A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas, on January 23, 2011.
Does being the child of someone who is famous, or having a famous name, even though the name is not based on your own abilities, help or hurt in life?
We’ve just observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week. No doubt that King was an unparalleled orator of his time and style. A man committed with a vision and a passion, one willing to risk life and limb for the good and the right. One whose accomplishments in both living and dying have led to a $120 million memorial in Washington honoring his legacy. The memorial features a 28-foot tall statue of the Baptist preacher, towering in a space located between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.
But what about Martin Luther King III? Did you even know he existed? How would you like to be King’s oldest son and have the burden of sharing your famous father’s name?
Martin Luther King III says that overall he thinks that sharing his father’s name has opened doors and been an asset in his life and career. But he also says that for much of his life he has strived to develop his own independent identity. How often has he heard things like, “If you could just measure up to half of the man your father was, you’ll be a great man.” King says, “I learned at an early age that just because I was named after Martin Luther King Jr., I wasn’t supposed to try to walk in his footsteps.” His mother, Coretta Scott King, told him, “You don’t have to be a minister or a civil rights leader even. You just be yourself.” (Ebony, November 1987, p. 60, 62)
I think that would be a hard role to play. Just because you’re named after the great orator doesn’t give you the ability to make a speech. Just because your daddy has courage in the face of fear doesn’t mean that you have the same risk tolerance and passion for your people.
Just bearing the name of a famous dad doesn’t get the job done. In fact, Coretta Scott King said she had reservations about naming him after his father, “realizing the burdens it can create for the child.” King was just ten years old when his father was assassinated.
Rev. E. Randel T. Osburn said of King III, “Watching him is like watching somebody trying to outrun themselves. It’s like there is a ghost in front of him, and he’s always trying to catch it.”
As an adult, King was at first a shy man who rarely socialized, and he was always overworking, trying to match up to the pressure to live up to his father’s name.
I. I don’t care who your daddy is! (v. 1-6)
Paul begins by telling the Phillipians that they need to beware of the dogs. He means the Judaizers. He means the Jewish Christians who were claiming that Gentiles who want to be part of the people of God must also be circumcised. He calls circumcision of the flesh (v. 2) “false” circumcision, but accepting Jesus in your heart as “true” circumcision (v. 3). Don’t put any confidence in the flesh. Another way we might say this is, “Don’t put any confidence in who your daddy is.”
The Jews, even those who accepted Jesus, were having a hard time getting over the fact that their position as a member of the people of God was not based upon their Jewishness, their circumcision, but, rather, their faith in Christ – a faith that was available to the Gentiles as well. “Don’t tell me about who your daddy is,” he seems to be saying. In fact, the reality is that Paul could preach their sermon better than they could.
Look at verse 4
If you’re going to have confidence in your ancestry, in your heritage…if anyone else has a mind to put confidence in their ancestry, I far more.
Ancestry is called, here, flesh – the pride of physical descent, cherished by the Jews.
He says (v. 5), “I was circumcised on the eighth day. I was of the nation of Israel. Not only that, I was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. And concerning the Law, I was a Pharisee – which means I kept all the Law. As to being really on fire, I came after the church. As to the righteousness which is in the Law, I kept every word, every jot and every tittle” (v. 6).
“So don’t tell me about your pride in your ancestry.” He even knew which of Jacob’s boys was located in his family tree – Benjamin. A proud tribe, being that of the first king of Israel, Saul’s tribe.
We also tend to want to be measured based upon our heritage, our ancestry, do we not? There are some small ways we do it. Let’s think about the university setting. A lot of B+ students applying to prestigious universities. And when their file is evaluated, student 1 against student 2 – the question is even on the application. “Anybody from your family gone to…let’s just call it Outstanding University…before?” In fact, admissions committees call it the “legacy factor.” Who is your daddy, and did your daddy go here? If so, you’re favored.
