It is a matter of values: what are you and I willing to give up to get what we want? Does kids’ soccer mean that much? Does getting an education mean so much to us that we are willing to pay for it? Does getting the right job mean you’d be willing to leave behind home and friends to move anywhere? This is Sunday church: What would we GIVE UP to follow Christ?
Being a United Methodist preacher across these many years has meant moving from time to time. When I committed myself at my ordination to go where I am sent, I did not realize how seriously the Bishop was going to take that promise. It didn’t talk long to see that, in the world of United Methodist pastors, moving is just part of the deal.
Each time we move, it seems to take a slightly bigger truck. For a long time, I assumed it was the children who came from the hospital with so much stuff. Even now, they are kind enough to store some of their high school and college boxes with us. But, they moved out to homes of their own some years ago, and our pattern did not change. The last truck that brought us to Knoxville was the biggest one of all.
Being married means that moving is an exercise in delicate, inter-spousal diplomacy. Like most husbands, I can cull my wife’s carefully saved treasures with an iron hand. This is a husband-skill that she does not appreciate in the least. That I have never thrown away a tool or a book from my side of the house is sure evidence that I am not qualified to make any decisions about her treasured keepings. So, like most couples who pack up and move from time to time, we pack together, each keeping a watchful eye on the other lest something precious to one callously fall into the discard pile.
C. I’m going to guess that someone in your house and in your pedigree has had to deal with the same decisions: about what to keep, about what to throw away, about what to pass along to someone else. You know the old sayings:
+ “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”
+ “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
That kind of thing. Mostly, we try to make the case that something is no longer useful or does not work or is hopelessly out of style. That makes it easier to part with it. Sometimes in the inter-spousal diplomacy, we defer to the other and let it go to Goodwill.
But the truth is that we rarely get rid of the good stuff.
+If we might need it.
+if it can still be in style,
+And especially if it has sentimental value for us,
We are righteously unwilling to part with it.
II. But, then we meet Paul, the apostle, the follower of Jesus. He is confident, to say the least. No one would ever have to tell him that he really ought to stand up for himself.
In this passage from the Letter to the Philippians, he does not list his accomplishments as a politician in America might do; instead he enumerates his pedigree. Apparently, there were voices in Philippi who claimed that only real Jews could be full Christians; they were uncomfortable with the gospel being offered to these pagan gentiles. As you know, Christianity rose out of the Jewish world; Jesus was the son of a Jewish carpenter, after all. These Judaizers wanted to make the case for keeping Christianity as Jewish as possible. So, Paul addresses these Judaizers about his right to speak on the subject.
+I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. In fact, if anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
+circumcised on the eighth 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.
Now, what we expect Paul to say is this: “Since I have the right pedigree to speak out on Jewish subjects, I’m going to tell you the way I see it.” But, that is not what he says. Instead, this:
[A.] Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
[B.] I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul states that he is willing to count everything he holds dear as so much rubbish, if only he can gain Christ. Knowing the life of evangelism he undertook, knowing the risks he endured, knowing the hardships he endured, it is clear what he gave up to follow Christ.
Think about the contrast here. We struggle to throw out the junk that accumulates in our lives; Paul says he has thrown out the good stuff so that he can follow Christ. He has thrown out:
+the best car – the one that’s not even paid for yet;
+his Sunday suit and all those new shirts and ties;
+a career doing something ordinary that would have allowed him to stay home,
+the good china and with that the company silver;
+the best tools in his workshop;
+maybe even the family that would have meant living a normal life.
The GOOD STUFF is all that furnishes our homes and our lives, the stuff we touch and depend on every day. All this Paul has willingly tossed aside so that he might know Christ. He has gained Christ and the righteousness that comes from following him. Immersing himself in knowing Christ has become the mission of his life.
Consider the claim Paul has made, and think what it would mean for you and me to do the same. It’s not so much that Paul has set a high standard; it is that Paul sees the treasure hidden in a field, and he is willing to sacrifice everything else to buy that field and claim the treasure. I hope you can see it, too.
What does it mean to Paul to give up the Good Stuff in order to gain Christ? Just this: Paul clearly wants to be like Christ, to imitate Christ in his life, his witness, and his commitment.
Since the beginning, God has attempted to get people’s attention and to call them into a commitment to live with principles, values, and sense of sacredness that God wants from all humanity. It is in the living, breathing person of Jesus that we really see all things we call holy, such as forgiveness, sharing, joy, vision, courage, perseverance, and especially love. We might think we understand love, for example, but when we receive totally unconditional love from another person, love takes on a completely new meaning for us. Jesus shows us the ultimate example of love, namely, God’s love. Seeing this example in Jesus’ life makes all the difference in the world for us.
When Charles Swindoll was a young boy, he was greatly influenced by a remark from an old Texan: "The problem with the Christian life is that it's so daily."
Following Jesus is a lifestyle that builds on past lessons and decisions, but it also depends on our dedication day by day. We cannot live off yesterday's successes, last week's prayers, or the Bible stories we heard when we were children.
Each new day is both a challenge and an opportunity. Our faith will be challenged, and we can use that challenge as an opportunity to grow in our relationship with God. Jesus Himself said that those who wanted to be His disciples were expected to be in a continual attitude of self denial and obedience to Him. Here's how the Lord put it: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Lk 9:23).
As each day unfolds, we must pause and remind ourselves that this is a day dedicated to God, that it is to be used for His glory, and that it is best lived in continual recollection of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Starting today, let's look at life that way. It's a daily commitment.
[ILLUS: Fred Craddock]
Dr Fred Craddock spoke about commitment and sacrifice and grand gestures. He told this story: "A wealthy man went to his priest with a check for fifty thousand dollars made out to the church. He handed the check to the preacher and the preacher looked at it. It was a lot of money! Then the preacher handed it back and said, "Go cash it in. Cash it in for quarters and dollar bills. Then, go out and spend fifty cents or a dollar at a time doing the Lord's work."
The man exclaimed, "But that will take the rest of my life!"
"That's right!" answered the priest. “That is the point!" (3)
2. Loren B. Mead. The Once and Future Church.
3. Craddock, Fred. Reprinted in Our Daily Bread, February 12, 1997