Sunday, April 7, 2019
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Do you ever feel bored, like your life is in a rut, that your life is a big, fat zero? Sometimes I feel like I’m in a rut. Every time I go to bed at night, I find myself just getting up again the next morning.
Well, some of us are grateful just to get up the next morning, but there are many people, if they were to define their lives at its essence, would define their life with one word: boring! People will sometimes go to desperate measures to escape boredom.
Boredom has been known to get people in trouble. Some people have become entangled in sexual affairs because of boredom. Even acts of violence can be the result of too much time on the hands of people with real problems.
Many people today are unhappy, even though they have plenty of money. These unhappy people are bored, so they make poor choices. They choose comfort instead of stimulation. They choose pleasure instead of purpose. They fail to find active interests that would engage them outside their work.
Today I want to introduce you to a man who faced many obstacles in his life, but I guarantee you, he was never bored. You don’t get bored when you are changing the world. This man’s name was Saul of Tarsus. He’s better known to us as the Apostle Paul, a follower of Jesus Christ. You simply can’t give your live to Christ completely, and ever be bored! It’s impossible, for there’s always new challenges.
Paul came from a good Hebrew family. He was a member of the Pharisees, an elite group of strict religious teachers. In fact, he was one of the most zealous of Pharisees, he persecuted followers of Jesus and tried to destroy the early church.
Paul was born into the right family. He had all the right credentials. He was well-respected and admired. Comfort, privilege, respect, what more could a man want? And then, Paul had an encounter with the Risen Christ, an encounter that changed his life forever. He suddenly realized that his greatest goal in life as a Pharisee, to protect and uphold the laws of Moses, wasn’t worth giving his life to. He came to see that the truth of God could only be found in the life of a humble man from Nazareth named Jesus.
So, he gave up all his comfort and privilege to spread the message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. And from that point on, Paul’s life was one long adventure. He became the young church’s most effective missionary. He traveled more than 10,000 miles across the Roman Empire preaching and teaching about Jesus and setting up Christian churches everywhere he went.
But it wasn’t an easy journey. He was persecuted, arrested, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, and finally martyred.
In fact, these verses from Philippians that were read today were probably written while he was in prison. Paul is looking back at his life, at his goals and accomplishments. And he’s asking himself the question we all ask at some point: Was it all worth it? Did my life make a difference to anyone? Was it worth it? Listen to what Paul says:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him . . .”
Then, skipping down to verse 13 we read, 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 toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Those are the words of a man who knew how to defeat boredom. He did it by giving his life to the greatest cause available to any man or woman, the cause of serving Christ.
I once heard an ad for a drive-in passion play. A passion play is, of course, a depiction of the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus, so it’s pretty dramatic and dark. But this passion play was more like a drive-in movie, you could watch the story of Jesus without ever getting out of your car. The ad read: Come and experience the life of Christ all from the comfort of your own car. I was overwhelmed with the truth that we won’t experience the life of Christ or the life that Christ wants for us, or be the church that God wants [us to be] from within our areas of comfort. We must get out of the car.
Paul didn’t want a drive-in experience of the Christian life. In his words he wanted to gain Christ and be found in him, and he wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings. Paul had no desire to simply be an observer from the comfort of his car.
The world and the Cross do not get along too well together, and comfort and holiness do not share the same room. Comfort and holiness do not share the same room.
A man’s wife threatened to leave him if he became serious about his faith. She thought it would get in the way of her lifestyle. That’s interesting. Studies show that, for most Christians, their faith hardly influences their lifestyle at all. But this woman was smart enough to realize that, if they took their faith seriously, it would require some changes.
At the same time this man’s business partner was pressuring him to engage in some unethical business practices. To top it all off, while on a business trip, a very attractive woman made sexual advances toward him. He didn’t give in, but he was seriously tempted. He was torn between two worlds. He was torn between his commitment to Christ and the world of do what you’ve always done, do what feels good, and do what gets results now. Was it worth what it might cost him, he wondered, to give up his old life to follow Jesus?
That’s the central question of life, isn’t it? Is there a God? If so, what does God want from me? And finally, what’s worth living and dying for? What would you have told this troubled man if you were his pastor? We’ll get back to that story in a few moments.
Paul made his choice. He threw away his old life. He even referred to his former way of living as “garbage.” After making this choice, nothing mattered to Paul as much as gaining Christ and being found in Him.
Paul wasn’t just saying that he gave up his old life. In his mind, when he identified with Christ, he died to his old life. And it wasn’t an easy death. Crucifixion was the most painful, tortured, and publicly shameful death you can imagine.
In the same way, you and I are violently opposed to giving up our own will and our own agenda and laying them down at the foot of the cross and saying, Not my will, but Yours be done. That’s why it requires living by faith and having the Holy Spirit work in us.
Most of us would run in the opposite direction from the way Paul chose to live his life. But Paul was straining toward this calling, a calling that had caused him to lose all status and safety and comfort. He was pushing toward the life and calling and mission and love for Jesus with all his might because he finally found the one thing that really mattered. It’s the one thing that he was made for. Everything else was garbage besides knowing Jesus Christ and being found in Him.
So, what about us? Have we chosen our own comfort and our own agenda and our own goals as the purpose of our lives? Or have we chosen “Christ living in us” as the purpose of our lives?
That’s the dilemma of a man torn between two worlds. He actually had three options to choose from, and once he chose one, he had to abandon the other three options.
The first option, to not change a thing. For most of us that would be the easiest option. He could go back to his life of moral conflict and spiritual struggle and just tough it out. Could he live like that? He was at a breaking point. Something in his life had to change.
So, then option number two. He could simply give up serving God all together. He could go back to living the way he wanted to live like he did before he gave his life to Christ. He could forget all about serving God. He could settle for a life of doing what felt good. He could take as his moral guide what everyone else is doing. He could go back to his old life before he knew Jesus. Could he live with that option?
The man said, No, he had met Christ. It was too late for him to go back to what he had been.
The final option was to follow the Lord no matter what it cost him. This option was to obey God’s commands even if his wife left him, even if his business partner stole from him. He could give up everything he used to trust in, used to measure his success by, everything that used to give him pleasure or status. Give it all up for the sake of knowing and serving God. As the pastor said, Live, die, sink or swim, you must follow Jesus.
The man chose the final option. He left that day with only one goal in life, to live for God in all circumstances. As he said, He is my only hope of life. There is nothing else I can do. Can you imagine such a commitment?
A few years later, it was learned that life had not been easy for him. He had been through much pain, but he reported that it was worth it. His relationship with his wife was better than ever. She was now a follower of Christ too. The pain they had experienced had brought them closer together. Even more important, they had discovered a mutual joy that served as a witness to everyone who knew them. They had found the one worthwhile goal in life, and they had no regrets about the direction their life had gone.
This is all-out Christian living. It’s about leaving everything behind that hinders you from following Christ. It’s not always the most comfortable way to live, but I can guarantee you, you will never be bored or think your life is worthless. It’s the only way to experience life abundant. Are you bored with your life? Are you longing for something more? Even worse, are you torn with conflict between the demands of the world and demands of God? Look to Christ. Discover the joy that comes with following Jesus all the way.