Has that sort of thing ever happened to you? Have you ever had that sinking feeling that maybe you're headed in the wrong direction? A family saying puts it this way, "We're lost, but we're making good progress!"
And it's good from time to time to take stock of our lives. Politicians in fairly recent times (including the one who was born in Bordertown!) have talked about their policies and budgets being "right on target", while many of the population have wondered, "Are we perhaps lost, but making good progress?" Is your life "right on target"? What is your target?
Arranging funerals I get to hear some quite incredible things. I recall talking to the relatives of a man who had died and preparing a statement about his life for use in the service. Their description of him went like this, "He was a wonderful man, a real Christian man. If he couldn't do a good turn, he never did a bad one - a real Christian if ever there was one. Actually, he didn't get to church very much, but he was a great Christian just the same. In fact, he never went to church at all. He didn't believe in God, called himself an atheist, but he was just such a fine Christian."
What is important for you? What has been the driving force of your life? What are your credentials?
Listen to Paul. "I was born of good Christian parents. I was brought to church for baptism as a baby, and I have faithfully been coming ever since. I participated fully in Sunday School and youth group. I faithfully read my Bible and pray every day and try to be most particular in putting it all into practice in my life. I use envelopes and give generously to the Lord's work. I actively produce goods for sale at the Parish's annual fair. I am a member of a very positive Home Group..."
don't read it quite that way in your Bible? I have given it to you that way
because we need to understand that Paul's list was a catalogue of good,
commendable qualities. If Paul came along to the Elders and said, "I want
to be a member of
credentials were given in very Jewish terms. He was, after all, a Jew! He had
been circumcised on the eighth day as every Jewish boy was. He was "an
Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin (not a very large or prominent
tribe), a pure-blooded Hebrew" - and that was important with so many
proselytes around. The Jews had stood firm in their faith against the threat of
death when the Greek empire was sweeping the world. Many other people admired
them and adopted the Jewish religion. They had to learn the law, be circumcised
and be baptised in the
Listen to this description - "Then the king (Antiochus Epiphanes) issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. All the pagans conformed to the king's decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the sabbath. The king also sent instructions by messenger to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah directing them to adopt customs foreign to the country, banning burnt offerings, sacrifices and drink-offerings from the sanctuary, profaning sabbaths and feasts, defiling the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, building altars, precincts and shrines for idols, sacrificing pigs and unclean beasts, leaving their sons uncircumcised, and prostituting themselves to all kings of impurity and abomination, so that they should forge the Law and revoke all observance of it. Anyone not obeying the king's command was to be put to death" (1 Mac. 1.41-52).
Knowing that background helps us to understand the emergence of the Pharisees - both their zeal and their harshness. We see that in Paul's description of himself - his personal zeal to keep the Law and his concern that yet another group had arisen which seemed to be straying from the Law. So, at all costs, he must help to eliminate the Church.
He sums it all up with the words, "As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault." I wonder how many of us would be bold to make that sort of claim. Yet Paul could make it and nobody could stand up and contradict him.
But - all those things that he might count as profit, he now reckoned as loss for Christ's sake. We have some folk here who are good with figures. I am sure they could instruct us all, much better than I can, about the significance of "profit and loss". I had better be careful what I say! From my amateur point of view, I have the distinct impression that the things that are a loss have a negative (not a neutral) effect on my financial situation.
We are a bit inclined to think that Paul is simply saying that these things were important to me once, but I don't think so any longer. They are neutral for me. What he is really saying is that these credentials had a negative effect on his relationship to God. They became the barrier to his faith in Christ alone for salvation. After all, with credentials like that, what more did he need? (I don't know what to buy him for his birthday - he's got everything!)
There is a major shift in Paul's attitude between his statement "As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault," and his words, "I am the chief of sinners."
So Paul's life took on a new direction. He has recognised that his old credentials can't make him right with God. (Rightness with God is what the term "righteousness" is all about in the New Testament.) He has put his trust in Christ and is now right with God because of what Christ has done for him.
What is most important for him now? "All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life."
All I want is to know Christ... Jesus had said, "Eternal life means knowing you, the only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ, whom you sent) (Jn. 17.3). These days there is a great deal of emphasis on what you know and who you know. And some people are very knowledgeable and clever - but poor relaters. And there are other people who are excellent at dropping names and have all the social skills of good relating - but they don't know God!
know that God made us to know him? There are some people who have wanted to get
back to the garden of Eden. They are, perhaps,
thinking of Gen.2.25, "The man and the woman were both naked, but they
were not embarrassed." They want to seek out the company of people with
whom they can bathe unashamedly naked. But the key to their innocence in
And so the first sacrifice took place and God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins. From that time on knowing God would depend on a sacrifice.
right time, Jesus the Son of God came. The people with Paul's credentials took
him and had him put to death on a Roman cross. Human hate at its ugliest was
poured out on him. But he was not just another man, not just another martyr. He
was God the Son. This was God's plan. This vile human act God was receiving as
the final and complete sacrifice. At the death of this one who shared with the
Father in the creation of the world, the earth shook and the
All I want is to experience the power of his resurrection... Christ died for sin. We need forgiveness and victory. Paul's struggle.
To share in his sufferings and become like him in his death... Take up the cross. Do his will. Won't always be easy. Where we are now.
Raised from death to life... A faith that reaches into eternity. 1.21 For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. Where we will be forever.
© Peter J. Blackburn,
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1984.
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