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NO CREDIT FOR THE STAR PUPIL Philippians 3:1-7 November 8, 2009 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction A young woman public school teacher with obvious liberal tendencies explains to her class of small children that she is an atheist. She asks her class if they are atheists too. Not really knowing what atheism is but wanting to be like their teacher, their hands explode into the air like fleshy fireworks. There is, however, one exception. A beautiful girl named Lucy has not gone along with the crowd. The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. "Because I'm not an atheist." Then, asks the teacher, "What are you?" "I'm a Christian." The teacher is a little perturbed now, her face slightly red. She asks Lucy why she is a Christian. "Well, I was brought up knowing and loving Jesus. My mom is a Christian, and my dad is a Christian, so I am a Christian."   The teacher is now angry. "That's no reason," she says loudly. "What if your mom was a moron, and your dad was a moron. What would you be then?" She paused, and smiled. "Then," says Lucy, "I'd be an atheist." If devoted and extreme religious dedication were a school, Saul of Tarsus would have been the star pupil. I am talking about before he became a follower of Jesus Christ, though. Saul—later to be named Paul after his conversion—is the man who became the apostle to the Gentiles and wrote this letter to the Philippians we now have as a book in our New Testament. We’re going to take a few minutes to review his fanatical religious devotion, and why it turned out to be no credit to him at all. Philippians 3:1… Verse 1 – 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. Given what comes before and after this verse, it seems to be sort of “stuck in” here—a brief, repeated charge to rejoice in the Lord. What follows doesn’t seem to fit with this exhortation, but . . . Joy is the theme of the letter In chapter one Paul said that he had joy in his heart when he remembered the Philippians in prayer: he rejoiced that they were his partners in the work of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world (4). He rejoiced that the gospel was being faithfully preached in spite of godless opposition (18). And he was thrilled with the joy the Philippians experienced in their faith (25). In chapter two he asked the believers in Philippi to make his joy complete through their love and like-mindedness (2), and in verse 17 he rejoiced in the faithful service of the Philippians, in spite of his sufferings and imprisonment. In chapter four he tells them they ARE his joy (1). Then he exhorted them to continue rejoicing in the Lord (4) and then he commented that he rejoiced over their very practical help for him. (10). Here, at the beginning of chapter three, Paul is now telling the believers again to rejoice in the Lord, adding his redundant command that they rejoice was actually a safeguard for them. Joy is really the theme of the Christian Life Why so much emphasis on joy in this letter? Paul knew that Christian joy is the fuel of the Christian life. In the list of the fruit of the Spirit back in Galatians 5, it gets second place billing, right after love, and before peace, patience, kindness and the like. Even in the Old Testament, joy is forecast as a primary virtue. Nehemiah 8:10 – …the joy of the Lord is your strength… Jesus Himself said that His joy--divine joy--would be a hallmark of the lives of those who followed him. My joy will be in you, your joy will be complete. Peter would remind the believers, you are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:8-9) Verses 2-4 –Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evile, 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 not confidence in the flesh-- The Dogs We tend to think in tender terms when we talk about dogs, because we think of them as pets. Not in the first century—then they were only pests. Dogs were considered disgusting, scummy scavengers. When Paul said beware of the dogs it was a metaphor to describe a group of people known as Judaizers. They were, as a group, the false teachers who tried to dissuade newer Christians from their faith in Christ by imposing on them the strict rules of Judaism, insisting that they were not truly Christians until they obeyed the tenets of the Jewish faith as well, especially the rite of circumcision. Circumcision was the mark of covenant faith for the Jews, but faith in Jesus set believers free from the requirements of legalism put forth in the Old Testament. Jews historically looked at others who did not believe in the one true God with great disdain, and always called them “dogs.” Here Paul flips the label back on that particular group of Jews who were trying to compromise the conversion of Christians who were trusting in Christ for their salvation, not in works of law. He warns the believers to be on their guard against such teachers. Dogs does seem like a pretty harsh term, doesn’t it? But so dangerous to genuine faith in Christ was the kind of teaching these Judaizers brought that the apostle resorted to very strong language to make his point. But he goes even further . . . Those men who do evil He also calls them the men who do evil. These Jews were actually pretty good people, weren’t they? They’re trying to please God, doing the best they know how—why be so harsh, so intolerant? We have to understand—and so did the Philippian church—the extreme error of their teaching. They were putting their faith and confidence in themselves, and what they did for God, as earning their own righteousness. This kind of thinking takes the focus off God as God and makes an idol of one’s good works. And, Paul will insist, that is deadly heresy. Of this same group Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:13, …such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And now wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Though they appeared to