This past week, the Green Bay Packers and future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers made headlines in an interview on his girlfriend Danica Patrick’s podcast by saying that he rejects the Christian faith in which he grew up. He said, “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell. What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”
There’s a lot to unpack here. First… the idea that God wants to condemn “most of the planet” to hell is not what Christianity teaches. God wants to save all of the planet from hell. That’s why he sent his Son Jesus. I shared scripture in last week’s sermon indicating that God wanted to save everyone. But consider this: we all know John 3:16. Look at the verse after that: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
As for hell, God paid an infinite price in order to save us from our sins—he died on the cross. And he’s giving us grace to receive this gift of salvation right now. If people refuse to receive this gift, what would you have God do? Override someone’s free will? Force people to have something they don’t want to have? You say, “But everyone wants to go to heaven.” Yes, but not on God’s terms! C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Lewis also said it well in his book The Problem of Pain when he said,
In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.
But there are many things I wish I could say to Aaron Rodgers. If he happens to see this sermon online, he can call or message me at 678-215-4183. I’d be happy to answer his objections—and, I hope, bring him to a place where he can receive this eternal lifeline to Christ that God is throwing to him right now, before it’s too late, while he still has time. Don’t you agree that Rodgers has no more urgent need than that?
But listen: We all know people who aren’t so different from Aaron Rodgers, right? Maybe they’re too polite or too afraid to put it as bluntly as he did. But despite their Christian upbringing, despite their baptism, despite their confirmation, despite their church membership, they don’t really believe this stuff; they don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus; they may be sincerely confused and need a friend to help show them the way to Jesus; but as of right now, they are not saved.
Isn’t this still the most urgent part of our mission as a church? To reach those people with the gospel?
This is a timely question, in part, because we have an important meeting after church today—a meeting of pastors and church leaders who make up our W.I.N.G.S. ministry team. We’re going to plan this next year of ministry in the life of our church. W.I.N.G.S. represents the most important things that we as a church do: Worship, Invite, Nurture, Grow, and Serve. And all those very important administrative committees, like Finance, Trustees, and Staff-Parish Relations exist, ultimately, to support and empower the work of W.I.N.G.S.
And even though I chose this passage from Philippians before I knew that we were having this meeting, God in his providence couldn’t have led me to a more appropriate scripture.
Because, oh my goodness, if only we could be like Paul—if we could share his attitude, his longing, his desire, his passion; if only we could live out out these words in today’s scripture—which apply not only to apostles like Paul but to all Christians everywhere and at all times, well… we would be rescuing from hell a lot more of the Aaron Rodgers of the world. In fact, we couldn’t dream a dream that’s big enough to describe what the Holy Spirit would do for us and through us and in us right here at Toccoa First… if we could live out these words. That’s the truth, brothers and sisters… That’s the truth.
In verse 4, when Paul speaks of “confidence in the flesh,” he’s speaking of things outside of faith in Christ that people mistakenly believe they have to do or possess in order to be saved. If salvation were a matter of doing, Paul writes in verses 5 through 7, he would have no worries. He has all these “credentials,” which would seem to qualify him for salvation.
Yet what does he say in verse 8? They’re worth less than nothing.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Notice he says “knowing”—in the present tense; something that is happening now; not something that happened in the past. After all, Paul first met Jesus on the road to Damascus; that’s when the resurrected Lord appeared to him and spoke to him. I’m sure that was a wonderful—if frightening—experience. But Paul doesn’t appeal here to the “surpassing worth of meeting Jesus for the first time”; he says “knowing Jesus.” Right now. This is a present reality. Right now. This is an ongoing relationship. Right now.
I worry that there are too many church people who’ve only known Jesus in the past tense. Like, “I met Jesus at Camp Glisson in the summer of ’88.” Or “I met Jesus on a choir tour back during my junior year of high school” “I met Jesus during a confirmation retreat when I was 12… I haven’t seen him since! Wonder where he went?” Because there was a moment in your past when you knew Jesus; when you wanted him in your life; when you saw—however briefly—this “surpassing worth” that Paul is talking about, but, well… life got in the way pretty quickly.
My point is, none of us is a Christian because of the surpassing worth of having met Jesus once or twice some time in our distant past; we’re Christians because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus right now. Do you know Jesus right now?If you don’t, by all means, let’s fix that!
But Paul goes on in verse 8: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” And the word translated “rubbish” or—as the King James puts it more accurately—“dung” is, as the study notes in one of my Bibles says, a “vulgar term” that would “likely have a certain shock value for the readers.” But Paul uses it to get their attention: “Do you see the absolute treasure you have in Christ? Nothing else is a close second! Nothing compares!” It would be far too mild to say, “I treasure my family, but I treasure my relationship with Christ a little bit more than that. I treasure my record collection, and Jesus is worth even more than that. I treasure my “Netflix and chill” time, but I treasure Christ more.”
No! In comparison to the treasure you have in your present, ongoing relationship with Christ, everything else is so far below that, so insignificant, so much less than that, everything else is… ahem… garbage.
And look… you can’t fake this. Either you feel this way about your relationship with Christ or you don’t. And I’m not standing up here saying that I feel this way all the time. I don’t. I haven’t.
