This reading is Philippians 3.
This chapter starts and ends with Paul warning against false teachers. He calls them “dogs” and “mutilators of the flesh” because they tried to make new converts follow Jewish customs. He addresses this more extensively in Galatians. Here Paul uses it to point out that if acts and good deeds brought us to God, he would have been there already.
Paul’s resume was truly outstanding. His family followed the rules and had him circumsised according to Jewish customs, he came from the right kind of family, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” he had the highest religious position as a Pharisee, he was zealous in persecuting the radical Christian groups and he was righteous. Yet none of that was enough to reconcile him to God. He needed Christ as well all do.
Paul says that he considers his noted accomplishments to be “rubbish.” This is a very strong statement, as other translations call it “dung” or “manure.” Our accomplishments and good deeds apart from God can actually be a barrier to our knowing Him if we are trusting in our own righteousness.
When he says in v. 10 that he wants to “know” Christ, that means not just “head knowledge” and facts about Jesus, but a deep relationship with him.
It isn’t bad advice for us not to dwell on past failures and hurts, but when Paul says in v. 13, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” what he means by “what is behind” is the accomplishments he just mentioned. We do better and stay more joyful when we don’t get puffed up with our spiritual accomplishments. If Paul was “pressing on,” how much more should we press on towards the prize?
It is interesting that in v. 17 and other parts of the Bible we are encouraged not just to follow Christ but to follow the example of Paul and other leaders. Of course, Jesus is the ultimate model, but when we see others who are farther along in their faith journey we can learn from them as well.
Never forget that “our citizenship is in Heaven.” We should try to impact this world, but ultimately we are aliens and strangers in this world, as Peter said.
The next reading is Philippians 4.