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Jun 09, 2019

So What's the Point?

Passage: Philippians 3:10-11

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Philippians--Roots of Joy

Keywords: why, suffering, victory, purpose, meaning, knowing christ, triumphs & trials

Summary:

These two verses are the Mt. Everest of Philippians. Here Paul reveals the spiritual equivalent to the physicist's Theory for Everything. It's the reason everything happens in our lives and the answer for how to handle everything in life.

Detail:

So What’s the Point?

Philippians 3:10-11

June 7, 2019

Human nature seems to have a bent towards wanting to know WHY things happen…especially when things are not going as we would like. 

  • If someone wins the lottery, you don’t usually find them on televisions asking, “WHY me? Why did I win $385 million? 

Our demand for meaning in life seems to rise in direct proportion to the difficulty of life experiences we find ourselves in. 

  • When you find that, while you were shopping, your car parked on the street was sideswiped, you may as, “Why did I have to park there?”
  • But when someone you love is in a tragic or horrific accident, we start asking a host of WHYS: Why did they have to arrive at that intersection at that moment?  Why did God not delay them just ten seconds? Why did our loving God even allow this?

When life is tough, we find ourselves grasping to find some sort of satisfying answers as to WHY?

  • My mother’s search for the WHY of life itself really took priority when her youngest of 5 children—little Johnny here—went off to grade school. She started asking, apparently for the first time in her life, “Is this all there is to life—graduating from a good college, getting married to a successful man, having 5 children, getting lots of stuff in life and growing old?” 

Physicists today are looking for what they call a “Unified Theory of Everything.” (Trust physicists to think they have the answer to “everything”! J) To be fair, they are not really looking to explain “everything,” just everything that happens in the natural universe from large things (like galaxies) to small things (like sub-atomic particles).  It’s the search for a mathematical umbrella equation that will explain all the various forces in the universe in one cohesive equation.

            While most of us here probably don’t lie awake at night trying to figure out a “theory for everything,” what if we as Christians were able to find a “SPIRITUAL Unified Theory of Everything”?  What if we could say, in the face of every experience of life, “This is WHY this particular thing is happening to me.”

ILL: Last week in preparation for Communion, I shared briefly about a friend of ours who is struggling to make sense of a degenerative illness he has that leaves him in constant and severe pain….and is growing worse every year.  He’s in his early 30s and a father of a toddler.  When I asked him how he was doing spiritually given his physical battle, he honestly acknowledged he was struggling.

I told him I respect him for his honesty and for his struggling to make sense of any of it.  I’ve found that open, honest doubts about God are far better for people than faked and feigned trust in God. 

This man is a very sincere young husband who is looking at just trying to survive an increasingly difficult future let alone provide for his wife and daughter.  As he said to me, “I’m not praying for God to take my suffering away…just for the grace to endure it…and I don’t feel like I’ve received that grace.” 

And then he posed the dilemma that anyone who trusts in God yet suffers deeply in life must confront: “If I saw my daughter suffering and I had the ability to relieve that suffering, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to rescue her from her pain.  Yet that isn’t what God is doing with me.”       

I’m not telling you this story to provoke some intellectual crisis of faith in you.  God has his ways of scheduling and allowing those crisis at different times for all of us.  I tell you about him because in a really clear way his crisis of faith is really a crisis of purpose.  The suffering he is going through seems, at the present and from his limited perspective, not to have meaning.  It seems so random and arbitrary.  And it doesn’t seem to fit into the nice, neat little evangelical faith and theology he had as a child (and many adults in his church still have as adults). 

I’m pretty confident that his struggle for meaning in his suffering will eventually lead him deeper into Christ.  He’s just that kind of man.  But I can’t guarantee it. 

I’ve done funerals of believers in Jesus who, finding life’s pain in the moment more powerful than God’s purposes for time and eternity, checked out of life prematurely…they “committed suicide”…and left their friends and relatives to wrestle with the same pain and battle that they gave up fighting. 

Today’s passage is one that can not only keep us from ever despairing of life itself; it can lead us into every single experience we will ever have in life with a confidence of meaning that will be enough to carry us through. 

I’m going back today and next week to look at a few verses that fall between the teaching John Moody gave us two weeks ago and what Arturo gave us last week.  So let’s read together just two verses from Philippians 3.  Let’s look at it in a couple of different versions.

NLT--- 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

NIV-- 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Before we jump into these two verses, we really need to remember what John Moody taught about two weeks ago.  What Paul writes here flows directly out of what he wrote right before this.

REVIEW:  So…in a nutshell, what was the theme of what Paul was teaching about in vss. 1-9?  Specifically as it concerns OUR relationship to God, OUR salvation?  It’s summed up in vs. 9—“… that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” [Righteousness/right-standing before God comes, not by trying (and failing) to keep God’s Law but by believing/putting your faith in/ receiving God’s Messiah/Son Jesus Christ.]

            Now if you’ve been a Christ-follower for a long time, those words and that truth may have lost a lot of its punch.  You may be thinking, “Yah, I’m saved by grace through faith!  Yah, I know I’m not saved by works or my moral living.”  But unless that fact defines your ongoing relationship with God in Christ today, I can pretty confidently say that you are going to have a very hard time with a whole lot of life.  Why is that?

            It’s the difference between having a family relationship of unconditional love verses a family relationship of conditional love.  I say “family” because family, I believe, comes the closest in human relationships to what God is going with us. 

In family, you have two primary relationships: 

  • a marriage between a husband and wife who have chosen to commit themselves to each other…hopefully “in sickness and in health…for better or for worse…for richer or for poorer…until death do us part.”
  • Child-Parent: children who (hopefully) will always be loved and nurtured and disciplined to become as healthy, happy and successful as they possibly can in life…no matter how crazy they become as teenagers or young adults or adults. 

Love in a family is supposed to be fundamentally and predominately UNCONDITIONAL.  God has truly hard-wired us to bond emotionally and deeply through the intimacy that comes in marriage and the natural relationship and commitment that comes in parenting. 

But sadly, too many of us have neither experienced unconditional love as children growing up nor as spouses trying to make marriage work.  Too few people have experienced God-like love talked about in 1st Corinthians 13 where we’re supposed to “put away childish ways” at some point and grow up into God’s unconditional (yet never forced) love. 

Q:  How does that connect to salvation by faith…righteousness that is by faith? 

Simply this:  either you spend your life trying to EARN God’s approval, earn salvation, earn His love…OR you spend your life APPRECIATING His approval, appreciating His salvation and appreciating His love.  The difference is palpable!

Under the “earn it” system,

  • …even your best efforts are constantly in question. Trust me, in a “performance-based” family, there is always a higher grade to achieve, a better job to be done, another hour to be worked. 
  • …it’s always about the achievement rather than the experience, the accomplishment rather than the relationship. Life isn’t really about enjoying or experiencing the person; it’s about completing the project. 

***If our initial and inaugural relationship with God is grounded in performance, then everything that flows from there must be grounded in performance as well.  My performance of tasks is more important than my bonding of relationship.  Life becomes about…

  • having the right answers rather than having a rich relationship.
  • Holding to a certain theology or tradition rather than holding to a love of Christ and His Body, the church.

Some of you are still thinking, “I don’t really get this, JohnHow can a ‘righteousness that comes from God and is by faith’ (3:9) make that big of a difference to the daily life I lead and how I feel about what life is dishing out?”

I’m glad you asked! J  That is one thing I hope these next 2 verses will solidify with you.

            If you were to ask Paul, “What’s the whole PURPOSE of your life? What is it that DRIVES YOU in and through every valley and every mountain of life?” I think Paul would use Philippians 3:10 to answer you. 

I want to know Christ

and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.

“Really, Paul?  Where?” 

  • In Jerusalem on trial…or in Rome under arrest?
  • Traveling from city to city preaching and starting new churches…or sitting in prison writing letters.
  • While being shipwrecked on Malta…or while being stoned-to-death in Lystra.
  • While discipling saints in Ephesus for two years…or while waiting in Rome for death.

“I want to know Christ….”  That was the rallying-cry to the church and that was the whispered prayer in prison.  “I want to know Christ….” 

            So Paul gives us two extremes here of the experiences and life of Jesus:

1.)  the mighty power of the resurrection of Jesus.

2.)  the awful suffering and death of Jesus. 

These extremes are meant, I believe, to encompass everything at either end and in the middle of life experiences.  Paul is not “spiritually bi-polar” in that life is either resurrection power or crucifying agony.  It is those two at times.  But it is everything in between, too. 

            So let’s start where Paul does—with “that I may know him [Christ].”  The Greek language has several words with the idea of “knowing” something or someone.  There’s a term used to describe knowing facts or information.  Then there is this term for “know” here [ginosko] that has the added element of not just knowing about someone or something but actually having personal, even intimate knowledge OF someone. 

