Lent 5c

Preached: March 10, 2013

What Gain to Know Christ!
Philippians 3:8-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us Jesus is Philippians 3

But on the contrary I am counting all things as a loss because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things (I even count them as garbage) in order to have gained Christ and to have been found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that's from law but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that is from God based on faith. That is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship in his suffering, being conformed to his death, if in some way I reach the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Let's make a ledger of life. What might people put down in the “gains” column? What are some accomplishments in life? Would it include things like confirmation, graduation, your first car, getting a job, marriage, having a home of your own, children, service to the community, dedication to the Lord's work?

Now these are important things. God blesses us with many of them. But in the final reckoning, none of them count as gain. In fact, we could label this column as loss. For in the end, the only gain that matters is Christ. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 NIV84), the Apostle Paul writes.

What gain to know Christ! Keep that theme in mind as the Holy Spirit speaks to your hearts through the Scriptures to bring you Jesus. What gain to know Christ! For in him we have the righteousness from God, part one. And in him we endure all because of his resurrection, part two.

A. In him we have the righteousness from God

“I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish” (Philippians 3:8 NIV84), Paul writes. How far I am from being able to truly say those words with my entire being!

Sinful pleasures are certainly a loss. You know that well. But sometimes when I'm caught in the grip of temptation that sinful pleasure seems like anything but a loss. “If I could indulge in this sin just once more, then I would be happy and not do it again.” That's my fallen rationalization at work, failing to see what rubbish sinful pleasure is.

But Paul doesn't limit what he considers a loss. “All things,” he says. Even an unbeliever, because of a guilty conscience or other negative consequences, often recognizes that sinful pleasures are not worth it. But only the Holy Spirit can bring us to see the full extent of the Apostle's words here: “I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish” (Philippians 3:8 NIV84).

Even my good things? Even my efforts to serve God? Even my sorrow over sin? When it comes to having a right standing before God, even our best counts as loss, as rubbish. Remember what the prophet Isaiah wrote? “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV84). No matter how zealous and devoted to the Lord's work you are, no matter how deep your sorrow over sin is, it doesn't make you right in God's sight. You confessed that in the opening hymn as you sang: “Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill the laws demands. Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and thou alone” (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 389:2).

Like me, you know those truths. You confess that we are saved by grace alone and not by our works. But how deeply has that truth actually sunk into my soul? There's a part of me that stridently wants to cling to these things and not give them up as loss. It calls out: “At least I was sorry for my sins. At least I'm trying to follow God. Don't these things count?”

How deeply ingrained in me is that desire to cling to something in myself! That comes out when I ask myself: How often do my feelings of success make me feel good not because the Lord is accomplishing his purpose but because my sinful nature is taking pride in my accomplishments? Even though I know to say that the glory goes to God, am I saying that with every fiber of my being or still clinging to a fig leaf of credit for myself? How often do my feelings of failure flow because I was building my hopes on what I can do? How much of my work as a pastor or my service as a Christian is driven by a feeling deep down inside that wants to show that I’m useful, that I have a purpose; rather than freely flowing entirely from the joy and thankfulness of being found in Christ? How far I have yet to grow to truly count everything from myself as rubbish!

So the Holy Spirit strips you and me of our glory, exposes our pride, leaves us naked. Then he clothes us with Christ's righteousness. We gain Christ not because in some way we find him. Rather he finds us and clothes us with his righteousness, so that we are found in him “not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9 NIV84).

Think about that word righteousness. It takes us into a courtroom. If the defendant has not broken the law but has kept it, he is right in the sight of the law. So the judge declares him not guilty but righteous.

The Gospel reveals a very different kind of righteousness. It's not based on our doing, on our efforts to keep the law. It doesn't come from law, as Paul writes. But rather this righteousness comes from God. He freely credits it to you. Why? Because Jesus Christ kept the law perfectly in your place, dear friend. This righteousness comes from outside ourselves, outside of our works, outside of our efforts and striving. It comes from God. It's Christ's righteousness freely given to you, dear sinner. That's God's promise which kindles faith in Christ. This faith considers everything else a loss, which cannot count to our credit in God's courtroom. This faith trust Christ and his righteousness alone as our only hope and salvation, our only gain. This faith sings: “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling” (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 389:3).

What gain to know Christ, for in him we have the righteousness from God!

B. In him we endure all because of his resurrection

How this changes the way we live our lives! In Christ we endure all because of his resurrection. Paul writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NIV84).

On the night before his death, Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NIV84). Since by faith you and I are clothed with Jesus and his righteousness, the world treats us as it treated Jesus. We share in his sufferings.

Don't misunderstand that fellowship with his suffering. Only Jesus Christ's suffering and death pays for sin. Our suffering does not, and it doesn't need to. Jesus already paid up the full penalty in our place. That's why he gives us his righteousness. But just as Jesus suffered at the world's hand because he followed his Father's will, so also we suffer because we follow Jesus.

But what does it matter? We have Jesus! Everything else is loss. “Take the world, but give me Jesus” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 355:1), we sing with Fanny Crosby. “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The kingdom ours remaineth” (The Lutheran Hymnal 262:4), we sing with Martin Luther.

Dear Christian, as you experience the sufferings and losses of life, cling to Jesus and his righteousness. For then you are rich. Then you have all that you need. He is your priceless treasure. What gain!

But we can take this even a step further. Not only can we endure all, we can risk all for our Savior and for his Gospel. For you know the power of his resurrection. At your Baptism you were buried with Christ and raised to life with him. He created a new person in you to live before him in righteousness.

So speak up for Jesus and his truth, even if that puts your reputation at risk. Generously support his work even if that risks the lifestyle you once dreamed of. Follow Jesus boldly, even if that risks losing some friends or having someone upset with you. For no matter what your loss, with Jesus you have still gained.

The strength to endure all and risk all comes from knowing the power of his resurrection, that power that baptism brought to you. Let the world hurl it’s insults, Christ’s resurrection proves that you have a right standing before God. Not even Satan can bring a charge against you. Let the world take your stuff. Christ lives! He will take care of you and me, for he rules over all as our risen and ascended King. Everything else is rubbish when we have Christ (Philippians 3:8). Earth has nothing we desire besides him (Psalm 73:25). Let the world take our life. Jesus has risen from the dead, and he will raise us too (John 14:19). He gives us eternal life; no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28). We endure all and risk all because of his resurrection. What gain to know Christ!

So, dear Christian, when it comes to reckoning your life before God, count all these things of yours as loss. Plead only Christ and his righteousness. What gain to know him!

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313