The third message in the series
“A Town Named Philippi:Lessons from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians”
By Ed Winkler
Text:Â Â Â Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7Â Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12Â Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
This is the third message in the series on Paulâ€™s Letter to the Philippians. The first message was from chapter 1 where Paul told how us to live in a hostile world. His method was to live together in manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. In other words, show them who you are by how you live. The second message was from the second chapter about how the church can live together in unity. Paul said to make Christ the center, to put others first, and, in his words, stop â€œmurmuring and arguing.â€ Thatâ€™s advice is as good in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century. Todayâ€™s message comes from the third chapter. In this reading, Paul switches gears. He talks about himself. He is answering those Christians who believed that Christians must follow the Jewish laws. In answering that faction, he holds himself up as an example to us.
Paul was born into a Jewish family in Tarsus, which is in modern day Turkey. He could even give you his pedigree as a member of the Tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee, one of the Jewish factions who believed in the oral religious law as well as the written law. He was so zealous that he persecuted Christians. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem when he had a life-changing event: he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He lost his vision, but he heard Christ say to him, â€œWhy do you persecute me?â€ He went on to Damascus where a reluctant Christian took care of him. There, as he said, â€œthe scales fell from eyes,â€ and he could see again. He gained vision in more ways than one. He could then see Christâ€™s presence in the world. After disappearing for a few years, he began to travel around the Mediterranean countries. He would go into a town, worship at the synagogue, work in the market place, and tell people about Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, whom God raised from the dead. The people in some of those places ran him out of town, but in others, he formed churches that became the infrastructure for the Christian movement.
Despite his outstanding resume, Paul wrote that it was all rubbish compared to what he had now. Actually, rubbish is a sanitized version. The closest translation to the Greek word is a four-letter word in English. Paul gladly gave up whatever he may have gained that he might know Christ in every way. Paul did more than answer the folks who insisted on following the Jewish laws. He also gave us an example of the Christian life, but not in the ways you might expect.
Paulâ€™s story serves as a powerful warning about being too confident, smug, or self-righteous. There is much more to the Christian life than checking boxes or saying the right words. I get a little annoyed when I hear people reduce Christianity to a little formula. Iâ€™ve heard many people, some famous, some not, say something like this: â€œIf you want to go to heaven, close your eyes and say, â€˜Jesus, Iâ€™m a sinner. I believe in you.â€™ Then youâ€™ll go to heaven when you die.â€ Really? Is that all there is to Christianity? Iâ€™ve heard other people say; â€œI know that fill-in-the-blank is in heaven now because he or she was a good person.â€ Really? Are you on Godâ€™s speed dial so God can let you know whoâ€™s in heaven? Iâ€™ve known more than a few smug, self-righteous folks who think that going to church every Sunday (or three out of four or maybe, two our four Sundaysâ€”hey, Iâ€™ve been busy) is the ticket. Paul tells us that a vibrant faith is more than a formula or a good resume. Paul tells us that vibrant faith is a lot of work and is never finished.
Another way of saying this is that our faith is a journey. We are on a journey to know Christ. We are not just standing still. Hopefully, we are moving in the right direction.
A journey is by nature somewhat unpredictable and not just a straight line. When I go hiking in the mountains, I try to map out the most favorable route. Sometimes, I hike form north to south on the Appalachian Trail. Sometimes, I hike from south to north. But Iâ€™ve never hiked on the trail that was all downhill. The hikes, like our faith journeys, go up and down and sometimes sideways. The journeys, like my hikes, have a great mountaintop experiences with great views. Sometimes, there are boring stretches where I wonder if I am making progress. On a faith journey, unlike a hike, we can sometimes go backwards. We can, as John Wesley said, backslide. The journey to meet Christ is not always easy.
A faith journey, like a trip, needs a roadmap. If weâ€™re taking a trip across the country, we take out our maps, or our GPSâ€™s, for guidance. We Christians have written guides. The first is, of course, the Bible. There is a reason why it remains popular after thousands of years. It is not always easy to read or understand. In fact, it is at times, difficult, offensive, or scary. Yet, it contains the wisdom we need for faith. We also have the great writings of our Christian ancestors and current sisters and brothers. They are not all equally enlightening. Some are anything but enlightening, but those that have stood the test of time can provide amazing guidance.
When I was younger, I used to do more hiking alone. Now I either hike with someone are make sure that Iâ€™m hiking on a trail where other people could find me if something happened. I finally figured out that if I fell and broke my ankle or got bitten by snake, it would be helpful to have someone with me. We need companions on our faith journeys. Thatâ€™s part of the churchâ€™s mission: to be with us as we journey toward and grow in Christ. The faith journey is hard enough, but itâ€™s almost impossible alone.
According to the pollsters, the fastest growing religious group in America is those people who call themselves â€œspiritual but not religious.â€ I take them seriously. I think that there are many people, especially younger people, who are truly looking for more meaning and depth in their lives. They want more than just money, a good job, or a few beers on Friday night.
But there are problems with idea of spiritual but not religious. They are not grounded in a tradition. There is no guidebook. There are no road signs to guide them on their way. Thereâ€™s no history to help them know if they are making progress. Their journey has no clear destination. Thereâ€™s an old saying that if you donâ€™t know where youâ€™re going, any road will get you there. I fear that spiritual, but not religious, usually ends up back in Egoland, where the divine looks an awful lot like us.
The Christian journey has a destination; it has a goal. The goal is to know Christ. To know Christ is to be in a relationship. It is, at least at times, to feel Christâ€™s presence and guidance. To know Christ is to try to be like Christ. I know thatâ€™s a heavy burden. I feel it everyday. But itâ€™s the goal.
To know Christ is not just to know about Christ, but also to know Christ. Iâ€™ve known a few people who know about Christ, but who donâ€™t know Christ. Iâ€™ve known some folks who read a lot of books, but didnâ€™t have a clue about knowing Christ.
I knew a very devout elderly woman in Arlington. She was very proud of her son who went to seminary and then got a doctorate and taught at a famous seminary. She was also very concerned about her son, who got a lot of knowledge, but lost his faith. She was embarrassed that her son taught would-be preachers, but hadnâ€™t been near a church in decades. He knew all about Jesus, but he didnâ€™t know Christ.
Knowing Christ doesnâ€™t mean that we donâ€™t need knowledge. We ought to learn as much as possible, but the goal is to know Christ, not just to accumulate books about him. Learning from the Bible, Bible scholars, theologians, and even friends helps us know about Christ and that knowledge can help us know Christ. Read St. Augustineâ€™s Confessions and see if it doesnâ€™t help you know Christ a little better. Read John Wesleyâ€™s Journal and see if it doesnâ€™t help you know Christ a little better.
The destination is to know Christ, not get to heaven. I know that will make some people feel faint, but I think that Paul has it right. If we journey to know Christ, the getting to heaven stuff will take care of itself.
The good news is that we donâ€™t have to make this journey alone. We have friends, and we have a church. We are here to journey with you. We also have Christ Jesus. Paul said that he pressed on toward his goal on knowing Christ because â€œChrist Jesus has made me his own.â€ Christ Jesus has already claimed us. He has already put his stamp on us. Maybe itâ€™s time to put aside our easy answers, self confidence, or smug self-righteousness and commit ourselves to knowingâ€”not just knowing aboutâ€”but knowing Christ Jesus and make him our own just has he has made us his own.
Â© 2014 Ed Winkler