The Lord's Day Morning
April 27, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“What We Desire, How We Receive It, and How We Live”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to open them to Philippians 3. Last week, in looking at verses 7-11, we looked pretty closely at the first of three major points that Paul makes in this great portion of this joyous letter.
We have already noticed that in this passage Paul teaches us that those who gain Christ gain with Him three things:
Justification (9) — they are counted righteous in Christ.
Sanctification (10) — they are becoming like Christ by the power of His resurrection.
Glorification (11) — they will be completely perfected in the final resurrection.
And, we said that the Apostle Paul is giving us the answer to three very important questions, and thus those questions are being posed to us.
1. What Paul wants.
The first question we looked at last week, “What is Paul's treasure?” He makes it very clear that Jesus is his treasure. Jesus isn't just a ticket, Jesus is his treasure. Jesus isn't just the means to another end; Jesus is the end. Jesus is the thing that Paul delights in and desires, and finds his satisfaction and goal in. It's fellowship with Christ that Paul wants. He wants to know Christ. He wants to be with Christ. He wants to glorify Christ. He wants to fellowship with Christ. He wants to see Christ face to face. This is Paul's great desire. Jesus isn't a ticket to get Paul something better than Jesus; Jesus is the means to being brought into eternal, everlasting, glorious, joyous, overflowing fellowship with God through Him forevermore. And so Paul's treasure is Jesus.
It is Paul's parallel to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 13:44ff. You remember when Jesus tells the parable of the kingdom in which there's a treasure in a field, and a man finds the treasure in the field and he goes and he sells everything that he has in order to buy that field because the treasure in that field is more valuable to him than anything else. And then He tells the story of a man who finds a costly pearl, and that pearl is of more value than everything else that he has, and he values that pearl above everything else. Well, this is what Paul is saying: that communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, glorifying and enjoying God through Jesus Christ is his greatest treasure. He's more valuable to him than anything else. And Jesus isn't just a ticket to get something else other than Jesus, that's better than Jesus. Jesus himself is Paul's greatest treasure and satisfaction and desire, and we looked at that very intently last Lord's Day.
But we didn't get to the second two questions–the second and third of those three questions–and I want to look at those with you today. And let me just tell you again what they were. Not only the question “What is it that I desire? What is it that I live for? What is it that I want most?” (that's what we looked at last week, Jesus as treasure), but how is it that I receive that which I want most? How is it that I gain this treasure? How is it that I come into possession of this treasure? Paul directly addresses that question in verse 9.
And then, third, having gained that treasure, how then do I live? How do I live the Christian life, having gained that treasure? However it is that Paul tells us that he does that, and that you and I do it (in verse 9), how do I live, having gained that treasure? That's what he tells you in verses 10-11. And that, by God's grace, is what we're going to look at together today.
Let's pray before we read God's word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word, and what You tell us here in this passage is crystal clear. It is simple, and it is stunning. It is brilliant and bold, and yet, O God, we miss it. And one reason we may miss it is because our desires are set on something else other than that which ought to be our greatest treasure, and we're trying to get our greatest treasure in some way which is out of accord with what you say here in your word. And, we're trying to live our lives in a way which is inconsistent with the way you tell us here in Your word that they ought to be lived, and consequently we're blinded to the beauty of this truth set forth in this passage. By Your Spirit, Lord, take away the blinders and help us see the truth, if even for the first time. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count 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 that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
II. How Paul receives it.
How do you get your treasure? How do you find your greatest treasure? How is it that you gain the thing that you long for the most? Well, the staggering thing in this passage that the Apostle Paul says is that the one greatest treasure in this world is something that you don't find; it finds you.
Isn't it interesting that he says in this passage that his longing, his desire, is to be found in Christ (verse 9)? Not to find Christ, but to be found in Christ, because Christ has not said, ‘OK, I'm the treasure. Now here's the treasure map. Go find Me.’ No, the treasure has come looking for you. That's what the choir was just singing about. Jesus hasn't said, ‘OK, here's the treasure map. “X” marks the spot. Go find it.’
