First Mennonite Church
January 3, 2016
Knowing Christ Jesus: The Ultimate Resolution
Philippians 3:1-11; Micah 6:6-8
In our Old Testament passage the prophet Micah challenged Ancient Israel with this soul-searching question: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high”? The reason Micah asked this question was to lead the people of God to seriously consider their condition and the gifts they brought to the Lord when they came to worship. This was not a rhetorical question. It was a question directed to the people regarding their moral and spiritual condition, their open and hidden motivations, and the quality of the offering they brought to Yahweh their God.
If we were to translate this question to our time, it would sound something like this: What motivated you to come to worship this morning? Are you expecting God to meet with you today? What do you expect to receive from God or his people today? What is your most important offering you have brought to the Lord today? Again, this is Micah: With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? This is a question we should ask ourselves daily or at least every time we come to worship.
The New Testament passage for today will help us determine what should be our ultimate pursuit in life. The passage in Philippians will help us take a good look at the pursuits in our life and help us distinguish between what Paul calls trash and what he found to be the greatest treasure of all. It was a treasure Paul considered will last into eternity. It was a treasure, which if achieved, will not only guarantee his entry into eternal life, but will also be the only thing acceptable before his Maker and Master. Either gradually or suddenly, Paul discovered he had accumulated trash when compared to the glory he found in Christ Jesus. There are seven things Paul came to consider as trash. The Greek word “Skubala” means “dirt”, “refuse,” “dung” (JKV), or “trash.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this word appears. Why did Paul use this very unusual language or vocabulary word choice”? Most likely, he wanted to emphasis emphasize his profound sense of distaste or rejection of what he listed as rubbish.
Paul begins this chapter with a call to rejoice after he had told the Philippians about the close-to-death experience of one of his missionary companions—Epaphroditus. But this call is followed by somewhat of an apology for having to write to them about the same things. Paul begins with this warning: “Beware of the dogs, evil workers, and mutilators.” It is pretty shocking that Paul would describe false teachers with this kind of language. These false teachers wanted the new believers to embrace Jewish practices as part of their new-found faith in Jesus. These teachers were promoting a religion of Jesus plus something else—namely circumcision, dietary practices, and other Jewish religious observances. Paul knew very well that his people had had tremendous difficulty living by each and every Jewish ritual, practice and observance. In fact Paul claims that no one had been able to live by the law. But what was more, Paul knew that such religious requirements were not binding for those who have come to have faith in Jesus. Jesus is everything the new believer needed and needs. Yes, that is what Paul says. Therefore, the proposition: Having Jesus means to have everything, and to be lacking him, is to lack everything, is true!
To prove his point Paul gives his testimony about his religious compliances and achievements. So he lists 7 things he had had pride in before coming to Christ.
o If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
o He was compliant with all rituals, including circumcision.
o He was a member of the people of Israel,
o A descendant of the tribe of Benjamin,
o Hebrew born of Hebrews;
o He was a member of the strictest religious class, a Pharisee
o Regarding zeal, a persecutor of the church;
o Regarding his moral standard, Paul was blameless.
Paul fulfilled every ritual there was to be fulfilled by a Jewish man. Paul attained prominence among his peers as a Pharisee. His zeal was such that he could not tolerate the Christian believers. He wanted to destroy them. And in regards to his personal morality, he was blameless. What was there that he did not achieve? He had a perfect résumé. He got it all. He was crème de la crème, religiously and morally speaking. But once he came to the knowledge of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, his views on these things changed. What he considered of great esteem became worthless. Thus, Paul came to regard them as rubbish.
If we take a closer look at the list of things Paul called rubbish, we would be surprised to find out these are not sins, except being a persecutor of the church, probably. There are some things Paul could not help being. He could not choose his race or his lineage. And the other qualities he achieved were admirable. He was a faithful observer of his religion. He was morally perfect according to his religion and culture. Paul did not become complacent with simply being a good religious observer; he pursued hard to become the best example of his faith and he achieved it. All of these qualities may have made others envious of Paul! Yet, when Paul discovered Christ, or maybe, when Paul was discovered by Jesus Christ, Paul realized that everything he held so dearly and that had given him prominence was nothing compared to the glory and grace bestowed upon him by Christ Jesus. Paul’s life pursuit was completely transformed. His ardent desire was to know Jesus intimately. His pursuit was to become like Christ Jesus. His life was dedicated to serving him and proclaiming his glorious name. Paul became obsessed with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ became his only treasure.
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Paul said. Paul made the firm determination that he would desire nothing else but to know Christ in his power. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death. Paul wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection which persecution, deprivations, beatings, prison and even death could not overcome. At the end of Paul’s life he said he had run the good race, and had finished it. Paul said he was confident the Lord would give him the crown of life.
What do you hope to have achieved by the end of this year? If you were to name what it is you would want as your greatest achievement for this year, what would that be? Answering this question is not only important when contemplating the end of this year but even more so when contemplating the end of our lives. Life is very short and for some even shorter. Before too long, we will appear before our Maker and will have to give accounts for our life here on earth.
Just last night I got an email from the Conference Minister communicating to all pastors in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference about the death of Pastor Jules Massamba. This man was a very dedicated minister of the Lord. He traveled to Africa every year to preach the gospel there, while serving in Wholicare Ministries in Pasadena. On Friday night, Pastor Jules had a massive heart attack and died.
Again and over again, we are reminded that life is short. And as Micah asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord Almighty”? When the end comes, what will I show for my life? What will be my greatest achievement? What will your greatest achievement be, when you finally come before the Lord Almighty?
o A wall full of diplomas and awards?
o A large number of Facebook followers?
o A big bank account?
o Having escalated the corporate ladder?
o Having left a nice estate to your children?
o An excellent reputation?
o A church membership with an excellent attendance record?
o Or having known Christ Jesus intimately and looking forward to knowing him as he knows you?
There is nothing wrong with the above-list. Having lots of friends, achieving success in life, and having a good reputation are all commendable pursuits in life. Having attended church your whole life is also very commendable. But so were the things Paul listed as things he considered rubbish. This should remind us that two thousand years ago the Lord asked the question this way: “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).
In the end only one thing will matter. And that is if we have known Christ and the power of his resurrection. He is the greatest treasure we could ever possess. Jesus is the only name we need to know and believe in order to be right with God. Jesus is the only person we should intimately know and serve that will guarantee for each of us entrance into God’s glory.
If we lose sight of Jesus as the most important person in our lives, we can live piling up rubbish instead of treasures in heaven. We can be trading the most Precious Pearl for common rocks or pebbles. We can be zealous of our religion yet missing the One who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We can be heading into eternity with empty hands. Thus the question of Micah again: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high?
Let us hold on to Jesus by faith. Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
This year, may God help us to distinguish between rubbish and the real treasure—Jesus Christ. Amen.