May 24, 2015
It can be a wonderful experience to get to know someone new. A new relationship is filled with potential. There is the potential for a lasting friendship. There is the potential for learning new things and having new experiences.
But getting to know someone takes time and effort, and is not without its challenges. In Phil.3:1-11 Paul talks about getting to know Jesus Christ. I wonder, do you understand what it means to know Jesus Christ?
I. WE ABANDON SPIRITUAL PRIDE. 3:1-8
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is 50 days after Easter. That is when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers. Many view Pentecost Sunday as the beginning of the church. At first the church was made up of Jews who had come to faith in Christ. These Jewish Christians continued to live as Jews. They obeyed the laws of Moses and continued to celebrate Jewish holidays.
But then Gentiles started coming to Christ. They also received the Holy Spirit and the question was raised, “Should Gentile believers have to obey the Jewish law and be circumcised.”
In Acts 15 we read about what is called “The Jerusalem Council.” church leaders came together to discuss this question. They decided that since the Gentiles had come to Christ and received the Holy Spirit without becoming Jews, it would not be in keeping with the gospel to require them to keep the law or be circumcised. Well, not everyone was happy with this decision. Some felt that Christianity was basically an extension of Judaism.
As Paul travelled in the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, he planted many churches. But it wasn’t long before some Jewish Christians were entering into those churches preaching that Gentile believers needed to obey the Jewish law in order to fully know Christ. They taught that the men should be circumcised because circumcision was the historical sign of being part of the people of God. This brought confusion about the gospel. This is the context of Phil.3
Paul was concerned that this teaching would come to the church in Phillipi and warned the believers about it. Here in chapter 3 he repeats his warning. In v.3 he writes, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” And then he goes on to say that believers in Jesus Christ are the true circumcision, the true people of God. Christians are the ones who serve God by the Holy Spirit. Our boasting, our confidence is in Christ Jesus. And then he makes a very important point. He says that those who teach that Christians must obey the Jewish law are really seeking to gain God’s approval by their own efforts. Instead of putting confidence in Jesus Christ, they are putting their confidence in themselves. when you put your confidence in yourself that is spiritual pride.
So notice what Paul does in v.4. He uses himself as an example of one who would have every reason to put confidence in himself. When it came to being a Jew few could surpass Paul. He was born in the tribe of Benjamin and had been circumcised according to the Jewish law on the eighth day. His Jewish pedigree was stellar. What is more Paul achieved a high standing as a Jew. He was a Pharisee, who studied under a very famous rabbi. And when the Christian church first started Paul himself persecuted Christians. What is more, no one could fault Paul in regard to the Jewish law because he was blameless. His record was clean. Paul was Jewish through and through. If anyone had reason to believe that he had a good standing before God, it was Paul.
But notice what Paul says in v.7. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying to the Christians in Philippi, “Look, these people want you to come under obedience to the Jewish law. But I’ve been there and done that and I am telling you it is of no value when it comes to knowing Christ.
Now men and women, every one of us has a proclivity to put confidence in our own merits and achievements when it comes to our standing with God. Just ask people why they think they will go to heaven and you will hear answers that are based upon human merit. “Well, I think I have lived a good life. I try to do right. I’m a good person. I’ve been baptized and I go to church. I try to help people.” Deep in our hearts there is an idea that gaining God’s love and approval is something we must do. Somehow I have to do enough and hope that I measure up before God.
But no one can gain God’s approval on his or her own merit. Because we are sinful people, even our best efforts are tainted with pride. We may not feel proud, but if we are counting on our own merit to gain God’s approval and blessing then we are saying that God actually owes us his approval. “I earned it.” Paul came to the realization that his achievements, his status, weren’t enough. And when he realized this, he abandoned all spiritual pride.
Now how good do you think you are? Let’s put ourselves up against the best person to ever walk this earth. Let’s put ourselves up against Jesus. Would you say your life is as good as that of Jesus? I mean Jesus sets the standard. Do we measure up? I don’t. If you want to know Christ, then you must let go of anything and everything you might be counting on to gain God’s approval. Paul said that all of his merit and achievement was little more than rubbish.
Have you achieved some good in this world? Have you done some good in this world? Are there things that you are proud of that you have accomplished? Paul is not saying there is no value in these things. He is saying that these things have no effect in gaining God’s approval and so we must not in any way rely upon them. And if we have any thought that our goodness and good deeds bring us into the place of God’s approval, we must renounce our goodness because our goodness is keeping us from God. Have you ever come to this realization? Have you abandoned your spiritual pride?
II. WE EMBRACE CHRIST ALONE. 3:8-9
Why does Paul count everything as loss? It is because of the worth, the value of knowing Christ. Jesus Christ came to earth to show us exactly what God is like. He showed us what God is like by living a godly life, by dying for our sins, rising from the dead, and offering to give new eternal living in the kingdom of God for all who will embrace him by faith, becoming his disciple.
Notice in v.7 Paul says, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. In v.8 he says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of know Christ.” In other words when Paul turned to Christ he left behind anything and everything that he had been depending on for God’s approval. But that was not just a onetime event. In his life with Christ he continued to count everything as loss in order that he may gain Christ. What I want us to see is that there is a past, present and future framework to our knowing Christ. We enter into a saving relationship with Christ at conversion, but that relationship is ongoing as we daily seek to know Christ and look to the future when we shall see Christ face to face in glory. Knowing Christ is not a onetime event.
Being in a relationship with Jesus enables us to enter into the Kingdom of God. If you want to go into the White House you will be out of luck. Entrance into the White House is by invitation only. But suppose you are in an ongoing friendship with the President’s wife. If she brings you into the White House you will be welcome.
