One of the most often rehearsed quotes from the lips of the apostle Paul can be found in the third chapter of the book of Philippians. After listing all the things he has been through—both good and bad—he reaffirms his intention to continue to pursue Christ by saying:
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.
When we consider this text, we usually think about Paul’s exclusive focus (“this one thing I do”). We are inspired by someone who is following, reaching, and pressing toward the finish line despite life’s challenges. However, in the examination of the text we often fail to consider the imperative word that makes his strivings possible; it is the word forgetting. Paul was a deliberate and intentional forgetter.
One of the things that keeps so many people from going forward is their unwillingness to forget or set aside things from their past. Many are unwilling to forget their prosperity, position, and possessions in order to fully follow Christ.
Paul, no doubt, had all these things. He was a Pharisee and a man of prominence, and it can be assumed that a good life was attached to these things. But Paul considered them waste and dung in comparison to living for Christ. Today, too many of us may have worldly attachments that keep us from serving Christ, and we may need to learn to forget them just as Paul was willing to do.
We also have to learn to be willing to forget our pains and problems. Many Christians cannot go forward in their walk with Christ until they are willing to lay aside some hurt, offense or problem. Like a computer that has locked up because it cannot resolve a problem, we too often get stuck on a recent difficulty we can’t seem to get over. The result is a heart that is not focused on Christ, a spirit unable to pursue right things, and an attitude that lacks grace and peace.
Forgetting past hurts, offenses, problems, and failures is necessary in order to genuinely press toward the mark of Christ-likeness. We should learn from life’s injuries, not be held captive by them. Forgetting is often the prerequisite to going forward. As we follow the example of the Apostle Paul and echo his words of “this one thing I do,” let’s not miss the truth that in order to reach ahead and press forward it may be necessary to forget some things.
Let me offer three thoughts about the importance of going forward and overcoming the offenses and hurts of the past.
1. Looking Back Encourages the Possibility of Going Back
When it comes to offenses one of the best things we can do to overcome them is to stop rehearsing the hurt in our ears and our heart. When we do this we begin to justify our bitterness toward the other person. This keeps us from focusing on forgiveness, grace, and the fact that we have often been guilty of the same failings.
Looking back keeps us from looking to God for help and the potential of considering our offender in a better light. If our eyes and heart are turned in the wrong direction and we don’t become deliberate forgetters, we then give place to the devil to spoil our spirit and we allow him to keep us in a cage of our own making.
Forgiving and forgetting are keys to true freedom in the Christian life. It is sometimes best to forget what is behind you so that it has no opportunity to overtake you again.
2. We Do Not Want Our Response to Fail of the Grace of God
In the twelfth chapter of the book of Hebrews, we find encouragement to lift up hands which hang down and to make straight paths for our feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way. In offense and injury it is possible for us to develop a lame spirit and hard heart. However, God provides all the grace we need to be bigger than our hurts and offenses.
Bitterness and anger are deliberate choices to avoid the resources we have in Christ. When this happens we run two risks. The first is to allow the injury to do more damage to us than it should have. Secondly, we run the risk of our response being more evil or hurtful than our actual injury. I have watched people, hurt over small things, respond negatively in a really big way. They turned a molehill into a mountain and became viler in spirit than their supposed offender ever was.
When the Pharisees condemned people harshly for their sins, Jesus in essence told them their response was more evil than the sins of the people they were accusing. We need to go forward in forgiving so that we don’t become worse than the very thing we think we hate.
3. There Is Much to Be Gained and Learned by Forgetting
Paul pressed forward for a prize. To him there was something greater to be gained by moving ahead and not lingering in the past. That is true for us in terms of offense as well. There is simply nothing to be gained by going back to past hurts and refusing to get over them. However, by forgiving and pressing forward, we gain a greater Christ-likeness. We gain strength, maturity, understanding, and patience. We grow in wisdom and faith and give both our offenders and ourselves the opportunity to learn from the past and be better in the future.
There are many reasons we should forget the past and go forward. Chief among them is the reward of knowing we have done what is right.