Philippians 3:4b-11

Toward the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast.  He was imprisoned for the crime of preaching the Gospel.  As a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to the emperor, Caesar.  He was granted that right and so he was transported by ship from Caesarea to Rome. The long journey there was difficult, and in fact, the ship came upon a storm that had “a wind of hurricane force.”  The violent storm rocked the ship so severely that they began throwing things over in order to keep the ship afloat.  They threw over the ship’s cargo.  Then they threw over the ship’s tackle or gear.  Doing this, of course, meant that they would have to go without certain necessities for a while…like food, but they were alive, and they would survive that terrible storm.

When Paul wrote the words of our text, this incident may very well have been on his mind.  A valuable lesson was learned that day.  Sometimes less is more.  Sometimes loss is gain.  Paul could see that as being true not only in saving his life from certain death on that ship, but he also sees that being true in saving him from eternal death.  You and I also need to understand the loss is gain concept.  It is this truth that gives us confidence in the certainty of our salvation. 

In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus spoke some difficult truths about the cost of following him.  If you are to follow him, Jesus tells you to hate your father and mother, your wife and children, brothers and sisters.  Those are hard truths to come to grips with.  Following Christ often means divisions in families.  Divisions with loved ones that don’t believe what Christ teaches.  The warning is not to depart from the truth.  But did you notice who Jesus also includes in his list?  He included your own life.  Yes, your own life dare not get in the way of following Christ. 

The Apostle Paul understood this well and wanted to warn his listeners about this.  He warned them because there were false teachers trying to get their ear.  False teachers known as Judaizers that were teaching that there was a little more to salvation than simply relying on Christ.  They were converts to Christianity, but they taught that they also needed to keep some of the laws that had been given to Moses.  So they took great pride in who they were, in their heritage.  They looked at it as if it would get them somewhere with God.  

In doing this, however, they were introducing what Martin Luther termed the monster of uncertainty.  Yes, I have Christ, but am I doing my part? Am I good enough for God? 

The Apostle Paul combats this horrendous monster by talking about himself and who he was.  He lists a long line of things that would put any of these Judaizers to shame.  Yes, if anyone had anything to brag about outwardly, it was Paul.  If anyone could be comfortable in his own skin, it was him. 

He had in fact followed the law since his birth, being circumcised on the appointed day: 8 days after he was born.  He was a purebred Israeli, whose parents came from the important tribe of Benjamin.  When the 12 tribes of Israel settled in Canaan, the tribe of Benjamin settled in the area that includes the holy city of Jerusalem, where the temple stood.  Yes, Paul came from the heart and core of Israel.  He was a Hebrew of Hebrews.  And in fact, you want to talk about someone who was everything, Paul could also talk about how he did everything right….at least outwardly.  He was a member of the elite sect known as the Pharisees.  They prided themselves in following God’s law to the letter.  In fact, since God’s law wasn’t enough for them, they added more laws for themselves to follow.  People looked up to Pharisees like Paul.  And even more than that, he was zealous for the cause.  He thought by persecuting the fledgling Christian church, he was protecting the faith.  Yes, on the outside, it was hard to find fault with who Paul was, and Paul prided himself with that. 

He prided himself with that until Jesus got a hold of him.  On the road to Damascus, Jesus totally changed Paul’s life.  It is at that point that Paul began to trust in Christ and in Christ alone.  To follow Christ and Christ alone. 

As he followed Christ, he knew full well that the temptation to rely on him and what he had done or accomplished in life was still there.  He knew also that this temptation was being presented to the very people he was writing to.  He knew also that Christians like you and me would face the same temptations. 

And you do face those temptations.  You may pride yourself in living an outwardly squeaky clean life. Or maybe you think highly of your heritage, who you were born to.  Maybe you are proud of your accomplishments.  Perhaps you take pride in your work in the church or in your church attendance or Bible study attendance.  In and of themselves, those things are good and fine.  But when you start to look at those things as reasons you are in favor with God, then you get yourself into trouble. 

When that happened with Paul, look at what he did with those things.  He counted all those things a loss.  Why?  For the sake of Christ.  You see, it’s either all or nothing.  It’s either that you rely on yourself to be in a good standing with God, or you rely on Christ.  There is no in between. 

You can’t say, I believe in Christ, but I also do this or that, so God must like me.  No, whatever I am or whatever I do, I must count it as loss, so that Christ is my gain.  Just look at how far Paul went to distance himself from who he was and what he accomplished. 

He said: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”  The word rubbish is kind of a polite term for what Paul really considered his own works to be.  They were like the garbage that’s on your plates after you’ve eaten, that you throw down the garbage disposal.  Rubbish could also be understood as meaning excrement or dung.  Things that have no use for our bodies anymore.  Things that have no use in our relationship with God. 

Paul has the perfect solution to fight our desire to promote ourselves along with Christ.  Get to know Christ better!  When we do, we will realize there is no room for both Christ and our resumes together.  Our resumes have to go. 

As we get to know Christ better, we will understand what he accomplished for us better.  Christ died for all our imperfections, all our sins.  And in exchange for taking on our sin, he gave us his resume.  His pedigree.  He lived a perfect life and put it to our credit.  As he is the Son of God, he made us children of God.  And this comes to us through faith, which comes to us through the Spirit that he sends.  When we get to know Christ better, our trust in him increases. 

And how is it that we get to know Christ better?  It isn’t as if we have to do a worldwide search to find this knowledge.  All we need to do is open the Scriptures which tell us about him.  In fact, it is there that we are frequently reminded that Jesus made salvation certain for us by his resurrection.  He is living proof that he did what he came to do: to live perfectly and die innocently so that you and I can stand righteous before God. 

So open your Bible regularly.  Hear his Word faithfully.  Remember how he brought you into his kingdom through baptism.  Take him up on his invitation and receive his body and blood frequently to assure you of your forgiveness.  Let the truth of Christ alone sink in! 

When you let the truth of Christ alone sink in, it puts the monster of uncertainty in  its proper place, pushing it out.  You can be certain of your salvation.  You can be sure you’ll be in heaven one day.  All because of Christ.

And that’s very important, especially as you face the things you do as his followers.  Yes, you may be asked to carry your cross.  You may be asked to sacrifice things on his account.  But that’s nothing compared to what Christ did for you.  Just remember how his loss led to your permanent gain.  Amen.