be very righteous and devout, their hearts were against the purposes of God in Christ. So Paul warned the church they were evildoers, and should be avoided at all cost. Those who mutilate the flesh With this term, Paul refers to the primary erroneous teaching of the Judaizers—that of requiring the rite of circumcision to fulfill one’s righteousness before God. Basically, they taught young impressionable Christians that they would miss out on their salvation in Christ if they did not also undergo circumcision. So the reference to “mutilators of the flesh.” Now we have to understand Paul was not opposing circumcision as a valid Jewish rite, only as a means to earning righteousness before God. But circumcision was never intended to be that. Not the true circumcision Next Paul explains that these who idolize circumcision as a means of righteousness have not understood “true circumcision” (or, true justification before God) really is. Being counted as righteous before God (justified) is not about what we do to impress God; it’s about what He has done for us in Christ. We sinners could never overcome our shortcoming of unrighteousness before God—not in a million years. No matter how much we long for a right relationship with God, no matter how hard we worked at it, we could never make it. We could never keep the law well enough to earn God’s favor. All of our striving like this is vain. But what we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us. In His great mercy He gave His only Son to die in our place, to redeem us from our sins and reconcile us to Him forever. Now, let’s revisit verse one and see what Paul was telling the believers: Rejoice IN THE LORD . . . it is a safeguard for you. To revert to a works-based righteousness is to turn back to the impossible notion of doing well enough to please God. It also runs the risk of the age-old problem of humanity—pride. When you try hard to please God, you usually come to the place where you think you’re better than others, so you must be pleasing to God for what you do. And that is so wrong, so Pharisaical, to think we have become good enough. Mark Twain used to talk about people who were “good in the worst sense of the word.” So Paul says those who are the TRUE circumcision—those who are truly God related—those He does consider righteous in His eyes—are those who simply trust Him, and give their lives to Him in the exact way He tells them. Obedience is not about doing well enough to please God so that He’ll save us. It is rejoicing in the truth that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He loves us for who we are, not for what we do or how well we do it! Paul indicates we are to put no confidence in the flesh (3:3). Put confidence in the flesh And putting confidence in the flesh is exactly what the false teachers do and urge others to do. Listen, our salvation, our being justified before God has nothing to do with us (our flesh) but everything to do with God’s grace. But Paul adds another thought at this juncture. He says in verse four: …though I myself have reasons for such confidence. Basically, he says, if you want to talk about doing well at obeying the law and doing righteous things to earn God’s favor and so on, well, I’ve got a good deal of experience being at the head of the class! Let me share a little of my pedigree and resume. Verses 5-7 – 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. Paul is not really bragging here. He is admitting that he worked hard, and that he excelled, but two things: it really didn’t win him favor with God because he’s a sinner, and furthermore, he could not bring all that with him to Christ. Let’s consider for a couple of minutes these “accomplishments” of Paul’s, and ask ourselves: am I trying to trust in my own flesh, my accomplishments, to satisfy my need for righteousness? Church Membership Paul says he was a bonafide member of the Jewish faith. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. It was the Gentile proselytes who were brought in to Judaism who were circumcised later in life, and were in the Jews’ eyes, second class members of God’s family. Paul says, “I’m a member!” But that is not what it takes to please God. Just joining up won’t do. There are a lot of church members who are pretty sure they’ve done God a great favor by joining a church, and staying in it by following the rules—going, giving and getting the kids baptized. Belonging to a church will not get you into God’s favor—nor will simply attending one. You need to be God’s child, through trusting and pledging yourself to Christ, His Son. The bad news is there are a lot of unsaved church members trusting in themselves instead of Jesus. Think you have an “A”? Try “F.” Family Pedigree Not only was Paul a properly circumcised Jew, he was in one of the more faithful tribes—Benjamin. Benjamin was one of the only two southern tribes still remaining true to the house of David and to Jerusalem as the faith center of Israel. Why, Paul might have been named after Saul, the first king of Israel also a Benjamite. Family pedigree will not get you into God’s graces either. Just because your parents were Christians doesn’t mean you are. Salvation in Jesus Christ is not a genetic gift from your parents, it is a grace gift of God that you personally need to receive in faith. Tradition, Loyalty Paul insists he, more than most, was a loyal Jew, which meant keeping the traditions of the faith—a Hebrew of Hebrews! From bar mitzvah to tithing to serving at the synagogue—Paul did it all! Let me say that you can attend church three times a week, light candles, pray, give a triple tithe and host the missionaries, but if you have not made peace with God personally through a living relationship with Jesus Christ, you’re no more saved than a church pew! Jesus made it abundantly clear, it is your faith response and obedience to Him that brings you under His saving righteousness and justifies you before the holy God. Church and religious