A Life that Counts, part 6 (Philippians 3:10-11)

Last week we began looking at one of the great benefits that comes from having a personal relationship with Christ through faith, and that is that we get “know Him.”  That knowledge, patterned after the Old Testament “Adam knew his wife Eve” indicates that this knowledge is much more than mere information about a person, much deeper than mere acquaintance, but rather a deep, interactive, interpersonal relationship that comes from time spent together.

We noted that in order to know Christ we have to first admit how little we do know of him, then ask God to help us want to know him, then spend time in His presence.  But a fourth way of knowing Christ intimately comes through experiencing difficulties and struggles.  That is picked up in the remainder of Philippians 3:10-11:

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.

In pursuing a deep, personal relationship with Jesus, Paul was willing to experience both the power and the pain—the power of his resurrection and the pain of his sufferings.

Kent Hughes writes:

Two thousand years ago on the first day of the week, Christ’s cold body lay on chilled stone in the arms of death.  His heart was stilled in the icy grip of the grave, whatever blood remained was congealed in his veins, his eyes were fixed and dilated, and his body was bound tightly with spices and graveclothes.  Then, before dawn, his vacant eyes blinked open and coursed with light, focused and glittering life.  And with the ease of omnipotence, his body left the wrappings like an empty cocoon.

That is the power of the resurrection.  It is able to overcome death.  Death could not hold Jesus Christ.  In Acts 2:24 Peter preached:

24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

That power that raised Christ from the dead is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.

Paul was not content to know Christ merely as a historical footnote, but wanted to know Him personally as the resurrected ever-living Lord!  That power ushers us into a new life.

Thus, t takes his resurrecting power to make us alive when we were dead in our sins.  In Ephesians 2 Paul says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (vv. 4-6).

It takes nothing less than God’s creational power to effect such a change in us.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ [when he created the world], has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

But God’s resurrection power is also available to us for our sanctification.

Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would come to realize this power that was available to them through Christ:

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:16-21)

This is more powerful than multiple atomic bombs, more powerful than a hurricane or lightning strikes.  It is the power that raised Jesus from the dead and know Paul wants them to know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…”

Indeed, this is the way Paul lived — with resurrection power.

Squeezed but not squashed;

bewildered but not befuddled;

pursued but not abandoned;

knocked down but not knocked out.

2 CORINTHIANS 4:8, 9, PARAPHRASED BY MERRILL TENNEY

Again, this was resurrection power, as Paul immediately explains: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).

Gordon Fee writes:

Paul knows nothing of the rather gloomy stoicism that is so often exhibited in historic Christianity, where the lot of the believer is basically that of “slugging it out in the trenches,” with little or no sense of Christ’s presence and power.  On the contrary, the power of Christ’s resurrection was the greater reality for him.  So certain was Paul that it had happened — after all, he had been accosted and claimed by the Risen Lord on the Damascus Road — and that Christ’s resurrection guaranteed his own, that he could throw himself into the present with a kind of holy abandon, full of rejoicing and thanksgiving.

I believe that one way we enter into the power of the resurrection is that we count ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God” in Romans 6.  Paul had said in Romans 5:21, “where sin increases grace super abounds.”  Naturally, someone mistook that to mean, “Let’s go out and keep on sinning so we can get more grace.”

Here is Paul’s response in Romans 6:1-7

1 What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul doesn’t say we should stop sinning because we might lose our salvation, or because we might be punished.  He says that we stop sinning because we are new creatures.  We died to sin and are alive to God.  You cannot tempt a dead person. 

As long as we reckon ourselves dead to sin we have the power to say “No!” to temptation.  And as long as we reckon ourselves alive in God we have the power to say “Yes” to greater joy in Jesus Christ.

Where do we get the power to be kind, to love the unlovely, to forgive the unforgivable?  You get that power through the resurrection power that is activated in our lives through union with Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s no question that most of us want to experience that power, to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and to conquer sin in our lives.

But do we truly want to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”?

Sure, we want to have fellowship with Jesus, but why does it have to be in his sufferings?

And why does Paul reverse the order of these?  Shouldn’t death come before resurrection?

We love power and avoid pain.  Nobody is going to say, “That church suffers with Christ, let’s join!”  No, we’ve swallowed the shallow gospel that knowing Christ really means life on easy street, with no pain or suffering or sickness or poverty.  We believe that God owes us “health and wealth.”  It’s our birthright.

The spiritual reality is this: suffering is the lot of every true believer, a fact that Paul referenced frequently. Luke tells us that he and Paul returned to the churches of Asia Minor, “encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul told the Thessalonians, “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3, 4).

Paul also informed the Romans that suffering is a prerequisite to being glorified with Christ: . . . and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).

Most significantly, the apostle told the Philippians explicitly in 1:29, “For it has been granted [literally, graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

Suffering for Christ then is a divine gift.  It is a sign of sacred intimacy with Christ.

Karl Barth explained of this text, “The grace of being permitted to believe in Christ is surpassed by the grace of being permitted to suffer for him, of being permitted to walk the way of Christ with Christ himself to the perfection of fellowship with him” (Epistle to the Philippians , trans. James W. Leitch (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), p. 49).

The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings moves the believer beyond the role of beneficiary of Christ’s death to a sharer in his sufferings (cf. Colossians 1:24).  The suffering that comes to a Christian (as a Christian) is not a sign of God’s neglect but rather proof that grace is at work in his or her life — sacred intimacy.

Suffering had been a part of Paul’s lot from the very beginning.  When Ananias balked at helping Paul, God said to him…

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

There is breathtaking beauty here — namely, that the more a believer becomes like Christ, the more he or she will suffer.  Simply put, the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings is the fellowship of elevated souls who are growing in their knowledge of Christ.  It is a fellowship of continual resurrection and the display of God’s power.  It is a fellowship of ascent.

Because we love the power over the pain we are unlikely to go this far with Christ and our relationship with Him will remain shallow.  Again, we must pray that God will give us a hunger and a thirst for fellowship with Christ that will encourage us to move into suffering instead of away from it.

Many have testified how their dependence upon, and trust in, and indeed their knowledge of Christ grew during times of testing and trouble.  Pain causes us to turn to Christ, and that is probably why we feel like we know Him better after sufferings than after successes.

The last phrase in this verse modifies the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.  Complete dedication to the will of God, which resulted in Jesus’ sufferings and which will result in the believer’s suffering, means “death” ultimately.  First, it means death of own’s one agenda, and it can mean physical martyrdom as well.  That was certainly true of the apostles.

Death is a grim prospect, but Paul did not have a morbid, unhealthy fascination with suffering and death for its own sake.  He so loved Jesus Christ that he wished to share all aspects of His life, to know Him as intimately as he could. He even was willing to follow Him into the valley of the shadow of death.

The bottom line is, Paul wanted to take up his cross and follow Christ; he wanted God to conform him to Christ’s death. Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and Paul understood that taking up his cross like this is part of knowing the Master.

Paul concluded his desire to know Christ by expressing enigmatically, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11).

Was Paul uncertain about his participation in the resurrection?  Not at all.  The resurrection was certain, but the intervening events were uncertain as to timing and circumstances.

Would he die and later rise from the dead?  Or would he remain alive and undergo transformation to his new resurrection body?

Probably Paul meant that he hoped he would live to experience the Rapture, the “out-resurrection from among the dead,” before he died.  He did share the expectation that the rapture could happen in his lifetime (1 Thess. 4:16-17).  That would be when he received his new, resurrection body.

What he did know emphatically is that he would experience resurrection “out from among the dead” (literal translation).  And what would be his great prize?  Certainly a new body and certainly everlasting life.  But that is not the prize that he so coveted.  The prize he wanted was Christ himself.

That is what Paul gave up everything for, gladly, to know Jesus Christ.

Kent Henry concludes:

“That I may know him” (v. 10) describes Paul’s day-in, day-out, unremitting, relentless, defining pursuit.  Paul set his brilliant mind to learning everything about Jesus that he could, seeking him in all the Old Testament Scriptures.  Before he came to Christ, Paul was already an expert in the Torah and the sacred writings.  Likely he had them in his head!  Thus during his early years in Arabia he sought Christ in all the Scriptures, as we see so deftly illustrated in his epistles.

Paul also learned all he could from the apostolic band about Christ. Certainly he and Luke talked incessantly about Christ on the long days and nights of their travels.  But it was never knowledge about Christ that he sought as an end in itself.

All the apostle’s powers were concentrated on knowing Christ personally.  The power of the resurrection had dazzled him on the road to Damascus, and he never got over it.  Every day was his personal resurrection day, an affirmation that he had been raised with Christ.  So, Paul kept seeking the power of the resurrection as an avenue for knowing Christ more deeply.

This in turn enabled Paul to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and further increase his intimacy and knowledge of him. Indeed, Paul passionately sought the fellowship of his sufferings as a grace for his soul. Therefore, the apostle was continually being conformed to Christ’s death by God himself.  His life was stamped with the divine imprint of the cross and a growing knowledge of Christ.  This meant that Paul looked with confidence to the indeterminate day of the great resurrection when the full knowledge of Christ would fill his horizon for all eternity.

There is no doubt that if any of us knew today to be the final day of our lives, we would wish that we had made Christ the passion of our existence.  But as it is, there is time right now to pray, “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.”

Will you pray that prayer with me?

A Life that Counts, part 5 (Philippians 3:10)

So far in Philippians 3 Paul has expressed what happened to him when he was converted on the road to Damascus, the thought process that led him to conversion.  He took all his accolades and accomplishments from his stellar life in Judaism, and chunked it all into the garbage can because he came to realize the surpassing value of what he would receive in Christ.

In verse 8 he expresses the surpassing value of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord.  In verse 9 he talks about his union with Christ, being “found in him,” which forms the backbone of Paul’s teaching about salvation and the Christian life, and then also in verse 9 he speaks of the benefit of being justified by faith.

Now, in verses 10-11 Paul circles back to that initial benefit—fellowship with Jesus Christ, the risen, living Savior, the God-man.  So let’s read verse 8-11 again:

We are going to focus this morning on v. 10.

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.

These verses reinforce that coming to faith in Christ and enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not the end of Paul’s experience with Christ.  It was just the beginning!  This relationship would continue throughout the rest of Paul’s life.

That personal relationship is initiated at the moment of faith in Christ, and the continuation of it in vv. 10-11 is what we call sanctification.  It is the lifelong process of relating to Christ through faith and becoming like him in practice.  This is where the righteousness of Christ that was deposited into our account by God when we put our trust in Christ starts being expressed through our behavior and life.

When it comes to the process of sanctification, the focus is not upon us or our disciplines, but on Jesus Christ.  That is why Paul starts with the statement, “I want to know Christ.”

In Genesis 4:1, we read that Adam “knew” his wife Eve.  The Hebrew expression used is “yada.”  Even in the Old Testament it was a word for knowing intimately.  Here the New Testament term is ginoskein and it almost always speaks of a personal knowledge.  This is not an intellectual knowledge but a personal experience of another person.  It actually speaks of a most intimate knowledge of another.

That should be the ambition of our hearts, our first cry every morning: “I want to know Christ.”

Too often our focus gets on ourselves in sanctification.  We are more or less successful in practicing spiritual disciplines.  We are more or less happy about our Christian experience.  We long for the times when we experienced more ecstasy.  All in all, our focus is upon ourselves.

But that is a dead end road.

We only make progress in our Christian lives when our focus is upon Christ.

Think about your daily devotions.  What is your goal or purpose in doing them?  Is it to gain mastery over Scripture?  Is it to get more from God?  Is it to improve our relationships, get a better handle on our finances or overcome some temptation?

Our daily devotions should be about Jesus Christ.  Our time in the Word and in prayer should be focused on growing in our knowledge of Jesus and enjoying Him.

Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843) left us with one quote that has become quite famous, and for good reason. It goes like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” The quote is short, sticky, and it helps to both keep our focus on Christ and protect us from the trap of over-introspection with our own sins.

The line is taken from a letter published in Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne [(Edinburgh, 1894), 293]. Here’s a little more of the context:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

Here is the punchline to the entire thought.  The excellency of Christ is both the brilliant contrast to the sin in our hearts, and the remedy to the sin we find there. McCheyne was well aware that we battle indwelling sin by filling our hearts with “the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.”  Communion with Christ is the key to sanctification.  This is the expulsive power of a new affection.  This is to be changed from one degree of glory to another by beholding the brilliance of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

If we focus our attention and affection on Jesus Christ, all the other matters having to do with our Christian experience will be shaped by it.  Not only will our temptations and sins be expelled, but our relationships will take on a new sweetness and our experiences will be laced with expressions of His love.

Interestingly, in this statement, “I want to know Christ,” Paul uses the aorist tense instead of what we might expect, the present tense.  While the present tense would express a continuous desire, the aorist tense likely just summarizes a lifetime desire.

Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus began a special intimacy with Christ that was on-going throughout Paul’s life.

This should be the great, the primary, longing of every Christian—“I want to know Christ.”  Is it yours?

Is it not amazing that Paul, some thirty years after his conversion experience, and having accomplished some pretty phenomenal ministry results, would still find the primary beat of his heart to be knowing Christ?  If Paul thought he needed to, and wanted to know Christ better, how much more should we?

