“I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.”
Now this may not sound like your typical New Years resolution but how about “Connecting with God?” That will be our theme for the coming sermon series, but it begs a deeper look. I personally like the kids books were you connect-the-dots. It’s fun and mindless. Perhaps that is the draw; it requires very little of me and yet I can get an enormous amount of enjoyment as I scramble to make the “picture” appear in a short amount of time.
Almost like my attendance in church on Sunday morning. I feel emotionally connected and spiritually charged with a minimum of effort (way to go Praise Team!). Everybody smiles and shares a hearty hello – all is well with the world. Or is it?
This was exactly what Paul was trying to tell his Philippian brethren. All is not well. Just look at his life. Before he met Jesus in Damascus look at what he was: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, in the law – a Pharisee, zealous to persecute the church and faultless – as for righteousness in the law. The big seven; what a complete list. The man had it all, at least for a Jew.
He starts with circumcision as a note to those listening that he was brought up in the right kind of family. In fact, that family, the Israelites, was chosen by God, and he was born into it with all the rights and privileges. Not only that but he had a long family tree that he could trace back into ancient times and note the blessing that Moses gives “the beloved of the Lord.” Woo-hoo he had a great start in this world (silver spoon anyone?) He goes on to say that he was a “pure blood” Hebrew, a Pharisee, someone who was known for the study and codification of the law. Zealous to persecute the church (because of his understanding of the law) and finally faultless “in the law” or at least he had no blemishes when it came to the form and function of being a Jew.
Not many of us could come up with a list like that but if you grew up in the church it would be easy to follow Paul’s thought process. In fact, depending upon your own faith tradition I’m sure it would be a simple exercise to draw up and compare your list to his. And that is exactly what Paul does not want us to do.
You see that was the “before” picture; look at how he views it “after” meeting Christ. “I gave up all that inferior stuff to know Christ personally.” In his testimony he doesn’t dwell longingly after his past because he saw no future in it. Paul put his past, present and future into perspective; he didn’t give it up nor is he against the “form and function” of church. Even though pride of religion is still very much alive and well in the Christian church today he puts no confidence in them.
Paul demonstrates how totally Christ-focused he is. For him the Christian life is not simply a matter of salvation and ethics; it’s ultimately a matter of knowing Christ. It was the same with the resurrection; Paul's focus is not on "everlasting life" or anything else, the goal of the resurrection, the prize for which Paul strains every effort in the present, is Christ himself.
In this ancient story of how suffering and the temptation to become religious was causing a loss of vision for some in Philippi, he shows us that in our contemporary American culture the vision loss is for different reasons, more often connected with values related to material gain. Paul's vision could go a long way toward renewing the church for its task in our postmodern world. Our lives must be conformed to the “image” of Christ if they are to count for anything at all; but that reminder is preceded by an equally important one--the power of Christ's resurrection that both enables us to live as those marked by the cross and guarantees our final glory.
If you are ready to keep a resolution of change join us over the coming Sunday mornings as we learn together how to maintain a strong connection with God while growing more passionate in our spirituality.
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
Day by day, For ever and ever. Amen.