Philippians 3:1-11 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 his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
I love the book of Philippians. There is an intensity and earnestness in the language Paul uses throughout the book that emphatically puts Jesus on display as the supreme treasure that he really is. There is a sharp edge to the way in which he wants the Philippians to live a life with the singular purpose of making Jesus the center of everything. Paul is all in on Jesus and spends 4 chapters showing what that means. He writes in such a way that these verses ought to grab us by the shoulders and shake us. Chapter 3 is dialing up the intensity of us seeing what his life looks like as a follow of Jesus.
These eleven verses show the exclusivity of Christianity. Other religions lay out ways to make yourself right with God through outward acts of good deeds. One afternoon I had a Mormon show up at my door to share with me about his religion. Some of what he said sounded Christian, yet all of what he was saying was leading towards having a better life. Become a Mormon and you will do better in business, your family will be more moral, and you will have a happier life.
When he finished, I said I had one question about what he believed. How do I get right with God? How can my relationship with God be restored because of what sin has done to cut it off? He said that you live a good, moral life that is pleasing to God. My follow up question to that was, if I were to die in the next few days, how would I know if my good deeds were good enough? He didn’t have an answer.
He didn’t have an answer because he was putting confidence in the flesh. The exclusivity of Christianity is that we put no confidence in the flesh. Our salvation is not based on doing. Jesus did the doing. We bring nothing to the table. We offer nothing. Jesus offers everything. May we never become so familiar with this amazing truth, that we cease to be in wonder of it.
Paul is writing to people that know the gospel. Paul started the church in Philippi. He has taught them the gospel, yet here he is reminding them of the snares of putting confidence in anything else other than Jesus. There will always be the subtle pull and danger of putting our confidence in the flesh.
When I was a teenager I was in an orienteering course, learning how to use a compass and a map to navigate through the woods. I learned that it is really important to shoot a straight bearing as I was walking through the woods. If I was off slightly, over time I would get way off from where I was supposed to get to. Paul is warning the Philippians to continue to be on guard against putting any confidence in the flesh. This can always sneak into our thinking and over time we will move away from the gospel and away from knowing Jesus. This can happen in subtle ways and in hundreds of different ways in our lives. We have to be on guard. Where faith is absent, confidence in the flesh is present. There is no middle ground.
Paul is helping the Philippians keep a clear focus on the gospel and its implications. May God keep us as a church for decades to come clearly focused on the gospel. May our focus never get fuzzy or hazy, leading us to drift away from what the gospel is or where our supreme worth lies. Jesus is our supreme worth.
REJOICE IN THE LORD
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you (Philippians 3:1).”
This is how Paul starts chapter 3, moving towards a closing in this book. He uses the word finally. Let’s pay attention to what Paul is saying here. He’s telling us to rejoice in the Lord. To rejoice in Jesus.
There’s been much said about rejoicing and joy up until this point, and he will continue to hammer this in the last two chapters. He has rejoiced in Christ being proclaimed (1:18). He has rejoiced in pouring out his life for the good of the Philippians (2:17). He has talked about the Philippians rejoicing in seeing Epaphroditus again (2:30). He has used the word joy four times up until this point in the letter.
So clearly he is showing us that followers of Christ ought to have lives marked by a robust, healthy emotion of gladness centered on Jesus Christ. This will be what guards us against putting confidence in the flesh. We don’t guard against confidence in the flesh by only believing truth with our minds. We are commanded here to have an emotion in our heart that matches what we believe in our minds; joy in Christ. You are commanded to to enjoy Jesus.
This isn’t burdensome for Paul to write these things to the Philippians again and again. This isn’t tedious for him, rather it is desirous for him. What he is writing is a safeguard for the Philippians.
He knows that they are prone to wander from the gospel, so he is writing these next ten verses as a safeguard for them. We are all prone to wander from our trust and hope being in Jesus, and putting it in other things. This is a wake up call. Don’t let yourself be sleepy! Don’t wander! Take great gladness in Jesus.
He moves into the next ten verses by showing us the two ways every human can live. You only have two options in this life. You can live by putting your hope in yourself or things around you, or you can live by putting your hope in Jesus.
NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out fo those who mutilate the flesh (v. 2).”
In verse two he says we are to be on the lookout for dogs, evildoers and those who mutilate the flesh. He says that those who rejoice in Jesus are the true circumcision. If you are unfamiliar with this type of language in the Bible, this will sound really strange. Why is he talking about mutilating our bodies? Why is he talking about circumcision?
We have to go back to Genesis 17 to see the first mention of circumcision. It was given by to God to Abraham as a symbol of the covenant God had established between them. It was a sign that Abraham and his offspring (the people of Israel) were holy and set apart to God, and belonged to God. God did not set this up as a way for Abraham to earn his salvation, rather it was a symbol of God choosing and saving him. When God gave the law to Moses, circumcision was set up as a national ordinance. All males born into the nation of Israel were to receive circumcision as a sign of belonging to the one true God.