            If I’m going to be totally accurate, I need to tell you that the form of the word “know” here is actually what grammarians call “the infinitive”—gnonai—“to know”.  Use of the infinitive part of speech indicates purpose.  We could say that Paul’s “knowledge” of Christ was “purpose-driven.”  It points back to the purpose of this “righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”  Even the purpose of that faith-received righteousness is so that we can experientially know, personally know God. 

HOW you and I got into the family of God was meant to teach us about God himself.  The fact that our relationship with God started with faith also tells us that our relationship with God must keep going with faith.  God is a God who requires faith in Him in order for there to be relationship with Him.  (Because the alternative to faith in God is what?  --Doubt of him; placing my judgment over God; trusting my understanding more than His Word, etc.)

            Isn’t this evident every time we have a “crisis of faith”? 

ILL:  I had one of my “crisis of faith” in college when I was exposed to liberal Lutheran theology in required religion classes at PLU in Tacoma.  There I was taught by men trained in “Higher Criticism” and “Textual Criticism” (not to mention Buddhist monasteries!).  Those are fancy terms for both constructive and destructive scholarly pursuits when it comes to the Bible. 

That “crisis of faith” was more of an intellectual one:  Is belief in the God and Bible I’ve always been taught actually reasonable and intellectually credible…or do I have to check my brain at the door when I come to church or Bible study or simply Bible reading?

            I needed to come to the place in my spiritual journey where I had to dig deeper into scholarship in order to build better my FAITH in God and His word.  The crisis of being challenged intellectually held the potential of doing 1 of 2 things:

1.)  Moving me farther away from God with more doubts and questions I chose to dwell on and leave unanswered, OR

2.)  Moving me closer to God through deeper research and resulting greater trust in the amazing nature of the Bible, the amazing accuracy and historicity of the Bible…all of which could lead me to greater FAITH in God rather than greater doubts about Him. 

            Do I have the answer for every “higher criticism critic”?  No.  But I realized I didn’t need every answer; I just needed enough of the right ones to strengthen my faith in God into greater faith in God.  I was exchanging the “childish things” of blind faith of my youth for the more mature things of reasoned and reasonable faith of an adult.  And the result was that I actually experienced Christ afresh.  I actually came to “know Christ” better than if I’d never had the “crisis” or “valley” of those doubts. 

 Which brings us to another point here about knowing Christ:  It isn’t usually the positive “power-encounters” with resurrection power that cause us problems in our faith. It’s almost always the more negative and difficult “fellowship in suffering” encounters with life that give us fits.  But Paul said BOTH types of experiences (and thus everything in between) is what he looked to in which to experience Jesus. 

So let’s look at what it means to “know Christ [in] the power of His resurrection.” 

Is it safe to say that, of all the miracles Jesus performed, His own resurrection was THE most outstanding?  Healing lame, blind, leprous, demonically possessed people is all pretty powerful.  But rising from the dead yourself…with a body that is now incorruptible, ageless, not limited to our 3-dimensional space-&-time is significantly better…even than raising Lazarus from the dead but with a body that would once again die.  Resurrection power is really at the top of the heap when it comes to God manifesting His power here on earth. 

Acts of nature can be awesome displays of power…whether the unimaginable power of a solar flare on a medium-sized star like our own sun…or the more imaginable explosive power of Mount St. Helens.  Both of those are what we humans tend to marvel at when talking about “power.” 

But when God wants to talk about power, He points to the resurrection of Jesus, not Mt. St. Helens or billions of suns. 

Nobody and nothing has been able to duplicate nor match Christ’s resurrection power.  Even if you could bring someone back to life after they died (which the Anti-Christ will do with himself some day), that is far different from the type and kind of resurrection Jesus wrought.  That resurrection produced changes unmatched…

a.) physically:  mortal to immortal

b.) spiritually:  When it comes to the spiritual power of Christ’s resurrection, there are a host of “new-life” realities that can enrich our faith here and which we will bless God in heaven for eternity—redemption, power over sin, new creation, final sacrifice, satisfied divine justice & wrath, sanctification, etc.

             So let’s remind each other where and how we have seen the “power of God” that was evidenced at the resurrection of Jesus play out in our own human experience?  Where have you seen God bring new and better “life” out of sin and death in your own or other people’s experience?

