Philippians 3:1 – 14
Trinity Church Mount Barker 4th Anniversary
When do you really know someone?
I’ve got 2 questions for you to think about:
Firstly, What’s it like to know someone?
To really know someone?
I don’t mean to know someone on Facebook. Social media has changed what it means to know someone, hasn’t it? According to Facebook, you could know someone, and yet not even recognise them if they were standing in front of you! What is it to know someone?
And particularly, what does it mean to know Christ? Which is sometimes a bit of Christian jargon, but’s it’s a significant expression in this part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi?
What does it mean to know Christ?
And my second question, what is of greatest value to you?
What object, person, experience, thing, do you consider to be of surpassing worth?
In the recent bushfires that’s a question some people have to grapple with very quickly! If I can rescue from my house only what I can carry, which things are worth the most to me?
In the Ash Wednesday bushfires, my mother was faced with that question, and she says she walked out of the house with my sister in one hand, and I in the other! So obviously I think she chose well!
But what is it that we value above all else?
Today, as we celebrate our 4th birthday, we have the opportunity to, I guess we could call it “re-vision” as a church,
To consider those 2 question;,
What does it mean to know Christ, and what is it that we value above all else?
When I have to fly somewhere, we take off from the airport, and I expect that the pilot will look at his instruments, check his heading, as we head on our way.
But I hope, that that, 2 minutes after take-off, isn’t the only time in the whole trip, that the pilot checks his heading, and looks at his map, to work out where we’re going.
If you want to make sure you arrive, you don’t just check your direction at the beginning, do you?
You keep checking your heading all the way along
That’s our goal for today.
We’re 4 years in to the life of our church,
And so we want to check our heading, to make sure we’re still aiming for the right goal.
Get your valuations right!
Paul begins this section, with a warning about assigning the right value to things.
We looked at the first part of this passage last year, And I don’t want to spend too much time here, you can download the talk if you want, but hear the warning about placing a high value on things that are of, no value.
Specifically, thinking that religious effort and devotion count for something before God.
See verse 2, Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.
Watch out for people, who say the things you do, count for something before God.
In the first century in Philippi, it was circumcision. “You have to be circumcised, if you’re a bloke, if you want to be one of God’s people”, they said
But Paul’s description of himself in verses 3 to 6 shows that there were plenty of other things that people thought were valuable in terms of pleasing God, and earning his favour.
circumcised on the eighth day,
of the people of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of Hebrews;
in regard to the law, so now we’re into achievements, a Pharisee;,
6 as for zeal, persecuting the church;,
as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If anyone could say, my life counts for something before God,
If God looked at me, he’d have to say, “I’m valuable”
If anyone could say that, it was the Apostle Paul.
But that’s not what he says, is it?
He says, those are not the valuable things that you thought they are!
Verse 7, But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ
I don’t know whether you watch those shows on TV about the pawnshops, second-hand jewellery shops. Kathy and I seem to discover these crazy shows when we’re on holidays!
These people who walk into the pawnshop, with some piece of jewellery that their boyfriend gave them, perhaps.
The relationship’s broken up, and so they want to cash in, what they were told, was a very expensive piece of jewellery.
But, as it always seems to turn out, when the jewellery expert assesses it, it’s not very expensive at all!
It was some cheap piece of metal, painted gold, with a plastic rock in it, and then from there things tend to go badly, and there’s lots of swear words edited out!
It turns out those things, religious heritage,
Putting your name on a roster,
Being diligent in your ministry area,
Those things are not valuable Paul says!
And if you think they are, someone has tricked you!
You’re just like that girl on TV, whose boyfriend told her the diamond ring was priceless, when it turns out, it’s neither a diamond, nor priceless.
… Because what once was profit is now loss
But it gets worse!
Not only do these things not count towards getting us in a right relationship with God,
Whatever were gains to me I now consider, neutral, for the sake of Christ?
No! I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
His word for garbage in verse 8, is actually a bit stronger. Think excrement, or manure, or other words you might know that mean the same thing!
And this is the scary part,
The things that we invest in,
The things that we can make our goals,
The things that in all honest conviction, we think are good and valuable,
These things can actually get in the way of us reaching God’s true goal for us.
They can hinder us, verse 8, knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.
