Sermon on Philippians 3:8-11
5th Sunday in Lent
The Greatness of Knowing Christ
Text: Philippians 3:8-11
Did you know? Take yourself back in time. Think back to when you were first able to have complex cognitive thoughts. Perhaps you were in the 5th or 6th grade. Baseball cards or Barbies, chewing gum, and hopscotch were still your favorite pastimes. But at this time you first started dreaming. You began dreaming about your perfect spouse and your ideal family. You began thinking ahead about your ideal career and all the money you would make. You fantasized about the wonderful life lying ahead. Think way back to those days. Did you know? Way back then when dreams were fresh and life was fun, did you know?
Did you know that by this time in your life your heart would be broken this many times? Did you know that you would have shed tears as many times as you have? Did you know that you would end up in a family with so many problems? Way back then did you know the number of times that you would receive devastating news? Did you know this many people in your life would become sick or die? Did you know that life would be so overbearing, that life would be so complicated, that life would be so filled with pain and suffering?
I’m sure all of us ran around at recess or in our neighborhoods with our friends growing up and we looked forward to the life ahead. With a childlike innocence and exuberance, we couldn’t wait to grow up and to make the most of the happy lives that awaited us. But now we are older. Now we know better. Now we have bags under our eyes and ulcers and gray hair (or no hair) and days without sleep and days without smiles. Now we know what life is really like. We have a knowledge of life that comes from real experience. That knowledge gives us a certain power for living.
Did you know that this world loves knowledge? It was the philosopher Francis Bacon who first said “Knowledge is power.” In this world, that seems to be true. The people who know best how to shoot a basketball or throw a fastball or catch a football are millionaires. The people that know best who to act like someone else win Oscars. Those who know the most about engineering have successful careers or teach at MIT or Stanford. Those who know the most about history are interviewed on the history channel. Those who know best how to be convincing are the most successful lawyers or salespeople. Even those who know random trivia best are successful—like Ken Jennings who won 74 straight games of Jeopardy and over $2,000,000, or Howie Schwab who had his own game show just because he knew more dumb sports facts than anyone else. Knowledge is power in this world.
Throughout history the same has been true. Two thousand years ago knowledge was also very important. This was especially true in Greece. By the time of the early Christian church Greece already had centuries of great thinkers in its history. Famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were all Greek men. In cities such as Athens, men would sit around in public gathering places and debate different topics and issues of life (not necessarily much different than today!). Knowledge was power in their world, too.
The ancient city of Philippi is in Greece. The people there would have been raised in this culture of knowledge. In addition, Philippi was a Roman colony. The people there enjoyed Roman citizenship. They enjoyed Greek and Roman culture. Many of the brightest and best Roman soldiers retired to Philippi. The Christians living there would have certainly felt the pressure to fit in with a culture of knowledge and status and power.
Besides those pressures, the early Christians faced plenty of pressure from the Jews. The Jews acted as if they were better than the Gentiles because they were of the line of Abraham. They were circumcised. They followed Moses’ laws. They treated the Gentile Christians like they were less important because they didn’t have the same knowledge or status as the Jews.
The apostle Paul couldn’t have disagreed more. He was one sharp cookie himself. He was a Jew who was of the line of Abraham and who had been trained intensely as a Pharisee. He also had the privilege of being a Roman citizen. He likely was fluent in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, and probably more. Paul had knowledge. Paul had status. By worldly standards, Paul had power.
But listen to what he writes to the Philippians: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” His response? So what?! None of those worldly things really matter. It didn’t matter that Paul was a Jew. It didn’t matter that he was circumcised. It didn’t matter that he had special status as a Roman citizen. All of that meant nothing. Or as he said, “I consider everything a loss.” Paul tossed everything to the side and allowed himself to lose all things because everything of this world is nothing “compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
He speaks more strongly than that even. He continues, “I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” That word rubbish was quite the bold word to use when writing to Greeks. In Greek it meant more than just rubbish. It meant trash, garbage, and very often dung or feces. Think of the most disgusting, stinking, heaping pile of junk that you might find today in a compost heap or in a sewer. That’s what rubbish meant in Greek. And that’s what Paul considers everything in this world when compared to knowing Christ and being a part of his family.
