Joy at Looking to Future Perfection in Christ (Philippians 3:12–16)

When a man is imprisoned and not sure if he';ll ever be released alive, he';s not prone to think or talk a lot about the future — unless it';s to wonder if he has one. But Paul, in the midst of the suffering and persecution he';s going through in that Roman prison, takes a forward-looking approach to his faith:

I don';t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12)

Essentially, Paul is saying that he knows that God has a plan for him to reach spiritual maturity, which was what He had called Paul to in the first place. And Paul speaks as if finishing that race is a certainty. Paul wants his readers to understand that what lay behind them is nothing compared with what is ahead, and that is the heavenly prize God has called each believer to receive at the end of the race He has for each of us to run.

Focusing on the future God has for us is a recurring theme in the Bible, and it';s the subject of one of the best-known and most beloved Old Testament verses: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,'; says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope';” (Jeremiah 29:11).

For that reason, the apostle stands as an example to us modern-day Bible readers of looking forward to what is ahead, not looking back longingly at better days or regretfully at what used to be. This passage shows us that Christianity is very much a religion of looking forward and not backward. God calls each of us to keep our eyes focused ahead and not behind as we press on.

Study Questions

What kinds of things in the past do you believe God wants believers to put behind them as they “press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize”?

Why do you think Paul strongly implies that it';s not a good idea to focus on the past but a great idea to focus on the future?

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