We’re neck deep into a series on Philippians. When I originally planned this, I had it marked out about 8 weeks long. However, as things like this go, we’re on our 8 week, and still only half way through.
You know, there are loud conversations about what the Bible is, or what it isn’t. There are opinions on all parts of the spectrum, but if there is one thing I’m reminded of as we work our way through this ancient letter, it’s that the Bible is so full and rich of truth. We can argue day and night about what the Bible is or isn’t…but we discover first hand, as a community, as we work our way through this book, we find its filled with a far deeper and richer truth that impacts my life, and I would guess your life, in ways we never expected, right?
This is the beauty of scripture. It leads us to truth.
We talked about the scandal of grace. We talked about how, in spite of all the ways we try to wall up the Kingdom of God, and in all the ways we try to define who is in and out, at the end of the day, it’s not our actions that save us, rather it’s the life, death and resurrection of Christ that brings about new life.
We ended last week reflecting on how we try to keep people out. What lines we draw and who we believe can be in and out.
This week, we’re going to continue on with this. In many ways, this is the part 2 to last week’s part 1.
So, to tie the two together, we’re going to start by reading our passage last week and then will move straight into the passage this week.
Let’s read together: Philippians 3:1-11
3 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
What’s going on?
Last week, we talked about how Paul listed all the reasons he should be righteous and in the in-crowd- spiritually speaking.
He was a man of status. A man of education. A man of heritage.
Whatever was to my profit, whatever I gained is now a loss. He had everything going for him. Paul’s job was not something he chose as a college grad…it was something he wanted and was being pushed towards as a child.
This man’s identity was wrapped up in who he was, what he believed and how he behaved.
The great reversal
This belief that righteousness came by definable terms ruled Paul’s life. The pharisaical order (to which paul belonged) believed that God was going to come when Israel behaved and followed the law fully.
Because they were the only ones who followed the law, they believed themselves to be the only ones righteous and it was everyone else’s fault that the messiah hadn’t come.
They were the in crowd. They were the righteous. And everyone knew it.
But something changed in Paul.
What once gave Paul great pride and status, and what the world once saw and interpreted as righteousness (Godliness), Paul now believed was all loss.
There was a day when each of the things Paul did, the actions made and the beliefs he held were credited to him as right standing before God.
If you think of it this way, every time he followed a rule or a law, he made a deposit, and because he was very good at follow rules, Paul’s self-righteous bank account grew and grew.
His account ledger, when he balanced it out, was filled with righteous actions and was overwhelmingly positive.
Damascus changed everything.
There is a moment, however, when Paul becomes a believer in the way of Jesus.
And after doing that, he was brought to reconsider everything he believed up until that point.
When Paul said he “considers”…he’s saying he had come to consider it. This was a post-conversion understanding. It was unnatural to him. It went against his sensibilities and Christian training. This new belief was that Christ and Christ alone leads us towards understanding what is real, true and worth value.
But that’s not all…
Paul doesn’t stop there. It’s not just physical assets, and it’s not just legalism that has been carried over into the negative category.
Any method for advancement. Any method of control. Any method for gaining approval. Anything that we feel like we can do to earn God’s favor. Any rule, law or human justification is a complete and utter loss.
Paul doesn’t stop there.
These works. This man-based righteousness accomplished human power and all that comes with it, Paul calls “skybala” or “filth.”
It’s actually a much stronger word that “filth.”
Skybala means excrement, dung or refuse.
Like this guy…but far more, well, used…
Very literally, it’s a greek slang that translates very closely to the english word “crap.”
What Paul is getting at here is the understanding that “Righteousness through human strength and through human works must be expelled out of the Body and into the toilet as quickly as possible and without any prejudice.
There is visual interplay here. The understanding the filth of legalism, and understanding the necessity of the Body of Believers to rid themselves of it, is extremely important!
When we begin to be cleansed of this legalistic mindset or belief, and as we grow in our faith in Christ, we’ll find we are changed in ways rules and expectations never could.
Change happens because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
Surpassing value is the knowledge of Christ Jesus.
