Philippians 3:1-11 – “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”
If you were to die today, and God were to ask you why should I let you into heaven, how would you respond? Some might say, “because I am a good church member.” Others might say, “because I have done more good than bad.” Still others might say because “I am a good person, or I come from a good family, or I come from a Christian country.” The fact is, none of these would work because salvation does not depend on what you and I have done. It is about what Jesus has done.
That is what Paul is communicating in these verses. Salvation is not Jesus, plus, what we have done. It is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life. All we can do is turn from our sin and believe in Jesus Christ. It is the atoning work of Christ on the cross that brings salvation. Jesus Christ is sufficient unto salvation. Join me as we join Paul as he writes of this truth in 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. (Philippians 3:1)
In previous verses Paul had already spoken of possible persecution, suffering and even death, but here Paul continues to talk of the Christian joy that is indestructible. Paul had already instructed the Philippians to rejoice various times in the preceding chapters, and here he reminds them again. Paul knows how quickly one forgets and how often we need to be reminded. Because of this Paul does not see it as a waste of time, but a necessary precaution.
In scripture joy is rooted in God. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Regardless of the external circumstances around us we are called to a joy that comes from God’s Spirit within us. The biblical joy cannot be taken away by external circumstances because that is not where it came from. It is above circumstance. Psalm 5:11 conveys this God-centered joy. “Let all those that put their trust in You rejoice.” Psalm 16:11 declares that ”in Your presence is fullness of joy.”
This God-centered joy that rests in the promised victory of the kingdom of God. Regardless of what is happening in one’s life, as children of God, we can never forget that we are not of this world, but our day of vindication is coming. It will be a day when every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess the Jesus Christ is Lord. Where the struggles of this world will pass away, when Christ will come back to claim us as His own. Faith will no longer be necessary because we will see Him face to face.
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Romans 21:4-7)
This will be our eternal happy ending when that glorious day arrives. Joy is to overflow from within as we walk in step with the Spirit and is to be strengthened as we look to the eternal end that awaits all believers.
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—
In the Bible times dogs were not “men´s best friend” like they are considered today. Dogs were wild scavengers, searching for food to devour. They often traveled in packs and terrorized neighborhoods or livestock.
They were seen as the lowest of life forms. In Revelation 22:15 “dog” is used to designate the impure ones who may not enter the Holy City. In Matthew 7:6 one reads how that which is holy must never be given to dogs. The false teachers of Paul´s day were like evil dogs who took advantage of others, seeking to devour them with their teaching. The false teachers often saw themselves as the workers of righteousness when in reality they were the sources of evil. This is an example of how much sin and pride can skew our view of life. They claimed and might have honestly believed their supposed “truth” when they were actually the bearers of evil and heresy.
This was not the first time Paul had come up against false teachers of this type. After Paul and his coworkers had started churches in Galatia the churches had also been infiltrated by Jewish false teachers. As always, the false teaching resembled the truth enough that those who were ignorant of God’s truth or indecisive in their belief were prime prospects of being led away from the truth of the gospel. These false teachers did not deny Christ, but they demanded additional requirements to truly be a follower of Christ. Their false teachings included obeying the Jewish laws as prerequisites to salvation in Christ. It was the idea of “Christ . . .plus,” as if Christ’s death and resurrection were not enough to bring forgiveness and to make us holy. One of the Jewish laws that was being required was that of circumcision.
Circumcision was an outward sign that a person was set apart and different than others. It set the Jews apart from their neighboring nations. Circumcision was to be an outward symbol that the Jews were a “set apart” people, a people set apart for their God. It is similar to the word “holy.” Holy means set apart, dedicated or consecrated to God for a sacred purpose. That is who the Jews were to be. A holy, set apart people. And this was shown outwardly by circumcision, trusting that it was a reflection of the condition of their hearts that were also “circumcised or set apart” for God.
Because of this, if a person had been physically circumcised but their heart was not set apart for God the physical circumcision was meaningless. On the other hand, if one’s heart was “circumcised” and set apart for God and he had not been physically circumcised he was still right with God. Ultimately, the focus was on the heart that was set apart for God not the physical circumcision.
That is what Paul is talking about here. In Christ, the Philippians were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands. In Christ, they were made holy by spiritually putting off the flesh.
In scripture we often see the contrasting ideas of either living in the flesh or living in the Spirit. Living in the flesh means living, enslaved to our sinful human nature and desires. This idea at times was connected to the sin that we are led into by our fleshly appetites of our physical bodies. That was what the monks of the past were trying to combat when they fasted, went without sleep, chose celibacy, keeping themselves from sexual relations, even self-flagellation where some used to beat themselves as the price for sin, seeking to subjugate their physical desires to righteous living.
