Session 12

Philippians Study – Session 12

(Philippians 3:1-11)

 

            The famous Westminster Catechism defines the chief purpose of humanity as “…glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.”  In other words, our primary purpose is to live in relationship with our Creator.  Augustine, the 4th century philosopher/theologian described us as being created with a God-shaped blank in our heart and he said our heart is restless until it finds its rest in God.  The creation story in Genesis makes it clear that we were created to live in fellowship or relationship with God.  In that beautiful story, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were driven from the Garden of Eden.  And that symbolizes the loss of fellowship with God that all humanity experiences because of the choice we all have made to disobey rather than obey.  The Bible calls that choice sin, and the result of sin is that we are estranged from God.  The great quest of all humanity is how to enter into or to renew our broken relationship with God that is the result of our sin.

            Historically, all efforts to restore the broken relationship between humanity and God can be divided into to large categories.

  1. Some say the relationship can be restored on the basis of what we do.  This is the way of works.  Just do enough good things and God will accept you back into fellowship with Him.  This method emphasizes self-righteousness.
  2. Others say the relationship can be restored only on the basis of what God has done on our behalf in the person of Jesus Christ.  This is the way of grace.  This method emphasizes God’s righteousness.

            From my understanding of Scripture, it seems clear to me that this second method is the way to restore our relationship with God.  As I see it, only two things are required to renew our broken relationship with our Creator.

  1. We have to let go of something.  Essentially, we have to let go of the idea that we can do anything to mend the broken relationship between God and us.  There is nothing we can do to be worthy of being accepted back into God’s good graces.  As the Scripture stays in Romans 3:9 – “There is none righteous, not even one…” and in Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”  To restore our broken relationship with God we must divest ourselves of the idea that we can somehow earn our way back into God’s favor by our actions.
  2. We have to cling to something.  Essentially, we have to cling to or accept into our lives what Romans 3:22 describes as “…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ…” 

I share all that because it has a direct bearing on our understanding of the first part of Philippians 3 at which we are going to look in this session.  In the first eleven verses of Philippians 3, Paul speaks of that of which he had let go and of that to which he clung in order to restore his broken relationship with God.

 

Philippians 3:1-7 – In these verses Paul says, in effect, that to enter into personal relationship with God he had to let go of the idea that he could earn that relationship through his own efforts.

Verse 1“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.  To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.”

“finally” – This is not the final finally of  Philippians!  He uses the same word again in 4:8. 

“rejoice in the Lord” – This is a repetition of the command in 2:18, thus the statement at the end of this verse about writing “the same things again…”

Verse 2 – This verse refers to a group of Jews in the early church who were insisting that for Gentiles to become followers of Christ, they first had to become Jewish proselytes and submit to the rite of circumcision.  When the gospel first began to spread to non-Jewish people that caused a great controversy in the church.  In Acts 15 a conference was held in Jerusalem of the key church leaders to address this issue.  The consensus was that Gentiles did not need to submit to the rites of Judaism to become followers of Christ.  But that did not satisfy some of the Christians who came from a Jewish background and they continued pressing the issue wherever Paul ministered.  Much of Paul’s writings in the New Testament and virtually the entire book of Galatians, were written to counter these people who were teaching that salvation required both law and grace.  In this verse Paul says some very strong things about this group that became known as Judaizers.

“beware” – The repeated use of this word, which means to be on guard or watch out for, adds strength to this statement.

In this verse Paul uses three very strong terms to describe these people who had infected the early church and who were teaching that a non-Jewish person, a Gentile, could not become a Christian without first becoming a Jew.

“dogs” – The orthodox Jews would sometimes refer to Gentiles as dogs.  Paul turns the tables on them and uses this pejorative term against them.  One writer says that like dogs “…these Judaizers snapped at Paul’s heals and followed him from place to  place ‘barking’ their false doctrines.  They were troublemakers and carriers of dangerous infection.” [Wiersbe, p.93]

“evil workers” – They were teaching the Gentiles were saved by works plus faith.  The good works they were advocating were actually evil because they were barriers to people coming into fellowship with God.  They did not understand the basic Christian truth that good works are the result of salvation, not the cause.  Or, as Dr. Curtis Vaughn put it, good works are the fruit, not the root, of salvation.

