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Sermon for October 8, 2023 – Proper 22

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5046 | Trash and Treasure
Greg Williams

You’ve heard the phrase, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There are numerous stories of people purchasing something at a rummage sale that proved to be quite valuable. I collect coins, and I’ve been fortunate to find a few coins that someone else has discarded because they didn’t see the value in the coin.

Jesus tells a parable to a group of chief priests and Jewish elders about people destroying something valuable because they didn’t know its worth. In this parable, the thing of value is a person. The parable is in Matthew 21 , and Jesus talks about a landowner who built a vineyard and then leased the vineyard to some tenants. When harvest time came, he decided to send some servants to collect his portion of the harvest. The tenants killed the servants. He sent more servants, and they killed them as well. Finally, he decided to send his son, saying, “They will respect my son.” But the tenants killed the son as well. Jesus then asked these religious leaders the following:

Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces its fruits. 

Matthew 21:40-43 (NRSVUA)

Jesus’ parable, of course, is a summary of God’s relationship with Israel and Judah. He sent a number of prophets to his beloved people to encourage them to return to him, and these prophets were often tortured and killed. The religious leaders were quite familiar with their history. Jesus was letting them know that he knew his future, that he would be killed by the very people God chose so many generations before. And shortly after delivering this parable, the Jewish leaders did just what the parable predicted, they killed the one sent to deliver them.

And the rest of Jesus’ words also came to pass. Killing Jesus did not bring them the victory they might have anticipated, instead, it started a kingdom work that is still going and still growing.

Beginning with Abraham, God gave the opportunity to a few to participate with him in showing others who he truly is – a Father who loves his children. Later he chose the nation of Israel and told them they were chosen to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We know the history. They continued to rebel and disobey God to the point that they rejected the very Son of God and crucified him.  

In this parable, Jesus is telling them they are no longer the ones God entrusts to share his kingdom’s message of mercy and grace. Now the message has been entrusted to those who believe – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – all who believe and follow Jesus. 

Others may look down on us because of whom we follow; they don’t see the value of being a believer. They might see what they consider trash. But God sees treasure, and he has invited you and me to participate in his kingdom work – sharing the love and life of Jesus with others. May we live as the treasured of God and bear the kind of fruit that brings glory to him.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 19:1-14 • Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 • Philippians 3:4b-14 • Matthew 21:33-46

This week’s theme is the incomparable gift of knowing Christ. The call to worship Psalm declares the value of God’s perfect law as more desirable than fine gold. The Old Testament reading from Exodus follows properly with the giving of the Ten Commandments. The text from Philippians presents Paul counting all things as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. The Gospel reading from Matthew presents a parable that boldly confronts those who reject Jesus, bringing great peril to themselves.

What Do You Value Most?

Philippians 3:4b-14 (ESV)

What do you value most? That is an unavoidable question that will surface from our passage today in Paul’s letter to believers in Philippi. If we were to make a list of the things most Americans value today, what do you think would be on it? Certainly, time and money would rank high. Career and success would also be found at the top of many lists. Perhaps many would say their families and friends. And in our hyper health-conscious society, certainly good health would rank high. What would be on your list?

This passage will begin with Paul making a list of many top-tier credentials that would be considered highly valuable in his day and age. But he will give us a surprising twist to how he views this list of “most valuables.” And to be clear, Paul is not giving us a list of things we should not be thankful for, or things we should avoid. He is going to share with us something he knows that will expose our usual list of coveted values to be worthless by comparison.

Paul has a reason he is making this contrast. Ultimately, he is arguing against placing what he calls, “confidence in the flesh” as our top value. Paul had just been warning against some false teachers that were insisting on the Jewish tradition of circumcision for a person to be counted as a “real” Christ follower. Paul will not stand idly by as these self-proclaimed teachers attempt to burden his fellow brothers and sisters by imposing external rituals. The Gentile believers in Philippi already had enough challenges to deal with simply by living in the culture they were in. Philippi had been under Roman rule for two centuries before Paul penned this letter. These Gentile Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Savior in the backyard of the Emperor who reserved those titles for himself.

For a bit of historical background: After the Romans began to dominate the Greek world, Rome’s senior leaders were given the same divine honors as the former Greek rulers. In cult-like fashion, each city declared their allegiance and committed their population to obey and respect their new rulers.  Emperor Claudius (ruling from 41 AD to 54 AD) was reluctant to be worshiped, which was interpreted as offensive to the Senate, provincials, and the imperial office. His successor, Nero, became emperor in 54 AD, just prior to the time Paul wrote to the Philippians.  Soon after ascending to the throne, Nero became infatuated with visions of his own grandeur, built a worship center to himself, and restored ruler-worship throughout his empire. He also elevated family members of former emperors.

Christians were already dealing with intense pressure to conform to external religious, political, and economic expectations to be considered devoted citizens of the Roman Empire. Now they were getting the same treatment from some false teachers whose devotion was more to Jewish custom than to Jesus. Paul is passionate in countering their claims and protecting his fellow Christians.

Do we not face the same pressures today? We too live in a culture that is increasingly difficult to proclaim allegiance to Jesus without being ostracized and belittled. To stand against current cultural trends that run counter to the ways of Jesus can land you in some hot water. On top of that, there is always some self-proclaimed teacher or super preacher who wants to add to your identity in Christ some external rule you should follow. And it is usually some external rule that serves their purposes of achieving what they value most. May we hear Paul’s words to us today as a reminder that all our greatest values are nothing to compare to the immeasurable blessing of knowing the true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin by looking at Paul’s own list that once directed his life.

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6 ESV)

Paul is not bragging about his unique status. Rather, he is making a comparison to undermine the false teacher’s claims. If the real life of being a Jesus follower means external qualifications, then Paul should be tops with nothing to prove. Paul lists seven qualifiers that would accentuate his credentials to place “confidence in the flesh.” With these seven qualifications, he covers four values we may be tempted to rely on for our identity and worth.

Background and Heritage:

Paul can look to his upbringing and family name for his confidence as he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” In his Jewish culture, that would be a prized heritage. Heritage was respected not only in the Jewish community, but also by the Gentiles. To Paul’s Gentile audience, the longer ancestry a Greek family could establish, the more credibility that family would enjoy in social standing in the community. We too may be tempted to place our confidence in some heritage we were born into or raised up in. It could be anything from where you are from, what race you are, what denomination or church you belong to, or your family name and reputation. If someone wanted to appeal to your heritage as a way to shift your trust from Jesus, they may find a stronghold if background and heritage are high on your list of what is most important.

Education and Training:

Paul makes it clear he has been given a top education with his statement, “as to the law, a Pharisee.” For us, an acclaimed education may come from having a degree from a top Ivy League school. Or maybe it is the letters we have next to our name. For others, the school-of-hard-knocks can be claimed as the superior training that sets you apart. It is a temptation to place our trust in whatever we see as the most valuable education rather than in Jesus the Master Teacher.

Religious and Political Convictions:

Paul adds to his list the statement, “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul could never be accused of not living what he preached. He was zealous for Judaism; only later did he realize his zeal was misplaced. In our polarizing climate, we too can rate our worth by how active and vocal we are in our alignment with some religious or political conviction. We may be tempted to jump on the latest social bandwagon being paraded as something of chief importance. But as Paul learned, without knowing Jesus, zeal can actually work against the very thing you think you are trying to save.


Paul concludes his list by pointing to his impeccable lifestyle with, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Of course, Paul is referring to a “righteousness” that had everything to do with following external Jewish laws as interpreted by Pharisaic teaching. We too can place our confidence in a lifestyle that has been marked out by certain external practices as a superior way of living. Even a sinful lifestyle can become a means for boasting in a culture that makes up its own rules.

