One Man's Trash
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | October 8, 2023
Due to technical difficulties, the recording is not available.
Read Philippians 3:4b – 14
By way of full disclosure, when I was putting the bulletin together earlier in the week, and saw the Lectionary texts for the week… I decided to use the title, ONE MAN’S TRASH, for the sermon because I knew the LCC Youth Ministry would be having the rummage sale on Saturday… and I couldn’t help but think about that old saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
And so, as we look at this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippian church… what we find is Paul explaining how all of the things that he once thought were so important to him were made worthless in comparison to knowing Christ.
All the power and prestige that Paul had in his former life as Saul, the chief persecutor of Christians, and all the privilege that came with his Jewish background and position as a Pharisee… all of that meant absolutely nothing once he surrendered his life to Christ.
I can almost picture Paul getting up each morning and looking over his massive collection of plaques, certificates, trophies, and other awards… all the paraphernalia that represented his accomplishments and achievements as a religious zealot… but then one day coming to the realization that none of it was worth anything in comparison to the salvation he found in Christ…
Those “things” that were once so precious, no longer held any value for him… so what did he do?
I would guess that perhaps he donated them all to the DIY Rummage Sale at the Philippian Church… because after all, ONE MAN’S TRASH really is another man’s (or another woman’s) treasure.
Now, in all seriousness, whenever I read this text, it reminds me of the Greek classes I took in seminary. And one of the things that I remember about this passage in particular was my professor, Dr. Byron, telling us that the word translated as “garbage” or “rubbish” in verse 8 of the text is actually the Greek word σκύβαλα (skubala) which literally means “dung.”
And so, what Paul is telling the Philippians and us… is that all of his honors, all of his accolades, all of his credentials were good for nothing more than being used as fertilizer. As the writer of Ecclesiastes might say, they were all meaningless…
All that “stuff” was better off being turned into compost… although perhaps for a farmer or a gardener… that ONE MAN’S TRASH might actually be considered a real treasure…
However, for Paul, his greatest desire was to know Christ and to go to whatever extremes were necessary for him to become as much like Christ as he possibly could… including sharing in Christ’s suffering and even in His death… that was the ultimate treasure Paul was seeking…
But he did explain to the Philippians that he had not reached that pinnacle of success just yet… telling them:
Brothers and sisters, 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.Paul had his sights set on something far greater than anything anyone could have ever imagined… what I guess we could say was the prize of a lifetime… an eternal lifetime that is.
So, I do have to make a confession… at one point in time, I used to have dreams of opening the door and seeing Ed McMahon and the Publishers’ Clearinghouse Prize Patrol standing there with a bouquet of roses, a bunch of balloons and an enormously oversized check indicating I had won the prize of a lifetime.
And many years ago, I even went so far as to fill out the entry form that had come in the mail. And guess what?
I almost hit the jackpot! I mean I was that close to winning… my mailbox was flooded with notice after notice telling me that I was just ONE more entry away from winning the grand prize!
Unfortunately, all those packets that started arriving on an almost daily basis would have been much better off being thrown in the trash… and yet, the folks at Publishers’ Clearinghouse had found a way to turn that trash into treasure.
You see, they used a marketing strategy that involved mailing out sweepstakes entry packets that promised some lucky person was going to win thousands of dollars a day, a week, or a month for life… or that grand prize of millions of dollars in one lump sum payment… and who knows… I just might be that lucky person!
Now, if you have ever looked at one of those entry packets… they contain a lot of eye-catching advertisements… that were designed to entice us into buying a bunch of stuff that we honestly do not need… and cleverly interspersed between all of those ads… there are even more chances to win other prizes!
Now that entry packet does include a disclaimer that purchasing something does not increase the odds of winning… but why not buy something… I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right?
So, when all is said and done, we end up with a bunch of stuff that will eventually make its way into the next DIY Rummage Sale… all the while the coffers of the sweepstakes folks continue growing larger and larger as they are filled up with the hopes and dreams of all those people like me… who are perpetually just one entry away from winning the grand prize.
But in reality, whatever prize those sweepstakes organizers promise… it will not amount to a hill of beans in comparison to the gift of eternal life that has been promised to us.
Because no matter how much money and prestige we amass… it means nothing in comparison to the real grand prize which is salvation through Jesus Christ… so we may as well put those sweepstakes entry forms straight into the garbage can because they really are nothing more than ONE MAN’S TRASH.
And that takes us to the heart of the message in our text this morning and what the Apostle Paul was trying to convey to the Philippian Church as well as to us.
Now, by most accounts, including his own, Paul had it all.
He was circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of his religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; and a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book (see Phil. 3:5 – 6).
He had come from the right family, made all the right friendships, and lived a life of freedom and favor. But he soon realized that all of that meant nothing in comparison to his relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ… it all literally became ONE MAN’S TRASH.
