Philippians 3 v 1-11: Throw out the rubbish-20th October 2013 - John Cooper

John Cooper
 Reading: Phil.3:1-11

I want to consider two issues in this sermon: what is Christian joy and how do you recognise a Christian? Is joy a distinguishing mark of a Christian?

So how do you tell a Christian from a non-Christian? Once upon a time the men used to wear ties and have shiny shoes and the women fractionally longer skirts but I think that is now more theprovinceofMormons. A friend of mine said  we had a glint in our eye or, to put it another way, a sickly grin on our faces. This he reckoned was the outward sign of joy. Personally I am not convinced. Unless we define it another way I do not see the great men of faith being what the world would call joyful. When Jeremiah was thrown into a pit whilst all around him his beloved city ofJerusalemwas being destroyed, I cannot imagine him singing many Gospel choruses! When a frend of mine heard that I had become a Christian she said that I would lose my sense of humour and become boring. I suspect that is how most non-Christans view us. 

Paul writes ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ (v1). He wants to remind them of it. So how do we rejoice in the Lord? Firstly I think the joy here is very different to the joy thought of by the world. It is not something passing. It is a confidence in the future. Even death itself has lost its sting. But although we have that joy we need to keep working at it.

Ian says faith is like riding a bicycle. Once you stop peddaling you fall off. We need to keep reminding ourselves of what Christ did for us. Not only did He forgive our sins but He also brought us into a new relationship with Himself. How we encourage our faith will vary with each one of us. But I do think there are two sides to it: taking in and giving out.

Firstly taking in. Paul says ‘I want to know Christ’ (v10). He wants to discover more about Jesus. Personally I have appreciated going to many Biblical sites through the years. I try and visualise what happened at each one of them. How would I have reacted if I was there at the time? Would I have been frightened, encouraged or dismissive? Of couse you do not actually need to go to the site itself. Put yourself in Paul’s shoes as he writes this letter. He does not know if he will be executed. His fledgling church has rather dubious preachers going about. Can you imagine what Paul is feeling? Does the word ‘joy’ immediately come to mind?

            But what is more important is that I want to know more about Christ through Scripture. I would encourage everyone to regularly read the Bible for themselves but I think there is a limit to how much you can absorb by yourself. That is why sermons are important but the best means of discovery is in a small group where you can share your insights (and additionally pray about your difficulties).

            However Bible knowledge can lead us into a terrible temptation. It is so easy to come across as the expert and, even worse, enjoying the status. The Apostle Paul had a tremendous pedigree. Obviously he was quite a scholar. But towards the end of his life he said he was ‘the worst of sinners’(1 Tim.1:15). Not just the worst apostle which he had described himself as previously (1 Cor.15:9), but the worst of sinners. Now I am not sure I would accept his assessment of himself but it does show his incredible humility. As I have often said (because I want people to remember it) Christians are merely forgiven sinners.

            Are Christians better people than non-Christians? Can we recognise them by their behaviour? Actually no. The difference is that they are forgiven.

            Conside this graph. It shows how two people vary in goodness over time measured in years. Fred is a non-Christian. He goes up and down in behaviour a bit but basically remains constant. Bert on the otherhand is a Christian. At his conversion he is much worse than Fred. But the distinctive thing about the Christian is that through the working of the Holy Spirit he should become a better person. Obviously when we meet him he might not be a particularly likeable person but he should as he looks back over his life see that he is improving. In fact he might never be as good as Fred but the important thing is that the Christian shows improvement. 

            Returning to the issue of how we encourage our faith, besides taking in we need to give out. For a longtime the evangelistic ethos has been to drag people in rather than reach out to them. It is good when non-Christians come to services or other church events but I do not think that is sufficient. Somehow we need to show  that Christians are different. Unfortunately as we get older we tend to lose our non-Christian friends. That is definitely true of me. But we need to make a difference to the world around us. There is a verse in the Old Testament which I think is very important. It is Micah 6:8: ‘He [ie God] has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’. These should be the distinguishing features of the Christian. 

            Paul says he wants to know two things: the power of Christ’s resurrection and to share with Christ in his suffering. What I think he means is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the Holy Spirit, he wants working in his life. Then he will be able to face all that life throws at him. The word for that resurrection power in Greek is ‘dynamos’ from which we get the word ‘dynamite’. The resurrection is literally dynamite. That event was truly the big bang. Ultimately for Paul that power meant a martyr’s death. The other thing that Paul desired along with the power of the resurrection was to share in Christ’s sufferings. When we consider what Jesus suffered for us, it should give us the power to overcome temptation and the strength to do God’s work in the wider world. 

            In 1 Thessalonians  Paul again encourages his readers. He writes “Be joyful always”  But how? He continues: “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire..” (5:16-9). That is how to get true Christian joy and that is the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.