Philippians 3:4b-14 Common English Bible
If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more:
5 I was circumcised on the eighth day.
I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.
I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee.
6 With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.
With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.
7 These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. 8 But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9 and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.
12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.
Communion is many things. It is remembrance, as Jesus said in Luke 22:19 – “Do this in remembrance of me.” It is about forgiveness, as Jesus said in Matthew 26:28 – “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” IN a larger way, Communion is an aligning ourselves with Christ through his body and blood. IN dealing with sin there is forgiveness in the blood. Think back to the Old Testament a moment. The sacrificial system of Leviticus was all about sin. Sacrifices were made to atone for sin, even those we are not aware of. The setting of Communion is steeped in the sacrificial system. Look at Mark 14:12 “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, …” . This was to remind the people of God of the Exodus from Egypt, when the spirit of death “passed over” the households with the blood of the lamb on their door posts. In Jesus day, the lamb was sacrificed for sin to restore a right relationship with God.
YET, the disciples and the others gathered in the upper room were not bad people. Communion is more than sin and forgiveness. It is about God’s claim on us – His people – and God’s work to prefect our relationship with him.
It is not about our assets either – what we do or have that qualifies us for God’s care. It isn’t putting our best foot forward, as though we could earn God’s care. It isn’t even our blood lines that put us in good standing with God. It is important to note that Paul is not painting his past as wrong or bad. He honors his connection with God as a Jew. What he is pointing to, however, is that he was short of alignment with God until his encounter with Jesus. He sees and honors his past, but points beyond it. It is not about abandoning the worst in our past to take hold of the best, but of putting behind us our best in order to have relationship with Jesus. THAT’S ALIGNMENT! And that alignment is based solely on God’s grace and love.
So, we are to be aligned with what? Is it religion that we are to aligned with? Is it the Law and its practice that determines alignment? There was a sect of people known as the Judaizers. They were Gentiles who had found assurance for living through the strength and consistency of worship, the law, and the synagogue. They wanted people to follow same path as they did in finding Jesus. This is to say they believed the path to salvation was to follow the Law and traditions in order to gain access to Jesus’ grace. They had decided that their path was the normal path to take. Become a Jew, then become a Christian.
As I was working with this section of the sermon, I was pondering the good Law and Paul’s transition into belief in Jesus. What popped into my head was a verse I had memorized many years ago. I wasn’t sure where it was, though I was guessing it was in Psalms. I popped the key word into my Bible software, and up came Psalm 19:14. What struck me the most was that it was a part of the Lectionary Passages for the today! The verse I remembered was, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my Rock and Redeemer. Verses 1-6 of the Psalm speak about the heavenly bodies proclaim the glory of God. Then in verses 7-13 is talking about human behavior and how it honors God. If we focus on verses 7-8 we see the goodness of the Law and the product of living in that Law. “The Lord’s Instruction is perfect, reviving one’s very being. The Lord’s laws are faithful, making naive people wise. 8 The Lord’s regulations are right, gladdening the heart. The Lord’s commands are pure, giving light to the eyes.” But the essence is in verse 14. May the words and my meditations be acceptable. THAT’S ALIGNMENT!
I began to think about how to describe alignment. Some years ago I had a 12 string guitar. It is the same 6 strings, tuned in the same way, except that each of the 6 strings has a second string tuned either to the same note and octave or an octave apart. When I would tune it I would move back and forth between sharp and flat until the strings were aligned perfectly and the tone straightened out. When they were out of alignment there would be a wavering in the tone. When they were aligned, the wavering would go away.
Jesus gave his very body and blood to re-align people and their practices with God.
To Align, in the dictionary, Webster says, “to array on the side of or against a party or cause.” The meaning was to walk in step with that party or cause. There was another meaning when it was used as a transitive verb. That is “to be in or come into precise adjustment or correct relative position.” The idea is to fit with Christ. It reminded me of the days when I did a lot of my own automotive work. Often it was the process of aligning a bolt to go into a hole and thread tight. That was especially difficult when I couldn’t see it what I was doing. I would be aligning the bolt and hole by feel.
Paul is moving us in two directions in this passage. First, if you look at the 2nd half of vs.12 he talks about “pursuit” – that is an active seeking. “… I pursue [the goal of resurrection], so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.” The ultimate alignment with Christ is to experience his resurrection. This pursuit is a response to having been claimed by God. It is an acknowledgement of relationship Jesus seeks to have with us. Second, the pursuit is an active, vigorous endeavor – though not of our own effort. Paul is not saying that we must work harder to come into alignment with Christ. Instead, we are aligning our purpose with God using our “rock and redeemer” as our source. Our alignment is a result of Christ’s work on our behalf. The gift of his body and blood.
This passage ends with Pauls’ call to action in verses 13-14. “Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” God’s upward call in Christ Jesus characterizes what alignment looks like. In verse 8 Paul points to the “superior value” of “Christ Jesus my Lord. Then speaks of alignment as gaining Christ and being “found in him.” We are lined up so that Christ lives in us and we in him. Let this Communion lead you ever closer to alignment with Christ. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman