Making Friends With Your Past

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There is a question I’ve been asked in a variety of different ways from different women, and it goes something like this:  Is it important for me to examine my past (and they are referring to negative, painful, or traumatic experiences) in order to help me deal with my present struggles/issues and to heal or move on?

Some women ask cautiously – they don’t want to look back into their past because there are a lot of really bad memories there and they don’t want to relive or be re-traumatized by them.

Other women are quite eager to get digging, hoping to find clues that will help explain why they are feeling or behaving a certain way in the present day.

It’s a good question, and one that will take a lot more time to fully flesh out than this blog post will allow, but I thought I’d take some time and record, in a nutshell, my understanding of the subject.

First, let me start by saying that the Bible does not approach the answer in the same way that psychology does.  The Bible says nothing about the need to re-visit the past for the purpose of healing emotional pain and memories in the wounded inner child, dealing with “unfinished business”, or finding a place to discover what lead to or lay the blame for our current problems and behavioral responses in life.   Furthermore, digging deeply into the past is often unproductive and, for some, might be potentially harmful as they are re-traumatized by the experience.  Also, as Stephen Viars rightly acknowledges, “Scripture does not encourage us to view ourselves as hopeless victims”.  So, we need to steer clear of looking into our past in the hopes that our present issues will finally be resolved if we can just find a way to link them to the past.

That does not mean that the past is irrelevant or has nothing to do with today.  However, when dealing with the past, according to Viars, we must be careful to avoid two extreme beliefs: “believing the past is nothing”, or “believing the past is everything.”

What reasons, then, do we have to look into our past, and what do we do with it once we get back there?

God absolutely designed our brains to be able to create and store memories from the past. The fact is we all have a past and memories that go with it.  There’s really no way to escape that; we can’t just wave a wand and make it all magically disappear.

What about Philippians 3:13, you may ask? Does it not teach us that, when it comes to the past, we are supposed to forget about it and leave it behind?  I’ve tried to tackle that question in another post here , but, no, actually, that is not what the Apostle Paul meant when he penned this verse (still, it’s one I’ve often heard quoted by Christians when they are trying to help others deal with their past).

So, if we will always have a past and memories that go with it,

and if we’re not meant to simply forget about them,

then…

What part of our past should we focus our attention on?

A good place to start, according to Dr. Jay Adams, is to focus only on the parts of our past that are affecting our present.  In other words, if a matter has been dealt with and settled in a biblical and God-glorifying way, then it doesn’t need to be brought into the present; it is a past issue, and one that needs to be put behind us. That doesn’t mean that we will never again have memories about it, but it does mean that whenever memories of it unnecessarily get brought into the present that we don’t allow it to begin governing our present life in an unbiblical way.  If we have dealt with an issue biblically, then we should be able to talk presently about the event and people in a way that is God-glorifying and full of grace and forgiveness.  We also see the matter with what Rick Thomas calls “sovereign clarity” – the ability to “perceive the Lord’s thoughts – as much as His thoughts can be ascertained-about what happened to [us ] (Isaiah 55:8,9).”

What, from our past, might we still need to deal with then?

  1. Unrepented sin
  2. Unforgiveness
  3. Habituated, unbiblical response patterns

Jesus says, in Revelation 2:5, “Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent”.

Now, I want to be careful here and recognize that it is entirely possible that we can be an innocent victim of suffering:  a child who had no way to escape an abusive home, a woman who was raped at knife-point, or forced to have an abortion,  a worker disabled from an on-the-job accident, or a prisoner of war.  We know that the Bible speaks of many instances of “men and women who have been sinned against or who are suffering because of the natural and painful effects of living in a sin-cursed world” (Viars) – think of Job, Joseph, and – of course – Jesus.  Passages, like Psalm 73 and 2 Corinthians 1 also speak to this:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.” (Ps. 73:13,14)

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8,9) 

Yet, even when we have done nothing to contribute to our suffering, if we do not respond biblically to it, it is highly likely that there will be unrepented sin still attached to it, sin that shows up in our outward expressions and inner heart attitudes of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, jealousy, disappointment, discouragement, anxiety, fear, etc.  If we do not bring our sin into the light and expose it for what it is so that we can confess it and ask God to help us with it,  then we will, most likely, continue spinning our wheels, wondering why we can’t get traction and move forward beyond the pain.