At God, Church & Me on Wednesday night, we talked about budgets, and how money works here at Trinity,
Paul’s language here would fit well in that conversation.
He’s using financial language.
He says, once upon a time, I thought all these things were in the profit column.
But now, he says, I don’t put them in the profit column, but in the loss column.
Once upon a time I thought they were assets, now because my goal is to know Christ Jesus as, I count them, not as assets, but as liabilities.
Now, Paul doesn’t say you have to stop doing these things.
He can’t stop being a Hebrew,
He doesn’t want to get un-circumcised!
He’s saying “get your valuations right, don’t think that these things in themselves are what God wants from you!”
If there is anything in our lives, that would lead us to think that we have somehow less need for God’s grace, then that thing has become has become worse than worthless.
Knowing Christ is of ultimate value.
So have a look at the change in perspective, that Paul’s encounter with Jesus brought about.
The thing he now values above all else, is to know Christ Jesus my Lord, verse 8, but and notice the comparisons.
Verse 7, whatever he used to think was profit, is now loss, for the sake of Christ.
Verse 8, I consider everything a loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
And again, I have lost all things, for Christ’s sake.
And yet again in verse 8, I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
Over and over again, Paul says, his goal is Christ;
to gain Christ, to know Christ,
And the reason that all those things of which he’d previously been so proud, the reason he considers them worthless, is that they were never a means of knowing Christ.
Christ can be known
Knowing Christ might not seem like such an unusual concept to you, but there are many people, for whom the thought that God’s king, the Christ could be known is both shocking, and extraordinarily comforting.
Think of the people you know, who are far from God, who have no understanding of Jesus as God’s chosen king,
Little concept that they have lived in God’s world, but lived as God’s enemy,
For them to learn that Jesus Christ, the one in whom God reveals himself, that Jesus can be known, today, is breath-taking news.
God can be known, in the person of Jesus.
If you’ve got young kids you may be familiar with Seussical, the musical based on the books of Dr Seuess.
There’s a song in the show, sung by Horton, the elephant, and he laments,
I'm alone in the universe
So alone in the universe
And one day soon I know there will be
One small voice in the universe
One true friend in the universe
Well, right here, that myth is busted right open, isn’t it?
We’re not alone.
Christ can be known.
Christ must be known personally
But not only can Christ be known,
He must be known personally.
I consider everything a loss, Paul says, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord
Knowing Jesus is not the same as knowing about Jesus,
This isn’t being Facebook friends with Jesus, just log in every now and then to let Jesus know what you’ve been doing.
What is it that Paul values above everything else?
The thing of surpassing worth is, knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
To know Jesus, is to make a personal response to him, and to submit to him, as Lord.
You may recall that the language of “knowing” someone, comes up in old versions of the Bible, for example, Adam knew his wife Eve, in Genesis 4, and it’s not just some kind of euphemism, because the Bible translators were all too embarrassed to talk about sex!
That’s what “to know” really means;, a deep, personal, intimate union.
Of course, the sexual side of things isn’t part of the picture here, but Paul longs for the deepest, most personal, most intimate union with Christ.
What is worth more than anything else? Knowing Jesus as my Lord.
To submit to his rule,
To love him, as we have been loved.
Again, at God, Church & Me, we were talking about vision statements, and the fact that we don’t have one!
But if we were looking for one, this could be it, couldn’t it?
People, knowing, Christ, as Lord.
It’s what Paul’s on about!
Actually it is pretty much the vision statement of the Church Missionary Society, with whom we partner in sending the Klein family into South East Asia.
“A world that knows Jesus”, that’s what CMS longs to see.
And that’s what we want to be on about, isn’t it?
Paul says, “This is the thing of surpassing worth,
Did you hear this week about the Italian art gallery cleaners, who threw a modern art installation worth $15,000, into the rubbish, because they didn’t recognise it as art?
Well, modern art, who can blame them?!
We need to realise the supreme worth of this!
Here’s where we check out heading along the journey, to make sure we arrive at our destination.
Can we say, as individuals, as the body of Christ at TMB, that knowing Christ Jesus as Lord, is of all surpassing worth, and that in the shadow of that objective, everything else is considered loss?
Do we value knowing Christ above all else?
