Worship Teaching, May 23, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness: Relentless
Philippians 3.7-4.1
To understand what joy is, you have to understand what righteousness is. 
Through the study of Philippians so far, we have learned a lot about what doesn’t bring lasting happiness:
  • Lack of Trouble
  • Great Success
  • Societal Status
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Devoutness of Religious Lifestyle

What we have figured out so far about what brings happiness is about being identified with and in Jesus.  Paul, the writer of Philippians, breaks into song in chapter 2.5-11 about the glorious humility of this God-man and throughout this letter speaks of his joy that people are hearing, understanding and giving themselves to Jesus. 

The core message of Chrisitianity is that one can receive eternal life by believing in and accepting the work of Jesus through his life, death and resurrection serving as a substitute for our life and its trajectory.  We don’t have to work at all for our salvation.  We don’t have to do anything good to live forever.  We just accept Jesus.  This is the gospel/good news that is preached and it is the hope of the Christian faith.

But I talked about  the unease I wagered was felt by a lot of Christians who hear this good news and wonder if it’s really good news.  It’s good news when you know you’re a mess-up and don’t feel you can do anything right.  But sometimes, the free gift of salvation can feel a little bit like welfare.  It can feel like winning a trophy for winning a marathon you didn’t run.  It can feel like being promoted to VP of the company after only working in the mailroom for three months.  There is a hollowness to the status, a meaninglessness to the award, a sheepishness about having the corner office. 
When Christianity says that all you have to do is believe in Jesus and you have eternal life, it seems like you’ve won the lottery.  But then what?  We all know the stories of lottery winners who  end up worse off than before they won the lottery because they didn’t know what to do after they received something that should have solved all their problems for the rest of their lives.  This is why we like to hear lottery winners who say that they’re not quitting their jobs, they’re not buying tons of stuff, but are just going to save and invest for their future and retirement.  We’re glad the lottery doesn’t change them.  There is something honorable in continuing to work and being responsible.
So it is no wonder that Christians who talk about the free gift of salvation still place a lot of honor on people who work hard in the faith; who take responsibility for their behavior; who live a good Christian life.  And a lot of energy is invested in getting Christians to live more Christian lives and to get more people to live Christian lives.  And somehow the gospel gets lost in the light of the "joy" of good Christian behavior which is no where near the joy that people thought they would experience when they first believed the good news of salvation in Jesus.
In the passage we looked at on May 23, we get the sense from Paul that there is something more to the gospel, a righteousness beyond just winning the eternal lottery that brings him the depths of joy that frees him from depending upon status, behavior, pedigree or religious affiliation for his warm fuzzies.  He says there is his prize that he sacrifices everything in order to win.  He says that he’s wanting to experience everything of Christ: the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.  And he warns of losing sight of this and instead being devoted to personal appetites and self-centered living.  Paul encourages his readers to follow the model he is living out.
For Paul, the righteousness he received by accepting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was only the first part of the joy experience of the gospel and would not be lasting unless he moved on to living a life of pursuing righteousness.  But here’s the key–the righteousness he was pursuing wasn’t for himself, but was for the world.  See righteousness means to make things right.  Paul saw in Jesus someone who lived his earthly life making things right in the world: healing disease, casting out demons, raising the dead, showing respect and bringing dignity to outsiders, bringing forgiveness to the guilty, condemning and undermining systems of violence, exclusion and corruption, and showing a God who is full of love and grace rather than judgment and condemnation. 
So Paul sees the mission of Jesus and understands that because he has been made right with God that now he is called to join Jesus in pursuing the prize of the entire world being made right.  Paul understands that the full good news of the gospel is becoming like Christ completely–caring about the things Jesus cares about, working the way Jesus works and loving the way Jesus loves.  And so Paul lives the rest of his righteous life working for righteousness–making the world right. 
See, you don’t work for your own righteousness–but Christ invites you into a journey where you work for the world’s righteousness.  This is what removes the stigma of welfare recipient, undeserving trophy winner, inexperienced VP from your life.  You are absolutely crucial to Christ’s work of making the world right.  Your life means so much.  You’ve got so much more to do than just sitting around waiting for the afterlife. 
And the best thing about this:  as you work to make some of the world right, you start to experience exactly what you’ve been looking for your entire life:  joy.  Pure, unadulterated, long-lasting joy.
Follow this link to check out this video by Chris Seay, pastor of Eklesia in Houston, Texas, where he speaks to this truth: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00329
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