This act of circumcision as a sign of belonging to God stopped as the New Testament times began. We see in Galatians 6:15 that Paul says circumcision now counts for nothing. We see in Colossians 3:11 that our identity in Christ is not dependent on circumcision or what nationality or background we have. We see in Romans 4:11 that when God gave circumcision to Abraham that it was only meant to be a seal of the covenant God had made with him, never a way to earn covenant status with God. It was never a way to earn salvation or earn God’s good graces.
Paul is telling the Philippians to be on guard against those who are saying you have to be circumcised. He calls them dogs, which is a cutting play on words. Don’t think about a golden retriever when he uses the word dogs. Think about a mangy, grimy, disease-carrying dog. The Jews associated dogs with impurity. The Jews thought the Gentiles were like dogs, but Paul is saying they are actually the dogs because of their confidence in the flesh.
He describes them as evildoers. Which means those who are putting their worth on the basis of their own good deeds. Even our good deeds, done in a way that tries to earn salvation, are evil before God.
He says what they are doing is putting their hope in the act of cutting up their body as a sign of their superiority. They are putting themselves through the pointless pain of circumcision, which does absolutely nothing for them for eternity! Like the Mormon at my doorstep, the hope he has in being made right with God is hanging on outward acts of his body.
These are the people Paul is warning against.
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (v. 3).” Pauls says that the dogs practice false circumcision, but followers of Jesus are the true circumcision. Rather than confidence in outward acts of the body, we worship by an inward act of the heart.
Paul gives the three evidences of those who are rejoicing in Jesus. This is so helpful to have in your mind. Most people in our culture are going to say they are Christians, but are living by taking confidence in the flesh. These three evidences help us know if we are truly rejoicing in Jesus and taking confidence in him. These three evidences can also give us razor sharp explanations as to why others are putting confidence in the the flesh, while they are saying they are Christians.
First, he says the true circumcision worships through the Spirit of God. This is the opposite of putting confidence in our own human nature. True worshipers of God have had the Holy Spirit take up residency in their hearts so that all their service to God is through the Spirit. True worshipers of God recognize that any service offered up to God comes through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not through our own grit and determination. Worship through the Spirit of God is devoid of prideful confidence and filled with humble recognition of the Spirit’s work in their heart.
Second, he says the true circumcision glories in Christ Jesus. We glory in Jesus who allowed his body to be mutilated on the cross. Jesus’ scourged, battered, bloody, pierced body was the cost so that we could be made the true circumcision. We glory in that. We revel in that. We marvel in that work. We don’t believe in the historical truth of Jesus dying on the cross in the same way we believe in the historical truth that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This isn’t merely a fact we believe with our mind. We boast in Jesus. We take joy in Jesus. We glory in Jesus.
Thirdly, he says the true circumcision puts no confidence in the flesh. We do not put even a little weight in our own self being able to get right with God. Jesus carried all the freight. We recognize we can do nothing, and Jesus did everything. That is glorying in Christ Jesus.
Paul goes on to say that if anyone could boast in the flesh, it would have been him. “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 (vs. 4-6).”
Paul is saying that his status as a Jew of Jews is over and above any of these dogs that are taking confidence in their own flesh. He is establishing his legitimacy to say don’t take confidence in the flesh. He did it better than anyone!
Paul says not only was he circumcised, but he was circumcised on the very day that Israel was commanded to circumcise their boys (Lev. 12:3). He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the only son that Jacob had who was born in the Promise Land (Gen. 35:16-18), and the tribe was the only tribe to join Judah in remaining loyal to King David after the northern kingdom’s secession. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin became the catalyst for rebuilding the temple after it was destroyed during Israel’s exile.
He gives three personal achievements to say why he is a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was a Pharisee. He was specifically devoted to studying and teaching the law to others. He proved his fervor and devotion to the law by trying to destroy the church. He was complicit in killing Christians because they were a threat to his confidence in the flesh. And he was blameless before the law. He was strictly obedient to it. This was not a man of only words, but a man of words and action.
Paul establishes his legitimacy as one who had taken confidence in the flesh more so than any other dog, evildoer and mutilator of the flesh. He had done it all and had done it better than any of them. This would be the equivalent of Derek Jeter saying he now hates the Yankees. It would be like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin saying they had renounced communism and were now capitalists. Paul had taken confidence in the flesh more so than anyone, and now he is renouncing it completely.
CONFIDENCE IN JESUS
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (v. 7).”
Don’t rush past small words in the Bible. The word but in verse 7 is glorious. This is the pivot point. Paul has now changed. The guy who had put his trust and hope in all of his elite outward acts of the body no longer does that.
