Is Christ Worth It?
“The Worth of Christ”
Oskar grew up in a typical home. Son to a small business owner, he attended technical school as a young man only to be expelled before completing his studies for forging a report card. A high-school drop-out, Oskar was forced to work for his father until his marriage to the daughter of wealthy farmer. Moving in with his in-laws Oskar took several dead end jobs until finally enlisting in the military. For the next several years our young friend finally began to raise through the ranks of wealth and influence, however, his discontentment with life only grew and he began wasting his life upon alcohol, illicit relationships, and bad company. Thankfully, Oskar’s downward spiral was not to continue indefinitely for when confronted with a series of eye-opening experiences, his life’s course and purpose were forever changed. To find out how you’ll have to stay awake for the next 20 minutes.
Turn in your Bibles with me to Philippians 3:8. The English Standard Version reads, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Powerful text isn’t it? Paul has a way of using language that is bold and memorable. But what does it mean? How do we count everything as loss and what is Paul challenging us to consider as rubbish? More importantly what is it about Christ that Paul finds so valuable? What is the surpassing worth of knowing Christ? To answer these and other vital questions lets first turn to the greater context of Philippians chapter 3.
Chapter three of Philippians opens with a warning. A warning, that according to Phil 3:1 has been spoken by Paul previously to the Philippians in person. The warning is for the Philippians to beware of a certain class of individuals described by Paul as dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. A harsh description to say the least. Challenging Paul’s labors in nearly all his travels were certain Jewish “Christians” who worked to make the Gospel of no affect. These individuals taught new converts that faith in Jesus alone was not enough. Later known as Judiazers, they taught that obedience to the rights and rituals in the law of Moses such as circumcision were still binding. This is why Paul refers to them as those who mutilate the flesh.
In verse three Paul reminds the Philippians that true circumcision is spiritual and only experienced by those who have faith in Jesus rather than confidence in the flesh. In verses 4-6 Paul recalls his own impressive life, and exclaims that he now counts is all worthless for the sake of Christ.
It is worth noting that this warning, now twice repeated by Paul, applies every bit as much to us today as it did to the Philippians. Because of our sinful nature, the temptation to believe that we can somehow add to our own salvation is ever present. Paul’s warning is first personal. Outside of our own inclination, however, we must also seriously consider the influence of some that seek to shift the focus of our faith away from Jesus. With our eyes off of our savior we are left to focus on self, either favorably or unfavorably comparing ourselves to others.
To really grasp the heart of this passage let us take some of the major elements of the passage one by one. Often our over familiarity with certain concepts renders them effectively gutted of their deeper meaning. The verse directly following our key passage reveals the foundational themes at play in the language of verse 8. The first half of chapter provides a compare and contrast between righteousness by works and righteousness through faith in Jesus. For the sake of clarity lets refresh ourselves on the meaning of some of the key ideas utilized in verse 9. Faith is a key concepts throughout the Word of God. Lets take a moment to define what Faith is and what is not.
In my study on faith I have sought to understand the nuts and bolts of it. The following definition for Faith I have found particularly helpful. “Faith is the exercising of the will to act upon what God’s Word reveals to be true.” In the light of the Great Controversy God’s Word ultimately communicates the goodness of God. It vindicates God from the accusation of satan by revealing God’s heart which is most clearly demonstrated through the cross. Each time I choose to act on faith I am choosing to believe that God is good and satan is a liar. When tempted we are faced with the choice to believe God is good and his Word is true, or indulge in unbelief and join with the enemy of our soul in casting the blame for our actions upon our Creator.
Understanding that faith is an decision on our part it crucial. Often we confuse faith with a feeling or a state of mind which is completely free from doubt. Ultimately our faith or our unbelief is revealed by the choices we make. If while feeling depressed and hopeless you choose to praise God you are exercising faith. When you feel temptation is more than you can bear faith resists unto blood claiming the promise that God’s grace is sufficient and God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. When your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling faith perseveres in prayer, claiming the promise that we can at all times boldly come before the throne of grace. After yielding to temptation your feelings tell you to keep running from God, but faith says Christ is immediately willing to forgive and pull you up out of the miry clay.
The apparent contradiction is that faith often feels unnatural. Coming to God for help and forgiveness in the midst of our shame is indeed painful, but doing so is acting upon the promises of God. We struggle believing God can forgive us when our feelings condemn us, but God has promised us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and we must allow this truth to motivate us to action. Feelings are fleeting and often a faulty guide. The Word of God, however, will never lead us astray.
Now that we have established that faith is a choice to believe what God says, what does it mean to have faith in Jesus, and how does that produce righteousness? Well, what does the Word of God say about Christ? It reveals Him as our crucified and risen redeemer. Essentially God’s word reveals to the sinner that Jesus is their all-in-all. By faith we claim the promises in God’s word that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Likewise by faith we overcome sin and live holy lives by claiming God’s promise to deliver us from evil and set us free from the bondage of sin. In other words, it is by faith in Jesus that we receive both redemption and transformation into His likeness.