So think about us as a church for a moment, There are lots of things that we could devote ourselves to,
Lots of things we could value highly,
But do we, like Paul, value knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, above everything else?
Are we convinced, that to know Christ as Lord, is what people need more than anything else?
And if so, then we need to help each other guard against any other,
Ministry, getting in the way of this.
For us, circumcision isn’t the thing, that will cloud our vision on this, but it might be church planting!
We value it.
We are convinced by the research, and our own experience, that planting new churches, and starting new congregations is probably under God, the most effective way, for people to come under the sound of the gospel.
We are committed to launching a new Sunday gathering in the next 12 to 24 months, and so Darren has joined our team, to help us move that plan forward.
Now, it’s good to have a plan, for how we might fulfil Jesus’ great commission,
It’s good to have a plan when we manage limited resources,
Plans are good!
And if planting new churches and congregations is a step towards helping people know Christ Jesus as Lord, well and good.
But if planting churches becomes the goal,
If we start thinking “what people need is more churches” instead of thinking “what people need, is to know Christ as Lord”, then planting new churches actually has moved into the loss column.
It’s not good,
It’s not neutral,
What about for us as individuals?
“I read 12 chapters of my Bible every day, without fail”
Until, reading 12 chapters of your Bible, somehow becomes a supplement to you, knowing Christ Jesus as Lord, and submitting to and obeying him.
At which point, reading 12 chapters of your Bible every day, becomes, excrement!
“I’m rostered on for something every single week at church.”
Great! Do you know how much I appreciate people who give up hours and hours every week, to serve our church family?!
But if you were to think, that turning up at 7:30 every morning, and staying until 2, meant you didn’t need to know Christ Jesus as your Lord, and bring your life into submission to him.
If you thought that your attendance, and your gifts, meant you didn’t need to love, as you have been loved,
Then your ministry, yes, even your ministry, is excrement.
And if we think about what we offer, to each other, here, and what we offer people beyond these walls,
If we hold out to people, a program,
Or a conversation,
Or a message,
Or a relationship, and we offer that in a way that says, This is what you need,
This is what life is all about,
Use this message,
Or this person,
Or this church, as the foundation for your life, as your reason for confidence before God.”
If, we set people up, to put their faith in me,
Or in you,
Or in our church,
Is that not like inviting someone to dinner at your house, and instead of offering them food, you serve up excrement, on a plate.
How dare we?
When we know, what it is to count everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord
How dare we?
How dare we conduct ourselves in a way that suggests Jesus is of less worth?, and that other things are valuable, when in fact, if they hinder someone knowing Christ, they are less than worthless?
Knowing Christ means sharing in resurrection power and sharing in suffering
So will knowing Christ mean for us?
I had a quick look this week on the web;, at a number of websites, set up by Christians, imploring people to know Christ. “Do you know Christ?” they ask.
There’s one that describes a bungee jump operator, who, at the bottom of the canyon, immediately underneath the spot where people leap off into the air, this man had written in giant letters, “Do you know Jesus?”
There’s even a song, called, “Do you know Jesus?”
But just about all of those things, with the possible exception of the bungee jump, would have been better titled “Do you know about Jesus?”
Because the solution to being far from Jesus, that is offered, in all of those places that I found, is simply information about Jesus; who he is,
When he lived,
What his life was like.
Now sure, to know someone, you do need to know something about them, that’s the theory behind speed dating, at least!
But it can’t stop there,
And in fact, when it comes to knowing Christ, the essential facts are not really all that many!
But as Paul goes on to say here, actually it takes a lifetime, and even beyond, to completely work out to completely work out what it is, to know Jesus.
Not that I have already obtained all this, he says, verse 12, or have already arrived at my goal
To really know Christ, is experience the power that is victorious over death, and to endure the suffering that submits even to death.
See verse 10, I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul understands that knowing Jesus is to share in Jesus’ death and resurrection, to the point that that will be the pattern for his life, and the pattern for anyone who would follow Jesus, suffering, death, resurrection.
Notice though, that Paul starts with resurrection! Resurrection, suffering, death, resurrection!
And it’s not that he’s mucked up the order, but that he understands that the power that raised Christ from the dead, is the power that is given to strengthen, to encourage, to help us persevere, as we take those other steps of knowing Christ, participation in his sufferings, and becoming like him in his death.
