Your Past: Friend or Foe: Part I
1Timothy 1:12-16 and Philippians 3:12-14

Introduction: The four-part series: Your Past: Friend or Foe describes God’s answer through Paul who had quite a past. Freedom from bondage is one goal of biblical truth. How would answer the question: Your past: friend or foe? Many people are so burdened by past experiences that they are in bondage. Paul discovered and the Bible teaches that everyone has a past and God was in it. He wants His people to use their past as the victors they are in Christ.

The past is an interesting term. This seemingly simple four-letter word conjures up thoughts regarding its meaning and the various systems that address and attempt to explain it. The term is generally refers to what or even who went before. The past has a time reference. It refers to something that existed or occurred previously. The word indicates something which is no more. The event and the situation are no longer current since they existed in the past.
Yet, the past carries significance for many people. Sometimes, the past has to do with the present. For some people, they have determined that the past is the present and or determines their present. They base their conclusions on previous experiences however troubling they may have been. Some people function as if the past is the major factor that determines their present life. However and emphatically: the past is not the major issue. Rather, it is one’s response that is the key. Therefore the question: your past: friend or foe is a pertinent question and deserves an answer.

Too frequently, a past event or a person in the past is linked to one’s perception and subsequent response or responses to the present. For them the past is the present or at least dominates the person in the present. For them the answer to the question: Your past: friend or foe would be answered as their foe. Terms such as recall, remembering, and memories come to the fore. For some people, the past controls them. They are in bondage.

Consider these facts: Most people personalize the past using such terms as my past or your past. People acknowledge an experience or time frame prior to their present. From the womb to the grave, everyone has a past. The past has several aspects:
• An actual fact;
• Perception of that fact whether it be a person, an event, or a situation;
• The person, then and now;
• God, now and then (this fact is often misunderstood or not considered.);
• There is a response to the past that is often expressed in terms of feelings but which is directly linked to thoughts and desires.

How are you doing with your past? Is your past friend or foe? Does the Bible offer any direction on the subject of the past? Most certainly it does! Addressing or handling the past should follow a tried and proven principle exemplified by Christ’s mediatorial work before the cross and while on the cross. Christ redeemed His time not only Hos people while on earth. Jesus used what was bad – His humiliation – for good which was to please His Father by saving a people for the Triune God. Such is one of the lessons of the cross. Jesus endured the shame and misery of His humiliation for the gain – the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 2:9-11). The joy was a return to heaven as the exalted King of kings and Lord of lords to be in the presence of the Triune God.

In like manner, the believer is to redeem the past whether the past seems to represent the good, the bad, or the ugly (Ephesians 5:15-18). He is to use past events to become more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Let’s be clear. The last sentence may seem like a theological mountain that cannot be climbed. The past may be so burdensome to you that you see no way out of situation. But take heart: you are not a victim (Roman 8:35-39)! There is true hope in Christ Jesus. All else is a hope-so. Jesus and the Word answers the question: Your past: friend or foe? Stay with me as we see how.

Everyone has a past and memories of it. Memories are thoughts that focus on actions or inactions taken against you or for you and your response in return. In reality, those who answer the question: your past: friend or foe as their foe have failed to rely on fundamental and life-altering truths. Those who answer the question as the past is their friend have relied and acted upon truths that sanctify. All people perceive and reevaluate previous experiences often on a continuous basis that continue into the present.

The results can be gratifying – the past is a friend – or frightening – the past is a foe. The term “having trouble with my past” refers more to the person’s response to previous experiences that he considers unpleasant. The past always has a response to it. How are you doing with your past? Is your past friend or foe and what is your basis for your answer? How does God want you/us to consider those past events now?

There are several non-negotiable truths that will aid a person to redeem the past.
1. Everyone has a past, but the person is not his past.
2. God is powerful and purposeful controlling all things for His glory and the good of His people.
3. The past is actually a product of God’s control since He is Lord of lords and King of kings. This is His world as Creator, Controller, and Sustainer.
4. God was in your past because He ordained all that comes to pass. Therefore, a response to the past is a response to Him – for or against Him.
5. A response to the past is a response to others and circumstances that God have brought into your life. Your response reflects your view of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness.
6. A response to the past reflects your answer to the question: did God make a mistake?
7. A response to the your past: friend or foe flows from thoughts and desires developed in the past which influence your present response to the person and or event from the past.

