What are some things that you would classify as passions in your life? Is there anything that you are working hard to improve on? One TV show that my kids enjoy watching is “America’s Got Talent”. I can’t say the show interests me much at all but I will from time to time watch and see what “talents” are on display. I would have to agree there are some pretty amazing acts that people put on. Some are magic-type performances, some physical feats, others musical, etc. And while most of us do not practice certain things to end up on a show like that, most of us do have things that we work to try to perfect. Perhaps it’s a sport like swimming, tennis or hunting. Perhaps it might be a certain craft or skill like crossword puzzles or a musical instrument. And certainly none of those things are wrong to enjoy and desire to get better at.
However, in our reading today, Paul reminds us of what we ultimately need to be striving for. Philippians 3:7-8 says, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Paul is saying that all of things that used to be important to him no longer matter. In fact, he refers to them as “loss” and even “dung”. In preceding verses we see he is referring to his Jewish heritage and the zeal with which he strove to obey the Law. But now he is one goal, one passion-to know “win Christ.” This phrase has the idea of achieving Christ, to experience Him in a thriving relationship. That’s all that really mattered to Paul.
And so while I appreciate the time and energy it takes for people to become great at something, this passage is a stark reminder of what really matters in life. Many years ago I wrote down a quote in my Bible. I can’t remember the setting or who I could attribute this quote to but I have thought about it more than once over the years. The quote is, “my biggest fear in life is not to be a failure, but a success at something that doesn’t really matter.” This is the essence of what Paul is saying and reminding us of today.
I was taught to let others sing my praises. I learned the only time we should blow our horn is during a job interview. Today there is so much horn-blowing, it is a wonder we can hear God on high. Many are literally stealing praise from God. Among the top three things in Heaven for me are: Jesus (that is all weneed), saved loved ones that have gone on and the absence of horn-blowers. We must remember, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ep. 2:8-9). Thank God there will be none of that and our time will be focused on the One who paid it all!
In our reading, the enemies of God’s people are boasting of their strength. Evidently they did not realize they were calling out God. Many times we see athletes, so-called stars and even ordinary people boast about their accomplishments. I think President Lincoln said it best, “It is better to remain silent and thought a fool; than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” In essence, practice humility and if we have done well God will blow the horn of praise for us. Too many have bragged about what they were going to do only to be defeated and served a dish of “crow”.
Scripture reads, “I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south” (Ps. 75:4-6). The Almighty says do not “show-off”. So, if you tire from the self-praisers listen to Psalm 75:7-10, “ But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.” He will pour out His grace upon the redeemed and the dregs on the wicked.
God saves the best for His own and reserves the worse (His judgment) for unbelievers. They shall drink the dregs, the sediments, and the left-overs (floaters). That is like drinking a half-drunk bottle of soda knowing a toddler drank the first half (yuck)! We should follow Him, remain humble (by grace only), and let others speak our praises. And the day will come when we shall drink of the pure Living Water of Heaven.
The meal the New England settlers shared with Squanto and the Indian party certainly was an important meal, but I wonder if the first Thanksgiving meal wasn’t actually in the Bible?
In Leviticus 7, Moses gives instruction of a certain type of offering called the peace offering. These offerings were considered freewill which means there wasn’t anything that required these offerings. In Leviticus 7:12, God provides details for the peace offering that was for thanksgiving to God. As an Israelite prepared for this special offering, he would make 40 loaves of bread and take his prized sheep to the Tabernacle or the Temple.
Now consider first that this was a celebration before God that took extreme planning. Some of you have probably in the past celebrated Thanksgiving with family members abroad. Maybe you baked the pies and you carried them in your car. Not too difficult. Imagine as an Israelite, carrying 40 loaves of bread and your prized sheep to the Tabernacle that could be a day’s journey or more on foot with your pack mule! This wasn’t about convenience. This was all about worship.
Since the thanksgiving sacrifice was part of the peace offering, it is important that the Israelite would first go to the Temple and he would give 4 loaves to the priest and then the priest would begin to offer up the sheep. The priest would take the breast and front leg of the sheep for his own family. The Israelite would take the remaining barbecued lamb. The law required that he eat this lamb in one day with nothing remaining. Think about our twenty pound turkey and how much is leftover after your family descends upon the Thanksgiving spread! A sheep with maybe four times the meat of your holiday turkey would require an army of eaters to polish it off. This was designed by God to encourage his people to not be stingy. In order for the food to not go to waste, they would invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with them. They would even go into the street and warmly invite strangers to come and enjoy the feast.
As everyone was enjoying this wonderful thanksgiving meal, the faithful worshipper would then be able to give God public praise for what He had done. The meal was a tool to magnify God, not enlarge their waistband.
Giving thanks to God is not convenient. We must purpose to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Remember, the picture of the Israelite at the Temple with the first portion of his meal being dedicated to God which pictured the communion and peace he had with God.As a believer, you have peace with God. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Remember, the image of hospitality as the Israelite was in the street inviting strangers to enjoy the meal with him. The meal was a tool to direct other’s to a wonderful God.
“Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his namel (Hebrews 13:5).
As a parent, one of the things that I have tried to instill in my 3 children is the ability to finish a job. I say that word “have tried” because I frequently find that this is still a skill that my kids struggle with. Often a job of emptying all of the upstairs trash cans will result in trash cans not being put back where they belong. Or the quick task of bringing up something from the basement will still sometimes result in lights being left on or doors still being left open.
So while I continue to work with my children on this skill, we are reminded today that God is doing a similar work in our lives. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul says we can be very confident of this truth, i.e. we can be sure this will take place. The truth he is teaching is that God will complete the “good work” that He desires to do in our lives.
This work started when we came to know Christ as our Savior and will end on the “day of Jesus Christ”. Unlike the numerous references to the “day of the Lord” in the OT which speaks of a future day of judgement for unbelievers, it is generally accepted that the “day of Jesus Christ” refers to the rapture, which apparently Paul believed would take place in his lifetime. So what is this good work that Paul is referring to that will stretch from the time of our conversion until the time of the rapture or our death? It is the work of God sanctifying us and confirming us to be more and more Christ-like. God doesn’t save us and then expect us to just flounder around in this world until the day we go to Heaven. But instead He desires to work in us and allow others to see Christ working through us. And if we resist this work? Then God may have to do what is necessary to get our attention. No doubt many stubborn Christians have experienced his discipline or even an early death because they didn’t want to yield to His work in their lives. Far better for us to fall in line with what God wants to do in and through us-with a willing heart.