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Now let me turn to Philippians 3, this is another passage that Ruth and I have memorized. But, I’m not going to say it by memory, I’m going to read it. Philippians 3:7–14, this is the theme that I’m going to be dealing with both this morning and this evening, the Lord helping me.
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed, I also count all things lost for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him not having my own righteousness which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead, not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
That you could say was Paul’s motivation in his life and in his ministry.
And then he identifies all of us with him because in the next verse, verse 15, he says:
“Therefore, let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”
So what is the mark of maturity? It’s having this mind, having the same attitude and purpose that Paul had. So, you can begin to check with yourself how mature are you? What was he living for? What motivated him?
I’m going to take just two phrases that he uses, one this morning and one this evening, God helping me. He says, “That I may know Him.” Who’s Him? Jesus.
And then for the evening he says, “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
So that was Paul’s motivation. That’s what impelled him to go on in the face of opposition, suffering and discouragement, and every kind of barrier that the enemy could raise up against him. He went ahead with that motivation, “that I may know Him.”
“And if by any means,” that’s a remarkable phrase, isn’t it? “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I’ll deal with that, God helping me, this evening. Attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
But this morning I want to talk about “that I may know Him.” Paul had been an active, committed Christian for probably at least twenty years when he wrote those words. But he didn’t say because I was saved, baptized in the Spirit, called into the ministry; therefore I know Him. He said my aim is to know Him. The fact that you’ve been saved and baptized in the Spirit, and maybe become a member of a church, does not necessarily mean that you know Him.
I’ve used a phrase which I’ll use here this morning, a lot of believers have been saved by a stranger. Jesus has saved them but they don’t know Him. You could take a little picture, you’re in the middle of a river drowning, you’re going down for the third time. You see somebody on the bank. You don’t pray a nice, little, formal prayer, “If it be your will, dear whoever you are on the bank, please come and help me.” What do you do? You say, “Help!”Is that right. As loud as you can and you don’t care whether you’re dignified or undignified. And so this stranger jumps into the water, pulls you out, gives you whatever you need, CPR, whatever that may be, brings you back to some semblance of life and then says, “Let me put you in my car and I’ll take you to my home.” So both of you are dripping wet, you get into his car, you spoil all the upholstery. He digs out a blanket from somewhere and wraps it around you, drives you to his home, takes you in, gives you a shower, puts some fresh clothing on you and then says, “Now, this is may address, here is my phone number. You know the way, come back and see me.” And, he drives you back to your home.
So you’ve been saved but you don’t know the person who saved you, you just had an initial, dramatic contact. And a lot of Christians never bother to pick up the phone, never take the trouble to visit, they just say, “I’m saved.” You don’t know Him. It takes a lot more than being saved to know Him. Paul was one of the chief apostles of his day. He planted many churches, saw many miracles and he still said, “My purpose is that I may know Him.” He didn’t say, “I know all I need to know about Him,” he said, “I really need to know Him.”
So I want to challenge you this morning, what is your motivation? What are you living for? Do you just attend church two or three times a week and carry on with a pretty normal kind of life and do nobody any harm, and spend a lot of time in front of the television set? Is that what Paul is talking about? It’s totally in a different category.
One thing I’ve observed about the Christian church in history—and I’m by no means a church historian—basically, what people do is take their own lifestyle and put some Christian labels on it. But what they’re labeling is not what the label says. We settle down to a lifestyle of our own choosing and we say we’re Christians. If the apostles were to walk into some of our churches they wouldn’t have any idea what kind of people we were. They wouldn’t know what we’re doing, it’s so totally different.
I believe in making appeals, I’m not challenging that, but it’s an interesting fact as far as we know, the apostles never made appeals. They didn’t say, “If you want to be saved, come forward.” What did they do? They preached the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and they let the Holy Spirit do the work.
Peter spoke about those who “preached the gospel to you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.” If we really have the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven it will work. I’m not saying it of the Holy Spirit, I’m saying the process will work. I want you this morning to, for a little while, reevaluate your Christianity.
You see, I believe God wants to reach America but He’s only got one channel, that is the church. Evan Roberts, who is the preacher in the great Welsh revival in 1904 that shook the whole nation of Wales used this little slogan:
“Bend the church and bow the world.”
