Philippians 3 : 4b – 14
‘Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.’
As Christians in the world today, we are living in really exciting times!
Don’t you think so?
They may be challenging and tough times, but I believe that for us they are really good times.
They are difficult times because the established church is coming in for a bashing like never before. Everything that the Christian Church stands for is being attacked as outdated and irrelevant. The teaching and morals we promote are labelled by many as intolerant, inappropriate and insensitive. Even God’s Word, the Holy Bible, which for us is the basis of our faith, our teaching and way of life, is in many circles treated with utter contempt. And I could probably go on!
We are living in a world of constant and rapid change. Change can be difficult and stressful. But challenging and tough times are good times, because they bring us back to the heart of who we are and what we really believe.
So what do you believe? What do you really believe?
I get to conduct many funerals. It happens to be an occupational hazard!
I remember a man coming to me after the grave-side service of one funeral, and saying: ‘Thank you for pointing us to Christ crucified and risen from the dead – the only sure hope for us in death!’
I simply responded: ‘What else is there to point to?’ And yet I suspect he was saying something more; because I have experienced it and I struggle with it most times I prepare for a funeral.
Yet, some so called ‘Christian’ funerals today seem to deny the need for a Saviour. The whole process becomes a celebration of the one who died. So that the comfort for those who mourn is … ‘he lived a pretty good life, she lived a good life … now that’s gotta count for something!’
Well, the apostle Paul blows that line of thinking out of the water!
But the danger can be that some of us ‘Christians’ just don’t get it!
So just listen to what Paul says highlighting his own personal ‘good life’ …
- ‘I was circumcised on the eighth day’ (v. 5)
The command of God that was given to Abraham was followed in Paul’s life! This means he was born into the Jewish faith. He knew the privileges and observed all the ceremonies after his birth.
- He was … ‘of the people of Israel’ (v. 5)
This put him in a most unique and special relationship with God. Because God chose Israel from among all the other nations! By calling himself an Israelite, Paul stressed the absolute purity of his race and descent.
- He was … ‘of the tribe of Benjamin’ (v. 5)
He was not only an Israelite, he was from an elite tribe! This gave him a very special place and position. It was as if he belonged to Israel’s royalty!
- He was … ‘a Hebrew of Hebrews’ (v. 5)
We know that the Jews were scattered all over the world. But Paul belonged to that group of Hebrews who stubbornly refused to assimilate with the nations among whom they lived. And to do that, they continued to learn and speak their native Hebrew language. It made them truly Hebrew.
- ‘in regard to the law,’ he was … ‘a Pharisee’ (v. 5)
There were not many Pharisees. They were a very special sect – the spiritual athletes of Judaism. Devoting their whole lives not just to the study of every smallest detail of the Law, but also to following it to the ‘nth’ degree!
- And ‘as for zeal, persecuting the church’ (v. 6)
Commitment to a cause was the greatest quality in religious life. Paul was convinced that Jesus Christ was intending to undermine Jewish Law. So he persecuted the followers of Christ, trying to destroy his apostles. (see Acts 9:1-2)
- And ‘as for legalistic righteousness’, he was ‘faultless’ (v. 6)
There were no demands of the Law which Paul did not fulfil. When it came to the Law, he was above and beyond criticism.
So how do your credentials stack up against those of the apostle Paul?
Does our ‘good life’ come anywhere near the ‘good life’ and the ‘achievements’ of Paul?
Now just listen to what Paul thinks of his credentials? His ‘good life’! He says: ‘… I consider everything a loss to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, having a righteousness … which is through faith in Christ.’ (v. 8-9)
Now that word rubbish is a very strong word. In English we call it ‘dung.’ We know it by other names – it’s that offensive substance that every living creature expels from the body daily!
It does not matter how impressive our human achievements are – they only amount to dirty, smelly dung. Even our Christian parents, or our connection to the church – whether regular or occasional, cannot put us right with God. Our position in society is of no help! My being a pastor will not save me! We cannot win God’s saving love. We cannot earn eternal life with God in heaven.
God’s saving love comes to us only through faith in Christ.
Let’s hear what the Apostle Paul says: ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is the heart of our faith as Lutherans.
So do you get it? Everything else in life is dung, compared to knowing Christ!
Now we have all come to know each other, to varying degrees, haven’t we?
Well, big deal! So what! Our ‘knowing’ each other counts for nothing, if we are not in a relationship with each other. In relationships that blesses us all – and please and honour our God.
When we die, we can’t take our life achievements with us.
At very best our credentials and our achievements will be like dung. They may perhaps fertilize the world we leave behind, and the lives of others. But they won’t help us.
When we die the only thing we can take with us is our relationship with Jesus!
So to know Christ should be our ultimate goal.
Now just consider your values.
Do you place anything above your relationship with Jesus?
It is only in Christ that we enjoy all the blessings and benefits of being in a right relationship with God.
We have peace now through the forgiveness of sins. We experience it in the miracle of baptism. We express it in our personal confession, followed by God’s forgiveness! Strength for daily living in the power of God’s love! Given to us right here in Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out.
I hope you came here with empty hands this morning. Because there is nothing we can offer God.
May you go with hands and hearts filled to overflowing with the richness of God’s love and grace, …
as he leads you forward … ‘toward the goal to win the prize for which God
has called (you) heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ (v. 14)
Pastor Gus Schutz