This was Paul’s all-consuming passion, his magnificent obsession.

The more we know Him, the more we will love and trust Him.  The more we know Him, the less this world will distract us and the less temptations will seduce us.

So I need to ask myself, “Why don’t I want to know Christ more…like Paul did?”

Well, first it might be because we have confused facts about Christ with an intimate relationship with Christ and that gets dull and boring after a while.

John Piper says:

In life, true education precedes true exultation.  Learning truth precedes loving truth.  Right reflection on God precedes right affection for God.  Seeing the glory of Christ precedes savoring the glory of Christ.  Good theology is the foundation of great doxology.  That’s the order of life.

Knowledge is utterly crucial.  But it is not an end in itself.  It serves faith and love.  And if it doesn’t, it only puffs up, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:1

Where education does not produce heartfelt exultation in God, it degenerates into proud intellectualism.  And where exultation is not sustained and shared by solid Biblical education, it degenerates into proud emotionalism.  God means to be known and loved.  Seen and savored.  Pondered and praised.

So we need to learn more about Christ, but we don’t stop there.  We want to use that knowledge to help us worship Him more fully.

The American writer Joan Didion took her six-year-old daughter around an exhibition of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe.  The little girl stared at those vast colorful paintings of flowers, and after a while she said to her mother, “Mommy, I want to meet her.”

That should be our desire—the more we learn about Christ the more we should want to get to know Him personally through fellowship.

In the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris you can see the tattered remains of a document that was discovered at the time of the death of one of the world’s great intellects, sewn into the lining of his coat.

Blaise Pascal, founder of projective geometry, devisor of the first calculating machine, discoverer of atmospheric physics, inventor of the barometer and the hydraulic press, became a man desperate for God and for His truth.  He turned to the Bible, and during the night of November 23, 1654, God came very near to him, and he wrote down on a piece of paper his impression of those hours:

In the year of Grace 1654

On Monday, 23rd of November

From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve: FIRE

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars

Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.

My God…

Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.

He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

I have fallen away.  I have fled from Him…

We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel…

Total submission to Jesus Christ…

Eternally in joy…

I will not forget Your word. Amen.

Those are the famous words Pascal wrote down.  How limited words are to express our experience.  They reflect Pascal’s stream of consciousness looking back over those hours and trying to recapture a profound Christian experience.

I’m not trying to say that our experience will be, or needs to be, similar to Pascal’s, only that knowing Christ is more than just knowing about Him.  It is a personal experience with Him.

More than likely, another reason we don’t pursue knowing Christ is that we get distracted from that by the busyness of life and ministry.

This is a particular hazard for those in ministry—mistaking ministry effectiveness for a real, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is quite possible to have spent years in ministry and not really know Christ, or not growing in the knowledge and love for Christ.

Jesus dealt with this with Mary and Martha.  Martha was so busy getting a meal ready, and quite peeved at her sister for not helping, but Jesus told her that Mary was doing the most important thing—sitting at his feet listening to Him teach.

Thirdly, we often confuse religious experiences with knowing Christ.  We think we’re going deeper in our relationship with Jesus because we can speak in tongues, or because we are able to do great things in ministry.

Jesus pointed out the danger of this misdirection in the Sermon on the Mount when he said:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

These people were doing, and experiencing, amazing miracles!  They were the celebrity pastors of the day.  They would certainly have had their own television program, touting their ministries.  And they had good hearts, everything was being done, “in your name,” to glorify Christ.

Here’s the problem:  Jesus says, “I never knew you.”  They had never established a personal relationship with Jesus by trusting in Him.

So these are some of the common obstacles to really knowing Christ—being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, and being confused by ministry results or fantastic experiences.

So how do we come to know Him?

Well, first we have to admit to ourselves how little we do know of him.  We have to repent of being satisfied with mere facts about him, being distracted by life, or substituting ministry results for genuine relationship.

Second, we must want to know Him.  That is what Paul says, “I want to know Christ.”  It was for him a consuming passion.  If it does not become our passion, our highest desire, it will merely be a passing fancy.

David was a man who pursued God.

In Psalm 42 David cries out:

1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?

David was longing to go to God’s house and experience God’s presence and beauty.  He expresses it again in Psalm 63:1-2…

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

And again, in Psalm 27:4

4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

We need to pray, like these men of old, “Lord, put within my heart a deep hunger and thirst for you.”

Tozer says

Hunger is a pain.  It is God’s merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food.  If food-hunger is a pain, thirst, which is water-hunger, is a hundredfold worse, and the more critical the need becomes within the living organism the more acute the pain.  It is nature’s last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to renew itself.  A dead body feels no hunger and the dead soul knows not the pangs of holy desire. 

So ask God to make you hungry and thirsty for Him.

Third, in order to know Him relationally and experientially, we must spend time in His presence.  Just like we get to know a person by spending time with them, listening to them and talking with them, so we get to know God by spending time, listening to His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.

It takes time, so you have to intentionally allot time to make this happen.

Fourth, coming to know Christ deeply will involve going through struggles and difficulties, and that is the subject of the rest of verse 10, which we will tackle next week.

A Life that Counts, part 4 (Philippians 3:8b-9)

Paul has been using accounting language in the early verses of Philippians 3 to express what happened when he was saved.  It involved jettisoning all that he had formerly depended upon to make him worthy before God—his good deeds, his religiosity, his scruples and moral values, his circumcision (which would be similar to us thinking we have to be baptized to be saved), his top-notch religious pedigree, his all-out commitment level, his superior behavior—all of that Paul gave up to know, in an intimate way, Jesus Christ.

That is the first thing we noted that Paul had gained—knowing Jesus Christ, which is the essence of eternal life.

That is revealed in Philippians 3:7-8

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

This personal relationship built on interactive knowledge is expressed at the end of verse 8 as “that I may gain Christ.”  Everything he once depended on is now in the “loss column,” but Christ is in the “asset column.”

To “gain Christ” expresses how deep this knowledge is.  It speaks of being intertwined in a bond of intimate love and knowledge so that you are joined to Christ: you are in Him and He is in you.

Paul loves that concept.  Paul uses the words “in Him” and “in Christ” and like terms 164 times throughout his epistles.

Union with Christ is the second exceedingly valuable experience that Paul had gained with Christ.

We are in Christ, placed into Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Now we are united to Him in everything and every way (except that we are not divine gods).  Paul says in Galatians 2:20…

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In Christ we died to sin.  In Christ we rose to newness of life with an appetite now for righteousness.  Christ, who is our righteousness, now lives in me.  When I put my trust in Him fully and solely, He lives His righteous life through me so that I become righteous in practice.

That is why our righteousness now is not self-produced.  It is produced by trusting Jesus Christ to live His righteous life through my life.  It doesn’t come from myself; it comes from Christ.

Paul would likely say, “I don’t actually know where I end and Christ begins.  We are so inextricably intertwined—that’s how deep and personal this relationship is.”

So, for Christ I have suffered the loss of all things.  And I count them as “dung,” “manure,” “garbage” in order that I may gain Christ.  “I’ve suffered the loss of all things,” Paul says.  “And I don’t mind one bit.  It’s all skubalon to me.  That’s the Greek word for “dung,” “excrement.”  Paul says, “I’ve flushed that down the toilet.  It means nothing to me now.”

So the first benefit of this exchange is that when we make it we enter into a deep, personal, growing knowledge and love of Christ.  And vice versa, He knows me in that deep, personal way and loves me.  That grows out of the second benefit, being united with Christ.

The third benefit we see in this passage involves the righteousness of Christ.  Paul says in verse 9…

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—

Paul is talking here about justification.

You know what Paul had spent his whole life doing?  Whole adult life?  Doing what he says in the first half of the verse, “trying to gain a righteousness of his own that comes from the law,” or “law-keeping.”

That’s what he had spent his whole life doing.  That was the essence of Judaism.  That is why he became a Pharisee.  He was one of the elite 6,000 Pharisees, who believed that they could attain salvation by perfect adherence to the law of God.

What kind of righteousness is Paul talking about?  It’s a righteousness of good works, it’s self-righteousness.  It is righteousness produced by self effort, in one’s own strength (and generally) for one’s own glory.

Righteousness is doing right.  It’s doing the best you can.  Like the Army commercial says, “Be the best you can be.”

But “the best we can be” is never, ever, good enough.

Paul had tried it.  And he wasn’t alone.  In Romans 10 Paul’s own heart breaks for Israel.  Why?  Because they didn’t understand God’s righteousness and they sought to establish their own.  That’s their whole problem—life-long effort to establish their own righteousness through good works, traditions, sincerity, ceremony, ritual, etc.  Even having a deep, passionate love for God (or Christ) is not enough.

As Philip Melanchthon said:

“If somebody believes that he obtains the forgiveness of sins because he loves, he insults Christ and in God’s judgment he will discover that this trust in his own righteousness was wicked and empty” (Apologia)

Well, from God’s viewpoint all of those things put together is not good enough.  Remember Isaiah 64:6?  “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags?”

You see, Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight,” not a single one.  By the works of the law, by doing the law, does not justify a person, doesn’t make them right in God’s eyes.

As Spurgeon once put it so well, good morals can keep a person out of jail, but only Jesus Christ can keep a person out of hell.

Paul had spent his whole life trying to achieve his own righteousness, but like Martin Luther, it suddenly dawned on Paul that righteousness was not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received.

Paul now wanted and gloried in this new righteousness, this “alien righteousness,” which comes not from ourselves, but from God through faith.  When Martin Luther was reading Romans 1:16-17 which says

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

R. C. Sproul explains…

He says, “Here in it,” in the gospel, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’”  A verse taken from the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament that is cited three times in the New Testament.  And Luther would stop short and say, “What does this mean, that there’s this righteousness that is by faith, and from faith to faith?  What does it mean that the righteous shall live by faith?”

And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God.

Now there was a linguistic issue that was going on here too.  And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare.  And it came from the Roman judicial system.  And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make.  And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word.  The word dikaiosdikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous.  And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

And so Luther said, “Woah, you mean the righteousness by which I will be saved, is not mine?”  It’s what he called a justitia alienum, an alien righteousness; a righteousness that belongs properly to somebody else.  It’s a righteousness that is extra nos, outside of us.  Namely, the righteousness of Christ.  And Luther said, “When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost.  And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.”

So the righteousness that justifies doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God; and it doesn’t come by the works of the law but by faith.

Now, let’s talk about this word “faith” for a moment.  The Greek is literally “through the faith of Christ” and some have taken this to speak of Christ’s faith, or rather faithfulness.  His obedience to God is the store of righteousness that is credited to our account.

But I think the “faith about Christ” or “faith in Christ” fits the context better as the counterpart to the works of the law.  It is our faith in Christ that receives the righteousness of Christ and we are justified before God.

Now, what is faith?  Faith is much more than mere intellectual knowledge, or even emotional agreement.  It is built upon those things, but ultimately faith is the decision to place my whole trust in Jesus Christ alone for my justification.

Faith is not a ladder I must climb, but a lifeline extended towards me.  We don’t have to climb a ladder or ascend a wall, simply walk through a narrow door.

I love the story of Charles Blondin to illustrate the nature of faith and the importance of making a decision to totally rely on someone else.

Charles Blondin was a tightrope walker who stretched a tightrope across Niagara Falls in the mid-19th century.

He walked 160 feet above the falls several times back and forth between Canada and the United States as huge crowds on both sides looked on with shock and awe.   Once he crossed in a sack, once on stilts, once blindfolded, another time on a bicycle, and once he even carried a stove and cooked an omelet!

On July 15, Blondin walked backward across the tightrope to Canada and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.

Get Out of The Boat - hscericaharris.com

The Blondin story is told that it was after pushing a wheelbarrow across while blindfolded that Blondin asked for some audience participation.   The crowds had watched and “Ooooohed” and “Aaaaahed!”   He had proven that he could do it; of that, there was no doubt.   But now he was asking for a volunteer to get into the wheelbarrow and take a ride across the Falls with him!

It is said that he asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?”   Of course the crowd shouted that yes, they believed!

It was then that Blondin posed the question – “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?’

Of course…none did.

Nobody really believed that he could carry them safely across.

You might know a lot about Jesus Christ and appreciate that He is both God and man and that historically He did die on the cross and rose from the dead.  You might want him to be your Savior because you know that you are a sinner.

But unless you put your faith into action by making a decision to stop trusting in yourself and your own ability to be righteousness and instead you put all your trust fully in Jesus Christ, you will not be justified.

Faith is putting all your confidence, all your hope, in Jesus Christ alone to save you.  There is no “Jesus and…” this or that, but “Jesus alone.”

“As long as one keeps clinging, even in the slightest degree, to his own righteousness, he cannot fully enjoy Christ’s. The two simply do not go together. The one must be fully given up before the other can be fully appropriated.” (William Hendriksen, p. 165).

Do you want the work of Christ in your behalf, or your own efforts to try to please God?  Paul came to realize that one was better by far—having Christ’s obedience and law keeping put in his account.

That happens not by trying but by trusting.  Paul had a lifetime of trying.  He traded it in for a life of trusting.

Like someone has said, “All the world religions are spelled D-O, do.”  “But Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, done.”  It has all been done for us and we just receive it by faith.  We have been saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8), “not as a result of works” (2:9).

