Community Group Study Notes
- As you look back on 2017, name one area of your life where God changed you for the better – to look more like Jesus?
- As you look ahead on 2018, what is one thing in your life that you believe God wants to change? How can you participate in and surrender to that transforming work?
- What is your specific plan to know Jesus better in 2018?
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:14
We're all aware that December 31st, and leading into January 1st, is a time for us to reset. It's kind of the privilege of going in from one day to another, into one year to another. Here's how I reset. Every single January 1st, I plug in a brief YouTube video of John Piper preaching a message at the [Fourth 00:00:27] Passion Conference in 2000. It has become famous in many circles as his Don't Waste Your Life message.
And here's how he starts. You don't have to know a lot of things in order to make a difference for the Lord in this world. But you do have to know a few things and be willing to live for them and die for them. People who make a difference in this world, they're not people who have mastered a lot of things. They are people who have been mastered by a few things that are great. If you want your life to count, you don't have to have an IQ. You don't have to have a high EQ. You don't have to be smart. You don't have to have good looks. You don't have to come from a good family or a good school. You just have to know a few basic, simple, glorious, obvious, majestic, unchanging eternal things and be gripped by them and by willing to lay down your life for them. Which is why anyone in this crowd can make a difference in this world, because it isn't you, it's what you're gripped by.
But one of the real sad things about this moment in time is that there are many in this crowd who do not want their lives to count. All you've ever wanted is to be liked. Maybe it has been your goal to go to a good school, get a good job, find a husband or wife, a nice house, a nice car, long weekends, fun vacations, grow old, have a nice retirement, an easy death and no hell. And that's all you've wanted. And you don't give a rip if your life counts for eternity. And that's a tragedy. That's a tragedy in the making. Piper's right. It's a tragedy when we don't want our lives to count, for Christ or for eternity. And our lives don't count when we set our sights low and make our goals small.
Now I'm not talking about the typical New Year's resolutions that we all make, to eat better, to exercise more, to lose weight, to get out of debt, to spend time with our family. I'm even talking about a New Year's resolution which may, in fact, sound good. In fact, the number one New Year's resolution for 2017, and now 2018, according to the [Merrith 00:03:38] poll, is this, to become a better person.
Now you might say, what's wrong with that, sounds like a good goal. It's certainly a whole lot better than the alternative, isn't it? That you and I would actually have a goal, that is 2018, we wanted to be the worst possible person ever? So it might sound to you like being a better person is a good goal. But let me tell you something. For the follower of Jesus Christ, for the believer in Jesus Christ, if it's not the best goal, then it's not a good goal. And there is a best goal.
But we first need to look at this other goal, what it means to be a better person, because if there was anyone in this world before they came to Christ who was gripped by the idea that I want to be not only a better person, but the best possible person and that was saturated with self-righteousness, it was the Apostle Paul. Prior to coming to Christ, it was Paul's desire to be a better person. And he tells us that, where we're going to be this morning, in the third chapter of Philippians. Now a few weeks ago, in our Speaker Development Day, the one who was speaking in the environment you were in told us that Paul wrote the Book of Philippians when he was in prison. You see, he had been arrested in Jerusalem, carted off to Assyria, where he sat, or rotted if you will, in a holding cell for two years before he appealed to Rome and then was shipped off to Rome, where he spent another two years in prison. And it is in this prison that he writes the Book of Philippians.
But as he puts pen to paper, you don't hear bitterness. You don't hear resentment. You hear joy. Because Paul had, somewhere along the line, discovered the secret of being content and that is in the all-satisfying presence of Jesus. And he only found that after he realized that his New Year's resolution to become a better person was a dead end. This is how he captures this idea of becoming a better person in Philippians 3:4. "If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless." He was determined to impress God and others. As I said, saturated with self-righteousness, desiring to be a better person.
And maybe that's your resolution. You want to impress God and impress others, that you are a better person in 2018. It sounds good, but I can make an assurance that you will fail. You will not impress God because God's only impressed with his Son, and you will fail to impress others because your righteousness will always fall short.
And so the Apostle Paul had to come to discover that there was a best possible goal and he discovered that after Christ met him on the road to Damascus. In this same passage of scripture, Philippians 3, he says it this way, starting with verse 7, "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, not having a righteous of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." Watch this. "I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection, participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."
Did you hear it? Did you see his pursuit? Did you see and hear what is the highest goal, the only goal that you and I who follow Jesus Christ can have? It sounds like this, "My only goal is to know Jesus, so I will be like Jesus." There is no higher goal. There is no other goal that you and I can be consumed by, gripped by, using Piper's words, than to know Jesus so that I will become like Him. Paul's desire is to know Jesus, and he says, "I consider all other alternatives, all other pursuits, garbage." My goodness, that's a really nice English translation. Because in the original language, what Paul actually said was, "I consider all other pursuits, in comparison to knowing Christ, human waste." That's pretty strong. But that's his desire, to know Christ to that degree. Is it yours?
Let me give you this analogy. If I said to you that I have a goal to know my wife of 32 years, Pat, I have a desire to know her better in 2018, would you admit with me that that is a good goal. And if you were to respond to my goal by asking this question, "what is your plan?" and I didn't have one, wouldn't you think that would be strange?
So if I said to you, do you think it's a good goal, for you to want to know Jesus Christ better in 2018, would you say that's a good goal? Then what's your plan? What's your plan? Because if it's not your all-consuming desire and plan to know Jesus Christ, then according to what Paul is saying here, you will not become more like Him and that's the only goal that God has for you. That's all that God has ever wanted from you. And the scripture bears that out.
Romans 8:28, "We know that all things work together for good, to the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose." What is his purpose? "For those God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."
And in this same passage, Philippians 3, Paul writes these words, "Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
And then 1John 3, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that's what we are. The reason the world does not know us is because the world did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, even as they are pure."
That is God's goal for you, and for me, to be like Jesus. And Paul says the avenue, the route to becoming like Jesus is to know him. So how do we make it ours?
I want to walk through the next few verses in Philippians 3, to tell you how Paul explains to us, how that we are going to know Jesus to become like him. Here's the first thing I want to say. Walk in humility because you have not arrived. Walk in humility because you have not arrived. In the verses that we just read, Paul says I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, so that I will become like him in the resurrection from the dead, which is exactly what John says, when Jesus comes back, we will be like him. That's what I want to achieve. He says this very important thing in verse 12, "I have not already obtained all this, or I have not already arrived at my goal." I have not arrived. Walk in humility because you have not arrived.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who thinks they have? Have you ever been in the presence of someone who acts, behaves, like they've already arrived? The one word that you and I would use to capture what that smells like is it smells like pride. And here's what I know, here's what we know about people who are filled with pride. They walk around, thinking that they've arrived, and they give evidence of that by making the narrative about their lives all about them. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You've been in the presence of people who the narrative, the story of their life, is all about them.
In contrast, the person who is humble, who walks in humility, does so because he realizes that he's not, she has not arrived and therefore they desperately need the grace of God because God says I will give grace to the humble, but I will oppose the proud. And a person carries themselves around in humility, and you they are humble because the narrative is not about them. It is increasingly about Jesus. And it is incredibly unhealthy when the narrative is about you because you think you've arrived, and it is incredibly healthy when you walk in humility and the narrative is all about Jesus. See if this illustration will help.
I've mentioned before that about four years ago, I had thoracic surgery. And I realized later that they had cut through muscle to get at the infection in my back. I thought the pain that I was experiencing before the surgery was tough. Nothing like the surgery after, when my muscle began to heal back. And you know how I knew I was getting healthy? When I was able to lay my head on my pillow and say I have not given thought to my back once.
Do you know how you're getting healthy as a believer, as a follower of Jesus Christ? When you can put your head on your pillow and look back at your day and say, you know what, the narrative was not about me. I gave myself very little thought because I was preoccupied with Jesus Christ and the people that he was bringing into my life to minister to them.
I want you to understand something, as you and I get older, which is what another thing that a year says to us, we're getting a little older. It is sad, as you get older, and the only story you are writing and telling is about you. Walk in humility because you have not arrived.