If the church will bend, the world will bow. But, if the church will not bend, God has no way to reach the world. We can either be a channel or we can be a barrier.
Now, if you consider many of the things that have happened and been featured in the media in the last few years in this country, I think if we’re honest we’d have to acknowledge we’ve been more of a barrier than a channel. You can point the finger at other people but that’s not what God has called you to do. God says let a man examine himself. So I’m suggesting a little time of self examination here this morning because I really believe that Atlanta depends on the church. The destiny of this whole metropolitan area ultimately depends on how the church in Atlanta conducts itself. You can be a channel or you can be a barrier. But the responsibility of being a barrier is fearful. May God help us.
You see, much of the New Testament is tied up with knowing God. I don’t know how many of you ever learned French but in Britain when I was growing up, between the two world wars, French was the demanded second language. Every English child had to learn French. So I learned French at school. I did well, I’ve got that kind of mind, my marks would always be in the 90% area. There was just one problem. When I went to France I wondered what the language was that they spoke there because it didn’t have much to do with what I learned in school.
I don’t know whether you know the British people. I’m British by background and an American citizen. But the British have a theory, it’s never enunciated, it’s just there, that if other nations had known how the British would pronounce the words, they would have pronounced them that way.
But anyhow, one of the things they drilled into us from our English backgrounds is there are two French words for “to know.” One is savoirand the other is conetre. The difference is that savoiris to know a fact, conetreis to know a person. And you see, what we’re talking about is not savoir, it’s not knowing a doctrine, it’s not knowing a lot of historical facts but it’s knowing a person.
Jesus said in John 17:3:
“This is life eternal, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you sent.”
So eternal life consists in knowing God and Jesus. In John 14:6 He said:
“I am the way, the truth and the life...”
That’s very interesting, you see, because truth in the Bible is not some abstract statement, it’s a person. Life is not some manifestation, it’s a person. John said in his first epistle, “The life was manifested and we saw Him,” not it. Life is a person, truth is a person, peace is a person. Ephesians 2:14 says:
“He Himself is our peace.”
If you get just involved in knowing facts, theories and doctrines you’re not getting what God intended you to have. God wants to reveal Himself to us. Not just a religion, not just a formula but a person. And that’s what Paul said, “That I may know Him.”
Another important fact about the spiritual life is it’s a pathway, it’s not a static condition, it’s not a position. Proverbs 4:18 says:
“The pathway of the righteous is like the shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect [or the complete] day.”
So righteousness is not a position. You don’t take a place, sit down and say, “Here I am, I have righteousness.” Righteousness is a pathway along which you move progressively all the time. The book of Proverbs says the light grows brighter day by day on this pathway. So, brothers and sisters, let me say this to you, if you are walking by yesterday’s light you’re in danger of becoming a backslider. So many, many Christians are living by light they had years ago they never had any greater light. They’re not moving, they’re immobile. They don’t even know it but God has gone past them a long way.
I used to get a magazine that was put out in South Africa. None of you would have ever seen it, it went out of print. One of the editions had this statement on the front, “Life’s greatest tragedy is losing the presence of God and not even knowing you’ve lost it.” I have never forgotten that. I thought how tragic, people who knew the presence of God, walked in it, lived in it, somehow they’ve lost contact and the tragic thing is they don’t even know that they’ve lost it. I agree, I think that’s life’s greatest tragedy. And it’s a tragedy that’s befallen multitudes of Christians.
You probably know that Ruth and I live in Jerusalem now, Israel is our home. We’d been there almost a year and a half before we came back to the States. I got deeply immersed in the situation in Israel in my prayers and in my thinking. And, to a certain extent, of the situation in Europe, especially in Britain. And when I knew we were coming back to the States I said, “Lord, I really don’t think I have anything to say to American Christians. I’m just not in touch.” But I said, “If you want me to speak, please give me the words.” And I believe the Lord has given me this, that I may know Him.
I want to say those words over and over again until they’re imprinted on your consciousness. “That I may know Him.” And bear in mind most of you don’t have the same background that Paul had. I mean, he was a lot further along the way than many of us. He didn’t think he had arrived. In fact, he said, “Not that I have attained or am already perfected, but I press on if by any means...” Well, I mustn’t get into that because that’s for this evening. I hope you’ll be back because I think it’s so important that we don’t take it for granted we’re going to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Paul didn’t. He said, “If by any means...”—if it somehow can work out.