In biblical terms, grace includes forgiveness from God that is undeserved, unearned, and unrepayable.

Faith is best described this way:  Faith is the confident, continuous confession of total dependence and trust in Jesus Christ for the necessary requirements for entrance into God’s kingdom.

Remember how Paul began this exposition with the words “rejoice in the Lord”?

Joy in God, then, is inextricably linked to justification by faith alone.  “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” will not be fully enjoyed apart from being joined to Jesus by faith and having his righteousness, which far surpasses our own, as the only grounds of our acceptance before God.  A robust, solid embrace of justification by faith alone is essential for the life of Christian joy.

To the degree that we believe God’s acceptance of us rises or falls by our own merit, our joy is compromised.

John Bunyan (1628–1688), the persecuted Baptist pastor and author of Pilgrim’s Progress recalled the day, walking through a field, when the Spirit opened to him the glory of justification by faith alone — and with it opened for him the floodgates for the pursuit of joy. After much distress and anguish of heart, he says, he finally saw

that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today, and forever.” Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. . . . Now I went also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

Such has been the testimony of many, among the dead and the living. As John Piper writes,

The great gospel weapon in the fight for joy is the rock-solid reality that we are counted righteous in Christ by faith alone. . . . That gospel weapon is powerful only to the degree we keep the basis of our justification free from our own performances. God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not ours. . . . Oh, what a difference it makes to be assured, in the discouraging darkness of our own imperfection, that we have a perfect righteousness — namely, Christ’s. (When I Don’t Desire God, 85)

So also Bunyan and Piper have experienced, with the apostle Paul, that the full acceptance of God, by faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, is essential to the unencumbered and uncompromised pursuit of joy.

Remember that Paul had said he “counted all things loss” (v. 7) and then in verse 8 he said he “counts everything as loss.”  It will be a continual battle to maintain your faith and joy and glory in Christ.  It is so easy to slide back into legalism, into believing that I have to earn my way into God’s favor today through spiritual disciplines, or ecstatic experiences.  We wear ourselves out on the treadmill of performance and feel like failures, or we judge others to make ourselves feel better.

We have to learn to rest in Christ, to remember that we are “complete in him” (Col. 2:10) and that His love for us never changes.

 

 

A Life that Counts, part 3 (Philippians 3:7-8)

Let’s open our Bibles to Philippians chapter 3.  I call your attention to our text today which is in verses 8 through 11…Philippians 3, verses 8-11.

Here Paul writes:

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.

Notice how this text emphasizes the personal relationship that Paul had with Christ Jesus his Lord.  The pronouns “I” and “my” occur a number of times.  Paul is giving his first-hand testimony of the change in his life from putting confidence in himself to putting his whole trust in Jesus Christ.

Before we look at these verses, let me remind you of what we saw last week from Philippians 3:4-7.  There Paul identifies the super advantages he possessed by pedigree and by performance that he had once counted to be his advantages, but now counted them loss.  Why?  Because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

He recognized, like Jesus said in the gospels, that he had tried to save his life but was really losing it.  Only by trading away all he had once treasured could he pursue the pearl of great price.

Now Jesus was talking about an exchange.  He was talking about losing something to gain something better.

If you want to gain your soul it will cost you your life.  If you desire to save your life, it will cost you your soul.  In other words, if you hold onto the things that to you are precious and reject what God values as precious, it will end up costing your eternal soul.

There is an exchange in salvation.  There is an exchange of all that I am for all that Christ is.  There is an exchange of all my religious activities, ceremonies and righteous works for the righteousness of Christ.  There’s a sense in which I may have spent all my life in religious achievements, but I have to lose it all in order to gain Christ.  Whatever it is that I may have spent my whole life accumulating, even if I gain the whole world, will mean nothing if I lose Christ.

You see, the person who comes to God is the person who is willing to pay whatever God requires, whatever the price, whatever the cost, that person is willing the abandon everything…for Christ.

The rich young ruler was faced with the same dilemma.  Jesus came to him and said, “This is what you have (your riches and your self-righteousness), this is what you possess…are you willing to exchange it for Christ?”  But to him the price was too high, so he walked away.  He kept his possessions, maintained his self-righteousness, and forfeited his eternal soul.

Every person faces that choice when they are confronted with the gospel.  Some people say “yes,” some say “no.”  One’s eternal destiny is determined by what they say about Jesus Christ.

One man who said a resounding “YES!” was the apostle Paul.  And we just heard that “yes” in this text.  Paul is saying here, “I looked at everything I was, every good deed I had done, and I said, ‘It is loss.’  It is worth nothing when it stands next to Christ.  I will exchange it all for Jesus Christ.  I will give it all up for Him.”

And if you were to ask Paul, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Paul says, “I give up everything in exchange for my soul.”

The heart of verse 7 is “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

I will exchange everything for that pearl.  I will give everything away for that treasure.  I will give up everything for Christ.  I will make any transaction in order to save my soul.

That, in a nutshell, is Paul’s testimony.

If you want the historical record, look with me for a moment at Acts chapter 9.  In Acts 9, Luke records the observable record of Paul’s conversion, a 3rd person account.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priestand asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Up to this point Paul has counted all his religious pedigree and stellar religious performance as profit and Christ as loss.  That’s why he’s killing Christians—he wants to get rid of Christ.  “We’ve got to get rid of Christianity; we’ve got to get rid of Christians.  We don’t want the name of Christ to be proclaimed.”

But then Paul met Christ…

3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

Luke records what was happening—what was seen and heard.  But in the process of reading down through Acts 9 it is obvious that Paul was converted.  It is obvious because by the time you get to verse 11 Saul is praying, and then in verse 15 he is called to be an apostle.  By the time you get to verse 20 he is proclaiming Jesus everywhere saying He is the Son of God!

So Luke tells us what happened, but doesn’t say anything about Paul’s thinking.

You might therefore conclude that somehow in the sovereign act of salvation, human faculties are overcome or bypassed and that you are not involved in anything except the act of accepting Christ as Savior.

But the corollary to Acts 9 is Philippians 3.  What you don’t see in Acts 9 you see in Philippians 3.  You have the external, observable incident in Acts 9, you have the internal response of Paul in Philippians 3.  This is what was going on in his heart in the moments when he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  He had a decision to make.

You might say, “Well, did Paul understand who Christ claimed to be?”  Yes, that’s why he was killing Christians.  He know exactly who Christ claimed to be, that He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, that He claimed to die as a sacrifice for our sins, that He claimed to rise from the dead, that He claimed to be God!

He knew all those facts.  He also knew what the Christians were preaching.  He knew that they preached a gospel of grace, not a gospel of law-keeping, and that was something he thought was outright heresy.

Factually, he understood who Christ was, he understood the facts about his life.  He also understood the facts of the gospel that were being preached by Christians.  He was persecuting them because he thought that was heretical.

Intellectually he knew facts about Christ and the gospel.  But that’s different from being confronted by Christ, isn’t it?

When Paul was on the Damascus road Jesus stopped him in his tracks and confronted him.  The Holy Spirit illuminated his hard heart and regenerated his soul so that he could hear the gospel and see the supremacy and sufficiency and sweetness of Jesus Christ.

Please note this:  Salvation is a sovereign act of God by which He invades a sinner’s darkness, gives him light and saves him.  But salvation does not annihilate, obliterate, destroy or bypass human faculties.  It stimulates human faculties.

And so what you have in Philippians 3 is the record of what was going on in Paul’s mind, in his emotions and in his will during the few days surrounding his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.

What was he experiencing?  What was he feeling?  Well, for all his life he had put his confidence in his own flesh, in his own ability to produce goodness in his life.  He had always put his confidence in his own human ability, his religion, his sincerity, his race, his tribe, his rank, his self-righteousness.  All of that was valued by him, in the asset column.

But then he met Christ, and God’s Spirit opened his heart to a new valuation of his life and to repentance, to turning away from his own goodness to embrace the goodness and the sacrifice of Christ.  In other words, Paul for the first time in his life sees the true value, the real pearl of great price, the true treasure, in Jesus Christ.

Now he recognizes that all that was valued by him is not valued by God at all.  What God values is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.  Jesus said on the cross, “Paid in full” and God raised Jesus from the dead to set his stamp of approval on all Christ had done on the cross.  It was enough.

Now, all that once was in the asset column is found to be worthless.  Only Christ is really valued.  So Paul chooses to throw all the trophies to his past goodness into the trash and take Christ because Christ is of “surpassing value.”

What will a man give in exchange for his soul?  Paul gave up everything.  Paul sold everything he had to buy the pearl of great price.

Why did Paul make such a difference and why do we still talk about him today?  Because he abandoned it all for Jesus Christ.  That’s what we said last week, that people whose lives really count treasure Christ above everything that this world has to offer.

Paul had accumulated a treasure chest of good works, but now he realizes that God has written “wasted” over it all and the only true “gain” is Jesus Christ.  He is willing to trash everything he formerly valued for Christ because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for.

May I note one other thing?  Paul didn’t say, “I had something good, but this is better.”  No, he said, “What I had is really loss.  It isn’t an asset, it’s a liability, it’s not neutral, it’s not good, it’s bad.”

You see, the hardest person to reach in the world for Christ is the person who is religious.  And the more religious they are and the more sincere they are and the more stuck in tradition and religion they are and the more ceremonial they are, the harder they are to reach.

Why?  Because all their confidence is in that stuff and consequently they count on that for salvation.

That’s why Paul says it is loss, it is bad, it’s dangerous.  Religion damns the soul.

Here is the second point I want you see observe in this passage: “Those whose lives count trust Christ to provide everything they could ever need.”

And what did Paul gain?

The first thing Paul gained was an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with a living Savior.  He gained “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

By the way, God is impressed with that.  God isn’t impressed with any of the accolades or achievements of Paul back in vv. 5 and 6, but God is impressed with the fact that Paul came into a personal relationship of knowing Jesus experientially.

Listen to the words of Jeremiah 9:23-24…

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

To understand and know God, that is what God delights in.  Paul expresses this in verse 8…

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

Right in the middle of that verse Paul says “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.”  Knowing Christ far surpasses any of those accolades and achievements in vv. 5-6.  Paul says, “I will gladly get rid of them for the sake of knowing Christ.”

In fact, Paul wants to make that point so strongly that he starts out verse 8 with a string of five particles that is difficult to translate (most editions of the Bible have something different).  To actually read them straight from the Greek text would sound something like, “But rather therefore at least.”  Just a pile of Greek particles, which together makes Paul’s expression much stronger.

It’s like Paul is saying, “But way beyond that I count all things to be loss…not only my pedigree and my performance, but all things.  Nothing compares to the value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Here’s the thing: If we put our trust in any of those things—our goodness, our commitment, our intellect, our religious instincts, our spiritual track record—any of those things, then we are not trusting in Christ.  We can’t trust Christ and ourselves at the same time.

You must trust in Christ completely and wholly and only to provide everything you need for justification, sanctification and eventual glory.

What does Paul mean by “all things?”  Any kind of allegiance, any kind of act, any type of performance or even stopping some habits—those things that we might think are meritorious before God—all of that is loss.

So Paul says, “Look, not only have I counted,” (that’s a perfect tense verb which took place in the past but has continuing results in the present), but then in verse 8, he says, “I am counting” (present tense), which refers to a continuous present action.

In other words, unlike some of us, he is not regretting what he once did (gave it all up for Jesus), but is daily reinforcing that decision by continually “counting” all things loss.

It’s all loss.  It just can’t compare to Christ.  There’s nothing in life that can.

Now, I have to say, it is an uphill battle to keep our value system in Christ, to continue to value Him above everything.  If we stop counting everything loss compared to Him we will drift back into self-reliance and self-recrimination.  Yes, we do that even as Christians.

Paul says, “Make a wholesale break with everything,” for the sake of knowing Jesus in a personal relationship.

That’s what happened on the road to Damascus, Paul was enabled by the Holy Spirit to see and savor all that Christ truly is.  That is where salvation begins.

The Greek word for knowing Christ here is actually a noun—knowledge of—and it is important to understand that it’s not referring so much to intellectual facts—information about Christ—but a deep, personal knowledge that comes from interaction with and involvement with Christ.

This is what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus, the Great Shepherd, says, “I know My sheep and they know me.”  In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 he says, “This is eternal life that they may know Thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

It is a relationship built on interactive knowledge that starts at the moment of salvation and continues to our great delight throughout eternity.

It is a union of love built on knowledge, that becomes intimate and transcendent.

The South African pastor F. B. Meyer explains the depth of that relational knowledge like this:

We may know Him personally, intimately, face to face. Christ does not live back in the centuries, nor amid the clouds of heaven: He is near us, with us, compassing our path and our lying down, and acquainted with all our ways.  But we cannot know Him in this mortal life except through the illumination and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

What a difference there is between the knowledge which the man in the street has of some public character and that which is vouchsafed to the inner circle of his home; and we must surely know Christ, not as a stranger who turns in to visit for the night, or as the exalted King of men,–there must be the inner knowledge as of those whom He counts His own familiar friends, whom He trusts with His secrets, who eat with Him of His bread (Psalms 41:9).

