The New Start
January 3, 1999 Philippians 3:12-16
SUBJECT: The New Start (2-1)
READING: Philippians 3:12-16
TEXT: “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” (3:13-14).
The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus who was usually depicted as a man with two faces. One face looked back into the year that had passed and that face bore traces of sorrow, dismay and perplexity; the other, forward-looking, personified hope and confidence.
At this time of the year one cannot help looking back; many of us traditionally take stock at the opening of a new year. Has the past year been one of fear and anxiety? Then you need to read the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:13-14: “Brothers, 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.” In simple terms, Paul tells us that:
I. We Should Forget the Things Which Are Behind Us
“This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind” (3:13). One of the great barriers to making a new start is the horror of the past. Failures, as well as successes, constantly harass us until we are afraid to attempt anything new. If we would forget the things that are behind us:
1) Past Sins Must Be Forgiven
“Forgetting those things which are behind” (3:13). There can be no forgetting without forgiveness, for “God will call the past to account” (Eccles. 3:15). Paul was doubtless conscious of the many failures and sins in his life. The way he had blasphemed the name of Jesus and persecuted the church of God must have haunted him day and night. But the time came when he owned up to his sins and, having confessed them, entered into the experience of forgiveness and cleansing.
In a similar way, if we would know a fresh start in our lives we must experience the forgiveness of our past sins. Thank God, the Bible says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“Forget the things that are behind: forget injuries, slight, unkind words; be too big to be hurt; be too great to be unkind; be too busy to quarrel; too wise to engage in unseemly gossip; too strong to permit little annoyances to turn you from life’s big road; too clean to stain your character with any kind of impurity”
Pulpit Helps, Jan. 1981, published by AMG International, Chattanooga, TN, as copied from Carollton Press.
“Those inventive people, the Italians, have a custom. As midnight on New Year’s Eve approaches, the streets are clear. There is no traffic; there are no pedestrians; even the policemen take cover. Then, at the stroke of 12, the windows of the houses fly open. To the sound of laughter, music and fireworks, each member of the family pitches out old crockery, detested ornaments, hated furniture and a whole catalogue of personal possessions which remind them of something in the past year they are determined to wipe out of their minds”
House & Garden, from Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.
2) Past Successes Must Be Forsaken
“Forgetting those things which are behind” (3:13). Employing the metaphorical language of the race course, Paul speaks of leaving behind the previous stages of the race. He implies that he must not waste time surveying his progress; only one thing is important, that is, running so as to win.
One of the most subtle devices of the enemy for slowing us down in our Christian lives is that of engaging our minds and hearts with the memory of past successes. If we are going to live lives of present holiness and victory, we must of necessity concentrate more on today than on yesterday.
When Sir Winston Churchill visited the United States during World War II he was heard to say that “if the present quarrels with the past there can be no future.” The point he was making was that we have to accept the past as unalterable and move on from there. To stay and quarrel with it, or be preoccupied with it, is to ruin the future.
Paul had a most eventful and illustrious past, but he realized that to be preoccupied with it was to divert his focus from the present.
So let us make sure that our past sins are forgiven and that our past successes are forsaken. Only then shall we step out into a new life in Christ.
II. We Should Foresee the Things Which Are Before Us
“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” (3:13-14). The apostle Paul has at least two important objectives in mind. In essence, we can describe them as the eventualities of life and the responsibilities of life. Let us consider each of these.
1) The Eventualities of Life
“Straining toward what is ahead” (3:13). Most people are afraid of the future. Uncertainty and insecurity about the days that lie ahead fill the heart with fear and foreboding. But for the Christian, there need be no fear. In the language of the old hymn, he can say with Edward H. Bickersteth:
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
There is nothing that can ever happen which is not already foreknown and included within the permissive will of God. There is a sense that through trust in the living God we can foresee the things which are before us. The eventualities of life need neither terrify nor disturb us.
2) The Responsibilities of Life
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:14). The picture is still that of the runner whose eyes are on the finish line. No one can ever make a success of life without having a goal before him. Someone has said that if you aim at nothing, you are sure to hit it.”
The apostle Paul points out that the goal of every Christian should be “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Without doubt, the prize is the reward at the judgment seat of Christ. What greater achievement in life can any believer foresee than that of being crowned that day! The great apostle could say as he neared the end of his race: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing”. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIVUS)
…to show that the responsibilities of every Christian involve righteous living in the present day. This is “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). This “high calling” is also termed “a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). Such a quality of life demands separation and consecration worked out in everyday experience. This means following the Lord Jesus, whatever the cost. This righteous living is crowned with rewarded living in the future day. There is a “prize” to win in that future day. How we live here on earth will determine our status and authority in a coming day, when Jesus shall reign undisputed over the universe. The Bible tells us that “if we endure (suffer), we will also reign with him: if we disown (deny) him, he will also disown us” (2 Tim. 2:12). It is a solemn fact to contemplate that throughout eternity we will carry with us the evidences of having been faithful or unfaithful here upon earth. It is important to foresee what is before us, if we would live righteously and rewardingly.