Whatever gain, whatever confidence in the flesh he could have had, he now considers that as nothing for the sake of Christ. Jesus is now the lens by which he sees everything. Jesus is now the basis for which he does anything. He puts no confidence in the flesh now and puts all his hope in Jesus. He counts all as loss and Jesus as gain. He considers- he thinks and esteems Jesus as everything as he takes an inventory of his life.
Paul is now leveraging everything he has for Jesus. I can remember back as early as my teenage years, considering what I wanted my life to look like as an adult. I don’t know where these ideas came from, because no one told me to think this way. What I wanted was to get a good paying job, get married to an attractive girl, buy a nice house, and take some good vacations every year. I didn’t aspire to live an upper class lifestyle or get super wealthy. I wanted to have a nice, comfortable life. I wanted some Jesus and some nice stuff and to live comfortably. I didn’t want to go live a life of sin. I just wanted a nice life and a side of Jesus with it (although I didn’t realize it as clearly as this at the time).
I didn’t recognize at the time that what I was doing was hoping in my flesh. In this warped, subtle gospel prosperity way, I thought that being a Christian meant having a nice, middle class life. What I was doing was putting Jesus as the side dish to my fleshly banquet table. Jesus is not a side dish to your life. He’s the main course. He’s the entire banquet spread! Will you have him as such?
Paul explains more in verses 8 through 10 what his life looks like now that he has counted everything as loss for the sake of Christ. “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 (vs. 8-10).”
The life that Paul now leads no longer is putting confidence in himself but placing his hope, longing and joy in gaining Christ; his supreme worth. Paul is now leveraging everything he once had as a Hebrew of Hebrews in order that he may maximize his joy in Christ. He is not living a life to earn a right standing before God, he is leveraging his life to experience the supreme worth of knowing Jesus.
Paul wants to gain Christ and know Christ. To know Jesus more is to gain far greater riches than a nice, upper middle class life. Do you desire Jesus in this way? Do you want to know him; really know him? There are lots of people who know things about Jesus. They have facts in their head or ideas in their mind about Jesus. They have a superficial, shallow understanding of him.
Satan knows about Jesus. Satan has talked to Jesus. That is not the knowing that is going on in these verses.
Do you know Jesus in such a way that he is supremely worthy so that you can say with confidence that to live is Christ and to die is gain. There is a deepening and expanding understanding that comes through knowing Jesus more and more so that you see more of his power and glory. To know Jesus is to have a heart that wants to see him face to face more than anything else in this world. More than a 4-5 bedroom house with a fenced backyard. More than a put-together spouse. More than a couple vehicles that run well and look nice. More than children that don’t embarrass you in front of other people.
For Paul and for every other Christian, our hearts were once dark and blinded to knowing Jesus. At some point God shined in our hearts and gave us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). To know Jesus is to know the glory of God. Because that light has shined in our hearts we have access to God’s throne room. We have eyes to see the beauty of his glory, the steadfastness of his love, and the awesomeness of his righteousness (Jer. 9:23-24). Our knowledge of God and knowing of Jesus ought not to stay stagnant, but ever increasing. We can go further up and further into the mysteries and wonders of knowing Jesus Christ.
The supreme reward of heaven will not be the absence of pain or the perfection of beauty, although those will be wonderful. That will be the icing on the cake. The supreme reward of heaven, the banquet feast of heaven, will be knowing Jesus more than we have ever known him in this world. We will see him face to face. May that be your greatest longing today. May that longing be the lens by which you see your world. May that longing only grow more intense as you grow old.
In some ways I am even asking if you have experienced something you can’t fully describe. There is a knowing of Christ in this life that surpasses our ability to express it in words and understand it fully with our minds. Paul talks in Ephesians 3:19 of knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. We know Jesus in a way that surpasses our ability to understand it. But we can describe it on some level and Paul is describing his experience of it in these verses.
How does this happen in our heart? It comes through faith and depends on faith every second of our lives. At 24 years old, through the work of the Holy Spirit using the book of Philippians and Romans 9, I was awakened out of my Americanized, fleshly desires for confidence in the flesh. I saw with new eyes the supreme worth of Jesus.
Paul shows us that to know Christ more and desire him more, we have to be put in right standing before God. We have to be given righteousness that comes from God. This happens through God awakening our hearts to the light of the gospel, and we respond in joyful trust to him. This joyful trust flourishes and grows through hoping in his promises day after day, month after month, year after year. That is how you know Jesus more and count him as supremely worthy.
