The Lord’s Day Morning
April 13, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“When Gain is Loss, and Loss Means Greater Gain”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
“O come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our maker; for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.” Let us worship Him.
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians 3. We’re again reading from Philippians 3:1-11. We’ve been looking at this passage for a few weeks now. In the first verse of Philippians 3 the Apostle Paul exhorts us to joy: not to a shallow joy, but to a deep joy; not to fake joy, but real joy; not to joy that is circumstantially derived, but joy which is based upon the Lord and the Lord’s goodness, and the Lord’s grace; that is, it is a gospel joy.
Paul is serious about this joy. We’ve said this before. In Philippians 1:25 he makes it clear that the reason why he is willing to forego the greatest desire of his heart – and the greatest desire of his heart is to be communing with Christ face to face in glory. The reason why he is willing to forego that experience, that delight, that goal, is so that he can be here and work for your joy. How serious is Paul about joy? He is serious enough that he is willing to forego for a time the immediate enjoyment of Jesus in glory so that he can work for the Philippians’ joy—and, through His word, for your joy. So joy is a very, very important part of the Christian life.
Then, as we looked at Philippians 3:2-6 we saw the Apostle Paul attack a false teaching which kills joy, and that false teaching is to put confidence in your flesh: to trust in yourself, in your own goodness, rather than trusting in Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered in the gospel. And the Apostle Paul gave us a phrase, a dictum, which could actually be a motto for the whole of the Christian life: “Put no confidence in the flesh.”
In verses 4-6, the Apostle Paul basically says, ‘If anybody could be confident in the flesh, it’s me.’ But he tells us in verse 7 that he has counted all of that fleshly confidence as rubbish as loss, as nothing, in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ. And so Paul has made it clear that if we are going to enjoy and express the kind of joy that he speaks about in verse 1, then we are going to have to not put confidence in the flesh, but rather put our confidence in Jesus Christ.
Beginning in verse 7, the Apostle Paul virtually summarizes his gospel…and that’s saying something, because Paul has a lot of gospel to summarize, and it’s almost impossible to think of putting it into a few words! But Paul comes about as close as you could possibly do to putting the gospel into a few words here in Philippians 3:7-11. So it’s very appropriate that we would, as we’re coming to this gospel feast – the Lord’s Supper, it’s very appropriate that we think for a moment about the gospel that Paul preaches in Philippians 3:7, especially 7-10.
And today I want to direct you to how Paul describes, or even defines, Christians in this passage. There are four phrases in particular that he uses to describe what Christians are that should really be helpful to us as we come to the Lord’s Table.
If we’re Christians today, it ought to remind us of who we are and the enormous grace that God has given to us in Jesus Christ. If you’re not Christians today, it’s a very, very blessed truth to hold before your eyes to see what it means to be a Christian, so that you could come to this table as well…having been saved by grace, having been included in the number of God’s people, having enjoyed the benefits and blessings which we’re going to talk about today.
Let me point you to four words to be on the lookout for today, especially in verses 7-10, which characterize these four ways that Paul talks about being a Christian. The first word is to know; the second word is to gain; the third word is to be found; and, the fourth word is power…know, gain, found, power. Let’s look at how Paul uses these words in the context of some very important phrases in which he describes to us what a Christian is.
Let’s read God’s word; and before we do, let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We need Your Spirit if we are to understand and embrace it aright—not because Your word is not clear, for it is…it’s crystal clear—but because our minds are clouded by our own opinions (which are so often wrong), by our own desires (which are so often misdirected); and consequently, sometimes as crystal clear as Your word is, our minds are foggy on what it means. So we need Your help. We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, to disabuse us of our prejudices, of our false opinions, and of our misguided will, and simply to listen…to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord displayed by His word in the Bible. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God in Philippians 3:
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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.
One of the things that Paul makes so clear in verses 7 and following is that knowing Jesus Christ is more valuable than anything. No earthly birthright or human accomplishment can remotely compare to knowing Jesus Christ. Believers treasure a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ more than anything else in the world. But what does that mean? What does “a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ” mean? What does “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” mean?
Well, the Apostle Paul fleshes out what that means in the passage before us. Notice especially in verses 8-10 the language of salvation and fellowship that he uses to richly describe to us what it means to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. There is first of all that phrase “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” – to know. To be saved, to be united to Christ by faith is to know Christ Jesus as your Lord. And then there’s that language to gain:
“I count all things as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ. Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
So Paul says for the Christian gain is loss, but loss means a greater gain. So, to know Christ, to gain Christ.
