Monday, September 10, 2012

Nothing Else Matters (Sermon)

(To hear audio of this sermon, click HERE.)

Nothing Else Matters
Philippians 3:4-14
Trinity Christian Church
Smyrna, Tennessee
September 9, 2012
Chris O’Rear, M.Div., M.M.F.T.

            I know Marshall has been preaching from the book of Philippians and today we are continuing the lessons from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi found in Philippians 3.  I will focus today on verses 4 through 16.

Paul opens this section of the text by telling the people in the church that what he is writing to them are things that he has written to them before.  He says that he does not mind writing these things again and he is certain that it won’t hurt the people hear it again.  There DO seem to be some things that we all need to hear again…from time to time.  The church in Philippi was made up primarily of gentile (or non-Jewish) converts to Christianity.   However, the church seemed to struggle with some groups Jewish believers within the church who wanted to say that you could not be a “Real Christian” unless you did certain things or believed certain things that the Jews believed and THEN followed Christ.   Apparently, there were arguments within the church there about what constituted true faith and whether these Jewish elements were absolutely necessary to be a Christian.  Paul says he is writing again to try to clarify this issue for them.  Paul refers to those that are causing the trouble as “Dogs” and “Evil Workers”.  These people wanted to hold on to their own ideas of what it was to be good and right and add on to the simple truth of grace and faith in Christ.   

            If there were such people today, they might tell new Christians, “You are still ‘a Christian’, but you can be a real Christian unless your parents and grandparents were Christians.  They might tell new Christians, “You cannot be ‘real Christians’ unless you were baptized as an adult and dunked under the water.”  They may tell others, “You are not really Christian unless you vote for the political party that we vote for”.  They might say, “You cannot be a “True Christian” unless you support the same view on controversial issues that we have”.   These people that Paul is speaking against put a great deal of value in their birth and their family heritage.  They insisted on their particular religious practices and their own religious rules.  Paul says if you want to rate yourself that way, I can certainly rate myself that way…

            4b-6 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

            Paul is pointing out that under the categories that trouble-makers wanted to use to judge others, he was without fault.  He was not a convert to Judaism, but had been born a Jew.  He had not just been a Jew, but had studied as a scholar of the law and by his own understanding, he had kept the law.  He not only kept the law, but he sought to persecute others who he felt were distorting the law.  In short, no one could boast about being a better Jew than Paul.  He wasn’t just saying, “Hey, I’m one of you”.  He is saying, “I’m better than ALL y’all”.  However, Paul does not stop there. He goes on in verses 7-9…

            7-9Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.  More than that, I regard everything as a 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 and 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. 

            Paul says that all those things that he used to use to make himself feel better than others – all those things that made him feel important and righteous – are really garbage compared to a relationship with Christ.   The actual Greek word that Paul uses to describe what he thinks of his previous accomplishments is not one that we could use politely in this congregation today.  Needless to say, Paul has had a change of heart about what constitutes true faith and what is truly important. 

            When Paul talks about how everything he has been compares to “knowing Christ”, he is not talking about knowing about “Christ”.  He is not talking about knowing what the Bible has to say about “Jesus”.  He is talking about knowing in a deep and personal way.  If you were to ask me if I know your pastor, Marshall, I would say, “Yes, I know him.”  More than that, I would say that we are friends.  I would say that I respect him and admire him.  I love spending time with him and I look forward to the opportunities we have to spend time together.  However, when I wake up every day, I have to admit, that I don’t think about Marshall.  As I am planning most of my days, I don’t wonder what Marshall is doing or if he has anything he might need from me that day.  To be honest, what he is doing really doesn’t affect how I plan my day.  However, if you were to ask me if I know my wife, Lynda, I would say yes and it would mean something completely different.  I know my wife about as well as one person can know another person (or at least I think I do.)  I know her likes and dislikes.  I know her favorite color is black.  I know THAT she has a huge affinity for turtles…although I really don’t know WHY she has an affinity for turtles.  I know that if I were not there to say, “No”, she would be one of those crazy animal hoarder people on T.V. with dozens of cats and dogs.  I know her fears and frustrations. I know she hates spiders, but she thinks snakes are kind of cool.  She enjoys her work, but her family is her life.  I think I can often know what will make her happy (Although I’m sure I have messed that up a time or two).  When I wake up in the morning, Lynda is there. When I go through my day, I wonder what she is doing and I miss seeing her.  I often rearrange my schedule to make time for her or to accommodate her schedule or needs.  How my wife feels affects how I feel.  We are connected.  We are bonded.  I KNOW her and in my life, there is very little that means as much to me as my relationship with my wife.  THAT is what Paul means when he talks about his relationship with Christ and “Knowing” Christ.