To know Christ in the storm of battle; to know Him in the valley of shadow; to know Him when the solar light irradiates our faces, or when they are darkened with disappointment and sorrow; to know the sweetness of his dealing with bruised reeds and smoking flax; to know the tenderness of His sympathy and the strength of His right hand—all this involves many varieties of experience on our part, but each of them, like the facets of a diamond, will reflect the prismatic beauty of His glory from a new angle.

 

 

A Life that Counts, part 2 (Philippians 3:7-8)

At the end of World War I, General Pershing sent word to the troops in Europe announcing a victory parade through the streets of Paris.  There were two requirements for the soldiers to qualify to march in the parade: They had to have a good record; and, they had to be at least 186 centimeters tall.

Word came to one company of American soldiers and the excitement built about how great it would be to march in that victory parade.  Being Americans, no one knew for sure just how tall 186 centimeters was.  But the men began comparing themselves, lining up back to back to see who was the tallest.  The taller men in the company were ribbing the shorter ones, “Too bad for you, Shorty!  We’ll think of you when we’re in Paris!”

Then the officer came to find out if there were any candidates for the parade.  He put the mark on the wall at 186 centimeters.  Some men took one look at the mark and walked away, realizing that they weren’t even close.  Others tried, but fell short by a small amount.  Finally, the tallest man in the troop stood up to the mark and squared his shoulders.  But he discovered that he was a quarter of an inch shy of the mark (6’ 1/2”).  When those men compared themselves with themselves, some thought they were tall enough to qualify.  But when the standard came, it proved that none qualified.

It is commonly thought that the way to get into heaven is by being a good person.  People who believe that compare themselves with others and think, “I’m good enough because I’m better than my no-good neighbor who drinks beer and watches sports on TV every Sunday.  I usually go to church; I don’t get drunk (at least not on Sunday); I don’t gamble (sure, I buy an occasional lottery ticket, but I don’t gamble as much as he does).  I don’t hit my wife (we yell a lot, but I’ve never hit her!).  I pay my taxes (well, at least most of what I owe; nobody declares everything!).”  That’s the way people justify themselves and convince themselves that they’re going to get to heaven.  They compare themselves with others and figure that they’re in the top half that’s going to make it.

That’s the problem with trying to get to heaven by our own goodness.  We compare ourselves with one another, and we don’t realize that we fall far short of God’s standard, which is perfection.

Paul states in Romans 3:23 that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Or, as he puts it in Galatians 2:16, “by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”

Here in Philippians 3 Paul has been arguing that if anyone could put confidence in the flesh, he would be the perfect candidate.  He had an impeccable pedigree and a stellar record of behavior.  In every way he was head and shoulders above everyone else.

But through the Damascus road experience, Paul had come to recognize that as tall a moral stature that he was, he did not measure up to God’s standard of perfection.  Paul came to realize that all of those things that he was relying upon to get him to heaven were absolutely worthless.  So he threw them all on the trash heap in order to embrace Jesus Christ alone as his Savior.

Here is how Paul states this re-evaluation in Philippians 3:7-11

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.

Paul took all those trophies of his past pedigree and performance that once showed up in his profit column, and one by one he gave them up and threw them in the garbage heap.

Why?  Because in Christ he had found something worth losing everything for.  In Christ Paul had found what was of infinite worth, what really counted.

Paul came to see and savor Jesus Christ as a greater treasure of joy than all these other accolades and accomplishments.

Everything pales in light of Christ’s greatness and worthiness.  Jesus is the treasure chest of holy joy so that over everything else we write “LOSS.”

Paul came to realize that everything that he had once thought made him spiritually rich, only bankrupted him spiritually.  So he took them out of the profit column and put them in the loss column.  He took his trophies off the shelf where he once proudly displayed them and now threw them on the garbage heap.

In a flash Paul struck off everything in the credit column and inserted it in the debit column.  Christ alone stands in the credit column.  The apostle’s language is explicit because “gain” is in the plural and “loss” is in the singular.  One by one the apostle had carefully added up the cumulative benefit of all the individual items of merit as he looked to the judgment.  They were real pluses.  But in a blinding moment they became one great singular loss.

Paul had the experience that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13:44:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

In verse 8 Paul says that he now considers “everything to be loss,” not merely those things he had accomplished, but absolutely everything.  Nothing matches the supremacy and desirability of having Christ.  Paul had now found something of “surpassing greatness,” of infinite value, of colossal worth to him.  And that allowed him to give everything up.

Paul had not always viewed Christ as having “surpassing greatness,” and, I would guess, neither did we.  Paul had viewed Jesus as “accursed” by God for having died on the cross—at best a moral man and a troubling teacher.

I don’t know how you viewed him, but it is not until you see Jesus in “surpassing greatness,” as all supreme, all sufficient, that you will be willing to discount all other advantages and accomplishments (indeed all other pleasures and treasures) that you will come to the cross and give them ALL up for the sake of Christ.

In that moment that Paul came to the realization that all he had depended upon before was WASTED and that in Christ was the life that COUNTED, he was transformed.

Who else, besides that brilliant Pharisee now transformed by his encounter with Christ, could so well explain the mistakes we make about our salvation and the truth that they must embrace?

Who else could describe with such sympathy the attractions of systems of self-salvation and, at the same time, their fatal flaws?

Who else could recommend so winsomely and persuasively the good news of eternal life though faith in Jesus Christ?

Who could better explain the infinite distance that separates one’s own works from the work of Christ?

As one poem states:

Upon a life I did not live

Upon a death I did not die;

Another’s life, another’s death,

I stake my whole eternity.

Paul never imagined, before his conversion, before he met Jesus Christ, that he would ever believe such a thing, still less that he would ever preach it to the nations.

And many people today are where Paul as before he became a Christian, depending upon their own efforts, trusting in themselves, comparing themselves favorably to others, but in reality falling far short of the standard of perfection that Jesus set.

Paul now chooses to count as loss those things that once were gain.  Why?  That he might have Christ.

Paul went on to emphatically explain why this was so: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8a).  This statement is uniquely personal and looks back to Paul’s meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road.  There the grace of the Lord Jesus found Paul the terrorist.  And from that point Paul began a process of understanding, first in the house of Ananias and then in Tarsus and then during several years in Arabia (cf. Galatians 1:17, 18).

Now Paul’s understanding has become stunning because it is only here in Paul’s writings that we find the intensely personal “Christ Jesus my Lord.”  This is the only place where Paul calls Jesus “my Lord.”

The wonder of this increases when we realize that the Philippian hymn of 2:6-11 climaxes with Jesus being given God’s name “Lord” (Yahweh), so that at the end “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ [Messiah] is Lord [Yahweh], to the glory of God the Father” (2:11).

Here Paul made the astonishing claim that the same Christ is “my Lord” — the awesome Yahweh of Scripture was Paul’s Lord.  No wonder all his credits slid to the debit column.  He sees the “surpassing value” of Jesus as his Lord.

Paul had regarded his advantages over other people as what put him in an especially good position with God.  However, he had come to realize that absolutely nothing apart from Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was of any value in his gaining God’s acceptance.

Paul here put a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of the Christian’s life.  He joyfully accepted the loss of all other things for the greatness of this personal relationship.

In v. 7 Paul said that he counted; in this verse he said I also count.  This first counting was at his conversion; the second – some 30 years later – was in his Roman prison.  After all he had experienced, he still counted it worthy to give everything up for the sake of following Jesus.

As Spurgeon says…

“After twenty years or more of experience Paul had an opportunity of revising his balance-sheet, and looking again at his estimates, and seeing whether or not his counting was correct.  What was the issue of his latest search?  How do matters stand at his last stocktaking?  He exclaims with very special emphasis, ‘Yea doubtless; and I [still] count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’”

Not only had he mentally considered all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, but he had actually suffered loss.  Now, in the Roman prison, many privileges had been stripped from him.  He was suffering for Christ.

Did he still value Christ?  Of course he did!

In fact, Paul uses the term “rubbish” in verse 8 to describe all those accolades and accomplishments that he had once depended upon and been so proud of.  He came to realize that no good works give us credit before God.  In fact, as Isaiah 64:6 says, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

Isaiah is speaking of our righteous deeds being like the menstrual clothes women used during their period, or we could liken it today to used toilet paper.

If our righteous acts are like polluted garments to God, how much more revolting must be our sins?

Paul uses the somewhat embarrassing term “rubbish,” which literally means “dung,” “waste,” “poop,” a dirty diaper, or it could refer to “table scraps.”  In extrabiblical Greek, it describes a half-eaten corpse and lumps of manure.

Adam Clarke says…

“The word [rubbish] means the vilest dross or refuse of any thing; the worst excrement.  The word shows how utterly insignificant and unavailing, in point of salvation, the apostle esteemed everything but the Gospel of Jesus.”

Thus, Paul meant that his former advantages (his standing, wealth, and position in the Jewish community) were not only worthless, but strongly offensive and potentially dangerous.

So Paul, and Isaiah before him, helps us see more clearly the ultimate value of our own good deeds—they are like used toilet paper.  But instead of flushing them down the toilet, we frame them, put them up on our walls and proudly point out to others our good deeds, when they ought to be in the garbage heap.

This serves to point out the absurdity of our thinking, imagining that God would value this!

Paul’s former accomplishments had become abhorrent to him, not because they were bad (for they were not), but because they kept him from Christ.

It wasn’t so much that those things were worthless in themselves, but compared to the greatness of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, they really were nothing

And he had no regrets.  John Calvin noted that when people battling a storm at sea cast their belongings overboard to lighten the ship, they wail afterward at the loss.  But Paul did not look back.  There was no hidden longing.  Why?  Because he will gain Christ in that final great day when his goal is fully realized.  To die will be gain (cf. 1:21)

What he had learned to value was Christ Jesus his Lord.  Consequently, coming to know Christ, entering into a deeper and fuller appreciation of His person and work, was of primary importance to Paul.

This knowledge (Gr. gnosis) is the kind that one obtains only by personal relationship.  It is different from the knowledge we gain through objective academic study (Gr. oida), though information is part of our growing personal knowledge of Christ.  It is knowledge of the heart in addition to knowledge of the head (cf. John 17:3; Gal. 4:9; 1 John 2:18, 29; 4:8).

To gain this fuller knowledge of Christ, Paul had let everything else in life go.  To use the language of 2:6, Paul did not regard anything else in life worthy of retaining.  All he wanted was a fuller and deeper experiential appreciation of his Savior (cf. Ps. 73:25).

Gordon Fee points out the relationship between Paul’s salvation experience here with the humiliation that Jesus experienced.

“While Christ did not consider God-likeness to accrue to his own advantage, but ‘made himself nothing,’ so Paul now considers his former ‘gain’ as ‘loss’ for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

As Christ was ‘found’ in ‘human likeness,’ Paul is now ‘found in Christ,’ knowing whom means to be ‘conformed’ (echoing the morphe of a slave, 2:7) to his death (2:8).

Finally, as Christ’s humiliation was followed by God’s ‘glorious’ vindication of him, so present ‘suffering’ for Christ’s sake will be followed by ‘glory’ in the form of resurrection.

As he has appealed to the Philippians to do, Paul thus exemplifies Christ’s ‘mindset,’ embracing suffering and death.  This is what it means ‘to know Christ,’ to be ‘found in him’ by means of his gift of righteousness; and as he was raised and exalted to the highest place, so Paul and the Philippian believers, because they are now ‘conformed to Christ’ in his death, will also be ‘conformed’ to his glory.”

Thousands of churchgoers will assume their lives will count because they have grown up in church, taken their children to church, associated with evangelical, conservative Christians, attended Bible studies and seminars, graduated from Bible college, memorized Scriptures, never missed church, spoken in tongues, devoted themselves to ministering to people, gone on mission trips, kept themselves morally clean…yet over their whole life God writes WASTED.

Jesus speaks of this near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, when he says…

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Knowing Christ, and being known by Him, that is what salvation is.  Valuing a personal, growing relationship with Jesus Christ is eternal life (John 17:3).

Are you willing to give up anything and everything else to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?  Ultimately, that is what makes this life and the life to come count.

A Life that Counts, part 1 (Philippians 3:4-6)

I want my life to count for God.  Don’t you?  I don’t want to waste the life that God has entrusted to me, in any way.  You see, we can waste our lives by pursuing the wrong path.

You might have heard it said: “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

We can waste our lives by pursuing sin, but we can also waste our lives pursuing righteousness through self-effort.  In other words, you can waste your live as an irreligious, immoral person, or as a religious, moral person.  I know, that is a paradox.

God wants to raise up men and women in his church whose lives count for His glory.  In Philippians 3:4-11 Paul uses the word “count” 3x (in vv. 7-8).  In order for our lives to count, we have to choose what really counts.

Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 3:4-11.  (Remember, he has just said that genuine believers put no confidence in the flesh, in themselves)…

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.

In this passage we have Paul’s radical re-evaluation of his life and what really counts.  Because Christ graciously “arrested” him on the road to Damascus, opening his spiritual eyes to see the surpassing value of Jesus Christ, he willingly trashes all those things he formerly counted on—his pedigree and his performance—so that he may gain Christ.

Paul regards his prior privileges and achievements as spiritual rubbish in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, and being justified (v. 9), sanctified (v. 10), and glorified (v. 11) in him.

Here is the first step in pursuing a life that counts:

People whose lives count treasure Christ above everything else.