And then Paul speaks of being found in Christ, to be found in Christ. He’s looking forward to the Judgment Day. He’s comprehending what it would be like to stand before the judgment throne of God. ‘How would I want to be found on that great day?’ Paul thinks. And he answers, ‘Ah! I would want to be found in Christ.’
And fourth, he uses the language of not only knowing Christ, but knowing Him in the power of His resurrection. To know; to gain; to be found; to know Him in His power…in these four ways he describes for us what it means to be a Christian. Let’s consider those things together today.
I. To know Christ.
First of all, Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord. Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord. Look at verse 8:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
That is an incredibly intimate phrase, and it is utterly unique in all of Paul’s writings. Never again anywhere else in the New Testament do we find Paul using the phrase knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I once heard a very famous New Testament scholar mock the phrase “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” He said, “You know, evangelicals are always talking about ‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’ Why, that phrase is never used in the New Testament, and I’m not even sure Paul would have a term by which he would describe something called ‘a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.’” Well, my friends, here it is! Philippians 3:8—“To know Christ Jesus my Lord.” Christians know Christ Jesus not simply as Lord in the abstract, but as my Lord.
You know, there’s an amazing passage in John 10 where Jesus is talking to His disciples about the difference between Him, the good shepherd, and those who were thieves and robbers and hirelings. You remember one of the things He said is, ‘My sheep hear My voice. They know My voice, and when they hear My voice they follow Me. Now when the thief and the robber come, they know that’s not the shepherd! They won’t follow the thief or the robber. But when My sheep hear My voice, when they hear My name, they know it’s Me. They know Me.’
And so it’s especially precious, isn’t it, when you turn ten chapters forward in the Gospel of John to where John is describing the resurrection morning, and Mary has gone to the tomb to apply the precious myrrh and incense on Jesus’ body. (Jesus’ body didn’t have time to be adequately prepared because the Sabbath Day was almost upon them as He was taken down from the cross, and they had to hurriedly place Him in the garden tomb.) The women didn’t have time to properly prepare His body for burial, and so out of reverence for their Lord, the women went to the tomb that early Sunday morning after the Sabbath was over to appropriately equip and prepare Jesus’ body for burial. But when they got there, He wasn’t there. And you remember Mary is deeply, deeply concerned about this, and a gardener strikes up a conversation with her, and she says, “Sir, where have they laid my Lord?” And you remember the interesting conversation. He asks her, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” and it’s a fascinating exchange, and she doesn’t realize who it is who’s speaking to her. And finally, John says, He turned to her and He said, “Mary.” And immediately she knew the voice of her Lord. And you remember the first thing she says to Him? “My Master – Rabboni.” Not just a master; my Master, my Lord. Because…why? Jesus had said, “My sheep hear My voice and they know Me.” And here she is saying, “My Master, my Lord.”
Well, this shouldn’t surprise you. You remember the Apostle Paul met Jesus in a very different circumstance than Mary meeting Jesus in the garden. Paul was then named Saul. He was on the road to Damascus to kill Christians, and the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to him, blinding him with brilliant light. And Paul, on his face, groveling in the ground, heard the Lord Jesus speak to him and say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” And you remember what Saul’s first words to Jesus are? “Who are You, Lord?” The first words out of the converted Saul’s mouth is an expression that Jesus is his Lord. This is why when people were baptized in the book of Acts and in I Corinthians the adults would confess what as their vow? “Jesus is Lord.” Because Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord. And how do we express the lordship of Christ? We listen to His voice. And where do we hear the voice of Christ? In the Bible. He speaks to us by His Scriptures, and His followers – those who trust in Him – hear His voice speaking to them in the Scriptures, and therefore they don’t cut and paste. When the Lord speaks to us in His word, we listen! We listen when there are tender words of promise and we listen when He makes us uncomfortable with His commands, because it’s the voice of the Lord speaking to us. Christians know Jesus as our Lord.
II. To gain Christ.
Secondly, look again at verse 8. Paul makes it clear that Christians know that gaining Christ is better than anything else:
“For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ….”
