Philippians is not known for its weighty theology as most of Paul’s epistles are. It is perhaps better known for being his most peaceful, contented, joyful writing to a church. It is really a thank you card, if you will, for the generous gift the Philippians sent to him while he was in prison in Rome. But it is not entirely free from conflict. You remember the two ladies in chapter 4, Euodia and Syntyche. They are not getting along and Paul urges them to live at peace with each other.
But in the paragraph that precedes the one that we are going to consider this morning, the first 6 verses of chapter 3, Paul denounces his arch nemesis. Whether they have actually already been to Philippi or he is just forewarning them that they may be coming, the Judaizers, once again have crept in behind, or at least he fears they may, and compromised the gospel of grace alone. Their theology was one more of grace plus your works plus your obedience—that is what allows you to stand confidently before the Lord. Paul says, “No. It is not about our pedigree. It does not matter if you are born a Jew or a Gentile. It’s not about one’s outward conformity to the law no matter how zealous one is in keeping it. It’s about a Person. That is where our confidence is placed in. It is about a personal relationship. It’s about knowing Christ.
I know about C.S. Lewis as you know about C.S. Lewis. I was introduced to the Chronicles of Narnia while in college and like you chapter after chapter, book after book, marveled at his imagination, his theological insight and sense of humor. Later I would read Mere Christianity and today I still think it one of the finest defenses of theism. Later I would read The Abolition of Man, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, The Screwtape Letters, God in the Dock and his science fiction trilogy. The more I read the more I knew of his keen mind and theology.
In the mid 90’s Hollywood produced a movie based on his marriage to Joy Davidman: Shadowlands. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Davidman. It was a short marriage that came late in Lewis’ life, but it was a most happy union. Joy died of cancer and I think they were married about three years.
It was my privilege to go as a chaperone on the 2008 Covenant High School Great Britain Tour. We went to Cambridge where Lewis taught. We went to Oxford where Lewis taught. I ate a meal at the Eagle and Child Pub, affectionately known to Lewis and his Inkling friends as the “Bird and Baby” and I sat in his very booth and imagined the stimulation and laughter that occurred between him, Tolkien and others at this very place. On that trip we did not go to his estate The Kilns though we went to his church and I saw the very place, the very pew, where Jack sat Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day. It was there on a Communion Sunday that he was inspired to write The Screwtape Letters. The first chapter just came to him and he went home and immediately put it down on paper. There at the church yard we stood at his grave, a solemn thrill. And yet after reading his books, watching a movie on his life, sitting where he sat at the pub and in the pew, standing silently over his grave, I can still only say I know something of his mind, imagination, faith and life, I know about Clive Staples Lewis but I do not know Jack. And Jack does not know me. We have never met. I do not have a personal relationship with him.
You and I were made to know and be known. Who should we seek to know first and best? Who gets top priority? Once again, let’s go to school on the apostle Paul.
Would you follow as I read vv. 7-11.
Read Philippians 3:7-11
7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8lndeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Person we were made for. You are the joy of our desiring and the most important thing is that the most important Person remains our most important priority. Be more important to us today. Be the Person we are most heavily invested in. We pray this in your most matchless and worthy Name. Amen.
Q. What is the chief end of Paul?
A. Paul’s chief end is to know Christ and his surpassing worth.
“What is the best thing in life bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else?”
Knowledge of God (Christ.) p.33
“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” p. 34”
That is from J.I. Packer and what he said about God in general could be said about Christ in particular. “What is the best thing in life bringing more joy, delight and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God (Christ.)” p.33 What higher more exalted and more compelling goal can there be than to know Christ? This begs the question, “What is involved in knowing Christ?”
To know Christ is to be in a personal relationship with him. As a “green evangelist” I was taught to stress Christianity is not so much a religion, a list of do’s and don’ts to appease an angry God, but first and foremost is a relationship with the living and personal God; a God who actually wants to know us and be known by us; a personal God who stooped and initiated with us. This was not like any other world religions. Those religions were futile human efforts to bridge the infinite gap between heaven and earth. But Christianity was about the heroic, divine effort and accomplishment of the Lord Jesus Christ to bridge the infinite gap between God and man. This makes Christianity utterly unique and at its core it is about a Person and a personal relationship.