In verse 3 Paul had told us that those who are the “true circumcision” put “no confidence in the flesh.”  That is, they don’t depend upon themselves to produce righteousness and make themselves acceptable to God.

Again, realize that Judaizers had come to Philippi, Jewish men who had come to faith in Christ but because of their own background were teaching these Gentile believers that they, too, had to become circumcised, keep the Sabbath and follow the law in order to be “fully saved,” to enter into the Abrahamic blessings.

Paul’s first response (in v. 3) was to argue that this is not so, that one enters into the fullness of salvation through faith—glorying in Christ and what He has done, rather than through one’s own righteous acts like circumcision.

Then, in verse 4, Paul takes another tack, saying that if anyone could (hypothetically that is) put confidence in the flesh, he was candidate numero uno.

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he hasreason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

Paul engages in a little Greek trash talk here:  Calling them “dogs” and saying “whatever you’ve got, I’ve got more; whatever you can do, I can do better.”  “Bring me your best game, all you’ve got, and I’ll slam dunk you every time.”  “You can’t match me.  I challenge anyone and I’ll knock you out every time.”

Curiously, often those who promote the idea of having confidence in the flesh are the same ones who are the least qualified to have such confidence. This is because of the principle Paul explains in Colossians 2:23 – These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What follows is the apostle’s unparalleled description of his human achievements before he met Christ, which has been called “one of the most remarkable personal confessions that the ancient world has bequeathed to us.”

As we know, this description of his fleshly accomplishments was really a masterful setup because Paul’s boasting in his achievements paved the way for his remarkable rejection of them.

We begin in verse 4 with Paul’s self-perception when he was still Saul of Tarsus: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.”  For starters, Paul declared without any qualifications that his ground for personal boasting exceeded that of any person in Judaism!  In effect, he threw down the gauntlet, saying, “Top this if you can, you Judaizers.”

In verses 5-6 Paul chronicles seven qualities that put him at the “head of the class,” but then goes on to declare that they are “treasures of a wasted life.”

For the sake of the argument, Paul adopted the Judaizers’ attitude of confidence in the flesh.  He did this in order to show that his rejection of Jewish advantages was not because he lacked them.  Rather, he actually possessed them in superior measure.

When I preached on this passage several years ago I got seven trophies, statues that indicated that I had won something, that I was superior to others in some way.  As we look at this passage we see that Paul holds up these trophies that the Judaizers treasured (and they really were all good things).  At first, they are in the profit column, but then Paul puts them all in the “loss” column.  Early in life he had treasured them, now he dumps them in the trash.

Paul says, “I may not be an accountant, but I know what really counts.”

These seven trophies have to do with Paul’s inherited pedigree and his personal performance, things he could be (and had been) very proud of.

Paul first points out his family heritage“circumcised on the eighth day” (v. 5).

Notice that Paul speaks first of the key issue that the Judaizers were requiring of the Gentiles—to be circumcised.  He cuts to the chase and says that he has what it takes.

To be “circumcised on the eighth day” was in keeping with the stipulations of the Jewish law for every Jewish boy (Leviticus 12:3) and showed that Paul was “pure-bred.”  He was not adopted into the family, but had been a true part of the family from the beginning.

Paul had not received circumcision in his thirteenth year, as Ishmaelites did, nor later in life, as many Gentiles did who converted to Judaism (e.g., Acts 16:3).  Not even Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, was circumcised the “eighth day,” but Paul was.

Paul was not a late convert to Judaism, but had been a Jew all his life.  He had come from a pious Jewish family, and had undoubtedly enjoyed encouragement in the “things of God” (religious training) from his parents all his life.

Second, Paul touted his social status as “of the people of Israel” (v. 5), or more exactly “of the race of Israel.”  This meant that in addition to not being a proselyte he couldn’t possibly be a child of proselytes.

Racially he was a pure-blooded Israelite.  Paul was a pure Jew by race and descent.

Israel and Israelite were inside terms by which Jews referred to their own nation.  Others might call them “Jews,” but only they called themselves “the children of Israel.”  Paul was a total insider.

Paul continues highlighting his social status by saying he was “of the tribe of Benjamin.”

The tribe of Benjamin was significant for several reasons:

  • Benjamin was the younger of the two sons born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.  Benjamin was the only son born in the Promised Land (cf. Genesis 35:16-18).
  • The tribe of Benjamin always held the post of honor in the army, a fact that gave rise to the battle cry, “Behind you, O Benjamin!” (Judges 5:14; Hosea 5:8).
  • And the tribe of Benjamin was the only tribe to remain faithful to Judah and the house of David after the death of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 12:21). The tribe of Benjamin went into exile with the tribe of Judah and returned from exile with Judah to resettle Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 11:7-9, 31-36). Benjamin remained at the core of spirituality.
  • King Saul, Israel’s first king, was a Benjaminite (cf. 1 Samuel 9:1, 2). And the Apostle Paul’s given name was Saul (cf. Acts 7:58; 13:9).
  • It was also the tribe that had the city of Jerusalem within its boundaries (Judges 1:21).

Thus Paul’s heritage radiated insider pride.

J. S. Howson notes:

“How little was it imagined that, as Benjamin was the youngest and most honoured of the Patriarchs, so this … child of Benjamin [Paul] should be associated with the twelve servants of the Messiah of God, the last and most illustrious of the Apostles!”

A fourth aspect of Paul’s inherited pedigree is that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.”  This likely means that Paul was brought up as a strict Jew and had pure-blood stock.  Henry Alford and John Eadie believed that Paul also meant that he was a pure-blooded Jew: that all of his ancestors were Jews.

Though Paul had been born outside the Holy Land in Tarsus, he was a “Hebrew,” and his parents were “Hebrews” before him.  “Hebrew of Hebrews” also indicates that he spoke Hebrew and Aramaic (cf. Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).  Paul spoke Hebrew or Aramaic when so many Diaspora Jews knew only Greek, and he prayed and read the Scriptures in Hebrew (cf. Acts 6:1, 2).

Though Paul was born in Cilicia, his parents made sure that he had the best education in Jerusalem under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel (cf. Acts 26:4, 5; Galatians 1:14).  Paul was a private school insider.

It may be that Paul is also using “Hebrew of Hebrews” in similar fashion to “King of kings and Lord of lords,” indicating that Paul is the Hebrew par excellence, the highest of the Hebrews.

So these four expressions are advantages that Paul had received simply by the good fortune of his birth and upbringing, but there were also accomplishments he had achieved through sweat and hard work.

So we see that the apostle had impeccable credentials before he ever lifted a hand!  In effect, regarding prestige his upbringing was not unlike that of our New England blue bloods whose genealogies and education and position have been established facts for generations.

But Paul didn’t rest on his ancestry or name, as do so many of the privileged.  His track record was phenomenal, as we see in his trio of achievements.

Paul lists three things that were his by personal choice and conviction, all reasons why he might have confidence in the flesh more so than anyone else.

Paul first turns to the level of expertise he had achieved in the Torah.  “as to the law, a Pharisee.”

Now, we don’t think very highly of the Pharisee’s because they were consistently Jesus’ opponents throughout the Gospels and appeared to be persnickety, hard-hearted snobs.

However, in first century Israel, Pharisees were highly regarded.  These were the experts in the law, well respected for their knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures.  They were also very strict in obeying the Law.  The most ardent Pharisees scrupulously avoided even accidental violations of the Law and did more than they were commanded to do.  Most of the Jews regarded the Pharisees as being the very best Jews.

Pharisaism was a lay movement that had its beginnings when the Jews returned from exile.  The movement solidified during the Maccabean times, and by the first century the Pharisees were the most impressive and respected group in Israel.  According to Josephus they numbered about 6,000 —an elite denomination within Israel.

Pharisee means “separated one.” The Pharisees distanced themselves from unclean persons and ate only with observant Jews.

Paul’s ancestors were Pharisees, as he told the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 23:6).  However, Paul’s Pharisaism was a matter of choice and deep conviction as he voluntarily bound himself to keep the hundreds of commandments of the oral law.

Paul, a son of Pharisees (Acts 23:6), and a disciple of the great Pharisee, Gamaliel (Acts 5:34; 22:3), chose to be a Pharisee himself and set himself to be the most earnest of the earnest observers of the Jewish Law (Gal 1:14).

“Pharisee’ for Paul was not a term of reproach, but a title of honor, a claim to ‘the highest degree of faithfulness and sincerity in the fulfilment [sic] of duty to God as prescribed by the divine Torah” (Beare).

But Paul was not only a Bible scholar and really good person, he was also zealous for his faith—“as for zeal, persecuting the church.”

As to religious commitment, Paul was no nominal person with mild interest and involvement or an ivory tower theologian with no connection to real life, but rather he was very zealous for his religion.  He was passionate, so passionate that he was involved in stamping out any other rival religion.

Christ followers posed the biggest threat to Judaism.  In the earliest phase it was made up entirely of Jews who had turned from Judaism to faith in Christ.

We see Paul (still Saul at this point), at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.  Then we read in Acts 8…

Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution.  And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Paul orchestrated a terror campaign against the church and had achieved a growing infamy as a Pharisaic terrorist.  He saw himself as a latter-day Phinehas in his zeal for the Law (cf. Numbers 25:6-8) and was highly esteemed by his people for his actions.

Most significantly, Jesus’ opening words to Paul on the Damascus Road mentioned Paul’s persecutions (cf. Acts 9:4, 5; 22:7, 8; 26:14, 15). “Why are you persecuting me, Saul?”

John Walvoord notes:

“The implication is that the Judaizers who were persecuting him were weaklings in comparison to what Paul had done when he persecuted the church.

Paul’s observation that the Jews of his day have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2) had been true of his own life before God confronted him on the road to Damascus.

Finally, Paul points to his superior moral lifestyle, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

When it came to keeping the law, you could never point a finger at Paul.  He was “blameless.”  “Ten commandments?  No sweat!”

Like the rich young ruler, Paul could claim he had kept all the commandments from his youth up—and really mean it.  Of course, Paul would later realize that that was a very superficial view of the law, that in reality it goes deeper to the heart where none of us can claim innocence.

What an amazing accomplishment and claim.  Paul was a spiritual athlete in a category by himself. What focus the man must have had — what confidence — what self-possession — what discipline — what an iron will!

No living soul could gainsay Paul’s fourfold insider credentials. No one could excel his threefold performance.  His seven-fold superiority put him in a class of his own.

Paul’s claim, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” was no empty boast.

Listen well, anyone who still wants to claim moral superiority or who puts confidence in the flesh to try to please God.  Listen to what this spiritual superman has to say.

You see, all of these were good things.

But what we have to realize is that it can be good things that actually keep us from God.  When we believe we are good enough, we don’t need a Savior or his salvation.  Paul would have to “lose his religion, to gain his salvation.”

Warren Wiersbe said it like this:

“Like most ‘religious’ people today, Paul had enough morality to keep him out of trouble, but not enough righteousness to get him into heaven!  It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his ‘religion’ to find salvation.

All of the fleshly things in which he formerly placed his confidence he had looked upon as his “assets.” He now sees that they were really liabilities, so far as salvation is concerned.

This is a huge thing to realize.  Paul is saying it is quite possible to do ALL of these things, and to LOSE it all, to have “Wasted” written across your life.

You can come from a great family, grow up going to church, have long passages of the Bible memorized, be vigorously involved in church ministries, in missions, in evangelizing the lost, have a spotless record legally and morally, and still come up with a BIG FAT ZERO!

Paul had competed and won every race.  Yet his victories did not really satisfy his heart or bring peace to his soul.

If this doesn’t count, what does?  One thing and one thing only.  What counts is having Jesus Christ.  He is the only trophy, the only treasure, that really counts and having Him is what makes my life and your life count.

Genuine Christianity, part 3 (Philippians 3:3)

I don’t imagine that anyone sets out to become a legalist and yet a great many God-fearing, Scripture-loving, holiness-seeking people inevitably seem to end up there.  Again, I believe that legalism is engrained into our minds and hearts because in every other area of life we have to work hard to earn approval, grades, a paycheck, a relationship.  Grace is a foreign concept to most of us and we don’t know what to do with it.

Nick Batzig says this:

Legalism is, by definition, an attempt to add anything to the finished work of Christ.  It is to trust in anything other than Christ and His finished work for one’s standing before God.  The New Testament refutation of legalism is primarily a response to perversions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  The majority of the Savior’s opponents were those who believed that they were righteous in and of themselves, based on their zeal for and commitment to the law of God.  The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes exemplified, by their words and deeds, doctrinal legalism in the days of Christ and the Apostles.  While they made occasional appeals to grace, they self-righteously truncated and twisted the Scriptural meaning of grace.  The Apostle Paul summed up the nature of Jewish legalism when he wrote: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3–4).

Understanding the relationship between the law and the gospel for our justification is paramount to learning how to avoid doctrinal legalism.  The Scriptures teach that we are justified by the Savior’s works—not our own.  The last Adam came to do all that the first Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12–211 Cor. 15:47–49).  He was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5).  He came to be our representative in order to fulfill the legal demands of God’s covenant—namely, to render to God perfect, personal, and continual obedience on behalf of His people.  Jesus merited perfect righteousness for all those whom the Father had given Him.  We, through faith-union with Him, receive a righteous status by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.  In Christ, God provides what He demands.  The good works for which God has redeemed believers, that we might walk in them, do not in any way whatsoever play into our justification.  They are merely the necessary evidence that God has forgiven and accepted us in Christ.

However, doctrinal legalism can also creep into our minds through the back door of sanctification.  The Apostle Paul intimated as much in Galatians 3:1–4.  The members of the church in Galatia had allowed themselves to be deceived into believing that their standing before God ultimately depended on what they achieved in the flesh in the continuation of their Christian life.  It is possible for us to begin the Christian life by believing in Christ and His saving work alone and then fall into the trap of foolishly imagining that it is entirely up to us to finish what He has begun.  In sanctification, no less than in justification, the words of Jesus hold true: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Doctrinal legalism in sanctification is sometimes fueled by passionate preachers who emphasize Jesus’ teaching about the demands of Christian discipleship while divorcing them from or minimizing the Apostolic teaching on the nature of Christ’s saving work for sinners.  The renowned Reformed theologian Geerhardus Vos explained the nature of this subtle form of legalism when he wrote:

There prevails still a subtle form of legalism which would rob the Savior of his crown of glory, earned by the cross, and would make of him a second Moses, offering us the stones of the law instead of the life-bread of the Gospel . . . [legalism is] powerless to save.

And we can add, “powerless to sanctify,” as well.

Paul expresses in Philippians 3:1-3 how vigilant we must be against legalism.  There he said:

1 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–

We’ve noted that Paul gives two commands, which were so necessary in this fight against legalism:  First, rejoice in the Lord, maintain your attention and affection in Jesus.  Secondly, look out for these people who promote legalism, because it will not be good for you, only harm.

Finally, in verse 3, Paul focuses on their true identity.

Whenever we struggle, it is always important to return to our identity in Christ, who we are in Christ.  Whether we are struggling spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and even physically and financially, it always helps us gain a more hopeful perspective by reminding ourselves who we are in Christ.

In verse 3 Paul identifies four characteristics of their identity that helps us in this battle against legalism.

Verse 1 is what we do—rejoice in the Lord.  Verse 2 is what we avoid—those who deny that Jesus is enough, and verse 3 is who we are.

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—

First, in contrast to the Judaizers, Paul says that we are the “true circumcision.”

Now, I wouldn’t put that on a bumper stick, “I’m the true circumcision.”  I don’t think it would sell well.

But Paul wants them to know that both he, a circumcised Jew, and they, uncircumcised Gentiles, were the “true circumcision.”

The Old Testament prophets had long lamented the uncircumcised hearts of their people and called for spiritual circumcision (cf. Jeremiah 9:25).  Indeed, as Paul argued in Romans 4:9-12 Abraham was justified by faith long before he was circumcised.  Paul understood that those who have faith are the circumcised in heart.  So Paul included himself emphatically in his declaration, “For we are the [real] circumcision” (Philippians 3:3).

Thus Paul carried on his attack on the Judaizers with the “unequivocal assertion of the great spiritual reversal: Judaizers are the new Gentiles, while Christian believers have become true Jews” (Silva).

Paul was explicit: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28, 29).

True circumcision is that of the heart and is a matter of faith and grace from beginning to end.

Circumcision of heart had been predicted in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7) and in the New Covenant (a heart of flesh for a heart of stone).  That new heart is critical both for eternal life and for sanctification here and now.

Then Paul identifies three ways that we express our “true circumcision,” or genuine Christianity.  Paul used three terms or phrases to describe the false teachers (v. 2). He used three others to characterize the true circumcision.  Stephen Davey puts it like this:  We are those who worship God first, brag about Jesus the most, and trust in ourselves the least.

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—

We worship, we declare God’s worth and we do that empowered and directed by the Spirit of God.

Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father is seeking those who “worship in spirit and in truth.”  While there is no capitalization in John 4:24 and thus it could be speaking of our own spirits, that it comes from within, here Paul clearly says that this worship happens by means of the “Spirit of God.”

There is much that passes for worship these days, and much of it is extreme emotionalism.  Neither God nor I are against emotions, but it is vital that we submit everything to the Spirit of God and we are motivated by the Spirit.

Those who are in Christ are part of a new order. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The newness of the new creation is the product of creation power (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6).  But the passing of the old and the coming of the new is also meant to call to mind the coming of the new covenant that Paul earlier described wherein we have been made “ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (3:6).

The evidence of the new covenant and circumcision of the heart is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:8, 9).

And when God indwells us, he makes us worshipers.  His Spirit takes our part before his own throne and helps us with our weaknesses, empowering acceptable worship and prayer (cf. Romans 8:26, 27).  The objective of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son, so worship driven by the Spirit does not glorify self, or focus so much on ourselves, but glorifies and focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Worshiping by the Spirit of God also means that our worship is not limited to one place.  The Holy Spirit inhabited the temple in the Old Testament, but now each Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and we can worship Christ everywhere and at any time.  All of life can be an act of worship.

Second, we glory in Christ Jesus.  Pointedly, we do not glory in ourselves.

In what do you glory?  What do you brag about?  What do you boast about?  Yourself, your own accomplishments, or Christ Jesus and what He had done for you?

These last two signs of true believers are opposing: If we glory in Christ, we aren’t trusting in ourselves.  If we trust in ourselves, then we glory in ourselves.  As Paul says in that amazing passage in Romans 3:

27 Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Salvation by grace through faith redirects our boasting from ourselves to Jesus Christ.

In 1993 the (then) Houston Oilers were playing the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs.  Jim Kelly, quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, had been injured, so little known Frank Reich took his place.  Now, just a few weeks before Frank Reich had heard the gospel and had become a Christ follower.  On the way to the playoff game he was listening to some Christian music and heard the words:

In Christ alone I place my trust and find my glory in the power of the cross.  In ev’ry victory, let it be said of me: My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.

He had never heard it before and it amazed him, so he wrote it down on a piece of paper and stuck it into his pocket.  At the stadium for the game he put on his pads and went out to play the game.

The first half was a complete disaster.  They were playing at home, but the Oilers were embarrassing them and were up 35-3 at halftime.  It looked like a blowout.  Frank Reich was booed off the field.

While in the locker room he pulled out those words and read them again.

Some people say that that second half was the greatest comeback in NFL history.  Buffalo’s defense stepped up and the offense was in sync and they won 41-38,

Reporters scrambled to Frank Reich after the game and asked, “How did you do this?”  They were likely expecting clichés like, “Every game has two halves” or “It’s not over until it’s over…”  But instead Frank Reich reached into his pocket and read…

In Christ alone I place my trust and find my glory in the power of the cross.  In ev’ry victory, let it be said of me: My source of strength, my source of hope, is Christ alone.

Later Frank Reich attended seminary and is now pastoring.

Here was a man who boasted in Christ.  When the microphones were placed in front of him he didn’t boast about what he did, or even what his team did, but he boasted in Christ.

That is important when it comes to our salvation, especially, but it is also important in every accomplishment and achievement.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 warns us:

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

When the disciples were sent on an early mission of healing and casting out demons and preaching, in Luke 10, and they came back and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”  In other words, you should have seen the crusades we held and the conversions we witnessed and the miracles we performed.  Lord it was really something amazing!

And Jesus used that moment as a significant teaching moment as he responded to them, no doubt with patient grace – “Men, don’t rejoice so much in all of that – if you really want something to truly rejoice over – rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

Don’t glory in what you did for me, but in what I have done for you.

Finally, Paul says, “who put no confidence in the flesh.”

Paul, more than anyone, had learned not to put confidence in his own flesh, in his own will-power.  Romans 7 is a clear testimony that we cannot trust ourselves.  We want one thing and do another time after time after time.

Genuine Christians are those who put 100% of their confidence in Jesus Christ and absolutely none in themselves.  Any variation, even 1,000th of a percent, would mean that we are not of the “true circumcision.”

The “flesh” in this case is not what inclines us to do evil (although it certainly can do that), but rather the energy within ourselves that inclines us to do good for our own benefit or our own glory.

We do not have “confidence” that anything we do to our bodies (circumcision), or anything we do with our bodies (good works, self-efforts), will make us acceptable to God: we realize that trusting in Jesus Christ is all that is necessary.  We have no confidence in what we are by nature to make us acceptable to God. We understand that we cannot save ourselves, and we acknowledge that God must save us.

You see, unbelievers can be very good people, full of good works, and still go to hell.  Of course, believers can be very good people, full of good works too.  But the difference is that true Christians are trusting wholly and only in Jesus Christ 100%.

Our joy is rooted in the truth of Christ’s totally sufficient, totally acceptable work in our behalf.

Our joy is lost whenever we hop back on that treadmill of performance, believing that God loves me only if I perform consistently well, or perfectly.

The joyful truth is that God forgives us and loves us and approves of us solely on the basis of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.  We just have to accept that by faith.

Keep your confidence fully in Jesus Christ.  You cannot rejoice in Him if you start to put your confidence in the flesh.

Only one “good work” takes you to heaven, the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Genuine Christianity, part 2 (Philippians 3:2)

Paul was ever vigilant against legalism.  Having been born a Jew and raised under the Mosaic law, he knew what it was like to live under the law and have to perform well in order for God to be pleased with him.  In Philippians 3:1-3 Paul is concerned for the “safety” of the Philippians, concerned that they would be tripped up by putting confidence in the flesh and thus lose their joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord (v. 1) and glorying in Jesus (v. 3) is what keeps us from snapping back into the familiar legalism that we all grow up with.  Matthew Henry put it this way when he wrote:

“The joy of the Lord is a divine armor against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and puts our mouth out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks…the taste of joy in our mouths makes the tempter’s offerings seem bland by comparison.”

Thus, the true way to obedience comes through making Jesus our greatest treasure and greatest pleasure.

Listen again to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:1-3…

1 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–

The positive command is to “rejoice in the Lord,” while the negative is “look out,” watch out for those who would cause you to revert to legalism.  To understand Paul’s strong warning against legalists in verse 2, let’s explore the historical background.

From the very beginning of the Christian age, the gospel came “to the Jew first” (see Acts 3:26; Romans 1:16), so that the first seven chapters of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or with Gentiles who were Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:10).  In Acts 8:5-25, the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of an upheaval since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish.

But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this created an uproar.  Peter was called on the carpet to explain his activities (Acts 11).  After all, the Gentiles in Acts 10 had become Christians without first becoming Jews, and this was a whole new thing for the church.  Peter explained that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles just as he had upon the Jewish disciples in the upper room in Acts 2.  The matter seemed to be settled.

But not for long.  Paul was sent out by the Holy Spirit to minister especially to the Gentiles (Acts 13-3; 22:21).  Peter had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles in Acts 10, but Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles.  It did not take long for the strict Jewish believers to oppose Paul’s ministry and came to Antioch teaching that it was necessary for Gentiles to submit to Jewish rules, in particular circumcision, before they could be saved.  This was taken up at the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.  The result of this council was an approval of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and an acknowledgement that salvation was by grace, not by works.  Gentiles did not have to become Jewish proselytes to become Christians.  They did not have to be circumcised to be saved.

But the dissenters were not content.  Having failed in their opposition to Paul and the gospel of grace at Antioch and Jerusalem, they followed him wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches.  Most scholars call this group of people “Judaizers.”  The epistle of Galatians was written primarily to combat this false teaching.

When Judaizers invaded the new church in Galatia, Paul pulled out his verbal flamethrower:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8, 9; cf. 3:1-14).

A gospel of works is an anti-gospel because it is not good news at all!

This is not merely an ancient problem.  Even in our day we find that people naturally default to a legalistic mindset, believing that they have to contribute something to their salvation.

Several decades ago a survey of 7,000 Protestant youths from many denominations asked whether they agreed with the following statements: “The way to be accepted by God is to try sincerely to live a good life.” More than 60 percent agreed.

“God is satisfied if a person lives the best life he can.” Almost 70 percent agreed. (Reported by Paul Brand & Philip Yancey, Fearfully & Wonderfully Made [Zondervan], p. 108.)

Counterfeit Christianity is a strong danger for all of us because we’re all prone to pride and self-reliance.  We all want to take for ourselves at least some of the credit for our salvation.  Oh, we’ll be generous and grant that most of the credit goes to the Lord, but we still want to reserve a bit of the honor for ourselves.

People will say, “I was saved by my own free will,” which implies, “I was smart enough or good enough to make the right choice.”  But the Bible knocks our pride out from under us by clearly stating that our salvation does not depend on our will, but on God’s sovereign mercy (Rom. 9:16). Or, people will say, “Christ died for me because I was worthy.” But Scripture is clear that He died for us when we were unworthy sinners (Rom. 5:8).

It these Judaizers, those teachers who were encouraging the Philippian believers that Jesus wasn’t enough, that they needed “Jesus plus…” that Paul wrote:

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Why does Paul speak in such strange, exaggerated, derogatory terms?

To show just how serious this issue was.  In Paul’s mind these were not people who were just mistaken or who wanted something positive for the Philippian believers.  They were vicious, evil and meant to harm them.

Paul actually makes use of alliteration to make it even easier to remember these description; all three titles, so to speak, because they all begin with the letter k – the Greek kappa –

  • beware of kunas,
  • beware of kakous ergatos
  • and beware of katatomen

But far more striking than their acoustical effects was that they were freighted with ironic sarcasm, as each of the three insults took a virtue that the Judaizers claimed for themselves and reversed it.  Paul impaled the Judaizers on their own vocabulary.

