1 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. (Philippians 3:1-7)
A very powerful passage, and a very powerful verse we see in verse 7, and I hope we can focus on that this morning. I say that because as we meet together this morning, as we do on any typical Sunday, and open up God’s Word as a church, I often wonder what you bring with you into the service. I have to ask myself the same question. What I mean is, as we get here together, what do you bring into our meeting? In other words, what is on your mind as we come together this morning? What is on your heart? What are you primarily concerned about this morning? Is there something weighing on your mind, and what is that thing? It could be good or bad, either way, but what have brought with you? We all have many things going on. What is that for you? Life doesn’t just stop as we gather to worship corporately. Our minds are not easily re-programmed as we walk through the doors and enter this place, we don’t usually or easily just forget about those things that are heavy on our minds. We are all the same in that way.
I want to ask you this morning not to just forget about what you are dealing with in life, but to leave it in the background and consider that God has you here right now to hear what is going to be said for a reason, with purpose. So hear the message He has for you, even in the midst of all the distractions. Hear it and even consider, what is the relationship to the message you will hear from God’s Word and whatever that thing is that is weighing heavily on your mind? There’s probably going to be a relationship between those, so I hope you can discover that this morning.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Do you see that? Don’t you just love that? You get the picture of the rain and snow coming down for what? To refresh the earth, to give life to the seed, ultimately to sustain our bodies as it waters the land and the crops grow that we need for life. It has purpose and meaning, it’s rich, and so is God’s Word. It comes from God and it accomplishes God’s will. It provides the help that we need, it provides what we’re longing for, it provides answers to the dilemmas that we’re dealing with this morning in life. It succeeds in our hearts and minds as God intends for it to succeed. Today we have an opportunity to take in what God is giving to us that it might accomplish the good intent and purpose God has for it in our lives. His Word is given to work in us to accomplish His will in our hearts and minds, to sustain us even in our struggles, concerns, or confusion.
So this is from God, His Word is from Him and for us, and I just think that is exciting. I hope that’s how we listen and anticipate to be taught, and learn, and take in what God has. He has prepared you for this, it’s for you, it’s how He cares for you. It is not like, “Okay, I’ll forget about problems and issues in life for a few minutes and focus on God.” It’s more like, “God has given this to me,” whatever you get this morning, “and it will be helpful for whatever I am dealing with.” There will be points of intersection with your life in some way, so be encouraged that God is at work through His Word right now for you! So, all I’m trying to say is…you can nap when you get home, now is not the time.
Okay, Philippians 3. Paul makes a statement in verse 7 that is life altering. I believe in its application it is just stunning, both when you consider its application in Paul’s life and in our own lives. It may be convicting for each of us here this morning. What he says is indicative of a person who was heading very strongly and with great determination in one direction, and who, because of Christ, has turned to a new direction in his thinking and in his evaluation of life itself. It depicts change in a person’s life, and not just simple change but radical change. It’s a strong passion going this way, and then suddenly change happens and a new passion arises in the opposite direction. It’s not a simple change of mind regarding something minor, trivial, or inconsequential, but major change in what Paul is passionate about.
Some things we change our minds about, and we’re not really passionate about them. It’s not really a big deal to change our minds on some things. We may go to lunch today and say, “Give me a burger or a chicken sandwich, whatever you have.” Or, “We can go to the park or a movie, either way I’m okay.” “I could drive a Ford or a Chevrolet, use an Android or an iPhone, whatever.” That might not be a good example, people are pretty passionate about that. Some things it’s easy to change directions on, and we should be flexible in most things to get along with our neighbor, and maybe even dispassionate about many things so that either option is fine. And in those cases a change of direction is really no big deal.
But there are other things that we care very deeply about, so deeply that a change would seem almost unthinkable. In fact, some things in life we hold so closely, and we treasure them so much, that to take them away, we can’t really imagine it. Those things we may think, simply, honestly, “They are a part of my life, of who I am, and I must have them, period. So that to think about taking them away would be like ripping away part of who I am.” Some things we think make up our identity. I don’t know what that is for you. It could be your job, family, home, worldview, or possessions. What are those things for you? What are those things that you think make up who you are? Think about it. What are we holding so closely that we cannot, we will not, we can’t even really consider life without them?