Christians know two things. One is that everything that they had apart from Christ and before they had Christ is nothing in comparison to having Christ; and, secondly, Christians have moved from a concern to have all those other things apart from Christ, to having Christ even if they can’t have all those things. That’s why William Guthrie said in his famous book, The Christian’s Great Interest, of Jesus Christ, “Less will not satisfy than Jesus, but more could not be desired than Jesus.” All things will not satisfy apart from Jesus, and nothing more could be desired if you have Jesus. Christians count all things loss and Christ as gain, because they know that gaining Christ is better than all things.
As we were walking down the hall after the second service last Sunday morning, Billy Joseph said to me, “Ligon, do you think that Paul could have been the rich young ruler?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, Billy, but I do know that many of the church fathers thought that.” Now whether that is or isn’t, you understand why Billy was asking that, because this passage looks like the mirror opposite of what happens when Jesus has the conversation with the rich young ruler. Remember the rich young ruler? He has so much that when Jesus says ‘Sell everything that you have and come follow Me,’ what does he choose? He chooses all things, not Jesus.
Here Paul is saying ‘I have come to realize that whereas used to I thought that everything that I had was worth living for, but when I came face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ I realized that all of that was rubbish, compared to gaining Christ. And so I gave up all that I thought was precious as refuse, as dung, compared to gaining Jesus Christ.’ It’s almost like the exact opposite of the story of the rich young ruler, and that’s why early Christians wondered whether this is Paul talking about his own conversion experience.
But where are you today? Are you one of those people that has everything the world has to offer, but there is a gaping and yawning emptiness in you? That may well be the Lord by the Spirit convicting you to see that all that you have apart from Christ is worth nothing if you don’t have Him. Christians know that gaining Christ is better than all things.
III. To be found in Christ.
Third, a Christian wants to be found in Christ on the Last Day. A Christian wants to be found in Christ on the Last Day. Look at verse 9:
“…And be found in Him, 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. You remember that after Adam and Eve had rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden (in Genesis 3) that when the Lord came to walk in the garden to commune with them, they hid themselves. They covered themselves with fig leaves, and they hid themselves in bushes. But God still found them. And they had nothing to cover themselves in their shame and sin and disobedience.
Well, here’s the Apostle Paul thinking to himself ‘How do I want God to find me on the Last Day? With my little fig leaf? I tried to be a good person. I tried to keep the Ten Commandments. I helped the poor.
No,’ Paul says, ‘I don’t want to be found in that line on Judgment Day. I want to be found wrapped in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. That’s how I want God to find me on the Judgment Day: dressed not in my own righteousness, but dressed in the righteousness of Christ alone, which I have gained not by my doing, but simply by faith.’
That’s a Christian. A Christian wants to be found in Christ and in His righteousness.
IV. To know Christ in His resurrection power.
And fourth and finally, look at verse 10. A Christian longs to know Jesus’ resurrection power at work in him: “…That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.”
In other words, Paul is saying, ‘I want to know Jesus’ power at work in me now, changing me so that I become like Him in His resurrection.’ He’s talking about the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and he’s saying that Christians long to see the power of the Spirit, the power of Jesus’ resurrection, at work in them…because before we knew Christ, apart from Him, we were what? Dead in trespasses and sins, Paul says (Ephesians 2:1). But now we are a new creation, and we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit by the power of the resurrection of Christ, and matured. And Paul says, ‘I want to see the power of resurrection at work in me so that I hate sin more and more, and I become more and more like Jesus Christ. I don’t want to just be forgiven; I want to see the power of sin broken in my life.’
Four glorious ways of describing a Christian: Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord; Christians gain Christ and count everything else as loss; Christians want to be found in the righteousness of Christ in the Judgment Day; and, Christians want to see the power of Christ’s resurrection at work in them now.
My friend, if you’re a believer you know something of each of those realities. And however imperfect that reality is in you as you come to the table, you are strengthened and assured in those graces that God has given you freely in Jesus Christ. But if you don’t know these realities of which I’ve just described, don’t come to the Lord’s Table in a few moments. Instead, go to God. Go to Christ. Trust in Him, and as you do, you’ll find that you will know Him as Lord, you’ll be dressed in His righteousness, you’ll lose those things that cannot satisfy you, and you’ll gain something that you cannot lose which will always satisfy you. And He’ll begin to transform your life by the power of His resurrection.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask that even as we come to this gospel feast that You would prepare us to receive it in faith and transform us by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Lord’s Supper
The Words of Institution
As we come to the Lord’s Table, it’s appropriate that we read the words of institution recorded in I Corinthians 11, that the Apostle Paul says he received from the Lord Jesus Christ himself:
“For this I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy word.
