Php 3:14-15 I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. (NLT)
Paul had a past. And I think he thought about it quite often.
I wonder what he thought of more because like so many of us, he had good and bad stuff on his resume. Like paper scattered across a school yard by the wind, Paul’s past was littered with success and failure.
Paul spent a lot of time alone in a Roman jail. A rat infested jail cell is bad enough. But time alone is a thinker’s prison.
At one time he was a renowned religious leader. Being a respected Pharisee doesn’t sound like much to brag on today, but during Paul’s day it was quite an accomplishment. Saul of Tarsus (his former name) was an up and coming leader. He had followers. He was watched. Elder Pharisees were jealous of his zeal and wisdom. Those his age and younger aspired to emulate him. Everyone read his blogs and thousands followed him on Facebook and Twitter. SaulofTarsus.com got thousands of hits per day. His ministry was growing in leaps and bounds. Yep. Saul was da man!
His failure was just as spectacular as was his success. As a matter of fact, his failure was due to his success. To prove he was “all that” he conspired to murder and cleanse the world from people who were devoted to a cult referred to as “The Way.” Paul despised this movement who followed what he probably referred to as a “wanna-be” Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, no less. After Rome crucified him Saul thought the claims and movement would die, but they only escalated when others declared they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection from the grave.
Zealous for his reputation, in some sort of twisted way, Saul of Tarsus imagined himself above the very rules he preached. “Thou shalt not kill” was basic Hebrew Law. But Paul connived to arrange the execution of people who undermined his tradition. They were stealing his thunder. Saul was a good debater and writer, but people in “The Way” worked miracles. Miracles are a “no brainer” with hurting people.
Too smart to use the sword himself, he conspired the murder of…well, we don’t know how many people. But one of the finest was Stephen. Saul might have killed hundreds. Probably did, in fact.
And don’t think he didn’t think about it, either! Oh, he thought about his past…a whole lot.
Saul, turned Paul, when he discovered that the only way out of the rut of looking back is to accept God’s free gift to look forward. Actually, he found that if you get stuck looking behind at what was or could have been you’ll never move forward. Looking back is a trap. “I focus on one thing,” he admitted, “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”
And here’s the clincher. Paul said, “Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.” He learned that there’s nothing to gain from looking at your past successes or failures. Actually, the “spiritually mature” press on, while kids look back and pout over spilled milk. Looking back freezes us in time. It stopped Lot’s wife—dead. Literally! It'll stop you, too, if you focus on your past.
Jesus calls you forward. After Saul encountered Jesus he was able to find his future. Saul became Paul and never looked back.
Maybe you need to have a fresh encounter with Jesus today. It’s the only way you will ever let your past, pass.