I have a very vivid memory from my grade school days. I was a member of the safety patrol (which meant I helped make sure students crossed main intersections safely) and I was walking to check on one of our corners. I went past this home that had a little dog in the backyard. The dog was noisy but I didn’t pay it much attention.
One day as I walked by the dog was barking and suddenly from out of the bushes this deranged, vicious, and I suspected rabid miniature poodle came at me with it’s teeth exposed. Needless to say, I was a frightened. Fortunately before I had to run too far the owner of the house called the dog back to its home. I avoided that home from then on.
In the text before us the Apostle Paul wants us to beware of some dangerous dogs. These dogs are not animals, they are teachers who are perverting the gospel. These teachers are leading people astray and keep the Philippians from knowing the joy that God wants us to know. These teachers were known as the Judaizers.
The Judaizers were a group of people who said they believed that Jesus was the Savior . . . but only the Savior of the Jews. Therefore the only way you could become a Christian was to first become a Jew. You had to convert to Judaism, be circumcised, and conform to all the Jewish rituals and laws.
This was a big controversy in Paul’s day. And though we don’t have Judaizers around today, there are others who do much the same things that the Judaizers did. They sound good. They sound religious. But they are really wild dogs attacking the foundation of the true gospel.
The Barriers to Joy
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh [Philippians 3:2-3]
A Focus on Religious Performance
Paul calls the Judaizers “mutilators of the flesh”. He is referring to the practice of circumcision. It is not that the act of circumcision was good or bad. It was the idea that you had to be circumcised in order to be acceptable to God that was abhorrent. And circumcision was just one in a long list of pre-requisites before you could be a Christian.
Paul contrasts this kind of attitude by saying, “we worship by the Spirit of God.” The Christian realizes that true worship is not about the ritual we perform it is about the attitude of the heart. We can go through all kinds of rituals and devotional acts and still not truly worship. We can respond to external stimuli and still not be responding to God at all. Ritual has no power, relationship is what leads to joy and life.
Now before we wag our fingers at the Judaizers we must recognize that we may do the same thing. We all have our “rituals”. Even in our more “contemporary” worship we have a ritual that we follow. When we insist that our rituals are necessary for salvation we are adding to the requirements of the gospel and diminishing the work of Christ. Let me give you a little list of some of the things that often are on our list,
- you need to go to a certain kind of church.
- you have to repeat certain words (like the Lord’s Prayer, the Doxology etc.)
- you need to be baptized a certain way
- you have to take communion a certain number of times
- you need to read from a certain version of the Bible
- you need to sing a certain style of music
- you need to have a certain experience
- you need to express your worship in a certain way (being very demonstrative or not)
- you need to behave in a certain manner
Any time we make something other than personal reliance on Christ a requirement for salvation we are setting ourselves up as God! We are saying you can’t be “saved” unless you are like me. We are robbing glory from the Savior! We are setting up hindrances to people coming to Christ in faith. We are acting like wild dogs.
An Emphasis on Personal Accomplishment
There is a second but related barrier to joy and it is an emphasis on personal accomplishments. We see a hint of this in the very first verse,,
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Paul tells us to rejoice IN THE LORD. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to see it in terms of the opposites.
- rejoice in the Lord rather than in your own good works
- rejoice in the Lord rather than your spiritual “highs”
- rejoice in the Lord rather than your feelings
- rejoice in the Lord rather than your circumstances
- rejoice in the Lord rather than your achievements
- rejoice in the Lord rather than in the blessings He gives
The joyful Christian does not put confidence in their experience, their education, their memberships or their service. They put their confidence in Christ! Listen to Paul,
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (4-9)
Let me paraphrase what Paul is saying,
I was a church member all my life. I took lots of classes and received a theology degree with honors. Everyone agreed that I was a model Christian. I served on boards and committees and aggressively defended the faith. I was baptized as an infant and an adult. I was “sprinkled” and “immersed”. I took communion as often as it was offered and I always gave more than my tithe. I was looked up to by Christians of all denominations.
Paul looked good. But the thing that kept Paul from the Lord was not his sin . . . it was his goodness! He didn’t need Christ because he thought he was doing pretty good by himself! The majority of people around us who are hoping to “get to heaven” are hoping they will be good enough. They are trusting their achievements, accomplishments and goodness.
The key verse in this passage is verse nine. The true gospel is “being found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Righteousness is a word that means right standing. To be in right standing with God we have to have met God’s requirements. The problem is that God’s requirement for salvation is perfect obedience. Hear that . . . “perfect” obedience.