You know, complacency is one of the biggest problems of contemporary Christians. I’m as Charismatic as anybody here and I’ve been Charismatic for more than fifty years. They didn’t call it Charismatic, they used to call it Pentecostal. They used to say we’re fanatics and that it was all wrong. Now they call us Charismatics and that makes us respectable but it really hasn’t changed what we have. They used to talk about speaking in tongues, that was very crude. Now they talk about glossalaliasand that makes it respectable. But anyhow, I’ve been in it. I didn’t choose to be in it, I never heard of Pentecostal people. But I say God threw me in the deep end and said swim.
I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in an Army barrack room. I was so ignorant I didn’t know you had to go to church. God gave me various gifts of the Spirit before I knew anything about church. I was amazed when I went to church and found there were people that had the same experiences. I really think I can say I’ve seen most of what goes on in the name of Pentecostal Charismatics. I’ve never seen people actually swinging from the chandeliers but I’ve seen almost every other thing that’s mentioned. And, I enjoy it. I’m not against manifestations, they make life interesting.
I was brought up an Anglican, that was all I knew. I want to say, Lord, forgive me because I’ve been very critical of the Anglican church over the years, the problem with the Anglican church as I knew it was you really didn’t have to go to church because you knew everything that was going to happen. So, why go? Well, I’ve repented. I mean, I have to say if you’ve ever heard me attack the Anglican church, I have repented because my attitude was wrong. I was disappointed, I felt they’d failed me. I’d been attending church eight times a week for ten years and never heard the gospel. But you know what? Today in Jerusalem Ruth and I are happy attending an Anglican church. And, it’s a beautiful church, beautiful architecturally and beautiful spiritually. It’s a very, very interesting and unique church because it’s the first Protestant church that was every built in the Middle East. It was built inside the Old City while the Turks were still in control. That’s an exciting story. But what’s most exciting is it was the outcome of British Christians in the first half of the 19th century who saw from the Bible that God was going to bring the Jewish people back to their land. They wanted to have a witness for the Jewish people when they came. And so they built this church. The first rector was a former rabbi. They didn’t have most of the things you see in churches, they didn’t have a crucifix, they didn’t have pictures because they knew how sensitive the Jewish people are to that.
Most Jewish people are afraid to walk into a church, did you know that? I don’t know whether you realize that or not. I met a Hebrew Christian—or a Messianic Jew—just the other day in Fort Lauderdale. I said, “How did you become a believer?” He said, “I was staying with some farmers in Ohio and I so envied what they had,” which is what it should be, you know, the Gentiles are supposed to make the Jews envious. He said, “I prayed to God and said if Jesus is the Messiah,” and then he asked God to forgive him for uttering the name Jesus because he thought it was a serious sin. So, most Gentile Christians have no comprehension of what goes on in a Jewish mind. For many Jews it would be a terrible act of disloyalty to go into a Christian church because who’s persecuted them for fifteen centuries? The Christians. You can say not real Christians but that’s another matter.
Anyhow, this church we attend was built by British Christians before any Jews had returned. That’s something I like, you see, seeing from the Word of God what’s going to happen and being ready before it happens. I mean, I’ve been so disappointed in British Christians so many times but I’m proud of those British Christians. They had a very significant impact on the Jewish people in Jerusalem.
I don’t know Brother Michael Musef but I know he’s well known here. He preached in that church to a Hebrew speaking congregation of about two or three hundred people and he returned here to Atlanta and said, “It’s an experience that’s changed my life because of the way they worshiped.”
So, brothers and sisters, this is just by the way but there’s no extra charge, something is happening with the Jewish people. At last, after nineteen centuries the fig tree has put on its leaves and it’s beginning to feel the sap rising up in the branches. When that happens, look out because the end is right at hand. It’s the last act on God’s program when all Israel shall be saved. First of all, Paul said in Romans 11:25 the full number of the Gentiles has to come in. And that’s happening. Millions of Gentiles in nations that never responded to the gospel are responding. Especially in China. They say, and I’m talking about people who know, that between fifteen and twenty-five thousand people are saved every day in China. So that’s the full number of the Gentiles being gathered in. I believe there has to be a much greater ingathering, I don’t believe it’s complete. At the same time, God is preparing the hearts of the Jewish people to turn back to Him. And, it’s exciting.
