Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2016)
Philippians 3:4-14 | New Living Translation (NLT)
though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
This week’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians includes my life verse. Starting in verse 4 – which is where the above text starts, Paul writes, “…though I could have confidence in the flesh…” Paul goes on to outline why he could have confidence in his standing. Paul says we put no confidence in human effort. Then Paul outlines why. If anyone could have confidence in human effort – Paul could — BUT — Paul once considered these things valuable…but now they are worthless – his standing as a pure-blooded, circumcised, citizen of Israel – a member of the tribe of Benjamin – a Hebrew of Hebrews – a member of the Pharisees – the judges of the day – those who demanded strictest obedience to the Jewish law – zealous for the law – and obeyed without fault — and now Paul says it is worthless. Those are some strong words – think about the word – WORTHLESS. It means it doesn’t have any value – it’s not worth anything – it is worth throwing in the garbage can. Here in Augusta County it would be like taking it to the trash compactors that are located throughout the county and dumping it in – gone – worthless – no value. For the sake of Christ, Paul says I discarded it. For the sake of Christ, I don’t need it. He threw it all away so that he could gain something much better – Paul wanted to gain Christ – to become one with Him – to do instinctively what Christ would do. Paul uses this word “know.” It’s not just head knowledge – but a deep intimate knowing. Paul says his righteousness is not worth anything – it can’t be counted on, because it is not reliable. Paul doesn’t need to obey the law – not because the law isn’t good, but Paul is righteous because of the work of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross and the resurrection is what makes everything else garbage for us.
God’s way of making us right – restoring the relationship – making us whole again – depends on Christ, not on us – it depends on faith – not on what we do. Paul prays a great prayer in verse 10.
I want to know Christ and experience the might power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:10)
I really hope that is your prayer today. Do you desire Christ so much that you would be willing to share death with Him? The promise of the resurrection is available today.
This is part of the journey of holiness…I like that Paul goes on to say that he has not attained these things yet. We look at a prayer like the above and think, “Wow! Paul has it all together. Where can he go from here?” And yet, Paul tells us, no I haven’t got it all figured out yet, BUT I press on!
The Christian life that we are called to live is a journey – not a destination. Sometimes the journey is not pretty. Somedays we are cruising on the highway of holiness…somedays the highway of holiness feels like a rock scramble up the mountain. For too long we’ve treated the Christian life like a destination – not a journey. Yes, some days we will cruise, but there are other days – like some days when I am running – that we just have to persevere – we just have to press on – no matter how hard it seems. Why? Because Jesus wants us to become mature believers. That is what Paul prays for that he would press on toward maturity – (the word used is perfection) we could also use completeness in Christ – or Christlikeness.
How do we do this – we forget the past. Yes, the past can hurt, but it doesn’t determine our future. We need to look forward – we need to press on – press on to reach the end of the race.
I remember running the Richmond Marathon several years ago. The first thirteen miles were great. I had stuck with the 4 hour pacing group (which means we had to run nine-minute miles.) For the first two hours of the race, that’s what I did. However, at about mile 17 things fell apart. At mile 18 I began thinking, “Who thought this was a good idea.” The only thing that kept me going was not wanting to receive a DNF (or Did Not Finish.) There was no way after I spent a year training to run 26 miles that I was not going to finish. For the next 8 miles – I suffered – alternating between walking and running. As I neared the 24 mile mark, somehow it got easier. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing that 26 mile marker. That meant the finish line was just .2 miles ahead. I cried as I broke out into my final run all the way to the finish. It was an emotional finish. But I didn’t quit – I received my medal and my blanket and the accomplishment of doing what many people have never done.
Today you might feel about your Christian life the way I felt about the race that day a mile 17. “Who thought this was a good idea?” I would encourage you to press on! We don’t put our faith and our confidence in what we can do. No, we put our confidence in Christ. He is the one that can help us overcome and help us all the way to the finish – after all – it is Jesus himself that calls us heavenward – so let’s press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ is calling us