No, the treasure has come looking for you, and so here's Paul's message to you: ‘Here's how I received the treasure. I didn't go looking for it; it came looking for me. I didn't find it, I was found by it.’ I mean, think of it! Paul's own testimony bears this out. He's on the way to Damascus not to find Jesus, but to find Christians to kill. On the way to Damascus to find Christians to kill, Jesus finds him, and suddenly He who was not his treasure becomes his treasure. And he doesn't find his treasure, his treasure finds him. And Paul spells it out so beautifully, doesn't he, in this passage? Look at verses 8-9:
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count 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 that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith….”
In other words, Paul says, ‘I didn't gain my treasure, I received it. I didn't earn my treasure, I was given it. I didn't do something in order to acquire my treasure. Jesus did something in order to give me my treasure. And my response to that is simply to receive it, because we are found by our treasure rather than going out on some great quest to find that treasure.’
Isn't it interesting that the choir…following the very biblical words of Jesus himself, who said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” the choir did not sing to you, ‘Go, go climb the highest mountain and cross the widest sea, and by some great deed of religiosity find Jesus.’ No! The choir sang, ‘He's here looking for you. Come to Him. Receive the gift that He's offering to you. Don't do something to earn it, to gain it. Receive it! Believe in Him.’
And look at what Paul beautifully stresses this in verse 9. Notice three things that he says.
One, the treasure comes from where? It comes from God. Look at the end of verse 9. He wants a righteousness from God, the righteousness that he needs in order to experience the greatest treasure, which is fellowship with God. That righteousness does not come from Paul, it comes from God. It's a gift to be received, not a thing to be gained. It is a gift that is given, not a thing that is earned. It comes from God.
Second, notice that it is a righteousness which comes through faith in Christ, again emphasizing that you don't do something to accomplish this righteousness. No, this righteousness is accomplished outside of you and is simply offered to you, and the way you receive the gift that is offered to you is by faith. You stretch out your hands and you say, ‘Yes, Lord, I receive it. I trust in You. I don't trust in myself. I do nothing to earn this. I've done nothing to deserve this. I simply receive what You have offered in Jesus Christ.’
And notice that the righteousness is not Paul's own. It's not your own. He says this explicitly: “I want to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own….” In other words, this righteousness is not righteousness in you; this is not you cleaning yourself up a little bit and getting better. This is a righteousness that is offered to you. It's a righteousness that comes from outside of you. It's a righteousness which has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, which is now being offered to you. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Here's the kind of righteousness that I'm looking for, because my great treasure is to fellowship with God forever and to see Him face to face. The kind of righteousness that I want, then, is not a righteousness of my own. The kind of righteousness that I am looking for is the kind of righteousness that originated outside of myself and which has been given to me, and which I receive by faith.’
You see how radical this is. You want the treasure? How do you get it? You don't earn it, you receive it. You don't work for it. It's granted to you. You don't deserve it. It's gifted to you. Could Paul make free grace any clearer than he does here? Could he make it any clearer?
And I want to say to you, Christian, today: If you are struggling with your assurance, start here in Philippians 3:9. That's what that song was about that we sang–695, By Grace I Am an Heir of Heaven.” If you’re struggling with assurance, Philippians 3:9 and hymn No. 695 is where to start, because it simply tells you this: your hope, your confidence, your assurance is not based on anything in you at all. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's based on something outside of you, in Jesus, which has been offered to you and which you simply receive by faith in Him. There's no more glorious message in the world than this message.
And my friends, one reason why we resist this message is because it challenges our pride, because we want to do something to earn this treasure, and we want to at least in some partial way be worthy of this treasure. But you see the very graphic illustration that the Apostle Paul uses for anybody who tries to do that. Paul says, ‘Look, if there was anybody in the history of the world who could have ever earned this treasure by his life, it was me!’ And then he tells you, ‘Let me tell you what my righteousness looked like.’ [And I'm just going to use the polite word here.] He says, ‘My righteousness looks like…rubbish.’
Put these two pictures in your mind. The first picture is the picture of what God does in the giving of His perfect Son as a sacrifice for your sins in order to bring you into union and fellowship with Him, which is your greatest treasure. He gives the only perfect being in the universe as a sacrifice for your sin, and He says, “There's My gift to you. I so love you, world– world which hates Me, world which is opposed to Me, world which mocks Me–I so love you that I've given My only begotten Son, My perfect Son. There's My sacrifice. And by that sacrifice you come to Me by free grace. You simply reach out in faith and you believe in Him, and you receive the gift that I have given you in Him.’
