I want you to know this morning, out of this series that we’ve been in together on the Journeying to the Empty Tomb, this section for me is the most exciting in how it pragmatically relates to the Christian life. I’m going to invite you to turn to Philippians 3. We’re continuing on the theme of Journeying to the Empty Tomb. Really, this is the kind of the culmination of everything that I think the resurrection can be summarized in as it relates to your life specifically. In a nutshell, we’re going to be talking about the will of God for your life and relating it to the resurrection and what it means for the you in the day-to-day.
I want you to know if I could tell you this section of Scripture for me is one that God just regularly circulates within my mind as it relates to the purpose for which I believe we exist. If I could summarize my life in just five words and what the pursuit of what I want to be about, there’s a struggle there because I still live in a sinful world, but if I could summarize my life into just five words into what I want my life to be about, we’re going to hone in on this passage and look at those five words. I’m not going to tell you what they are yet, but I think it’s the description of just the Christian life. It’s the description of God’s will for us, and it is that simplistic in its statement, yet we have our entire lives of being able to pursue that.
The reason we’re going to end with these five words today is because when we look at the Christian life, when we look at Sunday morning, when we think about gathering as God’s people, a lot of the times we can get lost in the weeds. A life will do that to you. Life will get you so distracted in the struggles that what you face in the day-to-day that you forget to look at the landscape and just enjoy where God has you.
We could even do that practically as we’ve talked about the power of the resurrection. We’ve looked at it historically. We’ve looked at it as it relates to us theologically. Now we’re really going to tie all that together in what it means for us in our lives. What is the will of God relating to the resurrection and how Paul ties that here in these statements in Philippians 3.
I’m not going to be able to give you much of the broad spectrum to Philippians, but I want to tell you this in just a very simplistic fast-paced way, Paul is writing this book from prison. One of the interesting things about the story that transpires on this page is this letter that he’s writing to the church in Philippi, is that the topic of the story is joy.
If you think of anyone that you want to learn about joy from in the midst of what they’re going through, if I had to pick somebody, I’m not going to look at the guy that’s currently in a Roman jail. For me, the irony of this is just a little bit ridiculous, almost laughable in a way. It’s like you’re learning about how to do finances from a guy that’s filing for bankruptcy, or you’re learning about to have healthy relationships with your neighbor from the Hatfields and McCoys. It just doesn’t compute in my mind, but for thousands of years the church has looked at this letter as a letter of joy written from a guy in jail describing to other people how to walk with the Lord and experience that joy in their lives.
In fact, in chapter 1 let me just read just a few, just to give you a snippet. This might encourage you to go through this book. In chapter 1, verse 12, Paul says this, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to all the rest that are in my imprisonment for Christ. Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment are much more bold to speak the Word without fear.” You can just see this guy whose pursuit in life is just unchanged, unhindered by what he’s experiencing.
Then he goes on through this book encouraging the church. I think if I’m going through this in my life, I’m writing a letter going, “Please call me, text me, I just encouraged right now.” Verse 6 he says, “I’m sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus.” Verse 20, “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Verse 27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or I am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation.”
Then he goes on and says this in chapter 2, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort for love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but with humility count one another as more significant than yourselves.”
Then he starts to describe individuals in their living of Christ. He talks about Timothy who shares his similar heart and Epaphroditus who nearly lost his life. He even contrasts this with false teachers, which is where we get into chapter 3, where we’re going to start this little section of Scripture here.
He starts talking about these false teachers because they’re taking the Gospel which Paul has proclaimed, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and they’re adding to it. He’s just warning them about the simplicity of what the Gospel is and needing to walk in that and not give credence to the false teaching that’s happening among them. He starts to contrast their teaching really with his own life. Paul is saying, “I’ve walked that road. I’ve lived the religious lifestyle.” He’s about to share where that leads and where he came. In the midst of all this, he starts to describe really what God’s will is for his life, which I think still relates to us and what God’s will is for our lives.
Many times we ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” In asking that, we’re looking for the next task. What’s the next thing that God wants me to do? How do I keep making this step up the ladder so that God is satisfied with my life? Paul starts to relate this to his own personal life in climbing that corporate ladder of his society to show how he became the biggest fish in his pond and where that brought him in this world.
