Sunday, May 1, 2011

Looking toward the future through the words of Philippians 3 & 4 #2

Looking back over years of expecting that God would add to faithfulness a renewal and a steady building up of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), it might now seem laughable. What was all the hard labour about? Philippians 3:7-11 speaks to such feelings and allows faithfulness to find its proper place in Christ Jesus.

But whatever things were gain to me those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering , being conformed to his death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)

The apostle Paul, in this text, is not simply counting his ethnicity, religion and personal morality as loss, but all things. No other good or gain is any longer worth its privileges. As Ralph P. Martin in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries puts it:
The vigorous language and the widened scope of the apostle’s confession support Heinzelmann’s view that Paul has in mind here, not so much the decision of many years before at his conversion, but his ever present choice against a recurring temptation to rely on anything apart from Christ. So the tense passes from the perfect to the present. In the scales of his choice of privileges he could claim as a Jew (vv.5-7) and as a Christian (v.8) were offset by inestimable gain. … Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord is not only superior to the privileges of Judaism and ‘religion’: it excels them to such a degree, and so far outstrips them, that it must be considered in a class apart.
So faithfulness is all about knowing Jesus. And often while we go about our steady walk of doing the will of God, Jesus’ simply draws us into a closer, deeper relationship with him. His will sometimes seems like failure, but instead it is moving the faithful into a position they might not have gained otherwise, a position that is filled with a greater relationship. Our gain, as Paul writes of himself, is knowing Christ Jesus “and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death that we might attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

So breaking that into sections what does it mean to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. What does it mean to know Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings? What does it mean to be conformed to his death that we might attain the resurrection? And what does all of that have to do with a faithfulness which is seemingly lost in a disobedient denomination. Where does losing all place faithful believers in the midst of a decadent culture and within a denomination striving mightily to conform to that culture?

John Calvin gives one of the clearest understandings of what it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection; it means not just to know with our mind but to experience all that Christ has given us because of his death and resurrection. “Christ therefore is rightly known, when we feel how powerful his death and resurrection are, and how efficacious they are in us. Now all things are there furnished to us — expiation and destruction of sin, freedom from condemnation, satisfaction, victory over death, the attainment of righteousness, and the hope of a blessed immortality.” All of these the believer knows most clearly in the midst of defeat while acknowledging Christ’s sufficiency.

But this leads to that other knowing which is also experienced, that is the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Calvin here speaks of our need to die before we live and adds that this is also why resurrection is placed in the text. Knowing Christ in his sufferings occurs as we renounce sin and proclaim Christ. Laying aside both our righteousness and our sin we proclaim Christ; not a welcomed calling in either culture or denomination. But Christ has called us into the privilege of knowing his sufferings. So laying aside privilege we are privileged with the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.

So, in the place we have been set, we must let go of all gain to grow in our knowledge of Christ. Jesus spoke of the joy that was set before him-we also must speak of and know that Joy.

William Hendriksen in his Commentary gives some very practical advice on knowing Christ. “One gains such experiential knowledge by wide-awake attendance at public worship and proper use of the sacraments (Heb. 10:25; cf. Matt. 18:20, 28:19; Luke 22:14-20; 1Cor. 11:17-24); by showing kindness to all, practicing the forgiving spirit, above all love; by learning to be thankful; by studying the Word of Christ both devotionally and exegetically so that it dwells in the heart; by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the glory of God, and continuing steadfastly in prayer and thus by redeeming the time as a witness of Christ to all men. (Col. 3:12-17; 4:2-6).

God, for the orthodox, those longing for renewal and reformation, has opened up a future of knowing Christ more deeply, of sharing with him what we have not shared, suffering, and of still proclaiming faithfully, Jesus Christ, our living resurrected Lord.

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