We get into trouble because we are hoping that God will grade “on a curve”. Do you know why teachers often grade on a curve? It’s because sometimes they include things on the test that weren’t covered. Sometimes they recognize that they did not teach something as well as they should. Sometimes a question may not have been phrased appropriately. A teacher grades on a curve because they are rightly compensating for some of their own deficiencies. But God doesn’t have any deficiencies! He will not grade on a curve. And because of this you and I are failing!
We need someone to come to our rescue. The Bible tells us that this someone was Jesus. He provided the perfect righteousness we need and paid for the sin we committed. Our sin was transferred to His account. His goodness was applied to ours. Because of Christ we meet the standard. Because of Him we are righteous. He provides the good in the transaction . . . we provided the bad. Our performance, our so-called “good deeds” add nothing. Salvation is ALL of Christ. He alone gets the glory. We put NO CONFIDENCE in the works of our flesh. We rely 100% on Christ and 0% on our own efforts.
Someone came to a Orthodox priest one day and asked, “Father, Are we saved by faith or by works?” The answer was filled with wisdom. “Neither. We are saved by God’s mercy.” You see, even when we talk about faith we sometimes make it something that we need to “muster”. Faith is not a “work” we produce to be saved. We don’t have to “muster” faith. Saving faith is a belief or a trust that what God has done in Christ is enough.
D. James Kennedy has a good illustration,
Imagine you are standing on the brink of a cliff. Across the chasm 200 feet away, is another cliff. The distance to the bottom: 5000 feet. You have to get across the chasm to get to the other side. You have a strong nylon rope that is capable of holding 3,000 pounds without breaking. It will easily support you — but it’s only 100 feet long. You are 100 feet short of bridging the 200-foot gap.
Here I come to your rescue. “Don’t worry,” I say, “I was a Boy Scout. I’m always prepared. Here’s a spool of thread — more than 100 feet long. We can tie my thread to your rope and you’ll have no trouble getting across.”
Would you trust your life to my spool of thread? Why not? It’s very good thread. Oh, I see — you don’t think it’s strong enough to support you.
Well, let’s change the scenario a bit. Let’s say that instead of 100 feet of strong rope, you have 190 feet of rope. Now you only have to rely on my thread for ten of the 200 feet. You can cross the chasm now, can’t you? No? You mean you still don’t feel safe to cross?
Okay, let’s change the scenario once again. Instead of 190 feet of rope you have 199 feet, 11 inches of good, stout rope. Now, there’s only one little inch of thread in that entire span. Surely you can trust it now. Surely you can make the crossing of the chasm in complete confidence. No! Well, why not?
Because rope plus thread cannot save you! It must be good, stout rope all the way across or it cannot support you. And it is the same story with faith and works. Only faith in Christ is strong enough to support you. Faith plus works cannot save you. Your salvation cannot be 50 percent Christ and 50 percent you. It can’t be 60/40 or 75/25 or even 99.99/.01. Christ must be your entire support, your entire salvation. [Kennedy, SOLVING BIBLE MYSTERIES p. 199]
Does it feel like I am beating this point to death? I’m sorry if it seems that way. But this is essential Christianity. You MUST get this point. And Christians must constantly be on guard lest we forget this tenet of faith.
WAYS TO GUARD AGAINST THE JOY-ROBBERS
See Yourself Clearly
Paul tells us that he now “considers everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The word “consider” shows us that Paul has made a choice to refuse to rest or point to his actions as a reason for his salvation. He is constantly reminding himself that he is just an “old sinner saved by grace.”
When we do this, several things happen. First, we are more prone to worship. When we get hung up on ritual and accomplishments we tend to worship our goodness rather than His. Second, we will know greater joy. We will know that we are accepted by God. We will no longer carry the burden of trying to save ourselves. And we will know the incredible freedom that comes from forgiveness. Third, we will be a better witness for the Lord. Instead of confusing people with our requirements, we will be pointing them to Jesus. Instead of trying to change people we will introduce them to the one who brings real change in a life. Instead of adding burdens to those seeking God we will remove the burdens.
