Here are some of the things we talked about at our Women’s Bible Study this week on Philippians 3:1-11.
Paul starts chapter 3 by saying, “Finally…” Then he goes on for two more chapters! Maybe he was intending to wrap up the letter and then something came up to keep him going. (Just beware anytime a pastor says, “In closing….” — it probably means he’s half way through the sermon!)
What warning does Paul give in verse 2? Why does he come down so hard on these people?
When the good news of Jesus started spreading and people began to believe in His saving work, some of the Jewish believers began to put requirements on new converts. They said that before anyone could become a Christian, they had to first become a Jew and follow the Old Testament laws, including circumcision. Paul responded by saying, “No, no, no!” We are saved by grace through faith. It’s not Jesus + circumcision; it’s not Jesus + the Law; it’s Jesus + 0 = everything.
Paul uses some very strong language here. To call someone a “dog” was a very derogatory statement. In Paul’s eyes, these people were evil, making it harder for those who wanted to follow Jesus. The sign of circumcision was nothing more than mutilation of the flesh if the heart wasn’t right. Falling back on someone’s own ability to keep the Law in their own strength in order to earn salvation was a teaching Paul passionately fought against. That misleading message communicated that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough.
Instead of an outward sign to prove belief, Paul gave three indicators of a person’s heart:
- a true believer is a worshiper
- a true believer glories in Jesus
- a true believer’s confidence is in Christ, not in self
What were Paul’s reasons to have self-confidence about his right standing with God? He had an impressive resume, loaded with significant assets.
- Circumcised on the 8th day — he came from a godly family who followed the Law.
- Of the people of Israel — he had a pure blood line, descending directly from Jacob.
- Of the tribe of Benjamin — Benjamin was the only one of Jacob’s sons to be born in the Promised Land. The first king of Israel came from the tribe of Benjamin, King Saul, who Paul may have been named after. The tribe of Benjamin was the only tribe to stick with King David when the nation split. The temple was built on the land given to Benjamin. To be a Benjaminite was to be highly esteemed and among the elite.
- A Hebrew of Hebrews — indicated that Paul could speak in Hebrew and that he was highly educated.
- In regard to the law, a Pharisee — Paul had risen in the ranks of professional religious leaders quickly. A Pharisee was dedicated to keeping the law in all aspects.
- As for zeal, persecuting the church — Paul defended Judaism and was responsible for putting many Christians in jail and putting some to death. He was there, holding the coats of the people who stoned Stephen. (Acts 8:1)
- As for legalistic righteousness, faultless — Faultless. Who says that?
What kinds of reasons do people give today?
I had a godly grandma. I go to church. I teach Sunday school. I sing in the choir. I tithe. I don’t drink, cuss, go to R-rated movies (except the one about Jesus dying on the cross). I’m a good person. I’m better than a lot of people.
Put all those things on one side of the accounting ledger and what does it add up to? Rubbish. Except Paul didn’t use the word rubbish. When the translators came to this Greek word (skubala) they didn’t know what to do with it. This vulgar term embarrassed them. It offended and shocked them. So they tamed it down. Paul used this word only this time and never again. Perhaps he used it for shock value, to try to express how intensely he felt about this. Paul used the word shit.
All the things he did to try to earn God’s favor, all the striving to be perfect, all the achievements and success — a pile of dung. Leave Jesus out of the equation and it all adds up to zero. Stamp the word “Bankrupt” on that side of the accounting sheet.
We can’t find Jesus by using our own measure of goodness based on rules. Trying hard to be righteous based on performance is empty and is the equivalent of feces. We find Jesus by leaning on His righteousness alone by faith, which is full and complete and robust.
What was Paul’s highest goal?
To know Christ — after 30 years, Paul hadn’t let up on his pursuit of Jesus.
Matt Chandler says there are two questions we must ask ourselves continually:
1. What stirs my affection for Jesus?
2. What robs my affection for Jesus?
I hope you spend some time thinking about these questions. Self-awareness of what enhances our spiritual growth and what hinders our spiritual growth is a step toward maturity. I encourage you to listen to Matt’s message (21:00-29:30, if you’ve got 8.5 minutes). Matt Chandler – To Live Is Christ
May this be our prayer: I want to know Christ, inside and out.