“false circumcision” – This is actually a play on words in the Greek that does not translate well into English.  The word translated “false circumcision” actually means mutilation.  These people were teaching that Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes and be circumcised before becoming Christians.  Paul is saying their teaching is false and that no external religious practice—be it circumcision or baptism or tithing or taking the Lord’s Supper—is sufficient to cleanse a person from his/her sins.  Those who advocate such are spiritual mutilators!

Verse 3 – In this verse Paul contrasts himself with the false teachers of verse 2. 

“true circumcision” – As opposed to those who mutilate the idea of salvation by grace through faith by insisting on physical circumcision to gain God’s approval, Paul focuses on the condition of one’s heart. (see Romans 2:28-29)

“worship in the Spirit of God” – Instead of relying on his outward works, Paul casts himself on the mercy of God.

“glory in Christ Jesus” -  Those who depend on their works for salvation quite naturally are always looking at their works and finding comfort in them.  Those who depend on Christ for salvation quite naturally look to Him and glory in His work.

“put no confidence in the flesh” – Paul normally uses the term “flesh” not to mean our physical body but our old, sinful nature.  He is saying here that there is nothing we can do in and of ourselves to restore our broken fellowship with God.  We are incapable of dealing with our sin problem in our own strength.

Verse 4 In this verse Paul turns the tables on the Judaizers.  In effect he says, “Okay.  If you want to insist that we can earn salvation by what we do, I have done as much, if not more than anyone.  If anyone has a right to think they could be dedicated enough to gain God’s approval, I have that right!”

Verses 5-6 – In these verses Paul makes an impressive list of his accomplishments. 

“circumcised the eighth day” - Converts to Judaism were circumcised in adulthood...descendants of Ishmael were circumcised at age 13...only pure-blooded Jews were circumcised on the 8th day...stresses the fact that Paul was born into the Jewish faith and had known its privileges and observed its ceremonies since  birth...

“of the nation Israel” - When Jews wanted to stress their special relationship with God, it was the word “Israelite” they used... in using the word “Israel” Paul was saying he could trace his ancestry back to Abraham through Abraham’s son Isaac, the father of Jacob who was renamed by God, Israel...that ancestry was considered superior to those who were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, or Ishmael, Abraham’s other son...

“of the tribe of Benjamin” - Not only was he a true Israelite, he  belonged to the elite tribe of Israel...Benjamin was the child of Jacob and Rachel...he was the only one of the 12 patriarchs to be born in the Promised Land...this was the tribe from which Saul came, the first King of Israel...

“a Hebrew of Hebrews” - Some debate about what this phrase means, but probably referring to fact that Paul retained his Jewish culture and continued speaking the Hebrew language though the world in his day was dominated by Greek culture...

“as to the law, a Pharisee” - To the Jews of the 1st century, a Pharisee was one who had reached the absolute pinnacle of religious achievement...the Pharisees were orthodox in their doctrine and meticulously faithful in carrying-out their religious duties...Pharisees were considered the religious elite...if anyone were going to heaven, it would be the Pharisees...

“a persecutor of the church” - May seem strange that Paul would list this as an achievement...but point he is making is that he was so zealous for Judaism, he was intent on destroying by any means its opponents...

“as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” - There was no part of the law as interpreted by Paul’s peers in which he was lacking...

Point of all that is that in eyes of his family, his friends, and those who trained him, Paul was a model person.  He was no doubt admired, respected, looked up to, and emulated by others.  However, none of that was enough to restore his broken relationship with God.

