Christians labor in the kingdom, living the Christian life, that God might be glorified and that souls of others might be saved. However, there is also an inestimable prize that they all desire to obtain for themselves—the prize of eternal life in heaven. Not that it is a prize that they desire to hoard to themselves; it is not a prize with a limited number of recipients. While “they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24), in the Father’s house are “many mansions” (John 14:2). But even with a potentially limitless number of recipients of the heavenly prize, very few will receive it. When Jesus was asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?”, He replied, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). Even the faithful apostle Paul knew that he could become “a castaway” (“disqualified,” New King James Version) from receiving the heavenly prize (1 Cor. 9:27).
But by no means did Paul resign himself to disqualification—he doggedly and determinedly pushed forward that he might receive his prize. And he strove for his prize according to a plan:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phlp. 3:13-14).
The ability to forget could be considered a truly Christian virtue. No, not the ability to forget where you parked your car, or to forget a person’s name thirty seconds after you meet. But the ability to put out of the mind useless distractions that could easily become focal points can keep our major task from becoming unnecessarily difficult.
Before he obeyed the Gospel, Paul was the envy of the Jews. He was of high birth, the best training, exceptional ability, directed ambition; and because of this he was able to say, “[I] profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation” (Gal. 1:14; compare with Phlp. 3:4-6). But once Paul became a follower of Jesus Christ, his previous achievements and goals could no longer dominate his desires. And they did not: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phlp. 3:7-8). But Paul goes beyond saying those things were “loss”; he goes beyond saying those things were “dung”—he says they were forgotten.
There are things that we all need to put behind us; there are things that we need to “forget” when we become Christians. Like Paul, we may need to put our past accomplishments behind us. Especially is this so if our “accomplishments” were actually contrary to the cause of Christ (compare with Acts 26:9-11). In addition to past accomplishments, we need to forget past failures. Sometimes people get it in their heads that they are doomed to failure. Of course, if that remains their attitude, they are doomed to failure.
We need to forget the past pleasures of sin. When one repents, he turns his back on all those ways that are repugnant to God, though that person may once have derived pleasure from them. “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings (“drinking parties,” NKJV), and abominable idolatries” (1 Pet. 4:3). We need to forget the times others have wronged us and have refused to repent. True, there can be no real forgiveness without repentance (Luke 17:3-4); but for one to go on harboring grudges hurts oneself far greater than the transgressor.
Once one has put aside any unnecessary mental, emotional, and spiritual baggage, he is now ready to apply himself to the task at hand. When running a race, an athlete cannot be distracted by the spectators, other runners, or by his own anxiety. Every inch of his body and every thought of his mind are given to his goal. Likewise, Paul single-mindedly strove for his goal, “reaching forth unto those things which are before.” He spoke of himself as doing just “one thing” (Phlp. 3:13).
If we desire to receive our heavenly prize, we must also single-mindedly strive for the goal. The Hebrews writer exhorts, “. . . let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2). To run the Christian race, any sins that arise must be addressed as quickly as possible, before they grow into greater problems. Paul knew that self-discipline was crucial to his receiving the prize (1 Cor. 9:25-27).
Also, the common encumbrances of life must be set aside as much as possible. While focusing on the minutiae of life, one can find the direction of his life completely altered from its heavenly course. There can be so many cares that fill our lives that we no longer have any place for the main thing. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33, emphasis LM). We must keep the main thing the main thing.
The calling of God is a high, or “upward” (NKJV), calling. Some believe in a “plateau religion.” The Judaizing teachers Paul opposed taught, “Climb up to this point, and you are safe. Be circumcised, keep this list of commandments, and Heaven is yours.” Some today convince themselves, “I have done enough; Heaven is my sure reward.” Such people might want to ask themselves, “Have I done more for the Lord than the apostle Paul?” In Philippians 3:12-13, Paul repeats emphatically that he has not yet arrived at his destination; he has not yet achieved his goal.
There are so many who enter the Christian race, but simply never finish. “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Some simply lose their focus—they “are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14). Others apparently come to decide that the Christian life is impossible to live. It is difficult—“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36, NKJV)—but it is by no means impossible. As a matter of fact, the apostle Peter tells us that if you are consistently adding the Christian graces to your life, “ye shall never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10). He warns about one who fails to add them, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (verse 9). Such a person has lost his focus and his way, and thus has no hope of finishing. But if one begins correctly, in faith (verse 5); and continues correctly, by progressively adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (verses 5-7); he is assured to finish.
“Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward” (2 John 8).
There is nothing shameful in desiring to receive the heavenly prize. The only shame will be for those who fail to receive it when they could have. The apostle Paul by inspiration wrote of his plan to receive the prize by forgetting, focusing, and finishing.
As we obey the Gospel (Rom. 6:3-4), let us be willing to forget our past, all the while embracing our present in confident expectation of the future.
 Gary Summers, “Pressing on Toward the Goal,” in Studies in Philippians and Colossians, ed. Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Valid Publications), p. 147.