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Sermon - March 1, 2015

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                               Sermon #1201

March  1, 2015                                                                                   Philippians 3:1-16

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“Of Surpassing Value”

 

Paul loves to tell us to rejoice.  Chapter 3 begins that way, “rejoice in the Lord”.  Indeed, Christ is our joy.  Paul might sometimes be perceived as a hard-nosed kind of guy, but he had the joy of the Lord and encouraged the same in others! 

 

1)Look Out!

           

Then Paul gives a warning.  Look out for dogs, evildoers, and those who mutilate the flesh.  Dogs are probably a reference to those who are not God’s people.  It was used by Jews to describe Gentiles.  Paul’s mother might have told him that was not nice, but Paul was not one for niceties.  “Evildoers” is self explanatory.  Those who mutilate the flesh are probably Jews who believed that Gentiles who wanted to be Christians had to first become Jewish and thus circumcised.  Yes, I would beware of those folks!

 

2)Paul’s accomplishments

 

            Now Paul talks a bit here about his accomplishments in the flesh, that is, he had done as much as any Jew could.  He was at the peak of Judaism.  Circumcised, of Israel, a Pharisee and so forth.  We could list our own accomplishments in our lives, college degree, good job, two cars, Presbyterian, whatever your list might contain.  These are all good things.  Paul is not talking about having to give up bad habits like so many do when confronted with the Christian faith.  He is talking about all that he did that made him a good Jew.  Jesus gave up all that was great in heaven to come down to the earth, humbled himself in obedience to God’s will (Phil. 2).  Paul considers everything, whether good or bad, as nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ. 

 

3)BUT – The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus

 

What I want us to focus on this morning is knowing Christ.  Look at verse 7, BUT… But whatever gain I had.  Paul considers his past life a good thing, gain is a positive word.  Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss…and in verse 8, he counts it as rubbish.  Now rubbish is a gentle way to talk about the real Greek meaning here of manure.  The surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ makes everything in the flesh good or bad like a pile of…well, you know!  All that we have and all that we are is nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ.  This is our ultimate goal, to know him. 

 

What does it means to know Jesus?

 

Let us first say that it is not just about knowing facts and verses of scripture and certainly not about knowing trivial things about the Bible or having a particular Christian jargon.  It is about a personal relationship of love.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  Love, devotion, obedience, loyalty, faithfulness, commitment, authenticity – these are some of the convictions behind this relationship.  Let me add this: it is not just a personal relationship alone, but it is also about a communal relationship because we are a covenant people together united in the Church relating to God in worship and prayer and covenant.  We share as the church a relationship with Jesus and we learn together what it means to know Jesus Christ. 

 

Let’s get our Bibles warmed up and see some passages that teach us about knowing Jesus.  The first two are verses that you have seen, after two snow Sundays, a few Sundays ago!  

 

John 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Life eternal begins for us when we profess our belief in Jesus Christ and believe in our hearts that he is Lord.  Eternal life is now and it is in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ. 

 

1 John 2:3-6 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

 

            This is part of our assurance of salvation – this is how we know, if we keep his command.  Now I don’t think that Jesus means we will never mess that up, but that we want to keep commandment and we seek to keep commandment and we do keep commandment most of the time!  We are at least seeking to keep commandment.  I read a quote from Dallas Willard, “law is not the source of righteousness, but it is forever the course of righteousness” (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 142).  God’s commands guide us in the way of God, but it is more than that, because I firmly believe that to know Jesus Christ means that the word of God is so deeply implanted in our hearts and minds that it becomes the way we live.  We do not have to stop and think, should I steal this or not, we just do not steal.  The word becomes our nature.  Willard uses another phrase that I love when he says we should “soak our souls in the gospels” (The Divine Conspiracy, p, 297).  What a great image, soaking our souls in the gospels until the word of life soaks into our lives.   

 

Jer. 9:23-24 23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

 

Jeremiah gives us a little piece of who God is in that he practices love, justice, and righteousness.  We could spend a lifetime unpacking those terms alone, and we know that the Bible gives us even more.  Here we see that understanding and knowing God is to experience and trust that God is loving, just, and righteous.  It is like a child who has experienced her Father’s love and she knows and trusts that in future situations, daddy can be trusted to love and care for her.  She knows that because she knows him. 

