Lesson 18: "Forgetting Those Things Which Are Behind. . .Press Toward the Mark" (Philippians 3:13-14)

Philippians 3:1-21

Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson #18. Alright, we've talked about the purpose of Paul's letter, about him sending this writing by Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi. Paul promised to send Timothy, "as soon as I shall see how it will go with me." (2:23). Then in the next verse (v.24), Paul expressed trust and hope that he himself would soon have opportunity to visit these Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ. Nevertheless, Paul had resolved himself to do the will of the Lord. Whatever the Lord willed would be all right with Paul. Paul was simply a servant (a slave if you will) of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ. As he commended Epaphroditus and explained to his Philippian brethren how that this (their very own brother in Christ) had "for the work of Christ" had "not regard[ed] his life" to supply their lack of service toward Paul, the old apostle could not help himself (it seems): but to give them a little sermon of encouragement as he closed his letter, to comfort and inspire them to want to be like their brother, Epaphroditus; in that Epaphroditus in his service to Paul was like Jesus. They, the Philippian Christians, were like Jesus; in that their service to Paul through Epaphroditus demonstrated Paul's axiom (i.e. the principle Paul gave up in 2:3): "Let each esteem other better than themselves." Paul could not resist the temptation to be repetitive and to restate (in other terms) the proscribed duties of his brethren. This sermon (if you will) begins in v.1 of ch. 3 and continues down through v.9 of ch. four. However, at this time we are going to read ONLY the 21 verses in ch. three. Are you ready? We'll read these 21 verses and try to discuss it a little and that is about all we'll get done in this lesson. I just hope we can get that far. Are you ready? Here we go! Beginning in 3:1 and reading down through the end of the chapter three. Please read with me!
     "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concis­ion. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine 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. Not as though I have already attain­ed, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: 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. Let, us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 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 things unto himself."
     O.K. back to v.1, let's discuss! The word "finally" in v.1 implies the apostle is getting ready to bring his letter to a close. "Rejoice in the Lord." What did Paul mean? Rejoice? I tend to think of the word "celebrate;" although, that may not quite be the idea. The Greek word here (according to my dictionary) means "to be cheerful" or "calmly happy" or to "be glad." Paul may have been in chains; but, as he thought upon his destany and the potential for his brethren at the end of this life...heaven and those mansions on the other side as Jesus described in John 14:2, Paul was just bubbling over with exuberance. You see, Paul was at a crossroads... "in a strait betwixt two," he said (1:23). He was apparently waiting for Nero's verdic4 . If the emperor said: "kill him," soldiers would walk in with a bright shiny sword and "swish," with one sharp blow, Paul's head would be severed from his body and that would, in effect (spiritually speaking), transported Paul to be with Jesus. That is not what really happened at that time. It is generally believed he was released for a time, we have already said. However, a close brush with death is always a sobering thought. Now, it tends to be our view today, generally in this country: that death is terrible. But, this was not Paul's view. Not if you are prepared as Paul was and as Paul believed his Philippian brethren were. Being ready, Paul realized how short the distance is from this old world where we live into eternity and he thus recognized (as we should) that our life can end tragically almost any moment. With this thought pulsing through his mind and body with every heartbeat; Paul said: "rejoice in the Lord" (v.1). This thought just kept re- surging through his mind as he continued to write to these good brethren. Over in 4:4, he said, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice." Paul used some form of this word "joy" and "rejoice" at least 18 times in the book of Philippians. There is no greater feeling than to know you HAVE and to knew that you ARE obeying Jesus, hour after hour and day by day and that you are ready to meet Jesus if you come to the end of your way or if Jesus should suddenly appear in the clouds 3.3 he will at his second coming.

     Nevertheless, as exhilarating as that thought might be; one must constantly temper this thought with what is said on the other side of the coin in Heb. 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," i.e. unprepared. In that same scripture (Heb. 10:26), it says: "if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." And, when we connect, this up with what Jesus said in Matt. 7:21-22-23, i.e. that some will think they are prepared at the judgment; but, shall discover on the contrary when it is too late, they have not obeyed at all; it becomes all the more a frightening thought. This brings home to us how important it is to study and know the scriptures for guiding our own life. It explains II Thes. 2:10-11-12; how easy it is to be deluded in these matters. So, you see as Paul was saying and thinking and urging: "rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice" (4:4) and as he repeated that phrase here (3:1); these, very thoughts we have been discuss­ing must have tempered his thinking as a feverish chill can cause one to momentarily shudder.

