Welcome, friends! Micah 6:1-8 lets us know exactly what God desires for us as God’s people: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Click on the videos below, and we will consider the Word of the Lord together.
Blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill the hearts of your people with the fire of your love and mercy, and with the desire to ensure justice is done for the common good of all persons. Amen.
The ancient Philippian church had lost sight of their purpose, of what is the primary reason for their being in existence. Simply put, they needed to unify around what is the central and most valuable core of Christianity: knowing Jesus Christ. For the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church at Philippi, Jesus was so valuable that he literally gave up everything to become a Christian and follow Jesus. (Philippians 3:4-14)
It was no little thing that Paul did, converting in such a completely life-altering way to Christ. Paul had everything going for him. He was the up and coming star in Judaism. Paul had the Jewish pedigree, the intelligence, the personality, and the drive to become one of the greatest Pharisees of all time. And yet he forsook it all to pursue and know Christ.
It might be hard for us to imagine just how significant Paul’s turn around was. On a much smaller scale, it would be like Green Bay Packer quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, at the height of his career, leaving football altogether to become a missionary to some remote place few people have ever heard of. Most might likely think he lost his marbles and was throwing away (pun intended) something valuable and important. So, it was with Paul. Everyone thought he was nuts for becoming a Christian.
However, this would be to misunderstand what is really of greatest value. There are plenty of people in our society telling us what we need. With all the noisy rhetoric, from political pundits to commercial marketers, the person and work of Jesus can easily get lost in an ocean of competing voices. On a practical level, it can be far too easy to simply toss Christian discipleship on the smorgasbord of good ideas we get handed each day. Jesus might get misplaced and forgotten on our plate of life because of the mass of other food that is piled alongside him.
World Communion Sunday (always the first Sunday in October each year) reminds Christians that Jesus is our surpassing greatness, the highest and most worthy asset we possess. When we come to the Lord’s Table, there is nothing else to feast upon except Jesus, and Jesus alone. In the act of receiving the common elements of bread and cup, we proclaim that we need no one else and no other thing to make us happy in this life. Jesus is enough for us. What is more, we stand united with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world in a common purpose and value of knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
The core value and heart of Christianity is a faith and love relationship with Jesus, to know him. This was the heartfelt cry of the Apostle Paul, and it was so meaningful to him that he gave up everything to pursue Christ and follow Jesus. If we ever strip Christianity of this core value and stray from knowing Christ, the vacuum will be quickly filled with all kinds of other stuff, like the sheer duty of perfunctory prayers, clean living, and dispassionate robotic service.
Paul longed to know Christ better. There are two words in the Greek language for “know.” One word refers to information; the other refers to an experiential knowledge – and that is the word Paul used with the Philippians. He deeply desired an intimate experience of Jesus. And Paul craved this so much that literally everything, when compared to Jesus, was “rubbish” to him.
In the ancient world there were no landfills and dumps – the street served as the place people threw their garbage. The trash then got trampled into the ground, along with the generous amounts of animal dung. That is how Paul thought of even the best things in life as compared to knowing Jesus.
There is no comparison between a freshly grilled T-bone steak and microwaved liverwurst. There is no comparison between a billion dollars and a penny. There is no comparison between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears (sorry Chi-Town). And there is no comparison between Jesus and anyone or anything else, no matter whom or what it is.
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in the fifth century, described life apart from Jesus as “disordered love.” By that he meant we pursue whatever our affections are set upon. One might love family, friends, job, and hobbies, yet if Jesus is absent or must compete for our affections in the middle of those things, then it is a disordered love. The solution, for Augustine, is to rightly order our love by having Jesus as the premier object of our affection. The New Testament frames it this way: Repent and believe the gospel.
To have “disordered love” is a nicer way of saying “spiritual adultery.” Using this metaphor, the appropriate response is to return to our first love. “You have forsaken your first love,” said Jesus to the church in Ephesus. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5).
Christianity is not some religion in which we strike a deal with God to go to heaven if we accept Jesus. Rather, Christianity centers all of life in the person and work of Jesus. The Lord is a jealous God, feeling slighted when Christians moonlight with the world at night while acknowledging Jesus during the day.
Specifically, Paul wanted to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. He yearned to experience a supernatural change from the inside-out – to be a new person in Christ. Paul did not simply turn over a new leaf; he did a dramatic 180 degree turn and went hard after Jesus. A desire and/or decision to know Christ is to be more than a milquetoast “I’ll try to do better.” Christianity, at its core, is dying to self and being reborn in Jesus with new life.
Furthermore, Paul wanted to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. Paul ached to know Jesus so much that he embraced suffering, just as his Lord did. Paul was not some spiritual masochist; he rightly recognized that spiritual growth and intimacy with Jesus largely comes from the harsh realities of life’s trials and difficulties, as faith is stretched. We would not know Christ the healer if we were not broken; Christ the provider if we were not in want; and, Jesus Christ and him crucified unless we were aware of sin in the world along with our own personal sin.
Each time a Christian approaches the Lord’s Table, they set aside competing voices and forsake rival gods to have Jesus. For us who believe, let the ingesting of the elements be an act of fellowship with God. May we, along with Paul, Augustine, and all past saints desire to have Jesus completely take over our lives because he is so valuable to us. We never need to be perfect to partake of bread and cup. Instead, we only need to strive toward what is ahead and decide that today we will press on toward the higher goal of knowing Christ.
I am the youngest of four kids, and because of that reality I had to follow my siblings in school and have the same teachers they had. I can tell you that I heard this statement more than once: “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” and “Why aren’t you like your brother?” I often had this icky feeling in school that I somehow fell short because I wasn’t like them.
Our task as Christians is to imitateChrist – not try and impersonateothers by being someone we are not. God has created each of us uniquely and has gathered us together in his church. So, we need to strive to be the best particular person we are in imitating Jesus by means of who God designed us to be, and learn to work together in the church appreciating one another as we seek to follow Christ.
We are to imitate Christ through embracing a biblical set of relational values (Philippians 2:1-2). It is shared values, not smooth sailing, which keep a group of people together. If we have experienced encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, and compassion then we need to remember and recognize this and pass those collective values on. None of these ideals occur in isolation; they happen because God mediates his blessings to us through other people. In other words, we owe to others what God has done through others for us.
These common relational experiences occur as we participate in the life of our triune God. The values that undergird our relational dynamic in the church come from the perfect relationship that occurs within God himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. As we spend time with God and are filled-up with him, the love and grace of God spills-over in our dealings with others. This is not a matter of will-power; rather, it is a matter of spending time with God because we as people tend to imitate those we hang around.
If we hang out with people who are always complaining, we are going to continually be grumps who never get anything done. But if we hang out with people who are always praying, we are going to have a value of constantly connecting with God and interceding for others. If we hang out with people who are never happy, we are going to have a pessimistic outlook on church ministry. But if we make it a regular practice to hang out with Jesus, we will imitate Christ’s values of humble service and a gentle attitude. If we hang out with people who are encouraging, loving, tender, and compassionate, we are going to emulate those same biblical mores.
My sister was the valedictorian of her class; I didn’t follow in her steps. My brother was the kind of compliant kid that teachers envied to have in their classes; I think my teachers wondered if we were from the same family. My other sister was friends with her teachers and they all enjoyed her; I remember getting a lot of sighs and eye-rolling from my teachers. Eventually, I gave my life completely to Jesus Christ my senior year of high school. I found my identity in Jesus. I discovered I didn’t have to be like anyone else because God used me for who I was, right where I was, learning to imitate Jesus.
We are not to be worried or discouraged about how far short we fall before our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Instead, we are to be concerned about how God wants to fulfill all his good promises and purposes in us and through our shared values because at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God. We are to pass on to others every good value we have in Jesus Christ. May it be so.