We continue the series  your past: friend or foe by focusing on two passages: 1 Timothy 1:12-16 and Philippians 3:12-14. These passages help us understand and apply the above non-negotiable truths in order to think about and handle or the past God’s way. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul taught an immutable truth: never forget the past (notice the cognitive and thinking term forget). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged the congregation to forget what is behind and push on – endure. These two truths are not contradictions. They express the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s revealed truth. Rightly understood they help us to handle the past God’s way.

1. How do you define your past?
2. Read 1 Tim. 1:12-16 and Phil. 3:12-14 and write down the context for each passage and Paul’s goal in presenting seeming contradictions.
3. What was Paul to remember and what was he to forget?
4. What do your learn about God, yourself, God’s control, and others?

1Timothy 1:12-16: Part II

v.12: I thank Jesus Christ our Lord who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.
v.13: Even though I was once a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man; I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.
v.14: The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
v.15: This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of who I am the worse.
v.16: But for that reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display he unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

We continue the series: Your past: friend or foe by focusing on Timothy. Timothy, a trusted disciple, was one of Paul’s closest co-workers who accompanied him on his missionary journeys. Paul considered Timothy his spiritual son (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1). Paul, the fearless one and lover of the Lord, was ready to pass the baton to Timothy. The work Paul had begun must go on. However, Paul knew that Timothy was fearful (1 Corinthians 16:10-11; 1Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 1:7). His thinking and wanting were wrongly focused. It would be easy for Timothy to consider the question: Your past: friend or foe from an ungodly perspective. Because of that fact, Paul opened his first letter to Timothy with the exhortation to uphold sound, hygienic, that is healthy and health-producing doctrine. Truth trumps falsehood and error. He made a similar admonition to the Ephesian elders. They were to be beware of false teachers within the church (Acts 20:28-31).

The admonition and exhortation to guard the flock continues until Christ returns. False teachers and false teaching abound. Truth is God’s antidote for God-honoring living in the present. Paul knew that he and Timothy needed sound, health-producing teaching for themselves and the congregations they ministered and would minister. Paul did not what the baggage of the past to hinder himself or Timothy.

Paul’s exhortation regarding false teachers and their teaching was given in the book of First Timothy (1: 3-7). He followed this exhortation with teaching on the law in verses 8-11 which is summarized in verse 8: the law is good if one uses it properly. Paul had been a false teacher as described in Philippians 3:3-6 (see Acts 9, 22, 26). Note well that Paul’s description of himself dated back to his birth. Paul knew himself. He wanted Timothy to understand where he was and the God who put him there. Paul was encouraging Timothy to properly answer the question: Your past: friend or foe? Paul considered his past not as a liability but a blessing.

Paul had been born a rebel and lived as one until that day on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He had prided himself on his pedigree, position, and performance. He had considered himself a lawkeeper par excellence. He was stuck on himself based on his use of a non-biblical standard and his own lawkeeping. Defining and working righteousness his way for his own glory had been uppermost in his thinking and wanting. He functioned as his own savior under the godless, ignorant assumption that he did not need a Savior, he had himself.

In 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Paul as a believer drew entirely different conclusions regarding his past and himself than he did when an unbeliever. He answered the question: Your past: friend or foe from God’s perspective. He acknowledged he had a past. In verse 12, in spite of his past, he joyfully and humbly thanked God for saving him, strengthening him, appointing him to the gospel ministry and counting him faithful. In verse 13, he recounted his past: he had had previously un-confessed sins and against God, the Church, and individuals. He was a blasphemer and idolater; he was a persecutor and violent man (a murderer, he sinned against others). Paul never forgot his past. Rather, he came to appreciate and rejoice in the fact that in spite of himself God saved him, let alone placed him in ministry. His past was a stepping stone for Paul to truly appreciate God’s grace and supernatural activity in his life.