He says it like this. In Philippians 3:4, we’re going to start there. He’s contrasting this statement with the false teachers. You can go back and look at that, the three verses previous to this. He says this, “Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh,” talking about how they’re finding their confidence in trying to live life in the flesh. He says, “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.”
Paul is saying, “Whatever the credentials are of religious people or what not in saying what makes them so great as a person, I’ve got more to stand on than anyone else in this world.” He says in verse 5, “Circumcised the eighth day,” which according to Jewish law, the eighth day was the day in which you were to be circumcised, so from the time he was out of control of what happened to his life, he’s still in obedience to the law of what he pursued in his life, “of the nation of Israel,” God’s chosen people, “of the tribe of Benjamin,” a sacred tribe within Israel. This was Rachel’s last child. She gave birth to this child and died giving birth, so this is the last of the 12 here.
“A Hebrew of Hebrews,” during Paul’s day, Rome has started to influence the Jewish people in such a way that many of them begin to speak Greek, and that was what they were used to and they started to lose the Hebrew language. They would read from the Old Testament in Greek, and Paul is saying that he still knows the Hebrew, the customs, the language, so he’s been rooted in that. He was trained in that tradition, a Hebrew of Hebrews.
“As to the law, a Pharisee,” so the pursuit of the Pharisees were such that not only did they want to obey the 613 commandments of the Old Testament, but to make sure they obeyed these commandments or at least the pursuit of that. They added commandments on top of the commandments to make sure they never got to the point where they would even break the 613 commandments, because they had laws before that.
The zeal for what he followed in his life, it says in verse 6, “As to zeal, even a persecutor of the church.” He saw the Christians that were born in the first century and that what came through Christ as compromising to his own faith. “As to righteousness, which is in the law,” he was found blameless.
When you want to know in his society who is the Jew of the Jews, the most prominent figure, the one people would look to, the up and coming star, Paul’s saying, “It’s me. I lived the standard as far as anyone could live the standard, the big fish in the pond.”
Then he goes on in verse 7, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” He’s using actually financial terms here. He’s saying, “When I look back at everything I had built in my life, I had all of the stature. My accounts were overflowing. All that was gain to me I now count it negative in my account.” “More than that,” he goes a little bit further and says, “I count all things to be loss in the view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”
In this statement, just to drive the point home for us, he not only talks about financial gain and loss here in the words, but then he gets this one word where he uses here which is kind of a little debated word. He actually describes it as rubbish, which if your British I guess it makes sense, but in our culture, I think it’s important for us to know that the word that Paul uses here is actually scubala. He’s literally saying it’s crap. Some people even study this passage and debate in the society which Paul lived, is Paul actually cussing here? Is this one of those moments where the four-letter phrase might fit the circumstances?
I’m not encouraging you to do that, I’m just saying that’s really what’s debated here in this passage, that Paul really wants to paint the picture of how he’s now perceived this pursuit within his life, and he says this, he counts all as rubbish so that he may gain Christ, and “may be found in him not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Paul is saying in his life that he has been pursuing this righteousness, but he’s lost his religion and, honestly, what he’s acknowledging here is that rather than living in this religion, he’s beginning a relationship. Maybe even for you this morning, you might be even able to relate to what Paul has gone through in this story. He’s saying in stature, in society, you think of the prominence that he had, the relationships that he’s built, the community around him, all the people that have respected him, that look up to him, that admire him, that want to be him, and he turns from that.
You know the kind of repercussions that come from those actions? At the very least, social suicide, right? The pressure, and if you watch Paul’s journey, you see wherever Paul travels, individuals are following him and providing persecution in nearly every city that he encounters, trying to persuade the people not to listen to this story, this statement that he’s making about his own life and how it relates to the Gospel and how it should relate to your life. The commitment of Paul in giving this statement, he has paid the expense to the ultimate in which it cost him his life, but he’s counted it as loss.
When we look at this story from a religious perspective, this is difficult to comprehend because Paul is saying he’s laying behind the law of which he found his righteousness and taking on Christ. It’s almost like this. He’s tried to live the law, tried to live the law, tried to live the law, tried to find this righteousness in living the law, and the whole time he’s like, in trying to pursue this, which I’ll show you why this is an impossibility in a second, but in trying to pursue this, he’s like, “Why am I doing this when Jesus has already done it?” Trying to earn God’s love when his love has already been extended.
Paul loses himself in that to gain the righteousness for which Christ has provided to him. The struggle in religious thinking looks like this for us. Religion looks at the rules at which they have created and their structure to provide righteousness, to earn righteousness, and to look holy before God, and so they look to these rules as the means of becoming holy before God. Then we look at Christianity and to a Christian circle, like today we see in this and what we’re going to share from this text of Scripture, what we’re not emphasizing is rules. The emphasis of what we’re going to make today, even looking at what Paul’s saying, it’s not about law for righteousness.
Then the perplexity in a religious mentality to look at you as a Christian in pursuing Christ and not making this morning the emphasis about religious living in order to achieve your righteousness, it almost looks as if you’re blaspheming God, because the question then becomes without your religious rules, how do you become holy? How do you live up to law? Do you not think God is holy? How could not the emphasis of what you make today be about doing and doing and doing and good and not being bad but being good, how could that not be the structure of what we’re talking about? You coming in and me just beating you over the head of all the bad things you’ve done this week. So the peg that’s put on Christianity is we can just live how we want, we really don’t care, we just say Jesus paid it all, right?
I’m going to be frank and just say there are Christians that you will encounter in life where at least people say that they belong to Jesus and look nothing like Jesus, but I don’t want to defend that this morning because I don’t think that necessarily is Jesus, and I don’t think it is Jesus, but rather what I want to do is just highlight Scripture, because here’s what I think, guys. Christianity does not diminish the holiness of God. In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite. I think that’s why Paul’s making this statement this morning.
Christianity doesn’t diminish the holiness of God. Christianity actually elevates the holiness of God. This is what I mean. When Jesus preached from the Sermon on the Mount, he looks at individuals that are living the law, and he turns up the temperature of their religious living and says, Matthew 5, “You have heard it said, you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you who have lusted in your heart, you’ve already committed adultery. You shall not murder, but you who have been angry in your heart, you’ve already murdered.” What Jesus is indicating is that the purpose and the intent of the law isn’t to drive you to show you how righteous and good you are. The intent of the law is to demonstrate how much you need God in your life.
In fact, when you read passages, not just New Testament, but Old Testament and New Testament, there’s several passages in Scripture that just state to us the impossibility of this righteousness. James 2 says, “He who has sinned in one point of the law is guilty of all.” In Isaiah 59:2, “Your sins have made a barrier between you and God.” 64:6 in Isaiah, “Your righteous deeds are filthy rags before God.” In Romans 3:28, “You are justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” Ephesians 2:1-5, you are dead right now because of your sins. Physically you’re alive, but it’s saying spiritually you’re soul is disconnected from God because there is no righteousness there.
What Christianity is doing is what Paul is acknowledging here. Christianity is saying it’s not that we’ve diminished the holiness of God at all, it’s that Paul had come to this place in his life where he recognized that the law and living it in perfectness is an impossibility. When you come before God and you even offer him 80% of living law right, that 20% is still enough before a holy God in which you are condemned. Christianity does not diminish the holiness of God at all. In fact, it starts off like this way. We come before God and we already acknowledge that we are absolutely broken and cannot perfect ourselves, but Christ has.
Paul in this story of the resurrection, I told you this a couple of weeks ago, but the thing that transformed Paul’s life, he saw the resurrected Jesus, and in seeing the resurrected Christ knew that the hand of the Father, the approval of God was on him, and the sacrifice that he made for us, and therefore the righteousness of God, made available to you.
In religion, you can never overcome the cycle of wondering if you’ve ever been good enough. You’ll never know. You can hope so. You can look to your friend and say that you’re better than them, but you can never know. You don’t have to, because Jesus has already done it.
Paul, in making this statement, comes to this thought. Philippians 3:10, “that I may know him.” Paul simplified in all the things that he said his life was about, that list of performing and living up to this righteous standard and then seeing what Jesus has done and the validity of Christ in his resurrection, calling people to it, and he said he’s simplified his life down to this singular thought.
What is God’s will for your life? It is not what you do. What you will do will be affected by this, but when you start asking the question, what does God want for your life, can I tell you the answer isn’t about the next step. It’s this one thought always in your Christian life.
