Hope for a Painful Past: Philippians 3:12-21


Last week’s lesson was probably some of the toughest material in all of Philippians. Paul’s harsh words for the false teachers forces us to answer some harsh questions. What are we worshiping? Where do we put our confidence? What makes us think we are better than other people? Is it our looks? Our ability to make money? Our fame? How healthy we eat? The success of our children? Is it our political views? Or maybe what we really worship about ourselves is seeing ourselves as the victim. Or the persecuted. We can find a way to worship even that.

Before reading on grab your Bible and read Philippians 3:12-21.

Philippians 3:12-21, then, is Paul’s commentary on the bombs he drops in Philippians 3:1-11. Paul spends those first eleven verses rabidly calling us to something better. He calls us to worship Christ and glory in Christ and put no confidence in our flesh. Paul explains that to the Christian, salvation is in one moment, the moment of faith, trading our record for the record of Christ, trading our accomplishments for the accomplishments of Christ, the one who was perfect, always obeyed God, and never sinned. For Paul, the gospel is trading away everything that gives us confidence for the confidence that the God of the universe loved us so much that he gave his only son to die for us, to take our punishment, and to give us eternal life right now. The gospel is that Jesus’ record, his resume, his accomplishments all became ours and our punishment all became his.

What Paul does then in Philippians 3:12-21 is unpack all that for the Philippians. In verses 12-13 Paul softens the blow by confessing that he too is still a work in progress when it comes to putting no confidence in his flesh and counting everything else as “dung.” In verse 13, Paul goes on to explain what it looks like for him, a person with a horrible (painful and sinful) past to give all of that baggage up, to follow Christ, and to put no confidence in his flesh. He says, “I forget what is behind.” The question we have to answer then is this: How can we Christians forget what happened in our past? To this point Paul has been clear. We can forget out pasts because we are justified. We have complete forgiveness in Christ and complete acceptance by Christ, and we are new creatures with renewed minds.

In verse 14 and then again in verses 20-21, Paul explains moving from the past to the present. He says that despite his past, “I press on toward the goal, eternal life with Jesus.” The question we have to answer then is this: How does the knowledge that eternal life is ours change the way we relate to our past and our present? Of this Paul is clear too. The certainty of our salvation puts everything else into an eternal perspective: what we think of as “reward,” what we anticipate as “best in life,” how we think about our bodies (life, death, health, etc.), and how we think about this world.

In verses 16-18 Paul shares just exactly how we are to go about giving up all things for Christ and counting them all as loss. He says, “Join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul is clear. Living the Christian life in a real Christian community gives us hope for escaping our past and following Jesus. In other people who follow Jesus we find examples, we find accountability, and we find encouragement.

  1. Can you describe a moment when all of the values /goals in your life changed significantly?
  1. Read Philippians 3:12. What is it that Paul is trying to obtain? The answer is found in the preceding verses.
  1. Read Philippians 3:12-14. As we try to be like Paul and “press on” in following Jesus we will fail plenty of times. Can you name a specific time you have struggled and failed as a believer?
  1. As we begin to realize our own struggles and become honest about those struggles with other people, what hope does Philippians 3:12-13 offer us?
  1. Read Philippians 3:14-21. How can these verses apply to your small group, church?

One of the great treasures of my ministry was the time I spent serving alongside Ed Gravely. For close to 4 years we wrote small group curriculum for Christ Community Church. This blog series is adapted from my archive of curriculum we wrote concurrently with the pulpit ministry of CCC. If any writing in these posts is pleasant to read I’m sure Ed deserves the credit.

Other posts in this series:

Where is Your Hope? Philippians 1

Hope for a Troubled World: Philippians 2

Hope for a Divided Christianity: Philippians 3

One thought on “Hope for a Painful Past: Philippians 3:12-21”

Leave a Reply