I mean, to see the Holy Spirit at work and recognize it. The Jewish people don’t know what’s happened to them. I was in South Africa some years ago and because I had preached a sermon on the restoration of Israel, all the Jewish communities in South Africa wanted to hear me speak. So I was in Johannesburg and I was invited to speak to the B’nai B’rith, you know what they are? A Jewish organization to fight anti-Semitism. Totally secular. So, I went there and I didn’t talk directly about Jesus, I told them why I believed in the destiny of Israel, quoting their own prophets whom they didn’t know. In the middle of the meeting two men lit up cigarettes and I thought what a blessing to be in a place where people don’t even know that you’re not supposed to smoke. Thank God I’m not just reaching people who go to church every day. So I gave the talk and at the end the leader who was a Jew born in Israel stood up and he said something like this, “There’s something here, it makes you feel kind of warm.” He said, “I don’t know what it is.” That was his way of describing the Holy Spirit.
You know, the Holy Spirit is the first agent of the godhead that contacts you. You don’t meet Jesus first, you meet the Holy Spirit and He makes you ready to meet Jesus. And that’s what’s happening today in Israel and among the Jewish people worldwide.
I didn’t plan to say this but one of the great breakthroughs was the Jesus people movement in the sixties. It’s estimated 25% of those who met Jesus were Jewish. It was the first real breakthrough since the beginning of the first century. You may not get excited about that but if you had a feel for God’s heart, you would.
This is running outside my outline which probably means I’m saying the right thing. So, about three or four years ago I was in bed in our home in Jerusalem and I woke up about 2:00 am, wide awake with a sense of excitement which I didn’t know any reason for. I said to myself, “Why am I excited?” I felt the answer came, “Because all heaven is excited. It’s the excitement of heaven you’re feeling.” I said, “Well, why is all heaven excited?” I felt the answer was, “Because Jesus is excited. And when He’s excited heaven gets excited.” So then I said, “Why is Jesus excited?” This was the answer I believe God gave me, “Because He is nearly ready to be reconciled with His brothers after nineteen centuries of alienation.” You see, Jesus is divine but He’s also very human. How would you feel if the closest members of your family hadn’t been willing to speak to you or to do anything in connection with you. They even spit when your name was mentioned—for years and years and years. And then you began to sense that they were changing, that they really wanted some kind of relationship. You’d be excited. That’s why Jesus is excited. It isn’t complete but it’s begun.
We’re coming back to the verse “that I may know Him.” How do you know Him? How can you get to know Jesus. Many of you have been saved by a stranger. He fished you out of the river, dried you up, saved your life and you’ve never really bothered to build any ongoing relationship with Him. You’ve just got set in a formal religion where you go to church, sing some songs. Jesus Himself is still a stranger. How can you change that? How can you really come to know Him?
Remember, we’re not talking about knowing a doctrine or a set of facts, we’re talking about knowing a person as a person. The obvious answer is there’s only one way you could ever get to know a person, that’s by having ongoing fellowship with him. There’s no other way. And, that’s the way to know Him, to have a life of daily, intimate fellowship with Jesus.
That’s not religion, that’s something quite different. That’s the way.
I was thinking about this and you know the phrase in the Bible says a certain people, “they walked with God.” I thought that’s it, it’s a daily walk with God. And there are two special persons right in the dawn of human history of whom it is said they walked with God. The first was Enoch. He walked with God and it says he was not because God took him. That was the second Pentecostal sermon I ever heard. I wasn’t used to Pentecostal preaching but he announced his text: Enoch was not for the Lord took him. This was in Britain in World War II and the preacher was one of those who believed in making things vivid and up to date. He pictured the scene after Enoch had disappeared and they sent for the CID, the Criminal Investigation Department, which would be the FBI here. The FBI came along with their tracking dogs and they followed the scent to a certain point and then it stopped, there was no more scent in any direction. So, they concluded he must have gone up.