Paul had found that the key to living a life of true righteousness is not about religion, rules, and regulations… it’s all about relationships… first and foremost, our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
And that truly is a relationship unlike any other.
It is a relationship based on unconditional love and forgiveness, sacrifice, and surrender.
It is a relationship that lets go of the past and looks expectantly to the future.
It is a relationship that is filled with the hope and promise of spending eternity with the Lord… which is the ultimate treasure we should all hope to find.
But before the heavenly prize patrol arrives us to take us to claim our treasure… the grand prize of eternal life… Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us that there are some things we will have to endure… things we will have to go through because of who we are and whose we are.
And Paul was willing to endure the hardship and suffering that come as a result of following Christ.
One thing that we need to keep in mind here is that during Paul’s time, persecution was pretty much the order of the day… and until he had his encounter with Jesus, Paul was the one giving the orders…
But as Paul learned and hopefully as we have come to know for ourselves, the Lord has the ability to use us for His glory, in spite of our pasts… and in fact, sometimes, it is because of our pasts, that God is able to use us.
The lessons from our past… what we may consider to be the trash from our past… those are the very things that become the blessings for our future when we recognize that it was God’s hand at work in our lives… and that is what we can share with someone else…
When we are willing to be open and share our testimonies… ONE MAN’S (or ONE WOMAN’S) TRASH can become a real treasure that can help someone see that they can make it through their hardships and challenges… because if God did it for us… surely God can and will do it for them.
Unfortunately, some of us have a hard time letting go of the past… we keep carrying around that old baggage… in essence holding onto our trash… because we are unwilling or unable to give ourselves grace… we feel like we have a duty and an obligation to carry the weight of the past on our shoulders… but in the words of Elsa from the movie, Frozen, we need to “let it go [let it go].”
But let me suggest, it is not only the “trash” from our past that we have a hard time letting go… sometimes we have a hard time letting go of the treasures we have been holding onto… which is why we need those annual DIY Rummage Sales.
That brings to mind a story that Max Lucado shares in his book, The Applause of Heaven. It the story of a young girl named Andrea who went into one of those plastic ball pits like they have in the Play Land at McDonald’s. Basically, it is like a big pool that is filled with balls instead of water.
According to Lucado’s story, this little girl, Andrea, stepped into the pit and filled her arms with as many balls as she could possibly hold… but when she tried to take a step, she fell… When she started to cry, Lucado says he walked over to the edge of the pit and told her to let go of the balls so she would be able to walk. But the little girl refused to let them go and she ended up getting submerged under the balls. When Lucado pulled her up, she was still clutching that armful of balls. (Story cited in The Inspirational Bible, 1995, p. 1356)
There are times, when we act just like that little girl who refused to let go of the colorful treasures she found in that pit… we cling to our own treasures with a vice-like grip… believing we cannot possibly live without them… the houses, the cars, the shoes, the jewelry, the bank accounts, the [you can fill in the blank].
But as Paul suggested, the “things” of this world as beautiful and enticing as they may be… they are nothing in comparison to the privilege of knowing Christ.
And what is so great about knowing Christ… about having a personal relationship with Him as our Lord and Savior… is that it is absolutely free!
As we read in Ephesians 2 (6 – 9):
God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.There is absolutely nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace… if we had all the riches of this world… including every penny the Publishers’ Clearinghouse claims we just might win… even that would not be enough to buy God’s grace.
The gift of salvation is literally the prize of a lifetime… and it is ours for the taking… not because we filled out a bunch of entry forms that came in the mail… but simply because we believe…
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
All we have to do is believe and we will receive the promise of eternal life.
Now, when those envelopes come from Publishers’ Clearinghouse or any of those other sweepstakes promoters… there are certain steps that have to be taken that may or may not increase the odds of winning…
But even if someone was to cross every “T”, dot every “I” and place every sticker on the proper form… the odds of winning are still somewhere between 1 in 2.4 to 1 in 3.5 BILLION. (And yes, that’s billion with a B as in bologna.)
But let’s look at what the scriptures tell us in Romans 10:9 - 13 which reads:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”"For 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'” I think that might be what Monty Hall and Wayne Brady would call the Deal of the Day.
And let me just that beyond a shadow of a doubt, the odds are guaranteed to be 100% in our favor… because one out of one who believes receives.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
And isn’t it good to know that because Jesus loves us… He was willing to give His life in exchange for each one of ours… taking on the punishment that our sins deserve and essentially turning our trash into the treasure of a lifetime…
And all He desires in return is for us to love Him… and to love one another…
And in a world that has become increasingly more divided than ever… with no shortage of devastation and destruction… chaos and confusion… those immortal words of Burt Bacharach and Hal David ring truer now than ever before…
What the world needs now is love, sweet love…
And it is with that thought in mind that I want to invite us to stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: More Love to Thee, O Christ (v. 1, 2, 4) #527. Back