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Philippians 3:1-11: True in Christ Print E-mail
Sunday, 03 August 2008

I want to begin this morning with a little true/false quiz.  I am going to give you three statements and I want you to tell me if they are true or false.  First statement: Joseph had twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel.  Second statement: David was the first and greatest King of Israel until Christ came.  Third statement: Money is the root of all evil.  Those are the three statements, have you got your answers?  Are they true or false?  Well, actually they are all false.  It was Jacob and not Joseph who had the twelve sons (although it was Joseph’s sons who were each considered a half-tribe).  David was the greatest king of Israel before Christ, but he was not the first king of Israel, that was Saul.  Finally, Paul says that it is not money that is the root of all evil but the love of money.

So, how did you do?  They were not all that hard, but they were a little tricky.  The trouble with true/false questions is that one little word can make all the difference in the world.  If you change ‘Joseph’ to ‘Jacob’ in the first statement, then it becomes true.  If you take out the word ‘first’ in the second statement, then it becomes true.  And if you add the words ‘the love of…’ to the final statement, then it becomes true.  Just a couple of small changes and false statements become true.  At some point in my education, I actually had a teacher that would give us true/false questions and if we thought it was false, then we had to make it true.  Normally the change would be simple but significant.

In our text this morning, Paul is making some contrasts for us between things that are true and things that are false.  In each of these, the change may be simple, but it is unbelievably significant.  Thus, as we look at these, we want to know what is true so that we can avoid what is false.  Let’s look at these four contrasts together.

First, true/false circumcision (v. 1-6).

Paul is addressing an important (and common) issue at the beginning of chapter 3.  Some think that this section does not fit and was added later, but the reasons for such a conclusion are not very valid when you consider the argument and flow of the letter.  What is the issue that he is addressing?  He does not want the Philippians’ joy to be robbed by any Judaizers who require circumcision and obedience to the law for salvation.  Certain Jews, who claimed to be followers of Christ, were teaching that in order for Gentiles to be truly saved, they had to first become Jews through circumcision and adherence to the law.  As we have seen before, this was a serious problem for Paul and the Churches he ministered to (see Galatians and 2 Corinthians).  Yet, Paul minces no words to correct their error.  Look at verses 1-6.  Why does the issue of circumcision even matter?  Because the Jews were using it as a way to distinguish those who were truly part of the people of God and those who were not.  For Paul, that is a serious error.  So, how does he distinguish between the false circumcision and the true circumcision, or people of God?

The false circumcision puts confidence in the flesh.  They only consider those who have been circumcised to be true followers of God.  Their confidence is in this external act and they expect the Gentiles to obey if they want to really become a part of the people of God. 

Yet, the real circumcision puts confidence in Christ and the indwelling Spirit of God.  Paul uses several interesting phrases and words to highlight the contrast.  He calls the Judaizers dogs, which was a derogatory way that Jews referred to Gentiles.  He calls them evildoers, which was another term used for those outside the people of God.  Instead of being the true circumcision, they were simply those who mutilate the flesh.  In other words, Paul is saying that the Judaizers think that they are the true Israel, the true circumcision, the true followers of God, but with their additions to simple faith in Christ, they have lost the gospel entirely. 

To drive this point home further, he gives a list of all of the reasons that he has to boast in the flesh and calls it all loss.  He is warning the Philippians that he has tried that path.  He knows all about putting confidence in the flesh and he knows that it all counts for nothing without Christ.  Rather, the true circumcision are those who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.  Instead of trusting in the flesh, in their own accomplishments, the true people of God trust only in Christ and the indwelling Spirit of God.  So then, where is your trust?  Are you trusting in your pedigree or what you have done or the faith of your parents or anything else other than Christ?  Listen to Paul and put your confidence in Christ.

Second, true/false gain (v. 7-8).

A second contrast is one between loss and gain.  Paul is instructing the Philippians to have real joy by recognizing what is true gain.  So, how does he distinguish between true/false gain?

False gain sacrifices Christ to hope in the accomplishments of the flesh.  The Judaizers would listen to Paul’s description of himself and think that he had much gain there.  Yet, what they did not realize is that putting your hope in that stuff (circumcision and adherence to the law) could only lead to the sacrifice of true faith in Christ.  You could not hope in the flesh and in Him at the same time.  Thus, their gain turns out to be great loss.  Listen to how Paul describes it in verse 7.  So then, what is true gain?

