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Discussion Forum : Articles and Sermons : The Attitude of the Apostle Paul by Zac Poonen

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Joined: 2002/12/11
Posts: 36113
"Pilgrim and Sojourner." - 1 Peter 2:11

 The Attitude of the Apostle Paul by Zac Poonen

In Philippians, chapter 3, Paul describes the attitude of mind that must be ours if we are to attain to God's full purpose. Forgetting the things that are behind, he tells us, he keeps looking ahead to the things that lie before. In spite of every temptation to do so, he refuses to look back. In Acts 20:23,24, he says that he was unmoved by the knowledge that persecutions awaited him. No fear of them could shake his determination to press forward to God's goal. Again, in Acts 26:19 he testified before King Agrippa that he had not disobeyed the heavenly vision received from the Lord nearly thirty years before. And in his very last letter he could claim to have fought the good fight and finished his course (2 Tim. 4:7). Here is a man who had doggedly pursued the pathway of God's purpose right up to his very last day. Despite countless inducements to give up and turn aside, despite fierce persecutions, despite slander and calumny, and all the rest, he held faithfully to his course, his eyes fixed on the goal. Blessed shall we be if at the end of our lives, we can have such a testimony.

How often we are tempted to look back! The failures of the past have a way of discouraging us, and when that happens, sure enough the Devil arrives to whisper in our ears the lie that God has no more use for us. It has always been a great encouragement to me that it was said even of an ass that the Lord had need of it (Matt. 21:2,3). If the Lord Jesus needed an ass to fulfill His Messianic programme, and if God could even on one occasion speak through an ass (Num. 22:28), then there is hope for every one of us. For whatever was written in the former days, and even therefore the story of Balaam's ass, was written for our encouragement (Rom. 15:4). You may feel yourself to be as stupid as an ass, and you may make ten thousand mistakes; yet your Lord has need of you, and when He so chooses He can even speak through you.
The same Bible that tells us not to worry about tomorrow tells us with equal urgency not to look back over the past. We need to finish with all our yesterdays and to face today and the future trusting in the Lord. If tomorrow you fail, do not let that cast you into despair. Go and confess your failure to the Lord and have your sin cleansed in His blood. Then press on again. And if you fail once more, go and do the same thing yet again. Never abandon yourself to despair. Resolutely refuse the futile backward look of regret over the past, for there is only loss in crying over spilt milk. But refuse also to look back in pride that destroys the soul. So if God uses you in some wonderful way tomorrow, seek grace to forget that as well. Do not indulge in self-congratulation. Press on. Discouragement on the one hand and pride on the other are equally means that Satan uses to stay us on our course and rob us of our effectiveness.

We are told in Ephesians 5:15,16 that, if we would walk wisely in these evil days, we must constantly redeem the time. That means that we are to buy up every opportunity that comes our way and turn it to the glory of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). Each of us has only one brief life, and every day of that life should be made to count for God. But that will only happen as we persistently look ahead to Him. No matter how heavy the odds that we are called upon to face, let us maintain this attitude of mind. But let us also refuse to look aside at other believers and compare our lot or measure our successes against theirs, for that too can lead to discouragement or to pride (cf. John 21:20-22; 2 Cor. 10:12). We are to look straight ahead and in no other direction (Prov. 4:25).

Even before his conversion the apostle Paul was whole-hearted about his religion (Acts 22:3,4). His was no feeble, faint-hearted faith such as we see too often today. When he was converted, he was equally wholehearted in his devotion to Christ. The only difference was that now he had set his mind on things above and not on things on the earth. Our risen Lord Jesus tells us clearly that He has absolutely no appreciation for lukewarmness (Rev. 3:16). God seeks utterness in His people, for only people utterly committed to Him can fulfill His purpose on earth. If many of us were as half-hearted in our studies as we are in our Christianity, we would never even have passed the elementary school grade. Or again, if a man were as half-hearted in his job as many believers are in the service of God, he would have been sacked long ago. Wholeheartedness is plentiful in the mundane activities of many Christians, but alas, how seldom is it found in their religious activities! We are told that when king Hezekiah worked with all his heart, he prospered (2 Chron. 31:21). But the day came when, forgetting "the things that are before," he relaxed. That day he tragically failed the Lord.

By word and example Jesus urged those who would follow Him to keep their eyes on the goal. He warned one would-be follower that any man who had put his hand to the plough and then looked back was unfit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Jesus Himself "steadfastly set His face" to go in the direction indicated by His Father (verse 51). "I must be about my Father's business" was His unceasing attitude, and he desired no followers who were unwilling to look in the same direction and walk the same road. The disciple of Jesus Christ must have only one aim in life, namely, to do God's will and thus to glorify Him. Everything in life - money, position, marriage, employment and all the rest - must be made to serve this one end. All must be relaxed to the purpose of God. It is only when we adopt such an attitude of mind that we can claim the promise in Romans 8:28 for ourselves. For it is only to those who love God and who are aligned to His purpose that all things work together for good.

We do well also to remember that in eternity it is those who have done the will of God on earth whose works abide for ever (1 John 2:17). All else will be destroyed. So let doing God's will be our one aim. As it was for Jesus, let it be our very meat and drink (John 4:34). The man after God's own heart is the one who desires to fulfill all His will. Only such a one can effectively serve his generation in God's eyes (Acts 13:22,36). God is seeking for such men and women in the world today.

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