If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, 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. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish in order that I may be found in him, 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. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3: 4b-11)
Our congregation is largely composed of achievers. We are a
congregation of winners, not losers. We don't come to the Christian
faith because we couldn't
make it. The caricature of Christianity
which suggests that Christianity is for losers and weaklings doesn't
fit most congregations.
Paul also was not a loser. Paul said that he had reason to boast
if he wanted to have
confidence in the flesh, as he calls it.
Flesh here means what is external, visible and temporal. Paul
listed in the passage for this morning virtual curriculum vitae. He
Though I myself have confidence in the flesh also, if any
other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have
more. Here are his credentials: First of all, the inherited ones:
circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of the tribe
of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews. Here are the credentials
that were the result of choices he made:
as to the law, a Pharisee,
as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as for righteousness unto
the law, blameless. Paul has done pretty well for himself. He is
not coming to Christianity because he is a failure. Paul goes on to
say that, comparatively speaking, all of these credentials which he
has enumerated, and others like them, are refuse, or garbage, or
rubbish. They don't hold a candle to what gives him confidence.
We were in this home, a very palatial house, and the wife took my
wife aside and said to her,
You know, I don't need this. If I lost
all of this, it would be all right. And she was echoing the same
kind of thing that Paul said. The Christian faith gave Paul a
completely different set of values.
Then Paul speaks about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. What is this knowing Christ? It is not just an intellectual understanding. One can think of the human person in three parts; as head, heart and hand. The head is intellectual, the heart is the feelings, and the hand is the doing. If any one of those three aspects is focused on, to the exclusion of the other two, or near exclusion of the other two, then we have a perversion of Christianity. I'm not sure how the United Church of Christ folk would be on this, but Presbyterians are often largely in their heads. There are other religious expressions that are largely in the heart — largely emotions. And both of those are distortions. Mere activism would also be a distortion. What is authentic Christian faith is faith that touches the whole person — the head, the heart and the hand.
As a preacher, I want to appeal to all three aspects of the person. It's okay for us to feel strong emotion in worship or in our lives as Christians. We need to have a balance of doing, thinking and feeling.
Why was this knowing Christ so valuable to Paul? It was because he speaks of righteousness, which is from God. Righteousness is not attained by keeping the law. This is what we want for our children – for them to know that they are loved profoundly, unconditionally, regardless of whether they make a tremendous amount of money or whether they go to the right schools. Some people raise their children and demand that they produce, and if they don't, they won't really be loved, at least the children feel that way. This can be a tragedy. It's very precious that a person knows that he or she is loved unconditionally. Paul feels this sense of justification; he's made righteous before God as a gift from God. This conviction of his acceptance by God puts him on a firm foundation.
Paul also speaks of the power of Christ's resurrection. There is a power in knowing Christ and experiencing the presence of Christ. I hope that when people come to this church they experience this power, that when we are gathered together there is this vitality, which can be perceived and incorporated into the lives of worshipers. That is a very valuable, a very precious part of the Christian life.
Soon we will take Holy Communion. The Catholics speak about the
real presence of Christ in Aristotelian terms, that when the priest
this is my body, this is my blood, the communion elements
actually become the body and blood of Christ. The elements still
look like bread and wine, still taste like bread and wine, but that
the appearance doesn't speak truly of its substance because in its
substance it is the body and blood of Christ.
In our faith we don't think of communion in Aristotelian terms, but we do affirm the real presence of Christ. Christ is really present in these elements. When we take these elements into us, we are incorporating into our whole being the very essence of Christ. There is tremendous power in this union with Christ. There is tremendous power in communion.
Compared to knowing Christ, all other values or achievements are insignificant.
The foregoing is from a sermon preached at the United Parish of Bowie on October 2, 2005, by the Pastor, Carl Bickel.
© 2005 Carl O. Bickel