Personal relationships are about sharing life. I fill out a lot of references for students in my job. One of the questions is, “How well do you know the applicant?” Acquaintance only, casually, well, very well. My answer of course depends on how much of life we’ve shared together.
I want you to consider this extreme example of Sheldon and Davy Van Auken whose story is told by Sheldon in his book, A Severe Mercy. Listen to how they attempted to deepen their personal relationship by sharing everything.
“We decided that each of us must read every book, even children’s books the other had read, and we do so…every book, like every poem or concerto or string quartet, became a dear bond between us. We read new books together…we went to plays and concerts together and if one couldn’t go, neither did…our sharing was union. More and more, as I read her books and knew her music, she was in me and I in her.”
Personal relationships are about sharing life’s experiences. Nothing so strengthens, improves, repairs, heals and deepens a personal relationship with another than sharing your life, imparting your life with that person; listening to them, talking to them, communing with them, walking with them, living with them. We know them as they disclose and impart themselves to us and we disclose and impart ourselves to them. We know their past and they know ours. We know their likes, dislikes, passions, fears, secrets, ambitions, goals and they know ours. With them we learn to learn naked and unashamed. We are in them and they are in us.
And for Paul the relationship above all other relationships was the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our mobile society people are always on the move. People come into our lives for a season and they or we move. Our friendships are often in flux – waxing or waning, sometimes for good and sometimes for not so good reasons. There is inconstancy.
But one relationship must remain intact and supreme and this relationship must take priority even over spouse, children, parents and best friends. Jesus is terribly jealous and will not settle to be second to another.
So, again, what is involved in knowing Christ?
At its core it is a personal relationship of sharing a two-way imparting of life. Christ in us and us in him. And it involves the mind, the emotions and the will.
When it comes to the mind the Scriptures, of course, are central. “…knowing God (Christ) involves first, listening to God’s Word and receiving it as the Holy spirit interprets it in application to oneself;” He discloses his true identify to us, he imparts himself to us by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. We must be very careful to make sure that the Christ we are worshipping is the Christ revealed in the Scriptures and not a person of our own imagination.
What else is involved? “Second, noting God’s nature and character as his Word and works reveal it;” If we are not mystified by his dual nature, enamored by his impeccable character and riveted by his surprising works, our apprehension of him in the Scripture is too superficial and we should press on!
What else is involved? “Third, accepting his invitations and doing what he commands;” You remember elsewhere he would say, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?” Knowing him personally means responding to him and cheerfully obeying him.
“Fourth, recognizing and rejoicing in the love that he has shown in approaching us and drawing us into divine fellowship.” We cannot know Christ without our minds knowing more and more of what the Scriptures reveal about him and the Scriptures reveal that he initiated with you. He took the first step. He wooed you and keeps pursuing you. How does that make you feel? A personal relationship with Christ involved the mind and emotions.
Listen to what I think is a very necessary corrective from J.I. Packer:
“The emotional side of knowing God is often played down these days, for fear of encouraging a maudlin self-absorption. It is true that there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion, and that it is constantly needful to stress that God does not exist for our comfort or happiness or satisfaction, or to provide us with “religious experiences,” as if these were the most….important things in life.
It is also necessary to stress that anyone who, on the basis of “religious experiences,” “says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
But, for all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so. The believer is, and must be, emotionally involved in the victories and vicissitudes of God’s cause in the world,… Believers rejoice when their God is honored and vindicated and feel the acutest distress when they see God flouted.
Christians feel shame and grief when convicted of having failed their Lord and from time to time know transports of delight as God brings home to them in one way or another the glory of the everlasting love with which he has been loved.
This is the emotional and experiential side of friendship with God, Ignorance of it argues that, however true a person’s thoughts of God may be, he does not yet know the God of whom he is thinking.”