Paul solidifies it, summarizes it, makes it shockingly simplistic in his answer, and he says this, “That I may know him.” Maybe I should just test it for a minute and ask, is the will of God for your life really this simple? Can it really be summarized in five statements? Can I live my entire life and this be the theme of what I’m about?
This word for knowing here is not just intellectual. This word is personal. It’s experiential. “That I may know him.” I think, and this is just speculation, but I think Paul in this statement is really reflecting back to what John says in John 17:3, and he’s quoting Jesus, and Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that you may know him.” Eternal life, Jesus is described, what’s eternal life about? Just being in heaven? No, eternal life is about personally, intimately knowing God. That’s what living forever’s about. You were created to belong to him forever.
When Paul writes Philippians 3:10, summarizing his life, this statement, he says it’s about knowing him in a personal way. Maybe you just ask, I’m going to make this statement, why can the will of God be summarized so simplistically? I think it’s this. When you know God as you’re created to know God, you start to see the world as God sees the world. You start to care about the things God cares about. When your pursuit is his heart, you start to share that heart as you live your life in this world.
The Bible talks about it as a word of conforming. It’s kind of like if you’ve got high school students, right? All of sudden they get this little friend group and they go through this little season of life where everything changes about them, the way they talk, what they wear, what they do, that little clique becomes all about that, right? They start conforming. That’s why people will say, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” You kind of respond to what your environment is.
When it comes to God, when your heart is in pursuit of his heart, God conforms your life. God doesn’t change. Malachi 3:6 tells us that. God does not change, but as your pursuit in life becomes about him alone, then your life is conformed. In fact, Paul said this sort of statement several times in Scripture. In II Corinthians 3:18, it says this, “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in the mirror the glory of the Lord,” and look what happens. As you’re gazing upon the heart of God, “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” God is doing this work of conforming in your life to his image where you start sharing the heart of God as you look into this world. You care about what he cares about.
In fact, Paul summarizes after talking about the Gospel in Romans 12, he says this, “I urge you, or I beg you, brethren, by the mercy of God, to present your body a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.” He’s saying just give your life to know him. “And do not be conformed to this, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” so look, “that you may prove what the will of God is.” He’s saying that as giving your life to God, your mind starts to see things the way that God sees things. From that, you demonstrate what the will of God is. You start to live his heart in this world. That’s why the will of God becomes so simplistic in its statement in our life.
In fact, in the Old Testament it says this, “Delight yourself in the Lord,” and look at this, “He will give you the desires of your heart,” which is great because I want a fat bank account, a mansion, a fancy car, I don’t care how fast it goes, it just needs to go fast. That’s not what this passage is saying. What this passage is saying really is as you delight yourself in God, he gives you the desires of your heart because by delighting in God, your heart becomes his heart.
The communication in this passage is just to say the pursuit of the Christian life becomes this simplistic for us. Now, I will tell you, it’s not always easy. There’s a battle in this story. In fact, Paul says in Romans 6, “O wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this sin in body and death?” How can he live faithfully in this? We all have a struggle in this story. What prevents us from living God’s will in our lives? The answer, sin. I think the will of God for your life is this simplistic, but the struggle that will prevent you from achieving what God has called you to, which is just simply living in him in relationship, it’s sin.
How do you remedy the struggle of sin in your life? I tell you, you don’t end sin by deciding to stop to end sin. In fact, I don’t think that you end sin by deciding to be good, ’cause I think it’s possible in your life in deciding not to sin to be, at least in our culture, be good and never be near God. I think what Scripture says to us very clearly in the answer to stopping the sin is to die to sin and take on Jesus. It’s to become something new altogether. It’s not about stopping sin. It’s a complete total different identity which you take on. It’s putting off the old man and putting on the new man, which is represented in Christ.
You see this, it’s what Paul is talking about in this story. He had this old identity and he totally counted it as loss, as rubbish, to take on this new identity, which is this righteousness in God.
There is a struggle there. We struggle in sin, but the fact that we struggle in sin and have grief over sin, I want you to know, followers of Christ, that is actually a good thing. I think the greater concern for us is if you didn’t struggle and you didn’t care, because some people do not struggle with sin. They just simply don’t have the concern about it because life is about them. They may get disappointed, they don’t live up to their standards or someone else’s standards, but they aren’t agonizing over being unholy before a holy God.
