English Service on February 15 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title:“When Loss Is Gain” Scripture:Philippians 3:1-11
We think God wants us to be “a church where people of all ages, including young people, grow in faith.” Our purposes, policies, and programs also grow out of this vision. For example, a few years ago we wrote down with Pastor Sasaki’s leadership “Open Door Chapel’s Mission Policies.” To help you remember it, I’ll read a part now.
We seek for each person of this church to live in the love, freedom, and peace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, through being reconciled to God. We seek for each one as a human being and person of faith to grow closer and closer in relationship with God and, as His witnesses, endeavor to bring blessings to those around us.
If you are a Christitan, you are called to grow in faith. How are you doing in that? If you have been a believer for a long time, are you closer to Christ than you were 10 years ago? How do you plan to become more like Him in the next year? Let’s take Paul’s words to the Philippians as a chance for us to take the next steps of faith that God wants us to take.
Paul’s words often have a business orientation. He is writing to people who live in cities and do business in daily life. So he uses words like gain and loss, buying and selling, counting and accounting. There are transactions that happen between God and people, and in some ways they are like the transactions that happen between people in buying and selling. So Paul, for example, picks up on words of Jesus like Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Don’t misunderstand. The image of a business deal doesn’t tell the whole story of the gospel. A relationship with Jesus is not designed to be about how we can get the most possible. The goal is not money but a whole life that is rich, one that God is happy with and shows His greatness.
If we follow the pattern that Paul gives us, and He learned from his Lord, we can go through three steps in the “business” of growing in faith.
1. First is appraising your holdings. How much do you have? Is it enough? Before you can get into a better business position, you need to see how little you have compared to what you could have. That may not be so clear at first. For Saul (as Paul was called before meeting Jesus), it wasn’t for a long time. He says (vv. 5-6):
I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am part of the people of Israel. I am from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a pure Hebrew. As far as the law is concerned, I am a Pharisee. As far as being committed is concerned, I opposed and attacked the church. As far as keeping the Law is concerned, I kept it perfectly.
It wasn’t that he never sinned, but when he did, he went through the right purification ceremonies and processes and took care of his sin problem properly.
Paul writes here about his family background, racial background, ethnic background, religious background, personal behavior, and personal character. Not noted directly but included are things our cultures today highly value: his intelligence, educational background, economic class, talents, and social connections. We don’t read anything about his good looks or how cool a smart phone he had, but in about every other category, he had what people want to have. Pharisees were highly educated. There were only about 6,000 of these cultural elite. Paul studied under the great teacher Gamaliel. Today we might say he graduated from the University of Tokyo or Harvard University or whatever school many people think of as the best. Saul had the good life, so he thought.
Paul is not telling us that having a lot of things (good deeds we can point to, education, high social standing, etc.) is bad in itself. The Bible makes it clear that these often are wonderful blessings from God. But Paul sees another truth at work here. Humans have a way of letting the good become the enemy of the best. We can let the nice things of life become ends in themselves. When we set our hearts and minds on them and make them the goals for which we live, we are making them more important than they were ever intended to be. We are making them our gods, idols. Although many of these are fine things, they are poor substitutes for God. They can never meet the deep needs of the human heart, and when we seek them as if they could, they can in effect block
us from the true source of life, God Himself.
The Bible says (Romans 3:20), “So it can't be said that anyone will be made right with God by obeying the law.” But before He met Christ, Saul was spending his life trying to win God’s love just this way. He couldn’t, and he finally understood it, as the story in Acts 9 shows. His best efforts were not enough. But Christ’s were. God could not accept Saul because he was a sinful human being. But He could accept Christ, and when Saul received Him and began living “in Him,” when God looked at Saul, He saw Jesus. And Saul was accepted as a child of God. In Christ became some of Paul’s favorite words, and he uses them often in his writing. That is the way it is with us, too, when we enter a relationship of love and trust with Christ as our Savior and Lord. We
stop living alone and begin living in Christ.
