Do we remember and forget the right things?

Scripture reading: Philippians 3:7-14

Our memory is a tremendous gift from God.

It is intriguing to observe the development of a child’s memory. A preschooler can learn the alphabet in a song long before he can memorize a series of 26 letters.

Our one and a half kilo brain not only controls most body functions (including the unfathomable complexity of seeing, hearing and speaking), but it organizes and stores a vast quantity of data, which is available for recall, and which serves as source material for decision-making and the performance of complicated activities.

Because our memory space is limited, our brain must conserve its memory by forgetting most of what we see, hear and read.

We have short-term memory and long-term memory.

Long-term memory can be enhanced: for example, by music, by repetition, by multisensory input, by association, by orderly organization, and by the conscious assignment of a high level of importance.

Memory data fades to the background if unused, so must be refreshed to remain readily available.

The Creator of our brain tells us to remember certain things and to forget certain things.

What must we remember?

We must remember our Creator!

In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 Solomon urges young people to remember God before the infirmities of age weigh them down and their life draws to a close.
“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth,
Before the difficult days come,
And the years draw near when you say,
‘I have no pleasure in them’:
While the sun and the light,
The moon and the stars,
Are not darkened,
And the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble,
And the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few,
And those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets,
And the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird,
And all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height,
And of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms,
The grasshopper is a burden,
And desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home,
And the mourners go about the streets.
Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.”

In our youth and when older, we should remember our Creator. “You shall remember the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:18). “Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth” (1 Chronicles 16:12).

Sometimes God allows us to get ourselves all tangled up to remind us that He is the only one who can save us.

Jonah was willing to be thrown overboard so his shipmates could be saved, and maybe so he could escape his responsibility. But he was the right man for that preaching job at Nineveh, so God gave him a choice: meal for a fish or submarine ride, direction Nineveh?

In the depths of despair because of his own sin, Jonah remembered the Lord, and his prayer was heard: “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple” (Jonah 2:7).

Remembering God is our only hope: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Some trust in tanks, and some in planes; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God, the I AM, who created us and is the only one who can save us.

We must remember the word of God.

Memory plays a crucial role in doing God’s will. To obey His commands we must remember them: “The mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:17, 18).

Shortly before his death, Peter wrote two letters as reminders: “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Peter 1:12-15). “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:1, 2).

Jude wrote something similar: “But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17).

Paul told the Ephesian elders: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:35) and to the Romans he wrote: “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God” (Romans 15:15).

How can we etch God’s word into our memory?

Before we can remember the words of Christ and His apostles, we must learn them by reading them a sufficient number of times. When we read the Scriptures repeatedly, our memory is refreshed, and God’s word is given a permanent home in our heart.

I warn students who study their lessons only until they barely know them, that they still almost do not know them, and their scant knowledge may be gone the next day!

As time goes by our memory dims if we do not refresh it. Something that must be remembered must be learned well enough that even when our memory dims, the knowledge remains.

We must read God’s word over and over until we remember it, until it becomes a part of us, until it dwells within us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16).

We must remember the resurrection of Christ.

Paul tells us to remember the resurrection, which is the focal point of the Christian faith: “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8). We assemble on the first day of the week to break bread because Jesus said: “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).

We remember our Creator, His word and the resurrection of Christ.

What must we forget?

We must forget what lies behind us.

Referring to “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9), Paul says: “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. Brethren, 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 RSV).

We will discuss various elements of this text.

Our goal lies in front of us, not behind us. Thus, to reach that goal we must forget what lies behind us. We must forget the things of the world, our past victories and our past defeats.

We must forget our former life in the world.

Jesus said: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

I remember watching my father till the soil with a hand- held, horse-drawn plow when I was six years old. It requires great skill and careful attention. One cannot plow an even, straight furrow while looking back!

“Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). God gave her an opportunity to escape the destruction of Sodom, but she disobeyed, and looked back.

In the wilderness, the Israelites forgot the immense suffering of slavery and longed for the ‘pots of meat’ they had enjoyed in Egypt (Exodus 16:3). They were not satisfied with manna from God.

Christians sometimes forget the bondage of their former life, and long for worldly pleasures they enjoyed before they were Christians.

We must forget past victories.

We may not rest on our laurels.

Like Paul, we must strain forward to the things that are ahead, we must press on toward the goal. To ‘strain forward’ means to strive for something not yet achieved. A goal is something toward which we are working, something we want to accomplish that gives direction and meaning to our actions.

To reach our goal in the Christian marathon we must cross the finish line with the help and by the grace of God. In this race, everyone who remains faithful until death wins gold, whether he comes in first or last (Revelation 2:10; Matthew 19:30).

No matter how well we have run in the past, we must finish the race to receive the prize. The final stretch is sometimes the hardest part.

In 1971 a promising young Belgian cyclist was killed, evidently because of a habit of looking back to see how far ahead he was. He was ahead of the others, but while looking back on a narrow road he collided with an on-coming car.

We should not look back to see if we are ahead of others. That might cause us to forget how far we are behind Christ.

Paul said: “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

We must forget past defeats.

Even if we have stumbled in the past, we may not slow ourselves down by continually looking back.

God is willing to forget the sins of His saints: “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12), “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24). Let us press on, and finish the race. Each day is an opportunity for a new beginning.

Difficulties can be overcome with the help of God. When God’s people were blocked by the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army closing in from behind, the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15).

And what is the goal that lies before us?

“The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

It is an upward call. The race is up-hill all the way. We are called by God to be like Christ, to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29), and that is definitely upward. We are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1). We press forward because we still have a long way to go.

The prize is “the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10), “the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:4).

God teaches us to remember and forget the right things.

Let us remember our Creator, His word and the resurrection of Christ, also the words of Paul: “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14 RSV). Amen.
Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive