Sunday, January 24, 2010
The Excellency Of Christ
By C.J.B. Harrison
“Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for Whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
People whose lives are shadowed by regrets are always to be pitied. The Apostle Paul had no regrets. Others might lament that they had sacrificed their career or their friends for something or somebody, but he never thought in terms of sacrifice when he looked back at what might have been. When once he had found out how excellent Christ was, nothing else seemed nearly so important or precious. Far from regretting that he had given up all for Christ, he never ceased to thank God that he had done so.
Excellency In The Realm Of Righteousness
Paul was a man who from his earliest days had always been seeking excellence. He wanted the very best. For many years he sought that excellence in himself, trying very hard to be perfect in his own righteousness; trying, but never succeeding, for in spite of his great efforts he could find no satisfaction in his attainments. Sometimes he felt pleased with himself, but at others he was depressed with the fear that after all there was something that he lacked. If he searched the Scriptures to see if there was something more that he ought to do, of course there was – there always is. Only a superficial man, who is too easily pleased, can believe that he is really doing all that he should, and even he has no means of compensating for past failures or blotting them out. Saul of Tarsus was not a superficial man; he was in deadly earnest. For him, then, it must have been a constant source of disappointment to know that he could never reach perfection and that no amount of effort on his part could make him the man he knew he ought to be.
Then one day God, in His mercy, showed Saul where he could find true excellence. To him it was a surprising discovery and a revolutionary one. He gave up trying to be righteous then. He ceased his efforts to be spiritual. What a miserable life it is when we are trying to be spiritual! Moreover we somehow convey this air of misery to others and make them feel that it really isn’t worth it. Saul’s dissatisfaction gave place to great joy when he discovered that God freely offered him the perfect righteousness of Christ, as a gift: that he no longer had to try to be content with his own imperfect efforts, but could possess as his very own the excellency of Christ’s righteousness. Never again would he have to fear failure, for there is no failure in Christ. Never again would he have to make comparisons of his own efforts with those of others, wondering if he could manage to surpass their standard and so have the doubtful satisfaction of feeling better than his fellows.
This comparative righteousness – being rather better than those around us – brings no real comfort. Happily the righteousness of Christ is not comparative. It is excellent – it is better than the best. Christ is the sum total not only of all that we would like to be, but of all that God could ever wish us to be. He could not be better, for He is perfect. When Paul found that there was a righteousness like that to be had, he gladly let go of all else to possess it. His own religious efforts, his good opinion of himself, his reputation before others, his wealth, his status: if these were a hindrance to enjoying such an excellency, then he would gladly discard them all, for they were not gains but losses. Who ever would seek to find satisfaction in his own imperfections when he could freely possess the perfection of Christ?
Saul did not begin his Christian life by resolving to adopt Christian doctrines, nor did he fall into the error of basing his happiness on his own ability to copy other Christians, or even to imitate Christ Himself. He realized that, in the Lord Jesus, the Father had found His full and final satisfaction. All that God now wanted was that Saul should freely appropriate the same excellency, find his rest in it, and begin to prove its value as an inward power in his own life.
Excellency In The Realm Of Love
Saul had also sought excellency in his, friendships and associations. He moved in high circles, and aspired to move in even higher ones. He liked to be with the best people, and to have them as his friends. He wanted to be well thought of, to have a good standing and close friendship with those who mattered most. He liked to be liked – and who of us does not? But it seems certain that as he pursued this course he found that the friendship of the world left him restless and dissatisfied.
Then the day came when he found the supreme blessing of knowing Christ and the excellency of His love. From that moment he forsook all lesser loves. He counted the friendship of this world and the attractions of its society well lost, if in exchange he had found a place in the love of Christ. He did not mourn over the past or regret what he had given up, for he had now found something so much better, the excellency of the love of Christ.
