Saturday, February 24, 2007

Surpassing Worth

St Paul was a rather intense kind of guy. Or perhaps we could say, when it came to his relationship to Christ, he was an all-or-nothing kind of guy. Sometimes I can be a rather intense and all-or-nothing kind of guy myself (that’s one reason I landed in a monastery), so one of my favorite passages from St Paul is found in Philippians 3.

When Paul discovered Christ, he discovered everything: his joy, his love, his salvation, his reason of being. But in order to receive everything, he had to lose everything—everything he had worked so long and hard to construct as a way of life. He lists all his credentials as a righteous Pharisee. He was impeccable, blameless, had the perfect religious pedigree. He was even so zealous that he persecuted any threat to his own tradition, any infringement on the rights of God as he saw them. But then he met the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

What then did this intense, all-or-nothing kind of guy do? He tossed it—all his credentials, his position, the direction of his life and energies. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

Let’s take a look at this. The only thing that could get him to abandon his former prestige, way of life, and deeply-held convictions would have to be something of “surpassing worth.” He didn’t think there was such a thing until he discovered it in Christ Jesus his Lord. Nothing mattered to him anymore. Not position, not wealth, not esteem—nothing. He even had to suffer much persecution himself because of Christ. Didn’t matter. Everything is rubbish compared to Christ and what He offers.

Paul not only desired to share in the power and glory of Christ’s resurrection (don’t we all?), but to that end he also desired to share in his sufferings (don’t we all not desire that?). Paul wouldn’t be found among today’s “Easter people,” who like to celebrate the joyful things and discard the difficult ones. But Paul knew that the Cross was the only way to the Resurrection and, being an all-or-nothing kind of guy, he went for them both. He recognized surpassing worth when he saw it. God didn’t have to tell him twice what the true way was. He ran to the Lord Jesus with open arms and never looked back.

Today’s religious landscape is littered with compromisers, the lukewarm, the “a la carte” pickers and choosers of what suits their spiritual sensibilities, the poseurs who use religion for political or other ends, and, let’s face it, “the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the fornicators, idolaters, and liars” (see Rev. 21:8). Where are those for whom Christ is everything? Where are those who recognize the surpassing worth of wholeheartedly embracing Christ Jesus our Lord? Where are those who regard all else as rubbish if only they can have Him? Where are those who embrace both the Cross and the Resurrection? They exist, and they are holding up the world, and even if they are numerically many they are far too few in a world in which all nations are supposed to be filled with fervent disciples of Christ (see Mt. 28:19-20). It’s time to take stock of our lives and see what really matters to us, see what is worth giving up everything for, see what is going to last forever and what is not. Clean out the rubbish: the attachments, the idols, the “other masters,” whatever is of inferior worth.

So go ahead. Get intense. Be an all-or-nothing kind of person. Recognize the surpassing worth of life in Christ Jesus. Dump your extra baggage, for it won’t fit through the narrow gate to Paradise. Run to Him who loved you first. And never look back.