traditions are good and proper for believers, but you are neither impressing God, nor earning a place in heaven by them. Law Keeping “in regard to the law, a Pharisee” – that’s how Paul described his life before Christ. Like a Pharisee he’d scored an A average, running well ahead of the pack, and ruining the curve for everyone else, I’m sure. But it didn’t save him! Why not? Because as he says elsewhere, he was still a sinner, he still fell short of God’s glory, and moreover he was adding pride to his long lists of shortcomings. His “A” turned to an “F”. He needed a Savior, but convinced himself he was good enough on his own. Every one of us needs to come to that place of reckoning, that place of humility where we admit before God we are not at all what He wants us to be, we’ve failed miserably at righteousness and that we need Him to reach out and lift us from death to life. And He will do that because of what Christ has done for you! But without the humility of giving up on yourself and turning to Him alone as your Savior, reconciliation with God will elude you. Religious Zeal There was no one more zealous for God than was Saul of Tarsus! Convinced at that point that Christians were the enemies of Judaism, he made it his life’s ambition to find, arrest and imprison them—all in the name of pleasing God! He stood as the official witness at the death of Stephen the first Christian martyr. When we operate in the realm of the flesh, and not the Spirit of God, it is easy to get religion all messed up. Often we will find ourselves fighting against God, but totally convinced we are serving Him. But God still loves us, and sees to it that we will have a Damascus Road experience when He shows us who He really is, and what He really wants from us. Legalistic Righteousness “Faultless” – that’s the word Paul uses to describe what he thought he was before he met Christ. Blameless. Perfect. How astonishingly twisted the proud human soul can become. Now Paul knows how foolish, even blasphemous, such a self-opinion was. Another “F”. Paul failed every one of his attempts at producing righteousness from his own flesh. He tried to get God’s favor by earning righteousness by following the Law. But God showed up one day, and said, Hey, Paul, you failed at all that. But I love you and my Son Jesus has paid the price to forgive your sins and let you come home to me by grace. Now Paul says he counts all of his “accomplishments” as loss for the sake of Christ. He writes: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Are you trying to earn God’s favor? The bad news is, you can’t. The good news is He already loves you—you can’t earn His love, and you don’t need to earn His love, because He already extends it to you in Jesus Christ. Stop trying to earn your own righteousness. The good news of the gospel is that you cannot earn it, you have to receive it as a gift from God. But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known. Romans 6:21 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Romans 6:22 There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 6:23 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 6:24 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 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. Not only does Paul count his lineage as loss, he counts everything as loss. Why? Because he knows that nothing compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. Christ's greatness is so wonderful, Paul says he was willing to suffer the loss of everything—to suffer the loss of freely giving everything away. Then Paul goes a step further. He writes: "I count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ." I believe that word rubbish is a terrible translation. No one says rubbish. Maybe if you're from England or something! The Greek word that Paul uses—"skubalos"—is actually much stronger than rubbish. This is the only time it's used in Scripture, and it's being used in its most vile form. It refers to animal excrement. Paul was looking for the most disgusting term he could think of to talk about all of his gifts and abilities and achievements, and he uses a term that means "dog crap." Really—that's what this word amounts to. Actually, if I wanted to be really biblical, really accurate, I would have to say something worse. The only reason I don't use that other word is because some of you would walk out of this room, and that's all you would remember. Still, I want you to understand how strongly Paul expresses this in his day. He is saying: All of this stuff that people brag about, it's dog crap! This righteousness that they create for themselves, I've done that and more, and I don't want anything to do with it. I've found something so much greater—Christ. Do you think this way? Do you look at all the things that you hold in high regard—all the things that the world holds in high regard—and realize you really don't care about them? Maybe you once spent a lot of money and time on your appearance, but then you realized you just didn't care. Or maybe you used to be concerned with great moral acts or good deeds. Maybe you used to think, Look at how I climbed this corporate ladder. Or maybe you used to care about all your stuff, but now it looks like a big pile of crap. I don't really see us thinking like this in the church. I don't see us looking at things the same way that Paul did—with such disgust. Don't we see the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ and his righteousness? This is why I love the next two verses—a verse I've not been able to get out of my head for weeks now: "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." Paul says: I just want to know Jesus. A lot of people come to church for the wrong reasons. They don't come because they want to know Jesus; they come because they want something from him. Did you come here for him? Maybe you didn't. Maybe you came because of something else. We're glad you're here. But the question is, once