In our Philippians reading, Paul gave us a detailed explanation of his qualifications as a proper Pharisee, an exceptional Jewish law-keeper. As such he would have expected a proper reward and respect. But we know that his life took a big change. There are certain things in life that we can feel certain will go as expected. Let me share a few. The colder the x-ray table... the more of your body is required to be exposed. The softer your slice of bread, the harder the butter. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationary. Here are some more random thoughts... I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger and bigger... and then it hit me. Two silk worms had a race; it ended in a tie. Last one... you know the problem with the gene pool today? There are no lifeguards!
Paul's gene pol was exceptional. He had the heritage and the resume' to be a great leader. Hear again the qualifications Darlene read for us: circumcised on the eighth day according to the law, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Not all of these mean a lot to us here in a Christian Church in the 21st century, but these were impressive qualifications; an impressive resume' if you will.
But he writes of a new resume' and what does he tell us that those qualifications mean for him now? “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Wow, he has changed.
Paul goes on and says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection .” This seems to me an unusual statement; he has just demonstrated how his knowing Christ is the most important thing in his life. Perhaps he does this to remind his readers of the importance of resurrection in how we view our faith. As we spend this time in Lent-- and you may have noticed I have not put a lot of emphasis on it this year-- but I want us to have an understanding that all of this journey we call Christian faith hinges on the resurrection. Lent stresses death and resurrection and Paul highlighted this in his letter to the Corinthians, “If Christ hasn’t come back to life, your faith is worthless and sin still has you in its power.... (1 Cor. 15: 17). The power of Christ's resurrection is the foundation upon which our faith is built. It demonstrates God's power and gives us hope that this world is not all there is. There is a resurrection promised for us as well. In Romans Paul wrote, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:5-6 – ESV) And so we live with this promise of resurrection, of eternal life as a part of our lives. Paul stressed again and again the power of the resurrection for our hope, but also to give our live purpose.
Back to Philippians, Paul then talks about becoming like Christ and says about that goal, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own.” It's an interesting twist here, he has ceased striving to be perfect under the law, but his new striving is to reach a new goal. But this striving comes with the understanding that this righteousness is not his own, but God's. Of this new form of righteousness, Paul wrote, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
Paul understands that in this world, we never achieve righteousness on our own. But that doesn't mean we just stop trying. No, like Paul we are called to press on, to keep seeking wisdom and grace in living the Christian life. Not to earn our reward but to become more like Christ and thus fulfill the call God places on our lives when we enter the family of God. I often say this Christian walk is a journey. We handle this journey best when we are connected to our Guide, Jesus Christ. But we are also connected to one another in the bond of faith. And so we gather every Sunday recognizing in the day the power of the resurrection. We gather to praise and glorify God, the three in one. We gather to remind ourselves that we travel the same journey as the apostle Paul who had this mindset: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” We are to press on as well. But not in our own strength or wisdom. Not for our own glory or recognition. Not even for our own reward or prize. We press on to be more like Christ because Christ is our Lord. And the power of the resurrection lets us live in power and in hope.
We just finished our Bible Study class on Galatians. That, too, was written by Paul. It was written to encourage the Galatians to live in the understanding that it is by the grace of Christ that we live in hope. Certain men from Jerusalem had come trying to convince them that they needed to obey all the laws of Judaism. Paul says that Christ is all sufficient. And he wrote to them and to us that power that can be conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit so that Christ can be alive in us. “I have been crucified with Christ, it is not I who live but Christ.” This is where our power to live out the love Christ has shown comes from. Christ living in us, us living as Christ.
Another note from our Galatians study, Paul wrote, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gal 6: 14) Here is Paul making another shocking comparison. We don't catch it today because we kind of celebrate the cross. Look what we've done to the cross-it hangs around our necks and on our walls, it is fashioned of beautiful wood or crystal; in many ways, it has become more decoration than a symbol of a cruel death; it has become comfortable. The cross is certainly a much easier symbol to incorporate into the church and into our lives. Resurrection? Well, you can't hang resurrection around your neck or on your wall. In Paul's time, to be crucified was the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low. It didn't get any worse than that. So his readers would struggle to understand that anyone could glory in this instrument of execution. But, with Paul, we can glory in the cross of Jesus. Not as an instrument of death but as an instrument leading to the power of the resurrection.
In our next hymn, we sing words very similar to what Paul wrote, “In the cross of Christ I Glory. But our glorying in the cross is really recognizing the power of the resurrection. And that resurrection power is ours today, not by how hard we work but by how Christ accomplished all that is necessary for our new life. And it gives us the grace, patience... and power to face the challenges of this world. From the last verse of the hymn: “Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified; peace is there that knows no measure, joys that through all time abide.” Paul gloried in this knowledge. May we find our lives glorifying the Lord; not the cross but the glorious resurrection we celebrate every Sunday. Amen.
Hymn: In the cross of Christ I Glory 84
1Saunders, Stanley P Interpretation Bible Studies Philippians and Galatians, pg 28