True gain sacrifices all hope in the flesh to know Christ.  Look at verse 8 with me.  All that stuff is loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  True gain is knowing Christ.  Paul does not mean simply knowing about Christ or intellectual ascent.  Rather, he is referring to the intimate, personal relationship that he has with Christ.  Normally he refers to Christ as ‘the Lord’ or ‘our Lord,’ but here he calls Him my Lord.  For Paul, losing his status as a respectable Jew was nothing compared to the great gain of Christ.  In fact, he goes even further by stating I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.  He is increasing the stakes at this point.  It is not just his status as a Jew, it is anything that would cause him to hope in the flesh or in this world that he considers worthless.  It is anything that would distract him from the pursuit of Christ that Paul considers as rubbish, or as the King James translates: dung.  The word possibly refers to that which would be thrown out to the dogs.  Paul gives us a striking term to show the contrast.  All that stuff is disgusting compared to knowing Christ. 

About a month ago, I had bagged up some grass to take off to the dump.  It was actually several bags and the Saturday that I was going to take it off was the day that Isaiah was born.  Thus, I could not take it.  When we got back, ten days later, it was disgusting.  It had been sitting on our carport for a few weeks and was nasty.  In order to dump it, I had to take it out of the bags.  The smell almost made me sick and the maggots at the bottom of each bag did not help.  Even now, it turns my stomach to think about it.  Brothers and sisters, that’s how I want to view everything that would keep me from knowing Christ.  I want to recall that smell, those maggots, the rubbish, every time I consider going after something other than Christ.  Why would we make such a ludicrous exchange?  Paul tells us: Don’t go after that, see it for what it is, namely dung, and forsake it all to go after Christ, for He is true gain!!

Third, true/false righteousness (v. 9).

Paul then contrast two forms of righteousness in verse 9.  Look at that verse with me.  How does he distinguish between true/false righteousness?

False righteousness comes from self through trying to obey the law.  This is what Paul had before Christ.  In such righteousness, he says that he was blameless.  In other words, he was as good as gets at following the rules of the Pharisee’s.  The problem is that such blamelessness or righteousness is worth nothing.  Our external obedience alone will never make us righteous before a Holy God.  Self-righteousness is always a false righteousness.

Rather, true righteousness comes from God through faith in Christ.  The only righteousness that counts for anything is the righteousness that is a gift from God and that we receive through faith in Christ.  This is what Paul is arguing in Romans 4.  Just as Abraham was not justified by his works but by his faith, so we are not justified by our works but by faith.  This removes any boasting in the flesh on our part because this righteousness is a gift.  God alone can give us this gift and He alone deserves the praise.  If you are trusting in your self to be righteous before God, then I encourage you with Paul to forsake such a path and flee to Christ.  Repent of your sins and place all your trust and all your faith in the finished work of Christ, who is our righteousness.

Fourth, true/false living (v.10-11).

Although this final contrast is not explicit in the text, I think it is implied in the passage as a whole and in particular in verses 10-11.  Look at those with me.  Do you see the paradox here?  False living runs from suffering and difficulty and serving anyone but self.  It fears death and has no hope beyond the grave.  But true living embraces suffering and has great hope in the resurrection of the dead.  Paul knows that part of knowing Christ is sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death.  He knows it because he is writing from prison and facing a possible death sentence.  The Philippians know it as well because they too are facing persecution for the sake of Christ.  Why does Paul tell them rejoice at such a time?  Because he knows that present suffering for Christ is a great reason to hope in future resurrection.  It is the power of Christ’s resurrection that both enables us to persevere in present difficulty and gives us hope for future deliverance.  True living is built around such truth.  False living is wasted on present comforts and passing pleasures, but true living looks to eternity with Christ.

Paul gives us some important contrasts in these verses.  Of course, the thread that runs through them all is Christ.  The true circumcision glories in Him.  True gain is in knowing Him.  True righteousness is through faith in Him.  And true living suffers with Him, always keeping an eye to His return.  Thus, it is not all that difficult to distinguish between the false and the true.  May we be a people who glory in, hope in, trust in and rejoice in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 13 August 2008 )

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