Knowing Christ involves the mind, emotions and the will. What do we do when we don’t feel near Christ? What do we do when our emotions are cold and dead or, worse yet, what do we do when our emotions are screaming, “Christ has forsaken me?” What do we do?
As an act of our will, we choose to listen to put our trust in, place our hope and faith in the unbreakable, revealed certain will of our heavenly husband. He has said he will never leave us or forsake us. When the emotions evaporate, the will muscle must flex. I will choose to believe the eternal promise of Christ rather than my daisy-like emotions that tease me. “He loves me, he loves me not. He love me, he loves me not.”
What do we do when we don’t feel in love with Jesus? We do the same thing we do with our spouses when we don’t feel in love with them at that moment. As C.S. Lewis helpfully said, “Ceasing to feel ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.” He goes on to say, “Love is a deep unity maintained by the will.” The will kicks in and we choose to think and believe and speak and act lovingly toward our earthly spouse or friend or our heavenly Husband whether we feel it or not.
When the emotions delude us the will must be evoked and get us thinking soberly about our personal relationship with Christ and often that takes more time than we may be willing to give it. It may require some prolonged meditation upon the truth. We may need to call to mind, think over, dwell on and apply to ourselves the various truths we know about the works, ways, purposes and promises of Christ. It may come down to arguing with ourselves and reasoning ourselves out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of Christ and his power and his grace and his love for us communicated in the eternal Word of God.
So knowing Christ involves the mind, the emotions and the will. And because the Lord Jesus Christ is an inexhaustible person I fully understand how he can tire of us, but how in the world could we ever be bored with him?
In all of the human relationships we encounter, we encounter some degree of pleasure and joy, but also some obstacles to overcome and difficulties. Before we fully give ourselves and risk more in the relationship we do some calculations whether they are conscious or unconsciously done.
For example, we ask how much effort and how much energy will this demand and require of me? How much pleasure will it yield? Is it going to be worth it in the end?
Q. How do we measure the worth of an object or the worth of a relationship?
A. We measure the worth of an object by what we are willing to spend in order to gain it.
The apostle Paul lived by Jim Elliot’s maxim, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
We get the impression from his epistles and the book of Acts that he pretty much lived hand to mouth. He had not accumulated money. He worked with his own hands as a tent maker (leather worker) to provide for himself and his company. He had little in his purse. From time to time, he had to stop travelling and pushing the gospel outward in order to put more in his purse so he could continue on his mission. He was also dependent upon the generosity of the churches he started like the Philippians. He was not interested in accumulating money for moneys sake or for future security’s sake.
He gave up, he spent what money he had to know Christ and to make him known. He was willing to give up or spend his reputation as well. He was okay with being regarded a “fool for Christ.” “Having been circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless…” And all of that once so precious to him and his foremost boast, not only lost its luster, it actually began to stink in his nostrils. Now he values it as much as he prizes a mound of animal excrement, dung!
His lifestyle suggests he spent or gave up all creature comforts to know Christ! Life itself was not worth living apart from knowing Christ. To die is gain; far better still. What was Paul not willing to spend in order to gain Christ? Money, reputation, creature comforts, even life itself. For Paul, Jesus was the Pearl of Great Price.
Q. How do we measure the worth of an object?
We not only measure the worth of an object by what we are willing to spend in order to gain it, but by what we are willing to endure in order to keep it.
Here is a man who is willing to “share Christ’s sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Do you remember that great statement of his? “I bear on my body the marks of Christ.” Elsewhere he would say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” And that future glory is first and foremost a Person; knowing the inexhaustible Christ far better still!
My problem here and now is I either treasure the wrong object too much of the time or I treasure the right object too little. Knowing Christ and his surpassing worth was Paul’s chief end. All the effort and energy you invest in knowing Christ will be returned 100 fold.
I have quoted Dr. Packer a few times this morning. You must know by now that he is one of my living heroes. I had the pleasure to sit under his preaching with other presbyters of the Pacific NW Presbytery at a stated meeting held in Vancouver, British Columbia several years ago.
