Paul’s shift into Philippians 3 is a bit jarring. Paul begins this section of his letter with a stern warning: “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved” (3:2, NLT). Paul is using no light language here. Ironically, the term “dog” was used by Jews as a slur against gentile pagans, but Paul flips this term around and applies it to those Jewish religious zealots who were trying to force all of the converting gentile believers into being circumcised first. In contrast to this attitude, Paul says, “We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” (3:3, NLT). Paul drives his point home by arguing that, if anyone could have been saved by his own efforts, it would be himself! Paul had everything going for him. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, keeping the letter of the law flawlessly. But, what does Paul say that all of his religious triumphs and worldly achievements amount to? Rubbish! Paul uses strong language here. Literally, Paul considered “all these things” as excrement – as dung. Not only as worthless, but as offensive when compared to the ultimate work that Christ accomplished.
But Paul then suddenly shifts his attention from what we can’t accomplish on our own to what we can accomplish through Jesus Christ! Is an all-victorious Christian life possible? Paul seems to think so. In fact, to Paul, it’s a victory that we should strive for in assurance and confidence through Jesus. Paul isn’t talking about a race here that has an uncertain outcome – one that, maybe, if you put in every ounce of self-discipline and strength you have, just maybe, you might be able to finish. No, he’s talking about a race that has already been won! We strain merely for the finish line where we will receive our eternal prize! So, don’t be discouraged by the past or by your spiritual failures. Remember that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do” – in other words, God instills the desire to do His will and then He gives us the strength to go do it! Therefore, we reach forward to the things which are ahead in full confidence that we will attain. Paul’s point ultimately comes down to this: With faith in ourselves, there’s no way we will ever win. But with confidence in Jesus Christ and His righteousness, there’s no way we can lose!
Pastor Mike led us in a fantastic study over Philippians 2 last week. I hope you’ll dig out your Bible and follow along with us. Philippians 2 picks up as Paul continues to instruct his readers in humility and unity, and Paul follows up by giving us the Ultimate Example in Philippians 2:5-11. This passage is absolutely mind-blowing. There’s no way we can simply reference it and move on. You’ll just have to read it for yourself!
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NLT)
Friends, do we really know what this passage is telling us? When verse 6 says “he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to,” it’s saying that Christ did not consider it worth it to hold on to His position of Godhood, reigning eternally with the Father, while we were perishing without a chance on earth! Does that tell you something about the kind of fanatical love and passion that God has for you? If you still need some convincing, just let the weight of this quote sink in for a second:
Jesus did not count heaven a place to be desired while we were lost. He left the heavenly courts for a life of reproach and insult, and a death of shame. He who was rich in heaven’s priceless treasure, became poor, that through His poverty we might be rich. We are to follow in the path He trod. (The Desire of Ages)
And Christ wasn’t just acting out some charade here – playing along until we learned how we ought to act on earth. No, God was acting out who He was at His core being! God is humble. God sacrificed Himself so that we could live with Him eternally! The news doesn’t get any better than that, friends.
We hope you were blessed by the study and that you will continue to read along with us. Join us this week as we finish up Philippians 2.
Last week, Clay started us off on a brand new study series on Philippians! This will be a relatively short series but I pray that you will be blessed by what we learn together! At the start of our class, Clay helped give us an overview of the book. We noted three important themes in the letter:
- REJOICING – Let’s keep in mind that Paul wrote this letter while He was imprisoned in Rome. Would you find it difficult to rejoice when you have been wrongly accused, beaten without cause, thrown into jail with the possibility of being executed at any time? But Paul can’t seem to stop rejoicing in the Lord! Throughout the letter, he expresses key aspects of his faith which include: tolerance (1:18), a bond of fellowship in difficult times (2:17-18), firm commitment to faith (3:1), friendship & thanksgiving (2:28; 4:10), and the joy of belonging to Christ (4:4).
- HUMILITY – In chapter 2 (tomorrow’s study!) Paul will focus on the example that Christ sets for us in humility, obedience, and service.
- FAITH – This is a faith that takes root when we lay hold of the righteousness of Christ (3:9). It’s a faith that forgets those things of the past and “reaches forward” to what is ahead (3:13). With this faith, we learn that we can do all things through Christ (4:13). And, it’s a faith that takes action and bears “the fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ” (1:11).
With that background in mind, I hope you will take some time to read Philippians 1 with us. Clay walked us through this outline of the chapter:
- Introduction and thanksgiving section (vv. 1-11) – Paul begins by praising God for his faithfulness to the growing church of Philippi. He then affirms his readers, encouraging their confidence in Christ – “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (We can be confident in the same thing!) Paul also prays for his readers, pleading that their love would “abound still more and more in knowledge and discernment” and that their lives would be “filled with the fruits of righteousness” (1:10).
- Paul’s trial & prospect of martyrdom (vv. 12-26) – With every reason in the world to complain and accuse, Paul instead rejoices that the gospel is being spread through his chains! He uses his imprisonment as an opportunity to witness to the entire palace! And when he is faced with the prospect of death, Paul again rejoices about one day finally being reunited with His savior!
- Call to unity and suffering (vv. 27-30) – Paul stresses the absolute necessity of unity among the believers. Although none of us ever get very excited at the idea of hard times, trials can actually help draw us closer together – and more importantly, they bring us into a greater unity with Jesus. As a personal application, maybe that’s a new way that we can look at our trials – maybe we can ask, “How does what I’m going through help me see what others around me might be going through? How can it help me grow closer to my fellow believers? How can this trial draw me closer to God?”
We see Paul was able to overcome, and, over the next few weeks, we will find out how he did it and how we can do it too.