            His life has been so changed by his encounter with the living God that nothing else matters to him as much and nothing defines him more.  Paul’s comment here about his own experience should leave us questioning what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning.  There are those of us that think that their own efforts make us who we are.  We may see ourselves as better than others because of what we do… or more likely by what we don’t do.  We still make divisions among ourselves based on a number of different things – how much money we make, what kind of car we drive, the color of our skin, our political party, our criminal record (whether we have one or not), our occupation, and our religion.  Paul is reminding us that if we are seeking to know Christ – to REALLY know Christ – then there is nothing else that matters.  In fact, all that other stuff that we think makes us so great is really worthless.

Paul writes:

            10-12I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Chris Jesus has made me his own. 

Again Paul is saying that our belonging to Christ is not about what we do, but what Christ has already done.  However, if we truly understand the love of God for us in Christ, then we seek every day to know him better – to know what it is to die to our own desires and our pride in our own accomplishments and know the power of the resurrection that is a new life based on something more.  Paul reminds us that when we are seeking to know Christ in this intimate way and to be more like him, we are very much aware of our own in ability to do this and the need to wake up each day with a renewed desire.

            13-14Beloved, 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 the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

When different kinds of Christians sometimes “respectfully discuss” their different beliefs, there are some who point out this passage and say that Paul has not yet attained his salvation and is doing works to accomplish it, but I don’t think this is what Paul is saying.  Paul affirms that he knows Christ and is a Christ follower.  What Paul is signifying is that when we truly grasp who Jesus is and the magnitude of what it is to live a life as Jesus did, we are very much aware of our own imperfections. However, Paul affirms that his imperfections are not what define him.

I know personally what it is to worry about my imperfections.  Maybe you do to.  We are all pretty good at knowing our own mistakes and failures.  There are not too many people in here who don’t have something in their past that they are not proud of.  Maybe you have things that you have only shared with a few very close friends or church members or maybe there are things in your past that you have never told anyone.  It requires a great deal of mental effort to try to protect ourselves from these things we have done.  Some people are overwhelmed with guilt and my try to overcompensate by doing a lot of good things.  Others try to cover up their feelings with lots of activities or the use of alcohol and other drugs.  We may feel like we can never get too close to others, especially at church, because we fear that if people really knew all about us, they wouldn’t really like us. 

I had a counseling client that I saw for several years that I will call Dan.  Dan had at one time been a fairly successful musician, but then had been diagnosed with a mental illness.  When I first met him he had delusions of being attacked by Satan and the fires of hell.  He would call me sometimes and tell me that he was being burned from the inside out by the fires of hell.  I had no way to make sense of this, but I would listen and pray with him.  As we talked through the years, he would sometimes tell me of a dark time in his life when he was not medicated for his mental illness and when he often used illegal drugs and alcohol.  He told me of other things that he had done that he was ashamed of and we would talk about those things.  He would always come back to an affirmation that he knew that God loved him.  A couple of years ago, Dan was in the hospital and had a condition that he feared would take his life.  I went to visit him and he was panicked as he told me that he was afraid to die.  He was afraid to die because he was afraid of hell.  He told me that there were 3 things that he wanted to tell me that he had never told me before.  There in his hospital room, Dan confessed to me the secrets that he had never told me in the years that we had been visiting.  There was nothing in that confession that shocked me and nothing that “I” thought was that bad.  However, for him, they were the dark things that made him feel ashamed – things he had feared confessing to anyone.  We talked about scriptures of forgiveness and I prayed with Dan that day. Dan died several weeks later and I believe he died at peace. 

In our passage this morning, Paul is reminding us that we are all imperfect and we all have things in our past that are not great, but we are not defined by what we used to be.  We are defined by who we are.  Paul suggests that we need to forget all that lies behind.  Not to forget it ever happened or try pretend that it never happened, but realize that whatever is in our past is not what defines who we are.  Our ongoing relationship with Jesus is what makes us who we are.  Just as what we think are our great accomplishments are garbage compared to a relationship with Christ, so what we think of as our failures is not the final word on who we are.  Indeed this is the good news of the Gospel. 

The reality is that whatever you think makes you so great is really nothing compared to what Christ has done for you and having a relationship with him, but on the other side, whatever you think makes you so bad is not the final word.  God looks at us and sees the person we were created to be and sees the fullness of our potential.  God desires to empower us to live into that potential.  If Christ has made us His own, then nothing else matters.  I hope that as you go from here today that you will leave with a renewed desire to put aside the things that make you feel flawed and bad.  Realize that Jesus has died for you and God loves you and in that is all the value you need.  The person sitting next to you, also has things in their life that they are not proud of, but Church should be a place where we can trust each other, share with each other and encourage each other.  Church should be a place where people are not defined by what they have done, but whose they are.  Likewise, in the body of Christ, we should not make distinctions between ourselves the way the world does.  We are rich and poor.  We are republicans and democrats.  We come from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities.  When we gather together, the only thing that should define us, is the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.”  Paul says, “Let those of us who are mature be of [this] same mind.” Don’t forget whose you are what you have attained.  Go and make KNOWING Christ the center of your being and seek to love one another as Christ has loved you. Amen.