“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. 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.”
Paul wrote this under challenging circumstances, to people who were suffering like him (Phil. 1:9). Not only was there no justification or comfort offered for growing cold, backing off or drifting into despair. The call was to “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called” His people. To “press on” requires at least four components.
1. ENERGY – Being a Christian requires moral and spiritual energy, freely supplied by Christ to His people (Phil. 4:13). There is work to do that requires strenuous exertion to grow, to apply discipline, to serve others, to advance the gospel. It is “abounding in the work of the Lord,” (1 Cor. 15:58) and it means you break a sweat and do the hard things.
2. MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION – Sometimes energy is expended, but in the wrong direction. The Pharisees were very busy people. I can’t imagine all the work of measuring 10% of everything in the spice cabinet; making certain everyone is notified of your benevolent gifts; pushing your peers out of the way to get to the best seat at the banquet; devouring the houses of widows and swallowing camels. They broke a sweat. But it was energy applied in the wrong direction. Pressing on means applying energy in the direction given by the Lord, “toward the goal to win the prize.”
3. CONSISTENCY. If we think we can press on one day, back off for a week, take a vacation from the Lord’s work, then return and press on a little more – NO! New Testament Christianity is daily, hourly, moment by moment commitment. It is not just that we are baptized and then attend services along with occasional surges of zeal. The Lord wants our hearts, permanently and wholly.
4. RIGHTEOUS AMNESIA. While there are some things we must remember. Forgetting can be a virtue and a part of pressing on. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (Eph. 4:26). Jesus said to agree with your adversary quickly (Matt. 5:25). In the context of things we ought not to carry over multiple sunsets, Paul said “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” and right after that he said “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:14).