The number one reason people do not become Christians is the fear of what they will lose. I remember going through that calculation myself when the Lord was calling me to Christ in my early twenties. “But I’ll lose my job, my friends, my reputation, and my Sundays. Above all, I’ll lose my sins, my sinful pleasures and habits.” No matter how many times I tried to add it up, and get a different answer, it always came out the same: too much to lose and too little to gain. So, I resisted and resisted.
Thankfully, God helped me recalculate my losses, just as he did with the Apostle Paul. Paul puts this better than I can in Philippians 3:8-11, so let’s see his working on the problem of “What will I lose if I become a Christian?”
At family devotions, Shona will sometimes say, “David I don’t think Scot knows what that word means.” Usually, it’s something I think is really basic and just assume that Scot knows. Shona’s usually right and therefore I have to try and explain this basic word or concept. The strange thing is that I usually learn in the process! There’s something about trying to answer basic questions that’s helpful for everyone.
In Philippians 3:2-8, Paul has to answer the most basic question for the Philippians: What is a Christian? How do I know if I’m a Christian? Let’s learn together with the Philippians as Paul goes back to basics.
I once wrote a book called The Happy Christian. Many of my Christian friends and colleagues in the ministry viewed me as suspect when they heard about it. They thought I’d “gone all Joel Osteen,” as one of them put it.
Another narrowed his eyes and asked, “What are you trying to do, David?”
“Make Christians happy!” I answered. You’d have thought I’d denied the resurrection.
“How can I be happy?” is the most fundamental human question. It’s what drives every human being. God allows as to answer it in a Christian way. In fact, he provides the Christian answer in Philippians 3:1.
Where do you find satisfaction? What fills you? What gives you pleasure and fulfillment? What makes you feel ‘in the zone’? You’ve tried many things haven’t you? So have I. I’ve ended up where you may be today. Having tried multiple ways to find satisfaction, I always ended up empty rather than filled. How can I find satisfaction? In Philippians 2:17-30, Paul stuns us with a surprising answer. The way to satisfaction is to satisfy others. The way to filling is emptying self to fill others.
At first glance, these verses don’t look too important. They seem to cover some personnel matters, with Paul arranging some substitutes for himself while he’s in prison. But if instead of skipping over them, we pause to dig into them, we realize that Paul is using even these staffing adjustments to teach the Philippians unity and service.
We’re living through the last dying breaths of the war in Afghanistan. American forces are retreating as we hand this poor country over to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Most agree the war was necessary to rid the country of Al-Qaeda. Most also agree that the war went on too long, with many terrible consequences, not least the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding before our eyes.
Although these horrific and horrifying scenes are imprinted on our minds forever, that’s a good thing, because we need to see the full consequences of war now if we are to avoid unnecessary wars in the future. Although not intended, the pictures and sounds of the suffering at the airport, have helped answer the question many have asked through the centuries: “How do we stop war?” Show the catastrophic consequences.
Similarly, in Philippians 2:14-16, the Apostle Paul uses the horrendous results of war and the happy results of peace to answer the question, “How do we stop church fights?”
“My work out isn’t working out.” A few months ago, one of my friends started working out again. He really went hard at it, working out at the gym five days a week. Lots of effort, pain, sweat, blood, and tears.
But, two months in, his weight had hardly dropped, and his muscles had hardly grown. He was discouraged. “All that work and nothing to show for it,” he moaned. I tried to encourage him, that if he kept working at it, he would eventually see some change. But, I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure. Some people just can’t seem to lose weight. Others can’t seem to put on muscle, (I’m one of them).
Sometimes we feel the same about holiness. We’re working hard at putting off bad habits and putting on new habits, but we still don’t seem to be making any progress. “All that work and nothing to show for it. How do we keep working on holiness, when holiness isn’t working? When it comes to holiness, we can be sure our work will pay off, because God’s Word is sure in Philippians 2:12-13.