Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. (Philippians 3:13)
If I had a dollar for every message I heard using this verse to encourage people to forget the bad things that have happened in their past and to look forward to what God will do in their future, I would be rich. While there is wisdom in this approach to life, that was not Paul’s point in this passage. Let’s look at the context.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:4a-16)
The things Paul was forgetting from his past was not negative events, but positive things that he could boast in: his great Jewish, religious pedigree and qualifications. He could have boasted in and taken refuge in those things, but resolved instead to forget about them so that could gain Christ instead. While Paul sought righteousness in his pedigree and law-keeping, he learned that true righteousness could only be found in Christ. To obtain righteousness in Christ Paul had to forsake all of those things he previously sought righteousness in. Paul called this “forgetting what lies behind.”
The ultimate goal for Paul was the resurrection from the dead. Paul recognized that he had not yet attained to it. The resurrection is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of “what lies ahead” in verse 13 and the “goal” and “prize” in verse 14. Paul called this “press[ing] on toward the goal.”
In summary, Paul is not talking about forgetting past negative events and anticipating future divine blessings, but rather his decision to trust in Christ rather than His spiritual pedigree and law-keeping while he strives for the future resurrection from the dead.
Keep it in context….