Now that Paul has listed all his trophies that would give him reason to place confidence in the flesh, he will now proceed to throw them all in the trash.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)

This section begins with the transition “But,” and what a transition Paul lays out. What was once considered great gain is now, compared to Christ, counted as a complete loss. Paul expands his point to include counting “everything” as a loss through this comparison. And notice what is being compared! External measurements with that of “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul is passionate about making his point to his brothers and sisters who are being tempted to put their confidence in the flesh. Paul knows this for the lie that it is because he knows Jesus. He knows the difference Jesus makes. Our translation cleans up Paul’s language a bit with the word “rubbish.” But Paul is using the word skyballa which translates more directly to “refuse” or “excrement.” Compared to knowing Christ, all these other things we may be tempted to place our confidence in, Paul bluntly says is a pile of … well, you get the picture. And in a world that was lacking in effective sewage systems, his audience certainly got the picture. It was a point Paul felt passionate about making.

Paul is also contrasting his old mindset and actions with a new way of thinking and living. He does this by first using accounting language of gains and losses. The point of a profit and loss statement is to show whether the business was profitable or not at the end of the day. What Paul equates to profit is attaining “the resurrection from the dead.” For Paul, everything in the “flesh” column added up to nothing. The only thing that gained the profit was knowing Jesus. Paul has come to know that it is only in his union with Christ that he will stand before God. All his other natural qualities or achievements will not contribute to that standing in the least bit. So, it is pointless to put our trust in them to that end.

Paul then switches from accounting language and uses some athletic imagery to further portray the value of Christ.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

Paul lives in the real knowledge that we have not arrived at the fullness of God’s kingdom. He knows that we still struggle and strive in this time between the times. So, Paul can state that he has not already obtained the resurrection or is already perfect. But that does not mean we stop striving, only we stop striving to qualify ourselves on our own merits. Paul now strives for knowing Jesus. Or as Paul puts it, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Jesus has already made the resurrection and the kingdom a reality, even if we can’t fully or perfectly participate in it now. But we can still “press on” towards knowing Jesus as we move toward the finish line because we know it’s the only race worth running. Paul emphasizes that as we press on, we do so “forgetting what lies behind.” In other words, forget striving in the flesh or “in the confidence of the flesh.” That’s all in the past no matter what some false teacher is trying to sell you.

For Paul, and for us, knowing Christ is ultimately what we value the most. This side of heaven we may not fully experience this in the way we will in the resurrection. But if knowing Christ, and his Father by the Spirit, is the most valuable thing we can do with our lives, then why waste a single day not striving to know him a little more. Knowing him as the one who is trustworthy, knowing his Father who has embraced us in his Son, knowing that all things are counted as loss compared to this life found in Christ, why would we not put our full trust in this reality and try to live into it with every step and breath of our lives?

Let’s Speak Jesus w/ Dr. Chris Green W2

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October 8 — Proper 22 of Ordinary Time
Philippians 3:4-14, “A Vote of No Confidence”

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Program Transcript

Let’s Speak Jesus w/ Dr. Chris Green W2

Anthony: We need to transition to our second pericope of the month. It is Philippians 3:4-14. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 22 in Ordinary Time, which falls on October 8. Chris, would you read the passage for us, please?


even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Anthony: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.

For Paul, Chris, knowing Christ was the top pursuit of his life, and seems like everything else was rubbish by comparison. And it’s been said that anything we put before Christ in our lives is an idol. Is idolatry just a stuffy biblical concept, or is it alive and here today?

Chris: Oh, absolutely.

Absolutely it is, right? And I do think it’s when we hear idol as anything we put before Christ, I think there’s a way in which we can use that to not take seriously how idolatry can come into our lives subtly. If we define idols in those terms, you would think that an idol is something that’s getting all of my attention but very often, I think idols don’t take much from our attention. And yet they still get in the way of us giving our attention to Christ and attending to his presence there.

So, I think the image here is of a kind of house filled with idols. Some of them might be taking a lot of our attention. But some of them might not be but they can still inhibit our attention.

They can still keep us from trusting Jesus, taking him at his words. I think it’s important to realize just how beset we really are by images, false images of God that promise what they cannot deliver, right? That these construal’s of God that are actually just our own image projected out, and therefore they promise what cannot be accomplished, right?

Again, these may not dominate our lives in terms of our attention or our money or our desire, but all of those lies about God and all those lies about our neighbors and all those lies about our responsibilities, every one of them has to be shattered.

