Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 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: 5 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) is the name we have given the overarching strategy at Bethlehem to fulfill our mission of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Lest it go unnoticed, “Spreading a passion for God’s supremacy through Christ” means pursuing people’s conversion, not just the awakening of Christians to God’s supremacy. So, if you like cosmic flow charts, here's the order:
- God, our Creator.
- The Bible as his infallible revelation of himself and his purposes in history.
- Bethlehem’s Mission Statement, which is our effort to put into a sentence our understanding from the Bible of why we exist as a church.
- Treasuring Christ Together as the practical strategy for fulfilling that mission.
Treasuring Christ Together
Treasuring Christ Together is a commitment to multiplying campuses, planting new churches, and showing care for the poorest of the poor—all based on one doctrinal foundation expressed in the Elder Affirmation of Faith. So TCT has three parts.
- Multiple campuses making up one church.
- New independent churches being planted through this one church.
- A sustained expression of compassion for the poorest of the poor through what we call the Global Diaconate.
What that means financially is that from every dollar given to TCT, $.80 goes to purchase campus buildings and fit them out for ministry; $.10 goes to fund the new church plants; and $.10 goes to put feet to our compassion for the poor. The church voted four years ago to embrace these percentages, and they have unleashed hundreds of thousands of dollars for church planting and the poor. And we expect that in the coming years they will release millions more.
My aim in the next three weeks is to make the TCT strategy clear, to inspire your joy in being part of it, and motivate you to give radically to a 14-month financial thrust forward. Before I turn to our text in Philippians 3 let me say a brief word about each of the three parts of Treasuring Christ together.
1) One Church, Multiple Campuses
First, one church on multiple campuses—three now; more as God leads us.
The downtown campus was purchased for $13,500 in May of 1885, after the first campus burned down three blocks away. There were additions in 1914, 1955, 1991, and 2003. And now the church owns all the property on 7th Street from 13th Avenue to the Masterworks building. There is no debt on those buildings.
After worshiping for two years in the Northwestern College Auditorium, the North Campus folks moved into the new North Campus building in Mounds View in June, 2005. The building cost $9.5 million to purchase and build out. And significant build out remains to be done. $7.6 million remains in the mortgage, plus $.5 million that we have borrowed from ourselves.
The South Site was launched in September last year. It’s just over a year old. We are praying and looking for God’s location for the permanent South Campus. So that expense remains in the future.
What unites this one church on three campuses is an eight-fold unity:
- A single mission statement and overarching philosophy of ministry for children and adults;
- A single affirmation of faith for all leaders and teachers, the Elder Affirmation of Faith;
- A single constitution (including a broad member affirmation of faith);
- A single council of elders and all-church pastors;
- A single proclamation of God’s word in corporate worship on the weekend;
- A single band of missionaries to support;
- A single budget;
- A single Treasuring Christ Together strategy and income flow to pay for the campuses.
So the first part of our strategy in Treasuring Christ Together is one church on multiple campuses.
2) Planting New Churches
Second is our commitment to church planting—the planting of churches whose elders embrace the Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith.
Since the beginning of TCT in the fall of 2003, TCT has funded six church plants from BBC: Berean Missional Church in St. Paul; All Nations Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn Center; Treasuring Christ Together Church in Raleigh, NC; Desiring God Church, Charlotte, NC; Grace Community Church in Memphis, TN; Celebration Church in Orlando, FL; and Glory of Christ Baptist Church in Rogers, MN. Ten percent of all the TCT funds you have given go to launch these churches and get them established (over $300,000 given so far). These are not campuses of Bethlehem. They are independent churches, but Kenny Stokes oversees an increasingly significant network of relationships that we love to maintain.
3) Remembering the Poorest of the Poor
The third aspect of Treasuring Christ Together is our commitment to show compassion to the poorest of the poor through what we call the Global Diaconate.
This ministry is overseen by a committee of concerned and knowledgeable people headed by Scott Purser. You have given $340,000 to the Global Diaconate, and about $240,000 has been given away to bless and strengthen the poor in the name of Christ. The Global Diaconate is one way—not the only way—of keeping the poor on our heart as we try to be a faithful church in the Twin Cities. Every mortgage payment on a campus is stamped with the withdrawal for the Global Diaconate. That is a disciplined and constant reminder that we are blessed financially beyond all our need, while millions of people in the world are not.
I pray that in the next three weeks the Lord will awaken in you and me an increasing sense of amazement that our little lives are tied in to something bigger and can have significant Christ-exalting effect as God enables us to link arms in the strategy of Treasuring Christ Together.
The Surpassing Value of Knowing Jesus
Now to see the heart of the strategy, please turn with me to Philippians 3:1-16. This is the most important thing about Treasuring Christ Together. What Paul does in these verses is show how valuable Christ is to him and to us. He models for us, in his own heart, how we should relate to Christ today. He shows us how central Christ is—how central the value of Christ is—to our lives and the life of this church. He speaks of rejoicing in Christ, and glorying in Christ, and knowing Christ, and gaining Christ, and being found in Christ, and making Christ his own, and finally obtaining the prizing of Christ in the last day. I want us to see these ways of relating to Christ close up. And as you see them, ask the Lord to give you this relationship to Christ. Ask him to make Christ this real and this valuable to you. And this central and precious in our church. That’s what it will mean to Treasure Christ Together.