Paul reflected on and gave evidence of a different aspect of his past in the second letter to the Corinthians (1:8-10; 4:8-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-29). Paul highlighted the hardships he experienced as an apostle. The marks on his body gave evidence of his past. He wrote that he will boast about his past: If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (11:30). He used the past God’s way: to show his weakness because when he was weak then he was strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Paul answered the question: Your past: friend or foe as friend. How so? He realized that when considering his past more was at stake than simply acknowledging himself a great sinner: a blasphemer, murderer, and angry man. It was more than focusing on his previous and ongoing sinful treatment of others seemingly protecting God. Rather since birth he had been a self-pleaser and God-hater!

After his conversion, Paul was able to accurately identify his previous habitual, patterned sinfulness of arrogant and ignorant self-pleasing. He came to realize that he had acted as his own lawmaker and lawkeeper. These insights are similar to David’s experience as captured in the opening verses of Psalm 51 (v.1-5). Both Paul and David knew that they, and every sinner, have patterned self-pleasing since the womb. The self-pleasing manifests itself in a variety of ways throughout life. For David the immediate issues of manifested self-pleasing were adultery and murder. For Paul it was attacking God and the Church.

Paul could have focused on forgiving himself as many people are wrongly told to do. Paul would have none of that! That command is nowhere found in Scripture. On the contrary, Paul was now in love with God. He could not get enough of Him (see Philippians 3:7-11). Since Paul properly understood God and himself, he was able to properly address his past – he correctly counseled himself! In 1 Timothy 1:14, Paul lauded God as the abundant Grace-giver as evidenced by Paul’s union with Christ and salvation. Paul was a redeemed man!

At the height of his exhilaration and as an encouragement for himself, his son Timothy and us, Paul proclaimed a trustworthy saying: Jesus came to save sinners and he, Paul, was the chief among them (1Timothy 1:15). Wow! How could that be? What did Paul mean? Remember that Paul was encouraging timid Timothy because God’s work must go on. At least one way to understand this passage is from a relational aspect. Paul came to realize that one reality of daily life and life after death was a personal encounter with God, the just Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25; Romans 14:10, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul knew that he would stand alone before God. He could not blame his past or others as causative or instrumental in his rebellion. He could not claim to be less of a sinner than others (see Matthew 5:17-20; Luke 18:9-14).

Paul was learning from his past. Previously, he would have pleaded his case based on presumptuous, self-styled righteousness (Luke 18:9-14). Now, Paul had been stripped of his arrogant unbelief and was joyfully grateful. His past and God’s initial and continuing work in the present were a package and a blessing – a friend! He relied on the perfect life and perfect death of Christ and His shed blood. Paul never forgot his past but rightly understood it as one redeemed by the blood. Therefore, he was able to:
• Grow in his repentance and in humility for his patterned ignorant and arrogant rebellion against Christ – Paul relished the forgiveness of Christ (Romans 8:1). It was his friend;
• Increase and intensify his gratitude for who and what he was in Christ – Romans 8:28-29;
• Strengthen his resolve to minister truth to himself and others simply because God deserves it – he was a victor who had moved from a self-focus to a God and other-focus (Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4);
• Work heartily unto the Lord in whatever circumstance God placed him knowing that God is glorified and others, including Timothy, are blessed (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Believer, those truths rightly understood and applied daily is God’s way for you to be victorious no matter the past and because if it! Consider those truths and determine how they are applicable to you. If God wasn’t in your past and had no role in it, you are correct: the past is the winner and you are only a victim. So get what you can for relief from any source. However, if God is who he says He is, you have real hope. If you run from Him you can expect misery (Proverbs 13:15b). If you to Him, you have already begun to handle your past God’s way! But there are still better things to come!

1. Paul was a sinner from the womb. Read and then compare 1Timothy 1:12-16 and Psalm 51:1-10. What do you learn and how will you use that information daily?
2. Write out the ways that you have used your past to help you grip God’s goodness and greatness (Psalm 34:8)?
3. Describe your past from your perspective and then from God’s. How do they compare?
4. How do you respond to God’s control? Compare your response with that of Jesus; especially while in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Philippians 3:12-14: Part III

We continue the series: past: friend or foe. The apparent “other” side of the coin regarding the past is given in Philippians 3:12-14:
v.12: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Jesus Christ took hold of me.
v.13: Brothers, I don’t consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
v.14: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from prison. It is a warm letter, one of joy and thanksgiving. But he included a warning. He was imprisoned and he urged the people to consider things from God’s perspective. He was in chains as a prisoner of God and not of Rome and for the sake of Christ and the gospel (1:12-13). Also, Paul addressed the division within the local church that displeased God (4:1-2).

