Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
I came across a news story in Wednesday’s papers about “Millennials who rise above their troubles.” It is part of a series entitled “Generation Grit” which highlights Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s who have demonstrated resilience in difficult situations, and yet (or because of it?) have a heart for the community. It was an account of how a man was inspired by a previous “Generation Grit” story and it stopped him from attempting suicide.
Also on that page was another story about a young woman who overcame a dysfunctional childhood, and now works to help neglected children restore their relationships with their families. What tied both these stories together other than the fact that they bounced back from their troubled pasts to a place of relative peace, was that both of the persons in focus were Christians. And their faith had a part to play in their ability to persevere through their grim circumstances.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians, on the surface, seems to be also urging his readers to do the same thing in “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” But reading the context tells us a somewhat different picture. In Paul’s case, what he had to leave behind was not failure, but success. He had just recounted the reasons that he had to put “confidence in the flesh,” a set of credentials anyone would and should be proud of. But he now “counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
He understands that so often in our walk with Christ, there is a great reversal in how we keep score. What had been considered profit is now loss. And what was once thought of as loss is now a gain. It is a difficult concept for us to grasp because we have been taught from a very young age to deserve everything we get. We live by the principle of cause and effect. However, Paul knows that the paradigm of God’s kingdom is no longer cause/effect but death and resurrection. Which is why he says that his goal now is to “know (Christ) and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). And this is what he presses on for. This is what he is “straining forward” in faith towards.
In the light of this, it probably makes sense that the two examples of “Generation Grit” had to go through suffering to reach the place where they are. In essence, they learnt that the only way up is by going down. This is the paradox of our faith. This is the direction of our journey as disciples. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24)