Thoughts on the Word:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 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 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. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Pressing towards the Goal 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. 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, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Over the past nine months, the value of 'things' has become abundantly clear to me. You see nine months ago I resigned from my full time job as an executive in the public service, and became a full time student. It was a decision my wife and I made based on faith - faith that God was leading me into ministry in His church, and faith that He would provide us with all that we needed in order to follow that calling. As much faith as I had in making that decision though, it was still scary. You see I am a husband and a father of three children. I have responsibilities to them, and I had a good career, which was providing well for us - a career which ensured a secure future for me and my family. We were comfortable - very comfortable truth be told... too comfortable.
Since I resigned from my job, our family income has come predominantly from government student and family payments. This has been a big challenge for our family to adapt to - but it has also been a blessing, because it has taken the blinkers from our eyes. You see while challenging, we are able to live without fear of starvation. We can pay for the luxury of electricity - for air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. Despite a very heavy cut to our family budget, we are content. Of course it comes with its challenges, and it is frustrating at times, however things which seemed important to us previously seem less so now. What has become clear to us is that we are blessed. It is becoming clear that so much of what we valued in our previous lives was indeed rubbish, it is worthless.
St Paul, in his letter to the Phillipians, describes those things which he previously felt to be of value - things he lost for the sake of the Gospel - to be now worthless rubbish also. However Paul goes further, he says that all things, everything, is loss and rubbish. For Paul, all that is of any value is Christ, and that which comes from Christ. While we can strive to be good and earn ourselves accolades and the honour and respect of colleagues, friends, family and even fellow believers, all of this is worthless - it is rubbish. We can strive to follow the Law, and earn righteousness that way - but it is worthless, for true righteousness comes through Christ, and faith in him.
For Paul, experiencing loss, and dishonour, experiencing persecution and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom is not something to be bemoaned. It is something to celebrate, for it is an experience of the suffering of Christ. It is a participation in His suffering and death. If Christ deems us worthy to participate in His sufferings, for the sake of the Kingdom, then we can be confident he will deem us worthy to participate in His resurrection!
Paul calls us to look forward to the Kingdom, and to our resurrection to eternal life. Our focus should be entirely on participating in God's Kingdom, and whatever we lose along the way, we should not look back mournfully, but forward with confidence and hope.
As we are drawing near the end of our Lenten season and we approach the cross of Christ, I wonder how much worthless rubbish we still carry with us. So many of us give something up for Lent - only to take it up again immediately afterwards, I wonder, how much of those things which we feel are valuable in our lives, things we feel we 'need' could we truly count as loss? How many things could we do without forever? Just as importantly what can we replace them with - St Paul replaced them with dedication to the Gospel. He dedicated his life to the Kingdom. Now many of us are not called to be as radical as Paul in giving up all that we have in order to become missionary preachers, however we are all called to be radicals in another way. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world, we are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. So as we approach the cross of Christ, we must examine ourselves, let us look at what we value, and determine is it Christ and His Kingdom, that we value, or is it worthless rubbish - for these are the only two options.
God bless you this week.