that project. Thank you, Elaine. The preschool had a very successful year too. Catherine and Helen did a wonderful job in giving direction to Rainbow Bright Preschool. And although we need to pause to count our blessing we do know there is more waiting to be done. That is the reality of life. Life continues its journey, therefore, we need to look ahead with the eyes of faith and hope. This concept about life is well illustrated when we drive around in our cars. The rearview mirror is small compared to the windshield we look through as we drive, and we need it that way. Most often when we drive we move forward, not backwards. When we get in our car, we must always know where we are to figure out how to get where we want to go. That is where Paul’s words to the Philippians will come in handy for our reflection today.
In Philippians 3, Paul gives the Philippian church a stern warning against some false teachers who have come to them. Paul used some very harsh words to describe these false teachers. He called them “dogs,” “evil workers,” and “mutilators of the flesh.” These false teachers were boasting and comparing themselves with Paul. But Paul reminds the Philippian church that the things these people were using to boast about themselves were precisely the things he considered “rubbish” for the sake of Christ. That is where our passage begins.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul knew where he had come from. He was blinded by zealousness of his religious upbringing and training as a Pharisee. Thus, he approved the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, because Paul thought Stephen was a heretic. Paul then persecuted the church. He jailed those he got hold of and sought to find more even in the neighboring Gentile city of Damascus. Paul was fully aware of his past life. But he was completely transformed after his encounter with the risen Lord who met him on his way to Damascus. And from there on the only goal Paul had was to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and to be like him in every way.
Everything dear to Paul became not only useless but like garbage after Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ. His self-righteousness was over-shadowed by the righteousness that came by faith in Jesus. His Jewishness became unnecessary to be a servant of the Living God. His knowledge of the Mosaic Law became worthless for the sake of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, his Lord. Paul knew where he had come from and where he stood in Christ. Yet, he humbly acknowledged that he had not achieved his ultimate goal of knowing the fullness of Christ and the power of his resurrection. And I believe we all share that in common with Paul. So what did Paul do?
The One Goal for this Year
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul was mindful that his life did not start when he encountered the Risen Christ on the way to Damascus. It did not start at that moment he was writing to the Philippian church. Paul, just like each of us today, had a personal life journey. There were things Paul regretted having done. Paul realized his efforts at becoming like Jesus had not always been as he desired. Paul was mindful he did not know Christ as he should. But Paul did not want to be held captive by his grief or failures. Thus the first thing Paul listed in order to continue pursuing his ultimate goal was to forget the past.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, Paul says. Often times the reason people have difficulty with their emotional and mental lives is because they keep looking in the rearview mirror of their lives. They keep their eyes focused on the things that are behind. They keep reliving past hurts and losses in their lives. They keep nursing their past wounds and remembering those who have hurt them. Unknowingly they allow the chains of the past to bind them and oppress them. They forget that a healthy life requires them having their eyes focused forward. You see, when someone keeps looking in the rearview of his or her live, that person not only loses the joy and excitement of what’s present and at hand, but is also blind or unaware of the possibilities of what is coming ahead. That not only hurts them, but also hurts others. The subsequent effect of focusing on the rearview mirror of life is bitterness of the soul and clouding of the mind. But the most damage it does is that it causes people lose the capacity to enjoy the present and incapacitates them from having a hopeful future.
One way to forget the past is to give it to God. We do so by bringing our past to the cross of Christ. By bringing to the Lord our failures, our burdens, and our sorrows we are given power to free ourselves from the chains of the past. The words of the Prophet Isaiah is very clear on that:
“I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more (Isaiah 43:25).
God not only promises not to remember our past, but to also empowers us to forget it as well. The Apostle John also speaks about the source and power of the Lord’s forgiveness. In 1John 1: 9 says: If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. It is interesting that Paul did not try to suppress his past. He did not try to pretend he had not past life. Instead, Paul determined to forget his past and to focus on what was ahead of him. Paul wanted to achieve the purpose of his calling. He desired to fulfill the goal of his calling, which he called the “heavenward prize.”
As we begin this New Year, let us remember the past, but let us not dwell on it. Instead, let us give our past to the Lord. Let us remember that the windshield of life is bigger than the rearview mirror. Therefore, let us keep our eyes in the Lord, the maker and sustainer of our faith. Let us ask God to heal of our heart, mind and soul. In order words, let us ask God to renew us so that with renewed freedom, joy, and hope we would be able to look into God’s future for our lives. Let us be faithful to the obligations we have today. Let us be open to the new opportunities God will bring us this year. Let us commit ourselves to pray for one another that we all may strain forward towards the goal of our heavenly call and to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Let us pray:
Our loving Lord God, we thank you for a New Year. Thank you for the achievements of last year. Thank you for the faith you keep sustaining in us, even to this day. Give us power to stay focused in you and to be able to press forward towards the goal of your calling for our lives. Help us to recognize when you bring to us new opportunities. In the name of your Holy Son, we pray. Amen!