You know how some people have certain expressions that they always use?
And you may have noticed that if you spend a lot of time in their company… on
holiday for example, that you start using their expressions and they in turn
start using yours.
Well this is true of Corporations as well. Many have a kind of “Company
language” and this was brought to my attention recently when a new
Managing Director joined us from another Company, from Procter and
Gamble. Suddenly we had a new language to interpret in all our
meetings….building blocks (pretty straight forward) flight paths (less easy given
we were in the cosmetics industry not in aviation) and my favourite….the size
of the prize…namely how big is the possible gain to the business, is it
something we should really put all our efforts into ….or not.
Well today I am going to be applying Procter and Gamble speak to Paul’s letter
to the Philippians….now that really is taking God into the work space…or is it
the other way round?
Anyway, quick recap time for those who maybe new here today or have
missed some of the series….
Paul is writing this letter to the Phillipians most probably under house arrest as
he talks of being “in chains for Christ”. However, being Paul, he is still
managing to praise God, because he knows God put him there to further the
advance of the Gospel. This particular letter of Paul’s is not one of
chastisement, as some of his letters are, nor is it one of despair as it could well
have been given his current circumstances, it is rather a letter of thanks to
Philippians for their monetary support and a letter of praise and
encouragement to them.
Chapter 3, that we are talking about today can really be broken down into 3
1. What Paul left behind, his old value set, the person he was and the life
he used to lead
2. What Paul pressed towards, his new prize, his new goal
3. And how we can follow Paul’s model today, what is our prize, our goal. Is
it the right one or do we need to re-examine it as Paul did his. And if it is
the right prize, how can we persevere in seeking it with the same fervour
Let’s look first then at what Paul has left behind. In vs 4-6 Paul tells us how he
had built up a good life being an exemplary Jew, putting his confidence in the
flesh namely in himself. He was rich in Jewish pedigree. He was circumcised on
the 8 th day, he followed the Jewish law down to the last letter, in short he was
a model Pharisee even persecuting the Church and the new Christians because
of the threat they posed to the order of things in the Jewish law. We know,
however, that this is not the life he ended up with. This old life of his was
abruptly interrupted by Jesus!
The result….in vs 7 Paul says… “But whatever were gains to me I now consider
loss for the sake of Christ” But that doesn’t really go far enough for Paul and he
goes on to say “I consider them garbage , that I gain Christ and be found in
Him”. As Paul reflects back on the past 30 or so years that he has known Jesus
he realises that everything he had considered to be of worth BC (before Christ)
was in fact not worth a jot although his language is a little more colourful than
that. He uses the Greek word Skubala and this is the only place it is used in the
New Testament. In our version the word is translated as garbage, but
according to all the notes that I have read on the subject this is a rather tame
translation. The Greek word means excrement, either animal or human, and
this is what Paul thinks of his former life and values, now that he has found
I wonder how many of us here feel like that about our lives before they had
Jesus in them?
I wonder how many of us had or indeed still have our eyes on a prize that
really is skubala, or will appear to be so as we reflect on it in the future?
If I think back on my Christian journey I didn’t really have a road to Damascus
moment as Paul did, it was more of a steady walk getting closer and closer to
Jesus having erred and strayed like a very black sheep in my teens and 20’s but
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my life was completely rubbish
before….would you say that about yours?
I was at the shelter last Monday night chatting to Garry one of the volunteers
who helps with the medical van. He told us he was giving a talk at his Church in
a couple of weeks and I said I was doing the same this Sunday. We compared
notes on the subject matter of our respective talks….his is Jabez and the
prosperity gospel, mine Philippian’s 3. I was discussing Paul and his view of his
life before Jesus and I made the comment that I couldn’t honestly say that I
thought that my life BC was garbage.
Without any hesitation at all he said…….mine was. He went on to explain that
he had been in prison 5 times, had been a gang member, had tried to take his
own life…..and then he had his road to Damascus moment. He is now out of
prison, living a new life, studying theology and his goal is to be a prison pastor.
How exciting is it that God is still alive and working in people’s lives today to
transform them so completely. I was really touched by Garry’s story & I asked
him if he would let me recount it as part of my sermon…. as I met my 21 st
That brings us to point number 2. What exactly is Pauls Prize, his new goal.
What has he been striving for? What is he still striving for?
Well I guess his ultimate goal (as ours as Christians) is eternal life in Heaven. He
says in vs 20 “But our citizenship is in Heaven” where our lowly bodies will be
transformed so that they will be like his glorious body. Well in Procter and
Gamble speak the size of that prize is huge….well worth the fight I would say.
But Paul doesn’t just sit back on his laurels and wait for his goal, he goes out in
search of it. As Nicola was saying last week with the help of the Holy Spirit we
need to work out our salvation and Paul is a real role model for us in this
In verse 10 he says “I want to know Christ – yes to know the power of his
resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
and so, somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead”
Right I am going back to my Greek again here ….well I am a linguist after all
…..and there are many different Greek translation for “to Know”. The one Paul
uses here is to know by experience. Thus he wants to know Jesus by
experience, he wants to share in his suffering he wants to experience what
Jesus went through before he died….not necessarily to die but to experience
the same emotions and thus he believes he will know Jesus better.
