After two weeks away, today we jump back into Jesus our JOY, which is what we’re calling our journey through the book of Philippians. And today, we get to look in-depth at one of my favorite things Paul ever wrote! He deals with what I think is a massive problem in the church today, and in our lives as Christians: this incessant pull toward adding things to Jesus. What saves us, what gives us hope, and what brings us joy: we have this tendency to forget the sufficiency and the value of Jesus, or at least we have a tendency to dilute it. So, we’re going to hear Paul address this with the Philippians, using himself as an example. Shane Roberts is going to come and read Philippians 3:1-11 for us.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c] 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.
Thank you, Shane. So Paul kicks this off and, of course, couches what he’s about to say within the context of joy. Ultimately, the dominant theme in this letter is JOY. Jesus himself is our JOY, and Paul clearly does not want the Philippians to forget this. He mentions joy 16 times in this letter (in only four chapters), and Christ he mentions over 50 times.
So Paul, yet again, says here in verse 1, “rejoice in the Lord.” Rejoice in the Lord, and then, we see that he wants to protect their joy. That’s why he says, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” In other words, taking to heart what I’m about to say, will protect you from much confusion and honestly, even condemnation. What he’s about to say is incredibly important for the Philippians, and honestly, I think it’s just as important and relevant, if not even moreso, today than when he wrote this 2,000 years ago.
So you know where we’re headed, we’ll be talking through 3 Directives for savoring the Value of Jesus. From these first six verses, the 1st directive:
- Drop your self-righteous resumé (1-6).
By far, one of the greatest distractions from the worth of Jesus is our own self-righteousness, our own morality! Paul does not waste time jumping into a pretty serious warning here in verse 2. He says, “look out for the dogs, for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” Whose he talking about here?! Who are those who “mutilate the flesh”? Well, this is a kind-of sneering way of referring to those who believed that Christians still needed to be circumcised to please God!
If you’re not too familiar with the Old Testament, you may not know the significance of circumcision. Without getting into all the details, circumcision was the physical sign that you were part of the people of God, national Israel. This was how you entered into the Abrahamic covenant, by God’s design. For New Testament believers, however, physical circumcision was no longer required by God. It was no longer a sign of the covenant. Instead, there’s this circumcision of the heart. This is what Paul is getting at in verse 3 here when he writes, “For we are the circumcision.”
The true people of God are those who do what? Well, not some external operation. No. The true people of God are those, it says it right here, “Who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” He lists three things there, right? We worship God with our hearts. We glory, or exult, Jesus. He’s our confidence, so we lift him up. And we put no confidence whatsoever in our flesh. In our bodies. In our works, especially something as physical and external as circumcision. I mean, even in the Old Testament, for the Jews, circumcision was not just this bodily, merely external mark. In Rom. 2:28, Paul writes: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.” That’s talking of Jews. We see this in the OT as well—Deut. 10:16- “Circumcise your hearts.”
True circumcision is a spiritual work, and physical circumcision is not part of following Christ. But, even no matter what kind of symbols we use when we gather as Christians, or just in our Christian lives, the real question at stake is, “Where is my heart?” Jesus said it himself in John 4:24- “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth.” You can have as many cross necklaces and t-shirts and bumper stickers you want. You can even attend church services as much as you want. The question is, What does your heart most treasure? What does your heart most value? Do you see Jesus as more valuable than anything else in the universe? That’s why Paul is so strongly addressing this with the Philippians.
You see, this was a common problem in Paul’s day. You had all these new converts to Christianity, some Jews and some Gentiles (which just means non-Jews, by the way). But some of these new Jewish Christians wanted to hold on to certain parts of the law! Some of them wanted to hold on to all of it! And so what did they do? They started teaching others that, yes, they should have faith in Jesus, but that they should also follow the Law. That’s what God desires, and that’s what will bring favor with him unto salvation. In other words, faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. Trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the Cross isn’t enough.
Paul wasn’t going to have this false teaching. So what did Paul do? He says, “Let me just tell you how much these other things you’re bringing to God expecting him to be impressed…let me tell you how much they truly matter.” And so, he uses himself as the example. He says, “we put no confidence in the flesh, though let me just tell you, if anyone had reason, according to your logic, if anyone had reason for confidence in the flesh, it is me. I have more reason than anyone!” And so he explains how that is the case. He’s not bragging here at all; he’s putting himself into their mindsets, using their logic, and recounting his own resumé, if you will. All of this to make a point.
Paul says, “I was circumcised on the eighth day.” He was no convert to Judaism later in life (perhaps that was somehow less honorable). His parents followed the law precisely, and so Paul had been a Jew for his entire life. Then he says, “of the people of Israel,” again, pointing out that he was an authentic, full-blooded Jew.
Not only that but he was of the tribe of Benjamin, which was apparently a big deal. There’s a few potential reasons why that was a big deal. The tribe of Benjamin had the Temple itself, the holy city, within its boundaries. Israel’s first king, King Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin. In fact, some think that Paul was even implying here the supposed honor of his own name, because his name was Saul before it was changed to Paul. So maybe even that carried with it some swagger, like “Ha! Even my name matches the first king of Israel.” He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Meaning he had Hebrew parents who taught him the ancient languages and showed him the old Jewish culture.
“As to the law, a Pharisee.” That’s all he had to say about the law! This was like a mic-drop to say that he was a Pharisee! He was part of the strictest sect of Judaism. It’s as if Paul was saying, “You don’t have anything on the respect that I had for the Torah, the law.”
“As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” He hated the early Christians. He persecuted Christians because they were misleading people, and saying the law was no longer God’s plan, or somehow that it was never his plan to begin with. So he hated them and actively persecuted them. He was known for activity in opposing Christians.
“As to righteousness under the law, I was blameless.” That’s the last thing he says. If anyone was faultless, perfect (and some rabbis believed that that was possible, if you observed the Law strictly enough), if anyone was spotless, it was Paul.
Paul said all of this not to brag at all, but to make a point. He’s using their logic. He wanted to make sure that these Jews couldn’t just dismiss him by saying, “Oh well, of course you don’t think circumcision matters, because you weren’t circumcised.” Or, “of course you don’t think being Jewish matters, because you’re not a Jew.” They couldn’t dismiss Paul, because he was the epitome of a Jew! He was like the Tom Brady of the Jewish world. Whether you like him or not, you have to admit: he is a big deal. And yet he says, in the beginning of verse 7: “Whatever gain I had, I now consider loss.”
We’re going to get to what he means by that in a moment, but before we get there, I want to make sure that we don’t think we’re off the hook here. It’s easy to read all of this that Paul is writing, and just agree, “Yeah, man: They really still thought that circumcision was required for salvation? Or that the law was still part of somehow saving them? Ha! How stubborn they were.” It’s easy to think that, “Oh, of course this list of accolades that Paul is listing to a make point, of course that stuff doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about that.”
It’s easy to think that we’re totally on Paul’s side here, and to look down on these Jews who were trying to add circumcision to what’s required for salvation. We’re good at looking down on others, aren’t we? I’ve mentioned this before, but in listening to sermons or attending Bible studies or just reading on your own, if you’re constantly thinking of how this applies to other people, you might be missing the point. If you consistently have names of other people come to your mind (“I wish Ursala was hearing this, because she’s got a ways to go in this area”), if that’s you, you might need to re-evaluate. Don’t forget to examine your own heart and mind. Do you have a resumé that you think impresses God? Of course you don’t have a written list, but do you have an unspoken one? Do you think that somehow you are accepted by God because you are a good person?
I’m not saying that God isn’t pleased with our good deeds, by the way. Time and time again in the Scriptures we see God delighting in our obedience and in our work and our ministry. BUT, when it comes to your legal standing before God, the righteousness that brings you and me salvation, what makes us right with God: do we think, at times, that any part of that righteousness came from us?
