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Philippians 3:1-11 - Poisoning the Gospel

Philippians - Joy for the Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:45
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We get the Gospel right when we know Christ rightly



A couple of weeks ago there was a news story out of Oldsmar, Florida, about a computer hacker that attempted to remotely take control of the city’s municipal water treatment plant. A worker at the plant noticed two instances of an unknown user trying to massively elevate the levels of sodium hydroxide used to purify the water to a lethal concentration, effectively poisoning the entire city’s water supply.
Though the attack failed and the search continues for the perpetrator(s), it illustrates a tactic of siege warfare that goes back centuries—if an enemy can’t break through your walls, he can go for your water supply. We even see an example of this in the Old Testament, where King Hezekiah stopped up the fresh water supply flowing to the Assyrian camps that were besieging Jerusalem, and re-directed the water to flow inside the city (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32). When you are facing an enemy that is trying to destroy you, you need to protect your water supply.
In our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul has been instructing his readers on what it means to “let their manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27), since they have been granted to be “engaged in the same conflict” that he has (Philippians 1:30). Paul was being held in custody in Rome on false charges of inciting an insurrection (Acts 24:5-6). And to this point he has been walking us through how to stand in unified fearlessness for the sake of the Gospel, showing us that we need to live together as a church family in the humility of Christ, and that when we are walking in the mind of Christ it transforms every part of our lives. A Christian who lives that way—a church that lives that way—is well-defended against attacks from outside as it demonstrates the power of the Gospel to change lives and tear down strongholds of every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.
But like any good tactician, an enemy who can’t breach your walls will try to poison your water. And I think this is why Paul turns his attention here in Chapter 3 to “the dogs, the evildoers… those who mutilate the flesh” (v. 2).—if the enemy can’t stop us from proclaiming the Gospel, then the next best thing is to poison the Gospel! To take that water of life that sustains us and gives us life and make it into an instrument of our spiritual demise. Not only will it ruin us, but if the Enemy can get us to start proclaiming a poisoned Gospel, then he doesn’t need to destroy the Church, does he? It will destroy itself, and also destroy everyone who hears and believes a poisoned Gospel!
The “dogs” and “evildoers” that Paul is warning the Philippian church to watch out for were a far bigger problem in other cities—the entire book of Galatians that we studied a couple of years ago is an extended defense of the true Gospel against the attacks of these same “mutilators of the flesh”—Jewish Christians who insisted that the only way a Gentile could be acceptable before God was to become a Jew first and observe the Laws of circumcision. Paul effectively argues in Galatians that you cannot “pick and choose” what parts of the Mosaic Law you want to follow. If you put yourself under obedience to one law, you have to follow all 613 laws!
Now, the city of Philippi had far less Jewish influence than Galatia did—we noted earlier in our study that when Paul visited Philippi he didn’t follow his normal custom of going to the synagogue first (because there weren’t even enough Jewish men in that Roman colony to constitute a synagogue!) But Paul still takes the time here in these verses to warn the Philippians about the kind of poison that those false teachers brought, because every Christian is susceptible to the same kind of error when it comes to our salvation—the temptation to trust in something besides Jesus for your salvation.
And this is the way Paul wants his readers to guard against “poisoning the well”; he wants to make sure that they get the Gospel right. And what we will see in this passage is that
You get the GOSPEL right when your only CONFIDENCE is in Christ ALONE.
The moment you begin putting your confidence for your righteousness on something other than Christ, or in something in addition to Christ, you are in danger of poisoning the Gospel. In Paul’s day it was the poison of the false teachers’ insistence that you weren’t really righteous unless you were circumcised—in our day it comes from Christians (and denominations and churches) who say that you aren’t really righteous until you confess your “white privilege” and your incipient racism and bigotry before the unbelieving world—Jesus did not forgive all your sins, you are still guilty of some sins until the world absolves you from them!
But make no mistake—anytime you add other requirements to the Gospel besides faith in Christ alone, you are poisoning the Gospel. You get the Gospel right when your only confidence is in Christ alone.
Here in our passage today Paul is going to go over the basics of the Gospel again—he says that “to write the same things to you is no trouble to me and it is safe for you” (Philippians 3:1). Paul never gets tired of going back to the Gospel again—the word “trouble” can refer to something that’s irksome or annoying—Paul says he never gets frustrated or tired of “telling the old, old story of Jesus and His love!”
Notice that he also says that going over the basics of the Gospel is “safe for you”—the idea there is that by reiterating the essential Gospel message again he is “shoring up” the Philippians’ defenses. It can never hurt to hear the Gospel again, and check ourselves to see that we are not beginning to place our confidence in Jesus “plus” anything else.
In verse 3 Paul lays out three ways that we can know we are getting the Gospel right—they are

