Read Phil. 3:12-16:
Last week we read that Paul’s desire was to “know him (Jesus) and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
And in verse 12, he says, I am not there (obviously), but this is my goal! This is what I am after in life. I am not swayed to the left or the right! I want to know Jesus. His power. His suffering. To be like Him. To be raised with Him.
Paul says that he is not already perfect which is in opposition of other opposers of the gospel who say that they have reached a state of perfection, in effect, “They have arrived!” They got heaven now. Here’s the tragedy with those who want heaven now or who think heaven is now; they are living their best life now. This is sad, because last I checked, we are still stuck in a sin-filled world with effects of the fall all around us.
If anyone could get there, it would’ve been Paul who wrote most of the NT and enjoyed intimate fellowship with Jesus like no other and was trained by none other than the Holy Spirit in person, in the desert of Arabia. But here he openly confesses that he isn’t perfect, he hasn’t arrived. “But” he says…
v. 12b: but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Paul uses some strong language here. Press in Greek is diṓkō; to pursue, prosecute, persecute, but also to pursue in a good sense (with repeated acts of enmity or intensity)
“To make” my own and “made me” his own are the word “katalambánō”; this is a military term which means to lay hold of, seize, with eagerness. Paul uses such strong words because God so strongly took hold of him and he is getting across to us a war-time mentality.
Do you remember that story? On the road to Damascus God shined a bright light on Paul, knocked his butt off his horse, blinded him, spoke directly to him, and told him what his plan for him was. God forcefully took hold of Paul in a loving way. God took hold of Paul, now Paul is taking hold of His kingdom, with force.
Doesn’t this sound familiar to a quote that Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew? Let’s go there to see if maybe this is what Paul is getting after with the language he uses here, because the what he says after he uses this language is that important as Paul says “But one thing I do” with this kind of intensity…
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12
The kingdom of heaven is the topic here and I believe it’s the topic Paul is referring to in the passage in Phil. 3. The goal is to take hold of the kingdom of God and inherit a new body (Phil 3:11). So we need to unpack what the kingdom is that Paul speaks of.
The kingdom of God is about Jesus our King establishing his rule and reign over all creation, defeating the human and spiritually evil powers, bringing full order, exacting justice, bringing up the lowly and poor, bringing to nothing those who are arrogant, clothing for the naked and destitute, and being knelt to by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, being declared Lord!
The kingdom is both a journey and a destination, both a rescue operation in this broken world and a perfect outcome in the new earth to come, both already started and not yet finished. Praise God!
Just how exactly is the kingdom of God advanced and entered or how is it forcefully pursued with an upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Jesus is essentially saying this: “the kingdom of heaven is forcefully or violently advancing, in a figurative sense, against the kingdom of darkness (Matthew 12:28; cf. Luke 10:18) and those who enter it through faith in Jesus exercise a sort of divine force or violence against all things that oppose it.”
The church needs more “violent” men and women who take the kingdom of heaven by force. The church is in need of men and women who have been captivated by faith in Jesus to pursue him passionately and powerfully, doing whatever it takes to live the life of faith required by the radical message of the kingdom and to share that message of hope and healing with others in word and deed.
Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom, not through retaliation or force, but through a way of preaching and living that was at once peaceful and relentless. He was willing to die, and did die, for our sake and for the sake of His kingdom. Through His example we learn that the manner of the kingdom’s arrival must reflect the nature of the kingdom itself. And those who belong to His kingdom must live in a manner worth of His kingdom (Phil. 1:27).
We cannot say that we have tasted of God’s kingdom, and know parts of it, and have received a heart to inherit it and not say and do as Paul says and does to some extent:
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
(The following notes have been adapted from Mending the Soul, chapter 8, by Steve Tracy)
Okay. We need to stop here for a bit before we close up shop for today and address this passage because of the utter misuse of it in the past and currently. Many Christians argue that we don’t need to understand all the things that happened in the past to be able to move forward victoriously into the future because of this passage.
Looking back at our past wounds is often said to be “blame shifting”, which only leads to destructive bitterness. Others say that revisiting all the junk of the past only serves to prolong the pain. “What’s done is done. Why stir up the past? It can’t be changed. Just focus on obedience to God in the present.”
Time after time I’ve heard Christians use Philippians 3:13 to prove these points. Actually, it was used on me this past week from someone who wants to just overlook past sexual sin and abuse, as well as recent neglect and manipulation. This is an ignorant and completely misguided view of this passage. The painful events of our past have more than likely created a deep-seated trauma, shame, and distorted perceptions that negatively shape the present until they are exposed and challenged, not to mention the destructive nature of hidden and neglected sin.
“Facing the reality and impact of our past is implicit in Philippians 3:13. When Paul tells the Philippians that believers should forget what lies behind, he isn’t saying we should simply put the past behind us, forget about it, and focus on the future. He can’t be saying this, because just a few verses earlier he gave a detailed account of his past (3:1–7), including his previous abuse of Christians (3:6). It must have been very painful for Paul to reflect on the fact that in the past he had personally abused Christians, but he doesn’t shrink back from such reflection and confession.”
It was Paul’s self-righteousness apart from Christ that gives us the correct context of “forgetting what lies behind”. Paul clearly understood his past, that’s how he could so freely speak of it without shame. In short, we can’t put the past behind us until we have wrestled with the reality of what we’ve done, and/or what’s been done to us. Actually it is the abusers most of the time who want to put the past behind so they won’t be found out. Also, the abused can think the past is behind because of toxic shame and minimizing the sin done against them.
