How did Paul react to the hold Jesus had on him? Paul did not regard the grip of Jesus as a reason for inactivity. Instead, it caused him to dedicate himself to the role he was given by Jesus. He pressed on like an athlete struggling through the pain barrier in a race or like a hunter persisting in tracking down his prey. This terminology indicates that effort is required from Christians if they wish to please Christ.
Paul realised that if he was to press forward he could not look back. He had to forget the things that were behind. This would include his successes as well as his failures. What would we think of an athlete who, after jumping successfully over an obstacle in the race, spent the rest of the race looking backwards to that successful jump? We know what would happen. Because he would not be looking where he was going, he would go astray from the track. Similarly, if an athlete spent his time looking back to an obstacle at which he made a bad jump, he also would lose his way.
Paul had known many successes as a Christian: churches had been planted, sinners had been converted, books of the Bible had been written, he had been caught up to the third heaven on one occasion. It was fine for Paul to use them as motivations for the next hurdle, but not as excuses for not having present and future experiences of Christ’s love. Paul had known many blessings from Jesus, but he did not allow them to become hindrances to running for Jesus in the present. Paul forgot about them and pressed on.
Paul could have focused on a mistake or mistakes he had made in the past and imagined that he could never recover from these sins. He could have allowed his mind to go back to such events and recall the details and also imagine extra details of the failures. But since he had confessed them to God, he did not dwell on them. Instead he pressed on.
Paul could have focused on the hurts that he had received from others and brooded over them. He had received many such hurts in his life, but here he reveals his secret for dealing with them. He left it with God and forgot about them.
Why did Paul forget about these things, whether they were good or bad? He forgot about them because he knew that concentrating on them would have two negative effects. First, they would hinder him in the present and, second, they would takes his eyes of what lay ahead. As far as he was concerned, the future is more important than the past.
Paul looked forward to a very special day, and this future day cast its light on all that he did. He behaved the way every runner behaves in a race – he anticipated a prize. He wanted to hear the divine assessment, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ and receive from Christ the reward of the inheritance. Therefore Paul was determined that nothing in the past or the present would affect his future.
Paul does not mean that we should forget the mercies of God that we have received. Yet he is stressing that the true Christian outlook looks ahead to what will be received from Christ when he returns. If we keep looking to the past, that is where we will live spiritually and our outlook will become depressed. When we look to the future, all that we can see, as far as Christ is concerned, is bright and will give much encouragement. We don’t only follow Paul’s example, we also follow Christ’s example as we run ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb. 12:2).