Resumes and Righteousness
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Philippians 3:1–3:11
“RESUMÉS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS”
1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 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-- 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. 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 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-- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Introduction (verse 1).
Paul had barely gotten to the halfway point of his letter to the believers in Philippi when he said, “Finally.” Obviously, he was not finished writing, but before he went any further, he needed to pause and remind them to “rejoice in the Lord.” “Finally,” for Paul, did not mean that he was nearing the end. The term served as a transitional phrase that might better be understood to mean “And now for the rest of what I have to say.”
There was more he would add—two chapters more—but before he did, he needed to remind them once again to “rejoice in the Lord.”
“Joy” is the mood that permeates this letter...specifically, the kind of Christ-centered “joy” that exists amidst adverse circumstances. Keep in mind that at the time that he wrote this letter, Paul was incarcerated in Rome and awaiting the appeal of his case to Caesar. He had been arrested on trumped-up charges and had faced several hearings already. Although his freedom to travel about and preach the Gospel had been taken from him—at least for the time being—he still managed to write and dispatch several letters of encouragement and exhortation to churches he helped found. These letters became a permanent part of the Scriptures and are sometimes referred to as the “prison epistles.”
Frequently within these letters, we find Paul unashamedly repeating himself. One of my college professors would begin every new class day with a review of the previous day’s lesson, reminding us that “repetition is the mother of learning.” Here in verse 1, Paul would agree, saying, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” The “safety” (“ασφαληs”) to which he refers means “safeguard” or “security.” By restating what had become his custom to say, a “measure of protection” would be provided for his readers that would keep them from needless spiritual “danger.”
This passage, then, is both cautionary and reassuring in its intent. In the first place, in verses 2 through 7, we find...
A cautionary warning against righteousness by works (verses 2-7).
We are immediately exposed to a threefold warning (“Βλεπω”) f.rom the apostle in verse 2: “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” This verb of command suggests that the readers needed to be continually on the alert for those whom were considered to be enemies of the Gospel. The translators would not have been in error to have placed an exclamation point at the end of this verse. In other words, “Take notice!”
Paul is not cautioning against three separate groups of people. “The dogs...the evildoers...(and) those who mutilate the flesh” all refer to the same persons...namely, those itinerant Jewish teachers who professed to follow Christ, but insisted in maintaining the Mosaic Law in varying degrees as a requirement to be “truly saved.”
They were known as “Judaizers,” and Paul often engaged in verbal disputes with them. In fact, so great was his disdain for what they taught that he labeled them “dogs”...a term normally applied by Jews to Gentiles. In a culture like ours that spends billions of dollars each year on pets, we can scarcely appreciate the contempt that ancient society had for “dogs,” which were both scavengers—in eating whatever street garbage they could find—and vicious—attacking the weak and helpless. That is the sense in which Paul uses the word here. And even though they may not be called “Judaizers” today, false teachers remain among us. You have probably seen them in your neighborhood...or perhaps on television,..or maybe in the church down the street.
The “mutilation” of “the flesh” refers to the insistence on the part of the “Judaizers” in Paul’s day that males needed to be circumcised according to the Law’s stipulations in order for their right standing with God to be valid. Such a heresy was countered by Paul in verse 3 when he said in response, “We are the true circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
The “circumcision” that God seeks, according to the apostle, is that of the heart (cf. Romans 2:25-29), a separation from sin and unto the Lord. Paul is not speaking against the Law as much as he is contrasting obedience to it with walking by means of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:16). In other words, what pleases the Lord is inward conformity rather than outward compliance. True obedience comes from within...from the heart, not by maintaining an external standard. Tacking on any “plus-factor” to grace eliminates grace altogether.
If anyone had reason to “put...confidence in the flesh,” it would have been Paul. Listen again to verses 4 through 6 as Paul blows the dust off his résumé: “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: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
Impressive credentials indeed! But Paul is certainly not merely showing off his pedigree and diplomas. When he was forced elsewhere to provide a similar list in defense of his apostleship among the Corinthians, he did so embarrassingly (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). Far from boasting about himself, he is instead arguing that grace and self-confidence are in radical antithesis with one another. John Calvin later agreed, writing that anything “in the flesh” is outside of Christ.
In these verses, Paul cites several reasons for which he might have found reason to boast. Each related to his status as a loyal, law-keeping Jew from birth. If anyone was able to lay claim to a “righteous” life obtainable by means of works, it would have been Saul of Tarsus (cf. Acts 9:11): the Pharisee, the star-pupil of Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3), the enemy of Christ, the “persecutor of the church,” the “blameless” law-keeper. By both birth and personal choice, he was the “poster boy” of conservative Judaism.
