Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Because Christ has made us his own"

Message preached June 22, 2014
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Philippians 3:1-21

Order of Worship

listen to this message (mp3)

             “Beware of the dogs.” That’s what the apostle Paul wrote to the folks at Philippi long ago. You know he wasn’t really talking about canines, don’t you? I’m not sure I like the fact that Paul called certain people “dogs,” though it’s not foreign to my experience to be called something far worse. Or, to be honest, to let slip a similar invective myself. Put me in a certain traffic situation and it’s really hard to keep the word “jerk” off my lips.

             Paul wasn’t speaking of any ordinary dog, mind you. It wasn’t some big, friendly St. Bernard, nor even a yippy little Chihuahua. Unless, of course, one of these was turned wild upon the streets - a half-savage dog who prowls around in a pack, stealing whatever food is left unguarded. Even if you love animals, you still would extend warning about such creatures, wouldn’t you?

             “Beware of the dogs.” You know, Paul was actually talking about people who were where he once was in his walk of faith. In a strange sort of way, he was talking about himself. Now, when describing this man before he encountered Jesus Christ, I don’t think many of us would even think of the phrase “wild dog.” He was, after all, a very religious fellow. He studied long and hard to get where he was, though he had the advantage of being born into a good family.

             As a kid - as far as we know - he wasn’t left to run wild in the streets. His upbringing was disciplined. He was raised in the manner of his father and his father’s father. Who he was, and from where he had come - this was paramount. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Were you never told, “remember who you are, and what family you’re from”? Such things are important, aren’t they?

             Still, at an earlier stage in his life journey, Paul was just as much a “dog” as those about whom he warned the believers in Philippi. Perhaps he was even worse, from his own perspective. While the “dogs” in Philippi he wrote about were those persons who strongly encouraged believers in Jesus to take on the outward form of Jewish faith - that is, to put their private parts under the knife, to be circumcised - before he encountered Christ, Paul intended to cut much deeper, to circumcise the followers of Jesus from the face of the earth. This deeply religious, well-trained man from a good family was embarked on a fanatical mission. To the early believers he was, at first, a terrorist.

             And then, on the road to Damascus this “wild dog” met Jesus, and everything changed. “Why do you persecute me,” the voice of the Lord asked through a blinding light. If you don’t know the rest of that story, seek it out (see Acts 9:1-30)... Now, there are some folks who say that Paul went from being a “wild dog” for Judaism to being a “wild dog” for Christianity, fanatically spreading a new faith. Indeed, Paul continued to be a bit “dogged” in his approach - a stubbornly determined “bull-terrier” kind of guy. Still, something more was at work in his life.

             Remember the early Christian song we sang earlier, the one about how Christ emptied himself of his authority, his power, his equal-with-God nature and took on human form, actually the form of a servant, a slave? Do you recall how that song then told of how Jesus died upon the cross out of obedience to God? Can you still hear the refrain which says that because of this God lifted him up high and gave him a name above every name - and that at this name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God? Do you also remember that Paul quoted this song with the encouragement that this melody might provide a theme song for our own lives, those of us who seek to follow Jesus? “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” he wrote  (Philippians 2:1-11).

             Those very words come only a chapter before this discussion of “wild dogs.” Here, in the verses upon which we are just now, the “Christ hymn” of the previous chapter is applied to Paul’s own life. He takes his life before he knew Jesus and makes a list of what he had become. You could say that this is Paul’s resumé.  These are his credentials. This is like what any of us might present to a prospective employer, or what a high school senior might send to a college in an application. Most of what’s listed is good stuff, which reveals something of his character. These are his accomplishments in life up to a certain point.

             However, did you hear what he then did with it? He takes this resumé and rips it up. Can you believe it?  Do you know what he calls it all - his resumé, his credentials? … “Dog do.” … I’m serious, folks. That’s what it says - well, maybe not the “dog” part. The good old King James version translated it as “dung” (see 3:8). Our more refined tastes lean toward less offensive words, but it all boils down to a bunch of “trash.”

