February 1, 2015
Change In Values
Over the past few weeks we have been working through Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a little letter that is full of joy. Paul has experienced joy despite his suffering in prison. He encourages his readers to be filled with the joy of serving, following the example of our savior, Jesus Christ. This morning we hear him speak about the joy of believing in Christ.
This is a very personal passage. Paul uses the word “I” a number of times in what we read today. “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ… I want to know Christ.” Paul gives us a glimpse into what is important to him in faith.
Paul experienced a great reversal when he came to the Christian faith. He grew up with one set of values: he was born a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin and became one of the elite, a Pharisee. He demonstrated zeal in his Jewish faith by persecuting the first Christians. They surely were cursed by God because their messiah hung on a cross to die. Paul was committed to following the law of Moses. His credentials were impeccable, yet these values were swept away when the risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul describes his former life as a loss, garbage to be thrown away and left behind.
Paul writes, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” This is like Jesus who once said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” What Paul is talking about here is values, and the reversal that occurred from what he used to value to what he now values in Christ.
What do you value? What is important to you? Someone once gave me a sign that says, “Faith, family, friends.” These are values. What else do we value? In this country we have a long heritage of valuing freedom of expression, freedom of faith, and the freedom to choose one’s destiny. You may rightly value your accomplishments within your profession or through involvement in your community. You may value staying self-sufficient and independent as you grow older. You may place high value on your cultural heritage or ethnic background. All these are good, but Paul says that when he came to faith his values were turned upside down.
Paul realized by faith that the pride he formerly had in his values was misplaced. Through Christ he said, what does it profit to gain the whole world but forfeit one’s soul? What good is it to gain what the world values but in the process lose your soul? We lay down one to take up the other.
Paul writes, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Paul certainly lost material possessions and the prestige he enjoyed as a Pharisee. He gave up a comfortable home for difficult living conditions and then, a prison cell. But even more, he gave up the belief God would consider him a good catch because of his adherence to the Law. He had to abandon any thought that the good things he did qualified him for heaven. This is critical, for Paul and for us.
He said, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 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 and is by faith.” By faith God asks us to lay aside any pretensions we might harbor about our own righteousness or whether we deserve salvation. We gain no advantage before God because we complete a Bible plan. We cannot be labeled as righteous if we attend worship every Sunday. We gain no advantage with God by any action we take on our own. Christ did not come to shake the hand of those who hold on to any external trappings of faith. He asks us to lay aside any gain we might name for the joy of knowing Christ, calling him savior, and being found in him.
Paul says, “I do not claim a righteousness of my own, but one that is found in Christ.” To be found in him implies that God took the initiative. We receive a God-given righteousness in contrast to the righteousness that we want to claim out of things we do.
The image I have is that of waking up to find that I am in a different place than I was before. I am in a place of safety within the arms of Christ. I am in him, so I will never be alone or separated again. By faith in Christ, I belong to him. I am part of his body and cannot be torn away. This is such joy, but it comes at a great price. Christ paid the price with his life, and so in some real way, we too need to give up any self-sufficiency and pride we held before Christ claimed us and allowed us to be found in him.
To be found by Christ is to undergo a fundamental change in everything we value. Any good we cultivate on our own is nothing compared to knowing Christ and being found in him. Christ is asking us to give up our claims to glory and any pretension that we deserve being claimed by God. We win when we lose; we gain when we give up. We live when we die to the self we trusted in before.
Christ is our pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field, worth selling every other possession to gain it, even everything we valued before. The surpassing greatness is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. Everything has to do with knowing him. This is Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Knowing Christ is not the same as head knowledge. Consider a favorite sports figure or famous actor. You may know all the stats of his successes in his sport, or how many Emmys or Oscars she has won. You know his loss to win ratio or have seen every movie she has been in. You may have made an exhaustive study of this person and can recite facts and figures ad nauseam, but you don’t really know this person because you have never met him or her face to face.
We want to know the one who has transformed Paul, who loves him and gave himself for Paul and for you and me. We may read about how Paul changed from one who persecuted the church to one who served Christ with passion, but until we know Christ for ourselves, we cannot understand the changes we see in him, or any other person of faith.
Faith is not a head trip; it is an active life that in some real way, participates in the ongoing life of Christ here on earth. To know Christ is to accept both the victory of the resurrection along with the pain of the crucifixion. Our present reality may include suffering along with joy. We cannot choose only one part of the story, nor may we choose to remain detached from active ministry and service.
We are far from complete in knowing Christ, for Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have been already been made perfect.” We can only glimpse the future that we will someday experience. We will know Christ more completely then, even if now our knowledge is only partial. What we know now is enough – Christ died for our sins, and because he lives, we are promised eternal life in him.
As we come to celebrate Holy Communion together, I pray that we may echo with faith words Paul wrote in 2 Timothy: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”