Speaker: Helen Jenkinson
Welcome to our second week of looking at our Ethos at MCC. Our ethos is what we’re about. What defines us as a church, as a body of God’s people. Remember last week Tristan spoke about one of the main facets of our ethos being scripture and the fact that all scripture is about Christ. It’s all about him and we need to read the bible with the lens of looking for Jesus in every book- not making it fit our preconceived ideas but really wrestling with what it reveals about Jesus.
Today we’re going to look at another S. Being seekers. Seekers after God.
What does it mean? To seek after God?
We might have in our mind an image of the game Hide and Seek that we played as children or have played with our children. In that game the person who is hiding tries to find a place that is really difficult to be detected in. But if you are the one who is seeking, don’t you feel a bit frustrated and want to give up if you can’t find who you’re looking for?
Do we think that God is like that? That He wants to hide from us so we become frustrated and give up?
If you watch children playing hide and seek you will see at the moment that the person is found there is joy isn’t there? Usually laughter and togetherness. Surely that is closer to what it means to seek after God.
God is not out to hide in such an obscure way that he cannot be found. The longing of his heart is that we seek him, find him and enter into the joy of that coming together. There are so many references in the Old Testament about seeking God, but today we’re going to explore the way the Apostle Paul experienced this desire to seek after God. To know him.
As always, before we read scripture we need to put it into some context. We’re going to be reading from Philippians 3, but firstly who were the Philippians?
Philippi was in Greece. The church at Philippi was special as it was the first church that the apostle Paul, who wrote the letter had established in Europe on one of his missionary journeys. And Paul wrote this letter, from prison in Rome to encourage his friends there to keep making progress in the Christian life. Not be content in their relationship with Christ but to keep pressing on to know him more.
As we read I want us to get that sense of focus and determination that Paul has and wants the church at Philippi to also have. We also need to remind ourselves about Paul. We first meet him in Acts at the murder of Stephen when he’s quite happy to approve of a Christian being murdered by stoning. In fact he was determined to wipe out every Christian because he thought that was what God wanted. He was a very strict Jew, a Pharisee, priding himself on his own ability to keep God’s laws. But as we probably know Paul’s life was completely changed when he met the risen Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus. From that time on, Paul was completely sold out for Christ. His priorities completely changed. Let’s read what he now viewed them to be.
READ PHILIPPIANS 3: 1-16
At school every year we have to write a development plan. It’s a list of statements about what priorities the school has for the forthcoming year. I’m sure lots of you will have experienced something similar in your work. And we all will have our own development plan for our life going on in our head. The things that motivate us. Our goals. Our ambitions.
So my first question to us this morning is -honestly- what are the priorities for our life? What gets us out of bed in the morning? What puts fire in our bellies? What is the thing that we could spend all day talking about? What is the thing we think about the most? When we read verses 10 and 11 we find out what Paul’s development plan is. What the priorities for his life are.
The first priority in Paul’s personal development plan is
1. To Know Christ
READ VERSE 10
What does it actually mean? To know Christ. Our English word for know covers so many types of knowing. We can know facts about a person or thing. We can know that the sky is blue or rain is wet. We can know where a person comes from or what their name is. We have people that we know enough to let on to as acquaintances. That is knowing on a superficial level. We know about them.
Now relate that to our relationship with Jesus. Are we just acquaintances? Do we just say Hi to Him in passing? Do we send Jesus the equivalent of a wave emoji sometime in the day but for the rest of the day don’t give him another thought?! Or are we content to have a second hand relationship with Jesus, following the preacher or author we like or just knowing what our parents say about him? Are we content to know about Him without really engaging with Him?
The next step up from acquaintances in the ladder of knowing is our friends. We know them a lot better. We know what they like and dislike. We probably share things in common. We like spending some time with them. We might do different activities with them. We teach our kids that a Christian is a friend of God and that is quite right. But as we mature, are we content to leave Jesus in JUST the friend zone?
The problem with just keeping Jesus as a friend is that we can choose to take or leave what he says as he’s just a friend giving advice. Are we content just to know what he says? Are we content just to follow his example? Are we content to have all our theological ducks lined up in a row and think we have the Christian life sorted? Are we content with acknowledging what Jesus has done for us through the cross without wanting to know the One who gave his life for us? Do we treat Jesus as a call centre--only spending time with him when we need a bit of help? When we know there’s something we can’t handle in our own strength?
For the most part, life is done on our terms, the way we want it.