How can we persevere in those things, straining forward?, well by the same power of God that he exerted in raising Christ from the dead!
It’s an interesting concept, don’t you think, this participation in Christ’s sufferings?
When Christian people suffer for the sake of Christ,
When our brothers and sisters around the world are persecuted for naming the name of Christ, .
When we are mocked, ridiculed, hated because of our identification with Jesus,
When the Apostle Paul suffers, so that others can have the opportunity of coming to know Jesus,
To suffer in that way, is to share in the very sufferings of Christ.
For Paul, this is an inseparable part of what it is, to know Christ.
What all those websites seemed to omit in their descriptions of what it is to know Jesus, is that to know Christ is to suffer with Christ, to follow his example of innocent suffering.
And yet, Paul is clear as day, suffering is a pre-requisite for glorification, the resurrection from the dead
To know Christ, is both to share in suffering, and to share in resurrection power.
Which all means what?!
It means, that when we say, “we want people to know Jesus”, we need to make sure they know this is what that “knowing Jesus” will look like: Suffering, and resurrection power.
We don’t want to simply teach facts about Jesus, but help people come to know Jesus in God’s Word, and to be equipped by the power of God to share in Christ’s suffering, and in his resurrection.
This still lies ahead of us
And yet, still Paul says, he’s a long way off from knowing Christ, in the way that he wants to.
Verse 12, Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
He isn’t loving Christ, the way he longs to,
He’s not submitting everything to Christ, the way he knows he needs to,
He isn’t dying to sin, the way he knows could.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.,
But one thing I do:, Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on, toward the goal, to win the prize, for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Do we long, that our knowledge of Jesus, would be just as ever-deepening, ever-widening, ever-growing?
How foolish am I, if I’m content to remain static in my knowledge of Jesus.
Am I straining forward to know Christ more?
To share in his sufferings?
To become like him in his death?, as I both put sin to death in my life, and be willing to suffer death, for Christ.
One of my favourite stories, some of you will know, is about the little boy who would go off to church with his mother every week, but his father always stayed home.
One day the little boy asked his dad how come he didn’t go to church. Dad says, “I don’t need to go to church, I became a Christian a long time ago, and now I’m established.”
That afternoon the family are out for a drive, and they pass a truck, bogged off the side of the road, up to its axles in mud, and the driver and passengers are vainly trying to dig it out.
The little boy looks at the truck, looks at his father and says, “Well dad, I guess they’re established!”
For Paul, there is no such thing as an established Christian, in that sense. If you really know Christ, then you will strain forward to arrive at your goal.
Goal, finish line, it’s the same word. And this is a good section to read when the Winter Olympics are on TV, because there’s plenty of straining toward the goal to win the prize.
Everyone has one goal, to cross the line and win the prize.
And in order to reach his goal of knowing Christ, and sharing in his sufferings, and becoming like him in his death, Paul has to leave behind the things that once upon a time, he valued most highly.
The Jamaican Bobsled Team are back at the Olympics, you may have seen,
If they spent all their time in Sochi, thinking about how popular they are back in Jamaica,
Gazing fondly at the gold medal they won at the 2000 World Championships in Monaco,
They will never win their prize, will they?
So they strain towards what lies ahead.
I wonder what it is, that we strain towards?
Or, in our knowledge of Christ, is there what we might call a “godly dissatisfaction”, a longing for things to be other than what they currently are?
Does our sin,
And our selfishness,
And our unwillingness to suffer even minor inconvenience, that other people might come to know Christ, does that distress us?,
And do we long for that to become less and less, as we know Christ more and more?
And the other side of the coin;, what are those things, that need to be forgotten?
What are the things, that might make us mistakenly believe, we have no need for God’s grace?
Our religious achievements,
Our Christian heritage,
Our ministry involvement,
The great things we’ve done as a church, in just 4 short years.
Those are some good things, aren’t they? But if they distract us from arriving at our goal, we need to forget them.
If, as Paul argues, knowing Christ Jesus as Lord, is of all surpassing worth, then friends we must not let anything, get in the way.
The band is going to share an item in a moment, and then we’ll sing again, and the words we’re going to sing, were written over 1400 years ago, and yet have a listen to how well, in the 21st Century, they capture the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure, Thou art.