 

2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

 

            It is through the knowledge of God that we are given everything we need for life and godliness and to become partakers of God’s own nature.  This is really our goal – to see our nature crucified so that God’s very nature might live in us!  It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).  Paul knew what he was talking about! 

 

Galatians 4:8-9 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

 

Here Paul refers to the relational aspect of our life with God, to know him and to be known by him.  I remember the phrase that a Catholic writer used, “to realize that we are realized”.  God knows you, realizes you, and has you in mind!  To know the one who so fully knows us – to love the one who so fully loves us. 

 

 

Colossians 1:9-10 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

 

How often do we ask the question of wanting to know God’s will in a given situation?   Spiritual wisdom and understanding

 

4)The other side of the coin…

 

I remember a skit about the show Jeopardy and one of the categories was THINGS NOBODY KNOWS.  I’ll take THINGS NOBODY KNOWS for $200, Alex

 

Psalm 139:1-6 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

We cannot know everything about God, nor can we know him totally in a personal relationship.  Some things are just too wonderful for us.  

 

Psalm 131:1-2 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

 

Sometimes all we can do is be with God, quiet before him.  We cannot occupy ourselves with things beyond us.  Reminds me of the story a father once told of his child standing at the doorway and his father asked, “What do you want?”  “Nothing dad, just wanted to be with you.”  Every parent knows the joy of being with their children and God desires that same companionship.  Sometimes we go to God in prayer just to know that he is here. 

 

Isaiah 55:6-9 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

So, if God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are higher than ours, what can we know?  Look back at Jeremiah 9, it is here we know that God is love and justice and righteousness.  Or consider John 3:16, everything we need to know is in the Bible because this is God’s revelation to us! 

 

We get to know people by sharing in their lives and we get to know Jesus Christ by sharing in his suffering, sharing in the power of resurrection, which means sharing in his life. 

 

We share that by reading and sharing in the revealed word of Christ.  It is the revealed and the revealing word.  It is constantly at work to open us to Jesus and to teach us train us to do as Paul has done in Philippians 3, that is, to consider everything else as garbage compared to knowing Jesus Christ. 

 

 

5)         Cloud of Unknowing

 

Knowing that we cannot know all there is to know, the Cloud of Unknowing invites us to enter into prayer that we might love God without fully knowing.  I believe this connects with loving God with all our heart mind soul and strength.  While we cannot know God beyond what is revealed in scripture, we can love God with our heart and mind.  It is a deeply personal and spiritual love.

 

6)         What we know and how we know – yada

 

            You might remember, if you were a Seinfeld fan, the episode where Elaine was telling Jerry and George about a date she had.  She describes how she met a lawyer they went out to eat, she had the lobster bisque, went back to her place, and yada yada yada, she never heard from him again.  Jerry says, “You yada yada-ed over the best part.”  Elaine, “no, I mentioned the bisque!”  Well, yada in Hebrew is the word for knowing as in Genesis 1 when Adam “knew” Eve…and she had a son.   The most intimate knowledge between a man and a woman is this knowing, not just a physical expression but the depth of knowing mentally and emotionally and spiritually through the physical knowing.  That depth is just a reflection of the greater intimacy we might have with Jesus Christ.  To know him and to be known by him.  We know Jesus through his word, through prayer, through worship, and Paul talks about knowing Jesus through suffering.  In suffering we share something deep in our souls.  We also share the power of resurrection and that means we share a power that brings life out of death.  We share a power of the impossible made possible for nothing is impossible with God. 

 

7)         Not yet there, but pressing on…

 

            Paul understood that we are not able to know God fully, that he had not achieved a level of  knowing to the point that he had arrived.  He had not obtained perfection.  God knows that we will fall short, that we might be lazy about prayer or study in scripture, but Paul encourages us to press on – to desire to know Christ above all other things.  The good news at the end of our reading today is that God will reveal things to us.  In the Cloud of Unknowing there is a phrase that says “God awakens desires in us”.   I think that is another way of saying that God will reveal to us what we need to know, especially if we think differently than what scripture has already revealed.  “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”  God will awaken desires in us, for prayer, for study, for fellowship, for worship, for love.  That is the beauty of God’s grace, that God is at work in us to awaken our hearts to all that God has for us and all that God has for us in knowing Jesus Christ surpasses everything else this life has to offer.  This is good news.  Amen.