So let’s do this briefly. Adapted from Mending the Soul, I’m gonna lay out four main reasons why believers should face their brokenness (take an honest look at their past abuse and pain) as they seek to become spiritually and emotionally healthy and ”press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
1) To Express Faith in God: Facing your sinful past or deeply wounded past, is a huge statement of faith in God. Dan Allender, in his book, the Wounded Heart puts it succinctly: “Denial is an affront to God. It assumes that a false reality is better than the truth. It assumes that God is neither good nor strong enough to help during the recall process. Ultimately, the choice to face past [abuse] memories is the choice not to live a lie.”
Refusing to deal with your junk is a passive denial of God’s existence or power to heal your pain. Because our denial of our painful reality is so natural to our sin nature, it is rarely labeled as sinful. But it is deeply sinful and it deeply affects you and others in your life and it hinders you from being able to live out today’s passage.
Nor do we understand how much our “not dealing with it” dishonors the God who loves you. The Bible says that God is a God of truth (John 14:6). God is the Lord of history, who will ultimately triumph over all human evil (1 Corinthians 15:25–26; Revelation 20:7–15). Scripture declares that nothing, not natural disaster, abuse, or demonic powers, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). Thus, refusal to face the truth about our brokenness is no trivial matter.
“To state it positively, as we refuse to deaden ourselves to the truth and to the pain of our past abuse, we throw ourselves into the arms of the only one who can heal us. This is why Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who are willing to mourn (and to keep on mourning); they are the ones who will experience divine comfort (Matthew 5:4). As long as we minimize the ugliness of our lives, we short-circuit the divinely ordained means of grace. We also short-circuit the experience of God’s power and sufficiency. It is only when we stand naked and broken before him, refusing to ease our pain by lying to ourselves, that we fully taste his sweetness.”
2) To Live in Truth: Facing our brokenness forces us to live in the truth and helps us to identify and extinguish the destructive lies created by the shame of our sin, or the sin done against us. Thus, looking at our painful past is necessary for correcting the distorting effects of shame.
The reality in life is that most children who are abused either blame themselves for the abuse done to them or they minimize their pain or sin done against them. When they become adults, they have to learn to live in truth and place proper blame on the abuser and for themselves, they need take proper responsibility for own sin, without bearing the sin of their offender.
We often do not live in truth when we carry the shame of someone who acted shamelessly. We must go back and deal with that so we do not carry shame of sin that is not ours to carry. You tracking with me? As we face the reality of our brokenness, we can begin to embrace the truth and reject the lies.
3) To Heal: Facing the truth and the pain of our past is necessary for us to do if we are to relieve and heal from the ongoing pain and trauma of past wounds. Unresolved sin and pain from the past always makes it’s way into present life and relationships. Many of us here today have broken relationships today because of our junk being unresolved, thinking if it’s out of sight, then it’s out of mind. This is simply not the case.
What we do is blame-shift and make other people or things the problem in our lives and we leave a trail of destruction and make a fool of ourselves by trying to numb the our pain by controlling others, manipulating, gossiping, judging to make yourself feel better, etc…All this is us trying to be real and feel better, but we are just being frauds! We must heal which means we must go back and deal with our junk.
Let me clarify one thing before we move to the last reason. “The goal of facing our brokenness is not to wallow in the past but to reclaim it in such a way that it loses its destructive grip on the present. In short, trauma symptoms are not healed by ignoring past trauma but by facing, processing, and reinterpreting the trauma.”
4) To Experience Healthy Relationships: Facing the truth and the pain of our past is also necessary in order to experience appropriate, healthy relationships. In other words, we must be honest about others’ sins against us in the past in order to experience appropriate relationships in the present. As we relate in an appropriate manner with abusive people—setting boundaries, reconciling only when they have repented, and so forth—we minimize the risk of additional abuse to ourselves and others, and we increase the likelihood that they will be convicted of their sin.
This is what we are after here at Kineo. As long as we do not relentlessly pursue the wholeness of truth, we are going to be dysfunctional,angry, bitter, hopeless, confused, never fitting in and always blaming others or the system. We long to be healthy, but un-health is rampant and it takes courageous people who get the gospel and believe it to be able to face their past, heal and move forward like Paul closes out here today.
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
At the end of the day, as Christians and citizens of God’s kingdom, we will be changed and will begin to live differently with more intensity for God’s kingdom and against the sin which tries to distort and destroy God’s kingdom and God’s people. Paul says in verse 15 that we should think this way (make it our one goal to take hold of God’s kingdom and not press in after anything that perishes).
He also says that if we don’t think this way and we are believers, then God will reveal this to you and will change your heart. The implied message is, if you are not a son or daughter of God, you will not believe this or live in light of this kingdom minded news. But for those of us who are children of God, let’s live like we are and “hold true to what we have attained”, the kingdom of God.
The good news is that we know Jesus wins in the end, and as his church, we are privileged to be used by him to usher his kingdom in. His kingdom has come, is coming, and will ultimately be established in the new heaven and new earth, where the wicked will face judgment and the righteous will go unto eternal life where there is no more pain, tears, or death. For Christians, this is the great hope of our salvation. For those who are not Christians, Jesus calls you to come to him and receive this gift of eternal life in this life before that end does come.