Well, I was by background a logician at that time and I thought that’s logical, I can believe that. But it didn’t really register with me at the time. But a friend of mine, another preacher, said Enoch and the Lord walked together daily and one day they went so far together that the Lord said to Enoch, “Listen, it’s nearer to my place than it is to yours. So, come on home with me.” And he was taken.
I do believe from time to time there have been people whom God has taken. I won’t go into detail but there was a very godly woman who lived in a small community in Britain. Everybody knew her for a godly lady. One day she just wasn’t there, nobody could find out where she was. Perhaps the Lord took her.
The other man of whom it was said was Noah. Noah was righteous in his generation and it says Noah walked with God. It’s rather interesting because if you view it from the perspective of the flood that was due to come, there were two men that were not destroyed by the flood. Enoch because he was taken and Noah because he went through in the ark. I think, in a way, they’re a pattern. If you want to escape the flood you better walk with God. Then you’ll either be taken or you’ll go through in the ark.
Then you think about Abraham who is the father of those who believe. This became very vivid to me because one day I was preaching in Jerusalem and our Jewish neighbor who is an Orthodox Jew trained as a rabbi came and sat in the front row. I thought now how am I going to communicate to him without offending him? I mean, if I had to offend him I would have done it. But somehow I got onto the theme of Abraham and I said, you know, Abraham was not like the Orthodox Jews who sit every day in a yeshiva year after year, memorizing religious text. He wasn’t a religious person. He was a prosperous cattle farmer. But, he walked with God, he had a daily, ongoing relationship with God. And he’s the father of all who believe. I don’t believe God is challenging us to become religious, God is asking us to walk with Him and get to know Him. And I have the impression that God is longing for fellowship with us.
There’s a dear brother in New Zealand whom Ruth and I came to know. I hope you’ll forgive my digressions, I trust I’m being led by the Holy Spirit. He’s a committed Christian, and his wife. His eldest son was born with Down’s Syndrome, what they used to call a mongoloid. He’s a beautiful Christian but he’s different, he’s still a mongoloid and he does some very unusual things, often prompted by the Holy Spirit. So their next son was a fine young man and then they had a daughter. This second son was all that they wanted a son to be. He and his parents and his sister went to a meeting and the son and the sister drove back from the meeting ahead of the parents. And when the parents came along at a certain point there were all these ambulances and these police cars and they saw there had been a major accident. The Lord spoke to the mother and said, “It’s your family.” So they turned aside and discovered that there had been an accident and the son had been killed at the age of sixteen, and the body was covered. The police, when they discovered who was the father, said, “Do you want to see the body?” He said, “Of course I want to see the body.” So they uncovered the body and the father knelt down and prayed and thanked God for sixteen wonderful years. And the people around the accident started to get saved.
The daughter was seriously injured too, but the mother said to God and to the devil, “That’s enough. One is gone, you’re not taking the other.” And the daughter recovered.
Well, some time later the father and his wife were in a motel and they had been preaching. They went to bed about 11:00 o’clock and the father was really missing his son. The Lord began to speak to him and said, “What is it that’s wrong? You have a relationship, if it’s still there. What’s missing?” And he said, “I have a relationship but I don’t have fellowship.” And the Lord said, “That’s my problem, too. I have a relationship with my people but I don’t have fellowship with any of them.” Then the Lord said to him, “But I’m going to take you to heaven tonight.”
Now, I got this story from him firsthand and he’s a very honest, godly man.
So he lay there awake. Hour after hour passed and nothing happened and he thought, “I must have got it wrong.” But about 5:00 am he suddenly found himself in heaven. He said the colors were unbelievable. It’s not that things had a certain color but the color came out of the thing. Then he found himself beside a little play theater, you know, one of those miniature theaters. So he stooped down, went in and inside everybody was full size and everybody there was about 25 years of age. Everybody was at their prime. And after awhile somewhere across he saw his son. The son was a very playful boy and he kind of said to his father, “See if you can catch me.” He took off and the father took off after him and he said he ran a long, long way as fast as he could and never got tired and never began to sweat. Eventually he caught up with his son and said, “Oh, I’ve been longing to see you.” They had a certain amount of fellowship and then the father began to cry and the son said, “Why are you crying?” He said, “Because I’m so happy to see you.” He said, “Dad, in this place no one cries.” The father found himself back in his bed on earth.
