North Wales Baptist Church, Pennsylvania
Nov 9, 1997
In today's text which Paul has so passionately given us, we find three important points. To start with, Paul is contrasting two opposing means of attaining righteousness. One way which he and others had failed at was Jewish observances; he argues here and elsewhere that if holiness could be attained through Jewish observances, then Christ would have never needed to die. Instead, the only way to attain holiness is through faith in Jesus Christ.
Consequently, Paul lets us know that knowing and experiencing and understanding Christ through faith is his all consuming passion. His goal is to attain the holiness for which he was created, and thus he is willing to sacrifice any and every thing which would prevent or hinder him from knowing Christ. He gives it all up in order to grow in his intimacy with Jesus. And he urges his readers to do the same.
What is our all consuming passion? If we had the means, money, and wherewithal, and if we had none of our mundane, day to day obligations, how would we be spending our time? Where would we be devoting our energies and creativity? What do we live for? When the bills are paid, and we clock out at work, and we have some free time that we've eeked out of our schedule, what do we do, where do we go, what things do we long for? What is our treasure? Where are our hearts?
More often than not, my obsession is on the hiking trail in the mountains of West Virginia, or rather more ideally, in the North Cascades of Washington state. Unfortunately, my work schedule is so tight and I've gotten so fat, that all I can do is read hiking magazines and watch TV movies with mountain scenery and whine to my wife, "Why can't we live there in the mountains?" I'm afraid though, that many Christians misplace or forget what their all consuming passion should be. Paul's all consuming passion was to intimately know Jesus Christ, and thus become more like him.
In today's text, Paul provides two implicit reasons as to why knowing Christ is so important. First of all, knowing Christ through faith not only saves us from the wrath of God, but it also rescues us from our sins. Certainly, faith saves us from Hell, but it is also the God-given means of delivering us from the enslaving power of sin. The law and other Jewish observances could never do that. When we grow in our personal intimacy with Jesus, then the sins which so often enslave us lose their strength so that we really do become free. Test my words to see if they are true: Think of the particular sins against which you have struggled over the years. Do you recall how impotent they became when you were regularly praying and worshiping God in your private devotional life? The words of the gospel song echo this idea: You are to praise the Lord in your personal worship, for the chains that seem to bind you serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you when you praise him. So then, we learn from this text that knowing Christ rescues us from the enslaving power of sin.
The text also teaches that knowing Christ is the means whereby we get on the right track toward attaining holiness. Look back over your life. You younger Christians may be only able to look back a few months or maybe a year. Some of us may be able to evaluate the past five or ten years of our lives as Christians. Others of us may be able to look back over the better part of a century to consider our progress in the Christian life. However long you can look back, I want you to ask yourself how much you have grown in holiness. Is your life any different than it was last year, or 10 years ago, or fifty years ago? I've been a Christian now for 30 years. I preached my first sermon 20 years ago. But not too long ago, I took a good, long look at myself, and realized that many of the same sins I struggled with 20 years ago are still plaguing me. And this is tragic, because the gospel promises deliverance from the power of sin. Of course, Paul writes in this very passage that he hasn't attained sinless perfection, but he emphatically states that he is pressing on to attain the goal. And the means of growing in holiness is through growing in intimacy with Jesus. Paul explains elsewhere that as we gaze upon Jesus, he transforms us so that we become more like him. "As we gaze on his kingly brightness, So our faces display his likeness, Ever changing from glory to glory, Mirrored here, may our lives tell the story, Shine on Me, Jesus, Shine on Me." And this is the very reason why Jesus has taken hold of us.
The final thing that I want to stress from this passage is how vastly more important knowing Christ is. Paul gives up everything in order to know, experience, and understand Christ in personal intimacy. In fact he counts everything else as repulsive refuse in comparison to knowing Christ. After all, what gain do we have if attain the whole world but fail to grow in holiness. We have to own the words of that great gospel song for ourselves: "Jesus is all the world to me." Or what about that other gospel song, "I'd Rather Have Jesus than Anything This World Affords Today."
One of my favorite spirituals is the song, "Give Me Jesus."
In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus,
In the dark midnight was my cry: give me Jesus,
Just about the break of day, give me Jesus,
O when I come to die, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you may have all this world, but give me Jesus.
I'm sure we would all agree intellectually that knowing Jesus is of far surpassing value than anything else this present evil age can afford, but although Jesus is calling us to greater intimacy with him, we fill the empty spaces of our lives with more and more and more dryness. One poet wrote,
Shall we buy a new guitar, shall we drive a more powerful car
Shall we work straight through the night, shall we get into god-awful fights
Leave the lights on, drop bombs
Do tours of the east, contract the beast
Bury bones, break up homes, send flowers by phone
Take to drink, go to shrinks
Give up meat, rarely sleep
Race our horses for bets
Train dogs, test rats
Fill the attic with cash
Bury treasure, spend our leisure
Do anything at all
So we cannot hear his call
Jeremiah writes, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsake me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Shihor? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates?" But Isaiah extends the invitation to the people of God today, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live."
It is time for God's people to re-prioritize their lives, to revitalize their private worship time so that we grow in our relationship with Jesus and thus become more like him. By a fluke of the English language, our Bible translation reads, "Lord, teach us to pray." Perhaps we know a little of how to pray, but the request is, "Lord, teach us to pray.