The door opened to mankind through faith in Christ has dealt a death blow to the kingdom of darkness. It is no surprise then that Satan worked feverishly in the day of the Philippian believers to present a counterfeit to true faith. Understanding that faith in Christ must stand alone to be effective, the enemy of our souls is ever seeking to add to faith in Jesus the works of men. The following saying is ever so true,
“Jesus + nothing = EVERYTHING while Jesus + anything = Nothing.”
The moment we begin to add our works to Christ’s work on our behalf faith ceases to be faith. That is because faith must ever remain the evidence of the Unseen. The moment we add our works into the mix we will take hold of our visible deeds and lose sight of Christ all-together. Our faith, devotion, and focus can be only one of two places. We either believe in Jesus and His work on our behalf or we trust to our own merit as supposedly revealed by our “accomplishments.”
The necessity for faith in Jesus to stand completely alone accounts for Paul’s proclamation that he counts all as rubbish in order that he may gain Christ. In reviewing his previous life based on merit Paul lists some things that in and of themselves were not bad. Likewise those things we are in greatest danger of counting as evidence to personal righteousness are often good and perhaps down right impressive to most we come into contact with. Let us note, however, that Paul not only gives them up but he counts them as rubbish. The King James version actually uses the word dung, which in some ways better captures the intended import of worthless and detestable.
May we pray that our eyes are open to the rubbish in our lives. God’s Word gives us a test to know whether or not there is rubbish in our lives which we may be placing confidence in. Romans 7:24 tells us that if we place confidence in the flesh we will serve the law of sin. In other words there is not true victory over sin in our lives when we place confidence in our works as gaining us merit before God.
Victory over sin always follows, never precedes, faith in Jesus. In verse 10 Paul speaks of knowing Jesus first, and knowing the power of His resurrection and death to sin second. The ultimate conclusion we must arrive at is that Righteousness comes through knowing Jesus.
So now we have arrived at the heart of the passage, “Knowing Christ Jesus.” Paul declares that it is the beginning and ending of all that is valuable in his life. We have discovered that through knowing Jesus we find both salvation and freedom from sin. But what does it mean to know Him? How do we go about obtaining this knowledge? These vital questions lead us back to where we began, “Faith.” When God draws us to himself He presents to us what His Word reveals about His Son. We are challenged to by faith accept things we have yet to fully experience or see. Following our initial step of faith to believe that Jesus is all we are promised we immediately began to taste of God’s goodness and discover for ourselves the truthfulness of His love. It is by faith that we are ever to grow into a deeper and deeper knowledge of Christ. Likewise the deeper we come to know our Lord the greater evidence we find upon which to ground our faith.
To effectively grow into an intimate knowledge of God we must approach His word with the ultimate goal of discovering more about His goodness. The temptation of our flesh is to study God’s word as the pharisees did. They searched the scriptures to find their own way to heaven. If we approach God’s word with motives other than seeking to humbly grow in our knowledge of the greatness of our God we may puff ourselves up with knowledge but inevitably be left clinging to rubbish as our means of salvation. As we genuinely seek to know God we will discover things far greater than simply a get out of hell free card. We find value, meaning, and fellowship as we come to understand God’s love for us. We find freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom selfishness. We discover peace, joy, and a desire to bring others into the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Earlier this morning I shared with you part of a story about a man named Oskar. We left our young friend just as he was about to have his world turned upside-down. In 1941 now a member of the Nazi party in Germany, Oskar witnessed the gruesome treatment of the Jews as they were forcefully removed from their homes and transported to concentration camps. Making use of his financial means and lofty acquaintances in the Nazi party, Oskar Schindler began working to save as many Jewish lives as possible. During the course of World war II Schindler spent his fortune and exasperated all possible connections to save hundreds of lives. In a film based on the life of Schindler’s experience there is a particularly touching scene at the end. The war now over, the danger to his Jewish friends passed, Schindler is overcome with emotion when he realizes that he could have done more. Struck with the value of a life he takes a tearful inventory of his last few possessions and recognizes that if he had forsaken them more lives could have been ransomed.
We stand upon different ground than did Oskar Schindler. He was able to retain a handful of possessions albeit with great remorse. We with Paul must forsake all. What accomplishments in our lives are we tempted to believe render us righteous? Is perceived merit before God keeping us from discovering the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord? As we bow our heads and close our eyes I am going to pray a simple prayer and then give a few moments of silence for the Lord to speak to our hearts. “Dear Father in Heaven, thank you for sending us Jesus. Thank you for giving us in the death, resurrection, and intercession of Your Son more than we will ever fully grasp. Teach us to pursue the surpassing worth of knowing You more than any fringe benefit we may have sought in the past. Lord, you know our hearts and the things we so easily lean upon for righteousness other than you. In the next few moments please open our eyes to see the rubbish we are clinging to and strengthen us to seek You and You alone... Thank You for hearing and answering our prayer. We love you. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”