Paul was an exemplary Christian. He served God with a good conscience [Acts 23:1]. He kept his body in subjection [1 Cor 9:27]. He was careful to limit his liberty [1 Cor 10:23] so as not to offend or weaken a brother or cause him to stumble [Rom 14:21; 1 Cor 8:12-13].
And yet Paul said in Phil 3:12-14, “Not as though I… were already perfect.” He knew that, though he was exemplary in his conduct, he was not already perfect. This is evident when you consider that he disobeyed the Spirit by going to Jerusalem [Acts 21:4]. Notice that he had ample warning from the Holy Spirit not to go [Acts 20:23, 21:11-13]. And yet he went. You wouldn’t have expected that from Paul.
As much as Peter had to learn from his mistakes during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, you might have thought that he didn’t need to learn anymore hard lessons from his mistakes. And yet, in Gal 2:11-13, you read that Paul had to withstand Peter and correct him for his dissimulation in his conduct toward the Gentiles. Peter is the man that God used to preach the first sermon after the ascension of Jesus Christ. He is the man God used to open the gospel to the Gentiles. He was the apostle to the circumcision. And yet he had to be corrected.
Folks, as hard as we may try, we are not perfect, yet. Paul said that he hadn’t attained; he wasn’t already perfect. Now, that should help us in dealing with our own faults and with the faults of others. You are going to make some mistakes; you are not going to win every fight with your flesh [Gal 5:16-17]. You are not already perfect. You must remember:
You are going to mess up. When you have a pretty good string of days and you think you finally have this Christian living down, you are going to falter. The very best athletes don’t win every game or every competition. Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.” And you aren’t going to win every day, either. You are going to be a loser some days. Get used to it.
Others are going to mess up. When you think you are a little further down the road than some other Christians, it’s easier to pick out their faults. And sometimes it’s tempting to berate them for messing up. But they’re not perfect, either. So, don’t expect them to be. In the 2019 Wimbledon men’s final, Roger Federer, serving at 8-7 in the fifth set against Novak Djokovich, was up 40-15. He had two match points on his racket and ended up losing the match in the 5th set tie-breaker. I must admit, I was disappointed. I wanted him to win. But you don’t win them all. No one does. No one is perfect.
Learn from your mistakes. We often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. I can tell you the answer to nearly every question I got wrong in Bible college, and I can remember most of the questions. I learned from those mistakes so I wouldn’t repeat them again. You don’t easily forget things you did wrong. However, Paul said, “forgetting those things which are behind.” So, you have to take what you’ve learned from the mistake and then forget the mistake. Remember the lesson; forget the mistake. You have to move on. You can’t dwell in despondency.
Keep moving forward. The prize is before you. Paul said that you have to reach “forth unto those thing which are before,” [Phil 3:13]. You have to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” [Phil 3:14]. You can’t get hung up on your past failures. You have to keep looking toward those future victories. And there will be plenty of those, as well. You have a “high calling of God.” He is working in you to get you to the prize. The worst thing you can do is to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. People who do this seem to justify themselves by saying, “Well, you know I’m not perfect.” Even though we aren’t perfect, the idea is to keep getting better. The idea is to “apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus,” [Phil 3:12].
Conclusion: even the best in the Bible had to learn from their mistakes. Paul eventually ended up in jail for going to Jerusalem. Yet, the Lord used this time for him to write his “prison epistles.” The mistake didn’t ruin him. He finished his course [2 Tim 4:7]. He made it to the prize. And so should we.