This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached on Sunday 4 October 2020. The Bible Reading is Philippians 3:1-11. You should be able to watch this on Emmanuel YouTube or Facebook.
I guess like me, many of you have boxes and drawers full of bumph / stuff that you can’t or won’t get rid of. Paula and I moved house nine times in 22 years and whilst we’ve thrown stuff away each time, it’s amazing what you can accumulate in 13 years – the length of time we’ve been in Billericay – both in the loft and garage.
I shred the older contents of my filing cabinets 2 or 3 times a year and fill three pink sacks each time, but I still have loads I don’t want to let go of and stuff I treasure/value for sentimental reasons.
What do you treasure? What will you never get rid of? Do you have anything that is worth holding on to for a lifetime? The answer, of course, is ‘yes’ but it won’t be found in your loft, or your garage or a filing cabinet. Paul describes what he values
This passage reminds believers of their need to stay focused on Jesus. Paul describes what a Christian isn’t, what a Christian is, and how you can become a Christian. We’re reminded here that you can’t earn salvation, it is a gift to be received – sometimes it’s easy for Christians to forget this. Salvation isn’t about knowing some things about Jesus; it’s about trusting in Jesus. So, if you’re unsure as to whether or not you are a Christian, I pray this passage would affirm your faith or enable you to come to know Jesus.
- The Same Old Story
Paul is in prison and he’s checking up on the Philippians, several years after planting the church, and he writes vs1: “… it is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”
Paul has told them these things before but it’s no trouble for him to repeat himself – just like any preacher! But he also says it’s a safeguard for them that he says the same things. In many ways, every church should be a ‘same things’ church telling the same old story. Yes, the way we worship and meet as a church has changed in these challenging times, and so has our approach to mission and ministry, but the message never changes.
We hold fast to the same truths of the Gospel ‘in season and out of season’
It’s worth remembering that Paul’s reminder to the Philippian church of the truths of the Gospel is a sign of his love and his ongoing concern for their wellbeing.
- Who Let The Dogs Out?
We see this in vs2 when he writes: “Watch out for those dogs.” For those dog lovers amongst us, I’m sure you realise Paul wasn’t referring to cute domestic pets, but rather dangerous dogs that run wild. Paul viewed false teachers like wild dogs who were intent in causing damage anyway which way they could.
I wonder how many of you remember that song ‘Who let the dogs out?’ Can you remember who sang it? The Baha Men. Can you remember the year? 2000. Yes, it was that long ago. Can you remember how it goes?
Anyway, ‘Who let the dogs out?’ may be a light hearted pop song but it was no laughing matter in Philippi because the answer to ‘Who let the dogs out?’ is simply this: the evil one did!
So why is Paul getting all hot under the collar? Because, vs3, those false teachers were saying that belief in Jesus is not enough. They put their confidence in the flesh. They were teaching that you need Jesus PLUS something else. And whenever Jesus PLUS is around it spells danger. Because it says that Jesus only is not enough for our salvation and that we must do something extra to be a Christian, which simply isn’t true. Jesus plus nothing equals everything and everything minus Jesus equals nothing.
So how does Paul respond? He goes on to tell them about himself.
- Impeccable Credentials
If ever anyone had the credentials to get into heaven by their own credentials it was Paul. He fulfilled all the necessary criteria which he outlines in vs4-6: “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.” Now that’s quite an impressive list.
He was born into a Jewish family in the tribe of Benjamin and circumcised on the eighth day just like the law commanded. No doubt his father and grandfather and great grandfather and all the generations before him were faithful Jews. In fact, they could trace their family history right back to Jacob. He was a strict Pharisee, the sort of man to follow all the laws to the letter. He knew how much to tithe, and he’d never mix his wool and his cotton. Paul was a fanatical Pharisee.
He’d done everything the law required of him! He even persecuted Christians. He had all the badges and he could tick all the boxes. If any human deserved a place in heaven it was Paul. But Paul says he has no confidence in those things for providing salvation. As we briefly consider what Paul had to say, we encounter several sources of false confidence.
a. Don’t put your confidence in a ritual. Paul says that he was “circumcised on the eighth day” (3:5a). His circumcision was done the correct way ‘on the eighth day’ (Gen 17:12). Those who were converts to Judaism could never claim to have been circumcised in this way. Today, many people put their confidence in spiritual rituals, like being baptized as an infant, or attending a wedding or a funeral. These aren’t enough for spiritual confidence. Paul went through the famous Jewish ritual for a boy, but he considered it to be of no advantage. Salvation is about becoming a new creation in Jesus, not about going through a particular ritual.
b. Don’t put your confidence in your race. Next in his self-portrait, Paul says that he was “of the people of Israel” (3:5b). Paul was a physical descendent of Abraham. He was no Gentile convert to Judaism; he was the real thing. Yet, this special privilege didn’t give him reason for assurance of salvation.