             “I regard them as rubbish,” he said of all he accomplished before he knew Christ. That’s something else in this passage I’m not sure I like. As a parent, I have desired for my children to have a good sense of self-worth. I have wanted them to be proud of their accomplishments in life - to feel good about that “A” or “B” on the report card, that guitar riff they’ve managed to get down, that catch they made or that run they scored in a ball game, or that they have nailed a college dissertation or a job assignment. I don’t wish for them to feel like all this is just a bunch of garbage, do you?

             More to the point, I pray they don’t stand in front of the mirror and whisper to themselves that all they are is just a pile of dung. That’s what too many young people see. Perhaps those of us with more years under or expanding belt are tempted to behold the same thing. To be honest, many of us have in the past, are presently, or will in the future struggle with depression. How we see ourselves matters. I wish for no one to consider his or herself to be a pile of trash.

             I don’t believe, however, that this is something the apostle Paul is encouraging in these verses of scripture. In fact, though these words can be twisted to say the opposite, I believe in them we find the true path to real self-worth. You see, when we link too tightly our value as persons to whatever is less than “real,” we set ourselves up for a fall.

             We, hopefully, are growing in our ability to see past the clothes we wear or the things we possess in defining our worth. That’s not easy to do, of course. “If only I had a new Toyota Prius,” we might tell ourselves, “then I’d feel good about myself.” Or, perhaps it’s “a new outfit that would make me feel good about myself.” You plug in the item, no matter what style. We can link our self-worth to what’s under the clothes, but still on the surface - the extra pounds we think we carry, the acne, the gray hair, you name it - and you probably have, haven’t you? We can chain our value as a person to a health problem we’re having, or to things beyond our control. Are all these, however, true measurements of our worth? I hope we all can say, “No.”

             From another perspective, we run into problems when we use our accomplishments as a yardstick of our value and worth. Even the good stuff, you see, can get in the way of seeing what’s really real. As great as straight “A”s might be on a report card, that is not an accurate indication of our worth. It’s nice, every parent would love to see it, but none truly wants their child to hold that report card up and say, “this is me.” No, that’s not you. There’s so much more to who you are than what you accomplish.

             Keep that in mind as you listen again to what Paul wrote. “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because (and here is the clincher) because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It’s not really that everything we accomplish in life is truly rubbish, it’s that next to knowing Christ, it pales in comparison. In Christ, we are so much more than all our accomplishments, not less.

             There’s a difference we need to grasp. We don’t look in the mirror and see “trash,” as Christians. We look in the mirror and see Christ. I’m not saying that we become him, that we confuse Jesus with us and believe that we are our own Lord and Savior. No! In Christ, though, we discover our true identity, and everything else (even the good stuff) just doesn’t look the same. Paul is not calling us to trash ourselves. Neither is he telling us to trash others. Unfortunately, some Christians do trash themselves. And over the years too many Christians have used Paul as an excuse to trash Jews or people of other faiths, as “wild dogs.”

             “I want to know Christ,” he wrote. I want to know “the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” To “know Christ” is not an intellectual endeavor. It’s certainly not just one more accomplishment to add to our resume. It’s not a matter of reading the Bible enough, though that certainly provides the key entryway to this relationship. There’s the clincher - the word “relationship.”

             In the Bible, the verb “to know” is often used when describing what happens in marriage. The Hebrew portion sometimes uses it as a euphemism for the coming together of a man and a woman. The meaning, however, is so much more than sexual. To “know” another person is to see past the surface, to behold the inner treasure, to value them just for the precious gift that they are. The Bible also speaks of “knowing” God (the same word) in a similar, though in a much deeper and in a more profound way. Paul, in keeping with the truly faithful in both Testaments, “wants to know” God, i.e. God in the crucified and resurrected Christ.

             Here is the most important part. Listen. “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” It’s not what we accomplish, friends. It’s what God in Christ has done. God knows us long before we even think of knowing him. Christ has made us his own, before we take even one step in his direction. It’s not our resumé that matters. As good as they might be, our credentials pale in comparison to what God sees when he looks at us in Christ. That’s good news. Your true value and worth is much greater than you realize.

             Of course, Paul doesn’t stop there, and neither do we. He doesn’t say, just sit and feel good about yourself. Instead, he says, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Amen!  Press on! 

©2014 (revised/reused from 10/6/2002) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

return to "Messages" page

return to Long Green Valley Church page