Philippians 3:13-14 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.
Two things were important to Paul as he raced toward heaven: forgetting about the past, and straining toward the future. He did not dwell on former achievements or failures. He kept his eyes on the finish line, and pressed on with all his might.
If you have ever done something good for God, you might be tempted to rest, as though you have done enough. And if you’ve ever done something terrible, you might be tempted to dwell on it. But neither one is worth the time, and both must be forgotten in order to press on.
God remembers our good deeds so we don’t have to. And he forgets our sins, so we can forget them too. Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17), says Hebrews. Like Paul, we can forget about the past and strain toward the future as we approach the finish line.
Philippians 3:16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Few things are more common to older believers than slippage. [T]he worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word (Mark 4:19), said Jesus. But this is not acceptable. If we are not growing as much we ought to be, we should at least live up to what we have already attained.
Years ago I could do a double back flip, but I have not lived up to that. I could bench one hundred sixty-five pounds, but I have not lived up to that either. I could ride my bike a hundred miles, but I have not lived up to that either. But I am still growing spiritually, and seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). I wish I could do the other things, but I am doing the most important thing. And in the end, that is what matters most.
Philippians 3:20 [O]ur citizenship is in heaven.
Philippi was a Roman colony and they were proud of their citizenship. Most had never been to Rome, but they were part of the world’s greatest empire, and enjoyed that distinction. Paul was also a Roman citizen, which gave him certain legal rights, that probably saved his life (Acts 23:27).
But if being a citizen of Rome was good, being a citizen of heaven is better. Citizens of Rome eventually died, but citizens of heaven never die. Roman citizenship could be lost, but heavenly citizenship can never be lost (John 10:28). The Roman empire faded away, but the kingdom of heaven will last forever.
A young lady immigrated to the United States and stayed the rest of her life. She became a model citizen, loved her adopted country, and never went anywhere else. After she died, her children went to the bank, and opened her safe deposit box. Inside they found another box which was securely locked. They drilled through the box and found an envelope containing a legal document: her United States citizenship. Nothing in the world was more precious to her than that piece of paper. And nothing is more precious to us than our citizenship in heaven.
Philippians 3:20b And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul wanted believers to eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ. He did not want them to be indifferent, or to wait passively, but to watch and wait expectantly, hopefully and joyfully.
I had a flash of inspiration, one day, when I was about fourteen years old. I rallied my siblings to clean the house while our mother was away for several hours. Because there were six of us, the house was seldom spotless, so we worked together for half a day to make it as clean as we could. It even became a race to see how much we could accomplish before our mother returned. When she finally arrived she was delighted, and we were just as happy. That’s how it is with Christ. The better we serve him now, the more excited we will be for his return.
Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters . . . stand firm in the Lord.
Since Philippi was a Roman colony with a military presence, Paul’s instruction to stand firm may recall the duty of a soldier to stand firm in battle. Soldiers could be punished for not fighting well, and an untimely retreat could even bring the death penalty. If we think of Christianity as a battlefield, we will not retreat too soon. Stand firm in the Lord.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
One of the most attractive things about Paul was his ability to rejoice, even in the midst of hardship. He did not write to the Philippians while vacationing on a Mediterranean beach. He was chained to a guard while under house arrest. It was not a dungeon, but it wasn’t entirely pleasant.
The Philippians may have also recalled that when Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they were flogged, thrown in prison, and fastened to the stocks. Their bodies were wracked with pain, but around midnight, they sang hymns to God (Acts 16:23-25). From this we learn that whoever has God has all they need to be happy.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-18), wrote the prophet Habakkuk.
Reflection and Review
Why shouldn’t Christians dwell on the past?
Why aren’t all believers eager for the Lord’s return?
Why can we be joyful even when life is hard?