NOTHING ELSE MATTERS…GIVE ME JESUS!

 

March 1, 2009 ~ Bay Ridges Long Term Care Center

 

I take you to be my lawful wife/husband; to have and to hold; from this day forward; for better or for worse; for richer or for poorer; in sickness and in health; forsaking all others; for as long as we both shall live.

 

In the typical marriage ceremony we might hear these words spoken by the bride and groom to express their commitment to each other in the face of any obstacle:

 

I have always appreciated these words and the level of devotion required of the two making this promise to each other. They promise that in spite of any trouble or joy they will be faithful to each other. They promise that in regardless of other attractions, each will turn their back on any other claim to their affection and devote themselves solely to each other. They promise to do this for as long as they both live. It is a vow of exclusivity; the complete devotion of one person to another. (At times a marriage may be less exclusive than promised and it is at those times that forgiveness must step in. The concepts of lost exclusivity and forgiveness are beyond the scope of this message. See Forgiveness – Everyone Needs It for a further discussion of forgiveness, its cost and its purpose.) All that have come before are forsaken so that the husband or wife may be loved perfectly and without distraction.

 

The devotion of a Christian to Jesus includes the same forsaking of all that has come before so that Jesus may be loved perfectly and without distraction.

Philippians 3:1-11 – NIV –  1  Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2  Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

    4  though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6  as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8  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. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

    9  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. 10  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, 11  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul describes here the same exclusivity used in our marriage vows; except in this case the exclusivity refers to his love for Jesus Christ. Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church is a letter of encouragement written to dear friends. There is no correction, no exposure of sin; simply uninhibited praise for God, confident reassurance that God’s purposes are being served through Paul’s suffering and a ringing exhortation to the Philippians to keep the faith in spite of false teachers whose claims of a salvation based on human effort could be a distraction from the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

So that the Philippians would be reassured that salvation through human effort was meaningless and that only Jesus mattered, Paul lists the human achievements that he had been proudest of prior to his conversion:

 

-       Circumcised on the eighth day

-       Of the people of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew’s Hebrew

-       A Pharisee in relation to the law

-       Zealous to the point of persecuting the Church

-       Blameless with regard to legalism

 

Paul uses these to show that, as important as they were, he has forsaken them in order that he might gain Christ; just as we will forsake our previous loves in order to gain our wife or husband. But why did Paul enumerate these specific items in order to show how devoted he was to Christ? He did so because these were the things that were important to him before he was saved. These were the things he was depending on for his salvation. These were his distractions from Christ.

 

Too often we forget that Paul was a Hebrew, as was almost every other believer we encounter in the Bible. On very few occasions do we come across a Gentile believer, someone who, like us, was not born a Jew but who had been adopted into God’s family. To us, those things that distracted Paul may not even be noticed; but to a Hebrew they were almost everything. Here’s why:

 

Circumcised on the Eighth Day – A key component of the covenant that God first made with Abraham was that he and every male within his camp was to be circumcised immediately and each male child born afterwards was to be circumcised the eighth day after his birth. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people and males who were not circumcised were not participants in this covenant nor could they be members of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Even gentiles who wanted to join the nation of Israel were required to be circumcised before this could happen.

 

Of the Tribe of Benjamin – Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, was the favoured son of Jacob. Israel’s first king, Saul, was a member of the tribe of Benjamin. During the years of the divided kingdom, Benjamin was the only tribe, other than Judah, that remained faithful to God. Jerusalem, and more importantly, the temple, were located on land belonging to the tribe of Benjamin.

 

A Pharisee Relating to the Law – The law of Moses, given to him from God on Mount Sinai, contained the guiding principles of the Israelites. It was their obedience to the law that defined them as a people, the nation chosen by God and which also assured them of their salvation. In the time during which Paul lived there were many sects, each of which interpreted the law differently. Primary among these were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the liberals of their day, interpreting the law less than literally. The Pharisees, by comparison, were the conservatives and held a strict obedience to the letter of the law (though Jesus often criticized them for failing to recognize the spirit of the law). The fact remains that in being a Pharisee, Paul was acknowledging that he held to a literal interpretation of the Scripture (our Old Testament) and believed that God spoke through human agencies in its creation.

 

Zealous in Persecution of the Church – Hebrews who were not saved believed that Christians, or the Church, were heretics. Not believing that Jesus is the Son of God, these Hebrews believed that those who worshipped Him were committing idolatry in worshipping a man, a created being, in place of God, the creator. Paul’s persecution of the Church showed his devotion to the law of God since that law called for idolaters to be killed.