Verse 7 is an amazing verse.  Paul says that all the things that he once valued so highly, the things for which he had striven for all of his life, he had to give up.  He “counted as loss” those things “for the sake of Christ.”  The word translated “counted” in verse 7 and used twice again in verse 8 carries the idea of evaluating or assessing.  Paul looked at his life realized he was depending on the wrong thing to restore his broken fellowship with God.  That relationship could never be restored on the basis of what Paul did.  It was restored on the basis of faith or belief in sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

 

Philippians 3:8-11 -  In these verses Paul tells us what he gained as a result of his faith commitment to Jesus.  He says he gained three things:

1.      He gained a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus

1.      The essence of being a Christian is living in relationship with Christ...just as it is impossible to understand—

--marriage apart from the husband/wife relationship...

--parenthood apart from the parent/child relationship...

it is impossible to understand Christianity apart from the relationship between an individual believer and Christ...what does it mean to be--

--married?...means to have a personal relationship with your husband or wife...

--parent?...means to have a personal relationship with your son or daughter...

--Christian?...means to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ...to know Him and be known by Him...

2.      Twice in the verses just read Paul refers to that intimate relationship Christians have with Christ...

--in v.8 speaks of “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...”

--in v.10 describes the goal of his life with the statement “that I may know Him...”

...and the words translated “knowing” in v.8 and “know” in v.10 come from a word which almost always refers to more than merely intellectual knowledge...it refers to the kind of knowledge which comes as a result of personal experience...it’s a knowledge which operates not just in the realm of the intellect or the mind...instead, this kind of knowledge also operates in the realm of the emotion or the heart...

3.      In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the OT used in NT times) this word was used to describe the intimate relationship between a husband and wife such as in the statement, “Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain.” [Gen.4:1]...and when Paul uses this word to describe our relationship with Christ he is saying, “One of the things we have gained as Christians is an intimate, close, personal relationship with Christ.”

2.      He gained righteousness

1.      “Righteousness” is one of the great words of the NT, used more than 90 times...the root of the word carries the idea of being correct or innocent...in the NT to be “righteous” means to be “right with or innocent before God”...and that was the goal of Paul’s life...

2.      In v.9 Paul uses the word “righteousness” two times and in doing so sums up the NT teachings on the subject...

--in first part of verse 9 speaks of “...not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law...” - Before coming to faith in Christ, Paul tried to gain “rightness” with God or God’s approval through his own efforts...he thought if he kept enough laws and rules and regulations, observed enough religious rituals, persecuted enough Christians he could earn or merit righteousness...but none of that worked...

--in the last part of verse 9 speaks of “...the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith...” - NT teaches over and over again that being right with God does not come as a result of what we do...it is the result of what Jesus did on our behalf...the only way to right standing with God is through accepting by faith what Jesus accomplished for us through His life, death, and resurrection...

3.   We don’t earn righteousness...it is conferred on us, given to us as a gift from God...it’s one of those things we gain in Christ...

3.      He gained resurrection power

1.      Twice, once in v.10 and once in v.11, Paul makes a reference to the resurrection...

--in v.10 speaks of knowing “the power of His resurrection...”

--in v.11 speaks of attaining “the resurrection from the dead...”

2.      Without question, the key event of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus...it is what sets Christianity apart from all other world religions...and Paul reminds us here that because of the resurrection, we have gained two things...

--first, have gained power for living today...that’s the idea behind the phrase “the power of His resurrection”...we have available to us the same power which raised Jesus from the dead...[read  about an event which happened in a New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses parade...one of the beautiful, flower covered floats suddenly sputtered and came to a complete stop because it was out of gas...and ironically, the float which ran out of gas was sponsored by one of our nations’ major oil companies...think of the irony of that....] but, that’s no more ironic than Christians, we have the very power of God in their lives, going through life dejected, defeated, and discouraged...the next time you--

--get discouraged...

--feel like can’t go on...

--are up against what appears to be insurmountable barrier...

remember that you have in your life the same power which raised Jesus from the dead...

--second, because of His resurrection we have the assurance that we too are destined for a resurrection from the dead...the blessed hope that we have as Christians is that our existence is not confined to this world...we have the assurance for ourselves and our loved ones that their is life beyond this life...for believers, death is not defeat, it is victory.

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