Or you’re trying to get into a certain fraternity or sorority. Was your daddy or your brother a part of this fraternity? Or sorority, how about your mother or your sister? It’s the legacy factor.
That might be fine when it comes to universities and fraternities, but it’s not any good when it comes to the kingdom of God. In fact, the first thing Paul says is, “Don’t tell me anything about your heritage. My heritage is more blue-blood than yours when it comes to Judaism.”
You know, there are a lot of people who expect a place in heaven or in God’s kingdom based upon who their daddy or their mother is. Somehow we think we share in their place as a saint. On that Judgment Day – when your eternal destiny is determined by God – saying to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “Let me tell you about my grandfather,” won’t do one an ounce of good. The question will come back, inevitably, to “Forget your grandfather. I know him intimately. I want to know about you, about your discipleship.”
(Funerals with three or four generations in the family section)
II. I’ll give up the better for the best (v. 7-9)
In verse 10, Paul makes clear his overarching goal in life. “That I may know Him.” In order to know Him, notice what he says in verses 7 and 8, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ…I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
Are you willing to give up the better for the best?
His heritage as a Jew. His law-keeping as a Pharisee. His position as a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. All counted as a loss for the sake of Christ. Paul was on the road to Damascus, being a Jew of all Jews. In fact, he remembers here (verse 6) that he was a persecutor of the church. He had letters in hand and zeal in his heart. He was going to apprehend and persecute the church, the people who called the rabbi Jesus the Messiah. While he was on that road, he saw a bright light, and Jesus declared, “Paul, Paul. Why are you persecuting Me? To persecute My people is to come after Me.” In essence, He was saying, “I am the crucified and risen Christ, and I have a call on your life.”
Judaism had been a good thing – even a better thing than any other way to know God. But then there was a best way – through his crucified and resurrected Son, through His incarnation. And all that had once been gain (verse 7), was now loss because the greatest value was to know “Christ Jesus, my Lord. And for Him I have suffered the loss of all things.” “In fact, they are rubbish,” he says.
The word for rubbish is skubala. It can mean things like dung, muck, scrap, filth, lumps of manure, a half-eaten corpse. For Paul, there was utter revulsion against the things he once thought were advantages. They are all cast aside when he had the opportunity to know Jesus.
What in your life would be counted as rubbish, trash, garbage? Something you once cherished, but now that you have the best, you’ve been willing to give up the better.
III. I want to share in the story of Jesus (v. 10-11)
Look at verses10 and 11
I want to know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection form the dead.
If you were to list why Paul was willing to put aside the better for the best, the list would go something like this:
1. That he may gain Christ (v. 8),
2. That I may be found in Christ (v. 9),
3. That he may know Christ in the power of His resurrection (v. 10).
It means you have, somehow, participated with Jesus in His death and resurrection. When He died, you’ve already died 2,000 years ago, so you don’t have to be afraid of death. And when He arose in hope, then your resurrection, as you have faith in Him, has already begun with His empty tomb.
Here’s the interesting thing. Have you ever noticed it? In verse 10, his order is, “I want to know Him. I want to know the power of His resurrection. Fellowship with His sufferings (that is, experience His death with Him). And in verse 11, to attain the resurrection of the dead. It is resurrection, death, resurrection. It seems like an odd order to us, does it not? In an odd way, Paul, we might say, put Easter before Good Friday. Then he speaks of Easter again. Easter. Good Friday. Easter.
For Paul, the resurrection interpreted the cross, planting the resurrection as the center point of his faith. The power of His resurrection wasn’t all pushed to the future, for Paul held that because Christ had risen from the grave, because He was raised from the dead, there was a new life possible for those who died to sin (Romans 6:2-4). The future is present in the resurrection. Because Christ was raised from the dead, He sits at God’s right hand and intercedes on behalf of those who trust Him (Romans 8:34). And here in Philippians, he says the resurrection of Jesus gives us power.