He began chapter 3 with a catalogue of who he had been (v.3-6) and his remarkable transformation and desire to have the full experience of who Christ is and the incomparable delight of being in Him (v.7-11). He remembered his past as he focused on the present! In verses 12-14, he declared an enthusiasm for God’s providence and control even though he was in prison. In verse 12, Paul wrote that he had a taste of the good life. He had experienced the fullness of life that comes only from being in Christ. He expressed his new relationship of being in Christ as Christ taking hold of him. He wanted to experience and to know more of who the Triune God is. Paul declared that he had progressed in his Christian life because he remembered where he came from – his past, where he was, and where he was going (verse 12-14). Being bought with a price in the past profoundly influenced him in the present.

Paul knew and relished the fact that he had been placed into Christ – his prisoner (1:12-14). He was changed from a radical rebel and self-pleaser to a new creation desiring to grow in Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). He had a correct view of his past and of himself. In verse 13, he expressed the reality of growth in Christlikeness. Paul was one who had become (he had been placed in Christ). But he realized he was still one who was becoming (to be more like Christ). He had changed but was still changing. His change involved a radical different view of his past.

How did Paul function in the role of becomer/becoming and changer/changing? In other epistles, he alluded to the athlete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:8; 4:7-8). There are many metaphors for the Christian life (life after salvation) one of which is a race (Hebrews 12:1-3; James 1:12). God put every believer into the race when the Holy Spirit gave him a new heart. Once the spiritual surgery was performed, the person is a new creature in the new creation. Therefore, he is expected to and has the capacity to function as a new person. God did not intend the past to be a barrier for running the race.

Paul joyfully pictured himself and the believer as one who is to run the race God’s way, for His glory and the good of the person. Paul had not yet arrived but that fact created excitement. More growth in Christ by the Holy Spirit was a wonderful motivation and encouragement to use the past in the way God intended (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Paul did not forget the past. But it was not as burden to him. Memories of it must have lingered in his thinking. But Paul viewed himself radically different and therefore his past, present, and fruit differently. That which he had considered wonderful and gained in his own strength – his pedigree, position, and performance – he now counted as loss and dung. He put aside the past way of thinking and wanting by putting off his previous mindset and putting on a growing appreciation of what he was in Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). The accomplishments of his past done in his own strength, he now considered worthless. What was real and significant was God’s work in him and others in the present. He saw beyond himself; he considered the past a constant reminder of God’s work and goodness.

Paul did not forget the guilt associated with his past sinfulness and resultant sins. Rather he remembered he was forgiven in Christ (Romans 8:1; 2 Peter 1:9). Paul had tasted the depth of his past sinfulness. Therefore because he “handled his past” correctly, he began to savor the height, the width, the length, and the depth of God’s love and His saving and sanctifying grace (Ephesians 3:17-21). Without the bad news of the past Paul would have never appreciated the good news.

In verse 14, he summarized Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 John 3:1-3, and Colossians 3:1-3. There is a goal and a prize for those who run well and finish the race. The runner must keep a proper vertical focus, an eternal perspective, a right view of God’s good control and purpose for all things, and a proper interpretative grid. Scripture is that grid in lieu of experience alone, feelings, and thinking divorced from biblical truth. The runner will lose ground if he constantly looks backward at the past. No matter the past – being sinned against and or sinning even in response – Paul encouraged the brothers to keep focused on the finish line by focusing on what they were in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jesus did, and so should believers.

1. How are you doing as you run the race?
2. How has your view of the past influenced your view of God and self?
3. Describe your past in terms of the good, bad, and the ugly. Use 1 Timothy 1:12-16 and Philippians. 3:12-14 to aid you to use the past God’s way. Record your answers.

The Past: Friend or Foe? Part IV

I conclude the series: the past: friend or foe. You wonder and even say: what does all this have to do with me? No one has had a past like me! It is as if those people and events in the past are “right now.” I can’t stop thinking about them. Is that a common theme in your life? What have you done in response to your past and the God of your past?