So we can know our acquaintances. We can know our friends. But the word for knowing that Paul uses here is ginosko (ghin-oce-ko). It encapsulates the intimate relationship a husband and wife have. Or the relationship you might have with your closest family.
Last week Bruce and Christine celebrated 60 years. 60 years of being in a covenant relationship. Sharing good times and bad. How wonderful and deep must their knowing of each other be? I see it with my mum and dad- married for 54 years. They know each other inside out. When you have this type of relationship you probably know what the other person is thinking. You know how they will react in situations. You are inescapably bound together and that is good! You can be vulnerable with them because there is mutual love, respect and understanding between you. To be in an intimate relationship with someone means you feel their pain as well as their joy. We know the truth of that don’t we? If you are married or have children and your spouse or child is hurting, you feel that pain. If your best friend is suffering you want to take their pain away.
That is what Paul means when he says he wants to know Christ. He wants to be so close to Christ that he feels what Christ feels. He wants to think what Christ thinks. But Why does Paul want to know Christ like that?
The clue is in verse 9: 'I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.'
Paul was utterly convinced that he had absolutely no righteousness of his own. It was all Christ’s. Everything he now was, was because he was in Christ through faith. Because of how much Christ loved him. Paul is saying “Everything I was before meeting Christ was completely rubbish compared to the experience of being right with Christ. With every fibre of my being I want to experience a deeper relationship with the One who gave up everything for me so I could be saved”.
So the first priority in Paul’s development plan of life was to know Christ. And the rest of what he says in verse 10 – 16 is unpacking what that means in experience.
Let’s look at the second priority.
2. To Experience Christ’s Power by Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings
Let’s read a bit more of verse 10.
READ VERSE 10 AGAIN
If we read the first part of the statement without the second, we can think that it’s all about us. WE can have Christ’s power. WE can do great things for God. Isn’t Christ lucky to have us on his team?! ME ME ME!
As I’ve thought about this, I’ve realised how easily we can be influenced by our culture in developing this mind set. How so easily we buy into the idea that it’s ME at the centre of the universe and the power to change lies within ME. Society, including school tells children to strive for the best grades. Why? To get a good job, to be successful, to have money, to buy things.
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that you shouldn’t work hard. I’ve spent the whole of my working life trying to encourage young people to do just that! But what is the motivation behind our efforts? Think about the songs we listen to. What about this one?:
'You've got to search for the hero inside yourself. Search for the secrets you hide. Search for the hero inside yourself. Until you find the key to your life
What’s the crux of the M People song? You can be anything you want. YOU have the power inside and if only you can unlock it, then you will be happy. Think about the celebrities that are admired? YouTubers. Reality stars. There are lifestyle hacks for everything aren’t they? And most give the same message. Do this and your life will be better. Do this to be successful. Search for the hero inside yourself.
But what Paul is saying is NO! The only power I have is Christ’s power in me. I have none of my own.
2 Corinthians 12: 9-10: 'But he (Christ) said to me (Paul), "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.'
So back to Philippians 3, Paul is saying that in order to experience Christ’s power we need to share in his sufferings. What does this actually mean? When we think of Christ’s sufferings we immediately think about his ultimate suffering on the cross. Obviously we cannot die for the sins of the world like Jesus. So what is Paul talking about? And for the answer, we need to look back into chapter 2 of Philippians.
READ PHILLIPIANS 2: 5- 11
What did Jesus do? He emptied himself. He humbled himself. Taking the form of a servant. The king of kings and lord of lords became flesh and dwelt among us. The one who flung stars into space, as the hymn says became dependent on a teenage girl for his survival. And as the hymn continues- to cruel nails surrendered. This is our God, the servant king.
What did Jesus say?
Mark 8: 34.'Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me."'
He also said No servant is greater than his master. And this truth is what Paul had grasped. In order to know Christ, in order to experience Christ’s resurrection power, Paul knew that he had to die to himself.
Galatians 2: 20: 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'
A lot of the time, it’s at this point we come undone isn’t it? Yes, we want to know Christ. We want to experience his power but to enter into his sufferings? Errr no thank you! To humble ourselves? To renounce the rights to our own life? To give up the constant desire to do things our way? We balk at the idea.
We had some song lyrics earlier. Here are some more from a different generation:
And now the end is here, and so I face that final curtain. My friend I'll make it clear, I'll state my case, of which I'm certain. I've lived a life that's full, I travelled each and every highway. And more, much more than this I did it my way.
More often than not, we feel the sentiments of this Frank Sinatra song don’t we? We want God to work in our lives, IN THE WAY WE WANT. We want God to bless us WITH THE BLESSINGS WE WANT. We want to achieve great things for God IN THE WAY WE WANT TO ACHIEVE THEM. We want God to move in our church IN THE WAY WE FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH.
But what Paul is saying is that he wants to know the power of the resurrection through sharing in Christ’s SUFFERINGS. To identify with Christ by giving up his own rights for the sake of Christ. That doesn’t sound like some of the ideas we hear is it?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was murdered by the Nazi’s in the second world war. He wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. This is a quote from that book that since reading it I’ve not been able to get it out of my head and the more I ponder it the less I can get round it by explaining it away or just ignoring it. This is what he says:
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
The reason why Jesus had a powerful resurrection was that FIRST he humbled himself. Why should we be any different?
Here’s a question for us this morning. Do we really want to know Christ? And if we do, is it because of what we think he can do FOR us, how he can make OUR lives better? Or is it because we are so enthralled by Christ, by his beauty, by his majesty that we just want to know him in the deepest sense of the word. We need Christ’s power to do that. And we can’t experience Christ’s power without firstly sharing in his sufferings by dying to ourselves and taking ourselves off the throne of our lives.
I don’t mean this in a sacrilegious way at all, but I’m reminded of a line from another song. 30 years ago it was number 1 for weeks and weeks. Any guesses?
Take me as I am, take my life. I would give it all, I would sacrifice. Don't tell me it's not worth fightin' for, I can't help it, there's nothin' I want more. You know it's true, Everything I do, I do it for you.
If the sentiments of that song can be sung by Robin Hood to Maid Marion, how much more should we be able to sing Take me as I am, take my life. I would give it all, I would sacrifice. Everything I do, I do it for you to the One who has ransomed our souls and has given us every spiritual blessing in Him!
So Paul’s ethos was to know Christ. How? To know the power of his resurrection. How? By sharing in his sufferings. Which brings us to Paul’s last point on his development plan
3. To Have an Eternal Perspective
READ VERSE 11
So what did Paul mean when he said, "in order that I might attain to the resurrection of the dead?" Paul was already saved by grace through faith! He had already received the assurance of his bodily resurrection and everlasting life when he first believed.
Well, the word resurrection comes from the Greek word anastasin. However, in this passage the preface EX is added EX-anastasin which would have the meaning 'OUT-resurrection'.
Another way of phrasing this could be “I want to experience the outworking of Christ's Resurrection in life which will result in spiritual rewards”.
So what this means is that Paul strove to attain the outworking of Christ's Resurrection in his life by dying to self and his own personal desires and living for Christ and doing it all for the glory of God. He knew that the good works that he did to the glory of God would result in spiritual rewards when Christ returns. Paul was focused on eternity. His priorities here on earth were influenced by eternity. How easy it is for us to think and live like this life is all there is. How easy it is for us to get caught up in the day to day organisation of our ministries but forget that there is an eternal dimension to all we do.
So Paul’s priorities for his life: To constantly seek Christ. To Know Christ. To experience His power by sharing in his sufferings. And to always have an eternal perspective on his service for Christ. How did he do that? By being a man of concentration and determination.
Look at verse 13. “But I focus on one thing”. He didn’t let other voices distract him from his goal of knowing Christ. Those of us with kids know how difficult it is sometimes to have a conversation when we keep getting distracted by little voices shouting “Mum? Mum?” And sometimes we can be like that with our desire to know Christ. We get distracted by things around us.
So Paul was a man who concentrated on making knowing Christ his top priority. But he was also a man of determination. Look at verse 14. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ is calling us.
I’m sure you’ve seen the end of an athletics race. Each runner sticks their chest out as they reach the end of the race in order to be first across the finish line. And that is the image that Paul is portraying here. However, in the Olympics there can only be 1 gold medal in every race. How gracious the Lord is that each of us can run our own race and each receive the prize to which God, through Christ is calling us.
So our ethos at MCC: To seek Christ. To Know Him. To Know His power through sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Why? That we might attain an eternal reward for what we have done to the glory of God.
Jesus, lover of my soul, All-consuming fire is in your gaze
Jesus, I want you to know, I will follow You all my days
For no one else in history is like you And history itself belongs to You. Alpha and Omega, you have loved me. And I will share eternity with you. It's all about You, Jesus. And all this is for You
For Your glory and your fame. It's not about me. As if You should do things my way. You alone are God and I surrender To your ways