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What’s hanging on your wall?
Philippians 3:1–11 HCSB
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a protection for you. Watch out for “dogs,” watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ —the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.
I’m sure you noticed the title of the sermon for this morning what’s hanging on your wall? I think it’s pretty fitting with what we got hanging on ours. A moose we shall call Bullwinkle, a raccoon that is known as Rocky, Gideon checked out and he left it no doubt. To help with good Rocky's revival. The deer hanging is John and the little bear we will call BooBoo.
Really there is a reason why I chose to entitle the sermon what’s hanging on your wall. Many people have a trophy room or a trophy case. Or we have other things we consider trophies. And some of these trophies can be very valuable to us. I have all kinds of trophies from back in the day, race medals hanging on the rack and even my diploma can be considered a trophy. But what are they worth? Too me maybe hard effort or a job well done, and you all may have some trophies as well. Maybe even some guys like these hanging around. But what does all of that have to do with the scripture this morning, well get there and it will be found in our 3 learning points for today.
1 You need some protection
2 You doing some boasting
3 Lost and Found department
The transition into this chapter is abrupt. Paul has explained his response to imprisonment and rival preachers, as well as how the Philippians should respond. He transitions from telling them to expect the arrival of Timothy, Epaphroditus, and (hopefully) himself to instructing them and encouraging them. The instructions that follow are based more on their situation than on his, which is one reason his tone changes. The opening word translated finally is translated elsewhere as the rest or others. It signals that he is moving on to other matters. It does not mean this is the last thing he has to say.
So of all the things he could be saying, what does Paul tell them to do? It turns out to be a little repetition: to rejoice (see 1:18; 2:17–18). Why is rejoicing so important to Paul? Does he just want us to smile and be happy for Jesus? Think about the contexts so far where Paul has either declared that he rejoices/will rejoice, or where he has told the Philippians to do so. They are not situations that we would characterize as happy; these statements are found in the midst of hardship. Rejoicing is an activity we choose to do; it is not an emotion that would be being happy if we wanted an emotion. If we choose to rejoice, it means we are choosing not to do something else. Paul here gives us a key insight into life that we cannot afford to miss.
God, in His infinite wisdom, has made things to work a certain way. One of those things concerns our attitude or focus in life. If we are truly rejoicing and thankful for God’s provision, we cannot complain or be resentful. It doesn’t work that way; this is by design. What comes out of our mouths (for better or worse) is an indicator of what is going on in our hearts (see ; ). What do our words say about our attitude, heart, and focus?
This mutual exclusivity is a great thing for us. If we focus our efforts on rejoicing in God and in His provision, we are at the same time guarding against things that steal our joy. This is why Paul is able to call rejoicing protection; he understood how God has wired us. It’s like the old saying that “the best defense is a good offense.” Choosing to go on the offensive by rejoicing in the midst of hardship is the single greatest defense from the things that make us turn away from God.
This leads us to our first learning point
1 You need some protection
Verse 1, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a protection for you.”
Paul begins the chapter by again commanding the Philippians to rejoice. It is one of the most critical things they can do to guard their hearts against discouragement. It’s not just a good idea, it is a form of protection specifically designed by God for this purpose. How does it work? If I am choosing to rejoice in the Lord whatever my circumstances or situation, it will be nearly impossible to grumble and complain about them. It is an either/or proposition. A natural consequence of truly rejoicing in the Lord about something is the inability to complain about it. You cannot grumble and rejoice about the same thing at the same time. If you’re grumbling, you’re not rejoicing.
By making the choice to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of unpleasant circumstances, we will guard ourselves against fear, doubt, double-mindedness, and the discouragement that comes from opposition. All of these things are barometers for our heart attitude. As we see these things creeping in and manifesting themselves, we know that our focus is shifting away from God and onto other things. I cannot complain about something and simultaneously be thankful for it.
Paul begins by describing rejoicing in the Lord as a form of protection because he is going to warn them about people in their lives who are seeking to steal their joy in 3:2. Paul references the same group of people in three different ways: dogs, evil workers, and mutilators. The next verse implies that these people are not the true circumcision; he claims “we [Paul and the Philippian believers] are.” What he means by this is elaborated upon in the rest of 3:3. The true circumcision worships the Spirit of God (as opposed to something else); they boast in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Elaborate on how the dogs have changed but we still face the same issue trying to pull us away and steal our joy.
2 You doing some boasting
Verses 4-6, “4 although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.”
Boasting on the basis of the flesh is to be avoided. Yet in the very next verse Paul is going to ignore that fact. The word that introduces 3:4 signals that what follows somehow contradicts what he’s just said, not unlike adding a “but if I was gonna do this.…” He takes up the idea of boasting hypothetically, challenging anyone who thinks they can beat him in a comparison of flesh-based titles or awards.
Hypothetically Speaking: Paul sets the stage for one of his most significant declarations by essentially saying we should never do such a thing. Even though Christians are not to put confidence in the flesh, Paul does it anyhow to make the point that in the end, there really is nothing worth boasting about other than being found in Christ with a righteousness that comes through faith in God. The Greek in the first part of 3:4 could be paraphrased “but if I was gonna do it.…” He says not to do something, and then he does it in excess to make a point about the incomparable worth of knowing Christ. And so begins a list of credentials that would have made any Jew of his day envious. It’s like he is daring anyone to try and one-up him: “You think you’ve got a claim to make? We’ll just see about that!”
What trophies and accolades does he have hanging on his wall, figuratively speaking? Heritage, schooling, zealous exploits—he’s got it all. He was circumcised on the eighth day, just as specified in —a full-blooded Israelite even though he hailed from Tarsus. And he’s not just any Israelite. He’s from the tribe of one of Jacob’s two most-favored sons: Benjamin and one of only 2 tribes that returned to Israel after captivity the other was Judah. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews meaning he knew and could use both of the Hebraic languages Hebrew and Aramaic. Most Jews at this time couldn’t that’s why there is a Greek version of the OT. As far as religious education, his reference to being a Pharisee implies adherence to a strict interpretation of the Torah according to their customs. His statement about persecuting the church makes him a bona fide Pharisee. His connection to Pharisaism was more than casual; it singularly directed his actions. His lifestyle also bore out his commitment to living a righteous life. Paul is not talking here about a works-based righteousness but a life characterized by strict obedience to the Pharisaic code; he lived it out blamelessly.
Paul’s Trophy Wall: Paul boasts in the flesh by creating a figurative trophy wall of his qualifications and accomplishments. From the standpoint of first-century Judaism, he had impeccable credentials. This list of accomplishments is just a set-up; they will all soon be figuratively tossed in the trash can or flushed down the toilet either is acceptable. But until that point, he makes his trophy wall sound as desirable as possible—the more envy the better.
This survey of Paul’s religious credentials proves that if anyone had a right to claim a favored status and to wield religious influence over his peers, it was Paul far more than the Judaizers he references in 3:2. If the Philippians wanted to put someone on a religious pedestal, Paul is the guy who deserves it.
ELABORATE HOW THIS IS STILL DONE TODAY.
Now remember that he clearly stated in 3:3 that no one was to put confidence in the flesh, period. So why does he show off all of his accomplishments? He does this to illustrate just how much he is willing to give up in exchange for knowing and being identified with Christ. It’s one thing to say that you would give up everything to follow Christ, and quite another to list and sign over all of your most prized assets. The latter is exactly what Paul is doing. By showing the incalculable value of all that he was willing to give up, Paul raises the value of knowing Christ. He does this in several stages.
In the first stage, he essentially says, “You want to know how committed I am to Christ, how important He is to me? You see all these things I just listed, all the things on my trophy wall? I’m willing to write off all these things for the sake of Christ.” These are the things that would have given Paul respect, honor, and influence in his culture, yet he’s willing to disavow them in exchange for knowing Christ.
3 Lost and Found department
Verses 7-11, “7 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ —the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.”
Considers Trophies Loss: Paul hypes the value of his trophy wall to make giving them away seem all the more significant. He does not downplay the worth of these things; he increases the value of knowing Christ. What Paul considers most valuable, he is willing to exchange for knowing Christ. But wait, there’s more. What are the things that you have on your trophy wall? For me, it would be my degree, my abilities to use the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, my lovely wife (the most gracious hostess you’re ever going to meet), and my ability to fix things and solve problems. All of these things in one way or another can build my ego; they’re things that I can beat my chest about and say, “Hey, look at me!” What’s interesting about Paul’s trophies is that half of them were completely beyond his control: being an Israelite of Benjamin and an eighth-day circumcision. These were sovereignly bestowed!
So what exactly does Paul mean when he counts these things as loss? If I want to be like Paul, do I need to burn my degree, stopping using my knowledge, and be ashamed of my family? No. As we look at the account of his life in Acts, we never see him pretending that he was not an influential, well-connected Jew and a Roman citizen. We regularly see him utilizing his knowledge of the Law, Pharisaism, and his Jewish heritage. He used any advantage he could to further the gospel. What he is talking about here is where he finds his identity. He is honing in on a billion-dollar question: where do we place our value—what parts of our life in the flesh do we boast about? The answer should be “none.” These are all valuable things, but they are to be used as gifts from God for His purposes working through us.
What does this mean for me? If I’m really good at Greek but better with Hebrew, fixing things, or maybe running, I should not use these things to boost my ego. They should not define who I am. Think about the change in attitude that comes about when this happens. Instead of things to cling onto, all these valuable things are resources to be laid at the Lord’s feet to be used for His good pleasure. In finding my identity in Christ, these other things do not cease to exist; they simply no longer define who I am. It’s a process, not an event. Paul stresses this in 3:12–14. But it all begins by taking those things that we hold dear and no longer finding our identity in them. This is what Paul means by taking his valued trophies and counting them loss.
This sounds like an impressive sacrifice, and it is! By giving up his most treasured things, Paul makes a relationship with Christ sound valuable. But this is just the beginning! It’s time for stage two. Paul raises the bar in 3:8 by saying he’s willing to give up even more: everything! It’s not just his trophies and accomplishments that he’s willing to count as loss; he’s willing to give it all! We’re talking about everything here, not just his influence and education. He would even be willing to give his life. This is how he can say in 1:21 that to live is Christ and to die is gain. It isn’t his life anymore. Knowing Christ and being found in Him is worth more than anything and worth giving everything. Jim Elliot echoed this sentiment when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” This is exactly the kind of value system that Paul describes here in .
Considers All Things Loss: Here’s the next stage in Paul’s description of how much he values knowing Christ. It’s like he’s asking, “How much would you expect me to pay for all of this?” Instead of lowering the price, he increases it. Paul not only considers his trophies to be worth exchanging for knowing Christ, it’s worth giving everything. He raises the ante. He sees the trophies and raises the stakes with everything else.
Now for stage three. Paul ratchets things up one more notch in the last half of 3:8. This time he makes us a little uncomfortable. When we have something of value in our culture, say a house or a car, we typically insure it against loss from fire, theft, or various kinds of destruction. We do this because we want protection against loss. When Paul says that he counts all things loss, he is still treating them as valuable. He is simply making the decision not to hang onto these valuable things, but to exchange them for Christ. In this last stage, all this changes.
Paul is about to talk about the things we deposit in toilets and the trash can. Most of us today have toilets in our homes, workplaces, and pretty much any public place and trash cans of some type. All the toilets are connected to soil pipes that take away the things that have been deposited there the garbage truck or burn pile gets the trash out of our lives. Where? Nobody really cares where it all goes, so long as it is gone. Why aren’t we sad when we flush the toilet or the trash is gone? Because we have absolutely no interest in keeping what is deposited there! We pay utility companies to take it have a septic tank to hold it or the garbage man to get it.
Instead of Paul considering all his stuff as “valuable, but worth the trade” for knowing Christ, Paul goes one step further. Knowing Christ is so valuable to him that, in comparison, he considers his stuff to be about as desirable as dung or trash again both are acceptable translations. Considers all things what? What’s left after putting everything on the table in exchange for knowing Christ? Maybe not what you’d expect. So far he has treated the things he’s willing to trade for knowing Christ as though they were something worth keeping. By any human standard, they are priceless! So how can he raise the stakes further? By saying that, in his view, these priceless things aren’t worth squat, literally. That’s the analogy he uses. All the things that we hold dear should be considered just as valuable as a bag of trash. In comparison to the value of knowing Christ, Paul’s most prized possessions aren’t worth squat and neither are ours.
He devalues the things that the world says we should treasure. He shifts from saying it is worth giving up everything to saying he considers everything but Christ valueless. It isn’t even worth insuring or filing a claim for. It’s no longer a “loss,” it’s “good riddance!” Instead of finding his identity in these things, he casts them all on the trash heap. If that’s really what all our stuff is worth compared to knowing Christ, who wouldn’t want to make this exchange?
. As he lists his most prized possessions, it makes us wonder about what it would look like for us. He isn’t so much devaluing them as he is increasing the value of knowing Christ. In the final analysis, they are less than worthless compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. We would have to be stupid not to follow his lead.
In 3:9–10, Paul elaborates on exactly what is involved in the exchange. He states both what life in Christ is and what it is not. It is not a righteousness of his own, the kind that comes from the Law. This is the kind of righteousness from a life well-lived that he alluded to at the end of 3:6. The added descriptors—“my righteousness from the Law”—sets the stage for a contrastive parallel with the kind of righteousness he actually receives. Instead, Paul will be found in Christ with a righteousness through faith in Christ, the kind from God instead of from himself.
Found in Christ: Paul goes to great lengths to draw the contrast between the human-based righteousness that some strive for and the kind that originates from God on the basis of faith. God’s righteousness comes with some unexpected peripherals: knowing the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. Paul makes clear that the kind of relationship with God that he has in mind is not centered on our personal comfort but on being conformed to the image of Christ.
We can know the power of Christ’s resurrection—His conquering of sin and death. No longer must we live as slaves to our sinful nature and in fear of death and judgment. In Christ, we may experience freedom and deliverance from the power of sin. We can have confidence in Christ’s work on the cross. We will receive an inheritance in God’s kingdom because of it.
Another thing Paul looks for is fellowship in Christ’s sufferings. Identifying ourselves with Christ means embracing everything about Him, including setting aside our rights and entitlements (described in 2:5–11). It entails being humble and obedient like Jesus—obedience even to death. This is the ultimate commitment. We cannot take only the good, happy aspects of Jesus’ life.
What is the goal of this kind of total identification with Christ? What’s Paul’s objective? What he describes in 3:11 is a hope, not something he is owed. This is not to say that he had no confidence that it would come about, only that it is not phrased as something which God owes him. If the righteousness really was of his own doing, then one might view it as an obligation on God’s part (see ). Paul makes his sacrifices out of love for Christ, not as a means of earning salvation. The latter is a hope; the former is the motivation.
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