Treasuring Christ Together Above All Things

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," 8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Bethlehem Baptist Church exists—and I hope you exist—to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. To have a passion for God’s supremacy you have to know God’s supremacy. And therefore teaching biblical truth about God—to children, youth, and adults—is essential to the mission of this church.

The Centrality of Jesus Christ

The phrase “through Jesus Christ” carries more meaning than meets the eye. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” What you see with the eyes of the heart when you become a Christian—when you are born again and have a new nature—is “the glory in the face of Jesus Christ.” Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Two verses earlier (2 Corinthians 4:4) “the glory of God in the face of Christ” is called “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The place we see the glory of God most clearly is in the glory of Jesus Christ who is his image, his radiance, his exact nature. And the place we see the glory of Christ most clearly is in the terrible and glorious events of the gospel—the death and resurrection of Christ, the pinnacle of his strength and wisdom and obedience and love.

So when we say that we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, we mean that God’s supremacy was most clearly shown in the gospel of Christ crucified, and we mean that our passion for it was dearly bought in the gospel of Christ crucified.

Where's the Love?

And when someone asks, Why don’t you have something about love for people in your mission statement, since love your neighbor is the second great commandment and is like the first—to be passionate about God’s supremacy in all things, I answer, our mission statement does not refer to love for people because our mission statement is love for people. This mission statement is the biblical definition of love for people. This is what love is! Love is laying down your life to spread a passion (to other people!) for the supremacy of God in all things for their joy through Jesus Christ. Any action that does not have this as its aim is not Christian love. If you don’t want your life to be spent to awaken and sustain a passion for God in the lives of others so that that they share this everlasting joy through Jesus Christ, then you are not a truly loving person. Love for others means striving to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. That’s what love is. And it is very costly for us—just like it was for Jesus.

Breaking Down Our Strategy

Then, under that overarching mission, we have embraced a threefold strategy as a church. We call it Treasuring Christ Together. We will seek to spread a passion for God’s supremacy in all things by 1) multiplying campuses, 2) planting new churches, and 3) blessing the poorest of the poor around the world through the global diaconate.

And it almost goes without saying that “multiplying campuses” and “planting new churches” is shorthand for spreading a passion for the supremacy of God to more and more people who then need a place to worship with God’s people and study and strategize—hence new campuses and church planting. Four years ago your elders were on their faces before God in prayer and in each other’s faces with rigorous discussion on whether the strategy for spreading and growth should be only church planting, a much larger sanctuary downtown, or multiple campuses. We believe God led us, with the church’s strong affirmation, to embrace Treasuring Christ Together—not a huge sanctuary and single location downtown but one church on multiple campuses—one eldership, one mission, one strategy, one budget, one God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated theology, one philosophy of children and youth ministries, one army of missionaries, and one unifying ministry of the word each week in person or by video—but multiple campuses.

There is no single way to be the church in every culture. We believe the Lord has made us free by his word do be his people in this way for this time. We believe that in Christ all the essentials of what a New Testament church is to be can be within the strategy of Treasuring Christ Together, that is, within the strategy of multiple campuses, church planting, and the global. diaconate.

The Place of Money In Our Mission and Strategy

And of course, the vision has a human and a dollar price tag. Christ has paid the decisive cost to save us from our sin and from God’s wrath and to give us eternal life and joy. We want to make that very plain. You don’t buy God. You are bought by God. “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our greatest treasure in life and death is free. Freely you have received, freely give (Matthew 10:8). We don’t charge anybody for coming to Bethlehem.

But something happens to a person’s view of money when he begin to treasure Christ above all things. The very name of our strategy—Treasuring Christ Together—holds the key to how it gets paid for. When you treasure Christ supremely, money becomes mainly a way of maximizing joy in Christ—for yourself (since it is more blessed to give than to receive) and for others, and you fund the spread of the gospel.

Here’s an example of how treasuring Christ affects money and vision. The downtown campus is almost complete, and there is no debt on it. (There is one smaller phase to finish for the children’s ministry to be what was originally planned.) To many of us it was astonishing to build a seven-million-dollar educational building without going to the bank. The mother church, the hub of the multiplying strategy, is paid for. We thank God. The North Campus cost about 9.5 million dollars to purchase and then turn into useable space. How easy it would have been as a leadership and a people to say: We have twice as many people as we did when we paid that other one off; let’s grab this thing and pay it off. But the heart that treasures Christ above all things is restless. It wants to do so many things with money for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.

Blessing the Neighborhood and the Nations

So the heart of the leadership and the people came together in an amazing way to say, No, let’s not make it that easy, and let’s not make it that narrow. Let’s take 10% of every dollar given to Treasuring Christ Together and give it away to planting new churches, not just new campues. And not only that, let’s take 10% more of every dollar given to Treasuring Christ Together and use it to bless the poorest of the poor around the world in the global diaconate. And I say it like that because the vision was not just to send money to critical situations, but to send people and provide more long-term connections and weave compassion for the poor into the fabric of who we are with concrete Bethlehem projects around the world. So you can do the math. We will need to give not 9.5 million dollars but 11.85 million dollars to pay off the North Campus and do 1.8 million dollars worth of church planting and 1.8 million dollars worth of mercy through the global diaconate.

Since the mission of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God, and the strategy of multiplying campuses, planting new churches, and the global diaconate will only happen to the glory of Christ if we truly treasure Christ above all things, let’s turn now to the word of God and the glory of Christ as Peter exults in it in 1 Peter 2:1-10. What does this passage tell us about treasuring Christ.

First, it makes crystal clear that treasuring Christ is God’s response to Christ and therefore should be ours.

Peter is pondering and applying several Old Testament texts that point to Christ as a stone. Isaiah 28:16 (“Behold, I am the one who has laidas a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation”) and Psalm 118:22 (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”).

Look with me at verse 4: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” Note carefully the word “precious.” Then look at verse 6, “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” Again Peter gets our attention with the word “precious.” Very simply and very amazingly think of the implications that God almighty with infinite knowledge and infinite wisdom and infinitely perfect capacities to see and savor what is infinitely valuable and beautiful—this God values Jesus Christ as precious. This is simply another way of saying he treasures Christ. Treasuring means feeling the preciousness of what you value or what you prize.

So my argument is very simple: if God, who sees all things as they truly are and feels all things as they truly are, treasures Christ, so should we. In fact it is clear that God treasures Christ above all other things. There is nothing more valuable in the universe than Christ, because he is God and he is the manifestation of God precisely so that we might see him and savor him—that is, treasure him. God embraces Christ as infinitely precious. So should we. If English could use “precious” as a verb, I would use it. But it can’t. But “treasure” is both a noun and a verb. And so it helps us do exactly what the Bible wants us to do. Know and feel Christ as precious—that is, treasure him. Treasure him! Treasuring Christ Together is first and last an act of the heart—seeing and prizing Christ as our greatest treasure.

Second, this text makes clear that treasuring Christ is more, not less, than knowing Christ is precious. It is feeling it and acting on it.

Verses 2-3, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Notice the words “long for” and “tasted.” Long for the milk of God’s word, because in it you taste the goodness of the Lord himself. These are emotion words, not just knowing words. These are feeling words. Knowing that the Lord is good and tasting that the Lord is good are not identical. Knowing is involved. But being a Christian must mean more. So when we speak of treasuring Christ, we mean something very full and very satisfying. To live is Christ and to die is gain, because Christ is more valuable to us than all that this earth holds. Just as the old heart felt the value of earth, the new heart feels the value of Christ—and earth for Christ’s sake.

And verse 1 makes it clear that this emotional, affectional treasuring of Christ changes the way you act: “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” When you treasure Christ above all you never need to be deceitful. Why would you? You never need to pretend. Why would you if you have an infinite all-satisfying treasure? Why would you envy anyone? In Christ is hidden every treasure you ever could want. Why would you slander and be malicious? What craving for revenge does Christ not overcome? Treasuring Christ is the Spirit-given power to be free from the dominion of sin.

Third, this text shows that treasuring Christ defines a new race of people.

I choose the word “race” consciously and provocatively and because it’s in the text. Verse 9: “But you [you who for whom Christ, a cornerstone not a stumbling stone, you for whom Christ is precious, you who treasure Christ] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Notice three words: race, nation, people. Genos, from which we get the word “genealogy.” Ethnos from which we get the word “ethnic,” and “ethnicity.” And laos from which we get the word laity. Peter uses all three words that Israel used to define herself (race, ethnic nation, and people—the people) and applied them to the Gentiles and Jews who treasure Christ. He applied them to us, the church.

Those who treasure Christ above all are a new race, a new ethnicity, and a new people-group. This has huge implications for the racial and ethnic realities of this world. How easily we could make a mistake here and say: race, ethnicity, people-group differences don’t count in the body of Christ. Christians are to be color-blind, ethnic-blind, people-group-blind. There is a truth in that. No person of any ethnicity wants to talk endlessly about ethnicity. There are greater issues in the world than color and culture.

But God did not create the indescribable abundance of differences in the world simply to be ignored. As though we would honor a thousand species of flowers by being color-blind. No. This is not what it means for the church to be a new race.

What it means is this (and more): the supreme trait of the new Christian race is treasuring Christ. This trait of the new race has a transforming effect on all races and ethnicities and people-groups: it exposes our alienating differences either as Christ-belittling sins to be forsaken or as Christ-reflecting treasures to be valued. Treasuring Christ does not make us blind to differences. Rather it makes differences serve the larger unifying identity of treasuring Christ together. What’s new about the Christian race is that the infinite value of Christ is reflected by each member differently. Therefore, the differences are not negligible. We are the living stones being built into a new temple—or a new race. And the defining trait of this new race is the manifold and unified reflection of the infinite value of Christ by the way he is treasured among diverse people. Therefore let us praise this diversity and pursue it.

One last brief point.

Fourth, this text shows that the heart act of treasuring Christ is meant to be spread.

Verse 9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We treasure him for his excellencies, especially the excellency of his death for our sins and his resurrection and his glorious saving work in building a new race of people who treasure him above all. And now we see the clear purpose—and it is at the heart of our mission and our strategy—“that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We exist to spread a passion for his supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, by treasuring him together above all things in multiplying campuses, planting new churches, and showing mercy to the poorest of the poor. May God keep us faithful till he comes or till he calls.

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