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament. That means that it is a sign of a promise that God has made to us, a promise which He has secured to us by making a covenant with us. It serves to confirm God’s promise and strengthen our faith. Augustine called sacraments “visible words, promises from God that you can see.” So, it’s to strengthen our faith. It’s appointed by God as a means of grace whereby a Christian grows.
When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we feed on Christ – not physically, but by faith, believing God’s promises, communing with Him by His word. So the Lord’s Table is for those who are trusting in Christ, because it’s designed to assure those who are trusting in Christ. Because it is for those who are trusting in Christ, I would invite to this table today believers – all those who are trusting in Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, all those who have joined themselves to His body (that is, His church).
If you are not a believer in Christ who has trusted in Him for salvation and identified yourself with His church by receiving baptism, don’t come to the Lord’s Table. Rather, wait and think and pray, and then repent and believe in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and then, next time come with us as our brother or sister in Jesus Christ to the Lord’s Table.
So also, parents, your children who have not yet made membership vows should refrain from coming to the table until such time as the elders have examined them as to their profession of faith in Christ and their ability to discern the body, and their capability of self-examination in accordance with this passage in I Corinthians 11.
Now let’s set apart these common elements to a holy use, in prayer. Let’s pray.
Eternal God, You are the Lord of creation. You are the Triune God made manifest in the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We gather at Your table today at Your own bidding. You have called us here, and we acknowledge Your grace to us. Make these common elements to serve as Your means of grace to Your people, and grant that we would receive them by faith and so taste of heavenly mercies bestowed by Your Holy Spirit. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Apostles’ Creed
Dr. Thomas: Now, since the Lord’s Supper is for believers and we’ve just heard the admonition to discern the Lord’s body, it’s appropriate that as Christians we affirm our faith in the words of The Apostles’ Creed. You’ll find it on the inside of your hymnbook.
Christian, what is it that you believe?
Dr. Thomas and Congregation:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church;
The communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.
The Ten Commandments
Dr. Thomas: Now by reciting the Law, the Ten Commandments, which you’ll find on your bulletin this morning – by reciting the Law directly adjacent to the gospel ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, we’re reminded both of our need of the forgiveness of sins and the wonderfully rich provision that is made for the forgiveness of our sins in the perfect obedience of Christ.
Dr. Thomas and Congregation:
You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
The Elements Distributed
Dr. Thomas: On the night that Jesus was betrayed, He took bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body which is given for you. Take, eat. This do in remembrance of Me.”
[Elements passed to congregation.]
Likewise, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, “This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink ye all of it.”
[Elements passed to congregation.]
After supper they gave thanks. Let us do the same. Let us pray.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; blind, but now I see. Lord, we can scarcely take it in that You should love us so that our Savior should come into this world, take human flesh and blood, be found in fashion as a man, in the fullness of our low condition; that He should become subject to a baptism of repentance; that He should have to utter those words, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?”And it was for our sin and for our transgression, and for our wrongdoing, for all the failures and acts of wretched rebellion that arose within our hearts that He gave himself for us. He bore Your unmitigated wrath, our Father, in His own body upon the tree.
Our Father, we pray that You would just fill our hearts like a cup that overflows…that You would fill our hearts with love and gratitude and thanksgiving and praise to You. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend. And He has called us friends. Our Father, we thank You. We thank You from the bottom of our hearts, and we pray as we sit in these pews this morning, ‘Take our life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.’
We pray that You will accept the offering of ourselves, our complete selves, as we give ourselves away to You. We want, as we were hearing this morning, to count all things loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. We want to know the power of His resurrection, and we want to share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Lord, we pray this not knowing what it is we pray for, or how it would be that You would answer that prayer, and we are a little frightened that You might just answer that prayer. But along with the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, You will also give us that grace to be able to bear it. We know that it comes from the loving hand of a loving Father and a loving heart; and do with us then as You would, and with those whom we love, because we trust in You and we rest in You, and there is none other to whom we can go. You alone are the one true and living God, and our Savior in Jesus Christ. Receive our thanks, O Lord, we pray, and bless us now. And all of this we ask in the name and through the merits of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.