Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
He’s not a boring sort, old Paul. This short passage leaps from passionate denunciation of those who were trying to lead Christian folk back into the shackles of the Law – complete with superbly Pauline sarcasm as to his own blamelessness! – into the even more passionate heights of his devotion to Christ. This is Paul’s testimony, the meaning of his life and his one aim and focus, we may remind ourselves, as he faces death from a prison in Rome.
We have it so easy in comparison. Our worst experiences are most likely being mocked or snubbed or someone daring to say they disagree with us. And I wonder are we the poorer – and the more boring – for it? In our mild Western world with its politically correct tolerance of everyone and everything, are we all settling down to a beigey blandness?
You couldn’t ever call Paul bland. I don’t think Jesus comes across as bland either, especially when he confronts corruption and exploitation. And the God of the Old Testament certainly doesn’t hold back when he speaks his mind – and his judgment – against human wickedness.
There’s plenty for modern-day Christians to speak out about. But are we – unlike Paul – afraid of what we might lose? What would the church look like if we were to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and call all our qualifications and advantages and status, all our traditions and privileges ‘rubbish’ for Christ?
Open our eyes, Lord Jesus,
to what is real and true and to what is rubbish
in your eternal scheme of things.
Open our hands to let go of the rubbish.
Open our hearts to receive the real and true,
and then light-hearted, unburdened by the rubbish,
send us out to share your love,
happy to be your servants in your world. Amen.
Dorothy Courtis, lay preacher and member, Thurso United Reformed Church