As many of you are aware, I am a bit of a foodie. I love going to different restaurants and sampling dishes from various cultures. But there have been times when you spend a significant sum of money and what arrives on the plate seems to be short on food in comparison to what you paid. In the end, you have the salad, appetizers, the main course, and even dessert and you still are hungry… you want more!
Did you know that the Christian life can be like that? Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: 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.”
I love that Paul of all people, a man of God at the highest level, says here, “I’m not there yet.” If he can have that kind of dissatisfaction with his life with Christ, then so can we. On the other hand, we might find this convicting because maybe we are satisfied with where our relationship with God is at?
We need to remember what Paul was experiencing here is a holy discontentment which means he is not dissatisfied with Christ or salvation rather he is dissatisfied with his relationship with God. In fact, Paul enjoyed all he had in Christ including His presence and His gifts. But Paul still wasn’t satisfied because he didn’t experience ultimate satisfaction in God, Himself.
I really want to empathize this point. I don’t want us to get distracted and get ourselves worked up or anxious, or a sense of God’s dissatisfaction with you. Rather, I want us to dig deeper into the Scriptures and discover or rediscover this God and His Son who did so much on our behalf. This type of discontentment drives us to seek God more deeply through His Word and prayer.
This discontent is not about getting stuck where we are either. It is easy for us to not even try because we feel like growth or joy are impossible in our current situation. If we dwell in our weaknesses or the things in our life that are dysfunctional without keeping our eyes on the gospel that tells us we are accepted and approved eternally in Christ and totally justified before God, we can get ourselves into what one author called the “analysis paralysis.” Instead, what Paul is urging is to take this discontentment and use it to drive us to God and into the joy available to us. He attacks his own apathy and energy from different angles.
Paul comments in verse 13, “one thing I do,” but like any preacher, he lists five things to do: Forget what lies behind, Strain forward to what lies ahead, Press on towards the goal, Think “this way” and Hold true to what you have attained. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing on each point.
The first point, “forgetting what lies behind,” is crucial for each of us in dealing with discontentment. This forgetfulness doesn’t refer to everything that is behind us because the Scripture tells us to remember over and over. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to build altars of remembrance. He commands them to remember His faithfulness to the patriarchs. In the New Testament, Paul says the opposite, reminding them of the gospel that was preached to them.
What Paul is reminding the people is to forget anything that might rob them of the pursuit of Christ. This includes high and low points, anything that takes away from God being first and foremost in our lives. Even high moments can take away from God, like pride and success.
But it isn’t just past victories we need to fear, but more obviously, it is past failures. We need to be careful to not to let today’s pursuit of Jesus Christ be affected by something dark behind us, be it sin or struggle. Like every thought, whether it is something done to us or something we have done, we need to take it captive to the obedience of Christ and not let it keep us from seeking Him.
It is easy to get bogged down in the idea that what we’ve done or what we’ve gone through is simply too much for God’s grace to overcome. We believe that in Christ we are untouchable, unreachable or unhealable. Not letting go of these things is a subtle form of pride. By not letting go, we assume that it is too much of a problem for Jesus to handle. People can be helped but my life is beyond His ability. He can help Paul, Peter, everyone, but my issues are kryptonite to the grace of God. This is refusing to forget what lies behind.
On the flip side of that, because of the cross and because salvation is from Jesus alone, we can actually come to boast all the more in our pasts. Now, we do not boast as a way of glorifying sin or championing ourselves, rather we boast in what God has done in and for us through His grace and love. Paul does that in 1 Timothy 1:12-16:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Elsewhere, he says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness”. Paul recognized his own inadequacy and sinfulness that prompts his confession of “I’m not there yet.”
In the end, Paul isn’t hindered by the fact that he doesn’t measure up. He is driven by it. He can boast of his weakness because he knows there is power available to him through the gospel. All that is needed is to humbly confess your weakness and need of Him. This is another example of the right kind of discontentment at work with our desire for more.