Align: Everything is Nothing (Philippians 1-3)
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
What is the all-consuming desire at the center of your universe? What do you think about more than anything? What consumes your thoughts and overwhelms your mind more than anything else throughout the day? What do you spend the most time on throughout the week? What do you invest the most energy, money, and emotion on from minute-to-minute? What holds all the planets of your life in orbit? Relationships? Sports? Video games? Education? Career? Yard work?
My primary goal in preaching through this text is exploding the trivial, weak, ineffective, non-consequential ideas and misconceptions we have about a King and His Kingdom. We want to see Jesus Christ placed at the center of your personal universe as the red-hot, all-satisfying, all-worthy, all-powerful, all-consuming fire that everything is aligned on so that in the end we can say that everything else that this life has to offer was nothing compared to the all-surpassing greatness of knowing and trusting and loving and enjoying Jesus as our ultimate, unending, always-satisfying, trustworthy, pricelessly valuable, and captivating treasure.
Our aim is that of the Apostle Paul: Philippians 1:18b-26
“We have settled for a home, a family, a few friends, a job, a television, a microwave oven, an occasional night out, a yearly vacation, and perhaps even a new personal computer. We have accustomed ourselves to such meager, short-lived pleasures that our capacity for joy has shriveled. And so our worship has shriveled.”
Christ Made Large
v. 20 – “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Honored = “made large”
Whenever we count Christ as greater than ourselves, he is honored
John 3:30 – John the Baptist: “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease”
So what Paul is saying is that his great hope and passion is that whatever happens with his body, whether he is living or if he has died, that Christ will always be seen a glorious and worthy of everything. In life and death, Paul’s mission is to magnify Christ - to show that Christ is magnificent, to make Christ known as glorious, and to demonstrate in his life that Christ is great and life-changing and incomparable to anything this world has to offer.
“I will have no shame, I will have no longing or desire or passion, I will have nothing worth pursuing outside of living and dying in a way that makes Christ look like the great and glorious reality that He is.”
Verse 21 describes the experience and pursuit of life that gives Christ his rightful place in the world of a person who has no desire outside of the worship of God.
Look at “death” in verse 20 and “die” in verse 21 – without talking about life, those 2 together would be “it is my eager expectation and hope that Christ will be exalted in my body by death, for to me to die is gain.” In other words, if I look at my death as something that is to be gained, if death is gain, than Christ will be exalted in my dying – Christ will be given his rightful place in my life if I view my death as gaining something in my seeking after ultimate joy.
Why does he say that? Why is death gain?
v. 23: “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
Greater than mud pies in the slums is a holiday at sea – Greater than money or fame or sex or food or big houses, nice cars, good careers, stable relationships, world travel, books, televisions, video games, safety, good health, comfort, or anything else we pursue in this life is Christ – and to be with Him is far better than even the greatest day and experience in this earthly life. Do you love Jesus this much? Do you love him so much that to lose everything in order to be with him would be gain?
This is what it looks like to put all our hope in the gospel and not in the world. If the gospel is true, and if we put our hope in its promises, then to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If you live for Christ, you gain everything. If you don’t live for Christ, you lose it all.
Now, look again at comparison of v. 20 to v. 21:
“my eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be honored in my body by life, for to me to live is Christ.”
To live is Christ is to live each and every day searching for ways and doing hard things that make Christ look infinitely glorious to the world around us.
When a hurricane or a tornado takes away all I’ve got, I say “praise the Lord!” When robbers steal and destroy, and fires burn, and haters of God put me on trial I say “I will rejoice because everything of worth is found in Jesus Christ, alone.”
To live and experience life in this manner is to live “worthy of the gospel.”
Don’t forget the gospel
Not as much about getting into the Kingdom as it is about day-to-day life
The gospel is not ABCs of faith – it is the A-Zs of our faith. We are saved by the gospel and grow and bear fruit as we learn how to apply the gospel to every area of our lives. It’s the good news that we are saved, and it’s also the good news, that we are being saved and how we are going to grow in our life in Christ.
Whether you have been a Christian two days, two years, or two decades, what you need is the gospel. If you are struggling with suffering, you need the gospel. If you are hopeless, you need the gospel. Whatever your issue is, you need the gospel.
Living in light of the gospel is living an unwavering commitment to the gospel
Paul is saying “Let your life be worthy of the glory of Jesus Christ who is the image of God – let your manner of life be worthy of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.”
Striving – fighting – pushing yourself to live a life of war against sin and going after joy in doing the things that please God
Acts 2 – Believers were so tied together that if someone was in need, everyone else did whatever it took to meet their needs. They felt like everything they had and were gifted to do was for everyone’s needs. They would sell their stuff and use the money to meet the needs of the poor people in the church. They were living as a community that cared for one another – they were “striving side-by-side”.