Now I very much doubt if I asked everyone here today what their goal in life
was or even their Christian life that anyone would say I want to experience the
suffering that Jesus went through. However, for those of us who have been
through some kind of suffering….a serious illness, the loss of someone we were
very close to, losing your job, having serious financial difficulties, an addiction
of some sort…..whatever it is I am sure that if at the time you spoke with
someone who had been through something very similar that you drew closer
to that person….you could share your fears, worries, encouragements with
them and you would have got to know them better.
This is I believe what Paul is driving at. In his suffering in prison, in his
persecution he has understood Jesus better and thus come to know him on a
deeper level. Many of us will have felt closer to God in times of suffering than
in the good times, maybe because we cried out to him more, we were more
vulnerable, we simply needed him more.
Even if we are somewhat in awe of the way that Paul goes in search of his
prize …. we can be reassured by his realness when he says…”not that I have
already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal. Rather he tells us
that he is pressing on to try to get there, not giving up. In vs 13 he says
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But
one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I
press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me
heavenwards in Christ Jesus”. He’s on a long walk in the same direction as
Richard likes to say.
Paul was by no means the perfect man….he was a follower of the perfect man,
trying to become more and more like Jesus. Paul’s victory was in part due to
his perseverance and his journey towards his goal. Paul talks about “forgetting
what is behind me”, if you can’t forget your past mistakes you will find
perseverance all the harder. And Paul had quite a past to forget. His part in the
death of Stephen, all the people he had persecuted before he became a
Christian himself. Yet he knows that forget them he must in order to keep his
eyes on the prize…”straining towards what is ahead”.
And so now we move on to the 3 rd point…..how is all of this relevant for us
today? How can we follow Paul’s role model?
Let’s look first at what are our goals in life….what is the size of our prize?
I am sure that many of you like me have be asked over the years what is your
main goal in life. To be honest I feel a bit bad at this precise moment in time
that my answer to that question has never been “Heaven” or even “to know
Jesus better”…. my goals have always been rather more material and
earthly…..which Paul does warn us against in vs 19 “Many live as enemies of
the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their
stomach….their mind is set on earthly things.”…..guilty!
My “earthly goals” have certainly changed a lot over the years. As a young kid
they were relatively simple….grow my hair longer than Mykayla (aged 5)
become a show jumper (aged 10) have a boyfriend (aged 12) pass my maths O
level (aged 15) survive my au pair job without killing the French kids (aged 20)
and so on. Then maybe my goals got a bit more ambitious (and possibly more
self centred) get a good job, get a better job with more pay, get a flat, a house,
a bigger house, a better job, retire by the age of 50 (unachieved goal!!) get the
kids to a good school, through their exams/to uni. Travel more and see the
world, get a smaller house, work less…..and so it goes on.
So now I challenge you to think about your goals…..Are they goals you are
proud of, or are they more self centred and materialistic like mine? ….Do they
involve bricks and mortar, the top job in the Company, an engine and 4 alloys,
a few kilos off the scales, finding that someone special, a nice holiday, a
comfortable pension….. or do they go a bit deeper? Ask yourself this….will you
look back on them in the future and consider them a load of skubala ( my new
Is getting to know Jesus better, strengthening your relationship with him part
of that goal? And if not, should it be and how can we weave that goal into
everything we do each day, weave Jesus into each of our earthly goals?
As Paul did, we certainly need to let go of the past, let go of any pride, regret,
guilt that hangs over us. As Nicola was telling us about the person on the diet
last week….if we slip up and make a mistake or eat a cake, it’s not the end of
the world we just need to start afresh the next day. Jesus’s death on the cross
forgave us our past as it forgave Paul his, so now we need to move on.
As Paul did we need to persevere and make a place for Jesus in our lives in all
we do….at work, in our leisure time, in our family time he wants to be with us.
And do you know what the weird thing is……when we let him into our lives
when our relationship with him becomes a goal, many of our ….let’s call them
earthly goals….are met…. be that jobs, provision, healing even a partner….you
can ask me about that on another occasion….or if goals are not met they seem
to matter much less to us as we refocus on what is really important….try it, see
As Paul did we need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize. Keep Jesus really
close, read our bible regularly, pray, meet together as Christians. If we don’t
keep our eyes firmly on the right prize it may just elude us. My Lent goal is to
spend much more time just being with and listening to God, not dictating a
shopping list to him as so often happens.
As I reflected on this sermon in just this way last weekend, I realised that Jesus
has not always been very present in my list of goals. However I got a real sense
that I have always been on his list of goals. I feel very humble and blessed that
he has a purpose and a plan for my life as he does for yours, I may not have
accomplished that plan yet, I may be “work in progress” but with him on my
side I know I will get there and so can you!