Seek to Know Christ and More
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul tells us that it is his goal in life to “know Christ“. Now it is important to realize what Paul is NOT saying. Paul is not telling us that he wants to know ABOUT Christ. Paul had lots of information about Jesus. Paul is the chief theologian of the church. So, Paul is not talking about information . . . He is talking about experience. He wants to know Christ in a personal and deep way. Paul is no longer trying to earn points . . . he is trying to know Christ. There is a huge difference between the two. Joy comes from relationship.
When we want to know Christ we read His Word not like we are cramming for a test . . . we read because we are seeking to discover new things about someone special. When we pray we are not trying to sound spiritual, we are trying to build a relationship. When we give we are not paying our dues but investing in His Kingdom. When our paramount desire is to know Christ, the reason we do things changes.
Paul also says he wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. Perhaps Paul is saying that he is looking forward to the day when he will be free of his sinful and worn body. He is looking forward to the life that is to come.
But it also may be that Paul is yearning to experience the practical difference the resurrection makes to life right now. He wants to know that sense of victory that comes when the fear of death is removed. He wants to know the freedom, the joy, the sense of confidence anchored in Christ’s resurrection. He doesn’t want to wait till heaven . . . He wants that power to impact and change Him now!
Paul also says he wants to know the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Now, if you are like me, you read those words and say, “Wait, this is where I draw the line. Who would want to suffer? And why?” But we have to think deeper. I don’t think Paul is saying that he wants to suffer. Paul understands that following Christ will inevitably bring some suffering. Obedience is costly. If we stand with Christ (as we should) we will be standing against the world.
So what is Paul seeking. He desires to receive and to react to the sufferings of this world in the same manner that Jesus did. He wants to face the sufferings and even death with the same kind of perspective that Jesus had. Paul wants to face the trials of life not as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow and testify of the Savior’s goodness and love. He wants to have that same confidence in God that Christ had.
And finally, Paul says he hopes to “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” At first reading, this sounds like it contradicts everything Paul said earlier. It sounds like Paul is telling us that he is hoping that if he works hard enough he might be saved. But that is not what he is saying. Paul has no doubt about his eternal destiny. He is the one who told us in chapter one that “he who began the good work in us will bring it about to completion.” He is the same one who told us in Romans that “nothing will separate us from the love of God.”
Dr. Boice points out that the Greek word for resurrection literally means to “place” or “stand up”. In the Greek world, living people were seen as standing up while dead people were lying down. Paul wants to be a person who is standing up in a world where everyone is lying down. He wants to show others that he is living a new life in a dark and dreary world.
Of course it is also possible that Paul is merely speaking with humility. He seeks to know Christ, to experience the power of the resurrection, and to face suffering with the perspective and faith of Christ. And after all of this, he knows that it is still by God’s mercy and grace that he will know the joy of eternal life.
Do you see where the apostle’s heart is here? This should be our goal as well. Rather than spend all our time running around trying to be “good enough”, we should spend our time trying to know, enjoy and follow the one who has made our redemption possible. And if we were to do this, several things would be true,
- We would focus more on our relationship with God than our activity for God
- We would know peace rather than anxiety
- We would be bold rather than timid
- We would risk more and fear failure less
- We would know joy even in times of crisis
- We would offer grace to others without first demanding that they “be like us”
- We would spend the rest of our lives marveling at His mercy and grace
This is a theological message. But it is important to remember that your theology determines the way you think and act. If you theology is wrong, your behavior and thinking will be wrong.
There are three things I hope you take from this message. First, I hope those who have been reluctant to come to Christ because you feel you aren’t good enough will realize that He doesn’t want your goodness . . . . He wants your heart. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do is to admit that you can do nothing to help yourself. It’s tough to accept a true gift. But that’s what salvation is . . . accepting Christ’s sacrifice as payment for your sin.
Second, I hope those of you who are Christians and feeling burdened by “all you have to do for the Lord” will realize that it is not about what you can do for the Lord. It is about what He can do in and through you. Having come to the Father by grace we must remember to walk in that grace. Our job is to act as He commands and then step back and watch what He can do. We don’t have to change the world . . . we just need to let Him change us.
Third, I hope that a reminder of what we have received will challenge you to live a life of gratitude. I pray that you will be moved to know Christ not in a intellectual sense but in a fresh and practical way. I hope you will strive to apply the reality of the resurrection to your daily living. I hope you will desire to face the difficulties of life with the wonderful confidence that God’s plan is perfect. And I hope you will seek to be people who are standing up in a world that is filled with spiritually dead people.
And I pray that you and I will do all this things not because we are trying to earn His favor — but because we enjoy His favor.