Paul has listed his, what they were, in Philippians 3. He gave us his list in verses 5 and 6. These are things that Paul would have held so dearly that they would have made up his identity at one time. What are they? “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” I just picture Paul, he was kind of a small guy apparently, and as he would explain to people who he is I can see him just getting taller and his chest starting to stick out a little bit. He was very proud of this, this is who he was. He goes on to say, “As to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” These were things that Paul held so dearly that they defined his being, defined him as a person. These things became who the person Paul was. These were what gave Paul pride for living. These were things that Paul could sit back and think on and come to a a conclusion like, “Well, sure God favors me, look at who I am! Look at what I have done!” This reminds me of the the parable, the powerful story that Jesus told in Luke 18 beginning in verse 9. A story of one who believed his righteousness in his flesh would earn him a place with God.
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
What the Pharisee would have counted as gain, all those things he had done, had accomplished in the name of religion, in the name of God, Jesus said that man was not justified. The one who exalted himself and gloried in his own works, the Pharisee, that man was not justified.
Or how about Matthew 19, beginning in verse 16? This is where a well respected member of the community, a man of reputation and respect comes to Jesus with a question.
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
This is another man who thought very highly of himself and his works, and not just what he thought of himself, but probably what others thought of him as well. He was surely a moral man on the outside, in his community, a man that everyone looked up to, maybe except Jesus. Jesus challenged him at the level of his heart, challenged him to true devotion from the heart not just from outward appearances, and in that he failed. He failed because we all fail on our own, in our own strength, we all fail in our own pride of life, in the pride of our flesh.
Paul was in the same boat as these guys at one time. Paul was a man, had been a man, who was keeping records, at least mentally keeping records. When he talks about what had been gain and what he now considers loss he is using accounting terms, financial terms. It is like he has this balance sheet and he was tallying up what he considers gain. All of these things are who he was that he considers positive – a Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews, circumcised on the eighth day, and from the tribe Benjamin. If you picture a ledger with two sides, a positive side and a negative side, these are the positives. These are things that Paul would at one time have said, “These are the things that make me right with God. It is because of these things on the positive side that God likes me. This is how I make God happy.” All of his accomplishments – a zealous Pharisee, persecutor of the church that he thought to be heretical, righteous and blameless as to the law. All positives, all on the side of gain for Paul. It’s important to see too that these would be what Paul would use to lift himself in rank over his neighbors. These would be accomplishments that he would want to emphasize to make himself proud or prove himself to be better than others around him. So some comparison going on here, “I am better than you for these reasons, and these reasons make me more likable to God, so if there is only limited space in heaven, then sorry, I’ve clearly, by my criteria, I have clearly earned a place in line ahead of you.”
Now we know that we are not saved by works of righteousness, no one ever has been or ever will be. We know that, right? “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourself, it is a gift of God, not of works.” Paul would eventually be saved by grace, rescued from his futile efforts of works-based righteousness. He eventually would have to look at all he had done and come to some conclusions about his position and his works. And that is what he is describing for us here. He has decided how he is now going to think of his accomplishments, of all his works done in his flesh. He has to make some judgments now about these things. And what does he conclude?
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)
You can picture Paul taking all his works done, hard work, done in pride, in the flesh, all those things that he held dear to his heart, and that had propped him up as a man, all those things that he had believed made him better than the next guy, all of those things that he believed had made him right with God, take them and move them from the side labeled “gain” over to the side labeled “loss.” We have to understand that this was his life work, all that had defined him as a man, those things that made him better than his neighbor. All of that, and conclude that they are loss. They did not accomplish, they could not accomplish anything good, nor be pleasing to God.
