Week of Jan. 20: Living faithfully for Jesus brings blessings beyond measure
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
For the week of January 20
Lesson Scripture: Philippians 3:7-11
Background scripture: Philippians 3:1-11
Key verse: Philippians 3:7
In this lesson particularly, reading the background scripture is necessary to have the context of Paul’s message. In some ways, it is like a profit and loss statement of a business. Before you can know how you are doing, you have to know where you started.
Paul begins with the key word: REJOICE! Immediately, he then uses language rather out of place in this gentle letter of thanks. His warning is sharp and cutting, but he is dealing with a recurrent issue that plagued the early church. Everywhere Paul went, a group of men followed him and challenged his teaching about salvation by grace through faith alone. Again and again, they insisted, to be a Christian a person still must observe the Mosaic Law, which of course included circumcision.
Paul saw the keeping of the Law as a matter of the heart and mind, not outward and visible marks. He is right in line with the writer of Deuteronomy who spoke of the circumcision of the heart (10:16). Jeremiah said, “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed (uncircumcised in Hebrew) so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them…” (6:10 NIV) Those who are following Jesus are the true circumcised children of God. This spiritual understanding of faith is the basis for everything else Paul will say.
In fact, he gives his Jewish pedigree, which is very impressive. As a pastor, I would hang on my study wall those physical signs of my “achievements:” degrees, ordination certificates, honor societies, and other collections of awards gathered over the years. One writer has rightly called the wall where we hang such, the “I love me wall.” This is what Paul is doing in verses 5-6. There was a time when Paul was very proud of these autobiographical facts. But not now! He now counts all that as rubbish, or as the CEB translates “sewer trash.” Everything is looked at in a different way when one knows Christ as Lord. Knowing Jesus means recognition of the fact nothing a human can say or do can gain a relationship with God. The righteous holy God demands righteous holy children who will call God Father. In honesty, we know ourselves to be anything but a righteous holy person.
We can compare ourselves to others and think we are fine. Our culture does just that—persons compare themselves to other persons—and so education, financial status, cars, houses, clothes and all other physical signs of success and achievement are the measure of our worth. The newest technology we must buy. The new model car we must have. A larger house is necessary even as the children leave home. What is a person worth who doesn’t have any of those things? Are they worthless? Paul knew the answer to that question was, “NO!” No one is worthless for whom Christ died. This is Paul’s standard for measuring achievement. To know Christ and the power of his life, death and resurrection is the ultimate standard of worth.
We have always loved the African-American spirituals whose origins came out of slavery. These individuals, who had no status except as property, knew and sang about who they were as children of God and their ultimate destiny as heaven-bound. The list is endless: Good news the chariots coming; Swing low sweet chariot; I’ve got a robe, I’ve got shoes, I’ve got a crown,; Sometimes I feel like a motherless child; We shall overcome; Deep river; Go down Moses; and on and on. They would not let their circumstances define who they were. We have settled for a ‘mess of pottage’ by letting our privileged circumstances define who we are.
After giving the impressive list of his credentials, Paul declares, “I consider all of them rubbish, 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 that comes from God and is by faith.”(vs.9) This remarkable transformation of attitude for Paul was a miracle of grace—and it still is!
“How hard it is,” said Jesus, “for a rich man to enter heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” But, with God, all things are possible. Thank God, or we would be forever lost. God’s grace continues to be amazing.
There is a pairing in Paul’s mind of the suffering of Christ with the resurrection. It’s like the old spiritual, “You can’t wear the crown, if you don’t bear the cross.” There is a fellowship of suffering Christians join when they become disciples of Jesus. If we learn of him, the first lesson is one of shared suffering. It may not be your own personal suffering, but if anyone suffers, the whole fellowship suffers, and that shared suffering is part and parcel of the resurrection. The mystery of life after death for the Christian is defined in that word “resurrection.” Forget the Greek idea of immortality of the soul, for the believer, the experience is the resurrection of the body. Elsewhere, Paul struggles to define what kind of body (I Corinthians 15:35-57), but here he expresses his faith in God’s ultimate gift of grace—sharing with Jesus his resurrection.
When Paul says somehow he might attain the resurrection from the dead, he is not questioning or wondering whether it is true or not. This statement is one of wonder and joy. Living faithfully for Jesus brings a “blessed assurance of a foretaste of glory divine,” “seen” so clearly and expressed so joyfully by the blind Fanny Crosby. So may it be for you.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.