Monday, September 14, 2009
FORGETTING THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BEHIND
Perhaps more New Year’s sermons have been preached from Philippians 3:13 and 14 than from any other verses in the Bible. We quote Philippians 3:12 to 14:
“NOT AS THOUGH I HAD ALREADY ATTAINED, EITHER WERE ALREADY PERFECT: BUT I FOLLOW AFTER, IF THAT I MAY APPREHEND THAT FOR WHICH ALSO I AM APPREHENDED OF CHRIST JESUS. BRETHREN, I COUNT NOT MYSELF TO HAVE APPREHENDED: BUT THIS ONE THING I DO, FORGETTING THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BEHIND, AND REACHING FORTH UNTO THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE BEFORE, I PRESS TOWARD THE MARK FOR THE PRIZE OF THE HIGH CALLING OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS.”
In the New Year’s messages which we have heard, the emphasis has been placed on the latter part of the thirteenth verse, “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.” But the great majority of Christians do not understand the statements of Paul immediately preceding this statement. I have talked with many able Bible teachers who have confessed that the meaning of these verses has never been clear to them, and that no exegesis that they have read or heard has been altogether satisfactory. I have admitted the same to them. And although I have heard many expositors give their interpretations I do not recall one that would stand the Berean test.
In the twelfth verse Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” In the fifteenth verse he said, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.” Most assuredly the Apostle Paul was making no reference in these verses to any doubt concerning his own eternal security in Christ; that is, as to the assurance of his salvation. Such an admission on his part would certainly have been the negation of many of his other statements. He said, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended.” Paul was not afraid that he would “backslide out of salvation” and not be caught up at the coming of the Lord to receive his glorified body on Redemption Day. Neither did Paul believe that he had to add his works to the finished work of Christ in order to be assured of his eternal redemption; for Paul accepted for himself what he taught to others, “by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” But the question is, what did Paul mean?
In the light of the context, we cannot believe that Paul was urging the Philippian saints to forget either their failures or successes. In almost every New Year’s sermon that we have heard this interpretation has been given warning Christians not to live in the past, not to be satisfied with past exploits, or discouraged because of past blunders. Certainly every Christian should be thus instructed and warned. But there is a far deeper meaning to the words found in these verses.
What did the Apostle mean when he said, “not as though I had already attained.” Certainly he had not in his mind that he was striving for sinless perfection, as some have taught. Neither did he mean that he was agonizing to get himself ready for death or the coming of the Lord. Whatever things behind Paul was forgetting was that he might press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” has been translated by some as the “calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” But even this change does not make the interpretation less difficult.
Undoubtedly every thinking student of the Word of God has learned that the Holy Spirit through Paul, in his messages to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and in his Second Epistle to Timothy, has revealed truth concerning the believer’s exalted place in Christ that transcends the truth revealed through any other prophet or apostle or even through Paul before he reached Rome. As the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles as the custodian of the mystery among the Gentiles, he had revealed to him by the risen Christ truth that had never been made known concerning the riches of Christ and the believer’s riches in Christ, that glorious truth concerning the Body of Christ, seated with Him and in Him in the “upperheavenlies.”
Before Paul reached Rome he wrote to the Corinthian saints these words, recorded in I Corinthians 13:10:
“BUT WHEN THAT WHICH IS PERFECT IS COME, THEN THAT WHICH IS IN PART SHALL BE DONE AWAY.”
Immediately preceding this statement, in the eighth verse, prophecies, tongues and knowledge were to pass away. But according to the thirteenth verse, faith, hope and love were to abide. Therefore in the light of the context we are sure that the Holy Spirit, in speaking through Paul, was not referring to the future glory of the believer in saying, “when that which is perfect is come. “ What does the Apostle mean by stating “that which is in part shall be done away?” If that which is perfect was to come then that which was in part was not perfect. Certainly the Apostle here was not primarily referring to the believer’s imperfect conduct or condition, either as to soul, body or spirit; but rather as to doctrine and revelation. I have tried to study together the two statements, “then that which is in part shall be done away” and “forgetting those things which are behind,” the statement of Paul to the Philippians. And I have received much profit for my own edification in studying both of these statements in the light of Hebrews 5:12 to 6:3, another portion of God’s Word very difficult to understated. We quote these verses:
“FOR WHEN FOR THE TIME YE OUGHT TO BE TEACHERS, YE HAVE NEED THAT ONE TEACH YOU AGAIN WHICH BE THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE ORACLES OF GOD AND ARE BECOME SUCH AS HAVE NEED OF MILK, AND NOT OF STRONG MEAT. FOR EVERY ONE THAT USETH MILK IS UNSKILFUL IN THE WORD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS; FOR HE IS A BABE. BUT STRONG MEAT BELONGETH TO THEM THAT ARE OF FULL AGE, EVEN THOSE WHO BY REASON OF USE HAVE THEIR SENSES EXERCISED TO DISCERN BOTH GOOD AND EVIL. THEREFORE LEAVING THE PRINCIPLES OF THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, LET US GO ON UNTO PERFECTION; NOT LAYING AGAIN THE FOUNDATION OF REPENTANCE FROM DEAD WORKS AND OF FAITH TOWARD GOD, OF THE DOCTRINE OF BAPTISMS, AND OF LAYING ON OF HANDS, AND OF RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, AND OF ETERNAL JUDGMENT. AND THIS WILL WE DO, IF GOD PERMIT.”
