"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ….
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection" – Phi.3:8&10
On this resurrection weekend, I will be teaching in Lighthouse Point, Florida. Our conference from Friday evening to Sunday morning will focus on the book of Philippians. Paul was writing from prison in Rome, to thank a wonderful body of believers who held a special place in the Apostles heart and ministry. They had supported him by their giving and prayers since his original visit on the second missionary journey. Paul was able to see the hand of God at work in their lives in a unique and powerful way. Though they suffered from poverty and persecution Paul wants to enlighten them on the providential plan of God at work in and through them.
The central passage of the epistle is found in 2:5-11. Here Paul reveals the central focus of all human history, the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shows how our Lord submitted to the will of God, leading down from His position of eternal glory to the agonizing death on the cross. But out of that greatest display of sin, evil, and injustice, God brought up our Lord in resurrection and power and exalted Him above every name. The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is "King of kings and Lord of lords". This is the outworking of the providential plan of God in its greatest display, working power out of weakness and glory out of shame. God designed all history around the cross of Christ, and it is His majestic purpose to reproduce this work of glory in the lives of all who believe in Him.
When we speak of the providence of God we mean to convey that God is working out a plan in history, devised before history began. This plan has redemption and reconciliation as its goal and the cross of Christ as its modus operandi. The whole nature of God is constantly at work in every event in every life to accomplish this goal. Jesus said, "My Father is working until now". The work of creation was done in the beginning, and God rested from that work. But the work of redemption began at the fall and continues through time. Providence means that God sees every need in advance, and provides for every problem. One of the great passages on providence is where Abraham is tested to offer Isaac (Gen.22). When Isaac askes where the sacrifice is, Abraham replies, "God will provide..". After God provides the ram in Isaac’s place, Abraham gives God the name (or rather recognizes Him) as "Jehovah Jireh", the God who sees and provides. In the process Abraham saw, as it were, Isaac "raised from the dead" (Heb.11:19). It was a preview of the cross, but also an object lesson to Abraham that he served a God who "gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did" (Rom.4:17).
As Paul encouraged the saints in Philippi he wanted them to have the same confidence. Out of their poverty, suffering, and weakness, God would bring power, victory, and glory. The God who "works all things together for good to those who love Him" (Rom.8:28) would not fail them. Paul declared that he was "confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phi.1:6). However, He does not say that this is done apart from responsibility on our part. We are made volitional beings, after the likeness of God. We can choose to submit to His working or to resist it. Examples of those who resisted the work of God in their lives are given (1:15-16; 3:18-19). God will overrule all things for His glory, but He does not violate the principle of personal responsibility or its consequences.
And so the Apostle speaks of his own struggle to lay hold of the mind of Christ (2:5). Like each one of us, Paul had to make a life-defining decision. He could exalt himself (3:1-6) and suffer eternal loss, or he could humble himself, so as to gain all that was his in Christ. He believed what Jesus said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Mat.16:25). Having seen what God did for His only begotten Son through the shame and agony of the cross, Paul was assured that out of his own sufferings God was working "an eternal weight of glory" (2 Co.4:17). The power of the resurrection was working to take every stain of death in his life and turn it into the splendor of glory forever. He knew that, like his master, he had to choose to "go down", if God was to lift him up (Jam.4:10; 1 Pe.5:6). He urges the Philippians (and us) to "join in following my example" (Phi.3:17).
As we reflect on the wonder of Christ’s resurrection at this time, we would do well to go beyond reflection and choose to follow in His steps (1 Pe.2:21). For it is the expressed will of God to bring glory to His name through your life. It begins with new birth through faith in Christ Jesus. But it doesn’t end there! God is able to bring strength out of your weakness, honor out of your shame, and joy out of your sorrow. Only He can turn conditions of death and slavery into life and liberation. All that He asks is that we join Him in the process. "Work out your own salvation…for it is God who works in you" (Phi.2:12-13). May God bring each of us to know that all that lures us in life is dust and ashes in the light of the incomparable knowledge of our Lord. May we begin, like Paul, to "count all things loss" to gain Christ. May the "power of His resurrection" have the freedom to work in our every decision and action. For if we choose this path, we will not have to wait for our future resurrection, we will in time "attain to the resurrection from the dead" here and now, by living in the power available to us (Eph.1:17-20; 3:;20-21). My prayer is that this resurrection Sunday will be more than just a memorial to us. Rather let it be a precious personal reality!