Can you think of a situation or person from your past that tends to keep getting brought back into your thought life and that you then allow to govern your life in an unbiblical way?  If so, take some time right now and ask yourself:

  • Do I have any unrepented sin in regard to this situation or person? (you certainly don’t need to go morbidly digging around for unrepented sin, but you can simply ask God to search your heart and bring to mind any area of TRUE sin that you will want to confess in the matter).
  • Am I harboring any unforgiveness? (again, the purpose of exploring this is to reveal truth and bring it to the light where it can be dealt with).
  • have I developed any habitual, non-biblical response patterns that could be lying at the root of my immediate problems?   The goal here is to evaluate how I have learned to respond to past events and people.  What is the “shape” of my response patterns? Do I become angry, withdrawn, manipulative, jealous, hateful, self-righteous, unforgiving, a gossiper, slanderer, self-harmer, etc.?After any unrepented sin, unforgiveness, and non-biblical response patterns are discovered, then, take some time and:
  • Confess – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (1 John 1:8,9)  State the specific acts/attitudes of sin that you are harboring to God, joyfully expecting Him to pardon you, cleanse you, remove your guilt, and faithfully make known, because of of the shed blood of Christ on your behalf,  his steadfast love to you that surpasses all understanding.
  • Re-frame – this is a psychological term, but one that has its roots in Scripture.  It simply means to go back and re-write your experience in the light of Scripture and the Gospel; instead of focusing on what happened to you, overwrite the experience focusing, instead, on who God was in and through it and what He did in and through it. In this way, “Our pasts”, according to Stephen Viars, “can be among our best friends.”  We should look at our past as  “a record, in part, of the way God has related to you and worked in your life.”  Our goal, then, he says, “is not to focus on “it” but on who God is and what He has done [in and through it]”.

Let’s look at some examples of how this is done in Scripture…

  • Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:23 – “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously”
  • Joseph, in Genesis 50:20 – “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive”
  • Isaiah, in Isaiah 6:5 – “Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
  • Job, in Job 42:5,6 – “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
    Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

…And some from outside Scripture…

  • Corrie Ten Boom, prisoner of war in a Nazi Concentration Camp – “Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him….Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness….And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives along with the command, the love itself.”
  • Elisabeth Elliot, after her own husband and 4 other missionaries were tragically killed at the hands of the Auca Indians, in the midst of her own grief – “Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.”
  • Oulaudah Equiano, a Christian, born free in Benin, kidnapped, stripped of his family at the age of ten, and then enslaved – “I early accustomed myself to look at the hand of God in the minutest occurrence, and to learn from it a lesson of morality and religion; and in this light every circumstance I have related was to me of importance.  After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘ to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humble before God!'”

*How is this information challenging you personally, right now?

*How can you begin to apply what you’ve learned, so far?

*What will you do with your past in light of this information?

When we develop a biblical theology of the past, we can begin to handle the difficult past well.  When we handle the past biblically, here are some benefits, according to Viars, that we can expect in our present:

  • replace guilt and despair with forgiveness and hope
  • unplug the negative effects of a guilty past
  • turn failures into stepping-stones for growth
  • evaluate the place of the past in current struggles and find hope in the midst of the process
  • experience the joy that comes from viewing hard times God’s way
  • appreciate the sovereignty of God, who can use the past as a marvelous opportunity to teach valuable and life-changing lessons
  • be better prepared to help others who are struggling with the past

 

Remember: a key component of making disciples is sharing the things we’ve learned with others, so…

  • How might you come alongside another believer in Christ who is “stuck” in their past and having difficulty living in a spiritually (biblically) healthy way today?
  • How would you answer another believer who asked you whether or not they needed to revisit their past to “get healthy”?
  • What might you say to someone who believes that their past is nothing, that it has nothing to do with their choices today, that it’s irrelevant to today’s struggles, and whose motto is “hakunamata” (put your past behind you)?
  • What might you say to someone who believes that their past is everything, that all of their failures today are because of disobedience, abuse, lack of love, physical/emotional needs not getting met, etc. in the past, and that none of their present behavior is their fault because their “wounded inner child is creating emotional pain”, their “memories need to be healed”, or they are being “ruthlessly driven by their past”?

Good things to think about and ponder in light of Scripture!

If you have enjoyed this post, if it has been helpful to you, and you find yourself wanting to learn even more on the subject,  I highly recommend that you check out Stephen Viars’ book, Putting Your Past in Its Place.  It will absolutely transform the way you look at the past. My prayer is that, as you learn to handle it with solid biblical theology, the past will become your ally, your friend,  and no longer your enemy!

 

 

 

 

 

When Change Seems Impossible – Part 2

phil-1-6If you are waiting on heart change to take place in yourself or another believer, the wait can be long and tiring.  You will be tempted to become discouraged and angry, pull away, grow cold, numb, lose hope, and walk away.  As we talked about in part 1, heart change is messy business, especially when there is habituated sin involved.  But God is in the business of heart change, so we can rest assured that positive change can and will eventually take place in the life of one who belongs to God.  It might not come today, it might not come tomorrow.  It might take years, and even a lifetime.  So, what are we to do while we wait?

Here are some encouraging words from Scripture to read, meditate on, pray through, and act upon as we wait for the change that only God can bring:

  1.  Trust.  Be confident of this: “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” -Phil. 1:6.  This is a verse that I share regularly with women who are waiting for change to happen.  I ask them, “Who is it that began the work and Who is it that will carry it on to completion?”  Knowledge and understanding of this is key in the change process.  No, this does not mean that the person needing change is a passive bystander waiting for God to act. Change does require human repentance, and an act of the will to change thinking patterns, habits, and turn from sin.  According to this verse, though,  God IS already acting (carrying it on to completion) on behalf of the believer, and we can be assured that He will keep His promise.  So, the deeper questions to examine are, “Do you believe God is trustworthy to do this work?” “Do you believe He is capable of bringing about change even in the most impossible of situations?” “Do you trust Him completely to bring about change in His way and in His timing?” “Do you believe He is good?” “Do you believe all He does is right?” “Do you trust in His sovereign control over all things, including the messy work of heart change within a person?”  “Where are you struggling with unbelief?”  If you find that you are having a hard time trusting God with the change process, pray right now for God to help you in this area.
  2. Love.   “Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7-8  It can be hard to love while we’re waiting on change.  Instead of bearing with the failings and weaknesses of the sinner, we can become judgmental, angry, frustrated, and bitter.  Instead of believing that God is at work, we may write the person off as a lost cause.  Instead of hoping for the best, we may become cynical and give in to despair.  Instead of enduring all of the pain, hardship, and suffering that comes with waiting (excluding situations where physical abuse is involved), we might find ourselves creating distance, pulling away, and giving up on the person whose change is not coming fast enough for us.  What do we do when we struggle to love as we wait?  We remember the Gospel.  We reflect upon the awesome love that God showered us with while we were still steeped in our sin – a love that reconciled us to Himself through the precious blood of Christ shed on our behalf.  What kind of love is that?  Let’s let this Graham Kendrick song put it into words for us…My Lord, what love is this
    That pays so dearly
    That I, the guilty one
    May go free!

    Amazing love, O what sacrifice
    The Son of God given for me
    My debt He pays, and my death He dies
    That I might live!                                                                                                                            Jesus commands us, in John 13:34 to “love one another as I have loved you.”  So, as you wait, ask yourself, “Am I loving as Jesus loves me?”

  3. Forgive. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?” – Matthew 18:33  Forgiveness and love go hand in hand while we wait.  As we learn to love as Jesus loves us, we also need to stand in the same attitude of forgiveness that Jesus stood in towards us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  When we realize how much sin we have been and will continue to be forgiven of by God, we need to extend that same forgiveness while we wait.  Rick Thomas calls this “pre-forgiveness”.   He says, “This idea called pre-forgiveness is a word I manufactured as a way of communicating the heart of Joseph before his brothers came to him to ask forgiveness. This was also the spirit of Christ before you came asking for His forgiveness. Being ready and willing to forgive the sinner is essential if you want to reconcile.If you have not done the preparatory work in your heart to forgive someone, when they do ask for forgiveness you will have a hard time forgiving them.”  Ask yourself, “Am I ready and willing to forgive?”
  4. Bear with. “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1  Believer, we’ve been given a great and wonderful responsibility here.  We, who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us have a duty to come alongside our brothers and sisters, in an attitude of tenderness and sweetness to help in the process of change, bearing with them the weight of their difficulties and aiding them in their distress.  Our tendency is to want to punish and treat the offender as an enemy, but this is not the way it should be for believers.  Every one of us will be in the same position, at some point, in desperate need of change and correction.  Even on our best days, we’re still in desperate need of change.  What better place is there to display our imperfections and brokenness than in the church where we can bear with one another as we struggle with sin and suffering?  Ask yourself: “How am I helping bear the weight of  sin, discomfort, and hardship during this waiting period?”  “In what ways can I be a helper and encourager?”  “What can I do to help restore the person?”
  5. Pray. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” – James 5:16  This should probably be number one, but I have it here because I think that if you are solidly pursuing the things above, then your heart will truly be in a position that desires to pray for the person you are waiting on to change.  What a privilege we have to intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ as we are waiting upon God to bring heart change!  “God’s friendship to us and ours to others go hand in hand”, says Andrew Murray.  “It is when we draw near to God as the friend of the poor and the perishing that we may count on His friendliness; the righteous man who is the friend of the poor is very specially the friend of God.  This gives wonderful liberty in prayer.  Lord!  I have a needy friend whom I must help.  As a friend I have undertaken to help him.  In Thee I have a Friend whose kindness and riches I know to be infinite; I am sure Thou wilt give me what I ask.  If I, being evil, am ready to do for my friend what I can, how much more wilt Thou, O my heavenly Friend, now do for [my] friend?” (Murray)  Ask yourself: Am I helping my needy friend by taking to prayer for her, believing that God is willing to act? “What is the aim of my petition?” (Murray)  Is it merely for my own comfort and joy, or is it that God be glorified, that my friend be restored, that I grow in love, trust, patience, and endurance as I wait?
  6. Confront Self. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5  When waiting on another person to change, we can get so focused in on and consumed by their sinful behavior that we fail to see how we may have become an offender, ourselves.  Our failure to love, forgive, pray for, and bear with the other person demonstrates that our relationship has experienced another sin; now we, too, need heart change. We need to take a good, hard look at the ways we may have become an offender.  Have we been judgmental, harsh, gossiping, angry,  and punishing?  Perhaps we’ve been ignoring the other person, or denying there’s a problem?  Have we been blaming the other person for the way we are behaving?  We need to take responsibility for our own part in conflicts and work to repair any harm that we may have caused.  David Powlison says, “Only if you face up to your sin and your resistance to God can you see clearly and act gently, helping others to face up to themselves as well.”  Take some time, now, to create a “log list”  and identify possible faults of your own that you have been blind to.  This always helps establish a proper heart attitude before approaching another brother, the next step.
  7. Speak truth. “…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15  There will be times that we must confront error.  Biblical love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).  Being willing to confront error and sin is the most loving thing we can do for another brother or sister in Christ.  But, the goal truly must be restoration.   Confrontation is hard.  It makes us uncomfortable, but if we’re going to steward our responsibility of loving another believer well, then we must be willing to do the hard work of speaking the truth in love.  Ask yourself:  “Is there something that I need to speak up about?”  “How is my reluctance to speak the truth in love contributing to the problem?”  “Is there a lack of love in my speech?”  “Am I motivated by a desire to see restoration take place, or by a desire for my life to be more comfortable?”
  8. Wait. “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9  Waiting can be the toughest part in all of this, but waiting, according to this verse, is not passive – it’s not sitting back and waiting for God to work His “magic” on the person we’re waiting upon.  It’s an active waiting that keeps up the “well-doing”; it’s a waiting that keeps trusting, loving, forgiving, bearing, praying, confronting, and speaking.  It keeps hoping and believing.  It keeps encouraging and waiting in eager expectation for Him who began the good work to bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus.  Ask yourself: How have I been waiting?  Impatiently?  wearily?  or Actively?  Am I worn out and exhausted? Why?  Have I thrown my hands up in frustration and stopped all of the well-doing?  What can I do to be a better waiter?

Live and walk in the light of the truth and by His Spirit as you wait upon God in faith to bring change.  Welcome it as a gift from God in your own sanctification process.  Only God can change the human heart.  That change begins at the moment of salvation, and it continues throughout the believer’s life until the day of completion when we reach glory, and the battle for change no longer rages on inside of us.  Until that day, will you stick by that person you’re waiting on change for as close as Jesus continues to stick to you?  Will you come alongside this fellow saint for the glory of God and the maturity of the Church?  I hope that your answer is, “Yes!”  I pray that you will be blessed beyond all measure to catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in the life of a fellow sojourner as you await, together,  heart change that comes from God alone.

Wonderful books on the topic of change:

The Process of Biblical Change, by Julie Ganschow

How People Change, by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp

When Change Seems Impossible – Part 1

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Imagine that your friend has just handed you a page from her journal…

Another day, another disappointment.  I’ve been waiting, studying, looking for any signs of the slightest change.  Nothing. Zero.  Nada.  It ain’t happening.  He’s the same person today that he was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. It goes way back, this sin that he still hasn’t managed to remedy in his life, that defect of character that he hasn’t yet shored up.  It’s ugly, unbecoming – hideous to me,now, really.  I am numb.  I don’t care about it anymore.   I’m resigned to the fact that change is probably never going to come.  I have been in pain, waiting on change to come.  Well, I’m done waiting.  Now, I just want to know how to get on with my life.

As a Certified Biblical Counselor, I am familiar with these types of “journal entries”.  This type of interpersonal conflict is common among us.  Each of us has probably penned something similar to this at least once in our lives about someone.  For some, the ink might still be fresh on the page.

Change is hard, especially when we’re dealing with habituated sin – “I do not understand what I do… For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing…What a wretched man I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:15-24).

But, if we are in Christ, the good news is that heart change is always possible. ALWAYS…”Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).  If we are going to have any hope in this kind of a “hopeless” situation, we have to believe this.

If we give up hope that God can and will eventually bring lasting change in a person, we will be left frustrated, despairing, and tempted to sin.

Now, I want to interject a common question that arises here – What if the person who is failing to change really isn’t a believer? Or, what if the person professes to be a Christian, but they just aren’t changing (there are no visible signs of fruit)?

Well, I would say, You have two choices here:

  1.  Decide that this person is an unbeliever, in which case you can relax about change, because they are not capable of it.  Instead, now direct your attention to presenting the good news of the gospel, from which you know the only hope of change can come.
  2. Take them at their word and trust God to continue working in their life and using you in the sanctification process.

Either way, you’re at a crossroads here.  You have the privilege and opportunity, now, to wait upon and watch God work to affect change in another person’s life – a chance to witness a miracle of sorts, or you can throw your hands up in the air and surrender to despair.  The choice is up to you.

Heart change is hard, messy work, and it can be a long time coming.  We want and expect it to be quick, but, with deep-rooted sin, often it’s not.

Aren’t we so thankful and grateful that God is long-suffering?

So, what do we do when we’ve grown weary, waiting for someone to change and we just don’t feel like waiting any longer?

We have to start by asking ourselves some crucial initial questions:

  • Am I willing to wait however long it takes for God to bring about the change I’ve desperately been waiting for?
  • Am I willing to suffer as I trust the same Author and Perfecter of my faith (Heb. 12:2) to initiate and carry through on His promise to conform His other children into the image of His Son?
  • Am I willing to be faithful and obedient to continue running with endurance this race set before me (Heb. 12:1) –  in the sharing of the Gospel with an unbeliever or in bearing with the imperfections of my sister or brother in Christ?

The choice, again, is ours:  stay and “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3), or give up and walk away.

It reminds me of Joshua’s challenge to his brethren: “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15)

Like Joshua, will you say, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”?

If the answer to that is, “Yes!” then I invite you to join me for part 2 of When Change Seems Impossible where we’ll discuss what to do while we wait*.

* If you are in an abusive or destructive relationship, you need to enlist the help of your pastor, elders, and possibly even the civil authorities.  Safety is your number one priority, right now.  You can still love, wait, hope, and pray for your loved one, from a distance, where you can be safe)

 

 

 

What Does Paul Mean, “Forgetting What is Behind?”

press-on

…I Press on…

…I Press on…

…Forgetting the past…

…I press on.

When the Apostle Paul talks about “forgetting what is behind” and “straining toward what is ahead”, in Philippians 3:13, 14,  what exactly is he talking about?

Is he really saying that we should just forget our past and put it all behind us?

It’s a question I’ve been asked by other women who want to know how to handle negative things from their past.

It’s common to see this verse applied as a way to deal with past sin, hurt, and disappointment.

But, is it a correct interpretation and application?

First, let’s take a look at what Dr. Bob Kellemen has to say on the subject…

“Some people mistakenly interpret Philippians 3:13 to mean that we should try to forget our past. The Greek word for “forget” does not mean not to remember, but not to focus my attention on.”  “More importantly”, he says, “the biblical context is whether Paul would focus his attention on his works of the flesh, attempts at self-righteousness, and putting confidence in the flesh, versus focusing on Christ’s righteousness and the power of Christ’s resurrection.”

If we are going to counsel well, we need to be careful not to read our own meanings and ideas into Scripture, but submit our thoughts to the meaning that is already in the text. Looking at a verse in context goes a long way in helping us do that.

Another good principle to remember is that Scripture interprets Scripture.

So, I thought I’d do a little exercise with us, here, today, and examine Philippians 3, verses 13 and 14 within the larger context of chapter 3 to see how it helps us more clearly understand what Paul is saying about “Forgetting what is behind”.

In Philippians 3:1-4, Paul writes:

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:

Something I’ve started employing, whenever I read my Bible, is to ask it questions.  It slows me down and forces me to become a more active reader.

In verse 4, Paul talks about having “confidence” and says that he has more reasons to put “confidence in the flesh” than anyone else. I find this quite interesting, and it leads me to ask a few questions: “What are you so confident about, Paul?” “What’s your line of reasoning?”  “Why do you have more reasons than anyone else?”

Can you think of some other questions you might want to ask?

As we ask questions, we begin to engage our minds more with the text as we naturally begin to search for the answers to our questions.

Thankfully, in this passage, we don’t have to look very far, because Paul gives us his answer right in the next verses (5,6):

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

 Okay.  Now we have some answers.  But, as 21st century, non-Israelite women,  we may need a little help understanding why these things give Paul so much confidence.