III. We Should Fulfill the Things Which Are Beyond Us
“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. (Philippians 3:12 NIVUS) Commenting on this passage, Dr. M. R. DeHaan says: “Self-satisfaction is the death of progress. Dissatisfaction with past accomplishments is the mother of invention. Because man was dissatisfied with carrying and lifting loads upon his shoulders, he invented vehicles to ride in. Pity the man who is content with his own progress and feels he has [arrived]. This is all the more true in the Christian life. Nothing here is as deadly as self-satisfaction. The most boring people I ever meet are the ones who take up my time telling me what they have done, when they ought to be doing more.”
“An officer rode up to the general, saluted, and said proudly, ‘Sir, we have just taken two gun emplacements from the enemy.’ He waited for the compliment of the general, expecting him to say, ‘Very good, now you can take a rest.’ But instead, the general curtly ordered, ‘Go back and take two more’”
M. R. DeHaan.
In the life of faith we move from strength to strength, we abound more and more, we proceed from glory to glory.
Perfection, for the apostle Paul, was nothing less than being conformed to the image of the likeness of Christ. This is why he declared his greatest ambition in those unforgettable words: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10 NIVUS). To know Christ and to be made like Him we must experience:
1) His Resurrection Power
That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection” (3:10). The resurrection power of Jesus Christ is that divine dynamic which raised Him from the dead, conquering all the powers of sin and Satan. For us, to know this resurrection power is to be able to live in constant victory, which Paul affirms when he says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
“A godly vicar in the Church of England was troubled with a violent and apparently ungovernable temper. Many a time he had prayed about it with tears, and he had struggled much to conquer it, but had been beaten and was almost in despair. One day he had prayed and confessed his sin and believed he had obtained help to keep down the violent temper, and so he had left his study to go about his duties. Alas! not long afterward he reentered his study beaten and almost brokenhearted, and in his sorrow he fell asleep and dreamed he was in his study and, looking out, saw corning toward him a glorious man who evidently intended to be his guest. He became at once conscious that his study was in much disorder and unfit to receive such a guest who, he knew, was the Lord Jesus Christ. He swept and mopped and dusted the room, but the more he worked the worse it became. The stranger knocked. ‘Oh, what shall I do,’ he said to himself. ‘ I cannot let him into a room in such disorder as this,’ and he kept on sweeping, mopping, and dusting till the stranger knocked again, and again he said, ‘Oh, I cannot open while the room is so unfit to receive Him.’ But all his efforts were in vain, and when the stranger knocked again, overpowered with shame and confusion, he opened the door, saying, ‘Master, I can do no more; come in if thou will into such a room.’ The Master came in, and, most strange, when He came in the dust was gone, the disorder disappeared, and all was bright and clean and joyful. The Master’s presence alone had done all that his utmost efforts had failed to accomplish. He awoke, and it was a dream, but in the dream God had spoken to him, and he now saw where his mistake had been, and wherein lay his strength for an overcoming life”
Life of Faith, from 1000 New Illustrations by Aquilla Webb, Harper & Row.
2) His Redemptive Passion
“I want to know Christ … and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10 NIVUS). This is more than suffering for Christ, it is suffering with Christ. Indeed, it is the highest form of suffering, for it is sharing with the risen Lord a redemptive passion for a lost world. None of us can know this redemptive passion without being concerned with the needs of our fellow men, the chaos of the present world and the desperate need of proclaiming the gospel with its message of forgiving love.
If you would plant for a year
Yours will be an ear
If you would plant for a decade
Yours shall be olives and shade
To plant for eternity
Eternal harvest shall be
If we would know a redemptive passion we need to pray with utmost sincerity the words of Amy Wilson Carmichael:
O for a passionate passion for souls,
O for a pity that yearns!
O for the love that loves unto death,
O for the fire that burns!
From Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton, Copyright © 1953 Dohnavur Fellowship (Ft. Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade; London: SPCK).
All these and more are involved in starting a new life, from the Christian’s point of view. So I invite you to forget what is behind, to foresee what is before, and to fulfill what is beyond you, enabled by the power and passion of a living Christ. Whatever your life has been in the past, rejoice in the knowledge that you can start afresh!
It is wonderful to know that we can make a fresh beginning! No matter how far we have traveled, there is further to go; no matter how far we have fallen short, it is always possible to make a new start.
I. We Should Forget the Things Which Are Behind Us (3:13)
1) Past Sins Must Be Forgiven (3:13)
2) Past Successes Must Be Forsaken (3:13)
II. We Should Foresee the Things Which Are Before Us (3:13-14)
1) The Eventualities of Life (3:13)
2) The Responsibilities of Life (3:14)
III. We Should Fulfill the Things Which Are Beyond Us
1) His Resurrection Power (3:10)
2) His Redemptive Passion (3:10)