I’ll never forget, back around 2007 or ’8 I was at a party in the home of some church members who lived in our neighborhood. I had only been a pastor for a few years at that point. And I was feeling… ashamed of myself. In relation to most people at Alpharetta First, I felt very poor. And I had a lot of student debt. And I was driving this 15-year-old Honda that we were holding together with baling wire, chewing gum, and duct tape. Every day I would park in the Associate Pastor parking lot. My car was surrounded by—I’m not exaggerating—Lexuses, and Audis, and Beemers. Meanwhile, when I pulled out of my parking space—assuming my car would crank successfully, which it didn’t always do—there was an oil stain on the pavement where my car was leaking oil. I was embarrassed!
So I was in this place where a part of me looked back on my previous life—I was a reasonably prosperous engineer, after all—and I thought, “Why did I do this again? Was this a mistake? By my own standards of success, I’m a failure.”
But getting back to this party… Lisa and I were the only church people there. And this one guy—a very successful businessman named Jorg, who had only recently relocated to the U.S. from Germany—asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a pastor.” “A pastor!” And he started laughing, like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard! “I’ve never met anyone our age who would be… a pastor!” He got hold of himself, apologized, and proceeded to tell me that in Germany only very young children and very old adults go to church. Anyway, I felt… ashamed of myself.
Fast forward two years later… I saw Jorg again—at a different event. He was excited to see me. He said, “Brent, you’ll never believe it! One Sunday last year, my wife dragged me Northpoint, Andy Stanley’s church, and I started reading the Bible every day… Me, of all people, reading the Bible! And, to make a long story short, I’m a Christian!”
And then… guess what? I felt doubly ashamed! Because two years earlier I was envying the fact that Jorg enjoyed the kind of worldly success that I wanted to enjoy but was unable to; meanwhile, he reached a place in his life in which he realized that the worldly success that he enjoyed was rubbish in comparison to what he’d found in Christ!
Why didn’t I see it that way back then? It’s like… At that time in my life I needed money and worldly success to feel good about myself. Never mind that in Jesus Christ I already had a treasure worth infinitely more! This is what Paul refers to in verse 13, when he says that we are to “forget what lies behind” and “strain forward to what lies ahead.” Nothing in the past matters once you’ve found Christ! Indeed, Jesus himself said it more sternly: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I’ve repented, I promise. But let me ask you: What treasure do you think you need, at this moment, in order to feel good about yourself? “I need to score high on the SAT or ACT. I need to be accepted into this college. I need to make partner in my firm. I need my business to succeed. I need to be thin. I need to be young or at least to look younger. I need to be healthy. I need to have children. I need to have grandchildren. I need this person to like me… I need this person to love me.”
This reminds me of something that Michael Scott said on The Office: “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not this compulsive need to be liked… Like my need to be praised.”
If you’re a Christian, you don’t need any treasure outside of Christ to prove your worth to yourself or anyone else! Do you want to know how valuable you are? The God who created this universe and everything in it thought you were so valuable to him that he paid an infinite price—the death of his Son Jesus on the cross—in order to make you, even you, his son or daughter, so that he could enjoy a relationship with you forever. Isn’t that good enough for you? “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Verses 8 through 11 are one very long, compound sentence that describes how we are saved through Christ. But look at verse 11: “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” Don’t misunderstand: Paul isn’t uncertain about whether or not he’s saved. In verse 12, for instance, Paul insists that Christ Jesus has already made Paul “his own.” Christ has taken possession of Paul, and he’s not going to let go—even though Christ wants Paul to keep “pressing on.” Paul’s point is, he and his fellow Jews have always wanted the resurrection from the dead; they’ll do whatever they need to do in order to attain it—they’ll attain it “by any means possible.” And why not? As we all know, life on this side of eternity is the merest blip in light of eternal life in heaven, on the other side of resurrection. So of course we would attain it by any means possible! It’s just that Paul has discovered that his original “means” of attaining it—through his own hard work trying to please God—is impossible. The only means possible, he’s discovered, is through Christ.
But the fact remains: the resurrection from the dead is worth attaining “by any means possible.” Because it’s worth everything to us.
Now, consider this: Isn’t it selfish of me to say, “I will pursue and attain the resurrection of the dead—for me—by any means possible. Oh, and look! I’ve now attained it though Christ! Yay for me! Yet for some reason I’m not willing to even have a potentially awkward or embarrassing conversation with my unbelieving neighbor—to share my testimony or invite him to church—in order that he attain the resurrection from the dead as well”? Resurrection from the dead is worth everything to me. But now that I have it, well… Everything else can fend for themselves!” Do you see the inconsistency?
See, one important part of our “pressing on” is our witness: “Now that Christ has made us his own, what is he calling us to do to make other people his own?
Paul literally gave his life in order that “attaining the resurrection from the dead” wouldn’t be his private possession. John Wesley rode 250,000 miles on horseback and preached 40,000 sermons because of his conviction that people would be eternally separated from God—and thereby fail to attain the resurrection from the dead—unless they repented and believed in Christ.
So what will we do?
[Close by talking about my proposed “mission statement” for 2020: “Treasuring Christ above all, and helping others do the same.”
Moving forward, serving Christ… I’m not saying we don’t have to get to work, only that something has to come first, to happen first… or the work will be difficult, exhausting; it will lead to burnout. No, what needs to happen first is, we need to fall in love with Jesus… we need to treasure Jesus the way Paul does in today’s scripture. And when we do that, the work will take care of itself.]
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 1973), 75.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 130.
 Luke 9:62 ESV
 Romans 5:8 NIV