It was an absolute love. It had led his Saviour to lay down His own life in order to redeem one who was doing his utmost to be His worst enemy. No wonder, then, that the apostle found a new incentive to pour out his own life in sacrificial devotion. How inadequate and unworthy had been his motives when he was only trying to please men and to be rewarded by their favour! How full of compromise life can be when we are governed by the thought of what people will say or think of us! How erratic is our course, when we are looking this way and that to be sure that men do not misunderstand us, fearing their criticism or longing for their praise. To Paul, the love of Christ was so excellent that it formed a master passion in his life. Other considerations which used to weigh so heavily with him had now ceased to matter. It was not that he was indifferent to others, or lacking in appreciation of them, but rather that everything else had to be subordinated to the one purpose of pleasing the One Who loved him so much.
In the light of such love, Paul felt a constant urge to get to know his Lord better. It could never be enough just to have a superficial satisfaction with his first experience of the love of Christ. It is true that life had many good things to offer, but these were nothing compared to an increasing intimacy with Christ. It is a sad thing when Christians imagine that they know it all, and allow other interests to draw them aside from the one great pursuit of a deeper knowledge of the Lord. Paul realized how small was his apprehension of the love of Christ, and was all the more determined to let nothing stand in the way of his learning more of it.
Excellency In The Realm Of Power
Furthermore there is excellence in the realm of power. Hitherto Saul had exerted his own strength – and it was not inconsiderable. He had also sought and found support and authority from the great in this world. The very day in which he met Christ, he was intent on showing how energetic he could be, and his energy was backed by letters of authority which bore weighty names. Within his own nation none dare withstand him; he felt equal to them all. It was not that Saul had never tasted power, for he had; but in coming to Christ he came into the sphere of an altogether different kind of authority, which far surpassed anything he had previously dreamed of. We need not worry if we lack human power or earthly authority. This man who had them, cast them away as worthless rubbish, once he had discovered the blessedness of fellowship with the One Who has all authority in Heaven and on earth. It is the excellency of Christ’s power which is meant to characterize our lives.
The power which Judaism wielded was a power to exclude, a power to shut men out. Intolerant of all with which it did not agree or which it could not understand, it hunted men down, denounced and accused them, excluded them. That was all it could do. The power of Christ, however, was a superior one, for it brought men in, even sinful and unworthy men. It pursued men – only to pour out love upon them. Its message was one, not of accusation, but of freedom from condemnation by the Blood of the Cross; it did not shut men out because they were unfit, but offered to make them fit in order that with boldness they might enter in. All the wealth and learning of Paul’s old world could only provide a Beautiful Gate, outside which a poor lame man might sit and beg. Yet the humble disciples of Christ, with neither learning nor wealth, could speak a simple word of power in the Name of Jesus which could set such a man on his feet, and send him entering joyfully into the Temple, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:8).
Saul and his colleagues only had power to put men into prison. Christ’s power was superior, for He could bring them out. Once and again in those early days, the prison doors were opened and the imprisoned saints set free. This was indeed power, something with which the rulers themselves could not cope. But far more than material prisons were broken open: for men whose souls were in bondage, men who had long been enslaved to their own fears and passions, came to find a full deliverance from the dominion of Satan.
Saul himself, like the man in the Gospels possessed with a legion of demons, had proved the authority of Christ to speak the word of release which would bring him – “clothed and in his right mind” – to sit docilely at the feet of the Jesus Whom he had once so hated. Such a man cannot be seduced by the offer of earthly titles or positions among men, nor can he be frightened by those who claim to possess them. All lesser powers are seen to be feeble when once a man has tasted of the exceeding greatness of Christ’s resurrection power.
Yes, that is where the excellency lies. It is resurrection power. “The weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). God does not begin until man has finished. His power is the power of resurrection, coming into circumstances which speak of hopelessness and impossibility – as it were the very death of all human efforts – and showing the excellency of His mighty power. He seeks such circumstances; He needs them; He will, if necessary, wait for them. It may have taken some time for Paul to realize how his own energies and efforts could hinder the Lord and get in His way.