To help us hear and understand the Scriptures the way the original audience did, sometimes we need to seek an outside source for more information.

For our exercise, I’m going to paraphrase some of what John Gill says in his Exposition of the Bible to help us better understand what Paul is so confident about.  He tells us that Paul-

  • had a mark in his flesh that proved he was a distinguished Jew, not a Gentile, and that it was done on the eighth day proved that it was most valid and authentic
  • was a natural Israelite, to whom various privileges belonged
  • was a genuine and legitimate son of Jacob, and a genuine Hebrew, since both of his parents were Hebrew
  • was from the strictest and most respected sect among the Jews, the Pharisees, brought up in the most strict way by his own father, who was also a Pharisee
  • was zealous in the traditions of his elders, and for the law of God, and for God, and persecuted the church more than any single individual
  • could not justly be found fault with by any, or be charged with any defect in his obedience, either to the moral or ceremonial law

Now, we are a little more equipped and ready to move on in our reading.

The very next word we encounter, in verse 7, is the word,  “But”.

Hmmm.

 Interesting.

It leads me to ask another question, “But.. what, Paul?”

Let’s look to the following verses (7-14) to see if they provide us with any answers.

Paul continues…

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 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.

And, There it is. Do you see the answer to the question, “But…what?”

Take a moment, now, and see if you can put it into your own words.

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Here’s what I came up with…

“Everything that I, Paul, had confidence in before this point in time, I now consider garbage!”

  • my pure heritage
  • my rigid adherence to the law
  • my zeal for the law
  • my self-righteousness
  • all of the things that I personally valued
  • all of my past achievements
  • all of my past blessings
  • anything that was of gain to me
  • EVERYTHING I thought was necessary for salvation, eternal life, good service, happiness, acceptance and approval of man, and favor from God

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Here’s the next question:

What is the one thing, now, that Paul is going to do with all of that?

Yep, you got it.

First, he’s going to FORGET it.

Take some time, now, to put into your own words what he means by “forgetting what is behind”…

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Here’s what I said:

For Paul to forget what is behind, it means that he is going to turn away from his trust and dependence upon everything that he had, prior to this moment, placed his confidence in. He is never going to look back at it for the purpose of boasting in or gaining satisfaction from it again.  He is not going to rest on his laurels, either.  He is not going be content focusing his attention even on the recent past, and his new-found blessings in Christ.

***********************************************************************

In addition to forgetting what is behind, Paul says that he is going to “strain towards what is ahead”.  What does this mean?

Does it mean that he’s going to move forward into a future that’s devoid of all things relating to his past?

To answer this question, we need to look to verse 14:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Write down, in your own words, what you think he means by this.

***********************************************************************

For me, I said that Paul is going to…

…press on, now, towards a different kind of future -one that is in full pursuit of Jesus Christ, His righteousness, and the final prize that awaits him (and all believers) – eternal life.

***********************************************************************

So, now that we have a good idea about what Paul means in verses 13 and 14, we may find ourselves asking some more questions:  “What does this mean for me?”  “What does this mean for others?” In other words, we’re looking for applications.

Again, if we look a little further, the very next verse (15) provides the answer:

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

So, how should we apply Philippians 3:13,14?  We think about our past and future the way Paul thinks about his past and future.