But then he met Christ, and everything changed. Through time and testing he learned that neither nationalism nor any form of works-based righteousness counted for anything in God’s economy. When one considers Paul’s “curriculum vitae,” his statement in verse 7 is nothing short of amazing. It begins with a strong contrasting conjunction (“αλλα”) intended to distinguish an “imperfect righteousness” by works with the “perfect righteousness” that is found by faith in Christ alone. He writes, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
Beginning here, the apostle employs a number of accounting terms. As he considers the “assets” of his own “works-based righteousness” in comparison to the impeccable merits of Christ, he concludes that the former were grossly inferior.
He elaborates on that in the following verses, but perhaps we should pause here long enough to consider what it is that you are trusting in and holding onto with the hope that it will get you to heaven. Are you truly able to understand that the only “righteousness” that will avail on your behalf is that which is imputed to you by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we are told, “For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And listen carefully to what Paul writes in Romans 3(:21-24): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus alone was able to live the perfect life that God demands...and, because He did, He alone was able to die a death that God’s righteous judgment for sin required. Any attempt to boast of your own “righteousness” before God is a “slap in the face” to the finished work of Christ.
No matter how impressive your resumé or list of references, the only thing that will avail for you on the day you stand before God is whether you “know”—really “know”—Jesus Christ. And that brings us to the “plus” side of the equation. If “righteousness” is not obtained through our best efforts, then how do we attain it? Paul answers by giving us...
A certain word about righteousness by faith (verses 8-11).
When Paul writes of “knowing Christ” in verse 8, he is referring to a “personal” and “experiential” relationship with Jesus. Such “knowledge” does not just mean “possessing an item of thought in the mind,” but grasping a truth so firmly that it changes one’s life.
You see, it is possible to “know all about” someone and yet not “really know” them at all. I doubt that has been more true at any time in history other than our own. “Entertainment Tonight,” People magazine, and today’s social media illustrate this. Information has never been so abundant and accessible. We may know a lot about a lot of things, but when all is said and done, we actually “know” very little at all.
It is often that way when it comes to Scripture. When I was a child in Sunday School I was given a prize for having memorized the order of the books of the Bible...but I couldn’t tell you very much about what any of them said. Similarly, many people “know about” Jesus—where He was born, much of what He said and did, and even that He died on a cross and rose from the grave—but they do not “really know” Him. And tragically, without “knowing” Him in a “personal” and “experiential” way is to not “know” Him at all. Some of you need to hear that and take heed.
Divorcing doctrine from life is not a slight misstep but a deadly departure en route to eternity. A correct understanding of what the Bible teaches is the prerequisite to right living, and the order is important. Our conduct shouts the content of what we believe. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “There is nothing which is more insulting to God than to profess Him with your lips and deny Him in your life.” Separating doctrine from devotion and duty will always destroy Christian living.
Paul left no room for “otherwise thinking” in verses 8 through 11. Think of it this way: one’s future does not rest in the past, but in the present. What I mean by that is that our “right standing” with God is not at all dependent on anything that we may have inherited at birth or received or accomplished in life. Heaven becomes a settled fact when we have turned from sin and self, and entrusted ourselves to Jesus Christ—and to Him alone—as Savior and Lord. The Apostle John wrote in the opening chapter of his Gospel that those who “become children of God...were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). And that transformation is affirmed—both to us and to others—as we live out in our daily lives what we profess to believe.
Paul expanded on that thought in verses 8 and 9. Continuing to employ bookkeeping terms, he wrote, “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.”
Those words need to be read slowly and often. Although they are very logical, there is much here to digest. While they may seem at first glance to be radical, they merely reflect the words of Jesus, who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
To “know” Christ as Paul describes it here is of “surpassing worth” to “knowing” anyone or anything else. The failure to realize that is to admit that one’s love for this life and this world are of “superior value” to “knowing Christ.” And time will reveal that choice to have been the most foolish and damning a person could ever have made.
The point is made emphatic by the use of a rather “vulgar” term in verse 8. Everything else, Paul says, including our background and all of our noteworthy accomplishments are “count(ed)...as rubbish.” The Greek term is “σκυβαλον,” and was used to describe everything from “garbage” to “excrement.” This is the only place the word is used in the New Testament. It graphically illustrates that any law-keeping, works-based attempt at self-justification is not just worthless, but noxious and even abhorrent.
You can try to keep the Law if you choose, but understand this: you must keep it in its entirety. Moses told his fellow-Israelites, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:25). James (2:10) throws a “wet blanket” on that notion that God “grades on the curve” when he writes, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
What’s more, we need to be clear that the “righteousness” of which Paul speaks is both positional and practical. That means that both the declaration of our “righteousness” by God, as well as its demonstration through the lives that we live, are gifts to us “through faith in Christ.” As Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes clear, the purpose of the Law is to expose our inherent sinfulness and drive us to Christ...not to more Law or to more earnest but attempts to keep it, but to Christ Himself.