A.W. Pink said it like this, “It’s not the absence of sin, but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors of faith.” I think people get upset when they mess up and they get caught, but it’s the believer that can weep and mourn over sin because they know the pursuit of their life is to know God. It’s the heart of God, and sin is contrary to that heart.
Anytime we choose to live in sin, we move from what we were created to be, which is to know him. For the life of the believer, when the world looks at messing up in this world, they might grieve over getting caught, they might grieve over being disappointed over this standard that they have for themselves they didn’t live up to, but in the life of the believer, when they truly understand the reason that they were created, the reason we grieve over sin, it could be related to the fact that we might have upset someone, but ultimately it’s because we’ve moved from the pursuit of God’s heart. That’s why James 4:9 talks about weeping in sin.
Christians don’t repent because of a list of obligations of which we don’t live up to. Christians turn from sin because our heart sees God’s heart and we want to be closer to him. As Paul says, we want to know him, which becomes a good place for us to examine ourselves and what we do in our lives is just simply ask if you feel bad for doing something wrong, you need to ask, is it because I know this is contrary to the heart of God? Or is it because I’m upset with myself and disappointed in myself? Or I’m just upset with how other people view me? What is your pursuit? Why change direction? Why move from doing something that you didn’t like to something else? Is it about you or is it about another person? Or is it because of the heart of God? Where does your heart fall in that?
I would say it like this, if I mess up at home in my relationship with my wife, I know it’s hard to believe because example of perfection, right? And I want to come and apologize to her, I think the healthy question is, what’s my motivation? Is it because I disappointed her and I want her to think great of me? Or is it because I know she was planning on making my favorite dinner that day, and now that I’ve got myself in the wrong, dinner probably ain’t going to happen? Is it because this might affect some sort of intimacy a little later that night and I don’t want to lose that and so I better apologize now to make up for it, right? What’s my motivation?
Scripture says it this way. God created man and woman in marriage to be one. Literally it says you can’t tell where one person ends and the other one begins, so my apology shouldn’t be about what I get. Honestly, my apology is about my heart connected to her heart in relationship, because what happens in those types of relationships when sin is present it always divides. Sin destroys relationships.
When you have a child as a parent, they’re always your child, and that doesn’t change anything. When you belong to God, you always belong to God. That doesn’t change anything, but sin affects the relationship. When there’s tension in a marriage, when there’s tension with children, there’s distance there. When it comes to your relationship with God, when there’s sin that exists, there’s distance there. What should be your heart? Well, I don’t want God to think bad of me, or I want God to do this for me. No, I want that heart. I want to know him. I don’t want that distance. I want to enjoy the presence of my wife. When you have that loving relationship that you experience, the joy on the backend of that, she may cook dinner later in the day, I don’t know, she’s not obligated to, but she might. You know why? Hopefully because she loves me. Hopefully whatever she does, the motivator behind it isn’t this guilt or obligation, it’s the joy of the relationship.
As you live life, you’ll find in your love for God, it will lead you to things to do in this world to better your experience your relationship with him. What typically happens, we gather on a Sunday morning like this, and we come in and our pursuit is to know God, to know God, and we see the heart of God and we love God and we want to draw near to God, we start to learn as we love God to look at this world and love the things that he loves, and what God loves is one another. If we want to experience the love of God more in our lives, we start to love each other because God loves you. The motivation behind all of that isn’t this obligation of religious performance in order to find God’s righteousness. It’s to understand God already loves you, and because of that love, we love him back, and in that love we share his heart, and because we share his heart, we love other people. It’s not guilt that drives. It’s the joy of knowing Christ in our lives.
One of the things that usually maybe in the religious way of thinking used to cause me a conundrum is to look at the life of King David, because when I study the life of King David, man, he was great at the most epic fails. King David, he’s known as the murderer or adulterer at one time. That’s pretty extreme, but then when you look at what David does and then you look at statements in Scripture, it tells us in Acts 13:11, David is a man after God’s own heart.
How do I reconcile that in my mind? How can you look at the examination of someone’s life and see sin and then describe on the other side of that a man after God’s own heart? That does not compute religiously in my mind.
Do you know why Scripture calls David a man after God’s own heart? It’s because David was one of the greatest repenters you ever read about in the Bible. Psalm 51 for me is such a cherished Psalm and to see David in the midst of that struggle coming to God and crying out to him.