But even more significant is the fact that those who embrace Christ by faith receive a righteousness that is not of their own doing. Paul had plenty of self-righteousness. He thought he was in good standing with God because of his effort. But when he came face to face with the love, grace and mercy of Jesus, he abandoned his self-righteousness so that he could receive the righteousness that comes as a gift from God and is received through faith in Christ. Men and women, for those who embrace Jesus as Savior, Lord and King, they receive God’s approval. They enter into a right standing with God through Jesus. The goodness of Jesus becomes their goodness because Jesus takes them for his own and he and God the Father come to live in them through the Holy Spirit. The one who embraces Jesus by faith receives the life of Jesus to live. So here we are at the White House. You can’t enter on your own merit, but by being in a relationship with the president’s wife, you can enter on her merits. No one enters into the eternal kingdom of God on their own merits, but if you know Jesus and are in a relationship with him, you are welcome. It’s as if God says, “Oh you know my Son, Jesus? You are trusting in him? Well, you are welcome here.”
Let me ask: When did you stop trusting in your own goodness and begin trusting in Jesus for God’s approval? Don’t answer by saying, “Oh I have always trusted in Jesus.” That won’t do as an answer because all of us enter into this world with a sinful heart that quickly displays itself in sinful behaviors and rebellion and disobedience to God. When did you turn to Christ? Having a date is not so important, but knowing that there was a time when you left your own self-righteousness and began trusting in Jesus is critical. And the emphasis here is on began trusting. Don’t say that you came to Christ back when you were five or eight as if you’ve been there, done that, so you must be okay. No. Coming to Christ is entering into his life. We continue to trust in him. The Christian life is a life of ongoing faith and trust in Jesus.
Charles Wesley wrote, “And can it be that I should gain, An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain, For me, who Him to death pursued?, Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th’eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Is Christ your Savior, Lord, and King?
III. WE LIVE IN THE WAY OF JESUS. 3:10-11
The people we know best are the people we live with. We may have good conversations with people at church or work. We might do some things together outside of church or work, but we don’t really know those people as well as we know our family. What enables us to know our family members so well? It’s doing life together. In families where there is a committed bond of love everything is experienced together.
Think about this. In a strong family everyone is encouraged or empowered to grow, mature, and pursue their dreams. We strengthen each other because we are committed to each other. We learn how to let go of our wants and desires for the good of everyone in the family. We learn how to express ourselves in appropriate ways.
But we also get to know one another as we experience hardship and need together. We struggle along side of each other. We grieve and sorrow together when tragedy comes. In a strong family, family members get to know each other in joy and difficulty. This might help us better understand what Paul is saying in v.10-11.
In this letter Paul paints a very compelling picture of Jesus Christ. In Phil.2 we see that even though Jesus is God, he does not see his godness as something that must be protected and held onto at all costs. He never ceases being God, but he does pour himself out for our sakes. He comes to the earth in the form of a man, and not just any kind of man, but as a humble servant. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Not only did Jesus humbly serve people, he allowed himself to be humiliated by suffering and dying on the cross for you and me.
Well, if we want to know God, our Creator and Jesus, our Savior, then what has to happen? We must do life with Jesus. And do not forget that when we embrace Jesus we receive his very life as our own. We are given a new life to live. It is his life.
So it’s not surprising that Paul writes, “that I may know him, both the power of his resurrection, and may share in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul isn’t giving two different ways to know Jesus Christ. Receiving his resurrection power and sharing in his sufferings work together. Knowing Christ in an intimate way has a very practical application in our daily living.
Just as being in a strong family promotes life, joy, and the opportunity to mature for every family member, so embracing Jesus by faith brings to us his resurrection power and joy in our lives, which enables us to become more and more like Jesus. I am getting to know Jesus in me as I live like Jesus. What does that look like?
Well, the life of Jesus is seen when we seek to show love and do good to everyone. The life of Jesus is seen as we humbly serve others and let go of our need to protect and secure our lives. The life of Jesus is seen when we exercise active compassion on those who are suffering. In being like Jesus we are coming to know him in our daily life. But his resurrection power is what enables us to do this. Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.
But Paul also talks about knowing Christ by sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. After all it was in his many sufferings, culminating in his death on the cross that the love, grace, and mercy of God was revealed to the world. If we are going to know Christ, we will also experience suffering.
Throughout the world, there are believers who are gaining an intimate knowledge of Jesus as they are persecuted because of their life with Christ. Through their suffering the life and power of Jesus is being displayed to the world. Paul and Silas were wrongly imprisoned in Philippi. Before being imprisoned they were beaten. What were they doing in prison? They were singing hymns of praise to God. Who does that? Christians who know Jesus and who are willing to share in his suffering to show the grace and mercy of God to the world.
We know very little of that here. What about us? How do we come to know Christ in his suffering? We learn to die to ourselves. Paul says in Gal.2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We come to know Christ as we die to ourselves. And as we die to ourselves we display his life in us. Does your family see Christ in you? Do the people you work with see Christ in you? Do your friends see Christ in you as you learn to die to yourself and live out the life of Christ in you? Or do they see you alone?
Again, it is only by having the resurrection life of Christ in us that we can share in his sufferings. And just as Jesus died and rose from the dead, so after living our life with him on earth, we too shall rise with him. In fact, according to Jesus, his life in us means that we never really die. We are already living forever.
Wesley writes, “He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace. Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me! Have you entered into a life giving relationship with Jesus? Are you getting to know Jesus as you live your life with him? This is what it means to know Christ. Amen.