Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
October 11, 2017
I once had a colleague in another church who I labeled in my head as the “one-upper”. I gave her that name because she had this habit of taking whatever story I was telling her and one-upping it. Have you ever been around these people?
I remember I was telling her a story about Logan, our son, who was having trouble with an AP class that he was taking and her response to me was about how her son had trouble too but only because he was taking three AP classes.
And this kind of became normal with every conversation we had.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Can you think of anyone like that in your life?
The sad thing is that once I started thinking deeper about what she was doing and why she was doing it, I soon began to see it in myself. I am also a great one-upper! In fact telling you that I was a better one-upper than her is my way of one-upping her! I want people to think that I’m all that. I want people to respond to me with some sort of, I don’t know… admiration? Awe?
And if I was guessing, I would guess that each one of us is in some way a one-upper. All of us have pride in our accomplishments. All of us want to be seen in the best possible light. All of us want to be able to brag.
And mostly this is not a bad thing. Healthy self-image is good. But I’m afraid that we are living in a day and age when we are putting so much emphasis on accomplishments and financial success and church growth and building the perfect resume and making sure that everyone knows we are living our best lives now, that we are forgetting something.
Paul makes this same argument to the Philippians over 2,000 years ago. And his words are just as relevant to us today. Here is the bottom line of Paul, and the bottom line for us as Christians: knowing Christ is greater than anything. Period.
Let us pray.
God give us the ears to hear and the eyes to see and the heart to understand what it is you would like us to learn about you this night. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Our scripture tonight comes, as I said, from the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians. This is the same letter that we looked at last week in which Paul was encouraging his readers to do nothing out of selfishness.
And in our passage tonight he is turning the corner toward the end of his letter and is starting to make his final arguments and give his final instructions to the Philippians. And so we start with verse 4. You can read the passage with me on the back of your worship guide or in your Bible or device.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More 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 9 and 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. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not 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. 13 Beloved, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
So Paul starts this passage with what on the surface seems like a classic one-upper. He goes into great detail about why he has confidence “in the flesh” – in other words, he’s reminding the Philippians that when it comes to credentials, he’s got em. When it comes to being born to the right kind of people, he’s covered. When it comes to following the law, he’s a Pharisee. When it comes to zeal he’s a persecutor. When it comes to righteousness, he’s blameless.
Now we shouldn’t be too hard on Paul here. After all, he really is just using a tried and true technique for winning an argument in the Greco-Roman world: that is, giving a personal testimony. So while it sounds like he’s bragging here and in fact kinda sounds like a jerk, he’s really just setting up what is about to come next. So let’s cut him some slack.
But at the same time I don’t think we can leave this little recitation of his awesomeness without asking ourselves if there is something of Paul in us? Is there a part of us that would love to be able to tick off a list of our own abilities like he just did?
I think we know the answer to that question.
We are people who like to look good in front of other people. We are people who build projections of ourselves based on our abilities and accomplishments in order to increase our standing in the eyes of others.
We build Facebook profiles and resumes and Linked IN profiles that make sure we are portrayed in the best light. When we decide to post something we edit and rewrite and edit again to make it sound just right.
But it goes deeper than that. It goes deeper than just presenting ourselves to the world in a good light. There is something in us that values what the world thinks is valuable. We start to put great emphasis on what society tells us is important. Money, status, wins, power, control, body size, followers, titles…
And as a result we start to believe that we ARE what we accomplish. We ARE what we achieve. We ARE what our resumes tell us we are. We ARE what our net worth is.
On vice versa we start comparing our accomplishments and achievements with other people and find ourselves wanting. We start seeing where we haven’t been matching up, where we are not as good as THEY are. And our self-esteem drops or we choose to double down on meeting the world’s definition of success.
You know I think churches sometimes fall into the same trap. And I’m going to get in trouble here but I think our church falls into that trap from time to time. We know what the church “world” thinks is successful. We know that we have a reputation to uphold in the city. We know that having a large attendance or a large budget or a large singles group or a large music ministry or a large steeple are all things that make us look good. And if we were to make a list of what defines a successful or accomplished church we could easily list these things. And so when those things are no longer true about us we go into a sort of existential crises. What does it mean for our church to be successful? If we aren’t what we were 30 years ago then are we just loosing at being a church? And we can easily find ourselves pinning for the old status and trying to recreate the old accomplishments and achievements or just ignoring that fact that maybe there are better ways to judge success…. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The fact remains that we value the way we look to other people and we internalize our accomplishments that they become part of our identity. I do this. You do this. Paul did this.
But Paul makes a turn at this point in the letter that if we did not know was coming might shock us. He says in verse 7: Yet, whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that I regard EVEYRTHING as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. In fact in the next verse he calls all of his accomplishments as rubbish.
Now, let’s have some real talk about the word rubbish. This is a very clean and proper English word. It’s like the gold-plated version of the word trash. Those accomplishments are not trash – they’re rubbish.
Unfortunately this is not the Greek word that Paul uses here. In fact he uses a vulgar word that I can’t say even on a Wednesday night with 20 people in the room. He basically says that all these accomplishments, all these things that he is so proud about, all of his perfect resume entries; it is all excrement, or dung, compared with knowing Christ. I’ll let you fill in the right word.
Think about that. He’s saying that everything he has accomplished, all that he is, the structure that he has built to increase his standing in the eyes of others. All of it belongs in the toilet.
Strong words. And I’m not sure I can put myself there. I mean really, it’s one thing for me to stand up here and tell you to be humble about your accomplishments, but it’s quite another to tell you that they are all crap.
I don’t think that about my accomplishments. I like the image I’ve constructed. Is he really saying all of that should be flushed? What about the church? Is he saying that our big steeple and our great attendance and our large budget is really just dung?
Yes. Yes he is.
He’s not saying that our accomplishment in and of themselves are dung. But rather, they become that when compared to knowing Christ. It’s when we add Christ into the mix that we get a better perspective.
In other words, everything that you and I construct in our lives, all of the accomplishments and accolades, all of the money and control, all of the positions of authority: all of that is nothing when compared to knowing Christ.
This is why the world can put so much emphasis on these things because the world does not know Christ.
But when compared with knowing Christ, these things are dung.
But we tend to not link the two. We tend to say “I’ve got my accomplishments over here and my Christ over here and really what does one have to do with the other?” Everything – says Paul. Because compared to knowing Christ these things don’t even exist.
There are two ways we can talk about knowing Christ. The first way is when we come to Christ initially, that moment when we confess our sins and invite Christ to be lord of our lives. That moment when we make the decision to go all in with Christ and follow him in baptism. That’s one aspect of knowing Christ.
But there is another aspect of knowing Christ that goes much deeper than our initial faith decision. It’s all about relationship and intimacy and growing closer to Christ. Jesus himself calls it “abiding in me”. To know Christ we put down roots in him, we spend time with him, we build our lives around following him.
And I think this is where most of us are today. We’ve gotten the initial faith decision down but we having gotten the abide part down. Instead, we’ve spent all our time and energy building our resumes instead of building our relationship with Christ.
But all those things are rubbish compared with knowing Christ.
Paul tells us that this is a lifelong process. That even he has not achieved it. And yet he presses on toward that goal.
This is our challenge tonight. We have a decision to make. Are we going to continue to be one-uppers, or are we going to know Christ?
It’s a hard decision. We like our status. But if we start abiding in Christ – going deep with Christ - building a relationship with Christ all of those things we thought were important will fade away.
As we come to the table tonight, bring your accomplished self, your one-upping self, your perfecting constructed self, and let it go in favor of knowing Christ through the power of his presence in this supper.
Let us pray…