Dr. Packer’s biography was published in 1997 or 1998 and as soon as I saw it I grabbed it and devoured it in a couple of days—that’s fast reading for me. But the highlight of my acquaintance of Dr. J.I. Packer came in the spring of 1995.
Dr. Feucht, known to many of you, and now a charter member of Resurrection Presbyterian Church, paid my way and drove me to Seattle for four consecutive Saturday seminars taught by Dr. Packer himself. There I sat in rapt attention, taking copious notes, marveling at his ability—in his 70’s—to handle difficult and emotionally charged questions. I pinched myself! Am I really here? Is that really Dr. Packer up there?
Try to imagine how I felt when we came to lunch break and Dr. Feucht had the audacity to ask me to go ask Dr. Packer to join us for lunch. “Absolutely not! I’m not going to make a fool of myself. You go do it.” I can’t remember if he reminded me that he was paying for my way or not, at that time, but I went to Dr. Packer and I felt like the most geeky freshman asking the most popular beauty queen to the prom. I prepared myself for rejection. As I recall the invitation went something like this.
“Dr. Packer, you’ve probably got plans and maybe another speaking engagement across town for all I know during your lunch break, but in the off chance that you don’t have plans, a friend of mine and I would be honored to treat you to lunch. But, of course, we know how busy you are…” and I kept going, and he interjected, “No, I am free and I would be delighted to join you.” I wish I could have seen my face when I glided back to Dr. Feucht telling him that the world renown, celebrated author, James Inness Packer, was joining us for lunch.
We had Chinese. We visited. We asked him questions both theological and personal. He graced us with his presence. Later we drove back to Tacoma still aglow. We not only got to sit at his feet as he taught, we had lunch with Dr. Packer. This was a once in a lifetime experience.
Now try to imagine how I felt the next Saturday at lunch break when Dr. Feucht had the audacity to insist that I invite Dr. Packer to join us for lunch again. “Again? Let’s not press our luck here. That’s Dr. Packer.” But, again, whether he reminded me or not that he was paying the way, he talked me into to going and so I slithered over to Dr. Packer. “Uh, Dr. Packer, you wouldn’t remember me, I’m Rick DeMass, we had lunch last week. In the off chance that you don’t have lunch plans today…” He interjected once again, “I don’t! I’d be glad to join you.” Two for two!
I wish you could have seen my face waltzing back to Dr. Feucht. We talked, we asked him questions both theological and personal, and we felt privileged to be let in. This would happen yet the following week. I swaggered back to Dr. Feucht and he asked, “Is he joining us?” And with attitude I said, “What do you think?” The man cannot refuse me, Ken. Or something like that…. We had three consecutive Saturday lunches with Dr. Packer. In that time I asked him to sign a copy of The Pursuit of Godliness. I treasure it and show it off whenever I have the chance. Come into my office and I’ll show you.
And yet, if I were to see him again, he wouldn’t know me. He wouldn’t remember any of that. He wouldn’t recall my name and I would not be in the least offended. He is so popular and naturally the interest was primarily one way. I do not, as much as I would like to, I do not have a personal relationship with Dr. Packer. But that is okay. I was honored and privileged and still feel myself to be so having made his acquaintance; because the most important thing is that the most important relationship remain our most important priority.
Do I know Christ? Do I treasure him? Am I still seeking him? But the truly remarkable thing is—we only know him because he first sought us and desired to impart himself to us—share his life with us, life in fellowship and communion, a deep sense of unity with us.
Unlike my “relationship” with C.S. Lewis and J.I. Packer the interest, praise God, is not one way. I can say, as you can say, I know the Lord Jesus Christ because he first knew me and engraved me on the palm of his hand and made me one of his treasured possessions. He is in me and I am in him!
“Let him that boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows me.” Knowing Christ is the relationship we’ve been created for a calculated to thrill us for all eternity. Hallelujah! Amen.