Secondly, move forward. Move forward. Maybe you would admit that you've not arrived, but you are in a perpetual state of non-movement. Not arriving and not moving forward are not the same thing. And it would be sad if you were to look back at your spiritual trajectory in 2017 and realize there has been very little movement, if any. But what would be even sadder is if you're okay with that, because I need to tell you, God isn't. God saved you for something different. And if the only thing that we can muster up is using that well worn out line, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" as an excuse not to move forward, that's sad. Because if there's anything at all that we know about the Apostle Paul is that he was determined to move forward.
Just clippings from two verses right in this context. First verse 12, "I press on." Verse 14, "I press on" and the word picture is a runner lunging forward aggressively towards the finish line. I'm moving forward in my life, that's what I'm doing.
My brother, Dave, is the counseling pastor here and he does a lot more counseling than I do, but I do some. So I'm well aware, as he is, of the joys and the frustrations of doing counseling. The frustrations come when people come to counseling because they just want to talk about their problems, they don't want to change, they just want to talk about their problems. And they'll leave and say, "well, I fell better because I've talked about my problems." Or it's frustrating when people come to counseling and all they want to do is for you to take their side, especially against their husband or wife. That's frustrating. So I'll ask my brother how to do you know when it's good and right to continue the counseling process. His answer? As long as I see movement. He says sometimes what I'll see is people crawling. Sometimes they'll be making baby steps. Sometimes they'll be walking, and because of their brokenness, they're walking with a limp. Sometimes they're walking, and I really know there is growth happening when they're running.
So is also here. Maybe in 2018, if you're a new believer in Christ, you'll crawl, but you're moving forward. Or maybe you'll begin to take some baby steps, but you're moving forward. Or maybe, because of your brokenness, you'll walk if only with a limp, or maybe you'll begin to walk, or maybe if you're really growing, you'll run.
All I know, I've been a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ for 42 years, I ought to be running by now. And if you've been a believer for a long time, you ought to be running by now. Will I make a commitment in 2018, that God is going to, and others around me, are going to see movement in this desire to know Him so that I will become like Him?
Third, comprehend why Jesus saved you. Comprehend why Jesus saved you. Now, that might strike you a little bit, so let me explain. One of the things that I've realized in my own personal formation is to ask different questions to get different answers. If I ask the same questions, I'm gonna get the same answers and I'm not going to see movement. So even when I'm opening the scriptures, I begin to ask different questions as they stare me in the face. Like the very next thing Paul says. Stare at this for a while. "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it." I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Here's what I mean. If I were to ask you a question, "why did you give your life to Christ?" now some of you, quite honestly, might have been so young when you put your faith in Christ that you might not remember why. But others, maybe most of you, are old enough to have remembered when and therefore why you gave your life to Christ. And if I were to come down onto the lower floor and put a microphone in your face and ask you why did you give your life to Christ, I might hear I sensed my need of Christ, someone explained the Gospel really well to me, or I was at a low point of my life, I came to the end of my rope, or I just went through a broken relationship, like a divorce. Or maybe someone just made it really simple, heaven, hell, I'll take heaven.
But whatever it is, and all of those questions and answers are good, Paul is obsessed with a different question. Why did Christ save me? Not why did you give your life to Christ, but why did Christ save you? Did he save Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles, to be a planter of churches throughout Turkey, Asia Minor? Of course. But there was something else you can hear from his lips. There's something else. God took hold of me on the road to Damascus and I am determined to find out what that was like. So on July 17, 1976, barely 17 and out of high school, I knelt by my bedside and I gave my life to Christ, but I recognized something stronger. Christ took hold of me for something, for what I'm doing right now, for the kind of husband I am, the kind of father, the kind of grandfather, the kind of friend, the kind of employee, the kind of employer. Christ took hold of my life for a reason. And Paul says, I'm passionate about figuring out what that's like.
All I know is this, and I say this to my shame. There have been times in 2017, when Christ will look down at the way I was acting, and he would have to say, "I didn't take ahold of your life for that."
What is in your life right now? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what is in your life right now? That if God would actually audibly to you, he would say, "That thing right there, I did not take ahold of your life for that. I took ahold of your life for something much greater, that you would know me, so that you would be like me, so that people would see and hear me wherever they are." You and I need to become passionate about figuring out a lifelong pursuit of why Jesus took hold of your life.