You know, kind-of piggy-backing off of last week, when we talked about all human beings being made in the image of God: One of the easiest ways for self-righteousness to show up without us even realizing it is in how look at other people, how we think of other people. Are we consistently looking down on the people around us? Because if we truly have in mind that our righteousness did not come from ourselves, but only by God’s grace, we won’t be able to look down on people, acting self-righteousness and proud. I mean, what do we have to be proud of?! I can only brag about God’s grace!
Give up the self-righteous resume, whatever makes you think you’re better than other people. Give it up. God does not accept you based on those standards or those works. In fact, based on our own lives and how we’ve lived, and what our hearts are like, we do not make the cut. Not even close.
Isaiah 64:6 says that all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. When it comes to our salvation, our deeds and our goodness get us nowhere. This is how we so desperately get to this 2nd Directive for Savoring the Value of Jesus. How do we truly see and savor the value of Jesus? First, we drop our self-righteous resumé. Then, 2ndly:
- Wake up to the value of knowing Christ.
Paul wastes no time. He just suddenly takes a sharp turn in this text. Verse 7: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” All of a sudden, all of these things that he considered so valuable at the time, and meritorious, bringing him favor with God. Those gains he now considers losses!
Now, to understand this best, it’s worth noting that he’s writing here in verse 7 in the perfect tense, which means this is really something that happened in the past. There was a moment when, all of a sudden, his values turned upside down. What’s he referring to here? What moment turned everything upside down for Paul? It was his conversion on the road to Damascus! Jesus showed up and rather dramatically revealed himself to Paul. Paul knew in that moment who Jesus was and what he had done by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He knew in that moment that Jesus had achieved salvation for all who would ever come to know him.
So Paul is saying that all these privileges he had, and earthly successes and future ambitions, being an up-and-coming Pharisee, all of it was nothing compared to gaining Christ. In fact, it’s not just like Paul is now suddenly indifferent to these things he had before, like he just doesn’t care about them. It’s more than that. Those things are now losses, like almost as if he wishes he never had them to begin with! Why? Well, I love the point Barth makes here, that Paul “rejects these accolades with horror, and treats them as liabilities.” How would these things in his past now be liabilities, now be almost risks?? Because they could turn into temptations, distractions from the infinite value of Christ.
For the sake of Christ, everything he’s done for me, I now consider all those earthly achievements and advantages as loss. He even goes farther than just that, verse 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.” For Paul, not only do these advantages he had in life mean nothing—if anything they are loss now, liabilities—not only is all of that loss, but now everything is loss compared to knowing Christ.
Anything that he could possibly boast about or prop up as something that would gain him favor with God, it’s all loss. Why? Because knowing Christ has changed everything. Knowing Christ is in a completely different spectrum than all these other things. Knowing Christ is off-the-charts better. This knowing Christ is a warm, intimate relationship with him. It is fellowship with Christ. It’s a love for him because of what he’s done.
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish.” Again, we see another past tense verse here. I’ve suffered loss, he’s referring back to when he first encountered Christ. He lost all that to gain something infinitely greater.
What is it that he gained? Christ himself. Our Mediator. Verse 8 and really getting into verse 9: “I count all those other things as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Why is Christ so valuable? Because Christ has reconciled us to God the Father. We love knowing Christ because Christ, as the God-man, has brought us to God. Like Paul, we have no righteousness of our own that comes from the law. We don’t have a right relationship with God because we are good people, or do enough good things. Even our good things are like filthy rags when it comes to bringing us favor with God. So, where can we get this righteousness? Where can we find holiness that is so perfect that we can be restored to God? Only in Christ.
Maybe none of this is new for you, but we have to ask the question, Where do we go astray in attributing to Christ his true value? Where do we get off track here? What might be the biggest plague in Western Christianity, at least in the states, as to the gospel? Where do we go astray?