The beauty of understanding a healthy Christian isn’t that your life is absent from sin. We will always struggle with that. It’s what you do with that sin once you recognize it in your life. See, some people will be content in just living in it over and over and over and over and over, and they’ll just justify it by saying, “Well, everyone else sins.” A true believer whose pursuit in life is to know him, I want to know him. I’ve seen the magnitude of God’s love displayed for you to the point he gives his life for your sin. You look at that heart, and you look at what you’re grabbing ahold of separate from him, and you leave that behind and you pursue that heart. God, I want to know you.
Paul contrasts all of this, everything he could think of in his life that was so valuable, and he calls it dung. It’s scubala, it’s disgusting before him in comparison to what he thinks about in relationship to Christ. God’s will for your life, guys, it’s not what you’re doing, though what you’re doing could be affected. It’s knowing him.
Paul goes on to describe it like this for us so that we get a little broader picture of how this maybe becomes a little more practical. He says, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” The power of his resurrection, this word power is dynamite, explosion. That I can know him and that kind of power, the spiritual transformation happening in my life, the same power that brought Jesus from the grave is the same miraculous power transforming my heart and my life as I pursue Jesus as the primary cause for what I am about. That miracle God in resurrection is that miracle God in me.
In fact, Paul said it that way in Romans 8:11. Look at this. “But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
We said this last week in looking at I Corinthians 15. The greatest enemy God has to defeat, death. If Jesus defeats death, what can he not do in your life? Think of all the struggles we face as people, and sometimes in our life we think our struggles are insurmountable, but in comparison to God that’s defeated death, and he’s now saying that same resurrected power rests in you as a believer. What can’t he defeat?
Paul is saying in knowing God, he knows God is calling him to something in this world, so he wants to experience God in such a way that it is this dynamite of transformation in his heart because he’s given his life completely to God, and in saying that he contrasts that thought to this last way of thinking in this passage. He says at the end of this section, “And the fellowship of his suffering,” and he even goes on and says, “being conformed to his death and the fellowship of his suffering.”
Now I would like to just take this part of the verse off. I’m just being honest. I want to know your power, God, in comfort, in luxury, right? But Paul says in the fellowship of his suffering, and I don’t want to read this.
Let me explain this to you. What does this mean? How can you even get to this place in your life where you’re like in the struggles, I’m contented by what I experience. How can I be okay, ’cause I know if I’m following Jesus, you look at Paul’s life, this cost him. This cost social suicide.
Physically he was beat up, he was imprisoned for this. He’s in prison right now because of this. I could go through something like this. I don’t think you should necessarily pursue it, but how can your heart in saying your pursuit is to know him come to this place of suffering and just say it?
I will tell you this. You make it through the fellowship of his suffering, first of all, with the power of his resurrection. Without the life resurrecting purpose, the suffering is meaningless, but because he lives and lives in me, everything I experience, therefore, has purpose. God can turn everything bad in my life to his glory. I may not always see it in this side of living, but in eternity it will be evident.
We always use as an example here at ABC the cross of Christ. The most despicable shameful thing in all of history and for the church it becomes the symbol of victory. How can God do that? God takes the worst of things and uses it for his glory of all eternity. Same thing with your life. If you belong to him, everything that you go through, the suffering of Christ and the power of his resurrection is the demonstration that none of it will be meaningless. That in some way in some form someday there will victory behind all of it.
I want us to see this. I want us to just maybe ask where is this suffering experienced? If we do suffer for this, if God calls us to know him and we might have challenges because of this, where is the suffering experienced?
Can I tell you one of the greatest joys in life when it comes to ministry, some of the greatest joys in ministry is seeing what God does in people. I think the greatest joy in ministry is just watching how God transforms lives. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
One of the greatest obstacles in ministry is also one of the greatest joys in ministry. While the greatest joy in ministry is people, I think sometimes the greatest obstacle in ministry is people, because we all wrestle with sin. There’s a challenge there for us. When Paul’s talking about this suffering, I can’t help but think that predominately the place he’s going to experience it is relationally.