The answer to “right standing” with God is to “know (Christ) and the power of his resurrection.” Who among us would not want that same “power”? But before there can be a “resurrection,” there must of necessity be a “death.” Paul understood that, which is why he immediately adds that to “know him and the power of his resurrection,” he must first “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” It was Karl Barth who wrote, “To know Easter means, for the person knowing it, as stringently as may be: to be implicated in the events of Good Friday.” There must be a dying to self before there can be a resurrection.
Of course, God is incomprehensible in that He can never be “known” in the ultimate, final, and complete sense. His gracious self-disclosure makes it possible to “know” Him truly, but His infinity and incomprehensibility make it impossible to “know” Him fully. Even in heaven we will continually be growing in our “knowledge” of Him throughout the eternal ages to come. Nevertheless, we can “know” Him personally and intimately now, and we should be growing in our knowledge of Him and relationship with Him with every passing day.
“Resurrection” applies only to those who have first experienced “death.” Christian life is cross-centered in its character, even as we live presently through the “power” made available through Christ’s “resurrection.” The followers of Christ are forever marked by the cross. As one writer has expressed it, “The heavenly Lion, one must never forget, is a slain Lamb.”
To “know” Christ is to fully identify with Him...His life of sufferings, His death, and His resurrection. For Paul, “knowing Christ Jesus” meant to join oneself to Him personally, powerfully, painfully, and practically. That was his purpose...this was his pursuit. May it be ours as well.
This passage has been described by one author as “the quintessential expression of... Christian life.” What that means is that in order to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we must abandon all previous “religious experience” in terms of it having any value in gaining a “right standing” with God. It means to rely fully and completely on Christ as the sole source and means of our “righteousness.”
Furthermore, it means to understand that the ultimate aim of such “righteousness” is “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ” by experiencing “the power of His resurrection” through the energizing presence of His Spirit. As we participate in His sufferings and become conformed to Him in His death we come to “know” Him more fully. In short, it means that all of the Christian life is stamped with the Divine imprint of His cross. Anything less, is “Christian” in name only.
The Christian life is not merely a matter of “personal salvation” and “ethical living.” It is first and foremost a matter of “knowing Christ Jesus (as) Lord.” So it is with the “resurrection” of which Paul speaks. Perhaps its surprises you when I say that the ultimate goal of “resurrection” is not “everlasting life,” per se, but rather Christ Himself. We will see that more clearly in the passage we plan to look at next Sunday (cf. Philippians 3:12-16).
There is coming a day when all of our personal achievements, accolades, and accomplishments will have evaporated into thin air. Our resumés, references, and recommendations will matter for nothing. The only thing that will matter on that day will be whether or not we “know” Jesus Christ...“know” Him, not just “know about” Him.
We must never forget that it is God’s love that has moved Him to communicate Himself to us so that we might be able to “know” Him in the first place. All that we “know” about God is what He has been pleased to reveal. And what He has revealed we are accountable to believe and respond to. Romans 5:8 tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Do you believe that? Have you responded to Him in faith?
Life is short and uncertain. Our lives must be Christ-centered and cross-centered if they are to count for anything at all. Let us not dare lose sight of the fact that there would have been no “resurrection” without there first having been a cross. But let us be equally aware that it is by “the power of his resurrection” that we are enabled to live as those who are marked by the cross and assured of final glory.
Real progress in the Christian life consists of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:29), and that means becoming identified with Him in His death and resurrection. This means more than an intellectual assent...it means that, by an act of the will, we have surrendered to Him as Lord and are seeking daily to live in obedience to Him.
The Lord’s Supper
An aspect of our walking in obedience to Christ is in our keeping the ordinances that He has left for His Church. The first of these is water baptism, the act by which we, as His followers, make our public profession of faith in Him as Savior and Lord. This we do once.
But there is a second ordinance which we observe repeatedly as we look back at His death on our behalf, His bodily resurrection from the grave, and with anticipation to His return. Some call it “Communion”...others know it as “the Lord’s Supper.” Neither adds anything to our faith, but rather serves as the confirmation of that faith...much as a “seal” that is affixed to a document. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are outward, visible signs of an inward, spiritual grace. Just as a wedding ring does not add to the content of the promises a couple pledges to one another, wearing the ring confirms those promises which have been made.
As the Table is opened this morning, I remind you that our Lord’s invitation to eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup is made only to those who have professed Christ by faith and sealed their faith through baptism. If you are not a Christian, then we ask that you abstain when the elements are passed before you.
The Lord’s Supper is also for those who are presently walking in faithful obedience to Him. If you are allowing unrepentant sin to remain unconfessed in your heart, then I urge you clearly hear these words of Scripture and to repent of that sin and vow with His help to forsake it:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
I’ll ask the members of our church to please stand and we will say our church covenant together. (Be seated)
I will now pray, and then we will distribute the elements. As you receive them, please hold them until we can eat and drink together. (Pray)