Verse of the Year (part 3)

The Sufficiency of Christ

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3: 7-11)

We have noted so far in the series that the central pillar of true Christian discipleship is knowing and treasuring Jesus.

If we take a step back and look at this verse in its wider context then we can see that true discipleship is intimately connected to our understanding of what Jesus has done for us through his death on the Cross. We cannot know or treasure Jesus in any meaningful way unless we are convinced that we are clothed in His righteousness.

This is what Paul means when he says:

“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

The message of the gospel is not merely that we are forgiven. It is that righteousness is imputed to us. In other words, the good news is not simply that it is “as if we never sinned” (as wonderful as that is) but also “as if we have always obeyed.” This is what Paul believed and this is why he valued Christ above everything else.

If we are to know and enjoy Christ in our lives, we need to avoid legalism at all costs. We diminish the value of Christ in our own minds if we fall into the trap of thinking that we need something besides him to make our lives acceptable in God’s sight. If I trust in a combination of Christ’s work and my own moral performance, I am telling myself that Jesus is not that great a treasure. It means that we believe he is not able to save all on his own. This is an attitude that stems from idolatry, not from faith in God’s Word. It comes from a pride that asserts our importance rather than Christ’s sufficiency.

Jesus is all-sufficient. Through his death on the Cross, Jesus suffered the wrath that we deserved. Not only this, he satisfied the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf. He took our sin and guilt. He gave us his perfect obedience. God now looks upon all those who trust in Christ as if they have always kept the law perfectly.

Knowing Jesus is the greatest treasure we could ever have precisely because he is the all we need to be made right with God. If we have Christ we need nothing else. We are secure. In the words of Augustus M. Toplady:

A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.

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Verse of the Year (Part 2)

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” Philippians 7-8 (NIV 2011)

All things are rubbish compared to knowing Jesus

Last month we began to look at our verse for 2015. We saw that what makes us true followers of Jesus Christ is that we know Jesus. Christians are fundamentally “God-knowers” who walk in personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This month I would like to focus on what this passage teaches us not only about knowing Jesus but about treasuring Him. If we truly do know Jesus then we know that we have a treasure of surpassing worth.

What does it mean that we consider all things “loss” compared to knowing Jesus?

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

It means that we would rather have Jesus than everything the world holds as valuable. As Tullian Tchividjian so eloquently put it: Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Christians should be able to live in joyful contentment throughout every circumstance. If we have nothing in this world we still have everything one could ever want and need.

We are joyful even when we are without money, without health, without comfort, without family, without appreciation, without shelter, without food and water, without security. No matter whatever else we lose, we have Jesus. We can count all of our hardships in this life as “light and momentary troubles” compared to the “weighty and lasting glory” of knowing Jesus.

Everything – Jesus = Nothing

We can say that the inverse is also true: Everything – Jesus = Nothing. In fact, remove Jesus from our lives and they become not simply nothing, but less than nothing: we run at an infinite loss. Therefore knowing and treasuring Jesus is not only our source of joy in a world of hardship, it is also our source of contentment in a world of greed.

I doubt there has ever been such an impulsive, consumerist society as ours. We are one click away from buying all kinds of things on Amazon or Ebay that we think will make us happier, more fulfilled people. Yet Christians should be able to rise above the fray of retail therapy and walk through this life utterly content. We should be utterly content because our soul’s are satisfied by their union with Jesus.

We know that if we had all that the world could offer, and we did not have Jesus, then we would be utterly impoverished. It is as the hymn says:

“Riches I need not; nor man’s empty praise.

Be Thou my inheritance, now and always.”

Dear friends, let us strive to make Jesus the supreme treasure of our lives. Anything less is not worthy of Him.

Verse of the Year (Part 1)

The battle is for your heart

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…”
Philippians 7-8 (NIV 2011)

You may have noticed that we have a new verse for the year and I think it is time I explained why. This is the first part in a series of articles which aims to show us how this particular passage should shape our lives this year.

One of the most frightening realities in the Bible is how often those who profess to be true worshipers of God are exposed to be false.

This reality was never more clearly and tragically displayed than in the Pharisees. One would expect the most zealous and orthodox of all the sects of Judaism to be the most excited about the arrival of their God. The Pharisees should have been Jesus’ most passionate disciples. Instead they hated him and systematically went about engineering his execution.

This should give us pause. Woe to any Evangelical who thinks they are not capable of the same self-deception. At the core of being a disciple of Jesus is knowing Him and treasuring Him. If you do not know Jesus and love him, then you are not a disciple of Jesus. It does not matter how correct your doctrine is, how many of the spiritual disciplines you have mastered, how long you have been a part of a local church, how gifted you are or how much people admire you. You are deceiving yourself.

This is critical for us as a fellowship. We are going to spend a lot of time thinking about spiritual growth, evangelism, missions, youth ministry, preaching, training, finances, theology and numerous other aspects of Christian and church life. If we take our eyes off Jesus as our supreme treasure then we fail.

Therefore the first lesson we learn from our verse of the year is to remember that being a Christian is foremost about the knowing Jesus. Is this still your main priority for 2015? Is this what you want most for your brothers and sisters at Bethesda?

“Happy New Year!”

These words are bandied about with some regularity during this time of year. However, when we wish someone a “happy” new year, what do we really mean?

“Blessed” New Year

The very first sermon I ever preached at Bethesda was on Psalm 1.

“Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

and who meditates on his law day and night.”

As I was preparing to preach on this passage, I was struck by the significance of that very first word. The Hebrew word translated “blessed” in our English Bibles is the word “אַשְׁרֵי“ʾ(ǎš·rê) meaning “happy”. This Psalm is teaching us how to be happy.

Do not listen to the World

The world is neither short of opinions on how to find happiness, nor timid in its expression of them. The vast majority of what we hear through media, conversations in the local pub, and sadly even some pulpits, is a mass of screaming lies. This new year we need to hear God’s warning that these things will destroy our happiness. They will not make us happy because, although they may bring momentary feelings of exhilaration, they ultimately lead to destruction.

Listen to God

Happiness comes through joyful meditation on the Bible’s instruction. God is the one who made us and therefore knows what is best for us. He knows what will make us happy and he desires our happiness. Therefore the key to a happy and blessed new year is listening to God’s instruction for our lives rather than the world’s instruction. Notice that it is not simply reading the Bible that is the key to happiness. Truly listening to God is constituted by two things: delightful and regular meditation on the Bible. This means that we need to give the Bible enough airtime in our lives to thrill our hearts and to sink in deeply enough to affect our thinking.

Word or world…some suggestions for application

  1. Be careful what you expose yourself to through media, particularly TV and internet.
  2. Ask God to help you discern worldly influences on your thinking. What lies have you been believing?
  3. Make Bible-saturation a priority. Schedule in time for frequent Bible exposure.
  4. Work hard to make sure you are not simply reading the Bible but enjoying it, and reflecting deeply on it. Here are a few tips on how to do this:
  • Less is more. Sometimes we move from one passage to another too quickly and don’t give it the time it needs to sink in. Why not use your sermon notes as daily devotions rather than another devotional or set of Bible reading notes.
  • Pray through every passage you read. Ask yourself, what should I pray for myself and others in response to this passage.
  • Look for the Messiah. Ask yourself how the passage (genuinely) points to Jesus’ person and work. Nothing will thrill your heart as much as a fresh glimpse of Him in your devotions.