Lent 5, April 7, 2019
Text: Philippians 3:(4b–7) 8–14
Remember that survey I gave out a few weeks ago? Let’s begin today with a little true or false pop quiz that is. . . similar. True or false: Jesus Christ went to the cross to destroy death and to give you the gift of eternal life. “True,” you say. True or false: Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, and rising again, your sins are forgiven, you are covered in the righteousness of Christ, you are declared holy and sinless before the throne of God. “True,” you say. True or false: On the day of resurrection you will experience never-ending joy and peace as you stand face-to-face with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “True,” you say.
So then why does criticism bother us so much? Why do we sometimes worry about the future? Why do we worry about money sometimes? Why—if we know all that—are we so often dissatisfied and discontent? You see, you just scored 100 percent on the pop quiz—you made an A. Yet we seem to be failing when it comes to actually living out the Christian life.
Our text for today is from the Book of Philippians. One of the major themes of that book is the power of the Gospel to make a big difference in your life, to give you joy and peace, no matter what. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4). Now, some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Pastor. Rejoice in the Lord always? You don’t actually expect us to take that literally, do you? You don’t actually expect us to believe it’s possible for us to rejoice during the tough times, to rejoice during the hard times, do you?”
Well, let me answer that question with a question. What was going on in Paul’s life when he wrote this letter to the Church at Philippi? What might have caused him to write such a remarkable thing? Was he on some sort of dream vacation? Had he just won the lottery? Did someone just give him a Bugatti or a Lamborghini? No. As he says in the very first chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote this letter while he was imprisoned in Rome (v 13). Paul understood too well how painful life could be:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:24–27)
Paul, you see, knew how painful life could be. And yet despite all of this, as he sat there in prison about to be put on trial for his life, he was somehow able to write the words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Folks, I don’t know about you, but it really doesn’t take all that much for me not to rejoice in the Lord. For example, I do not rejoice in the Lord when I have to pay my income taxes, which for me is four times a year. I do not rejoice in the Lord when the guy at the fast food drive-through forgets my fries, or even worse, forgets I didn’t want mayonnaise on my burger. I do not rejoice when my computer gets a virus and the hard drive has to be wiped and all my stuff reloaded. I do not rejoice when my cell phone dies four hours after taking it off the charger. I do not rejoice in the Lord when I wake up in a panic because I’ve forgotten to write, prepare, or do something here. These are times when I often do not rejoice in the Lord! (Happy versus Joy) But Paul is telling us to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul was able to rejoice in the Lord despite being repeatedly beaten and tortured and being put on trial. Why? Our text for today from Philippians 3 gives us a clue.
I am about to read vv 8–11 of our text, and as I do I want you to picture in your mind’s eye Paul sitting in his prison cell writing these words:
Indeed, 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 Christ 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—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Do you see what gave Paul strength, what gave Paul hope, even in the most hopeless of situations? He considered everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. He considered everything rubbish (in the Greek, literally filth) in order that he might gain Christ and be found in Him.
In other words, Paul was given strength, courage, hope, and joy, all because he had faith in Jesus, he knew he was saved by Jesus. As he says here, the unshakable goal of his life was to get, by the grace of God, the resurrection from the dead. Why? Because Paul knew in the day of resurrection he would be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ forever.
So, how was Paul able to rejoice in the Lord always? How was he able to write these amazing words while sitting in prison? Here is the central teaching I want you to take home with you today: knowing that he would one day be with Jesus in the future—knowing for certain what his future would be—changed him in the present. This is what he means by those well-known words found in vv 13–14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
You see, Paul knew that the prize was certain. Paul knew that the prize would one day be his. That is what gave him the confidence to keep straining forward—that is what gave him the confidence to keep pressing on—no matter what. You see, What We Know Our Future is Going to Be Can Actually Change Our Present.
Let me give you an illustration: There were two men who were both going to be working the same job. It was a terrible, awful job that nobody wanted to do. Eighty hours a week. Backbreaking, disgusting, menial work and they wouldn’t get paid until the end of the year. One of the men knew that at the end of the year he was going to be paid $15,000; the other knew he was going to be paid $15 million. Now, how do you think knowing that might affect the way they viewed their work? The one who knew he was going to be paid only $15,000 would be bitter and angry and grumpy. The one who knew he was going to be paid $15 million could be happy and joyful and would come to work every day whistling a happy tune! You see, when you know what your future is going to be, this actually changes you in the present.
My friends, Jesus Christ went to the cross and rose again to destroy death and to give you the gift of eternal life. Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, your sins are forgiven. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you can be certain that you, too, will rise. And on that day of resurrection, you will experience never-ending joy and peace as you stand face-to-face with your Lord and Savior Jesus. That is what your future will be! That is the prize you’ve already won!
What does this mean for your life? How will knowing this change your life today? I leave you with the words of Paul found in Phil 4:4–7:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
In His Name,