You might say it another way. “I don’t want to know Jesus as simply an historical character. I want to know Him, not as a fact of history, but to know Him personally as the resurrected, ever-living Lord of my life.” That’s what Paul is saying. He is saying, “I want to know the Christ who suffered and died for me.”
Paul even wanted to have fellowship with Christ’s suffering. What Paul is saying is that “my ministry is not only preaching about a crucified Christ, but carrying about in my own body the death of Jesus.” It’s true that Christ’s suffering enabled Paul to interpret his own (see Galatians 2:20).
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” When the world is brutal to us, we can remember that the world was brutal to the Christ. When we thirst, we can know that He, too, had a dry, parched throat. When we are reviled, we can know that He was reviled and did not revile in return. When we are insulted, we can know that they shouted at Him, “Save yourself,” as He died on the cross. As we have fellowship with His sufferings, His death becomes our death. And the greatest hope is His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
Why make the story of Jesus your story? Paul fears standing before God – the righteous judge – based on his own records, his own merits. Instead, he wants to be “in Christ” (v. 9) He wants God to judge him based on the merits of the Christ. As we are in Christ, God sees our disobedience covered by the obedience of Christ.
In baseball a pinch hitter is a substitute batter. The pinch hitter assumes the spot in the batting order of the player he replaces. We cannot hit the home run. Our record of sinfulness causes a strike out every time. But when it’s our turn at bat, we want God to call in the Christ to take our place and send the ball sailing out of the stadium. We are in Christ. We are with Him.
IV. I will run a marathon and not a sprint (v. 11-14)
Some of you like running short distances. I see you sprinting on the straightaways at the Amarillo High track. Others of you, on the other hand, love long distance running. It’s nothing for you to run four, five, six, ten miles. Some of you even run marathons – a physical achievement that I don’t suppose I will ever experience. I asked a deacon in our church, “How much do you run a week?” Fifty or sixty miles – no big deal to him. Well, I have a certain number of miles I want to do every week, too – but not anywhere close to sixty miles.
The Christian life is not a sprint. Being one with Christ is not a burst of speed on the straightaway. Rather, it is looking at the long term goal. “I’m not where I need to be yet,” Paul says in verse 12. He says the same thing again in verse 13, and then goes on to say, “But I’m forgetting what lies behind and reaching toward what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul wasn’t lazy, wasn’t any less active than the Judaizers who were pushing the law. But in Christ, he could run without watching his feet, without counting his steps, without competing with the other servants of Christ. His goal was clear: to be with Christ in the resurrection. To that end he can seek, because he’s been found. He can know, because he’s been known. He can understand, because he’s been understood. In a word, Paul can lay hold of Him who had already laid hold of Paul. His language is vivid and intense. Repetitious. He is pressing, stretching, pushing, straining. The words of lungs that burn, temples that pound, muscles that ache, and a heart that pumps. Perspiration rolls as he runs the marathon. (Fred Craddock, Interpretation Commentary: Philippians)
What’s he going after (v. 14)? The prize. “The upward call of God in Christ,” he calls it.
What he is saying is that we live in the present in light of the future. And our future is the power of the resurrection of Jesus (look at verse 21) “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
V. I live the future in the present by forgetting the past (v. 13)
Notice verse 13
…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.
Behind for Paul was being a persecutor of the church. One with a murderous spirit toward the people of God. He held the coats while they stoned Stephen. He had been in opposition to Rabbi Jesus and His people, the church. But now, knowing the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ, he forgot everything that was behind and looked to the front.
There are some of you who need to get back in the race, to quit looking to yesterday and look toward tomorrow, so that you can press on today. You can’t run the race with the chains of the past shackled your feet. Let the power of the crucifixion be the power of your forgiveness so that in His death you will experience the power of the resurrection. The future for you, if you’re His: resurrection glory. The present: running the race, knowing who has laid hold of you and given you the upward call, the goal, the prize.
The future is present. The power of the resurrection is here. Press on.