But that stuck with me so vividly that God said, “I have a relationship but what I want is fellowship.” And I believe that’s true of many of you here today. God has a relationship but He’s longing for fellowship. And that’s the only way you’ll get to know Him. It’s not by learning doctrine or even going to a Bible college, it’s by walking with Him daily.
Let me give you briefly three marks of knowing God. As I give them to you I want you to check and say do I have these marks. They’re all found in the first epistle of John, of which knowing God is one of the main themes. 1John 2:3–4:
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says I know Him, but does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
So it’s possible to say I know Him but lie. What’s the evidence that you know Him? Tell me. Keep His commandments, that’s right. If you’re not keeping His commandments, don’t claim to know Him because it’s a lie.
And then in 1John 3:6:
“Whoever abides in Him does not sin; whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.”
Now the verse sin there is in a tense that means regularly practices sin. It doesn’t mean that if you sin and repent you don’t know Him, but if you go on sinning without any concern then don’t tell us that you know Him. He who sins regularly has never had a change, doesn’t know Him. You may have the religious language but you don’t have the qualifications.
And then in 1John 4:7–8, I think this is the most searching test:
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
So you can talk as much as you like about knowing God but if you don’t love, you don’t know Him.
The other side of that is everyone who loves is born of God. We hear, I would say, thousands of people in America say they’re born again but most of them don’t pass the test. Some of them are politicians who are out for votes. But if you don’t love, don’t say you know God because you don’t.
The other side is even more remarkable. Everyone who loves is born of God. That means there’s a certain kind of love that you cannot have unless you’re born of God. How many of us have that love? I mean, the world has got many versions of love. There’s mother’s love, father’s love, the love of a friend. You can have that without being born again. But there is a degree and a kind of love that only comes to those who are born again.
I believe you can be born again and not have that degree of love but I believe you cannot have that degree of love without being born again.
So, why don’t we ask ourselves, the preacher included, do I have the evidence in my life that I know God? Do I keep His commandments? If not, it’s futile for me to say that I know God. Have I ceased from sin? If not, it’s a lie if I say that I know God. And, am I a truly loving person? If not, I don’t have the evidence that I know God.
Can you see a little of what Paul had in mind when he said “that I may know Him”? He wasn’t talking about the experience of salvation or being baptized in the Spirit, or even being a servant of the Lord. He was talking about something far beyond that which I have to say I think the majority of many Christians haven’t even envisioned. It’s not maybe that they wouldn’t want it but they don’t even know it’s there. We have settled down into a kind of hum drum religious existence which is not very exciting, it doesn’t challenge our neighbors. They don’t say, “I want what that person has.” In fact, in many cases they say, “I don’t want what that person has.” We don’t challenge the Jewish people around us, we don’t make them jealous because we’ve missed the real essence of the Christian life which is this passionate desire and this total commitment that I may know Him.
Let me go just one step further and I close. Paul says:
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection...”
You can say amen to that but what about the next one?
“...the fellowship of His sufferings.”
Now I read that verse many, many years and I said, “Lord, I have to say to you honestly there’s things in that verse I cannot say I want. I would love to have the power of your resurrection but the fellowship of His sufferings.” If I were to suffer I would try to do my best but Paul said, “I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings.” How do we explain that? I’ll give you the insight I have as far as it goes.
You see, Jesus suffers with His church. There was suffering that only He had to go through. The atonement, no one else can take that place, no one else can experience that suffering. But that’s didn’t end the sufferings of Jesus. Paul says in Colossians 1:24—you better check if we can say this:
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is, the church.”
Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings.” It’s a remarkable fact, you know, Paul wrote several letters from prison. Philippians was one, Ephesians was another. And in those letters you’ll find he ends up by comforting the people to whom he’s writing. There he is, writing from prison, he says, “Don’t worry about me, I’m all right. I’m really concerned about you.” What kind of letter would you write from prison?
Why did Paul want to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? He says here:
“I rejoice in my sufferings, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, which is, the church.”