Now, we can pursue Jesus through faith so that we may know him more. The Bible shows us the depths of his love, the extent of his suffering, the perfection of his life, the vastness of his kingly reign over the universe, the fullness of God displayed through King Jesus, the preciousness of his spilled blood by which we are reconciled to the one who created humans by merely speaking a word (Col. 1:15-23). Do we want to know more about these mysteries and wonders? Or do we want to know more about the latest whackathon going on in Washington, DC between politicians? Do we want to know more about staying fit, having a nice lawn, maintaining an organized house, or increasing our financial cushion?
Our lives ought to look different because we know Jesus and want to know him more. In 1991 I was ten years old, and the Minnesota Twins were making their second run at a World Series. I loved that team. I can still give you the names of many of the players and what positions they played.
But my favorite player was their catcher, Brian Harper. I loved watching him catch behind the plate and come up to bat. I had Brian’s jersey, I grew my hair out into a mullet like Brian, and when I was playing baseball I would bat like Brian. Imprinted in my memory is a play in which Brian Harper gets leveled by Lonnie Smith at home plate as he tries to score. Brian took a hit from Lonnie that looked more like a linebacker sacking a quarterback. I wanted to know more and more about Brian Harper and be like him as a baseball player.
That is a picture of what our desires and affections for knowing Jesus should be like. How can our families, houses, cars, hobbies, vacations and everything we do be leveraged to know Christ more? Do not put your confidence in the the stuff around you, but consider it all as loss compared to the supreme worth of knowing Jesus.
Here’s one example of how that can look. I have been at Grace Church for ten years now, and some of you have been here that long or longer as well. We are all getting older together. We are losing our hair. Our backs start to ache. It is harder to not gain weight. Our eye sight is getting more fuzzy. What goes on in your heart and mind as you face these realities?
One option is that you can bemoan the fact that your body is breaking down and you are not as attractive as you once were. You can dread having droopy skin. You can do things to try and keep your youthful appearances up. You can put your hope and desire into trying to fight the aging process, or your heart can be sad that you are getting older and not younger.
Another option is the 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 option. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory behind all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
You can take heart that your body is wasting away, because it means you are getting closer to seeing Jesus! Your hope and confidence is not in your temporary body. We can count them as rubbish. We count our bodies as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. My body is dying, but my soul is being renewed and getting prepared for a new body that Jesus will give me.
That is what it means to live dependent on faith. You can’t live every second of your life consciously thinking about whether Christ is valuable to you moment by moment. It will crush you. It is impossible. You live a life that counts Jesus as supremely worthy by faith. You seek to have your heart delighting in the promises of God so that your thinking and feeling are changed as you go about your life.
I hope that you would be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness, but having Christ’s righteousness that come through faith and is dependent on faith. When the examination in God’s court room shines the spotlight on you, what will be your plea? Where will your righteousness come from? You will stand before a perfect, holy being with whom there is no imperfection or shortcoming or failure. You will have to give an account. What will God find when he examines you?
Paul’s confidence in the flesh gave him a righteousness that came from his family tree, his homeland citizenship, and his outward deeds. Paul’s faith in Christ gave him a righteousness that helped him see Jesus as the most valuable treasure of his life.
Verses 4 through 9 were a parentheses. Paul interrupts his sentence in verse 3 to talk about his former confidence in the flesh and where his new confidence lies. Now he picks up the sentence in verse 10. “For we are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (vs. 3, 10-11).”
We worship by the Holy Spirit, marvel in Jesus and put no trust in our flesh so that we can know Jesus more and see with greater understanding and affection just what the power of his resurrection accomplished for us. If Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, none of this sermon would be true, for all of it depends on Jesus being greater than death. By his resurrection Jesus showed that he was God in the flesh and worthy of being our treasure.
We share in Jesus’ sufferings in this life and seek to become like him in his death by counting everything as loss for his sake- for knowing him more and helping others to know him more.
You were made to know Jesus. He is the highest and most supreme person you can know. The mysteries of Christ will never cease and we will never come to the end of knowing more of him. If you have put your faith in Christ so that you have his righteousness and know him, plead with him to grant you a greater depth of knowing him so that by any means possible you can attain the resurrection from the dead. Leverage everything you have in this life to know Jesus. Whether you have much or little, may Jesus be of surpassing worth.
If you have never thought about Christianity in this way, you may not be saved. May you not stand before Jesus on judgement day and tell him you did a bunch of good things. May you not stand before Jesus on judgement day with confidence in the flesh and hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Know Jesus today. Put your confidence and hope in his righteousness. His flesh was mutilated on the cross for you to take the punishment for your sin. Turn from sin. Escape hell. Know Jesus and enter into a life of knowing him more as your supreme worth and joy.
Plead with God to bury a desire deep in your heart to have Jesus be your supreme worth until you exhale your final breath. Rejoice in the Lord Grace Church. To say these things again and again is no trouble for me and safe for you.
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