Here's the fourth thing. Simplify your pursuit. Simplify your pursuit. If there is anything in this passage of scripture that most people are familiar with, it is words that come out of these verses, verses 13 and 14, "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 is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
This one thing I do. If I were to ask you, I think I could divide the room into two sections by asking this question. How many of you think you are good at multitasking, because that's what our world demands. Paul would have none of it, none of it. He says this one thing I do.
Now almost every single December 31st, this is what it looks like and has looked like for me. I'm making a commitment is 20-whatever, now 18, to keeping my priorities in order. Let me tell you how I usually feel along January 2nd. I feel like an octopus on roller blades, all sorts of movement and going nowhere. Or I feel like that guy in the circus, you know, he's got the poles and he's got the five plates and he tries to keep them all up. That's what I feel like because I'm trying to keep my priorities in order. I understand my relationship with God and I have a family and I have a job and I have a ministry and I have friends and I want to keep all of those in proper order. It's such a mistake. This one thing I do. This one thing I do.
Greg McKeown, in the book Essentialism, reminds us of something that we need to be reminded of. The word "priority" was introduced into the English language about 500 years ago, and for 450 years, it was a singular word. It was only in the late 20th century that Americans turned this into a plural word so that we could speak of priorities. Paul would say that's nonsense. You cannot speak of priorities. You can only speak of one pursuit, and how do I get there? How do I get there? I need to get there because if I don't, I try to do all things well and I come to realize that I've done none of them well. This one thing I do. This is my priority. This is my priority to be like Jesus.
And so I realize that whatever had I'm wearing on at the time, my priority is to become like Jesus. If the hat I'm wearing on right now is husband, it is because my wife desperately needs to see the one she's married to is someone who wants to know Jesus and be like him. If the hat I'm wearing is employee, then I recognize the people that I work for desperately need to see someone who wants to be like Jesus by knowing him. If the hat I'm wearing is friend, or the guy sitting in a restaurant, then I realize that the people around me and in my life desperately need to see someone who wants to know Jesus to be like him. This is my only pursuit. And so the enemy of our soul will constantly seek to distract you and you need to push all of that away and say this is going to be my pursuit, to know Jesus.
Lastly, grow up in your thinking. Now I don't think there's ever been a point in my life that I've ever liked to be told to grow up. So I'm not telling you to grow up, Paul is. Here's how he says it. I'm just repeating what he's saying, here's how he says it, "All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained."
So here's what he's saying. If I have been this morning accurate in my representation of what Paul is saying, that the only pursuit of your life should be to know Jesus so that you would be like him, if I have been accurate in representing this text and you don't agree, it's because you're not mature. Now it might be because you're a new believer, or it might be because you've allowed other things to get in your way, but Paul says if you don't see it this way, if you've got your New Year's resolutions down cold and none of them include to know Christ, or Christ is not at the top of the list, Paul would say you need to grow up.
And he goes on and he would say listen, if this is not your pursuit, if this not how you see it, then you need to pray, because if you pray, God will make that clear. And you do what Tozer says, A. W. Tozer, get alone with God for 30 days, for an hour each day, with your bible, a pad and a pen, and you pray until God gives you this only desire to know him so that you will be like him.
But if this still isn't making any sense to you, Paul would say this. Would you at least do this, would you at least live up to what you've already attained? Would you at least live up to what God has already taught you?
Let me make this practical. Every single week, we come and we hear truth. Every single Sunday, I come with my journal, and I know that a lot of you use the cards, I've seen you taking notes, and you keep track of those. So I too come with my journal and I write, yes, I write the things, the points that are made on the screen, but I also will be listening when whoever's communicating, Pastor Jerry most of the time, if the Holy Spirit says something to me during that message, beyond the points that are on the screen. And I'll write it down, and I'll write it down because I realize that the Holy Spirit is impressing on me something by which he wants me to grow up and to change, so that I will know Him, to become like Him. And I want to reflect on those things and I want to internalize those things and I want to obey those things.
So there's a lot of things that I could point out from 2017 that I wrote down, but I just want to give you one example of what that looks like, because in March of this year, God really spoke to me about something through this message. Watch.