Three rapid-fire, blunt, and offensive terms for the enemies of grace.  And it isn’t that Paul is slinging mud or calling names – he’s gravely concerned about the safety of the Philippian church and knows that these false teachers are extremely dangerous.  They were not to take these Judaizers lightly.

And so Paul doesn’t mince words or beat around the bush.

Paul knows that returning to the legalistic practices of Judaism, while seemingly the “safe” practice, would actually endanger them and sabotage their joy in the Lord.

In rapid-fire succession Paul says, “watch out…watch out…watch out…”  These function like warning signs along a treacherous mountain road.  “Slow down, do not pass, watch for falling rocks.”

Similar commands for watchfulness are found in other passages, like Matthew 7:15:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Also in Acts 20:28-31 Paul warned the Ephesian elders…

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.

Wolves come disguised, so be especially vigilant.  Notice Paul warns them of attacks not only from outside the church, but even from within.

What should they be looking out for?  Basically, anything that adds to what Jesus Christ has already accomplished on the cross—fueling any sense of worthiness and self-glory.

Because Christ said, “It is finished,” in other words, “paid in full.”  He did absolutely everything necessary for our salvation so that all we have to do is to receive it by faith.  We have only to trust in Him, to rely totally upon Him as our only hope.

Other religions are spelled, “D-O,” you have to do something to be saved.  Christianity is spelled “D-O-N-E.”  Done.  Nothing else is necessary.  “Nothing in my hand in bring, simply to Thy cross I cling….helpless look to Thee for grace.”

There are three characteristics of these Judaizers.  It sounds like Paul is trash talking here, but he’s just emphasizing the extreme danger they were facing.

First, he calls these Judaizers “dogs.”  This was a derogatory term that Jews usually used for Gentiles, but here Paul is using it to talk about Jewish religious leaders!

And he doesn’t have in mind cute, gentle pets, but rather disease-ridden, destructive wild curs.  You see, Jews didn’t have pet dogs in those days.

Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on roadkill, carrion, filth, and garbage — they were vivid images of the unclean.

They were first of all unclean, but secondly vicious.  Wild dogs generally attacked those who were weak and alone, reminding us of the importance of Christian community.

In the Old Testament, a dog came to represent all that was unclean and filthy (Exodus 22:3; 1 Kings 14:11); the term “dog” was used as a derogatory term for someone evil and dangerous.

Isaiah the prophet wrote that false prophets were greedy unsatisfied dogs (Isaiah 56:10).

You can go all the way to the end of the New Testament, in the very last chapter, the term dog appears as a general term for the unrepentant, obstinate, evil unbeliever unable to enter heaven (Revelation 22:15).

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region, and this happened…

22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word.  And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus was using the Jewish language of the day, referring to Gentiles as dogs, but in an ironic twist Paul was calling the very ones who considered themselves to be clean, unclean dogs.

So Paul is taking a slur that the Jews used against the Gentiles and turning back against these false teachers.

Second, Paul calls these Judaizers “evil workers.”  Again, this turns things upon its head.  They promoted the idea that Jesus was great, but you really needed the “good works” of the law to be saved.

Paul is not saying that these people were committing evil sins, but that they do evil by turning the gospel of grace into a religion of works.

As one author puts it:  Paul calls them evil workers “not because they do what is morally wrong, nor because they act out of malice, but…because their reliance on ‘works’ is in the end harmful both to themselves and to others” (G. B. Caird)

Again, Paul uses irony to point out that although they might have thought of themselves as doing “good works” because they promoted obedience to the Mosaic law and thus would see themselves as gaining God’s approval, they were in fact doing “evil works” because it was all based upon their own fleshly efforts and gave no glory to Jesus Christ, thus it did in fact gain God’s condemnation as “evil works.”

Paul told the Galatian believers that the law is like a tutor – an educator – which leads us to understand our total inability to please God and our total need for salvation through Christ alone (Galatians 3:24-25).

So these false teachers were actually diminishing and outright denying the sufficient work of Christ – and elevating human piety and effort which only leads to more pride and more evil.

Paul expresses the truth that our salvation is based on God’s gracious act in our behalf and all we have to do is to trust it, in passages such as Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:3-5 and Titus 2:11-14.

John Calvin put it like this: “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.”

The kind of faith that saves always produces good works.  But we never rely upon our good works to satisfy God, rather we simply cling to His work for us through Jesus Christ on the cross.

By emphasizing their own works, instead of leading people to God, they were driving people away from God.

Here’s the thing:  If salvation is by works, how do we ever know if we’ve done enough?  The best we can do is to hope that we have.  And that’s why we are destitute of joy.  There is no peace and no joy when we believe we are justified by works.

Warren Wiersbe wrote of a woman who was arguing with her pastor about the matter of faith and works as both necessary for salvation.  She said to him, “I think that getting to heaven is like rowing a boat – one oar is faith and the other oar is works.  And if you use both, you’ll get to heaven.  If you use only one oar, you’ll only go around in circles.” The pastor replied, “There is one major problem with your illustration – nobody is going to heaven in a rowboat.”

Yes, we will do good works, we will be obedient, but not to gain God’s approval.  We do good and we are obedient because we already have God’s approval through Christ.

Beware of the dogs – they will spiritually harm you; Beware of the evil workers – they will spiritually mislead you.  One more – Paul writes in verse 2, beware of the false circumcision.

Literally, beware of the “mutilation.”  Paul plays upon the word for circumcision, but indicates how dangerous it is.  The word for circumcision is peritome, to “cut around,” while the word used here is katatome, “to cut off.”

Paul is using hyperbole here to show how something that was once a positive thing for the Jews under the Mosaic covenant, had now become a dangerous and destructive thing during the age of grace.  Instead of including someone in the covenant community, it would actually serve to cut them off from it.

This, of course, was the key issue for the Judaizers.  If they could get the Gentiles to submit to circumcision, then they would be in reality Jewish proselytes (and thus not genuine Christians).

Paul is warning them that circumcision will doing nothing to help them spiritually.  Instead, it would only hurt them.

Again, what Paul is trying to do is to keep the Philippians safe and to keep them rejoicing in the Lord and glorying in Christ, rather than glorying in themselves and depending upon the flesh as these Judaizers were encouraging.

We face the same pressures today.  Some churches are very legalistic, usually focusing on minutiae while ignoring more important issues, but all the while we focus on these do’s and don’ts we are losing our joy.

 

For a helpful chart showing the distinctions between law and gospel go here.  For a video explanation by American Gospel, see.

 

Genuine Christianity, part 1 (Philippians 3:1)

A wife asks her husband to make her some ice cream.  “OK,” he says, and turns to go into the kitchen.  “Are you sure you don’t want me to write that down?”  “No, I can remember.”  “Oh,” she asks, “can you put chocolate syrup on it?”  “Sure thing.”  “Do you want to write that down?”  “No, it’s only two things.  I can remember two things.”  “One more thing, she adds, “could you put some whipped cream on top of that…And are you SURE you don’t want me to write that down for you?”  A little perturbed, he says, “My memory is fine.  That’s ice cream with chocolate syrup and whipped cream.”

He goes into the kitchen.  She hears drawers open, the rattle of pots and pans, the sound of frying.  It’s taking some time.  After a while he comes in with a plate…an omelet and some hash browns.  She looks at the plate, looks up at him and says………“You forgot the toast.”

Forgetfulness, sometimes innocent, sometimes tragic.

When it comes to spiritual issues, forgetfulness needs to be remedied…and fast.  That’s why Paul starts off Philippians chapter 3 with these words…

1 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—

There are some things that we need to be reminded of over and over and over again.  The primary thing we need to be reminded of is the false confidence we place in the flesh, or, in other words, legalism.

I think we default to legalism because our life is so immersed in the idea that we have to earn our way.  We are required to study to earn good grades, make ourselves popular to win friends, work hard to earn a living.  Everything in life involves working to earn something.

That makes grace foreign to us and causes us to regularly slip into the mindset that we have to perform in some way to be acceptable to God.

There are those, Paul is saying in these verses, who profess have true religion, but Paul is saying that true religion, or genuine Christianity, puts no confidence in our flesh to win God’s approval.

Paul wants them to have joy and be safe, both of which are in peril when we put confidence in the flesh.

Now, Paul begins this section with the word “finally,” which has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers, as, for example when the little boy whispered to his father, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son.”  Paul, here, says, “finally” and then “rambles on” for two more chapters.

This word might be better translated as a transitional particle to introduce a fresh point in the progress of thought and could well be translated, “Well then, my brothers, rejoice” or “And so, my brothers, rejoice.”  This is a turning point in the epistle.

Paul is addressing believers, his “brothers,” and encouraging them to “rejoice in the Lord.”  Only true believers in Jesus Christ can “rejoice in the Lord” and be truly happy.

But that joy was in danger of being stolen from them…through legalism.

Notice that, like in Philippians 4:4, Paul commands them to “rejoice in the Lord.”  As a command it is something we can will ourselves to do.  I don’t know if we can will ourselves to be happy, but we can will ourselves to rejoice in the Lord.  We can make ourselves happy in the Lord—not in the circumstances of life, but in the Lord.

Many distinguish that happiness is dependent upon happenings, happenings in my favor.  Joy, however, is rooted more in unchanging truths, thus I can be joyful no matter what happens.  Our joy is rooted in Christ and the gospel through faith.

Notice the varying circumstances, indeed often negative circumstances, that we as Christians can go through, yet still maintain joy.  We find these words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10…

4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

What does it mean to “rejoice in the Lord?”  It means to experience Jesus as your deepest and most satisfying treasure and then enjoy all the good things He gives to you.  But even when those things are temporarily taken away, you can still rejoice in Jesus, who can never be taken away.  Jesus is primarily the object of our joy.

Rejoicing is the action that produces joy.  When we rejoice we verbalize—often to other people, to the Lord or just to ourselves—our joy in something—like a good book, an amazing movie or a mouth-watering meal.  It completes our joy by rejoicing in it AND it fuels our joy by rejoicing in it.

We rejoice in the Lord when we tell Him and others how much we treasure Him above all else.  True and lasting joy is found only in Him, all else is temporary and shallow.

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “We don’t know that Christ is all we want until He is all we have.”  In other words, sometimes it is through losing the possessions, or even loved ones, in this life that we come to seek and savor Jesus alone, and then we find that He really is enough.  He really is deeply satisfying.

Martha Snell Nicholson expresses it this way in her poem Treasures:

One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

Asaph expresses it like this after he had initially been envious of the wicked for their rich, lavish, healthy, care-free lives:

Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It glorifies God when we experience God as our desired portion so deeply, so sweetly, that other desires are as nothing in comparison.  Nothing else satisfies.

Now, the prophet Jeremiah warns us how easily it is for us to seek our joy outside of the Lord.  In Jeremiah 2:13 he warns…

13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Two evils—forsaking God as our satisfaction, and seeking satisfaction elsewhere.  And here’s the sad thing, we are giving up the “fountain of living water” for the brackish, lukewarm, quickly disappearing water kept in “broken cisterns.”  It is unsatisfying and momentary compared to the deeply satisfying and continual satisfaction we could find in the Lord.

John Piper describes it in these words:

Evil is the Creator of the universe, who loved us enough to send his Son to die in our place, holding out infinite satisfaction in the fountain of living water — and we taste it and go, “Eh, don’t think so.”

And we start digging — digging and digging in the world.  “I will find it.  I will find it here, not there in God.”

And evil is: “No thank you,” or “No, I will find my way, and do my thing, and I will dig my wells, and my cisterns, and I will suck on this dirt till I’m dead.  And then I’ll go to hell, and I will hate you forever.  No regrets.”

And yet God is saying “I know what satisfies your soul.  I made your soul.  I know what it needs, and I’m it.”

And Jon Bloom reminds us how Jesus reversed this in his interactions with the woman who came to the well (the cistern) to find water, and ended up finding a deeper, long-lasting satisfaction in Jesus Christ.

He goes on to say…

The core evil of the original sin was believing the forbidden knowledge of good and evil would yield more satisfaction than God.  The core evil of ancient Israel was believing idols would yield more protection and prosperity than God.  The core evil in all our sins is believing some broken cistern will give us greater life and joy than God.

Which means the fight between good and evil in the human heart is a fountain-fight: Which fountain do we believe will really satisfy us — right now, in this moment of temptation?  The struggle to discern good from evil is a joy-struggle: Which well has the most real and longest-lasting joy in it? (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-sin-will-never-quench)

Which is what the Fountain of living water holds out to us.  He offers us the deepest satisfaction, the sweetest refreshment, and life forever (John 4:15), and he offers to fully pay the wages of our sin, the appalling evil of our futile broken-cistern hewing (Romans 6:23).  And as with the man who found a treasure in a field or the merchant who found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44–46), what he essentially requires of us is almost unbelievably wonderful: to forsake what will lead us only to misery and despair, and to choose the greatest joy.

Now verse 1 encourages us to rejoice in the Lord, but it also shows us that there is never a time in our Christian lives when (1) we don’t need to be reminded about the dangers of legalism and (2) we don’t need to be concerned about our safety, from legalism.