I. The MARKS of TRUSTING Christ (Philippians 3:1-8)

Look at verse 3:
Philippians 3:3 ESV
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—
Paul says that the false teachers want to impose circumcision on Gentile Christians so that they can trust in their membership in the Old Covenant of circumcision along with their faith in Christ. But Paul says that faith in Christ itself is the mark of belonging to the Covenant! He gives three characteristics of those who are trusting Christ alone for their salvation. First, you are trusting Christ when
You SERVE by the SPIRIT of God
Paul says that you show that you belong to Christ when you “worship by the Spirit of God”—the word for “worship” there goes back to the same idea that we encountered a couple of weeks ago in our study; it refers not just to the act of praising God, but of the priestly role of worship—that we are representing the Gospel to the world by our worship.
This verse says that we offer that sacrifice of worship by the Spirit of God—as we saw earlier in Philippians 2:13, it is God who is working in you to give you the desire to come and worship, and giving you the ability to come and worship. You serve God by the strength and ability that He gives you, not because you have screwed up your resolve to “do something for God”. Serving by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in you is a mark of trusting Christ.
Also, see here that a mark of trusting Christ is that
You BOAST in Christ alone (cp. Galatians 6:14)
The word “glory” in the phrase “glory in Christ Jesus” is translated “boast”—as in Galatians 6:14
Galatians 6:14 ESV
14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
You don’t glory in your earthly status, your achievements, your gifts, your possessions—if a Christian is to boast, Paul says, “let him boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31)! As one commentator puts it, “If you meet someone who claims to be a Christian but isn’t making much of Christ, then you have reason to be suspicious of their claim. The Christian life is a Christ-exalting life!” (Merida, T., Chan, F., Platt, D., & Akin, D. L. (2016). Exalting Jesus in Philippians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary). Holman Reference. p. 136). What are you known for boasting in? What is your greatest treasure, you most precious possession? Make it your aim to be known for being all about Jesus!
The final mark of trusting in Christ is related to the second—when you are trusting in Christ
You do not BOAST in your FLESH
Paul says that the people of God “put no confidence in the flesh”. This is simply another way of saying that we must trust in Christ alone for our righteousness, that when we stand before Him someday, in the words of the hymn that we sang earlier, “I need no other argument, I need no other plea; it is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me!”
Paul wants to make it clear that the only confidence that we have for our righteousness before God comes from our faith in Christ. You cannot add anything to faith in Christ—your only hope is in His death, burial and resurrection for your sake. Now, Paul knows from firsthand experience how easy it is to trust in your own strength, to put confidence in your own flesh, for your righteousness. So in the next few verses he goes through a list of all the things that he used to boast in. If you had met Paul before he knew Christ and asked him how he knew he was right with God, these are the things he would have pointed to:
Philippians 3:4–6 ESV
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.
But Paul wants to make it clear that none of these things made him right before God! Let’s look very briefly at some of the things he was trusting in: He trusted in the fact that he was circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin—but he says that you cannot boast
- In your HERITAGE
You hear that from people today—they say, “Well, my grandmother was a real godly Christian—she used to take us to Sunday School every week!” But you can’t rely on your godly heritage to make you righteous before God! God has no grandchildren—no one receives eternal life because his grandma trusted Christ!