We have to have those idols cast down, even if they’re not large, dominating figures. Even the small idols can really do a lot of damage in our lives.

Anthony: I’ve been looking at verses 12 through 14. And by the way, just circling back to what you just said. I do think idolatry is alive and well. And often, it’s Satan coming to Jesus in the wilderness. It appears not as evil, but something good that gets in the way, right? That’s often the way it comes to us.

But looking at verses 12 through 14, I’d like for you just to exegete that. What does it mean that we haven’t obtained it or Paul hadn’t obtained it? Is salvation not ours? What’s Paul driving at here?

Chris: Yeah, so he’s, I think, clear that what he wants is to know Christ so completely that his life and Christ’s life become indistinguishable, which means he has to die like Christ died and be raised from the dead in that same resurrection.

And I want to become like him in his death, if I may attain the resurrection from the dead. This is not something that Paul can experience in his life. It has to be finished for him to experience the fullness of it. And that’s why he’s saying, I haven’t obtained it.

Not that his salvation is at risk of being lost. Not that he’s precarious in his standing with God. Again, that’s back to the point about fear and trembling where Paul is not anxious for his own salvation. What he’s desiring is a complete conformity with Jesus, to be completely shaped to Christ and fully united to him. And that means the whole of Paul’s life has to be lived, it has to be finished in order for that whole reality. That is Paul’s life then to be taken up into God.

And this is, I think, why we need a deeper, broader theology of Resurrection. Resurrection is not the next thing that happens to Jesus after he dies, the next point on a timeline. Resurrection is something that happens to the whole life of Jesus, that entire life from conception to death. That entire life is taken up into God as the Word by which all things hold together, the order that gives meaning to history. And if we have a fuller, deeper understanding of Resurrection, then you can see why Paul’s life has to be completely lived before he can be fully conformed to Christ.

His whole life has to take on that shape. So he can’t have accomplished it yet. He’s still alive, right? But he does say, there’s one thing I have already laid hold of and that is, I’m moving toward that. I’m moving toward that heavenly call. That is a sharing in Christ’s ascension. A sharing in the coming up into Christ’s ruling and reigning.

So the heavenly call here is not just die and go to be with Christ in heaven. Although it is certainly that too—to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, as he says elsewhere. But it is to share in the work of Christ in the heavens. So the prize here is the call to come to share in Christ’s glory and power, to be enthroned with him to be coworkers with him.

And that’s what Paul is desiring. He wants to fulfill that purpose.

Anthony: Yeah, you’ve given us a fresh way to think of the Incarnation. And I know Thomas Torrance did great work on this as well, that his whole life, the whole life of our Lord Christ was working out our salvation. It was the atonement, yes, we see it vividly at the cross, but it began throughout the entirety of his life. He was renewing all things.

Chris: That’s right. And one way of thinking about it is the cross is the intersecting point at which that all of that is integrated, right? It all comes together in the cross and is fully revealed, but it’s absolutely already true. Which is why in a sense his whole life is already a participating in the cross. And lots of folks have pointed to this even in the ancient church that in the creed when we’re confessing the story of Jesus that he’s born of the virgin, Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, we’re not leaping over all of his years of life with Mary and Joseph. We’re not leaping over his baptism. We’re not leaping over his teaching. We’re saying that all of that is encompassed in that language of suffering, that he undergoes the cross all of his life.

Anthony: Amen and Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever been offered something that you thought was too good to be true?
  • What assurance do we have that the relationship God offers us in Jesus is incomparable to anything else we may be holding onto?

From the Sermon

  • What things would you think people would put on a list of what they value most?
  • What are some examples of putting our trust in what we value most over putting our trust in Christ?
  • In what ways can we rely on our background and heritage instead of trusting Christ?
  • In what ways can we rely on our education and training instead of trusting Christ?
  • In what ways can we rely on our religious and political convictions instead of trusting Christ?
  • In what ways can we rely on our lifestyle instead of trusting Christ?
  • Why do you think Paul uses such graphic and strong language in comparing “confidence in the flesh” with trusting Jesus?
  • Using Paul’s athletic imagery, what does it look like to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”?

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