c. Don’t put your confidence in your rank. Paul goes on to add that he wasn’t only an Israelite, but he belonged to “the tribe of Benjamin” (3:5c). Paul didn’t come from a disrespected Israelite tribe, but from this distinguished tribe. When the Promised Land was divided among the twelve tribes, Jerusalem, the holy city, was in Benjamin’s territory. Yet, Paul says, as proud as that could make a Jew, it was of no ultimate value for granting him salvation.
d. Don’t put your confidence in your tradition. Traditions can be fine in and of themselves, but you should place no confidence in them when it comes to salvation. Being a traditionalist is of no more value than being a progressive if you aren’t focused on Jesus. Paul calls himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (3:5d). While he was fluent in the Greek language and understood their culture, he was also fluent in Hebrew and devoted to his traditional culture. However, he knew this wasn’t enough to bring him salvation. We too can’t rely on our cultural heritage or family tradition or church background for salvation.
e. Don’t put your confidence in your rule keeping. Next, Paul says “in regard to the law (he was) a Pharisee “(5e). Their name comes from an Aramaic term “the separated ones”. They loved their rules. They added to the commands of the Bible. So much so, it was hard for people to know what the actual biblical commands were. That’s who Paul was. He belonged to a morally superior group of Jews. He adopted a Pharisaical lifestyle. Many people today think that salvation comes by being a moral person. It’s the default mode of the human heart. But not for Paul.
f. Don’t put your confidence in your zeal. We certainly hear this claim today: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere and really believe it.” Well, it would be hard to fathom anyone more “sincere” than Saul of Tarsus. He wasn’t a Pharisee in name only. He was zealous. He says, “as for zeal, persecuting the church” (6a). Regarding his pre-conversion life, he writes to the Galatians 1:14b: “I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” His zeal was expressed through his persecution of the church (Acts 8:3; 9:1; 22:4-6; 26:10-11). Salvation doesn’t come by passion. People can be passionate about lots of things. They can be sincere, but they can be sincerely wrong. Salvation comes by knowing Jesus.
g. Don’t put your confidence in your obedience to the law. Paul wraps up his religious resume by saying “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (6b). Paul isn’t claiming sinless perfection, he is saying that his life was exemplary when it came to obeying the OT law. Whilst Paul’s public record of moral performance was stellar, he later placed it in the loss column.
- True Confidence
Vs7-9 Paul writes: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him …”
Paul thinks that all those good works and privileges are rubbish. In fact, the word is far stronger than that. Paul says literally that all his good deeds are dung or excrement. That is what the word really means – our translations are just too embarrassed to use it. But Paul makes no apologies. He wants us to see how deeply offensive to God false confidence is! Despite the fact he has an impressive CV, Paul makes it clear that his confidence is in Christ alone.
Paul teaches that if we want to grow in maturity, our true confidence should be in Jesus only. It’s not that Paul is not thankful for his background. You only have to look at Romans 9 to see how appreciative Paul is for his Jewish heritage. But Paul has discovered that the only way he can get right with God, the only way he can receive salvation, is to accept what Jesus has done for him. Because compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour, everything else is a pile of dung!
This zealous Pharisee turned into the zealous missionary for Jesus. This same Jesus he persecuted (Acts 9) became his Saviour, Lord, treasure and pearl of great price. Because of his conversion experience, you might say Paul traded a list of accomplishments for a list of afflictions. He lost friends, colleagues, his home, his security, his status and more. Paul writes about his experiences in his letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 11:23b-28 and lists 23 different ‘dangers’ he’s faced for the gospels sake:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Now that’s some list! He likes a list does Paul! But you must understand that Paul isn’t complaining, nor is he bragging. For Paul was committed to Jesus and viewed everything done in His name as ‘gain.’
True confidence also gives us hope. As I wrote in my blog last week, let us remember the hope that is ours in Jesus in, and through, difficult times. If ever there was a time for all of us to draw close to Jesus, it is now and as we do so, continue to offer to the world the hope and stability the gospel can give through this COVID crisis, bringing hope, and an eternal perspective, to the very pressing trials in which we find ourselves.
In 2017, Keith Getty, the writer of ‘In Christ Alone’ amongst many others, was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s annual birthday honours. He is the first hymn writer to be honoured by the Queen for contemporary Christian music.
Getty responded to his award, and the nature of the hymns he writes, by saying:
Nominal, shallow Christianity has no future, we must proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.
So! Let me ask you, where is your confidence? In what are you trusting? Are you trusting in your rituals, your race, your rank, your tradition, your rule-keeping, your zeal, or your obedience to the law? Are you a little too proud of your Christian heritage or your upbringing? What will enable you to stand before God and receive His grace instead of His judgment?
It maybe that some of you here, and some watching online, are still trusting in your own goodness to get to heaven. Paul was the best there was and yet even he failed. Confidence in our own deeds and accomplishments is as much a danger for us as it was for the Philippians.
Our confidence lies In Christ Alone.
IN CHRIST ALONE my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand!
Stuart Townend & Keith Getty
Copyright @ 2001 Thankyou Music