Sunday Services at 10:00am
1155 Silas Deane Highway, Wethersfield

Suffering and the single-minded desire

January 28, 2014 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Discipleship

“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:4-14)

Skubalon. In Philippians 3:8, Paul uses this Greek word, which the New International Version translates as “rubbish,” to describe all the things in his life that he once boasted of but that now mean nothing compared to knowing Christ. When you consult a Greek lexicon, you find that the word skubalon was the word commonly used not just for garbage but for animal excrement. You know, that stuff in your yard that you step in and proceed to track into your house until you realize what you’ve done and gag from the stench. Animal excrement. That’s a little more evocative than rubbish, don’t you think? Paul emphatically states that his desire to know Jesus, to know his power, to share in his suffering, to look and act like Him in every way, was such an all-consuming passion that all of his earthly awards, noble qualities, and previous reasons for pride meant as much to him as a hot, steaming pile of skubalon.

As 21st century Americans, most of us have grown up believing that the goal of our lives is personal happiness. Be healthy, make money, find a job you enjoy, marry someone who loves you, go on exotic vacations, and reach your deathbed having crossed everything off your bucket list. With a goal like that, is it any wonder that suffering is such an enemy? After all, disease, unemployment, divorce, natural disaster, and old age are all ogres that block us from the pursuit of happiness that is our birthright as Americans. They are skubalon, only fit to be scraped off our shoes as quickly as possible so that we can get back to pursuing our life of pleasure.

But what if there is a greater purpose than being happy? What is Paul was on to something in Philippians 3? What if the true and lasting source of joy is found in knowing Christ? What if that relationship can bring us a peace that transcends the anxieties of life, a love that never leaves, a purpose that fulfills, a joy that is untouched by the sorrows of this world, and a hope that goes beyond even the grave? And what if one of the primary ways we grow in that relationship is, as Paul says in verse 10, “sharing in his sufferings?” If knowing Christ is my goal, then the real skubalon is not suffering. Rather, it is anything that pulls my focus off of Him and on to myself or the things of this world.

In Joni Eareckson Tada’s book “When God weeps: why our sufferings matter to the Almighty,” she tells of a five year-old boy named Matthew, who volunteered with his parents and his brother at one of Joni’s retreats for disabled people (Joni is a quadriplegic). She writes how at the end of the retreat, Matthew asked his father, “When do I get to have my wheelchair, Daddy?” As Joni puts it:

This little boy doesn’t need a wheelchair. He has no use for one. But try telling him that! A wheelchair, for Matthew, would top his Christmas wish list. A wheelchair means a joy ride. It also means an initiation into a wonderful club: a special group of kids who enjoy a special relationship with Joni. This five-year-old hasn’t a clue about the pain and paralysis, the heartaches and hurdles. He discounts all of that, disregarding the dark side. All he desires is a chance to be among my best friends, a chance to identify with me, be like me, a chance to know me. If it means having a wheelchair, great. He’ll welcome it.

Matthew wanted so much to be like Joni and her friends that if it meant having a wheelchair, then that is what he wanted. That single-minded desire is the same passion of Paul in Philippians 3, as well as the growing desire of those who have been saved from sin and death by the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That passion is to know Him, to look and act like Him, to be willing to welcome suffering and heartache, and even life in a wheelchair, if it means intimacy with the one we love.

Christ is all. Everything else is just skubalon.

Comments for this post have been disabled