Intro: Do you have a difficult time throwing something in the trash? My garage is a testimony to my problem. I have things that I have held on to because I valued them at one time, or thought there might be a day when I would need them. But they need to go into the garbage. They are of no use to me now.
Many of our lessons this year are focused on the theme “To live is Christ” – words from the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Philippians. Those words certainly typify Paul’s attitude and approach toward his own life as he wrote the letter to the Philippians. But that had not always been true. Paul was once Saul, an enemy of Christ, who sought to destroy the followers of Christ. What Saul once despised, Paul now treasured; What Saul viewed as valuable, Paul was now willing to throw out with the garbage.
Read Phil. 3:1-11
I. “For we are the circumcision”–The majority of the enemies of Paul, and the gospel he preached, were fellow Jews who taught that God required the Gentile Christians to keep the Law of Moses and be physically circumcised in order to be saved. They identified themselves as the circumcision. Paul opposed them, sometimes vehemently. He warns the Philippian Christians against the dogs, evil-workers, and the mutilation! (v. 2) Paul denies the name “circumcision” to the false teachers of Judaism.Instead he identifies the Christians are the real “circumcision,” the only ones worthy of the name, who have put off the body of sin through a circumcision of the heart. Col 2:11-12 – In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
A. The Christians (true circumcision) are characterized by three things that distinguish them from the false teachers who opposed Paul (v. 3): 1) worship God in the spirit (or from the heart and not just outwardly through rituals) 2) rejoice in Christ Jesus (because He is the One who has interceded in our behalf) and 3) have no confidence in the flesh (our approval before God is not because of any physical credentials). The Christian’s confidence is in Christ’s sacrifice and the power of the gospel, not in the flesh.
1. Paul was using the term “flesh” here to refer to the outward designations of approval that the Jews had erected among themselves that defined their relationship to God. Physical circumcision was representative of all. What are your credentials before God?
II. “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so”. The apostle often anticipates his opponents’ arguments and heads them off at the pass. Some would argue that the Gentiles (Philippians here)could not appreciate nor understand the religious heritage of the Jews. It is easy to dismiss something you have never possessed. But this could not be said of Paul. He had a rich Jewish heritage and his credentials as a physical descendant of Abraham were impeccable. He said elsewhere… I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers (Gal 1:14) To enforce the truth of his words, Paul submits his resume`. It would be impressive to many. “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more” (NIV). If such fleshly advantages really amounted to anything Paul would have been far out ahead of the pack.
A. Paul’s Resume`: Paul lists 7 items that he at one time placed in the profit column (assets), but now he reckons them in the loss column (no value).(uses accounting terminology – gain; accounted as loss)
1. “circumcised the eighth day,”starts with circumcision. Literally in the Greek, “with respect to circumcision an eight dayer” strictly according to the law – not in maturity as a proselyte.
2. “of the stock of Israel.”He was born a Jew, from Jewish parents. Not a proselyte.
3. He was “of the tribe of Benjamin”—a tribe of rank and honor: Benjamin was the last son of Jacob and the only son born in the promised land; When land was divided Jerusalem was included in Benjamin’s portion; along with Judah, only this tribe remained loyal to the house of David at the time of the division of the kingdom; By Paul’s day, many Jews did not know their tribal heritage. Intermarriage during the years of exile had blurred the tribal lines. But Paul’s family had remained pure Benjamites. He belonged to a clan of privilege.
4. A Hebrew of Hebrews – He descended from Hebrew parents, but may mean more. May best be understood as a declaration that as he strictly maintained his family’s traditional Jewish heritage. Although born in Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor, not in Israel, he did not become Hellenized by Greek culture. He retained the language and customs of the Jews. When Paul defended himself in Jerusalem he stated… “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today”. (Acts 22:3) “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. (Acts 26:4)
5. “Concerning the law, a Pharisee” – The Pharisees were the “strictest sect” of the Jewish religion (Acts 26:5) and Paul was devoted to law-keeping and doctrinal purity.
6. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church” – The Jews viewed zeal as a valuable religious virtue. It was viewed from 2 sides -love and hate. To be zealous is to love God and hate what offends Him. Paul’s zealous but misguided love for God caused him to hate and persecute Christianity. Thus his reputation as a persecutor of Christians was evidence of his zeal for his religion.
a. Paul was sincere, but wrong. Many are sincerely wrong in their religious beliefs and practices. Like Paul they will sacrifice to uphold their beliefs. But religious zeal guarantees nothing. Devout people can be absolutely wrong. When Paul learned the truth, his sincere past meant nothing in terms of his salvation.
7. “Concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” –Paul is using the term “law” to include, not just the OT scriptures, but the Jewish tradition that surrounded it. Paul was “found blameless” — To those who knew him, Paul was a model Jew, who followed the law. Human judgment could find no fault in him. He had it all.
B. Paul’s Ledger: Phil 3:7-8 – But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Paul took those things on the positive side of the ledger and moved them to the negative side. What he counted once as a gain was now considered a loss. He tells us that he willingly renounced these things in order to place his confidence in Christ alone. But he renounced it all because it stood in the way of attaining something else, something greater: “Howbeit what things were gains (Greek is plural) to me, these have I counted loss for Christ” (v. 7). Notice that Paul moves all things
1. What would change Paul’s values so radically? He came to know Jesus Christ. He counted these things as loss “for Christ”.
2. Notice that Paul expresses his renunciation of the things of the flesh 3 times in v. 7-8. He also uses both the perfect and present tense of his verbs here.
a. Paul utilizes the perfect tense verb in v. 7. This indicates a past action that continues right up to the present. It stretches from the moment of his conversion to the time he wrote the epistle:“I have counted these things loss in the past and still now consider them loss for the sake of Christ. He had not changed his mind about the transaction he made.
b. Thus he continues in v. 8 with a present tense verb, elaborating his present or current reckoning: Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. Notice that the contrast between these things in v. 7 and all things in v. 8. Paul had expanded his spreadsheet to include every other human achievement, possessions, rank, or item of the flesh. There were all counted as loss and moved to the other side of the ledger.
c. “for whom I have suffered the loss of all things” – Paul’s evaluation was not theoretical or academic. In his conversion to Christ he had to renounce these things of his past that stood in the way, and in the process, he went on to lose everything else. It is one thing to say I would give it up, but another to actually experience the loss and still not regret it, to make that choice again and again.
3. “Count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” – One of the most striking elements of Paul’s words here is his use of the Greek word, skubalon (skoo’-bal-on). The word is used to describe what is thrown to the dogs. The food left over after a feast. It translated as rubbish (NASB, NIV) or garbage (NEB) and dung (KJV). The picture here is not of an agonizing choice where Paul tips the scale in Christ’s favor. The previously mentioned accolades and credentials are placed in the dumpster without regret, as one scrapes off a dinner plate or flushes the commode. He does not agonize to have it back. That is challenging from the cold damp floor of a dungeon! Do you regret what you had to give up to be a Christian? Were you called to sacrifice much? If you suffered loss for your faith would you count it the loss as skubalon?
a. A few years back (2015) a decorated and celebrated fire chief for the city of Atlanta, Kelvin Cochran, was fired from his job for writing a Bible workbook about the family as God designed it, wherein he spoke against homosexuality as well as other sexual sins such as sex before marriage. He recently lost his appeal to get his job back. He had worked all his life to get where he was and served the city of Atlanta since 2008. He had a considerable resume’. But he lost it all because of His commitment to God’s word. If you suffered that loss would you count it as rubbish, turn and walk away without regrets or retreat?
b. When Paul put his credentials and privileges on the negative side of the ledger, what did he put on the positive side? Only one thing – That I may gain Christ. That is enough. Everything else is rubbish when compared to Him.
4. Matt 13:44-46 – 44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.Following Christ demands discernment and commitment. Like a treasure or a costly pearl, it has a cost. But when one finds Christ and understands what he has found, he will give everything he has to obtain it. He will count everything else as garbage that is easily thrown away, with no remorse.
a. One writer wrote “If we have truly won Christ at the greatest cost we are conscious of no sacrifice. It is all infinite gain.” Can we keep the books like the apostle? – all the things of the flesh are to be counted as losses; knowing Christ is the only thing on the other side of the ledger.
Conclusion: In our next lesson (2 weeks) we will consider what Paul gained in his transaction. What is worth the loss of all things? – the “Excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus”.