One of the greatest tools Satan uses to discourage his people and to stop you from this simplistic pursuit, to know him, I think is people. If I’m going to be honest, truthfully it’s self, but we use people as sort of the excuse. Do you know what they did? Therefore, I quit at what’s most valuable in life because of them. Really truthfully your ultimately responsible for you, but sometimes people can sure make it difficult in the simplicity of what this statement is, and Satan can use that.
When Satan uses that in relationships, here’s what tends to happen. We have a difficult time in a relationship, and so we back away and isolate ourselves. When we isolate ourselves, we just become an individual island to ourselves, and that is the most perfect way for Satan to pick you off. You feel all alone. You’re isolated. You can even have people around you, but if he can just make you feel like you’re it in this world, and that’s where your eyes fall off of this pursuit that Paul is describing here. So I think one of the most difficult struggles that we face in life, it’s with people.
In fact, when I think about Paul’s suffering, everything that he went through in life, it was circumstances that were brought onto him because of people persecuting him or just directly related to the persecution of people. In fact, in Corinthians 11, Paul talks about this struggle with false teachers in this world, and he calls them messengers of Satan.
On the back of referring to these people, he then gives in chapter 12 one of the most powerful statements as it relates to God’s power in his life. He says in verse 7 of chapter 12, “To keep my from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me, and he said to me my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I would rather boast about my weakness that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weakness, with insults, with distress, with persecutions, with difficulties for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
People have debated what Paul’s talked about here. Some say he’s got an ailment, some say he had an eye problem. I don’t think any of that’s what he’s describing. I think what Paul’s describing here is the pressure he’s found because of people. Chapter 11, he talks about the difficulty with people, he refers to them as messengers of Satan. He then uses the word messenger here. He calls what’s persecuting him as a thorn. In the Old Testament, people that persecuted God’s people were referred to as thorns.
Then when you look at the end of this verse, end of verse 11, it starts talking about false teachers again and the struggles with them, but in verse 10 when he describes the difficulty he’s facing, all of that is brought on by people. I think the thorn that Paul is facing here is a struggle with people.
Can I encourage you this way? I don’t want you to quit. I want us to realistically look at the fact that we’re in a sinful world, and at some point in some way someone beside you in this room will disappoint you. I don’t walk with the expectation of perfection, but I do want to encourage us to recognize the battles against sin and the pursuit of that will stray us from knowing him. The point isn’t to stop doing bad and start doing good. The point is to turn from that and just pursue his heart. Pursue his heart.
Paul says it like this in Galatians 6:17. Listen to this. “From now on, let no one cause me trouble for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” What Paul is saying in Galatians 6:17 is that he has experienced some of the greatest struggles in his life, and in that suffering it still demonstrated what is most valuable to his heart.
So it’s like this in our lives, when difficulty arises, where does your heart go? When difficulty arises, I want to watch my heart. It’s kind of saying this. The hardship will show your heartship. What do you flee from? What do you run to, because if suffering happens in your life and your pursuit beyond all of that is still Jesus, it’s saying in this world that nothing matters to you more than Christ. If something can derail you from that, then perhaps the passion of your own heart isn’t sold out to Jesus to the degree that you think it is. The fellowship of the suffering is the ultimate demonstration that where your heart desires to belong is Christ. Paul goes on to say, “even to death on the cross.”
When you read Scripture in the New Testament, nearly every New Testament book talks about unity among God’s people. You know why? It’s because when you face hardship with people, the last thing you want to do is pursue unity and the first thing you want to do is punch them in the face. You want to kick and scream. You want to say, “Wait, I want to stop following Jesus for a minute, and I want to stand for myself. Then I’m going to go back to following Jesus.”
Paul describes the beauty of unity for God’s people so that when we face hardship, we’ve already made the decision in our lives that rather than let the ugliness of sin come out, I want the joy of the Lord to be made known. That’s why Paul from prison, rather than fight, rather than complain, just wants to know him. In the midst of struggle, maybe even in struggle, the glory of God shines brightest because your pursuit is still for his heart.
God’s will for your life, guys, I think as you walk with him, he grows your heart and your love for people. In living out this will in your life, and you look at the apostle Paul, God used him to transform the known world. I think that same resurrection power still rests in you. If you look at Paul, and you think I want to be a great leader like that, can I tell you in order to be a great leader, you’ve got to first be a great follower. What you see in Philippians 3:10 is the complete laying down of your life that you may know him.