  • Addictions and slavery to substances replaced by freedom to live God’s best.
  • Bitterness and anger replaced with forgiveness and peace.
  • Family chains of dysfunction and abuse replaced by generations of blessing and safety.
  • Disease and death replaced with healing and life.
  • Prayer that changes people and world events from war to peace, hatred to love, evil regimes to benevolent ones.
  • Gospel witness that transforms people, tribes, cities and nations.
  • Marriages healed, children rescued, divorces reconciled.
  • Ministries grow and flourish
  • ???

ILL:  Knowing…experiencing this ‘power of Christ’s resurrection’ as we do in this life now is like watching the trailer to a movie.  Movie previews just have bits and snatches of what may be a 3 hour movie.  But it’s enough to grab your attention and possible to entice you to part with hard-earned cash and, even more, scarce time.  When we experience the power of Christ at work in our marriages or our friendships or through our prayers or over the course of 50-80 years, we’ve just glimpsed the “trailer” to the greatest movie you can imagine. 

But, what if your only knowledge of Jesus was “the power of His resurrection”?  What kind of “faith’ would you be limited to or left with?  (A fair-weather faith)  What kind of trouble would you have with God himself in life as it is?  (Plenty.)

This is where “participating in His suffering” or the “fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” comes in.  Paul wasn’t content with only experiencing and growing in Christ in the good times (and neither should we).  He was hungry for more of Christ in the hard times too.  Aren’t you glad we have a Savior who wants us to experience Him in the worst as well as the best of times?  

I think this is one of the big challenges for every believer:  to find Christ IN the worst of times.  Those dark days of our lives make us feel like God has vacated our experience. I tend to question everything from God’s existence to his goodness.  It’s nice to know that his coming to us and responding to us isn’t based upon our spirituality, our moral goodness or even our mental stability any more than our salvation is dependent on those things.  The only thing it seems to be remotely dependent on is our willingness or determination to walk by faith in those dark times. 

ILL:  Counselor I once knew who worked with severely sexually abused people—“I help them discover where God was when all that was going on in their lives.”   

            The term used here for the idea/concept of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” is the word koinonia.  Thus some translations “fellowship” in His sufferings.  It’s the idea of participating together with someone in something. 

            In some real sense, when we suffer, Christ is suffering.  And when we suffer, we are sharing in His sufferings.

  • Our suffering is not atoning for our sins. He did that and He was the only one who could. 
  • Our suffering doesn’t satisfy God’s wrath against our sin; only His could.
  • Our suffering isn’t because God is turning away from us as the Father did of Christ on the cross.

            Suffering causes all of us to feel distant from God.  It had the same effect on Christ when he suffered on the cross for us…but for different reasons.  In His case it was our sin and the Father’s judgment of that which made His suffering so horrible.  It was the receiving on Himself the sins of the entire world that truly plunged Christ into the darkness of distance from the Father. 

            For most of us, it is the darkness of pain in suffering that makes it hard to experience God at times.  It is the darkness of unanswered questions that veil God from us during suffering. 

            But there is some measure, some type of “fellowship” with Christ that only suffering can bring to us. 

EXAMPLES:

  • It’s the fellowship with Jesus that comes when we have to struggle over years and years to conquer a destructive habit or addiction. A very few Christians are instantly delivered from all of their desire for drugs or alcohol or porn or gambling or gossip or materialism.  It is most Christians who must struggle and ‘suffer’ through months and years of growing up emotionally so as to be able to handle life’s disappointments as mature followers of Jesus, not according to our ‘childish’, immature old ways.
  • It is the fellowship with Jesus that comes when we are battling physical disease, illness and eventual death for every one of us. From the normal symptoms of aging to the painful process of dying (at any age), faith says, ‘Jesus, help me to experience you in this…your spirit of persevering prayer when I’m despairing of life…your heart of forgiveness when others seem oblivious to my suffering… your pursuit of God alone when I’m in the isolation that illness so often brings. 
  • Suffering that comes from living righteously. Whether it is being abandoned by family and friends because you now belong to Christ, Jesus knows what that is like…and He wants to share with you in that. 
  • Suffering that comes as we struggle to overcome temptation and sin. Even Christ, sinless though He was, suffered in the wilderness for 40 days and nights as Satan bombarded Him with temptation…and until Satan found other times over the next 3 ½ years to find a wedge into His life. 

???What kind of suffering does Christ want to meet you in at the present?    

