Love So Amazing: Philippians 3:4b-14

Isaac Watts, 1674-1748, read this passage of scripture and wrote the great hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” For him, the surrendering of “things” was a spiritual concept that could only be expressed in great poetry.

Much is written about letting go of the past when the past contains guilt and failure. Not as much is written about letting go of the past because of its success and accomplishments. We speak of averting or denouncing pride with a humble hope of hanging on to past accomplishments. Paul takes the Philippian Christians and us a step further. He suggests that, “,the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord,” (v 8) is worth the necessary disengagement from what once brought us notoriety, respect, or esteem. The call on the life of all believers is the call toward Christ-likeness. This is not something that can be grasped by one hand while the other hangs on to the glory days of the past. Letting go of the past is a “down-sizing” that results in a special kind of freedom.

Denial is not what is called for here. What is called for is surrendering all that sets us apart as unique or special in times gone by. We are called to surrender that kind of self-identification and status to an identification that can best be described as Christ in us, or Christ-likeness, that causes people to see Jesus in every aspect of our lives and worldview.

Our identity and our worldview are costly items to give up in order to follow the teachings of Jesus. We work hard to make a name for ourselves, to establish a reputation, and to gain particular influence. Give that up for the ways of Jesus? Is it really necessary in order to be a good Christian? But a careful reading of this scripture does not press us toward the goal of being a good Christian. That term has too many cultural appendices that are not biblical and are not of the gospel. We are called to Christ-likeness, and that is a much higher goal, a much more costly surrender.

From this passage we get the challenge, the image, the poetry of the phrase “press on.” This encouragement breaks us loose from the backward pull of the past. These two simple words move us beyond any thoughts of self-righteousness. By pressing on, we never fully arrive, but neither do we stop, for we push toward Christ-likeness. That is the tendency of the disciple, the prevailing wind at the Christ-follower’s back.

For Paul, to know Christ is to share in his suffering, to become like him in his death. Paul longs for resurrection as well, but he does not wish to avoid the cost of discipleship on the way. Paul’s letter, now understood to be scripture, declares that there is no commitment to Christ if there is no accompanying agreement to accept the pain of transformed living in a world that, at best, simply doesn’t understand it.

There is resurrection on this trajectory, but at this point we only long for it, lean toward it, point to it, as a poem points toward truth. Watts wrote a great and rousing hymn that never sings of resurrection. It sings of love so amazing, so divine, that it demands our all, just by its shear immensity. Watts’ poetry gives us suffering and surrender that is about to burst.

Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.

-from another poem of Isaac Watts



A word about the series

The Lenten season has always inspired many people to create everything from poems, art and music to a completely new direction in their lives.  This Lenten season Tabernacle will be exploring many of those creations in the hope of inspiring you to compose in a medium that is natural for you.   The paintings in the Sanctuary are of the Biblical Stations of the Cross.  The artist, Grieg Leach, completed them in 2010.  They will help us to visualize the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus.  In addition to the paintings there is a Lenten devotional booklet, Return to Me, which is available in print or online.  The Stations of the Cross also inspired these devotions, written by Terry York of Baylor University.   Living with these two bodies of artistic expression based on the Biblical Stations of the Cross throughout the season of Lent should help us as we seek to return our lives to God by walking with Jesus though his final days.

Pray, read, think and return to God.




All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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A division of MorningStar Music Publishers, Inc., St. Louis, MO

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