Paul says that he trusted in the fact that he was “a Pharisee”—he thoroughly understood all the doctrines of his faith backwards and forwards. He believed all the right things, he knew where to find Habakkuk in his Bible without looking at the index, he could quote entire books of the Old Testament from memory. But he makes it clear here that you cannot boast
There are a lot of people today who will swear up and down that they are “deeply committed to the authority of the Scriptures”—and will then proceed to completely ignore those same Scriptures as they twist themselves into post-evangelical pretzels in order to satisfy the spirit of the age that wants them to abandon the God and His Word. There are a lot of theologically astute academic types out there with a whole alphabet soup of advanced degrees behind their name who can argue the finer points of supralapsarian soteriology and the hypostatic union of Christ and its relevance to modern evangelical hermeneutics in a post-Enlightenment society who will find themselves in Hell someday because they spent their life boasting in their Christology and never once in Christ!
Paul says that he used to boast in the fact that he was “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”. In other words, Paul was as deeply committed to his religion as it was possible to be! He was all in when it came to protecting and defending the covenant people of God from error and heresy. But he makes it clear here that you cannot boast
How many times have you heard people say, “well, it doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere!” But sincerity itself is no indication of righteousness—you can, after all, be sincerely wrong! And the question also arises, How sincere do you have to be in order for it to be counted as righteousness? Remember Linus in The Great Pumpkin? He had the “most sincere pumpkin patch, and [the Great Pumpkin] respects sincerity!” And when Sally didn’t believe him he replied with “If the Great Pumpkin comes I’ll put a good word in for you!” And then realizes what he said—that he wasn’t sincere enough! “One little slip like that can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by!” If you are going to say that you will be counted righteous before God because you are sincere, then you are banking your eternity on being sincere enough!
Paul says that he used to trust in the fact that “as to righteousness under the Law”, he was “blameless”. He believed he had a perfect record of good deeds under the Law, that he kept all of the Law of Moses blamelessly. But he warns here in this passage that you cannot boast
- In your MORALITY
So many people say that they know that God will accept them because “I’m a good person; I don’t hurt anyone, I am kind, I try to live and let live, I volunteer my time and give to charity, I do all kinds of things for the church…” But the problem here is the same as trying to rest in your sincerity, isn’t it? Have you been moral enough? Is there any way that you could have done better? Have you ever told even a single lie? Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you? Have you ever disrespected your parents? There is no way to rest in your morality, because there is always something more that you could have done better.
If your confidence to stand before God someday comes from anything other than the righteousness of Christ, Paul says, you are trusting a poisoned Gospel. Paul wants to make sure that his readers are not boasting in anything for their righteousness apart from Jesus Christ. This is why he goes on in verses 7-8 to say:
Philippians 3:7–8 ESV
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
None of those other things matter—Paul uses a pretty pungent word here— “rubbish”, or “dung” (in the KJV). It’s the word for what you scrape off of your shoe when you walk through a yard that the dog has been using as a toilet (a word that you never use in polite company!) Compared to knowing and trusting Jesus alone for your righteousness, all those other things—your heritage, your head-knowledge, your sincerity, your morality—are nothing but a big steaming pile of dog crap!
You get the Gospel right when your only confidence is in Christ—nothing else can do anything to make you right before God. And in verses 9-11, Paul goes on to urge his readers to