In Prison and Poverty, Rejoicing in Jesus Together
The passage begins (Philippians 3:1), “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” Paul is writing from prison. And we know from 2 Corinthians 8 that the Philippian church is not wealthy and that there has been affliction. So we know this joy is not based on good circumstances. It is, as Paul says, “in the Lord.” In Jesus Christ, the Lord. In other words, he is telling us: Consider Christ so precious, so valuable, such a great treasure, that whether in prison or in affliction or in poverty, knowing him and belonging to him and being with him forever gives you joy. This is what we mean by treasuring Christ. And in the church we do it together. We help each other do it.
Beware the Dogs, Boasting in Jesus Together
Then in verse 2, he warns them about those who make circumcision the basis of their acceptance with God. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” So this time Paul says we are to glory in Christ Jesus. Literally, “exult in Christ,” or “boast in Christ.” In other words, some people take great joy in their moral achievements. They exult in them like the Pharisee who thanks God that he was not like other men because he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all he has (Luke 18:12). This is his boast. But Paul says, “No, Christ is our boast.” If you have tasted the pleasure of accomplishing something you could boast in, transfer all that pleasure onto Christ. We glory in Christ Jesus. We treasure him, not our achievements. That’s what we mean by treasuring Christ together. We help each other do this.
Jesus Is Better
Then in verses 4-6, Paul lists the religious and ethnic distinctives that he could boast in if he wanted to: “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.” Paul is not guilty of sour grapes here: “I have no achievements, and so I don’t care about them, I care about Christ.” He had plenty of moral and legal achievements.
But they meant nothing to him compared to Christ. Less than nothing. They were garbage—dung—compared to Christ. Verses 7-8: “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.”
Notice the three ways he expresses the supreme importance of treasuring Christ. Verse 7: Paul counts everything as loss for the sake of Christ. He is worthy more than everything else in Paul’s life. Verse 8a: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” To know Christ is more to be desired than anything else. Verse 8b: “I count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Gaining Christ—having him as your treasure in the final fullness of perfection—is better than gaining the world and everything in it. This is what we mean by treasuring Christ together. We help each other know Christ like this.
More Precious Than Performance
Then in verse 9, he explains again why Christ is so much more precious than all Paul’s moral achievements. He wants to “be found in him [Christ], 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.” Being found in Christ—united to Christ by faith, in a permanent relationship of identity with him—is ten thousand times more valuable than all of Paul’s righteousness based on law. Paul had called himself “blameless” in verse 6 “as to righteousness under the law.” But all that work was worse than useless. It was damning. Only one thing will count before God: being found in Christ—in Christ—with a righteousness that comes from God not ourselves. Paul treasures Christ above all things because only in Christ does he have a righteousness that counts with God. That is what it means to treasure Christ together. We help each other trust him like this.
Suffering with Jesus Together
Then in verse 10, Paul says again that his passion is to know Christ, this time to know him in his suffering and resurrection. “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.” Paul knows what resurrection will mean: It will mean everlasting fellowship with Christ in a new body, on a new earth, without sin, and filled with joy. So he is eager to walk the very path that led Christ to glory—the path of suffering with him. Being with Christ in the end will be worth any price of suffering here. That is what it means to treasure Christ together. We help each other love him like this.
Held by Him, Reaching for Him Together
Then in verse 12, Paul gives one of my favorite statements in all the Bible, because it helps me put the fight of faith in the context of absolute assurance. He says: “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.” I don’t coast. I don’t drift. Christ is too precious for that. I press on. I strive. I reach. I long. I ache. I yearn to obtain the fullness and perfection of the presence of Jesus. Why? Because I don’t know if I am his? No. Because he has already made me his own. I reach for him because I am held by him. I press into him because he has enclosed me with unbreakable bands of love. This is what it means to treasure Christ together. And we help each other press on in this way—with this assurance.
Pursuing Together the Final Prize: Jesus Himself
And finally, Paul says in verses 13-14 that there will be a final prize. And he wants it more than anything. “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.” God had called Paul through Jesus. And the prize of this call would be everlasting enjoyment of the fellowship of Christ in a new and glorified body (3:20-21) on a new earth with no sin, no fear, and no regrets. For this, he counts everything as rubbish and strains forward. This is what it means to treasure Christ together. We help each other keep the prize before our eyes.
There is so much more to say about the strategy of Treasuring Christ Together and what God is calling us to as a church. But nothing is more important than this. Nothing is more central than this. Treasuring Christ Together means helping each other in a hundred ways to rejoice in Christ, and glory in Christ, and know Christ, and gain Christ, and be found in Christ, and lay hold on Christ, and finally to attain the prize of Christ himself forever. This is what we mean by Treasuring Christ. And, oh, may we do it together.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name.
He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
(Rhea F. Miller, 1922)