I think it’s easy for us to sit back and think that maybe Paul is strange. We can say, “I don’t get how those things could be so important, I can’t really relate to what was so important to him.” That is fair enough, I understand that. But the point is that he held them dear, they were a big deal to him, and now compared to Christ they are loss, compared to the work of Christ they are nothing. As we think about Paul, and think about ourselves, the question becomes, “What do we hold so dearly?” This is what I want us to think about. Do we really, honestly see our works as of zero value compared to the works that another has done for us? Do we really believe that? Or do we hold on to some remnant of thinking, “I really do deserve this. I mean compared to so and so, you’ve got to admit I deserve this.” Do we think that? Are we tempted to think that?
Is there some bit of pride that keeps us from really counting it all as loss and counting Christ as everything? I mean really. Are we really on our knees like the tax collector, confessing, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”? Do we in all honesty simply say, “Christ Jesus, you are all, you are my salvation, you are my savior, you alone are my righteousness, you are my covering before God, you alone are my entry into heaven, I am God’s only because of you. You are perfectly righteous and perfectly accepted and perfectly pleasing to our pure and holy God, and the only reason that I am is because of you”? Are we like Paul in this regard, that we have come to a place like this? Have we come to a place where we glory in Him and put no confidence at all in the flesh? A place where we can see ourselves rightly as sinners saved by grace? Can we rest in His glory as our savior?
If we are not yet there, we will not think of Christ as Paul thinks of Christ in the verses following verse 7. In other words, if we are still elevating ourselves in this matter of salvation to any degree, then we will fail to see the gloriousness of Christ Jesus. There will be conflict in our minds. If we are not seeing ourselves in our proper place as clothed in His righteousness and not our own, we will not see Christ in His proper place, in His incredible glory.
Paul goes on to glory in Christ because he has become aware of his loss, his uselessness apart from Christ. And so if you ever struggle with things like, “I just don’t love Christ like I see other people loving Christ, I just don’t like to or want to praise Him more, I believe in Him but I’m just not all that interested in Him like I see other people like the Apostle Paul interested in Him.” If that is you, it could be that you have not rightly understood, really understood your helplessness without Him, and His glorious work for you. Could it be that you or I are still saying, “I’m not that bad. Oh sure I need Him, but I’m not that bad. I even have people around me telling me I’m not that bad, praising me for things I do, telling me how good I am. It’s good to have Christ, it’s good to have Him around, I may need Him some time, but I’m not that bad.” It totally warps our view of Christ and our love for Him. If we’re tempted to think that way, we need to get to a place of truth, realizing, “Oh yes, it’s that bad. I am helpless, like a newborn baby, helpless to enter God’s presence without Christ.” And so we can lay aside all of our so-called works of righteousness, and simply praise and glory in Christ Jesus.
Because of Christ, after conversion Paul had added up all his assets and considered them to be one big liability. He recalculates all the advantages of his heritage, of his accomplishments, his social status, his moral achievements, and his calculations change the bottom line dramatically. They all add up to an overwhelming loss, as compared to knowing, personally knowing, receiving Jesus Christ.
Will you take the time this week to think about and come to a place and say, “My works of the flesh have done nothing to get me to God, and Jesus Christ’s works have accomplished everything I need”?
Besides leading us rightly to worship, this conclusion, living in this conclusion will do a couple more things. It will aid us in putting away facades that we hide behind, facades of sinlessness in our relationships. It will lead us to put that aside, and doing that we will be free not to spend all of our time and energy pretending to be someone we’re not in front of other people, but instead serving other people. We can do this out of love for our savior, perhaps this newfound love of our savior, and let go of whatever we’re hiding behind other than Christ, to serve others as Christ has commanded us to do. So we can love others more. Secondly we can be free to love and glory in Christ, to glory in His works, all that He has done. Our love, adoration, and loyalty all to Him, to Him alone. I hope you want to be there in life, to say what Paul has said.
By way of conclusion I want to read from Romans 5, where Paul again reminds us that we are nothing and Christ is everything.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:1-8)
Paul says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”