8th of October 2017
This morning I am going to preach on the Philippians reading. In order to understand what is going on in this rather difficult reading, you have to understand how the Jews of the time thought. The Jewish faith had come to a point where their relationship with God was based upon keeping the law. To them it did not matter where your heart was, what mattered was your obedience to the law. So, if you were doing the right things by God then you could be confident about where you stood with him. What they were relying on here was their own ability to do what God had asked.
Now we are not Jews and we don’t live like they did. But when it comes to our hearts, can we be more like them than we think sometimes? If I were to ask what it means to be a Christian, how many people would respond by talking about the things we do; by talking about our actions. Living by God’s Word and putting into practice what he tells us to do in it is very important, but if we rely on our actions for our salvation we miss the point of the Christians faith.
The apostle Paul in writing to the church at Philippi lays out his credentials as far as living the life of a Jew. He says: “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” If salvation with God is based upon his actions he has made it.
But instead he says: “7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
By his words, the apostle is encouraging the church to get its focus right. Because our Christian faith is about Jesus Christ and him only. We all know this? This is in fact why we come to worship this morning. But the temptation is with us, because of our sinful hearts, to lose our focus and put it back on ourselves again. As Australians, the way we talk about things is not as direct as other cultures. You don’t hear people standing up in front of others and saying how good they are. People who do that get hounded down. It is not the way we do things. But the way it comes out is when people say things indirectly. “At least I am not like those people.” “I am glad that I am a Christian because I would never do something like that.” We often use sarcasm or say things indirectly when we are comparing our behaviour to others’, which gives an indication where our hearts are at.
The Christian is not about behaving rightly; those actions come from the heart. The goal of the Christian life is not to perfectly keep the law; rather it is to know Jesus. Paul says: “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.” He wants to know Jesus.
Sometimes when we hear God’s word and think about it, we tend to miss some of the important things in it. What stands out to me in this reading is the passionate and personal nature of the words. Paul is telling his own firsthand experience of a complete life makeover and reorientation to a new Lord, for whose sake “all things” are now comparatively worthless and so he writes with intensity, personally, and lovingly about his need for Jesus. And he, in this reading, is not chastising them, but rather he is encouraging the church as a way of teaching them about what it means to be focused on Jesus.
When we think about our Christian lives and what it means for us to be focused on Jesus, it is important for us to understand that our relationship with Jesus is a journey. To be a Christian is not to be in a place where we know everything about the faith or the Bible. It is not purely an intellectual thing that we believe in, but it is a relationship that we have with our Triune God through Jesus. Like all relationships our relationship with Jesus grows over time.
And yet we are surrounded by our sins; we are surrounded by the things that have distracted us from him. We experience the ups and downs of life. Many of us have things in our pasts that we would rather forget; all too often we become aware of our sins, and they can get in the way of our walk with Jesus. But even in these times we are encouraged to persist.
The Apostle says: “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. 13 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.”
The Christian life is a journey. We never reach a place where we have arrived. As we walk with our Lord we are encouraged to continually persist. We are called to persevere, to keep our focus on Jesus, to keep the goals of knowing and walking with him at the forefront of our everyday life.
There are many things in our lives that can so easily discourage us. Some of these are the things that we do or don’t do; in other words, we can become discouraged by our own sin. Some of these things have to do with the way that our society and the world are going. There are always going to be things in life that bring discouragement. If we put our confidence in our own human abilities to overcome these, then we will continue to be discouraged. As Christians we lift our eyes off ourselves and look to Jesus. He is the one who guides us; the one who protects us; the one who leads us through the tough places in life that we face.
As we continue to focus on and take hold of Jesus as the apostle encourages us, we are also given a challenge. When the apostle looked back at his works that he did, he saw them as rubbish. Rather, he looked to what Jesus was doing, and would do in him, and saw it as gain. What things in our own lives as individuals and as a Christian community do we need to see as rubbish? What are the things that Jesus is doing in us that we need to see as gain?
In our current world where we live there is great pressure on the Christian church to conform. In order to attract unbelievers the temptation is to make the church look more like the world. In fact many in our society see the Christian church as just another business, just another institution. Of course we are not this; we are the body of our Lord Jesus Christ gathered together where he is present with us. But as we grow closer to Jesus and know him more, it becomes clear that we have to say no to the culture around us and to pursue the things that really matter; that is, growing in our relationship and following Jesus.
As Christians we don’t rely on our own abilities; our confidence does not come from us. It comes from Jesus Christ and what he has done for us alone. My encouragement to you all is to remember this, so that when the discouragements come, as they always do, you can be confident in your relationship with Jesus. The Christian faith is a journey and a journey that will not end until the Lord calls us home. I encourage you all to persist and persevere in your faith in Jesus, knowing that he is with you at all times. Hold on to him, as he holds on to you.