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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #18: A Reason to Forget

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. Philippians 3:13-14 NIV

Let’s clarify this section of Philippians 3 so you can grasp where Paul was going when he started with “Rejoice . . .” in Philippians 3:1. Due to the fact that I have been explaining each point Paul was making here in Philippians, it is easy to lose the thread of the overall argument of the whole passage.

My final point is this: Rejoice in the gospel, for it keeps you safely focused on the main thing—that the righteous people we are to become is through faith in Jesus alone. For that reason, beware of the people who have sweet credentials—with whom I am in conflict for the sake of the truth of the gospel—whose teaching would have you believe that a changed life in Christ depends on Law-oriented behavior modification. I have great credentials too, but I made the choice to pursue Jesus and the righteousness he gives to me by faith over believing anything I attained on my own has any significance. Instead I deeply desire his resurrection power and to participate in his sufferings (inferring that he hopes they do too!). I am not fully there yet, but I press on to take hold of for what Jesus took hold of me. I am not there yet, but, forgetting everything that would distract me, I strain on towards this prize. (My paraphrase)

What was the point of Paul’s final point? What is the connective link between this passage and his thesis of “standing firm in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1)?

This passage is Paul’s “So what?” conclusion. He is not merely a theorist about Christian faith. He is a passionate follower of Jesus. He wants them to work the gospel out in real life. Drawing from his store of knowledge about conflict—even acknowledging the reality of it in his current ministry—he is teaching them that it is not the main thing, or even a close second to the main thing.

The main thing is straining on to the prize. To become like Jesus. To surrender to the truth that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6). Being conformed to Jesus will always be the most important part of our faith journey. We tend to forget that in conflict.

So the close second to the main thing is forgetting what is behind. I do believe that Paul is specifically speaking about forgetting our interpersonal arguments that leave claw marks on our souls. We need to forget what other believers said, did or upended as a result of their immaturity and pride. We need them to forget our immaturity and pride. We all need to learn that none of these things that have resulted in conflict are going to keep God from accomplishing His purpose in us. But we can make the journey harder on ourselves and the church when we hold on to our bitterness and look for the day when those who we opposed get what’s coming to them!

Paul knew conflict. We know for certain that he had conflict with Barnabas, with Mark, with Peter, and probably with James. This verse is where he shares lessons learned from all these moments. They were just that—moments in the past. Put it all behind you. Winning and losing do not have eternal impact on your person. Forget all of it and realign yourself with the gospel.

I know that this sounds a lot like ‘forgive and forget’. You might argue that you have forgiven but you cannot forget what the person did or said. That is not Paul’s point.

Forgetting for Paul is about choosing not to live in that moment, but pressing on to become the right person you are made to be in Christ. You choose not to be anchored in past discord, in broken promises and conflicts that can be resolved in us by the Father, even those conflicts that destroyed so much at the time. (Syntache and Euodia, are you listening?)

This is a hard lesson, but a freeing one. I did not begin to understand the value of Paul’s teaching here until God had healed and freed me of being an angry man. I had kept an internal log of wrongs people had done to me. I knew I had because every time I thought of those people, the raw emotions of our conflict would come back as if it had happened the day before.

I knew I was learning what Paul knew when a disastrous betrayal at the hands of a good friend took place in my ministry life. I will not share the details, but it was costly. Sometime later, my friend approached me with an apology. He could not undo the mess his choices had made or even help me rebuild my own ministry. But I forgave him freely and never looked back. The emotion of that event no longer arises in me. He is still my friend. More importantly, he is my brother in Christ. I chose to forget our conflict except as one of the “all things” through which God is working for good in those who love Him, surrendering to His purpose in me—to conform me into the likeness of Jesus.


-Steve Smith