Straining Forward to What Lies Ahead

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

It’s always important to keep moving forward.  Any airplane pilot will tell you that.  Come to think of it, so will any bicyclist.  I remember well the day in 8th Grade when I was riding my bike to school.  I was in the middle of crossing the road when the right brake suddenly fell off the front handle and into the spokes of my front wheel, immediately locking the wheel and causing me to come to a sudden and unexpected stop in the middle of the road.  This was the kind of sudden stop that flipped the bike and sent me flying into the hard concrete, resulting in a broken collarbone.

So yes…moving forward is always a good thing.

This is especially true when it comes to Christianity.  The church, as well as each Christian individually, must keep moving forward.  Paul knew this, as shown above in Philippians 3:13-14.  Peter also knew this, as seen when God inspired him to exhort us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).  Any Christian and any church who wants to please God must grow and never stop growing.  As Paul put it, we must always be “straining forward.”

If we stop, then we prove ourselves forgetful of just how great a blessing salvation from hell really is.  We show that we do not take our relationship with God seriously.

Doers of the Word do not forget (James 1:22-25).  Those who do nothing but hear – the ones who only listen to the sermon, if that, and then go on with their week and do not give it another thought – forget.  They also deceive themselves.  They think God is pleased with them…but he’s not. 

Doers of the Word obey the Word.  That’s what makes them effectual.  They bring about good effects.  They will be blessed in what they do.

If any church wants to be effectual in the work of the Lord and wishes to be blessed by God in what they do, they all must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  All of them must always be growing and never move backwards.

Again, Paul knew this.  In order for him to move forward, he first had to re-evaluate the direction of his life (Phil. 3:7-8).  He had been the most promising young rabbi of his time.  He had it all…a good life, a great education, being at the top of his class, a citizen of the nation which could claim they were God’s chosen people.

Yet when he encountered Christ on the Damascus Road, something changed.  He changed.  He changed his direction.  He re-evaluated the path he was on and realized there was a better way.

So he made the changes he needed to make.  He did so even when making those changes meant that all the good things he previously had going for him had to be cast aside.  Jesus was more important.  Coming to know Jesus was more important.  Doing what Jesus wanted him to do was more important.

There’s a reason God wants us to examine ourselves while we remember Christ’s sacrifice during communion (1 Cor. 11:28).  The only way we as individual Christians and as a church collectively will move forward is by re-evaluating the direction in which we had been heading, seeing whatever weaknesses were in that path, repenting of them, and then choosing a better path.

All Paul wanted was to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).  We have to know Jesus too.  I’m not talking about just knowing ABOUT Jesus.  Lots of people everywhere know ABOUT Jesus.  Even atheists will admit that Jesus was in fact a historical figure. 

No, Christians have to really want deep down in our hearts to know Jesus, and to know him intimately.  To seek first his kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33).  That’s how Christians grow, and that’s how churches grow and move forward when that church is made up of Christians who truly know Christ.

We also need to know the power Jesus has.  The Holy Spirit declared him to be God’s Son “with power” when he was resurrected (Rom. 1:4).  It thrills me that the power of the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead…and that same power is available to us.  Not in a miraculous way, but in a different way (Eph. 3:16, 20).

How do we get this power?  Through the Scriptures…which, by the way, were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). 

Think about it.  How did the Psalmist not sin against God?  By storing up God’s Word in his heart (Ps. 119:11).

What is the power God uses to save?  The gospel, which is found in the Word of God (Rom. 1:16).

How are we born again?  “Through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23).

What will “stand forever,” long after the grass withers and the flower fades?  God’s Word (Is. 40:8).

If we are to move forward, we have to know the power of Christ which we can find in God’s Word.  So never underestimate the importance of reading, studying, and obeying God’s Word every day.  That’s how you come to know Christ.  That’s how you have access to the power of God to help you grow.  When an entire congregation is filled with Christians who do this, that church is well on its way to moving forward and pressing on.

Paul also said that he focused on “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13).  It is said that Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady after the war.  She showed him the remains of a grand tree in her front yard that had been cut down by Yankee artillery.  She wanted Lee to condemn the North or at least sympathize with her loss.  Yet all the general said to her was, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.”

When we hold on to something – whether it’s something that hurt us in the past or a mistake we had made, or even the good experiences from our past – we are setting an anchor that keeps us from moving forward as Christians and as a church.

For example, the past two years have been bad for all of us because of COVID.  Well, that was the last two years.  It’s time to move forward.  We can look at the past two years, learn from them the lessons we need to learn, and now look to the present and the future and “strain forward” towards them.

Another example:  We all look fondly back a generation or two to the days of previous decades when the Lord’s church was growing very rapidly in number.  Yet generally that’s all we want to do…sigh and remember the good old glory days.  What God would have us do is see what the Lord’s church did back then which contributed to that growth and start doing that today and in the future.  Press on.  Move forward.  Strain forward evangelistically to what lies ahead.

Each of us as individual Christians can all look back on our pasts and see sins and mistake which make us cringe.  Perhaps we think that God has not forgiven us of those sins and mistakes.  Perhaps we cannot forgive ourselves.  Perhaps we think that because of those faults and errors of yesterday we are now no use to God, his cause, our families, or even ourselves.

That is not true at all.  Paul never forgot how he had persecuted Christians, but he didn’t let that stop him from becoming one of Christianity’s strongest champions.  He learned from his failures and mistakes.  He took those lessons and used them to help him move forward to what God would have him to be. 

That’s what God wants from each of us.  To “strain forward,” which in the Greek means to stretch yourself out toward something.  You know, that can be uncomfortable to do at times.  Ever dropped your car keys in that tiny space between the seat and cup holder?  You know what I’m talking about.

But when we “strain forward to what lies ahead,” when we stretch ourselves out and strain and reach and fight hard and do whatever it takes to achieve the goal…we will move forward in our personal faith and walk with God as a Christian.  We will move forward as a church.  Doing so will stretch you, but that’s a good thing.  Paul had committed to that.  He was going to do whatever he had to do to become whatever God wanted him to be.

He was going to “press on.”  That term literally means “to pursue.”  If you pursue something, you work hard to get it.  Think of Wile E. Coyote and all he did to try to catch that roadrunner.

Christians, your relationship with God must not be passive.  It has to be active.  We have to pursue God.  We have to chase after the things which God wishes us to do (Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:1; 1 Tim. 6:11).  We have to press on.  Pursue it.  Catch it.  Keep it.  Hold on to it.  That’s how churches and Christians move forward.

Towards what?  “…the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  What has God called those who are in Christ Jesus to be?

“Conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29), which basically means to reflect Jesus.  When people see you, Christians, you have to reflect the image of Jesus back to them like a mirror.  They have to see Jesus in you.  His priorities must be your priorities.  His teachings must be your teachings.  His work must be your work.  His temperament must be your temperament.  His kindness must be your kindness.  His compassion must be your compassion.  His love must be your love.

Think on these things…

Jon

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