Looking back, Paul sees his knowledge, skills, strong character qualities, connections, achievements, all he had, in a whole different light. He says (vv. 7-8a), “I thought things like that were for my benefit. But now I consider them to be nothing because of Christ. Even more, I consider everything to be nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
In order to follow Christ, he had to give up some of the things in his life he had thought valuable. He had to see their true worthless nature in comparison to Christ in order to be ready to give them up. It’s the same today. You can’t have it both ways at the same time. You don’t have enough time or ability to make more than one thing the center of your life. And in the end only one thing can work well as your number one, your top priority, your ultimate authority. It is your relationship with God, knowing Him, as Paul says it.
Education is a wonderful thing, but if your education makes you a proud person and think you are better than others because you know a lot, it can end up doing more damage than good to your life. Religion can be a wonderful thing, but if your religion ends up cutting you off from people who believe differently from you, closes you up rather than opening you up, makes you judgmental rather than accepting, causes you to be sour rather than joyful, it may be doing more harm than good. A nice salary is a great thing, but if you won’t consider doing anything until you have first arranged a comfortable life for yourself and your
family, your money has too big a part of your life. It is becoming your god.
The most important question to ask about the things we give our time and
energy and money to is not, Is this a good thing or not? It is not, Can I get away with doing this? The first and greatest question is, What can save us? That is the main point. When you know your answer to that, you know what must receive your best efforts and most time and deepest commitments.
We may put our confidence in various religious privileges and achievements. But when we die some day and stand before God, what will we answer if we are asked, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” What you answer then will show what you really believe now. Will you say, “I went to church every Sunday”? “I read the whole Bible one time every year”? “I grew up in a Christian family”? “I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work”? We don’t want to be narrow-minded and condemning. But God says that if you count on these things to save you and they can’t, they are bad. Even if they are not bad in themselves, they become bad when they cut you off from the source of true salvation. False religion deceives the mind and damns the soul. That is bad.
The so-called Islamic State is an extreme example. You may hear people say things like “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere and really follow your heart-felt beliefs.” But the news we hear recently shines a light on the weaknesses of that relativist kind of thinking. The Bible’s God teaches that not everything is of the same value. It does matter what you believe. And whether it is Islamic radicals or people with secular beliefs or people inside the Christian church or whoever, Paul says that none of us is good enough without Christ. Not everything my parents taught me was right. Not all the influences I receive from my home culture are good ones. These are often disturbing, maybe even painful truths to see. But anything besides life in union with Christ is not just unhelpful or mistaken, he says. It is skubalon, Paul says, and that doesn’t smell good. Whichever way you translate that word, you find skubalon either in the garbage can or the toilet. That’s the word some pastors yell when they hit their finger by mistake with a hammer. So to grow in faith, we have to start by finding where the skubalon in our lives is.
We find life only in Christ. He is the One whom God has chosen to open the way to salvation for the world’s people. When we try to substitute anything else for the salvation God has provided through Christ, we come up empty. We find that the money we are holding is like that old Confederate money people had in the South in the U.S. during the Civil War in the 1860s. You can take it to the store and try to buy something with it, but it’s worthless. It won’t be accepted. If that’s the money you’re carrying, you need to know that before you can make a better plan.
A teacher recently talked about working outside on a hot day. He became very thirsty, but there was no clean water there, so he went and bought a Coke. He drank it but still felt thirsty. Then he learned something. Coke gives you some short-term energy. But it does that with sugar and caffeine, so the extra energy is soon gone, and it is a diuretic. It makes your body lose liquids, and you need, he said, 5 to 10 cups of water to replace the water that you will lose because you had the Coke. So if you are trying to satisfy your thirst with a cola drink like that, you are making your problem worse instead of solving it.
Paul learned something like that about his religious life. He was trying to please God or impress God by keeping the Law. But there is no power in the Law. It serves a necessary purpose, and the Lord gave it to us for good reason. But it is a poor, poor substitute for Himself. Paul’s life portfolio was full of achievement, position, and power, but it wasn’t giving all it was promised to yield. He had to face up to the fact, “I am holding the wrong stock.” It is not enough for us to know right from wrong if we don’t have the power to do right. For that, we need our Father’s help.
