by Jeannette Haley
There is a great deal of emphasis these days on the terrible condition known as Alzheimer’s. This disorder, or disease, or whatever it is, spells doom and gloom for not only the person who is diagnosed with it, but for his or her loved ones as well. Growing increasingly forgetful is frightening. The picture that comes to my mind as I write this is that of a beautifully hand-knit sweater. This sweater is nearing completion, when suddenly the hand of an unseen enemy deftly pulls the strategic strand of yarn that has the power to unravel all the loving work that has gone into this very personal work. Each stitch in our imagined sweater represents all the days and years of a special, unique life.
Some of us may not experience the devastation of total forgetfulness, but as we grow older, we notice that there are definitely some “memory holes” in our “sweater of life.” It can be irritating, frustrating, and sometimes downright maddening to suddenly find yourself groping for a word, or a name, that you know that you know, but can’t instantly recall. In addition, on those occasions when you blow it because you “forgot,” you hate to hear yourself say, “I forgot,” as your only explanation. After all, that’s the common excuse little kids and teenagers come up with to explain away their disobedience, or incompetence. Let’s face it, there is a big difference between truly forgetting and merely using it as a lame excuse!
Forgetting, however, does have its up side. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote, in Philippians 3:13, 14, “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.” Paul wrote to the church at Philippi of his impeccable Hebrew “pedigree.” However, what he flatly stated in verse 7 must have been a shock to those who took great pride in their Jewish roots, education, and works. Paul said, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
Paul was saying that all of his upbringing, teaching, training, education, and works of the Law were nothing compared to the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” his Lord, for whom he had “suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” How many Christian nowadays would be willing to consider their accomplishments as “dung” and forget them in order to gain Christ? The normal thing for most professing Christians is to secure their education, job, relationships, and lifestyle as the ultimate priority, and then conveniently tack Jesus on. That may work for awhile, but when one’s life begins to unravel, what is there to cling to other than Christ? The problem is, if He is merely tacked on to your life instead of being the Lord and Master of your life, when your world collapses, you will find yourself up a creek without a paddle. If you think that you can safeguard your “sweater of life” in “spiritual mothballs” so that when you stand before Jesus to give an account of your life you will be “preserved,” you are dead wrong.
What did Paul mean when he wrote, “forgetting those things which are behind”? Are we supposed to somehow dumb ourselves down by turning off our brains and forgetting everything that we have learned through teaching, training, and experience? Are we supposed to toss aside loved ones and abandon our daily responsibilities? No! But neither are we to love anyone or anything more than we love God and Jesus Christ. Paul was adamant that nothing in this world is of greater importance or value, or more worthy of pursuit than Jesus Christ. “Forgetting” those things that “are behind” is a matter of getting one’s priorities in the right order. Jesus warned, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul” Matthew 16:26? He also said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” Matthew 10:37-38.
Paul often compared the Christian life to a race. He knew that no runner could run forward while looking backward. Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” The weights that “so easily” weigh us down are those things that we insist on carrying with us. What are “weights?” Paul puts them into two categories: “weight” and “sin”. Both give the impression of heaviness that will hinder us from running the race. Sin is heavy. It erodes a person’s strength and resolve to run the race to the finish line. Sin brings guilt and accusation, and is an open door to Satan. Sin results in heaviness of heart, and mental misery. It works like a cancer in a person’s soul, working death. If sin is not confessed, repented of (forsaken), and laid at the cross, then it will bring the runner to ruin. Sin can only be “forgotten” after it has been forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
The other weights that Paul spoke of can be broad in scope depending on the individual and where his or her affections lie. The key to laying aside the weights of this world, and forgetting them, is to “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” Colossians 3:3. As long as our affections are upon this world, and the things which originate from this world, and are upheld by this world, then we cannot easily “forget” them in laying them aside so that we can run, and finish, the race. As long as our affections are planted and rooted in this world, then our hearts, our emphasis, our priorities, and our goals will involve these affections. In writing to the Corinthians concerning how to master this spiritual race, he gives us a valuable key in one word—temperate: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Paul desired to be “found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made comformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” Philippians 3:9, 10. The fact is, we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve ourselves from the premise of our own accomplishments, agendas, goals, and conclusions, and serve Christ. This is why Paul said that he “died daily.” This is a choice we all must make, every day—who am I serving today, self, Satan or God? This is what I call the “mixed blessing” of the free will that God has given to each of us: it can be either a burden or a blessing. Every time we make a decision to cling to that which is temporal, we are “remembering” the world, and “forgetting” that which is eternal. These daily decisions become the burdensome “weights” which keep us from running the race to the finish line. On the other hand, as we make the right decisions, we find that our burdens roll off, we leave them behind, and are thus enabled by God’s Spirit to run the race set before us. If we fail to finish our course, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
What are we to remember? In the battle of life, we are to remember the Lord (Nehemiah 4:14). In the night season we are to meditate on the Lord (Psalm 63:6). In the time of trouble, when our souls faint within us, we are to remember the Lord, and pray (Jonah 2:7). If we forget the Lord, then our way will be perverted, and there will be mourning and weeping (Jeremiah 3:21). Jesus gave us two ordinances to remember—baptism and communion. In baptism we are identified to His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6). As we partake of communion, we remember his broken body and His blood that He shed for the remission of our sins. We partake of communion in remembrance of Jesus, and also as we take communion we remember that He is returning for His Body, the Church. These things we must never forget.
Concerning forgetfulness, the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian believers, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. [Emphasis mine.] What can be forgotten that will cause a person to “believe in vain”? The answer follows in verses 3 and 4: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”.
As the days grow darker, and time grows shorter, my prayer is that God’s people, myself included, will be able to boldly declare with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” 2 Timothy 4:7.