This is very threatening (scary) to us. We own a lot of things and we tend to be very personal people. This is a very difficult thing for wealthy, middle and upper class Americans. It is so easy to look at it and say, “NO WAY – it can’t mean this – it can’t mean that I actually have to give up anything – striving side-by-side can’t actually mean that there might need to be some change in my lifestyle or that I have to share something or that starving Christians in Africa and China might have something to do with my lifestyle” and we are VERY defensive about this. We do not instinctively desire to live in community, especially in unity.
In fact, one of the most difficult places to find unity is in the church. Sinners working together to live godly lives – the Church, in a lot of ways, is the perfect recipe for warfare:
Sinful people, Holding each other accountable, Sharing each other’s burdens (suffering alongside), Giving to each other, Knowing all about each other – yet, we are commanded to live in “one spirit” with “one mind, striving side-by-side for the faith of the gospel”
Living in light of the gospel also means to live life unfrightened: “not frightened in anything by your opponents”
Living a life worthy of the gospel is to live without fear of enemies or death because we have greater hope in the life to come – remember “To live is Christ, to die is gain”
You can torture me, you can spit on me, you can call me names, take away my possessions, destroy my property, kidnap my family, or even kill me – I will not be frightened because my hope is great in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Matt. 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
How? You must know the gospel and what it means for each day – Aligning on the gospel
By sheer willpower, many people who call themselves Christians think they have been changed because they don’t cuss anymore, don’t cheat on their wife or husband, or look at pornographic material anymore. They might read the Bible sometimes, and go to church most Sundays, but the reality is that most of these people really haven’t changed because they have reversed the gospel! They are motivated by fear and guilt because they don’t truly know the gospel. This is the fear that if we don’t do these things, we will be rejected and unloved by God.
But when you become aware of the love of the Father for you as a believer in Christ, only given by grace and only received by faith, you become a totally new person. Your entire outlook on life changes. The way you treat people changes. The way you think of God changes, the way you live your life changes because you become a person of joy who lives out of loving thankfulness to God rather than to be accepted by God or man. When you truly understand what God has accomplished in Christ for you as a believer, you will be driven to glorify God in the way that he deserves and desires, and you will be filled with a joy that exists beyond human understanding – this is the work of the true gospel.
To understand and know and live and trust the gospel is to understand and know and live with the reality that you are undeserving of Jesus. Aligning on the gospel is a Going Hard after God! That is essentially Paul’s command to the Philippians in 2:12-18.
The fact that God has rescued you from His own wrath should cause your relationships and lifestyle to be a reflection of the worth and value you put in Christ – If you truly understand and believe and love the fact that you will spend the rest of eternity worshipping God, free from His wrath and destruction, it will be apparent in your life. You will be working out – you will be working to show – your salvation with a healthy fear of God, trembling at the fact that he has let you so near to Him.
There is a proper emotional effect that comes with understanding the devastating reality of the wrath of God. I want to give you a quick taste of what Paul is referring to when he is calling us to be fearful and trembling. In Revelation 19:15b the Apostle John describes Jesus when he comes again – in the second coming: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” I want to, real quick, point out 4 parts to this horrific illustration of God’s Judgment on everyone who has ever lived that has failed to repent and turn to Christ:
· First, God is “almighty.” God has all the power in the universe. No earthly or universal power ever comes close to the power of God who spoke it all into being and will bring it all to an end.
- Second, almighty God will pour out his wrath. He is not only a God of love, but of holiness and justice and wrath.
- Third, his wrath is full of fury (anger, rage). John speaks of “the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
- And fourth, and most terrible, Jesus himself is pictured as treading the winepress. (EXPLAIN WINEPRESS). That means that all who have rebelled and did not repent and turn to Jesus are like grapes under the feet of the fury of Christ, and are crushed until their blood runs like wine from the press. The Bible tells us His robe will be dipped in blood, and on his robe and thigh will be written “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
If this doesn’t cause fear and trembling in you as you go to the Lord and as you consider the great God of the universe, you need to check your heart. If you know God—really know God—for who he is in the greatness of his holiness and justice and wrath and grace, you will tremble in his presence. And this is all the cause in the world to be more serious about our lives… Christianity is not Chipper – there is great joy and satisfaction, but it is not chipper. It’s not all about fun and games and laughs and giggles. If that’s the extent of our time together – if that’s why we go to church and go to Bible studies and spend a week at camp, we will be numbered amongst the goats when Jesus says: “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Workers of lawlessness? We didn’t think it mattered if we worked lawlessness, we thought all we had to do was believe and that’s it… God did not send Jesus Christ into the world for forgiveness of sins so you can walk away from God with forgiveness… If you do, you are not saved.