[Pastor Jerry clip]
You see, when Enoch walked with God faithfully for 300 years, he did it because he believed God existed. And he believed God was the rewarder. What do you think the reward was for Enoch? Don't answer heaven, that's a secondary reward. God was his reward. The presence of God was his reward. He walked with God, a series of steps in the same direction, over a long period of time. He walked with God and then he was not, for God had taken him. Why? Because God was pleased with him. Because his faith demonstrated in his life, in a culture of violence and wickedness and spiritual corpses, Enoch's life demonstrated that he believed in God and that he knew that God's presence was his great reward. So he's walking with God, experiencing the reward of who God is in his presence and God's so pleased he just takes him, to reward him even more fully in his presence.
What a story. I mean, I'm reminded that my life is intended to please God and the only way that will happen is by faith, that my life actually testifies to the fact that I genuinely believe that God exists, that He is as we sang earlier, He is Lord over all. And that in believing that, I recognize that my sole desire, my great heartbeat is Him. It is His presence, and that He, Himself is my great treasure and my great reward. We need more faith like that demonstrated in the Church of Jesus Christ. We need people in this world that are spiritual corpses to see that kind of faith in the lives of people that believe that He exists and believe that he rewards.
Do you see that nine months ago, God already told us some of the things that I'm saying today, that God wants us to want Him. And it was one of those kinds of experiences, where you feel like you're getting pressed against your chair and you can't move, as God spoke to me and said, "am I really your reward? Deone, am I really who you are seeking?" Do you know what would really be a tragedy? If in the nine months since I heard this, there had been no movement, to know him as my rewarder, to want to please Him by seeking Him, if there had been no movement.
It might be a challenge for you to go back at all the notes that you have taken and maybe all the likes that you have done on Facebook, when you have heard this statement from Pastor Jerry, and that you really like that, but there's been very little movement towards becoming like Christ in response to what He's told you.
And Paul concludes this by saying, "if you're not going to pursue knowing Christ to the degree that I am passionate about it, at least live up to what I've already told you."
And so really December 31st may not necessarily be the end of the year, it might be a time for us to begin thinking about catching up to what God has already told us. And I know this from my life, because this message of knowing Jesus so that I can become like Him, it's not new to me. I remember as a 10 year old boy, singing out of our hymnal, number 40, I have one deep supreme desire, that I may be like Jesus. To this, I fervently aspire, that I may be like Jesus. I want my heart, his throne to be, so that a watching world may see, His likeness shining forth in me, I want to be like Jesus.
Can you top that? Can you think of anything better than that? I guess if you can, go do it. If you can't, let's surrender to that in these next few days, to know Him so that we can become like Him.
Would you close your eyes and bow your heads in prayer as we conclude this service. Before I pray, let me ask you some questions. Is the spirit of God speaking to your heart right now, that the desire to know Jesus so that I can become like Him, is something that is consistent with what the spirit of God says in His word? I say this humbly. You cannot reach any other conclusion when you read the New Testament. This is God's goal for you, that you would know Jesus so that you would become like Him. And that would mean what Jeremiah was saying earlier in our worship time, that you and I need to renounce the rivals in our heart, that we want to know this or that or this person or that person, and maybe we want to know them more than we've wanted to know Jesus. It's little wonder that we've become not so much like Him. We need to surrender those rivals. We need to surrender those competitors. We need to let Him rule in our hearts alone. We need to make it our pursuit, to know Him. And I would ask you, along with myself, that we would surrender to the passionate pursuit of knowing Jesus and that will show itself up in where we will find ourselves, even tomorrow morning, in His word, because this is where He communicates to us.
And Lord, I pray, as we close this last Sunday of this year, that there would be many within the sound of my voice, who would make it their passionate pursuit to know Jesus. There is no greater knowledge in all the world than to know Jesus Christ. And there is no higher goal than to become like Him, because there's someone who lives next to us, there's someone who works next to us, there's someone at the mall or the restaurant that we will visit, there's someone in our neighborhood, in our activity, that desperately needs to know You. And Lord, help us to know You so well, that we are like You to those. Bring glory to Yourself through this body of believers, as we seek to know You, as You are truly our Lord and Savior. We give You thanks, in Christ's name, and everyone said amen.