Gaining Christ by Abidan Shah PhD

GAINING CHRIST by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: As many of you know, this has been the busiest and craziest time of my life. In fact, today (September 17) is exactly a month since my mom’s funeral. It seems like a dream. Some of you who have been through similar circumstances know what I am talking about. As I was praying over what to share, God kept laying on my heart to talk about what he has been teaching me in recent years. I’ll be honest – that’s not easy to do, but I believe that many of us are in the same boat. If you are not in the same boat, then maybe the Holy Spirit has you here because you might be getting ready to get in the boat! You just don’t know it yet. The lesson is this – It’s easier to give up the evil for Jesus, but it’s much harder to give up the good. It’s not wrong to love the good but if we find our meaning and satisfaction in the good, God will not hold back from using his sword of separation. The answer is in loving those things for God alone but keeping our heart for the one who alone is worthy and preparing us for the life to come.

Philippians 3        7 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

Context: A little over 10 days ago, I was actually walking through the site of ancient Philippi. It was quite surreal for me to think that Paul’s letter to the Philippians was first read somewhere here, and I wondered if they truly understood what he meant. In warning the Philippians to avoid the Judaizers who were pressuring them to be circumcised, Paul was teaching them that there was no place in the Christian life for taking confidence in his pedigree or natural achievements. In fact, Paul admits that he had plenty of reasons to brag on his self. Listen to Philippians 3       3 “…have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Then he concludes in verse 7 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” In other words, all the past that appeared to be so great was actually a loss to him. We would all agree with that because all that is self-righteousness which cannot merit salvation. The good was actually bad. But then, he goes on to add in verse 8 “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” There is a difference between verse 7 and 8. Verse 7 is in the past tense, but verse 8 is in the present tense. Also, verse 7 is “these things” but verse 8 is “all things” (panta). It’s not just the Jewish heritage with its emphasis on circumcision is a loss or his pre-conversion accomplishments were a loss but everything that he has achieved, right up to the present, is a loss. This means that his achievement as building churches, starting ministries, and influencing people are a loss as well. In the Greek, there is “an extraordinary accumulation of particles” (Reumann) – “alla,” “men,” “oun,” “ge’” and “kai” – in verse 8 here to emphasize the shift. Not only that it is a loss, but Paul goes on to say in verse “…for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” He uses the word “Skubala,” which can be translated as refuse, waste, and dung. Even the good is like dung when it comes to gaining Christ. He is referring to his post-conversion or after salvation achievements.

By the way, don’t forget where Paul is when he wrote the letter to the Philippians.Philippians 1     13 “…it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains…” Paul was in prison as he wrote to the church in Philippi! Not only that but he is all alone. One by one many of those who had walked with him have left him. In a time like this, when you would like to reminisce, talk about the good old days, and find some consolation in your prior achievements, Paul is saying “all these things are a waste to me.”

Application: Do we truly understand what it means “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ”? Past tense or past life. Do we truly understand what it means Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord?” Present tense or present life. There is a big difference.

To understand the deep message here in this division, I want to back up to Jesus’s words in Matthew 10     34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Just like in Philippians, it may seem that Jesus is saying the same thing, just differently. Again, not true. The first half is the hate we may have to endure when we come to Christ. By the way, we are not a religion of hate. In fact, we have the gospel of reconciliation. We bring peace on earth, peace with God and peace with each other. Having said that, when he said those words, he was warning the crowd to count the cost of being his disciple. In our world, in America, we don’t understand the gravity of those words, but it’s quite different in other parts of the world. I think of my own dad. When he got saved, he lost his family, his inheritance, and his whole world. I believe that we may see more and more of this even here in America.

Application: Are you saved? Have you counted the cost? Clarification: Counting the cost does not mean that unless you deny all the good things in life, you cannot be saved. If that were the case most of us would never get saved. Children came to Jesus. What do they understand about denying mom and dad. In fact, we tell them to obey and honor our parents.The point is that we should be willing to submit ourselves to the leadership and work of God in our lives. Also, have you had to endure some persecution? Have people, even family and friends, talked junk about you? Do you not get invited to certain get togethers anymore? 

