When the Lord laid a phrase from Philippians 3:13, “Reaching Forth,” on my heart for our church theme in 2020, I had no idea that less than three months into the year, our plans would be derailed by a global pandemic.
Yet, what I love about God’s Word is that it is applicable in every moment in history. And since our theme was based on Scripture, not on our plans, it is still applicable. In fact, it has been just what our church needs.
I’m a believer in setting goals and establishing check points along the way. But if you are like me, your goals for this year have been rewritten multiple times. In fact, over the past several months it seems survival is as much a goal as advancement!
But there is more to “reaching forth” than setting and achieving goals—even when those goals are Christ centered and gospel focused. In fact, in the context of Philippians 3, the verbiage suggests posture as much as product. That is, “reaching forth” is a posture of someone with their eyes on Christ as they focus every muscle of effort toward “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Remember, Philippians is a prison epistle. Paul certainly did not have the physical freedom to reach forth in his ministry plans as he would like. Yet, he did continue to reach forth toward Christ, and he continued to urge the Philippian church to do the same.
Not as though I had 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.—Philippians 3:12–14
What does this posture of reaching forth look like? I believe the text indicates three aspects:
Reach forth with a Humble Heart
Paul began with the acknowledgment that he still had a long way to go.
One of the blessings for all of us—on both a personal and a ministry level—during this coronavirus season is the reminder that we don’t have it all figured out. For me, there has been an earnest dependance upon the Lord for wisdom and direction that, aside from the physical and mental toll, has been spiritually refreshing. There is something about coming to the Lord in complete dependence for every decision that strengthens our walk with Him.
None of us have arrived. And that should encourage us.
Rather than having something to prove about our spiritual walk or ministry prowess, Christ simply calls us to abide in Him. He is the vine; we are not.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.—John 15:4–5
Do you want to reach forth for Christ? Begin with an honest and humble spiritual assessment.
Reach forth with a Reconciled Mind
Paul said he reached forward “forgetting those things which are behind.” There is much in our rearview mirror that we must dismiss if we are to successfully navigate forward.
In Paul’s context, he was forgetting the self-righteousness of his past and reaching forward clothed in the full righteousness of Christ (verses 4–9). But lest you assume that Paul had a past that was easy to forget, remember that his self-righteousness was a comfortable home for deeply-regrettable sins—including the violent persecution of Christians.
Whatever our past holds—self-righteousness, regret, hurt, failure, sin—it doesn’t hold the future. And we can’t reach forward for Christ while clinging to the past. To reach forward well, we must be good forgetters.
Obviously, forgetting here does not mean “not able to remember,” because Paul had just listed aspects of his past. But what it does mean is “not choosing to remember.” It is not calling it up on a regular basis to hold onto it in some way. This is the context in which forgiveness includes forgetting. It means we entrust the offence and offender to God and don’t keep calling it to mind.
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:32
In these days of Covid, I suppose all of us have things we need to forget—hurts, failures, offenses committed by others. Forgetting the past enables us to reach forward for the future.
Reach forth with a Godly Passion
What I love most about Paul’s determination to reach forth is the intensity behind it. This was no casual expression of a lukewarm Christian who was willing to pursue an opportunity for service if it fell into his lap. This was a red-hot determination to press forward in the face of obstacles. That is the kind of passion we need in this coronavirus season.
Spiritual passion begins with the Who not the why. Carnal passion, on the other hand, has those reversed.
A carnal Christian is willing to exert himself only if the why is great enough—if he sees the upside. A spiritual Christian is so in love with Christ that he will find a way to love and serve Him regardless of what it costs.
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God….I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.—Psalm 84:2, 10
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.—Revelation 3:15–19
Like other churches, there are ways in which our ministry plans for this year have slowed. And yet, they haven’t stopped because our church family has continued reaching forth in their spirit.
These principles are true on a personal level as well. I don’t know what these past months have held for you. I don’t know what personal goals or spiritual disciplines you may have dropped or struggled to maintain during this challenging season. But I do know that when momentum or motivation lags, the renewal you need is found in Christ.
If there is an area of your life or service in which you are finding yourself frustrated and defeated, remember that “reaching forth” is a posture, not a product. Rather than giving up in discouragement or spinning your wheels by just “trying harder,” consider the patience and sustained effort of a long-distance runner. Keep your eyes on Christ, and keep the posture of reaching forth.