BE fearful – TREMBLE – The wrath of God is coming.
So, because of that, Paul gives a command to show by our lives that we have received the grace of God and have been rescued from His wrath.
Living a life of Going Hard after God is living a life that acknowledges through everything that you are completely dependant upon God and your need for God – it is living humbly, not doing things that bring attention to yourself, but to God who is worthy of all attention and honor and worship.
The closer you are drawn to Christ, the more you understand what you don’t deserve from Him. This is a great thing – this is what we should be praying for.
Less Nick… More Jesus. That should be my prayer.
Paul is saying here: “Work out your salvation, because you are responsible for what you do” but immediately after this says in verse 13: “It is God who works in you”.
Be thankful for this! You are responsible for your life and actions – but God will give you a heart – affections, desires, longings, wants – that please Him. We must go hard after these things, and God will work them in us when we do so with “fear and trembling”.
Go hard after Christ, because Christ is at work in you! "Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14), for the Lord is working in you what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21). The reason the Bible says our salvation depends on our striving for holiness without turning us into self-reliant, self-centered, self-esteem filled legalists who have no hope in a life to come is that it makes our striving for holiness depend completely on the sovereign work of God in our lives.
This is not about you. You don’t think you’re popular or smart or attractive or talented? WHO CARES. We ought to always be pleased with the work that God is doing in us, overflowing with joy in Christ, but completely dissatisfied with where we are in our spiritual lives. Be dissatisfied with your current state and strive for more – this is working out your salvation. Work out your salvation, because God is at work in you. Your work is his work for his glory when done in dependence on his power. The biggest reason why you must go hard after Christ is that Christ is in you, moving you to go hard after him.
Notice who salvation is for – HIS good pleasure. (“His good pleasure” = “His Own Glory”). God governs/controls everything within the world so that HE will be admired, marveled at, exalted, praised, glorified, honored, and worshipped. The greatest happiness that God has is in the worship of His people, Christians, as they proclaim great things about His great work and the great supremacy of Christ in all things. God saves people so that He will be worshipped more.
Paul: “Handle gift of salvation carefully – reflects the God who gave it”
All of salvation depends on God and God delights in his own worth, therefore God does not tolerate passive, inactive, idle, lazy, willy-nilly Christianity. Is “Christian” just a label you wear? You’re not a Christian.
Let me be clear – human energy, human effort will never accomplish the work of God – NEVER. But, God chose to use humans, and nothing short of full cooperation with God’s work confirms our salvation. He won’t play your games. He will not sit back and watch you play, because His glory and His name is at stake and God values himself more than he will ever value you, or me… So, if you are truly saved, it will be evident in your life because the glory of God is at stake.
But if you are a believer, you have great hope – True believers will remain with God now unto eternity. In John 6:37, Jesus says “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” God will not let go of His own, because it is all for His good pleasure.
That should cause us to have a great desire within us to align all of our affections on Christ, and go hard after God, counting everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
What Paul does in these verses is show how valuable Christ is to him and to us. He models for us, in his own heart, how we should relate to Christ today. He shows us how central Christ is—how central the value of Christ is—to our lives and the life of this church. He speaks of rejoicing in Christ, and glorying in Christ, and knowing Christ, and gaining Christ, and being found in Christ, and making Christ his own, and finally obtaining the prizing of Christ in the last day.
Paul told of all his great achievements as a Jew (vv. 4-6)
He was pointing them all away from that – there is no hope in those things – there is only hope in Christ.
All of this (vv. 1-6) is Paul’s work to prepare the Philippians for suffering and for relying on and trusting in Christ, alone. Paul had suffered loss for the sake of the gospel – writing from prison.
The way Paul prepared himself is described in verse 7: "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ." Paul looks at where he was in the upper-echelons of religious society, the Pharisees; he looks at the glory of being at the very top of that group with all its glory and applause; he looks at how well he kept the law and the pride he enjoyed; and he prepares to suffer by taking his whole world and turning it upside down, by reversing his values: "Everything in verses 5-6 – the things that were gain to me – Those things I have counted as loss...rubbish.”
And he started by counting his most precious accomplishments as loss, but he ended by counting everything as loss, except Christ. His power, his fame, his position of authority, his relationships, his health, his security, his comfort, even his earthly needs like food and shelter and drink and a place to lay his head – it was all loss compared to Christ and that filled Paul with joy.
