Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, can’t they? But so can things. And it is this thief that Paul deals with in chapter three. It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in things, isn’t it? And not only the things we can see and touch, but also things like reputation, fame and achievement. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:15 that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy.
The key word in our passage of scripture for today, Philippians 3:1-11, is the word “count”. It means “to evaluate”, to “examine carefully”. Many people today are slaves of “things” because they’ve never sat down and seriously considered the values that control their decisions and actions, and this has robbed them of real joy. In the case of the apostle Paul, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very noble: a righteous life, obedience to the Law of Moses, and the defense of the religion of his ancestors – the Jewish religion. But none of these satisfied him or made him feel acceptable to God. Paul had high enough morals to keep him out of trouble, but he didn’t have enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus – it was good things! Paul had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. In this passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Paul explains that there are only two kinds of righteousness: righteousness based on works and righteousness based on faith, and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON WORKS (verses 1-6)
In verse 1 Paul says, “Finally my brethren”. It doesn’t mean that Paul is about to end his letter, because he keeps on going. The word “finally” means “for the rest” or “for what remains”. Paul is changing his topic. He has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision”. We have to go back to the beginning of the church to find out what Paul means. From the beginning, the gospel came “to the Jew first”. The first seven chapters of the book of Acts deal only with Jewish believers or Gentiles who had become Jewish converts. In Acts 8 the message went to the Samaritans, but this did not cause too much of a problem since the Samaritans were at least partly Jewish. But when Peter went to the Gentiles in Acts 10, this caused an uproar. Peter said that it was God who had directed him to preach to the Gentiles, and the problem seemed to be solved, but not for long. These strict Jewish believers told the apostle Paul that it was necessary for the Gentiles to obey the Jewish rules before they could be saved. They followed Paul wherever he went and tried to steal his converts and his churches. Paul uses three terms to describe them. He calls them “dogs” because they were following on Paul’s heels, viciously “barking” their false teachings. Secondly, Paul called them “evil workers” because these men taught that the sinner must be saved by doing the good works of the Law of Moses. Thirdly, Paul called them “the false circumcision” because they taught that circumcision was necessary for people to be saved. In contrast to these false Christians, Paul says in verse 3 that the true Christian is one who is directed by the Holy Spirit, boasts only in Jesus Christ, and puts no confidence in his sinful flesh.
In verses 4-6 Paul uses himself as an example. He was born into a pure Hebrew family, and was circumcised on the eighth day as required by Jewish law. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin, the favorite and most faithful of all the tribes. Paul spoke the Hebrew language, and was a Pharisee, the strictest and most devout leaders of the Jewish nation. He was also a persecutor of the church, and was morally blameless. Paul had everything going for him.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON FAITH (verses 7-11)
But when Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road in Acts 9, Paul believed and became a child of God. After this happened, Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost. He recounts this here in verses 7-11. What did Paul lose? Verse 7 says that he lost his reputation as a Jewish scholar and religious leader. He also lost his religious achievements and his Jewish friends.
But what did Paul gain? Verse 8 tells us that Paul gained a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. Verse 9 tells us that Paul gained the righteousness of Christ. When Paul trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, God put Christ’s righteousness into Paul’s account, and Paul’s sins were placed in Christ’s account. His sins were paid for in full by the blood of Christ on the cross. In verses 10 and 11, Paul experienced the fellowship of Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. This was Paul’s desire, his goal, and a source of strength and joy.
Paul gained far more than he lost. The things he had lost were like garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. No wonder Paul had joy! His life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world but on the eternal values found in Christ.
When God asks us to surrender something of temporal worth, He does so for the purpose of replacing it with a prize of eternal value. Are you willing to trust Him and obey Him? Is the Lord calling you to sacrifice something you treasure in order to give you something of lasting worth? People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their earthly treasures and worry about whether they will lose their value.
Can you say, along with the apostle Paul, that to have Christ, and know His resurrection power in your life, is your greatest joy? And can we agree that the things we left behind have become so unimportant that we consider them “but garbage”? Consider and reflect on these words written by the missionary Jim Elliot before he was killed because of his faith in Jesus Christ: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.