Lent 5C

4B. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Fred Craddock tells the story of a missionary family in China who was forced to leave the country sometime after the communists took over. One day a band of soldiers knocked on the door and told this missionary, his wife, and children that they had two hours to pack up before these troops would escort them to the train station. They would be permitted to take with them only two hundred pounds of stuff. Thus began two hours of family wrangling and bickering–what should they take? What about this vase? It’s a family heirloom, so we’ve got to take the vase. Well, maybe so, but this typewriter is brand new and we’re not about to leave that behind. What about some books? Got to take a few of them along. On and on it went, putting stuff on the bathroom scale and taking it off until finally they had a pile of possessions that totaled two hundred pounds on the dot.

At the appointed hour the soldiers returned. “Are you ready?” they asked. “Yes.” “Did you weigh your stuff?” “Yes, we did.” “Two hundred pounds?” “Yes, two hundred pounds on the dot.” “Did you weigh the kids?” “Um, . . . no.” “Weigh the kids!” And in an instant the vase, the typewriter, and the books all became trash. Trash! None of it meant anything compared to the surpassing value of the children.

As the apostle Paul is writing to the Christians in the city of Philippi, he’s writing a letter of utter joy to them. But there were problems cropping up in that congregation. People were trying to foist on them laws to earn grace, obedience to earn forgiveness. There was a group of teachers teaching that in order to really get God’s forgiveness, you still had to keep the ceremonial laws that God had given to his people. They were trying to yoke the Christians, especially the Gentile Christians, into having to keep those laws in order to be forgiven of their sins.

Paul knew something about those laws. He had been raised and been very successful as a domineering Pharisee among the Jews. He describes his life at that time this way: 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 in regard to zeal, persecuting the church; in regard to the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. Paul had done everything he could to look the part of a servant of God. He outwardly looked perfect. No one could accuse him of doing anything wrong. In fact, his zeal went so far as to be someone who persecuted the Christian Church just after it began. He sought to arrest and even oversaw the death of people professing Christ simply because they professed Christ. And in this he thought he was doing God’s work!

That is a specific example of a place that exemplifies the whole mindset that Paul had and now condemns, the mindset that can creep into our thinking too. We can be tempted to think that our forgiveness and salvation in some way depends on us, that we can do something to earn and thus deserve God’s love. That was the mindset of Paul when he was a Pharisee and that was the mindset of those troubling the Christians in Philippi.

But, through God’s work in his heart, Paul quickly saw that he was totally misguided in those thoughts. Paul makes clear that those thoughts, those things that he valued so highly, those things that were his treasure were actually trash. For you and I cannot in any way, shape, or form, contribute positively to our soul’s salvation. We cannot turn the garbage of our sinful life into the treasure of eternal life. And anything we try to do to that end is wasted garbage.

But Jesus? He took our trash and made us his treasure. As we gave him that horrendous dumpster full of sin, he gave us his flawless life. So now, when the Father looks at us, he only sees Jesus’ perfection, not our rebellion. Through Jesus, we can see every bit of what we were doing to try to earn eternal life for what it is—garbage. But in him we also see that it doesn’t matter because we don’t need to contribute anything to that forgiveness. There’s nothing left to contribute towards anyway because Jesus has done it all for us!

But Paul doesn’t stop with just condemning his misguided views on attaining eternal life. He goes on: I consider everything to be a loss because of what is worth far more: knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I have lost all things and consider them rubbish, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, which comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God by faith. Paul says that everything that is not Jesus is a loss, is garbage.

That might be a hard pill to swallow? We have things that we enjoy, even love, in this world. But Paul says compared to Jesus, they’re worthless. What is it that you love? Sports? Compared to Jesus, they’re garbage. Music? Garbage. Animals? Garbage. Friends? Garbage. Family? Garbage. Food? Garbage. Traveling? Garbage. Movies? Garbage. Television? Garbage. Technology? Garbage. Everything is garbage, compared to Jesus.

Now, Paul is not saying that we need to get rid of all of those things. Can you enjoy a sporting event and value Jesus above all things? Absolutely. Can you enjoy the arts and rejoice in God’s forgiveness? Certainly. Can you love your family or your friends or your pets and still love Jesus more? Undoubtedly.

But here is where Paul’s points and Jesus’ ministry join together: if any of those things that ultimately are meaningless begin to conflict or cause problems with our dedication to our Savior, that’s when there’s problems. That leads us then to ask questions that are sometimes difficult to answer because they sometimes mean making sacrifices that we wish we didn’t have to make.

Is that entertainment, no matter how fun and exciting, worth participating in if it drags me away from worship regularly or inhibits my ability to have a healthy devotional life? No.

Is that human relationship—friendship, family member, significant other—worth keeping intact if it drags you away from your God? Jesus was pretty clear using that inflammatory language that he used, that no, they’re not. We should be willing to hate those closest to us for the sake of Christ. While we pray it never comes to that, if push comes to shove, he needs to be our treasure, not the other people in our lives.

None of that is easy, especially as we’ve grown attached, rightly or wrongly, to things in this life. We know that every time we’ve struggled with this, God is there to strengthen. Every time we’ve failed, we are forgiven. And while we’re not going to be perfect, that doesn’t mean that we stop trying. It means that we keep working at it, keep forcing our time in God’s Word publicly and privately to be of the highest priority. And, if we need help, to seek help from those whom we trust to guide us.

What is our trash? What is our treasure? May we continue to wrestle with these questions and keep God’s perspective on these matters. May we always join the apostle Paul, that for the sake of Jesus, all other things in this life are trash and that Jesus remains our eternal treasure every moment of every day. Lord, help us to keep these difficult priorities straight. Thank you for the treasure of your complete forgiveness! Amen.


Commentary provided by Scott Hoezee, NT Wright, Sarah Heinrich, Richard Ward and William Greenway