5th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #730
Text – Philippians 3:7
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
COUNTED AS LOSS
Some of you will be tempted to think that I am preaching heresy, false doctrine, blasphemy, & in today’s lingo fake news! There’s a big game tomorrow night. It’s called March Madness & the championship game will be broadcast around the world. Yet, no matter who wins if St. Paul were alive today he would count any victory as a loss.
Can you picture coach K turning in all his championship trophies? Can you imagine the Detroit Red Wings refusing to ever again claim the Stanley Cup? How about Mark Dantonio forfeiting each of his victories over Jim Harbaugh?
As radical as those thoughts are, it’s pretty much the same thing Jesus said to His disciples when He told them, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world & forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36 ESV) In today’s Epistle reading, the apostle Paul makes the same point when he writes: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
That is radical thinking in today’s mega billion dollar world of sports. People love winners, & a winning team can lift the spirits of an entire city along with millions of its fans. I doubt St. Paul would say that’s wrong, but he definitely would want us to keep things in their proper perspective. In a broken world, that’s not a simple balancing act.
There are too many forces pulling us in different directions, & some of those are the wrong direction. In Paul’s day he was battling against two differing forms of religion. One was a very legalistic type, which isn’t all that predominant in our culture. The other was a very promiscuous version of religion that said anything goes because Jesus has forgiven everything.
People from both forms of religion thought they had it made. They were all set, as good
as gold. So what is it that makes you feel good about you? Does that make you feel satisfied & capable or independent? Then whatever that is it’s evil. In the process of reevaluation, as the Holy Spirit grew his faith in Jesus, Paul came to realize that the things he viewed as giving him status or security, the things which made him feel good, had in fact destroyed him.
Going there to persecute Christians, when Paul thought he was on the road to Damascus, he was also on the road to hell. Still, he felt good about himself & what he was accomplishing. After the Son of God interrupted his journey with a blinding revelation, by the Holy Spirit’s guidance, Paul realized that everything he’d previously counted as gain was actually loss.
Paul learned a completely new set of priorities. Can you think of a Bible verse that summarizes them? How about this one, “Seek 1st the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV) Maybe you’ve heard this saying, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.” Keep your priorities in the correct order.
Every day of our lives, as children of God, our separation from the world must be newly made, again & again. To turn away from the desires of the world has many similarities to repentance. And yet, the Word of God promises that if we keep our priorities in their proper order, then Yahweh Himself will bless us with the material things we need for the life He gives.
Here’s another verse about priorities that’s similar to what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “If anyone comes to me & does not hate his own father & mother & wife & children & brothers & sisters, yes, & even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 ESV) You can see why the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus killed. He had a radical outlook on life.
The Jewish leaders wanted Paul dead as well. Communist leaders always end up banning Christianity for the same reason; people who follow Jesus are dangerous to those who take the place of God. Christians can’t be controlled with rules & regulations that have no basis in Holy Scripture. All human systems of government, no matter how successful, are counted as loss if they don’t keep the main thing, the main thing. The season of Lent was designed to remind us of the importance of keeping repentance at the forefront of our living. St. Paul highlighted what he kept at the forefront of his living in his letter to the church at Corinth:
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ & Him crucified.” It’s a perfect text for the season of Lent, as we continue our journey to the solemn events of Good Friday. Earlier in Philippians, chapter 2, Paul details how Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
Instead, He set aside His godly powers that He might live a completely human life. So we are called to count as loss any of God’s blessings to us that we elevate above our Lord. That’s why one tradition of Lent is to give up something that is interfering with your relationship to the heavenly Father.
In so doing we are effectively carrying out Paul’s thoughts in the sermon text, to count, not just as neutral, but as loss anything we once considered to be gain. Whatever may cause us to feel satisfied & capable or independent has the potential to turn us away from absolute reliance upon Jesus to save us from the road to hell.
So what is it that makes you feel good about you? Does that make you feel satisfied & capable or independent? Then whatever that is it’s evil. Having become a murderer, in what he thought was the name of God, St. Paul learned the hard way, that he has nowhere to place his confidence other than in Christ.
So rather than boast of his successes or whatever he has gained, Paul states, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV) Based on that, the Spartan’s basketball team has some things to boast about after last night’s game. For it is our weaknesses, & not our strengths, that draw us to Jesus. Everything else can be counted as loss, however painful it may be to drown the sinful nature in us through daily contrition & repentance. That is what the life of faith is about. Faith in Jesus involves the renunciation of all things of this world in order to store up treasures in heaven.
If we do that, then all these things will be added to you – father, mother, spouse, children, brothers & sisters, even your own life. When we surrender those things to God He gives them back in glorious form. This is an inward, spiritual process, worked by the Holy Spirit. It’s not an isolated deed we do on Sunday but the application of faith to the total content of life.
It is in Christ that we live & move & have our very being. Apart from Him we have no life, no possessions, no treasures, no fond memories & no peace. St. Paul’s values radically changed when he came to know Jesus. Loving our neighbor as ourselves, in a sinful world, means to accept not only inconvenience, but actual suffering as well.
Only a prize that is awesomely great will empower us to think & act in the way Paul is recommending. So Paul writes of eternal life in paradise at verse 12: “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” In verses 13-14 he writes:
“…forgetting what lies behind & straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is no longer confident because he has given his best for God; he now knows that God has given his best for Paul in Christ Jesus.
Our heavenly Father has given us countless blessings here on earth to be used for the benefit of others, & enjoyed by ourselves. Yet, we count all of them as loss for the sake of Christ. Instead, we “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (Matthew 6:20 ESV) The resurrection of Jesus is not simply a slogan we recite on Easter morning, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” His resurrection empowers our living therefore we press on in the present struggles. His promised return to restore all things gives us hope. While we labor in His kingdom, we look not to the results of our work to justify our efforts, but rather turn to His promise of eternal life. Amen.
What is the world to me with all its vaunted pleasure when You, & You alone, Lord Jesus, are my treasure! You only, dearest Lord, my soul’s delight shall be; You are my peace, my rest. What is the world to me! Amen. LSB 730:1.
 1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet