For a moment pretend that you have received a letter from a friend who gives the following description of a person she recently met. She writes that he was “a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were far apart; he had large eyes, and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long.”[i] Now, honestly would you be much impressed? Probably not, yet the description which I just gave you is the only one in history with any credibility that tells us what the Apostle Paul looked like.
It is no wonder that his critics said, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He was the greatest convert Christ’s Gospel ever produced. He was the theologian-missionary of the New Testament, and he traveled thousands of miles, often by foot, preaching that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day.
Paul’s credentials were good—plenty good. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Roman citizen by birth in the university and cultural center of central Asia minor, Tarsus. He had studied with Gamaliel, and was zealous in his commitment to Judaism (See Philippians 3:5). His first encounter with believers in Jesus Christ was in Jerusalem, as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen.
Shortly after that came the defining moment of his life. He was on his way to the city of Damascus, intending to arrest and harass believers, when Jesus Christ revealed Himself to him. His life was forever changed.
No longer was he Saul of Tarsus, but Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ.
Three great missionary journeys took him throughout the Roman empire, and almost everywhere Paul preached, he established a church. Then, as he moved on to another place, he wrote letters back, thus giving us the 13 books in the New Testament which give us so many insights to the heart of this great man.
One of the warmest and most personal letters of Paul is his letter to believers in Philippi (the book of Philippians). In this, Paul, I believe, revealed the source of his faith and the secret of his life. Here’s what he said: “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13,14).
In three words, he revealed the secret of his life: concentration, forgetfulness, and anticipation. Concentration: This one thing not a dozen, not even two; only one thing. No person can really succeed apart from being completely focused.
In the realm of the spiritual, concentration is important as well. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
Then Paul mentions, “forgetting what is behind”–a wise forgetfulness of the past. Forget your failures; they only hurt you. Forget your victories; they are history. Forget your losses; they will cripple you.
His third secret was anticipation, looking ahead. Paul put it graphically as he wrote that he was “straining towards what is ahead.” He was using the imagery of his day, comparing life to a race and the world to a vast arena where athletes vied for the prize. There was no thought of turning back for Paul, of settling for less than his best effort. He was committed. He had burned the bridges behind him. There was but one way to go God’s way.
When you make the decision Paul made, there is only one way to go and that is up. Concentration, forgetfulness, and anticipation–the three fold secret of a great life. Make it your secret as well, today.
Resource Reading: Matthew 6:25-34
i] From “The Acts of Paul and Thecla,” as quoted by Christianity Today, August 11, 1997, p. 39.
Text: I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. Acts 22:3
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – November 17, 2017