Now the question is, just what did the Holy Spirit mean in Hebrews 6:1 when He said “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ?” The better translation is, “leaving the Word of beginning of Christ.” But what does this mean? In Hebrews 5:12 the Holy Spirit referred to the first principles of the oracles of God. In the fourteenth verse He said, “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age” which would better be translated “that are perfect.”
Of course this message was written to Hebrews. But there seems to be some connection with the three statements we have read, “I press toward the mark,” “When that which is perfect is come,” “Let us go on unto perfection.” We are positive that the writer to the Hebrews did not teach in these verses which we have quoted that the first principles of the oracles of God or the Word of the beginning of Christ, should not have been taught. Neither should a Bible student be taught that repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment, were the foundation of the truth which Paul taught in his prison Epistles. Certainly no Christian is instructed to discredit or deny the doctrine of eternal judgment or to abandon faith toward God. But it is evident that the Holy Spirit had no reference to the believer’s conduct; or condition when He instructed the Hebrews to go on unto perfection. It was in the matter of doctrine and revelation. And the Christian who does not recognize the principle of progressive revelation, who does not go on from the Word of beginning of Christ, or the Kingdom message of Jesus and His apostles, to the Pauline truth, revealed in his closing Epistles, will remain a babe, and thus disobey the Word of God. Some of the doctrines mentioned in the verses which we quoted from Hebrews were brought over from the Old Testament. But Jesus of Nazareth was a minister of the circumcision with a ministry of confirmation to Israel. Romans 15:8. Not only did He restate and confirm these doctrines, but they were rightfully preached to Israel by the twelve apostles after the death and resurrection of their Prince and Saviour, Who was made under. the law to redeem them that were under the law.
There is a great difference between the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth to Israel, with a confirmation of that ministry by His twelve apostles, and the truth which He revealed from heaven through the Apostle Paul. So far as we have any record, Jesus, neither by His own personal ministry nor through the testimony He gave through the twelve ever revealed in His Kingdom message the glorious truths He revealed from heaven through Paul.
The Holy Spirit never led Paul to write to the Church concerning the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth in detail. Although he wrote half of the books of the New Testament, Paul made only several short references to the Manhood or earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the man approved of God in the midst of Israel. The principal revelation and ministry of the Apostle Paul was “Christ in the Gentile, the hope of glory”; that is, the believer “in Christ” and “Christ in the believer.”
In that connection he uttered another statement which has perhaps been misinterpreted many times. We quote here the statement to Which the refer, recorded in II Corinthians 5:17:
“THEREFORE IF ANY MAN BE IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATURE; OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY; BEHOLD, ALL THINGS ARE BECOME NEW.”
What does Paul mean by the statement, “Old things are passed away?” In the light of the preceding verse, undoubtedly the primary reference was not to the believers conduct or condition. Undoubtedly the key to the words, “old things are passed away” is the double “henceforth” in the sixteenth verse, which we quote:
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.”
Certainly here we have the principle of going on to perfection, progressing in revelation, advancing in truth toward that which is perfect; going on with the Apostle Paul to that sublime truth to which we referred in our opening verses.
According to the closing verses of the eighth chapter of Hebrews, Israel’s former covenant was made old by the death of Christ on the cross. But during the early transition period, for some years after the death and resurrection of Christ, that which was in part, including some of Israel’s old things, were permitted until the Lord finally revealed to and through the Apostle Paul the glorious Body truth the mystery, the unsearchable riches of Christ. That which was perfect came and that which was in part was done away. But most Christians seem to prefer to he babes rather than of full age. They prefer not to forget those things which are behind
Let us consider together these four statements: “Old things are passed away,” “then that which is in part shall be done away,” “leaving the first words spoken by Christ” and “forgetting those things which are behind,” and let us not join with the modernist in his cry “back to Jesus,” but rather let us obey the Word of the Lord “let us go on unto perfection.”