Now, the second half of what Jesus said is about something else. The first is about our loved ones hating us. The second is about us loving our loved ones too much. Listen again: Matthew 10:37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” It is easier to give up the evil for God. I can give up false religion, lying, cheating, adultery, stealing, bad habits, dreams, etc. But how do you give up the good things? Loving father and mother is a good thing. Children are a gift from the Lord. Having good health, money, security in the bank are all good things. Having friends in your life is a good thing. Having people to look up to, mentors to guide you, is a good thing. Having a growing church is a good thing. Nonetheless, whenever anything or anyone is sitting in the place that only belongs to God in our lives or begins to take the place that rightfully belongs to God in our lives, he must bring it down. Failure to do so will only compromise his standard and cost us pain.

How does God do this? As we begin to grow in the Christian life, the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, begins to do a cleansing work in our lives – old habits, old lusts, old desires are brought to obedience to Christ. We begin to understand what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Just when you think that you’ve got this Christian life stuff figured out, God begins to do a deeper work in our lives. This work involves discouragements and disappointments, hurts and betrayals, dashed hopes and dreams. Sometimes, it happens with friends and family. Sometimes, it comes from people we looked up to in our lives. Sometimes, it happens with our health. 

What is going on? Our God is a jealous God. He will not share our prime love with anyone else, no matter how good it is. Hence, we must learn to love them in moderation. He will not turn down the heat. He will only turn it up until those bonds begin to dissolve and what’s left is nothing but a heart that is truly given up to the only one who deserves it – Jesus Christ. We must learn to love all these things unto God. They find their proper place and what is left is a heart that is truly given up to the only one who truly deserves it, i.e., Christ. He will do whatever needs to be done to bring the sword of separation between you and your spouse, your children, your work, your health, and whatever else you are holding up in your life as more precious than God. Someone might say, “Are you telling me that God is going to separate me from my wife and my kids?” No. But if you start placing them where only God should be, he will quickly, decisively, and completely cut it off. Don’t immediately think divorce and death, but God will put you through a series of trials where you will be disappointed in that thing or person(s).Your feelings may get hurt and your trust may be betrayed, but in those moments, you will realize that until yesterday you had your spouse on a pedestal, or your kids wrapped around your heart, and today they are not. Someone else may say, “Are you telling me that God may take away my health? I thought health is just what goes down in a fallen world.” True, but if you give your health more priority than Christ, he will allow you to go through trials where you will learn that your health is really not in your hands. What is peace to you? My kids are satisfied, my doctor gave me a good report, and my work is going well. That’s when it will be “What did my kids say about me,” “I have to go back for a biopsy,” “My work is not what it used to be.” Augustine begins his Confessions with the following prayer: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” [cor nostrum inquietum est donec requiescat in Te].

It’s kind of funny but we think that Satan is really attacking my family, and he may be. Could it be that God is allowing this for a reason? Remember Job? Someone might say, “What kind of a God is this who forces me to make him first? What kind of God is this who is jealous when I love someone or something more than him?” Our living true triune God loves you too much to leave you unprepared for eternity. He does what he does to prepare us for the life to come. If God were to let us into heaven with our first loves, our deep affections, and our ultimate attachments, we would contaminate heaven and destroy it forever! Listen to Philippians 3      10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

This happened in my dad’s life, twice specifically. First, it was right out of seminary when he gave up the big church for the small dying church. There may been others, I’m sure. But, it again happened in his death. It was during the pandemic. Alone in the hospital, not as many people, and not all the pastors and bishops. This was totally contrary to what we had ever imagined. In fact, couple of lay members stood up to speak and talked about the impact he had made in their lives. That was far more meaningful.

I don’t have time to focus on each verse, but listen to verses 13 “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Dad had pressed towards the goal, and mom as well.

Could it be that God is calling you to give up the good so you will find the best? It’s not that you are abandoning the good. This does not mean that you have to become a hermit. It is so that Christ would be your first love. It is so that you will become ready for the resurrection to come. Do you know him? Are you saved?

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