you get here, what are you after? What makes you come back? Churches fill their rooms every week with promises of money or health. People go to church "if God will heal me." People go to church "if God will heal my child." People go to church "if God will get me a job in this economy." Overseas, this heresy is being preached all over. In impoverished nations preachers are promising people that if they follow Jesus, he'll make them rich. So, people are coming to church in droves, thinking, I'll take Jesus if he'll make me rich. I'll take Jesus if I get to keep all the things I have. I'll take Jesus if I get to maintain this lifestyle. I'll take Jesus if I get to hold on to some of these sins, these immoral relationships. I'll take Jesus if I can still be popular, still have this, still have that. The biblical gospel has never been about "I'll come to Jesus if … ." The biblical gospel has always been about "I'll follow Jesus even if … "—even if I lose my family. Even if my health deteriorates. Even if people are throwing rocks at me. Even if I lose everything I own. I still want Jesus, because he's that great. That's the biblical gospel. We have found a treasure in Jesus Christ that is so wonderful that with great joy we say, "Take everything. I don't care. It's just a big load of crap anyway." We have found a treasure in a field so wonderful, that we can hardly believe it. We say, "Are you telling me I can have a relationship with the Creator of the universe? That he'll forgive me of everything I've ever done? That he'll welcome me into this eternal kingdom? Give it to me! Give it to me, and take everything else! As Paul says: I've lost everything, but I don't really care. Because there's a surpassing greatness to knowing Jesus, and I am consumed with knowing him. While others are focused on what they can do by their own power, I'm looking for a greater power. I want to know the power of Jesus' resurrection. SUNUDJIAN Paul moves to his own experience. He says: I've been there; I've lived in their subculture. I've spent a long time depending on those behaviors to make me pleasing to God. If they want to talk externals, rules and regulations, and having confidence in the Jewish lifestyle, I've got them all beat hands down. Nobody did it better than I did. In verses 4–6, Paul relates his history of depending on externals to earn him credit with God. He lists his Jewish credentials. He was circumcised on the eighth day. That means he was born into the faith. He wasn't circumcised as an adult convert; he was on the inside from birth. Not only that, but he was a descendent of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the most respected tribes in all Israel. Benjamin was special, because he was the only one of Jacob's 12 children to be born in the Promised Land. Benjamin's warriors were famous for their bravery. Israel's first king came from the tribe of Benjamin. Jerusalem, the holy city, was located in Benjamin's territory. When the country split into the Northern and Southern kingdoms, only Benjamin remained loyal to David's tribe of Judah. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was born into the faith and was descended from the tribe of Benjamin. Then he added to his impressive heritage: He spoke the language and kept the customs. He didn't let the secular culture corrupt him. He adhered to a set of behaviors few could match: he was a Pharisee. He studied the Old Testament as carefully as anyone could. He knew everything it said and did everything it required. Not only that, but among the Pharisees, nobody was more committed. Nobody was more passionate or active to preserve the Jewish heritage than Paul. In his early days, when he thought Christianity was a threat to his ancient faith, he did everything he could to rid the world of those heretics. He persecuted them and even went to other cities to arrest them and bring them back for trial. When all was said and done, Paul was faultless. If you could earn righteousness through rules and regulations, Paul would have. But as he looked back at that way of living, Paul said: You may think you're gaining, but you're losing. This brings him finally to the overwhelming tragedy that comes if you let someone else define what you need to do in order to please God and be righteous in his eyes. If you let others impose their rules and regulations on you, you miss out on what life with Christ can really be like. You end up with a righteousness that comes from the rules, but you miss out on the real righteousness that comes from walking in faith with Christ. In verses 7–9, Paul argues that his former life turned out to be a loss because it took his eyes off of the real life that Christ wanted to give him. What you discover when you try to earn righteousness by someone else's standard is that rather than benefiting from all that effort, it becomes a drain on you. It saps you of spiritual vitality. Some of the activities others want you to do are not natural to you. When you aren't good at them, you struggle with failure, defeat, and frustration. If you decide to try harder, even if you succeed, you end up miserable. You may measure up, but you'll have no joy. You may satisfy their expectations, but you'll be empty inside. You may have a righteousness that comes from keeping the rules, but you won't be in love with Christ. There's no gain, only garbage. No real righteousness, only rubbish. Don't let others define your spiritual life, for you'll miss out on the life Christ wants to give you. Don't let others pressure you into their spiritual lifestyle, or you'll miss out on what life with Christ can really be like. The goal is to know Christ and be led by him; not to follow a legalistic code, but a living Christ. He is the source, and he alone guides you. Make every effort to know him, and he will lead you in the true righteousness that comes from a living faith.     [ Back to Top]          
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