If everything except Christ is filth, the only thing of value, the only thing of worth, is Jesus. And that means, to follow him, everything must be on the table. Everything else we hold to as our foundation, or as essential to our happiness, must be discarded.
That sounds harsh, doesn’t it?
We must come to understand that, no matter how important something might feel or seem, Christ is above it all.
There’s a basic re-teaching of what we believe Righteousness, or Right-ness with God, looks like:
For centuries before Jesus and for centuries following, the church has often preached grace, but practiced man-defined Righteousness. We all realized its far easier to define people by rules and people’s ability to obey them.
We talked about this last week.
And, we must not forget that rules are put in place for the right reason, right? I mean, “Thou should not murder” is a great rule. One that societies, typically (though, not always) adopt…
However, while rules have their heart and intention wrapped up in good motives, whenever laws and rules dictate our righteousness, those rules will almost always go from being something that helps us obey to becoming a noose around our necks.
The more we struggle and fail, the more it tightens, and the more it tightens, the more the rules get more rigid.
This happened to the Jews.
What began as “remember the sabbath and keep it holy” turned into 39 activities you were forbidden to do on the sabbath.
This list included the activities:
Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Kneading,
Baking, Shearing, washing, beating or dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving:
including Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two
threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing two stitches, Tearing, Trapping,
Slaughtering, Flaying, Salting meat, curing or scraping or cutting hides,
writing or erasing 2 letters, building or tearing down, starting or
extinguishing a fire, or hitting with a hammer, and finally taking an
object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in
the public domain.
The law, as Paul says in other letters, was put in place to condemn…to show us how broken we were.
And he tells us that there is no hope for improvement through the law.
Improvement only happens one way…through Christ.
In spite of all things he’d accomplished in his life, Paul responds by saying:
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
This is what it means to be a Christ follower, guys. To come into contact with Jesus and to be changed by that experience.
After all, it’s impossible to experience the love of God, to sacrifice of Jesus and the life that comes from that, and not be changed somehow.
To be in communion with God and with the community of believers is the means of restoration and redemption.
Not rules. Not expectations.
In this passage, one theologian talks about Paul becoming obsessed with Christ in his theology.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Where once the law defined us, now Christ defines us. He’s what binds us, heals us, redeems us, restores us, renews us.
May we remember this.
These takeaways are a product of a beautiful conversation I had after service last week with several of you. So, as we begin, I want to say thank you!
- The Holy Spirit does the changing and will do it in His time.
It’s incredibly easy for us to see someone come to Christ, and expect them to arrive, and we begin to quietly…or not so quietly…begin to show our disapproval or disbelief in their behavior. Maybe they’re not changing as quickly as we think they should. Maybe they still smoke, drink, chew or maybe they still love a girl who does. And somewhere along the way we believe it’s our God-given responsibility to grab them by the scruff of their neck and drag them kicking and screaming.
That’s not necessarily right, and it’s not necessarily grace…even if we believe it to be.
We need to understand that conviction comes from God. And we need to understand that conviction of wrongdoing doesn’t usually happen when we think it should happen.
We also need to understand that what I’m convicted of isn’t necessarily what you’ll be convicted of.
And so, understanding this, we need to be willing to live in the mess with one another. To offer my story to you, to offer how God has changed my heart, and to walk along side one another.
Now, I admit, this is somewhat messy. This is somewhat like Spiritual Anarchy…at least, that’s what it feels like, right?
After all, if I can’t tell you what you should do, then who’s going to keep us in line? What will keep us from going off the deep end?
This brings us to number two.
2. We must learn to trust the movements of the Spirit
As Nazarenes, we believe in something called prevenient grace. This is the belief that the Spirit is working on the heart far before we ever come into contact with them. We believe there isn’t a spiritual conversation that happens ahead of God’s timing.
We must be patient. We must be gracious. We must be loving, and in that patience, love and grace, the spirit will work.
I believe, nearly ever single time, He’s doing something deeper than we can see.
Where we see someone who is an alcoholic, Christ sees someone searching desperately for love, and an identity.
And this is where we find our role as the church.
We are a place that should welcome everyone. Period.
We do not exist to fix people. We exist to point people to Christ.