Many people today are terrified of death because they know rightly that when they die, they lose everything. Paul says that to live is Christ and to die is gain (as we have seen before in Philippians 1:21). Knowing Christ has great, great value now, but when death comes some day, the value of what he has will become far higher still. That’s what I call a good business opportunity!
Jesus told a story in Matthew 13:45-46. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who was looking for fine pearls. He found one that was very valuable. So he went away and sold everything he had. And he bought that pearl.”
The mistake we often make is looking at cost but not looking at value. People who truly understand the value of a treasure do not worry about the cost. If it’s possible at all, they find a way to pay it.
2. That leads us to step two: selling what is of less value. We have to get rid of it, Paul tells us.
He is giving us a window into his soul, telling what happened to him after he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He may have thought in the beginning that being a person of his elite status would protect him when he decided to follow Jesus. But soon people were trying to kill him for spreading Jesus’ teachings. He was lowered over the city wall hidden in a basket so he could escape (Acts 9:25). Later the church leaders sent him back to his home town (Acts 9:30), where he stayed, probably for years. To say it simply, he lost everything when he chose to be Jesus’ disciple. Paul gave up the special status he had because of his rank, race, tradition, and sincerity. But God isn’t impressed with these, anyway. And Paul says he gained (and all believers gain) knowledge, power, fellowship, and glory. God is impressed with these. That makes good business sense, doesn’t it.
What are you trusting for your salvation? We may not have such a dramatic experience as Paul did on the road to Damascus, but each one of us also needs to turn away from the things we have mistakenly been trusting to give us life. After we realize, as Paul did, that Christ alone can save us, we need to place our trust in Him and begin, or continue, to follow Him step by step through each day ahead. Wise people sell all to gain the very best.
3. The third step is actually buying what is of great value. That means setting our hearts and minds on Christ. Paul says in v. 10a, “I want to know Christ better.” That is his focus, the goal toward which he is
now running with his eyes on the prize.
As I said earlier, if you have spent a lot of time and energy doing good things so God would accept you, I have bad news. He’s not impressed. But that bad news can turn into good news when we realize that the door to God is open through grace. He’s not impressed with our goodness, but He is impressed deeply with Christ and what He did on the cross. That Christ stands in our place and asks God to accept us not on account of our goodness but on account of His. No matter where you look, you won’t find a better deal than that! So if you are willing to place your trust in Christ, I have good news for you. You can be rich in ways that go far beyond money and material goods. But you cannot take advantage of it if you insist on living with the belief that you don’t need it. To receive it, you have to choose it. You have to see your need for it and
sincerely ask for it.
Paul knows there are some opportunities you can’t afford to pass up. This is one of them. No matter what, he needs Christ at the center of His life. All his losses are turning to gain as he learns to walk with Jesus, moment by moment, day by day. We also can know Christ, find the “pearl of great price,” life in Christ, simply by asking for it, He says. As we do, we begin receiving His guidance and support and inspiration in our dreams, lifestyle choices, attitudes, and all of life. Today the market is open. And you can do some selling and buying. If you would like to do so, please pray with me.
God who saves, give us eyes to see our need. Give us the courage to let go of the good so that we can gain the best. Help us release all that we hold, give it to you, especially those things that we allow to come between you and us. Free us from the things we let hold us back and keep us from following you wherever you lead. Give us hearts that welcome the losses life brings because you are so good at turning them into your kind of gain. Lord, grow our faith! In Christ’s name, amen.
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MacArthur, J. (May 7, 1989). “The Distinctive Qualities of the True Christian (Part II).” Grace to You. Retrieved February 2, 2015 from
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Grace to You. Retrieved February 9, 2015 from http://www.gty.org/ resources/sermons/50-32/the-surpassing-value-of-knowing-christ
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