The sinfulness of the flesh includes the sin that comes from our uncontrolled physical appetites, and it also includes any other sins that are rooted in our sinful nature. These would include selfishness, pride, greed, and other sins.
The Philippians had been set apart, not by a human hand performing the physical act of circumcision, but by the spiritual act of God making them holy and consecrated for the purposes of God. This was accomplished by the “putting off the body of the flesh.” We see a similar idea in Romans 8:13:
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
The Philippians had died to these desires as if they no longer could even hear or sense their tempting call, as if these evil desires no longer even existed. This clearly set them apart from the people of the world.
At the physical circumcision that was done by human hands the flesh or foreskin was cut and put off. At the spiritual circumcision of the heart done by Jesus Christ at salvation, their sinful flesh is put away and now they were made righteous, living in the Spirit.
The Philippians´ hearts were circumcised by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. The Philippians were only able to put off the body of the flesh because their hearts had first been circumcised by Christ. It was not their own doing. They were set apart because of their newfound holiness that had been granted them through Christ.
As we read in Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
As believers we see this same pattern. We are now set apart because we have put off the temptation of the flesh because of what Christ has done in us. Holiness and right relation with God are not through the physical, religious ritual of circumcision. That is why Paul referred to circumcision as nothing more than mutilation of the flesh. If a spiritual putting away of the flesh had not occurred the physical procedure meant nothing.
Salvation does not come through awards, religious rituals, good deeds, or any work of man. As we read in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
If anyone could earn their way to heaven it would have been Paul. From the Jewish perspective he was as religiously correct as one could be. With this in mind Paul then wrote the following. . .
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.
Paul now speaks of his supposed credentials. He was not speaking against the false teachers out of jealousy or because he lacked Jewish credentials. He had more than they, but he had found them to be of no value when considering salvation through Christ.
In today’s vernacular Paul was saying, “I was born into a pious family, with the greatest of spiritual legacies. I was well educated, well respected in the world, with the brightest of futures. I lived a committed religious life and was as righteous as I could be, following all the rules and rituals. But now I realize that none of that brought salvation. It may mean a lot to the world, but in the economy of God I was spiritually bankrupt. I had everything that the religious world valued, but now I have found something of even more value. The source of salvation. Christ. I now count everything I had as rubbish compared to the endless worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. As Paul believed in and grew in Christ his love for Christ grew and his desires for the world faded away. Because of this Paul’s consuming passion was to know Christ, the ultimate treasure.
It was similar to Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:44 where it says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Like this man, Paul had given up all he had to take hold of the treasure found in Christ.
Paul was making it clear. In comparison to Christ nothing else matters. The glory of Christ is the only claim that we have. It is not kept away from the poor or deserved by the rich. As the diversity of the Philippian church attested, salvation was available to all who would turn from their sin and believe in Jesus Christ.
In the church in Philippi, God’s grace had made these diverse people children of the King and brothers and sisters in Christ. They had each sacrificed all to attain the precious treasure of Christ. Nothing could bring them into greater joy and unity than the treasure of Christ in their lives.
Paul then continued with verse 8-11.
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.
For the sake of knowing Christ, Paul left behind everything that he had held dearly. Paul forsook all that the world offered and in return gained the greatest gifts, a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and an eternity in His presence. Now that he was experiencing the greatness of Christ, Paul realized that in comparison, he had not really sacrificed anything of worth. All that he had left behind he now saw as worthless.
Paul now saw any suffering or struggle that would be brought on by His faithfulness to the gospel as a small price to pay for His privilege in participating in the advancement of God´s kingdom. Any suffering or even martyrdom bound him to the brotherhood of all who had suffered before and all who would suffer after Him for the name of Christ (Revelation 6:9-11). But not only this, Paul´s suffering allowed him to share the sufferings of Christ, thus becoming like Him in His death and afterwards experiencing the power of the resurrection into eternal life.
Paul was calling the Philippians away from the lie and the burden of works-based salvation and to the joy of a salvation that was freely given by a beautiful Savior whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. It was this gospel that drove Paul to forsake all for the name of Christ.
Some respected him for the sacrifice, but in reality any sacrifice that he made for the sake of Christ and the gospel would be paid back a hundredfold in this life and the next (Mark 10:29-30).
In the words of David Livingstone, the explorer and missionary of Africa in the 1800s.
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 1981, 259)
To sum up our lesson today let us think on these words. Jesus Christ has saved us completely. Because of that we are totally indebted and drawn into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. For those who respond and come near they will find in Christ someone more precious than anything that this world can offer. In response they will make much of Christ and make little of the things of this world.
May we be counted among those people for the sake of our homes, our church, our community and our world.