He doubtless felt, as we often do, that he could contribute something by his own strength or wisdom to assist the Lord’s working. A time came, however, when he had to realize that this was not so, that his supposed gains were really losses, his helps hindrances. When he had learned this lesson, he was led into a life of great power and fruitfulness, for his ministry became marked not by his good efforts and intentions but by the excellency of Christ’s risen power. It is only by learning to be crucified that we can prove the reality of the power of God.
Excellency In The Realm Of Purpose
Saul was an ambitious man. He wanted the best and was willing to plan and strive that he might reach it. Yet he was, in fact, moving in the opposite direction: the harder he tried to serve God the more he became an antagonist of Christ. For let us make no mistake about it: God’s goal is always Christ. If we are striving for any other objective, seeking satisfaction in ourselves or in others, or trying to build up something of importance among men, then we are failing to appreciate what God’s purpose is. It is even possible that, like Paul in his misguided zeal, we are working against the Lord’s purpose even while we seek to serve Him.
God has one great all-inclusive purpose, and that is to fill everything with the glory of His dear Son. There were many good things which Paul might have done, some so good that he might even have felt it worthwhile devoting his whole life to them. In Christ, however, he had found the excellent, the surpassing, and for that he gladly counted all else but loss. He saw that God’s intentions toward mankind were not just of general kindness or helpfulness: so far as he was concerned the one urgent matter was that Christ should be given a place in their lives. Nothing else was good enough; this was the one thing that mattered. If they failed to live in the good of Christ within, then all else was vain. For this one purpose, then, Paul put himself unreservedly at the Lord’s disposal. He was willing to endure any suffering, if by it men could be brought to a living knowledge of Christ. And, until we come to the same position, we, likewise, cannot know true excellence.
The apostle realized, though, that such a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus was not the end of his ministry, but only the beginning. The Father’s intention concerning the believer was more than an introduction to Christ and more than a committal to Christ: it was that the whole life should be possessed by Christ and changed into His likeness. Paul not only sought converts, he sought converts who should be entering by experience into the excellency of Christ. He knew that in eternity this would be the one thing that mattered, and he made it his business in all his ministry to labour for eternity. The great issue then would not be concerned with the hundred and one things which seem to matter in Christian life and work now. The one great question would be: How Christ-like had they become? This, then, became the master passion of the Apostle Paul, so far as he had any part that he could play: to “present every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
And he knew that this ministry was inextricably bound up with his own apprehension of Christ. Far more than we realize, God is concerned with His great end of conforming us to Christ. To what purpose is our service to Him or to others if we are not growing more Christ-like even as we serve? By all means let us devote all our powers to the Lord’s service, but let us beware of making service the end, for, so far as God is concerned, the only satisfactory end is Christ. And we need not wonder whether it is necessary to be so downright as Paul was, for we may be sure that it is. Only those who are prepared to go right through with the experience of counting all things loss for Him can be sure of enjoying the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
A Healing Balm
Consider a child who has fallen and grazed its knee. It runs inside crying to its mother, and she applies a soothing balm to heal the wound and take the pain away.
So it is with me my child. I am like that soothing, healing balm. I love you with an everlasting love. And whenever you are in need, just like that child running to its mother for comfort, so you can run into my strong arms.
For my child I know your needs, your desires and your stresses. I know all the cares that you have in your heart, and I want to wash those cares away. I long for you to come to me with your cares and problems. For my arms are big and strong and my heart loves you. You don’t have to ever think that I do not care or want to soothe those things away.
For as you run to me and rest in my arms and let me take those cares away from you, I will show you what I have planned for you. And indeed all my plans are for good! It is the enemy who tries to throw things at you to unsettle you or trip you up.
But now you need to look to me and let me show you those plans. Give me those wounds and hurts. Let me heal them and pour on that soothing balm. Then I will show you the wonderful future that we have together.
And if you need to do things or make changes to your life in order to get to those good things, I will slowly and gently begin to show you how to make those changes. I will never push myself on you, but when you give me license I will work on your behalf and help you to make the changes.
I love you my child! I want the best for you! Come to me now. Make that first move, and then look up and rejoice at the wonderful future that I have for you says the Lord!