Because here in v.2, he said: "Beware...beware... beware." He used that word three time. As Paul mentally pondered these things, it must have been a little like cheering on an a runner in the athletic games they knew; recognizing that they were all headed for the finish-line in good style AND in this spiritual game, Paul knew: all could win. Yet, there was that fearful and chilling thought that some might stumble and not complete the race.
     In the last of v.1, Paul said: "To write the same thing to you..." What do you mean —the same thing— Paul? The same thing Paul had preached to them when he was with them. To repeat these warn­ings to the Philippian Christians did not bring Paul grief. They were mature enough to take it and profit from it "without murmurings and disputings" as he said (back in 2:14). Yet, Paul could not lay down his pin without lapsing into a precautionary warning. The dogs and the evil workers and the concision that Paul warned against in v.2 is undoubtedly a reference to the Judiazing element of the Pharisees discussed back at the beginning of Acts chapter fifteen. According to Acts 16:4, Paul had been delivering these decrees before he and Silas ever came to Philippi, even the first time. Paul must have warned the Philippian brethren many times when he was there. And, I am inclin­ed to assume these Phariseeic Judiazing evil workers had not been a great problem at Philippi as in some of the Galatian churches over the years. And, at the time Paul was writing here (about A.D. 62); there's no real evidence this element was a threat to the Philippian church, even then. Paul's warnings were precautionary as a coach must remind his athletes over and over, lest they forget.
     In v.3, Paul (speaking in contrast to what the Judiazing teachers were pumping out: that one must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be saved, Acts 15:1); Paul said here: the real circumcision in the Christian age are those that worship God in spirit and in truth, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4:24). To this, Paul added (end of v.3), "and have no confidence in the flesh." I.e. thinking they would be saved because they were fleshly descendants of Abraham. This spiritual circumcision thought is discussed elsewhere in the N.T., e.g. Rom. 2:29, Paul said: "he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." In Gal. 3:29 Paul said: "if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Over in Col. 2:11-12, Paul likens this spiritual circumcision to baptism, i.e. immersion for the remission of sins. There Paul refers to it as an "operation of God" made without hands, i.e. not as the Jews knew fleshly circumcision, you see. Some of the things in which these Judiazing teacher had confidence (Paul mentions some of these things here in v.5-6... "Circumcised the eighth day," their pedigree, their Jewish sectarian connection, their zeal in persecuting Christians, etc.); Paul said, "I count [it] loss for Christ," i.e. to Paul it was refuse, debris, garbage (in other words) compared to the "excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord..." (v.8). Then in v.9, Paul gives a mini version of the book of Romans, if you can relate back: "The just shall live by faith." (Rom. 1:17). Righteousness which is of God comes by faith in Jesus Christ; not in the old law. Why did YOU give up all these things, Paul? [Listen now!] "That I may know him [i.e. Jesus Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death..." V.10 is a listing {get it now}: (#1) Paul said he gave up those things {in which the Judiazers had confidence}, why Paul? "That I may know him" i.e. Jesus. You cannot know Jesus through the law. "The law was our school master to bring us unto Christ [why?], that we might be justified by faith," Gal. 3:24. (#2) Paul says he gave up those things {in which the Judiazers had confidence}, that he may know "the power of his resurrect­ion, and [#3, that Paul might know] the fellowship of his sufferings," i.e. be willing "to suffer for his sake." Do you remember Phil. 1:29? (#4) "being made conformable unto his death," i.e. willing to die even as Jesus died. Why Paul? "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." (v.11). The apostle is not saying: in order that he might be simply raised from the dead. Every body is going to be raised from the dead, every grave shall open. Jesus said: "they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resur­rection of damnation." (John 5:29). Paul, in v.11 (here), is referring to the resurrection of life, i.e. heaven, if you will. Then in v.12-13-14 (if I may paraphrase, Paul said: I haven't got my ticket punched yet brethren. I'm still working on it, i.e. "I count not myself to have apprehended." In other words, Paul was saying it was even possible for him to be lost yet, brethren! He was up against the very same things you are up against. Even the old apostle in chains had to keep working out his own salvation with fear and trembling (2:12), from day to day. You see, Christianity is largely spiritual, or mental, if you will. One can sin even in chains, you see. Now, how do you do that Paul? How do you keep working out your salvation from day to day? Listen now (middle of v.13)! Paul said, "this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before..." Yesterday, doesn't count! It is today that I must work-on. The right now, is what counts (II Cor. 6:2). Paul said, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." In other words, in that athletic race illustration, Paul says I just keep running, I just keep my eye on the goal post, Jesus is my pacesetter. It's that same concept that our Lord taught back in Luke 9:62, "No man, having put his hand to the plow and look­ing back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Oh, yes; but, Bro. Horsley I've been faithful for many years, from my youth up as the rich young ruler said. That's great! What have you attained? Well you have attained something. You have attained up to now and that is something. Hopefully, what you have learned will make it easier to keep on keeping on; but, it is still possible for us to be lost. If we stop now, we're lost. The race is not over yet. So what do we do? Look at v.16! "Where­to we have already attained..." i.e. Paul admits some are well on their way, you see. So, what do we do, Paul? The answer is in the end of v.16, "let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." Do you get it? It doesn't matter where you are, the same rule applies. What rule? Don't look back, Jesus said. Paul said, I forget those things which are behind (v.13). Paul said, "I reach forth...I press toward the mark." (v.13-14). That's the rule. If you are a not a Christian, start now. If you are a babe in Christ, keep going; that's the rule. If you have been a Christian for decades and you are running well, just keep going; that's the rule. That's what Paul was doing. He said (v.17), "Brethren, be followers together of me." Just do like Paul was doing. Hang in there. Don't faint! Don't let chains or battle scars up set you. Just keep running the race. So, hang in there, I'll be with you in lesson #19. Until then, have a good day.

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