 

Legalistic Righteousness – Being a Pharisee meant that Paul had a high view of the law of Moses, as well as the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. In his own words he obeyed the law perfectly. This does not mean that Paul never sinned, for that is impossible, but that he perfectly made use of the law’s provision for sin. He would have made the regular sacrifices for intentional and accidental sin. He would have observed the festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and First Fruits and he would have known their significance to the early Israelites and to himself. He would have taken the Sabbath day as a day of rest and used it to remember all that God had done for Israel. Paul was not saying that he was a perfect man but that he did all that the law required of him, that he perfectly obeyed all of its ordinances.

 

Even with all of these advantages, Paul says that he considers it all to be garbage. Any normal Hebrew would have treasured these accomplishments almost as much as life itself but Paul tosses on the rubbish heap so that he could know Christ.

Philippians 3:7 – I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

This is the ultimate “forsaking all others” for with this comment Paul effectively puts behind him all of the Hebrew traditions, everything that could have made him one of the most famous Jewish teachers in history. (His teacher, Gamaliel, is held in high esteem even today, and Paul had every possibility of continuing in his footsteps.

 

Why did Paul do this? Why did he throw away all that he had done in the first part of his life to have Jesus in the last part of his life? Paul told his friends that he had given up his human confidence so that he could gain Christ…

Philippians 3:9-11 – NIV –  9  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. 10  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, 11  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul saw that there was a lack in all that he had done before meeting Christ on the road to
Damascus. The salvation that he had worked so hard to achieve was not something that could be gained through obedience to the law but only through obedience to Christ. And so, knowing that the hereafter is infinitely more important than the now, Paul gave up all of his achievement so that he could gain righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. But he doesn’t just stop at righteousness. Paul goes on and speaks of “Christ and the power of His resurrection.” You see, to Paul, and to us, without the resurrection Jesus Christ would be no more than Paul’s teacher Gamaliel. He would be someone of whom we could say “Wow, listen to what that man says. No one ever said things like that. And how He put those ‘teachers of the law’ in their place, I’ve wanted to see that for so long!” If Jesus was no more than a man who spoke beautiful words He would ultimately be no more important than Moses, even if He did reveal the power of God.

 

Paul comes to the heart of the matter as he moves from “righteousness through faith in Christ” to “the power of the resurrection of Christ.” The true power of Jesus is not in the beautiful words He spoke, nor in the power of His miracles, not even in the fact that He raised people from death, Without His resurrection none of this would matter. In His resurrection He shows that He is God and that our salvation has been achieved. Not only that, but that our own death is not the end of our lives. In the immortal words of Bill and Gloria Gaither: “Because He lives I can face tomorrow!” For Paul, all that he had achieved in his pre-Christian life counted as nothing because he knew that by giving up these things he lost nothing and in gaining Jesus he gained everything. Paul knew that in Jesus’ resurrection his own salvation was assured. This was something that the law could not accomplish, the law could do no more than point to Jesus as its completion.

 

So that he could “attain to the resurrection from the dead” Paul forsook everything. In marriage, we forsake all our former loves to devote ourselves to the one we cherish above all others. Paul did the same when he gave up all of his traditions for Jesus; you and I do the same when we place our trust in Jesus in spite of all that calls us away.

 

Last week at our church, my good friend James Rehob sang a song during our worship service. I have asked him to sing it for us today in closing this message. The song is called “Give Me Jesus” and it describes the kind of devotion to Jesus that Paul had and that we should also have. I especially love the repetition of the line “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” The reason I asked James to guide us in this song is to remind each of us that there is nothing that is more important than Jesus. This entire world, in all of its beauty, pales in comparison to the One who died that we might live. I would like us all to sing this song with James as an expression of our devotion to Jesus and an acknowledgement that nothing matters more than Him.

 

Give Me Jesus

(author unknown)

 

In the morning, when I rise

In the morning, when I rise

In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.

 

Give me Jesus,

Give me Jesus.

You can have all this world,

Just give me Jesus.

 

When I am alone,

When I am alone,

When I am alone,

Give me Jesus.

 

Give me Jesus,

Give me Jesus.

You can have all this world,

Just give me Jesus.

 

When I come to die,

When I come to die,

When I come to die,

Give me Jesus.

 

Give me Jesus,

Give me Jesus.

You can have all this world,

Just give me Jesus.