We go astray by teaching and preaching and acting as if Christianity is all about moralism. For the Jews to whom Paul is writing, the issue is legalism. That’s the biggest distraction and undermining of the Gospel. Today, it’s the sister of legalism: moralism.
Christianity has become about being good people, instead of about being saved people. It’s about raising good, wholesome kids. It’s about not going down the “wrong track.” It’s about making sure we make good choices that don’t hurt people. Can I just say it? That’s all rubbish. I mean, sure, those are good things, but that’s not the heart of Christianity. But how many churches, and Bible studies, and Christian groups you can walk into today in our culture, and hear nothing but that. Moralism, moralism, moralism.
Look: yes, being a Christian means very specific things change in your life. Of course this is true. But those specific things are by-products of the greatest thing. As your pastor, I’m occasionally tempted to focus on the outward things that you can change to better your life, and make you more happy. And all the while put the Bible’s stamp on it and say it came from God. But, let me tell you, what most modern Christian writers and pastors and churches are missing is the MOST vital question: “Do we truly understand the incomparable, unmatched value of Christ? Have we savored the incomparable, unmatched value of Christ, and his redeeming work in reconciling us to God?!”
Why is this the main question? Because when we don’t understand and savor the incomparable, unmatched value of Jesus, we undermine the Gospel. Calvin put it best: “to place one’s confidence in anything outside of Christ is to have confidence in the flesh; this subverts the Gospel and endangers the soul.” This suddenly gets a bit heavier. This is not a difference in emphasis, or preference. This is a difference in GOSPEL. Who Christ is and what he has done. That’s what this is all about.
Not some generic form of moralism, that starts with what can help us in our daily lives. But an absolutely renunciation of anything and everything except Christ as our ultimate Savior. We place our faith in Him. We place our trust in Him as our Subsitute. The end of verse 9 says that this is what this righteousness depends upon: faith. Not that faith is the work that saves us. But that this is the vessel or the medium through which this gift of God comes to us. We’re saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Wake up to Christ’s value, his unmatched worth. It is astounding what God has done through Christ. John Piper sums it up like this, speaking of Christ: “The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God w/o compromising the justice of God.” The 3rd Dir. for Savoring the Value of Jesus:
- Dethrone self and enthrone Christ.
Wake up to his worth and his value, and then don’t stop there with just awareness: put him on the throne of your heart where he belongs! In verses 10 and 11 Paul’s saying that because of this righteousness that has come from God, this righteousness specifically named Jesus, because of him, Paul is able to be crucified like Christ and rise from the dead. Now, he’s meaning this spiritually.
So, an excellent parallel verse might be Galatians 2:20- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul has shared in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, by having been crucified with Christ, dying to himself, no longer putting confidence in his flesh. And he knows the power of Christ’s resurrection because Christ is living in Him. By trusting in Christ alone, Christ takes up a dwelling place in Paul’s heart and in ours.
This is exactly what it means for you and for me to trust in Jesus alone for salvation. Not only have we given up our lives in the sense of repenting from being our own Kings, and running our lives as we see fit, but we’ve also given up our lives in the sense that we have no control over our own salvation. We have nothing to offer that will help us to gain righteousness, to make us right with God. So, what do we do? We dethrone ourselves, and enthrone the one who is King, and the one who is able to save us. We enthrone Christ. We let him reign. We trust in his finished work. We certainly don’t try and add to that finished work, like an amateur painter trying to put a few finishing touches on the Monalisa: “Leonardo, great job. Let me just touch up these eyebrows and maybe her left hand.” No, no. Christ’s work is finished, perfect, and far more valuable than even the Monalisa.
The biggest warning we can take from today is the warning not to add to Jesus. He is sufficient. Anything else will only undermine the true value of Christ, who makes everything loss compared to knowing Him. We cannot add to him. He alone saved us from our sin and our shame. He alone freed us to be able to live for God’s glory. He alone must be on the throne of our hearts. He alone must be our ultimate treasure.