I’ll let John Gill, once again, do the talking here:

 We “reckon all things but loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ; to be willing to suffer the loss of all things, to win him, ( Philippians 3:8 ) ; to desire to be found in him, and in his righteousness, and not a man’s own, ( Philippians 3:9 ) ; to know more of him in his person, righteousness, sufferings, death, and resurrection from the dead, ( Philippians 3:10 ) ; and to attain to such a state, and yet to disclaim all perfection, and acknowledge their imperfection, ( Philippians 3:11Philippians 3:12 ) ; and to forget things behind, and reach to those before, ( Philippians 3:13 ) ; and press towards the mark, Christ, for the prize of eternal glory, ( Philippians 3:14 )”

And, if we think differently about how these verses should be interpreted and applied, well, God will make it clear to us.  “Such errors will be made manifest sooner or later”, says Mr. Gill, “the day will declare them, and such wood, hay, and stubble, will be burnt up by the fire, which will reveal every man’s work, ( 1 Corinthians 3:12 1 Corinthians 3:13 ) “.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this post and working your way through this passage with me.  It’s been a long one.  It was not my intention to get so theologically involved with it at first (and there certainly is so much more that could be done with it), but I am glad I embarked on the journey with you because I now have a much better understanding about what Paul meant about “forgetting what lies behind”, and I will be much more careful in how I apply Philippians 3:13, 14 to my own life, and the lives of other women who want to know how to apply it to their past.

So, what do you think?

  • Are verses 13 and 14 wise choices for helping someone deal with the past?
  • How might you, in the past, have read your own ideas into this text?
  • How can you explain the meaning of Paul’s words in verses 13 and 14 to a woman who believes that in order to get over past hurts she literally needs to forget about them?
  • How can you use this passage to instruct another woman about the proper things she needs to leave behind and press on towards?
  • How does this passage speak to your own life?
  • Who can you share the truths of this passage with?

Any other questions or comments?

 

 

 

When the Rains Come

rain-must-fall

I live in an area of California where drought is becoming more commonplace.  A couple of years back, our well ran dry – the water table had dropped so low, due to lack of rain, that the pump could only bring up air!  So, when the rain comes here, it is a welcome sight.

I was reminded this morning, however,  as I read a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that rainy days aren’t always so cheerful.

In his poem, The Rainy Day,  he describes the day as “cold, dark, and dreary”, with the wind “never weary”, keeping the image of death alive as it continuously blows the dead leaves off of the trees.   He then describes his life in this same manner. It really is quite depressing, this Rainy Day, and it gets even more miserable when he then talks about this dreariness being the fate of every human being:

Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary

Trials and sorrows are guaranteed to be a part of every human life.  It’s not a matter of if, but when the cold, dark, and dreary rain will fall!  It will come into your life.  It will come into mine.  It will come into the lives of our loved ones and everyone whom God places upon our path.  Oh, lovely rain!

Well, sisters, as painful as it is to hear, this is a truth that Jesus spoke about thousands of years before Longfellow ever set pen to paper.  It is recorded for us in John 16:33b when He said,

“In this world you will have trouble.”

Yes, it’s a surety that some of our days will be marked by great tribulation, sadness, loss, and death.  We will feel as if we are being enveloped by great clouds of darkness and tossed about by harsh winds that are continually at our face.  We will grieve the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations.  As we scan the horizon, everything will look bleak, hopeless, and lifeless. We will wonder, “When is this storm ever going to pass?”  “When will this darkness be lifted?”  We will be tempted to question God and demand that He give us answers as we ask, “Why me?”  “Why now?”

But, this must not be the time when we let ourselves fall into a pit of utter hopelessness and complete despair.

No.

Instead, this is a time when we,  like Longfellow (in the spirit of the Psalmist)  must begin to speak truth into our lives and the lives of those whom God has given us to encourage, saying…

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining!

Yes, we must remember that behind all of those dark clouds is THE SON,

and He tells us to…

take heart, because He has overcome the world! (John 16:33)

How do we take heart?

  1. Remember that there is nothing strange or unique about the trial you are going through – “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12, 13)
  2. Be both “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Corinthians 6:10)
  3. Know that Jesus understands our sorrows, so pray – “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15 ,16)
  4. Remember that God will work all of our sorrows for good – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)
  5. Be joyful, because God is at work to make you more like Christ! – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
  6. Remember that a day is coming when God will put an end to the “Rainy Day” forever – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)