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     Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul mentions this “one thing” he does to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him. The Amplified version tells us “that” refers to “perfection.” Perfection is why Christ took hold of Paul and why He has taken hold of us. He desires that we might be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. (See Matthew 5:48)

So what is this “one thing” Paul says that he does? “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.” Examining Paul’s statement more closely we see that he is really speaking of doing three things: forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forward to those things ahead, and pressing toward the goal

Forgetting
What does it mean to forget? The dictionary has several definitions of forgetting which carry with them a lack of intentionality. However, Paul’s statement has no such connotation. Forget in this case means to cease to think of something or someone by choice. To say it another way, he is telling us to no longer have those things in the center of our thoughts or focus.
What would Paul be thinking of that we need to forget? What are some of the things “which are behind?” Perhaps Paul was thinking of the things that he had done that offended God. Perhaps he was thinking of his own sin in persecuting the church. One had to forget one’s past–Paul knew that. Too much focus on past wrongs might cause a person to become paralyzed with guilt and/or shame.

Paul may also have been thinking of the religious life he left behind–the life of a Pharisee. He was, in his community, a man of considerable stature–his future was bright. Earlier in Philippians chapter 3, Paul describes himself as “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” He had what many of his contemporaries would have envied. But those things he chose to forget.

We need to choose to forget both the good and the bad. Having repented, we need to forget how bad we were, our sin, our wrong conduct, our failures. We cannot focus on them or make them the center of our thoughts. We need also to choose to forget our successes–who we were in the world’s eyes, how much we had accomplished–our bright future. Forget–choose to forget. We choose to forget not because these things are not important–but rather because in comparison to the prize we are seeking there are not important.

Reaching Forward
Reaching is an action which speaks of intentionality beyond one’s current location or circumstances. It suggests there are thin–a goingt location, beyond our ability, perhaps even beyond our imagination. Thus, we must reach forward. It is a complement to the forgetting what lies behind. Reaching forward necessarily requires letting go of what was before, things that mattered in the past become less significant as we move toward what lies ahead.
So what might Paul be thinking of as he speaks of “reaching forward to those things which are ahead?” Paul might be thinking of the work for God, e.g. the next city he will visit or the next group of people to whom he will minister. He might also be thinking of spiritual progress such as a greater closeness to God, a greater freedom from sin, a greater zeal for God and bringing Him glory, or a greater sorrow over sin. But he might also be thinking of setting himself more steadfastly toward heaven and eternal life with God.

Pressing Toward the Goal
Paul tells us that he presses toward the goal–further emphasizing the forward momentum of his life. The word “press” is not passive. It speaks of determination and diligence. Paul is telling us that with great energy and desire, he moves toward the goal. He sees it, and with all the force he can muster, he explodes in that direction. But what is the goal? Paul says it’s “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” One day we, all believers will receive a call from God–a call to come out of time and into eternity. I believe that is the prize Paul was looking to, pressing toward eternal life forever with God without suffering, sin, sorrow, tears, pain or separation.

Why does Paul consider this one thing and not three things? I believe he refers to this combination of actions as “one thing” because they must all be happening together–in concert. Reaching forward is just how the press toward the goal is initiated. The reach turns into the press as we gain momentum and neither the reaching nor the pressing can happen unless we forget the things behind, things which cling to us and threaten to hold us back, and move our focus onto what lies ahead. Once free from the past and reaching out toward what lies ahead, which will be different for every believer, we are moving, toward God. As we catch His scent or spy the train of His robe, we are energized to press toward the prize–toward what every breath has been leading to since we took our first one. Toward God.

May this one thing that Paul speaks of be the one thing you do as well!

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