These bold words are just as meaningful today. We can often feel like insignificant little peons in this society. So many around us have so much more than we have. Others have bigger houses, bigger cars, better jobs, better retirement plans, more money, or more possessions. On the flipside, at times we might feel quite important and special. It can be easy for us to feel special when we do know something someone else doesn’t or when we can do something someone else can’t. Then we too get caught up in the worldly quest for knowledge and power.
Paul’s response? So what?! Everything in this world is a loss. It’s rubbish. It’s dung or feces. What does it really matter to have cars or houses or knowledge or status or money? So what if you’re rich or a celebrity or even a boss or a manager? Everything in this world is rubbish compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” and being found in him.
Did you know that in the New Testament there are two words for knowledge? One word means a knowledge of facts. It is the kind of knowledge you would gain by learning something new, such as in school. The other word means a knowledge that you gain by experience. It is an intimate knowledge. It means to know something inside and out. It is often used to describe the relationship of husband and wife—they know each other on many levels.
You could probably guess which one Paul uses for the knowledge of Christ he is writing about to the Philippians. The second kind of knowledge—the intimate knowledge of Christ that is like the relationship of a husband and wife. That is how Paul wants to know Christ.
Why is the knowledge of Christ so great? Look at all the blessings that come from knowing Christ, beginning in verse 8: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Last week we looked at the Parable of the Lost Son. We saw that we were lost in our sins until God found us with his rich love and mercy and called us his own children. That’s one blessing of knowing Christ—we are found in him and have a true identity as his children.
Next: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Imagine if salvation did depend on a righteousness that was our own! Imagine if getting to heaven did depend on our holiness or the good and right things we have done. We would be in big trouble! I may have done some nice things in my life. I may have been helpful and loving and kind a bunch of times in my life. I even may have gone above and beyond the call of duty for others a few times. But that still doesn’t mean that I have met God’s standards. God demands perfection and holiness. If we are going to try to get to heaven by our works and deeds, then we have to do it God’s way. And God’s way is the perfect way. We must be holy like God if we want to live in the holiness of heaven. But I know as a fact and by experience that I have not done this. I have failed and fallen short too many times in my life. I am tainted with the wrongs and sins I have committed.
But that is the blessing of knowing Christ. Again, verse 9 says that we do not have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” The righteousness and holiness needed for heaven do not come from us. They come from God. God is the one who gives righteousness because God is the one who gave his Son. He sent Jesus, the Christ, to this world to be our righteousness. He lived the perfect life we have failed. He died the death we deserve. He took our place and won righteousness for us and now freely gives it to all who believe. That’s why Paul can say it is “through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
The Greatness of Knowing Christ continues in verse 10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” The power of Christ’s resurrection is victory over death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” He also said, “Because I live, you also will live.” That is the power of knowing Christ and knowing his resurrection. We know that because he lives we also will live forever in heaven.
He continues: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” When we know Christ by faith, we also know that we have a union with his suffering and death. His suffering and death on the cross were for us. They paid for our sins. They won us forgiveness. We have a part of that by faith. Our sins were nailed right to that cross with him. But also, we know that we have a part of his sufferings as we live in this world. We know that as Christ suffered, we too will suffer. As the world rejected Christ, so the world rejects Christians. But that’s fine. We know Christ. And because we know Christ we know that we will one day attain the resurrection of the dead. These are the blessings of knowing Christ. That knowledge is power! It’s the power of salvation!
Did you know? Take yourself back in time. Take yourself way back to your elementary school days when dreams were fresh and life was fun. Take yourself back to when you had your whole life in front of you. Did you know? Did you know that you would be able to cope with all of your problems? Did you know that you wouldn’t care about earthly things because they are really just rubbish? Did you know that you could handle any sufferings along the way? Did you know that you would have such inner peace? Did you know that you would have such joy as you look forward to heaven? Did you know that all of these blessings are free in Christ? Did you know? Well if you didn’t, then you know now. You know Christ. He is your Savior—freely and fully. That is The Greatness of Knowing Christ. That knowledge is power.
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