Looking back, looking ahead
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. Philippians 3:13,14
Steven J. Pagels
You probably don’t need me to tell you that a new year will begin on January 1, but you might not know how the first month of our year got its name. We can thank the ancient Romans for giving us January, which they named after Janus, the god of gates and doorways. Because Janus was also known as the god of transitions, he is usually pictured as a man with two faces pointing in opposite directions.
Even though the apostle Paul was a Roman citizen, he didn’t believe in any of the gods and goddesses of Roman mythology. He put his trust in the one true God. But from his prison cell, Paul found himself in a similar position to Janus—looking back and looking ahead.
Forgetting the past
Paul’s time in prison had given him plenty of time to think. What do you think he thought about? All the hearts he had touched with the gospel? All the people who still needed to be reached with the gospel? His brothers and sisters in Christ who were being persecuted because of their faith? The many Christians he persecuted before Jesus brought him to faith?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul was troubled by the sins of his past, because I am too. When I look back at the last 12 months, I don’t like what I see. I see too many missed opportunities. I see myself giving in to the same temptations. I see all the evil I have done and all the good I have failed to do. I want to do better, but I don’t. I resolve to try harder, but I still fall short. My guilty conscience constantly reminds me that I am a sinner.
It is difficult for sinful human beings to forget about the past. It is impossible for us to get rid of our guilt by ourselves, but we don’t have to because our Savior already has. He doesn’t hold our sins over us. God has forgiven all our sins, and when God forgives, he forgets. That helps us forget too.
Anticipating the future
Paul turned his focus on the future, but not on the day he would eventually be released from prison or on everything he planned to do after he was set free. Paul wasn’t looking ahead as much as he was looking up: “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.”
There is nothing wrong with setting goals—personal, professional or self-improvement—as long as Christians remember that we are striving for something much greater. We look forward to the day when we will reach the ultimate goal. We anticipate the day when the Lord will give us the ultimate prize.
Because of what Jesus did for us on Good Friday, we can’t wait for him to return on the Last Day. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we look forward to the day when we will also rise and see him coming down from the clouds. He will take us by the hand and take us to heaven, and we will be with the Lord forever. It will be a great day, a glorious day, a day we will never forget.
Contributing editor Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 102, Number 1
Issue: January 2015
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