Paul knew that restoring relationships, repenting when proper, and performing spiritual inventories were necessary. In the passages of 1 Timothy (1:12-16) and Philippians (3:12-14), Paul taught that the past was not to be an anchor and a burden. Rather, as a believer, and only as one, his goal was pleasing God and growing in Christlikeness by using the past. Someone who has not resolved the issue of God’s goodness, power, and control will always envision the past as God’s mistake.

The goal is to know Christ in all His fullness which leads to growth as a God-pleaser. The ultimate prize is being in the eternal presence of God which began at the time of the believer’s conversion. Endurance by way of the perseverance of the saints gives the believer a taste of heaven now (1 John 3:1-3). Believers endure because God endures. Godly endurance is accomplished as you use your past God’s way for His glory and for your growth in Christlikeness.

See Part I of this series: the past: friend or foe for seven non-negotiable truths and Part II for four musts that help you redeem the past and thereby honor God. Someone such as yourself may say that it was good for Paul but not for me. You and others may even say it was good for Jesus but not for me or us. When I hear these type of responses, I ask the person to define the good he is speaking. Generally he and others means the truth of Scripture is too much or too little for them at the moment. They function as if they can’t get over God’s control and the sins against them.

Good must be defined God’s way. For Paul, good means a radical change, not in his circumstances but in his perspective of God, himself, and the circumstances. As a saved person, he saw himself in the past as God saw him: an enemy and temporary agent of Satan! He also envisioned himself as a prisoner but of Christ and not people or circumstances (Philippians 1:12-14). Only a saved person has this perspective of the past and the God of the past.

When we look at God’s message from Paul, we read of Paul as the aggressor inflicting pain and evil on defenseless people. They were sinned against grievously. You might think Paul “got off light.” God was kinder to him than to those people and to me. We must not forget Paul recounting his hard times in 2 Corinthians. However, God doesn’t count hard times in terms of their number, duration, or severity per each individual. Job’s three friends made the mistake of thinking bad times meant a bad person and good times meant a good person. If that true, Christ was a terrible person and a loser!

When we look at the gospels, we find Jesus in a different setting than was Paul. He was sinned against by friends, family, and enemies. Sometimes people picture Jesus as the victim. Many people thought of Him as any other Jew who got what He deserved (Isaiah 53:3-5). Others think it was no big deal for Jesus to do what He did. It was His job to die for sinners, let alone His enemies (Romans 5:6-10). Or someone may say that Jesus was God and He could handle being sinned against but I can’t.

Unless the Holy Spirit changes a person from the inside out and continues to illumine the person’s heart, he will never accept, appreciate, and act upon the fact that God saves sinners in spite of themselves amid a sin-cursed world that houses anti-God and pro-self mentality. Being sinned against is never to be minimized. But it is never is to be maximized. The cross covers both aspects of responding to the past. The believer no matter how he feels and what he has experienced is a victor in Christ (Romans 8:35-39)

The series: the past: friend or foe was intended to help the believer use his past. Being content with God and how He runs His world are gracious, non-negotiable theological truths that Jesus never forsook. You as a believer will never be sinned against as Jesus was. As a believer, you will never go to hell – Jesus went to hell on the cross experiencing the full, unmitigated wrath of God in your place. That past event at and on the cross is the most significant event in your or anybody’s past. You must consider the past through the lens of the cross. Ask yourself: how have you responded to the cross and Jesus as your substitute?

You will redeem the time and the past only when you act on the truths that as a believer God was in your past and the cross is His redeeming tool. You may have been sinned against but Christ has demonstrated to you and the world that the truly bad news is the absence of the good news of biblical truth in your life. Now as a believer you have the truth – Jesus (John 14:6), Scripture (John 17:17), and the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) – that enables you to redeem your past. Your past: friend or foe will be answered God’s way! The past is God’s stepping stone for you to look inside the mind of the Triune God and perceive love in action. You are experiencing God in action because He is love (1 John 4:7-12, 18-19)!

1. Circumstances including your past never trump the non-negotiable truths regarding God and His ways.
a. Write out those truths mentioned in this series on the past.
b. Write out your response.
c. Write out how you will apply them. Be specific.
2. What is your view of God’s control from such verses as Genesis 50:19-51; Isaiah 45:5-7; Lamentations 3:21-23; Romans 8:28-29.
3. Write out how you have redeemed the time including the past according to Ephesians 5:15-18.