That verse implies to me that for the church to be fully formed and completed there’s going to have to be a lot of affliction, a lot of suffering. It will be the suffering of Christ because remember what Jesus said to Saul on the Damascus Road? He said, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He didn’t say, “Why are you persecuting my disciples, but why are you persecuting me?” Because, when you touch my disciples you touch me. Paul says that I may fill up that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. In other words, as I see it, the church will not be complete without a lot of suffering by a lot of people.
And let me suggest to you Christians here at Atlanta, if you want to look for the real saints of God, most of them are not visible on the stage, they don’t have a television ministry, they may not even be like Brother Prince and send out hundreds of tapes. They’re probably in lonely difficult places in China, in Muslim nations, in the jungles of India or Africa. Those are where the real saints are. And the tragic things, dear brothers and sisters, and I speak from observation, is they are neglected by the body of Christ. Christians pour in billions of dollars to support high profile ministries and build elaborate, expensive churches. And the people that are really getting the job done are neglected and not properly provided for. There needs to be a deep repentance in the church of Jesus Christ and a total reevaluation of what we are living for.
We’ll go to one other scripture, 2Timothy 2:10. Paul says:
“Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
The elect means the chosen ones. Whether you like it or not, God has those whom He has chosen. This isn’t a popular doctrine in certain faiths but it just happens to be true. You’re not here because you chose God, you’re here because God chose you. And if God hadn’t chosen you, you would have never chosen Him. Paul had a vision for those whom God had chosen that were not yet His. He said, “That’s what I’m willing to suffer for.”
I think I can share this. Just about three years ago Ruth and I took a six month sabbatical and we went to Hawaii. The last night we were in the continental United States in Dallas we believe God spoke to us and He said, “I want you to pray for my elect in the United States that they will not be dragged down into the gutter with all the rest.” I really didn’t welcome that because I thought they’ve got everything, they’re the ones with the opportunity, they’re the ones with the Bibles, they’re the ones with the ministries. Why should I pray for them? I mean, I have traveled enough and seen enough of different countries to know where there are such desperate needs. But this has become increasingly real to me. I am here, as I understand it, in the United States to minister to God’s elect. To speak for those whom God has chosen. Some of them have not yet found Him but God said, “They are my chosen but they can still be dragged down into the gutter.” I see that so true. I believe there are God’s chosen who are being misled, seduced, corrupted and dragged down.
Now for them, I’ll stand up. I’ll stand up against the powers of darkness.
You know, we talk about intercession and spiritual warfare. I wonder if you realize that spiritual warfare is a very costly thing. If you’re really doing any damage to Satan’s kingdom, he will fight back with everything he has against you.
So, maybe there are some of you here this morning, you’re God’s elect but you’re not where you ought to be. In fact, you’re being dragged down into the gutter, into the awful corruption of American culture today. You spend hours in front of the television set watching things that corrupt your mind and your morals. You spend very little time in front of your Bible. You still have a name that you’re religious but there’s very little real life in you, and you lack the marks of those who know God. I pray for you this morning that God will speak to you to change, that you’ll not go on in this same careless, indifferent, self pleasing lifestyle. I know that’s not true of everybody here, I certainly know that. But it’s true of some. I want to challenge you this morning, don’t stay the way you are. Let God change you. Tell God this morning, “God, I realize I’m missing the real purpose for which I became a Christian. I’m not saying that I may know Him, that at any cost I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Now, if you really want to change and you need to change, it’s good to tell God. But, it’s also often helpful to tell a fellow believer. There’s something humbling in saying I need to repent. God’s grace is for those who humble themselves. We quote 2Chronicles 7:14 so many times:
“...if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways...”
I’ve preached on that scripture dozens of times but recently the Lord said to me, “My people are missing the first step. Nothing follows unless they take the first step. If my people will humble themselves. They’re not humbling themselves.” God showed Ruth and me how to humble ourselves. It’s very simple, confess your sins. And what’s more, it says confess your sins one to another. God put us through a process of confessing sins to one another. I don’t know how you husbands feel but it’s not always easy for a husband to turn to his wife and say, “I need to confess a certain sin.” But I’ll tell you, it does help you if you humble yourself. It’s hard to be arrogant and self righteous if you’ve confessed your sin.
Furthermore, as I understand scripture, the only sins that are forgiven are those that have been confessed. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us. There’s no guarantee that God will forgive sins you don’t confess.