And Paul says when we trust in our own righteousness, you know what it's like? He says it's like going out to the septic tank and dredging out the bottom, and coming into God's temple and saying, ‘Look, instead of that I'd like to offer You this.’ [And I won't describe that “this” any further. You just picture the picture.] Paul is saying that's what it's like when you come to God and you say, ‘Well, thank You for Jesus, but actually what I'd like to offer You is this.’ You see, when you come to God and you say what I'd like to offer You is this, not only does the “this” not look very appetizing, but what you’re saying is, ‘Thank You very much for giving Your Son, heavenly Father; You didn't need to, because I can handle this on my own.’ You’re saying, ‘Jesus didn't need to die for me, because You see, I've done real good. See my righteousness?’ And, you see, everybody around you sees what you’re offering. They see what you’re offering when you’re offering that. It's just that you don't see how ugly it is. You don't smell how disgusting it is. You don't realize how deficient it is. You don't realize how it doesn't match up to what God the Father has offered for you, for your salvation. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘When Christ found me I finally understood for the first time in my life that everything that I was trying to do to get my treasure was rubbish. And now I have simply reached out my hands and said, ‘Lord, give me the treasure that I don't deserve in Jesus.’’
Have you done that today, my friends? Is that where your trust is? Or is your confidence in “that”? Is your confidence equivalent to something unmentionable in a pulpit? If it is, I don't want to be standing in your shoes on Judgment Day. I don't want to be dressed in “that.” I want to be dressed in a righteousness that is not my own, which is mine by faith in Christ. And if your trust is there, then you can sing 695 and you can sing what we're going to sing tonight. Look in your bulletin. It's a paraphrase of Romans 8 that we're going to sing tonight. You can sing:
“Who then can e’er divide us more
From Jesus and His love,
Or break the sacred chain that binds
The earth to heav’n above?
“Let troubles rise, and terrors frown,
And days of darkness fall;
Through Him all dangers we’ll defy;
And more than conquer all.
“Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell,
Nor time's destroying sway,
Can e’er efface us from His heart,
Or make His love decay.”
You’ll be able to sing that.
III. How Paul lives.
But then Paul, having told us how we receive this treasure, tells us how we're supposed to live. Now you might think that since we do nothing to receive this treasure, that is it all the gift of God's free grace and we simply have it by faith in Christ alone, you might be tempted to think that that leads to indolence — laziness, passivity. That's not what Paul says. Paul said that what this does for him [and you see this in verses 10-11 especially] is it leads him to a life of passionately pursuing the prize, because now all of his energy that had been expended on trying to get God to accept him by offering something from himself that was acceptable to God — which was impossible — now all of his energy that had been wrongly expended on trying to do this is now instead — what? Bent on getting the prize! He's already been found by the treasure; he's already been saved by grace; but now he wants to experience the fullness of that treasure, and so he pursues it passionately.
What does he say? “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death….” And he goes on to say if by any means possible he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
And I want you to see three things that he says there.
Paul tells us first of all that he is pursuing the prize now — not trying to earn the prize, because the treasure has been given to him — but he has not yet experienced the fullness of that treasure. It's kind of like Hebrews 11, isn't it? God has given them a city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. But, Hebrews 11 says, they haven't occupied the city yet. That city won't be occupied until all of God's people are brought through the gates–“from earth's wide bounds and oceans’ farthest coast, through gates of pearl stream in the countless hosts.” Not until that happens will we have tasted the prize in all its fullness, and so until then, because the treasure has already found Paul, Paul experiences a holy dissatisfaction. He's utterly confident that he is saved by grace, but his heart is now set on a treasure that this world cannot supply and which he cannot fully experience until the resurrection has come.
And so how does he live? First of all, he says, I live by resurrection power.
It's interesting. He doesn't say, ‘God saved me by grace, now the rest is my job.’ No. ‘The way I'm going to pursue that prize is by resurrection power. I need pride-humbling, sin-conquering, Christ-exalting power at work in my life. And that power doesn't come from me, it comes from the power by which God raised Jesus from the dead: resurrection power. And that power is at work in me,’ the Apostle Paul says. ‘And because that power is at work in me, I can never be satisfied with living in my sin. I want to become more like Christ. Just read Romans 6, because that resurrection power is at work in me. Why? So that I will die to sin and live to righteousness and newness of life in Christ. Because that power is at work in me, my spirit is at war against sin in me, and I can never ever be comfortable in my sin, nor can I ever rest on yesterday's grace. I'm always wanting to be more and more like Christ — not so that I’ll be accepted by God, because I've already been accepted in Him! — but because I want to fellowship with Him, I want to be like Him, I want to know Him like He is. I want to be right in His face and see His glory.’ And so that free grace has led Paul not to be lazy, but to be passionate; not to sit still, but to pursue the prize. But to do it not in his own strength, but in resurrection power because God is at work in him.
And then he says something absolutely shocking: that he wants to know Jesus Christ and share in His sufferings. We've already been singing about suffering today, and you’ll already appreciate that Christians think about suffering in an entirely different way than unbelievers think about suffering.
Many of you will know the name of Bart Ehrman, the very famous religious studies scholar who teaches at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Bart Ehrman was an evangelical. He was raised in a Bible-believing church. He went to Princeton Seminary and he lost his faith. And recently he's written a book, and in that book he explains why he no longer believes in Christianity or God and it boils down to one word: suffering. He does not believe that belief in God is consistent with human suffering, and the experience of suffering that he saw in friends and family around him undermined his faith in God. And so now, though he teaches the Bible, he does not believe it. Though he is a famous biblical scholar, he does not believe the religion of the Bible. Why? Because of suffering.
Well, already today we have sung that Christians have a radically different view of suffering. In part, we have a radically different view of suffering because of the hope that is set before us. We know that a day is coming when suffering will be no more. We know that even in suffering God loves us and is near to us. That's so much of what Romans 8 is about.
But in this passage Paul says something even more. He says not that he wants to suffer — he's not a masochist, he's not crazy! Nobody wants to suffer. But he says this: ‘I do want to share in my Lord's sufferings in order to be like Him.’ In other words, the Apostle Paul is telling us that for the believer suffering is part of God's design to make us like Jesus. If Jesus, our great high priest, learned obedience through that which He suffered — and that is what Hebrews 5:8 says — then we also are made like Him through suffering. And so the Apostle Paul is saying to us, ‘How do you then live if you've been saved by grace? You look suffering square in the eye, and you say, ‘Lord, don't waste one drop of my suffering. I want this to count for me being made like Jesus.’’
And then, third, the Apostle Paul says “…if by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘I am never ever going to be satisfied in this life with what I am. I'm never going to reach perfection here. What I am looking for is something that's never ever going to be completed in this life. It's only going to be completed when we all stand before God on the Last Day.’
And so the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Alongside a complete confidence in my security because of God's grace to me in Christ Jesus, I will live this life with a holy dissatisfaction. I will never be satisfied with what I am now, and I will only be satisfied when God has made me like Christ and I see Him as He is because I have been made like Him.’ And the Apostle Paul says, ‘That's how I live in light of free grace.’
So I want to ask you, friends, is that how you think about the Christian life? You’re going to see in just a few verses — actually in verse 17 — that Paul is going to tell you, ‘Now here's why I've been telling you all this stuff. I've been telling you all this stuff because I want you to emulate the way I live the Christian life.’ So let me ask you this. Is this how you approach the Christian life? Are you comfortable in your sin? Are you lazy in your growth? Are you surprised by suffering? Are you longing for the resurrection? Or would you just as well that be postponed…you’d like to find your satisfaction here? You think that your sufferings…if you just trusted Jesus more, you’d have less of them? Or do you have this radical view of life that Paul has, where he can't be satisfied with going on in his sin because there's a power at work in him that will never ever make a compromise or be comfortable with sin? And he even views suffering as God's instrument to make him like Jesus. And he's never ever going to be satisfied with yesterday's growth, because he's waiting for the day when Jesus has eradicated all sin from him and there is a new world.
You see, Paul is saying to you, ‘Christian, that's how I live. You live like that, too.’
Heavenly Father, we have barely done justice and barely scraped the surface of this profound truth, but by Your Spirit You can work it deep into our hearts. O Lord, we would ask that by the grace of Your Holy Spirit that Jesus would be our greatest treasure and that our very thoughts of Him would flood our hearts with gratitude, in songs of wonder, love, and praise, and that that treasure would become a life-transforming thing in us. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals and turn to No. 645, and let us sing to God's praise Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.