Knowing/fellowshipping with Christ in suffering is much harder than knowing Christ in power.  But it is a foolish, cheap and unbiblical “gospel” and “theology” that peddles the deeply flawed idea that Jesus wants to deliver you OUT OF all suffering in this life!  This passage teaches us that Jesus wants to JOIN us IN all suffering in this life! 

            The end of verse 10 tells us WHY:  “…becoming like him in his death.”  The language construction here is what we call a present passive participle.  It is…

  • Action that is ongoing over time (present tense)
  • Action that is received from another person (passive voice)

It has the idea of “being conformed” or “being formed into the patter of” something.  It’s the idea of a potter molding soft clay into something. 

            You see, in suffering, the hands of God are doing something inside of us that will result in a deep and inward resemblance to the death of Christ.  So much happened to even Jesus when he suffered: 

  • He learned submission…hard submission…to the will of the Father.
  • He experienced the sacrificial pain of love that gives and pays a high price to love unworthy objects.
  • Even though Jesus was sinless his entire life…thought He was God’s only Begotten Son…the Scripture tells us that “he learned obedience by/from the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

God understand the value of suffering in ways we cannot and may never in this life see.  He sees how the suffering of His Son Jesus changed heaven and hell, time and eternity.  So he us now using suffering itself to mold and shape our lives such that time and eternity, heaven and hell too will be changed. 

ILL:  Like a potter recreating a similar shape and form to a new vase that is patterned after a masterpiece, there is experience of Christ that can only come to us and be formed in us with the tool of suffering. 

Suffering is not meaningless in this life.  We would do well to open our eyes wider to the many passages in the Gospels that speak to us of the many ways Jesus suffered in this life.  Then, when similar suffering invades our experience unsought, undeserved and unbidden, we will have something of a real theology of suffering that can sustain us through suffering. 

            We are told in other passages in the N.T. that we must learn to walk out our life in Christ just as we began that life in Christ—by FAITH.  Surely suffering provides some of the greatest challenges and opportunities to the strengthening and exercise of faith.  But in the end, that is really all that matters:

  • Will I trust in God’s use of suffering or will I trust in my hatred of suffering?
  • Will I believe God is still a good God even though my suffering is evil?
  • Will I hold fast to what I do know to be true about God rather than to deny that and hold fast to my unanswered questions in suffering?

Those same challenges confront not just the one suffering but the ones watching others suffer.  Too many Christians have jettisoned faith and chosen doubt and accusations against God when the suffering of a loved one or simply another human being was allowed to steal, to dismantle or to dominate over faith. 

ILL:  Charles Templeton—Contemporary and friend of Billy Graham in 1945, he was a famous evangelist in Canada who, after some 10 years of growing doubts, declared himself to be an agnostic in 1957.  One of his strongest doubts about God came after viewing a picture of the horrific suffering a famine was causing in Africa. 

Fifty years later, Lee Strobel had an opportunity to interview Templeton, who had just a couple of more years to live. He was in his 80s and suffering from Alzheimer’s, but still a clear conversation parter. In A Case for Faith, Strobel recounts the ending of their wide-ranging conversation.

            “And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question—but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . “ . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is THE most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .

In verse 11 Paul speaks of our resurrection to come that will mirror Christ’s resurrection when he says, “…and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  Paul doesn’t know exactly how God is going to do it, but he fully anticipates he will be pulled “out from among the dead” (genitive object).  It’s the image of some poor living soul being rescued from a trench full of corpses that are rotting. 

EX:  Slumdog Millionaire scene where the kid, to get to see his hero, goes into the holding tank of an outhouse and retrieves his ticket. 

The resurrection that we are yet to experience is going to be like being pulled out of a pile of rotting corpses…or a cesspool of overpowering human waste and refuse. 

The power of the resurrection will only be fully experienced after ‘the fellowship of His suffering.’  But this life will provide us plenty of introduction to both resurrection power in Jesus and shared suffering in Jesus. 

CLOSE: 

So HOW do we live this way?

1.)  Learn to pray in every situation, “God, what do you want to reveal/teach/show me about yourself in this experience?”  Then listen.

2.) What are you personally wrestling/struggling with right now?  In what are you having a hard time experiencing God relationally right now?  What seems to be driving a wedge between you and God? 

a.)  Are you willing to take the journey required to seek real answers?

b.) Are you willing to surrender your questions and doubts about what doesn’t make sense to focus on what God has revealed about Himself in Christ?  Trade doubts for faith?