by Mike Ratliff
8 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 rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV)
The title for this piece was a bit hard to come up with. I know what I wanted to say, but not how to say it succinctly. The more I thought about that though, the more I realized that that exercise in and of itself was futile since it was rooted in wrong motives. On my time off, God enabled me to have some quality time with some very good teachers of His Word and Doctrine. One of these sources was a book by John Owen, Communion With The Triune God. Owen was a Puritan from the 1600’s. Another source was the discussion group at the White Horse Inn: Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, Ken Jones, and Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, as they discussed theology from the framework of “Knowing what Christians believe and why they believe it.” It is amazing how the simplicity of that is lost in the jumble of apostasy all around us. The other source was listening to Dr. James White explain the gospel to skeptics in his role as a Christian apologist. These widely varying sources fed this tired Christian immensely.
From these three sources and spending my own time in God’s Word in my time unplugged from the Internet and all that goes with it, the Lord helped me see deeper into much of what is going on now in the visible church, which is mostly just empty religiosity of one form or another. What hasn’t been consumed by the church growth movement or the new form of Christian liberalism, which is the Emergence Christianity, seems to be the antithesis of Colossians 3:1-4 in that they are all about the here and now. They are focused on what is earthly and fleshly and of man instead of what is heavenly and of Christ. There are exceptions to this of course and in this, we must rejoice.
In the heat of battle in April, I wrote an article titled “Who Can We Trust?”. Since then I have concluded that there is other evidence that we can observe in those God truly uses in the truth war for the Kingdom that the enemy simply cannot counterfeit. If you read Paul’s epistles carefully it is obvious that he was probably not a large man or dynamic in his speech. He probably did not go around performing mighty miracles in front of everyone. He never bragged about visions nor emphasized huge numbers. You get the picture. He was just a very brilliant, scholarly man who was ordinary in appearance and speech. He was probably not impressive at all, but God used Him and people had a hard time understanding why. They listened to him and those who resented what he said still could not understand why God was using this man, but not using them. They lied about Him. They tried to elevate themselves over him. They tried everything, even causing him great harm to the point that Paul referred to it as a thorn in the flesh. I pray that you follow that link and read the entire passage.
Paul was willing to endure that trial, that thorn in flesh from Satan himself, for the sake of Christ. Think about that my brethren. How committed are we to the sake of Christ? Are we willing to stand in the gap for the truth when it would be easier to remain silent and “maintain the peace” in our families? I know about this. On my time off I had the opportunity to talk with a nephew about these things and some close to me were all upset that I would be blunt and tell him to repent or perish, et cetera. However, I gently lead him through scripture and showed him that religiosity is worthless. It is our relationship with Christ that is everything.
What does it really mean to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God to set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1,2)” I believe the Church must regain what this really means. When I am able to go to church services, I am always amazed at the distractions, the lack of focus, the misdirection, et cetera. Of course, the Apostle was talking about our daily walk here as well, but I am sure that if we could follow most professing Christians around all day it would be even worse. What must we do? What can we do? I am certain that this is something that only God can do. He certainly did it in me. It was a miracle of a refocus that took place in 2004 and I am still on that path. I know that many of you are on your own paths as well. How do we get God’s people to turn their focus from what is fleshly and below to that which is above? I am certain it is not by making our churches look just like the world. Here was Paul’s solution.
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:7-17 ESV)
This is a description of Paul’s seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, not the things that are on the earth. He knew that empty religiosity was worthless. Now we see what makes up the one who is truly the one whom God uses. He is not in this for Himself. He is not building earthly empires. He is not trying to reclaim the earth as God’s Kingdom. He is not trying to build huge churches. He is just obeying God in planting churches by preaching the gospel, training pastors, and moving on. That is what he does. God used him because he did all of it for the sake of Christ and Christ alone. He did it to know Christ as Lord.
Do you want to be used by God in the Kingdom? Many will jump up and shout yes to that one, but will say no immediately to those thorns in the flesh, to those beatings, ghastly trials, and tests, days and days of dark despair with only Christ to hang onto. Those God truly speaks through are those who are all about simply doing what they do for the sake of Christ and for His glory. The enemy puts his people out there as counterfeits to counter them. They are glamorous. They build their own empires. They have huge followings. They have huge book deals. They are super stars. However, these are not the ones we look to as the ones we can trust. No, we look to those who serve God for His glory alone and simply tell the truth, preach the Word and never try to do one thing to elevate self. God may indeed use some of these men in mighty ways and they may indeed have large careers. For instance, look at King David.
One of my favorite passages about this very thing follows.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:13-23 ESV)
To those who are diligently serving God in your ministries and God is blessing you then I rejoice in that. Be blessed. Please continue to serve our Lord with your all for His glory alone.
Soli Deo Gloria!