We must consider Christ so precious, so valuable, such a great treasure, that whether in prison or in affliction or in poverty, knowing him and belonging to him and being with him forever gives you joy. That's what it meant for Paul to become a Christian. And if you think that’s extra-ordinary, notice that in verse 17 he says with his full apostolic authority, "Brethren, join in following my example." This is normal Christianity.
What Paul is doing here is simply showing how the teaching of Jesus is to be lived out. For example, Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44). Becoming a Christian means discovering that Christ (the King) is a Treasure Chest of holy joy and seeing everything else in the world as rubbish in order to gain him. "He sold all that he had to buy that field."
Or again in Luke 14:33 Jesus said, "No one of you can be my disciple who does not take leave of all his own possessions." In other words, becoming a disciple of Jesus means writing "LOSS" in big red letters over all your possessions—and everything else this world offers.
Now what does that mean practically? I think it means four things:
- It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
- It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world – the way I spend my money, the way I pursue my career, the way I work out my relationships, the way I do everything shows the world that Christ is everything, and all else is nothing.
- It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
- It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure, because Christ is all and in all.
What sustains Paul in suffering the loss of all things is the confidence that in his losing precious things in the world, he is gaining something more precious—Christ. Paul knows what resurrection will mean: It will mean everlasting fellowship with Christ in a new body, on a new earth, without sin, and filled with joy. So he is eager to walk the very path that led Christ to glory—the path of suffering with him. Being with Christ in the end will be worth any price of suffering here.
And two times that gaining is called a knowing—verse 8a: " . . . in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Verse 10: "That I might know him." This is the intimacy factor in suffering. Do we want to know him?
If we do, we will be ready to suffer. If we don't, it will take us by surprise and we will rebel. If we don’t, we’ll put our hope in man and the things that man creates in this world. If you value other things more than God, if your life is really driven by another value, then you exchange everything for nothing.
But when you get it right, when you have your life aligned on Christ, counting everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, you have every reason in the world to press on toward the goal, because your hope is great in the life to come.
Far more important for Paul than the way he looked at himself was the way he looked at Christ. Looking at Christ gave Paul a goal to pursue in his life. He speaks of it in 3:12-16. Notice, he presses on "toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." This upward call of God in Christ Jesus is, for Paul, a goal to orient the direction of his entire life, and it was a prize to be valued and cherished above all else.
Paul's goal and prize was to know Christ Jesus as his Lord and be found in him clothed in the righteousness of Christ that is his through faith, while suffering for the sake of the gospel. Paul's goal and prize was to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. Paul's goal and prize was to know Christ as he increasingly became like him in his death in order that he might attain to the resurrection of the dead on the last day. In short, Paul's goal, the goal that obsessed him, was to know Christ and experience all his fullness. There is always more of Christ to be known and experienced. He is infinite!
The verb "press on" that Paul uses in vv. 12 and 14 is a tremendously active verb. It is a vigorous active pursuit of Christ that Paul is describing. This Greek verb, dioko, can also be translated persecute, and this verb is used in v. 6 to describe Paul's pre-conversion zeal as a persecutor of the church. In this context, it is instructs us, I think. It shows us so much about the intensity of Paul's pursuit of Christ, for it was the same intensity and the same obsession that drove Paul in his persecution of the church that now drives Paul in his pursuit of Christ. The zeal was the same, only the direction is different.
Paul's pursuit of Christ was single-minded. Look in the middle of v. 13: "But one thing I do." One thing. All of Paul's life revolved around one thing – his pursuit of his goal and prize of knowing Christ more deeply and experiencing more of his fullness. Paul's pursuit was not just one of many things in his life. It was not a factor in just one part of a tightly compartmentalized (sectioned off) life. No, it was his life, all of it. There was only one thing he did, and that was to seek after knowing Christ. Everything else in his life was determined by whether or not it would help him meet that goal and gain that prize. How different was Paul's life from the fragmented, compartmentalized, privatized life typical of so many American Christians?
Paul was like David who said in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." Like David and like Paul, let me plead with all of you to be single-minded about going hard after Christ.
The way to strain forward like Paul is with all the discipline and self-denial of an Olympic athlete. That means planning and setting goals for yourself in the areas of worship, study, prayer, witness; that means vigilant self-discipline of all of your life to achieve those goals; that means maximum faith, maximum prayer, maximum effort, maximum perseverance. It won't be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. That's even more true in our spiritual lives than in athletics or academics or career endeavors.
But while it won't be easy, it will be worth it, because the goal for all of us to achieve by God's grace is "the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Press On! Finish the race! Gain the prize! Cherish Christ. Align your life on Him – everything else is nothing in comparison.
 C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addreses (New York: Touchstone, 1980), 26.
 John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2003), 99.