II. Be CERTAIN that you KNOW Christ (Philippians 3:9-11)

In verse 9 we read:
Philippians 3:9 ESV
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 makes it as clear as he can that knowing Christ means that you
Trust Christ ALONE for your RIGHTEOUSNESS
When Paul says that we must “be found in Him [in Christ] , not having a righteousness of my own...” he is making the point again that the only ground you have for confidence is in what Jesus accomplished, and not what you accomplished! You do not earn that righteousness, you do not work to make yourself worthy of that righteousness—
- It is a GIFT from God
See at the end of the verse—your right standing before God is “the righteousness from God that depends on faith”. On one side is all of your own attempts at righteousness, stinking to high heaven in the noonday sun. And on the other side is the righteousness of God Himself given to you when you place all your trust in Jesus alone! In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
And what works do you have to do to receive this righteousness? Jesus said in John 6:29,
John 6:29 ESV
29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
You receive this righteousness by believing Jesus! By believing that He came to take on your sin and give you His righteousness, by believing that he was crucified, buried and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures—this perfect righteousness of God does not come because you earn it
- It is received by FAITH
When you stand before God someday and He says “Why should I let you into My heaven?” The only answer that you will be able to give will be “I am trusting in Jesus! He has taken on all my filth and given me His righteousness, and I believe that He will do what He has promised to save me!” You put all your eggs into His basket, you put your eternal fate into His nail-scarred hands ALONE!
In verses 10-11 Paul gives you another mark by which you can be certain that you know Christ. You can be certain that you know Christ when you trust Him alone for your righteousness, and you can be certain that you know Him when you
Become MORE LIKE Christ in your CHARACTER (Philippians 3:10-11)
Paul says in verse 10:
Philippians 3:10 ESV
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
You can be certain that you know Christ when you come to know Him
Jesus lived His life as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). And make no mistake, Christian, if He suffered in this life, so will you. Just as Jesus took on the sorrows and the griefs and the heartbreaks of the people He loved, so you will suffer the heartbreaks and sorrows and griefs of people that you love. Just as Jesus laid down His rights and privileges of Deity in order to enter our world, so you willingly lay down your rights and privileges and preferences for the sake of others. Just as Jesus was hated and reviled and accused of being demon-possessed, so will you bear the same scorn and hatred—the world that hated Him will hate you too. And just as Jesus wept His heart out over the cruelty of death and disease and the brokenness of this world, so will your own heart be broken over and over as you weep over the pangs of death. And in all of these things, you are sharing in His sufferings, you are walking in His footsteps, you are becoming more like Him!
And not only do you become more like Him in His suffering, but you become more like Him
Make no mistake, Christian—every death you suffer in this life is followed by a rising! That is what Paul is saying in verse 11—he knows that if he suffers like Christ HE WILL BE RAISED LIKE CHRIST!
Philippians 3:11 ESV
11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul says that no matter what happens, he will receive his eternal life in Heaven with God! No matter what happens to him, no matter what his circumstances, his eternal life is guaranteed! He doesn’t know if it will come through martyrdom or through natural causes or through the direct appearing of Christ at the Second Coming. Paul doesn’t know when or how he will receive his resurrection, but he knows that he will receive it no matter what!
And here, Christian, there is a word of hope for you when you are experiencing one of the many “dyings” that characterize a follower of Christ. Until that final Day when you are raised to life out of your grave and receive the resurrection of your body, every other “dying” that you experience here in this life will always be accompanied by a “rising”! Your “dying” in your daily struggles with sin will be met with a “rising” to new heights of sanctification, your “dying” in scorn and shame and ridicule by this unbelieving world will be met by a “rising” of God’s favor and vindication, your “dying” in the grief and sadness and heartbreak over the cruelty and death and brokenness in this world will be met by a “rising” of God’s comfort and peace and intimate dwelling with you.
You may not be able to see where that “rising” will come from right now—you cannot make yourself “rise” out of that dying. But know that God will bring you up out of that death by any means possible! You cannot remain in that “dying” because Jesus did not remain in His grave! And as sure as you suffer with Him, you will be raised like Him in the power of His resurrection!
If your only confidence is in Christ this morning—if you serve by the Spirit of God, if you boast in Christ alone and not in your own works, if you trust Him alone for your righteousness and are becoming more like Him in your character, then you can have confidence that you are “getting the Gospel right”—you can know that you have an eternal life with Him that cannot be taken away from you, you have a promise that no matter what “dying” you suffer in this life, you will see the power of God to raise you back out of that death into greater life.
And if you are trusting anything apart from Jesus Christ for your righteousness; if you are trusting in anything along with Jesus to save you this morning, allow me to plead with you—you need to scrape that crap off of your shoe NOW. Don’t be poisoned by a false Gospel that tells you that you need to add all these other things alongside Christ, or instead of Christ for your right standing before God! You need to quit depending on your Christian heritage, your Bible knowledge, your good, moral, sincere upstanding character—you need to get rid of all of that and put all of your hope and all of your trust and all of your confidence in Him alone. Come talk to me or one of the elders after the service and let us help you know for sure that your only confidence for your eternal life is in Jesus Christ!
Romans 16:25–27 ESV
25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.


Why is it so important for us as believers (and as a church) to “get the Gospel right”? What are some ways that some people are trying to “poison” the Gospel message today?
What are some characteristics of people who “boast” in something—whether it is in their education or their wealth or their possessions or their family, etc. What does it look like to “boast” in Christ? Does your life reflect a heart that loves Jesus Christ above anything or anyone else?
Read through Philippians 3:4-6 again. Which of these categories for confidence (heritage, head-knowledge, sincerity, morality) are you most likely to want to depend on for your righteousness before God? How can you develop less confidence in those things and more confidence in Christ this week?
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