They would remain “safe” if they kept their joy in Jesus and remembered not to put their confidence in the flesh.

You see, our minds don’t stay focused on the truth.  Our flesh, the world and Satan and his demons keep us distracted and deceived more often than we realize.

Thus the importance on repetitive reminders, teaching the same basic gospel truths over and over again.  In fact, it is important that we realize that the gospel of grace—the forgiveness comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone—is needed throughout our Christian lives.

Not just at the beginning, to encourage our faith and to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I really appreciate (and need to be reminded myself) of what Tim Keller said in his article, The Centrality of the Gospel.  He writes:

We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.”  The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth.  The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity.  The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6).  It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17).  It is very common in the church to think as follows.  “The gospel is for non-Christians.  One needs it to be saved.  But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.”  But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake.  Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you-it will strangle you.  All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel.  Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32).

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life.  Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel-a failure to grasp and believe it through and through.  Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. . . . Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”  The gospel is not easily comprehended.  Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth.  All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it.  So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel.  A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel-seeing more of its truth.  This is true for either an individual or a church.

Paul wasn’t “troubled” to repeat these truths to them, and we shouldn’t be either.  We should value the gospel and make sure that our counseling, our preaching, our teaching, our evangelizing, indeed our own spiritual disciplines and living must be gospel-driven.

Like a loving father Paul is a faithful, patient instructor.  He knew that all might be lost if he reminded them of gospel truth 39 times, but not the 40th time.  It is the responsibility of every teacher to continually remind us of the supreme importance of the gospel and its application to every issue we face in life.

You might sometimes here the parental voice saying, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times” as showing irritation.  That’s not the way Paul felt about it.  It was “no trouble” for him to repeat these things over and over and over again because he knew that it was key to keeping them safe from legalism.

We need to continually encourage one another to “rejoice in the Lord,” to rejoice in the gospel truth that He is an all-sufficient, all-supreme, all-satisfying Savior so that nothing else is our hope but Him.

John Newton, who gave us the wonderful hymn “Amazing Grace” continued to preach as long as he was able. When his eyesight began to fail, a servant stood behind him in the pulpit with a pointer to help him follow the words on his manuscript.

In one sermon Newton said the words “Jesus Christ is precious,” and then repeated them. His servant, thinking he was getting confused, whispered, “Go on, go on; you said that before.”  Newton, looking around, replied loudly, “John, I said that twice, and I’m going to say it again.”  And then he thundered, “Jesus Christ is precious!”

As he died at age eighty-two, he whispered to a friend, “My memory is nearly gone.  But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”

This is what we need to preach to ourselves, day after day, hour by hour, that we have an all-sufficient, all-supreme, all-satisfying Savior.

We are safe when we hold onto that truth, in danger when we forget it.

Examples of Self-Giving Service for the Joy of Faith, part 4 (Philippians 2:27-30)

Last week we looked at the amazing example of Epaphroditus, a young man who had risked his life completing the mission he was given—to bring a gift to Paul from the Philippian church.  He did that faithfully, despite the fact that he was very sick and almost died.

Paul pointed out how valuable Epaphroditus had been to him and also the Philippians, because he intended to send him back to them and wanted the Philippians to esteem him and welcome him with open arms.

When we left off last week we noted that Epaphroditus had been very ill, near to the point of death, and Paul tells them two things:  First, that all the while he was sick his mind was more upon the emotional distress they would be feeling rather than his own physical distress.

Second, Paul indicates how dependent they had been upon God for Epaphroditus’ revival.  Listen to these last few words of Philippians 2:

27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

We who have the benefits of modern medicine may easily read right past “but God had mercy on him.”  But in Paul’s day few people drew back from death’s door.  Many sick people eventually died.

This wasn’t a matter of the young man’s simply getting better but of God’s direct healing—“the sovereign merciful act of God himself” (O’Brien).  Even though we have the benefits of modern medicine (and should avail ourselves of it), it is still God who brings healing.  In this case, medicine wasn’t available.  Evidently Paul did not have the ability to heal everyone he wanted to be healthy, even his fellow workers.  Divine healing has always been subject to the will of God, and not something that someone can force whenever he or she wants (cf. 1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20).

Only God could have done this.  And Paul lets them know that this was the case.  If God had effectively brought him back from “death’s door” then he must have a purpose for him.

Epaphroditus had been spared death by the merciful intervention of God himself.  And, as the apostle was quick to mention, the mercy extended further, to Paul himself — “and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27b).

Like Christ, Paul was “a man of sorrows” due to his calling (cf. Isaiah 53:3).  He was also a man who, amidst sorrows, experienced a fountain of joy, as we note from the sixteen instances of forms of the word joy in Philippians.

Among his present sorrows in Rome was the selfish rivalry of some Christian leaders.  How thankful he was that the sorrow of Epaphroditus’ death was not overlaid upon those sorrows. How grateful he was for the sovereign will of God and for divine mercy.  But what Paul wanted the Philippians to know was that when they received Epaphroditus back again, they were receiving a man who, as it were, was back from the dead.  So this was likewise a mercy to them.

For all these reasons — Paul’s esteem for Epaphroditus as a brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, an apostle, and a messenger who desperately longed for home and was distressed at their distress and who almost died carrying out their assignment — because of all of this Paul says, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” (v. 28).

When Epaphroditus arrived, the Philippians would be relieved to know he was safe, Epaphroditus would be relieved to be home, and Paul would be “less anxious” about him.  Nothing would please Paul more than a proper reunion.

Paul will urge the Philippians to regard Epaphroditus highly (“hold men like him in high regard”), and to welcome him back wholeheartedly (“with all joy”).  Perhaps Paul sensed that they would undervalue him.

Paul now urged, “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (vv. 29, 30).

During the long separation between Paul and the Philippian church (and especially since his imprisonment in Rome), the Philippians had been unable to fully express their fellowship/partnership in Paul’s ministry — especially since they lacked a way to supply his needs.

He had daringly exposed himself to danger.  It was while he had labored for his absent Philippian brethren, to make up their deficiency in this sense (4:14-18; cf. 1 Cor. 16:17), that he had become dangerously ill.

Epaphroditus’ heroics enabled them to complete their gospel obligation to Paul.  He was the key link that did not fail in his mission.  They owed the young man big-time.

In effect, single-talented as Epaphroditus was, he was like Christ.  Paul makes this very clear in the Greek because the phrase that tells us that Epaphroditus “nearly died” in verse 30 is exactly the same as the phrase in 2:8, which describes Christ coming “to the point of death.”

Epaphroditus’ near death for Paul echoes Christ’s real death for us.  This young man had the mind of Christ.  He was not only willing to lay down his life for the sake of others, he almost did!

He clearly wasn’t thinking of himself and his own desires or needs.  His heart was focused on finishing his mission to Paul, of helping Paul on behalf of the Philippian church.  Thus, he made possible for the Philippian church to be partners with Paul in the gospel.  The Philippians, Epaphroditus and Paul would all be rewarded for their part in making the gospel known in Rome.

Thomas Constable has an interesting side note:

Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of gamblers. When a pagan Greek threw the dice he would cry out “epaphroditos!” meaning “favorite of Aphrodite.”  Epaphroditus’ name may have connections with this custom.  If so, Paul may have written that Epaphroditus “risked [gambled] his life” as a wordplay on his friend’s name.  Paul made a more obvious wordplay with Onesimus’ name, which means “useful” (cf. Phile. 10-11).

Epaphroditus gambled with his life and won because God was with him and had mercy on him.

David Guzik shows how Epaphroditus’ example influenced other risk-takers in the early church:

In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women who called themselves the gamblers, taken from this same ancient Greek word used in not regarding his life.  It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases.

Often, when a plague struck a city, the heathen threw the dead bodies into the streets and fled in terror.  But the gamblers buried the dead and helped the sick the best they could, and so risked their lives to show the love of Jesus.

Paul doesn’t chide Epaphroditus for taking a foolish risk, but exalts him because he had taken a faithful risk.  He was completing his mission.

Now, it is possible that Epaphroditus was sent not only to bring a gift to Paul, but also to be his attendant.  It may be that Epaphroditus fulfilled the first, but because of his sickness was unable to be of much help to Paul.  Perhaps the Philippians believed his mission had failed.

But Paul wants them to know that this was not the case.  Epaphroditus had proved himself very valuable to Paul and despite his extreme illness had accomplished his mission.  Why?  Because he had the mind of Christ, a selfless willingness to expend himself in every way to put others first and minister to them.

And Epaphroditus did this to fulfill what was lacking in the Philippians service to Paul.  We, likewise should have the heart that there is something lacking in our service until the job is done.  We should not be satisfied with good intentions or a half-done job.

And we should be willing, like Epaphroditus, to help others complete the job, even if it wasn’t our job to begin with.

That is why Paul is so proud of Epaphroditus.  In every way he showed himself to be a humble, others-centered man.

Epaphroditus represents a category of people who are to be honored.  If we have read Paul correctly, it is not only the up-front people, those with the more public gifts, who are to be honored but also those who regardless of their gifts live out the example of Christ.

By holding up Epaphroditus, Paul contradicted the Greco-Roman culture’s, and also our modern culture’s, rewarding those who seek prestige and position.

Markus Blockmuehl explains:

Once again, those who stake their ambition on the example of Christ in 2.6-11 will find themselves in conflict with the values and presuppositions of the secular path to power.  By saying that it is people like Epaphroditus whom the Philippians should hold in honour (entimous), Paul at once contradicts Graeco-Roman society’s pervasive culture of rewarding the upwardly mobile quest for prestige and public recognition (philotimia).  The Church instead will prize and value those who aspire to the mind of Christ.  (The Epistle to the Philippians , p. 17)

In other words, real honor should go not to those who seek honor, but to those who serve in humility, even behind the scenes, but who do so faithfully.

This ought to lay the ax to those of us who define success in the evangelical community as a kind of lordship: sitting in the honored seat, being the feted guest at luncheons, speaking to vast throngs, building monuments, naming buildings after ourselves, collecting honorary titles.

Over the course of chapter 2, Paul had taken great pains to get the Philippians outside themselves, beginning with the command in verses 3, 4:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Paul knows that for true partnership in the work of the gospel to exist, there must be unity among the workers. The key to achieving unity is for each believer to adopt the humble mind of Christ.

Paul had held up the supreme example of Christ in verses 5-11.  He had raised the example of his protégé Timothy in verses 19-24, as a man who looked out for others’ interests.  He had lifted up the layman Epaphroditus as an unforgettable example in verses 25-30.

But what about Paul himself?  As we would expect, we see that the great apostle practiced what he preached as he put the interests of others above his own in sending Timothy and Epaphroditus back to Philippi, leaving himself alone and unattended in Rome.

Was Paul thinking about himself during those dark days in Rome?  Hardly!  He was willing to sacrifice his own interests for the well-being of others.  Paul, the theologian, lived out every aspect of his theology in the most practical ways.

The magnitude of Paul’s humility and benevolence toward Epaphroditus can be seen by contrasting Paul’s words in our text to what someone of lesser stature might have made out of this same situation.

Let’s suppose Paul was a very insecure and threatened leader, who had to keep reminding others of his position, power and prestige, a petty fellow, who found it impossible to praise others.  What could this kind of man have done with the circumstances at hand?  Let me suggest one very fictional scenario:

“From Paul, the esteemed apostle of God’s choice, to all those under my charge in Philippi.  As you know, missionary work is very demanding, and only the strong of heart can endure under conditions such as I am presently experiencing.  Unfortunately, Epaphroditus is not a strong man physically.  His trip to Rome with your generous gift was too much for him, and he almost succumbed to his illness.  It was fortunate that I was able to nurse him back to good health.  Epaphroditus is not a strong fellow in spirit, as well as in body.  He simply could not hold up under the stress of the situation.  He became so homesick that he was of little help to me here, and so I have sent him home.  His return should serve as a warning to the faint of heart.…”

Rather, in our text (verse 29), Paul actually commands the saints at Philippi to give him a hero’s welcome home.  Paul encouraged Epaphroditus and prepared the way for a triumphant reunion with his friends, family, and fellow believers.

By multiplying the examples of Christ-minded, others-centered men Paul is encouraging the Philippians (and us) that we can be like them.  Oh, we might not want to think of ourselves as like Christ, or even Paul, maybe not even Timothy.  But Epaphroditus is normal, just like us in our weaknesses, yet still able to put others ahead of himself.

What about us?  We know that public ministry gifts must be used to glorify Christ in looking out for the interests of others.  We know that God sees all and will hold his leaders responsible.

But what about the quiet, perhaps single-talented Christians like Epaphroditus?  Will they get a pass?  No!  Rather, they should fear that if they bury their talent (thinking “it won’t matter”), God will certainly see and hold them accountable.

They should read what the master said to the lazy servant in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:14-29.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

So don’t hide your talent.  Even if you have only one ability to serve God with (and some may think they have none), use what God has given you to minister to others.  Ask him how to use the talents and abilities you have to minister to others.

Epaphroditus certainly wasn’t Paul or Timothy.  He was a “brother,” a “fellow worker,” a “fellow soldier,” a “messenger [apostle],” a “messenger” — that’s all!  He had the mind of Christ — that’s all!  He is honored today by both man and God — that’s all!