“Forgetting what is behind” (Philippians 3:13 NIV) is a statement that assures us that Paul was not the type to live in the past. He says, in effect, “I disregard my own accomplishments as well as others’ offenses against me. I refuse to dwell on that.” This requires humility, especially so when you examine Paul’s past. Just listen:
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
Think of all the people Paul could have included on his hate list. But he had no such list. With humility, he forgot what was behind him. He intentionally disregarded all those wrongs against him.
The very best example I can think of is a remarkable man named Joseph in the book of Genesis. Rejected and hated by his brothers, sold to a group of travelers in a caravan destined for Egypt, sold again as a common slave in the Egyptian market, falsely accused by his boss’s wife, forgotten in a dungeon, and considered dead by his own father, this man was finally promoted to a position of high authority just beneath the pharaoh. If anybody ever had a reason to nurse his wounds and despise his past, Joseph was the man!
But the amazing part of the story is this: He refused to remember the offenses. In fact, when he and his wife had their first child, he named the boy Manasseh, a Hebrew name that meant “forget.” He explains the reason he chose the name:
Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” (Genesis 41:51)
His words include an extremely important point. In order for us to forget wrongs done against us, God must do the erasing.
Isaiah, the prophet of Judah, put it in these terms:
“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your husband is your Maker,
Whose name is the Lord of hosts;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
Who is called the God of all the earth.” (Isaiah 54:4-5)
The Lord God promises us that we can forget because He personally will take the place of those painful memories. To you who have had a shameful youth, to you who have lost your mate, the living Lord will replace those awful memories with Himself! Great promise! That makes the forgetting possible. Left to ourselves, no way! But with the promise that God will replace the pain with Himself—His presence, His power, His very life—we can forget “what lies behind.”