Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1353
June 3, 2018 Philippians 3:1-16
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
There are many dangers in this world for the Church. The apostle Paul warns the Church in many of his letters to look out for those dangers. In this particular case, to the Philippians, Paul tells them to look out for the “dogs”. If Paul had tweeted that line, he would be raked over the coals by the media and left leaning churches! Look out for the dogs and the evil doers and those who want to mutilate the flesh. Now, some explanation is due here. Those who would mutilate the flesh are the Jews who were saying that to become a Christian you had to first become a Jew. That is, Gentiles had to be circumcised first. Paul was saying, no, you don’t! Becoming a Christian is not about the flesh, at least, not for salvation. Salvation is a spiritual matter. Salvation is a spiritual circumcision of the heart.
Colossians 2.11-12 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
This was not a new thought for Paul, for in Deuteronomy 30:6 we read about God circumcising the heart, “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.”
Paul’s warning clarifies the truth of what God has done in Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile. He sets right the truth of the gospel so that all may know that Jesus Christ deals first with the heart, first with regeneration of the spirit and soul, with repentance and salvation, then we are called to deal with the flesh. We do not deal with it in mutilation like circumcision, but with behavior and action. But that is another sermon.
If Paul were writing today, here are some things he might suggest:
Look out for those who would twist the truth into a lie and seek to twist lies into the truth.
Look out for those who claim that religious liberty is equivalent to discrimination.
Look out for those who call truth hate speech.
Look out for those who call themselves tolerant yet will not tolerate anyone who disagrees with them.
Look out for those who accuse everyone else for the very things they themselves are doing.
Look out for those who twist the Word of God for their own benefit.
Perhaps all of these could be summed up in one way or another from the prophet Isaiah,
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5.20
A Vote of No Confidence
Paul gives the flesh a vote of no confidence. He no longer places his trust in the flesh, that is, in worldly accomplishments or in power grabs or in the things of this world. And Paul had it all as far as Judaism was concerned. Circumcised, tribe of Benjamin, Pharisee, Hebrew, persecuted the church, blameless under the law. All were pride filled accomplishments and rightly so under the understanding of Jewish context. Paul is telling the Philippians and the Jews that none of that flesh stuff means anything in Christ. It is still there, but not of the same importance it once held. Christ is all and Christ is life and Christ is where all our confidence is placed. What this means for all of us who believe is that we are called to consider the cost of discipleship. In essence we ask ourselves the question of where we place our confidence and our trust.
Luke 14.27-33 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Renouncing all we have is not always selling everything, but it is putting all that we have in proper perspective. It is giving everything we have and have accomplished a vote of no confidence because none of it will save us. None of it will love us. None of it will die for us.
Counting Losses and Gains
We consider the cost of discipleship in what Paul is saying here. Many people will not give up confidence in the world or their accomplishments, at least not in the sense that those accomplishments take a back seat when measured against knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So often we lament loosing things that really do not matter. We also fail to value what we have gained in Jesus.
What is valued when we know Christ is completely reversed from the things we may have thought had value. It is like how our values change just in growing older. When we were teenagers we valued different things than we did when we were in our twenties, and then again it changes as we move into our thirties. Even more changes come with children and a mortgage! But nothing changes our losses and gains like knowing Jesus. What we value changes completely when we come to realize that Jesus is the ultimate gain against whom all our losses are measured. Paul understood this more than anyone as he had the most to lose but it was nothing to what was gained.
That I May Gain Christ
Paul essentially values one thing: Jesus Christ. Everything else revolves around gaining and knowing Jesus. Jesus becomes the ruler, the measurement, the person of value upon which all other things are valued. This is the message reiterated throughout the gospels as in Matthew 13:44, “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.” Paul is saying the same thing about Jesus, that he is willing and has indeed, given up all his earthly gains for the sake of gaining Jesus. Without Jesus, nothing has value.
Let me share one example where I think many of us struggle. There is very little value in a great deal of the entertainment we enjoy. Sometimes it is on television through traditional means, other times through streaming services like Netflix, or perhaps on some other source on the internet. Ninety-eight percent of it is of zero value, yet we pursue it as if we would be remiss in our duty to the world. Someone might ask us if we have seen a program and we feel left out if we are not on the same page. I laugh every time I see an ad for a show that claims, “the show that everyone is watching”. It makes me want to watch it even less, especially when I have yet to see it. No, everyone is not watching! There is a certain force in the world that pulls us in. We don’t want to be out of the loop. We don’t want to be left out of the latest news or excitement of entertainment. We struggle with what we value, what is considered a gain or a loss. I haven’t seen a full NFL or NBA game in two years! I’m not citing any virtue in that, but what I am saying is the value of it is no longer a draw. I’ve cut my cable and tossed out my dish. I’m now considering cutting off Netflix and other services that differ from the values of God and the value of knowing Jesus Christ.
When we start to weigh all that we do and think and say against the gain of Jesus Christ, it transforms how we think about all these things. At the least we begin to contemplate what has the most value in our lives.
That I May Know Christ
Knowing Jesus means many things, but here in Paul’s words it means sharing in Christ’s suffering and in his resurrection. When we start pulling away from the idiotic worldly values, we might pay a price. But being out of touch is not that high a cost. It is not that we should live in isolation or like monks or nuns in a monastery, but we should be diligent in our assessment of balancing our connection with Jesus and our contacts with the world. It is the balance Jesus gives us of being in the world and yet not of the world (John 17:14-19), I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
The goal is to know Christ and the power of His death and resurrection. It is in knowing the life we are to lead with Christ as Lord and Savior. It is in knowing personally and corporately the One who has given Himself for our salvation and chosen us to share the gospel with others. It is thinking like Jesus, assessing our lives and thoughts and actions by one rule...the rule of Scripture. This is to know Christ! In this word we experience Jesus Christ and we come to know Him in worship, in service, in fellowship, in trusting, in faith, in hope, and in love. We know Him through the Word and the Word become flesh (John 1). We know eternal life in knowing Jesus, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
I’ve heard several testimonies of people who had either set out to prove the Bible wrong or just had never read it before and after they read the gospels, they came to know Jesus as the Savior. I want to encourage all of us to get to know Jesus in the pages of this book, through every book of the Bible.
At the beginning of this chapter in Philippians, Paul gives a brief list of “look outs”. Look out for the dogs and so forth. I want to end with a set of “look outs” in light of what we have seen in this passage.
Look out for what we consider loss and gain.
Why do we value certain things over others?
How does what we value relate to our gains in Christ?
Could we say with Paul that everything gained in this world is nothing compared to knowing Jesus?
Look out for what lies behind and what lies ahead.
The Bible does value our past, but in this case Paul is saying we need not rely on worldly accomplishments.
Can we look with a new vision to the goal of Christ’s upward calling in our lives?
Look out for what we think and how we think that we will be able to hold true to what we have attained in Christ.
Verses 15-16 remind us that God is at work in our thinking. Even if we don’t yet see things as Paul does in Philippians, be assured God is working in our hearts and minds to get us there!
In the mean time, we have to hold tight to where we are at this point. We cannot fall backwards into worldly thoughts and worldly accomplishments.
Hold fast to the Word. Hold fast to Jesus. Hold fast because the world is pressing us to think otherwise.
Look out for the dogs.
Look out for what God will do next that we might attain more knowledge in Christ Jesus. Amen.