Philippians 3:1-11 November 19, 2017
In the first century, there was a church in the ancient city of Philippi, which was in modern Day Greece, that was very close to the Apostle Paul’s heart. They are the Philippians, and this is Paul’s letter to them, which he wrote around the year 60ad while he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting either execution or release.
As we read the letter, we figure out that Paul writes it for a couple reasons. First, to reassure the Philippians that, despite being in prison and facing a possible death sentence, he and the ministry are doing well. And second, there are some issues in Philippi that Paul addresses through exhortation – which means that he urges them to do some things; he gives them some instructions.
And in the middle of Paul’s exhortation are several examples, both positive and negative. He offers up himself and men like Timothy and Epaphroditus as positive examples of godly men who are practicing what Paul is preaching. At the same time, Paul gives some negative examples, men who should not be followed, but avoided. “Look out for the dogs, the evildoers” Paul said in 3v2 as a warning to watch out for a certain group of false teachers.
We read that verse and the verses following last week, where Paul refuted the prevalent false teaching by giving three marks of a true Christian. And we learned together that a true Christian, according to Paul, “worships by the Spirit of God,” “glories in Jesus Christ alone,” and “puts no confidence in the flesh,” which means, when it comes to their standing before God, a true Christian does not put trust in ANYTHING other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. A Christian does not put confidence in the flesh; a Christian puts confidence in Christ alone.
And now this morning, we’re going to learn what Paul valued most in his life.
Before I preach this sermon, we should pray together. Please bow your heads with me. “Father, help us interpret and apply, understand and change. Through the preaching of your Holy Word, reach our hearts and our minds and our wills, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Please open your Bibles to Philippians 3, which, if you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find on page 637.
Let’s begin in verse 1 again: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord…” So don’t forget, what Paul says next is for joy. “To write the same things to you,” Paul says, “is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”
What Paul is about to say he has said before. It’s important, and so it is “no trouble to [him]” to say it again. Not only that, to say it again “is safe for [them]” and safe for you.
Some things are worth repeating. Some things need to be said over and over again. To hear them and understand them and believe them over and over and over is “safe” for you; it is good for your soul. And when it comes to truth worth repeating, nothing qualifies more than the truth of the Gospel, which is what Paul is about to repeat. The Gospel, (the good news of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done), must never be put away. Martin Luther famously said “Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this [gospel] well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
(v2) “2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” These were false teachers sometimes called Judaizers or the circumcision party, and they were a big problem in the first century church. They taught that true Christians, in addition to placing their faith in Christ, would strictly observe the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, including circumcision. But that of course is NOT true – We are saved, as Paul taught, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
(v3) “3 For we” Paul goes on, “are the circumcision, who” (and hear again are three marks of a Christian) “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.” And Paul goes on to list all the reasons that, if anyone had reason to rely on themselves for acceptance before God, it was Paul. “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.”
So the focus of last week’s sermon was controlled by those verses we just read. This morning, vv8-11 are going to be our focus. And again, we’re going to learn what Paul valued most. Let’s read all our verses together.
(3:8-11) “8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
I know what you’re thinking: Those four verses are full of prepositions of causation and purpose conjunctions. Words and phrases like “because of” and “for” and “in order that” and “that.” These are words we use all the time to link what we do to why we do it. And Paul uses a lot of them here. Let me give you an example, using the prepositions and conjunctions Paul uses here.
Here’s something I do – I preach; I preach most Sundays. And if I wanted to tell you why I preach, I would use these same linking words Paul uses:
I preach God’s word (that’s what I do) because (here comes why I do it) God has called me to preach His word.
I preach God’s word for your good.
I preach God’s word in order that you may hear and be changed.
I preach God’s word that I may one day stand before God and say I did what He called me to do.
These are prepositions and conjunctions that link what and why, and Paul uses a lot of them here. So, Paul is doing something in our text, and then he is telling why he is doing it. Let’s give that some attention. First, what is Paul doing? And then second, why is Paul doing it?
First, he is (v8a) “counting everything as loss.” What is the “everything” there? I think it’s everything he just listed in vv4-6, namely his ancestry and his achievements. It’s everything he was so proud of. It’s everything that used to make him confident. And what’s he doing now? He is counting all of it as loss.
Second, he has (v8b) “suffered the loss of all things and counts them as rubbish.” That’s a little different. He’s talking about things he’s lost; things that have been taken from him. He has not suffered the loss of his ancestry and his achievements, but what things has he suffered the loss of? I think it’s exactly what it sounds like, the loss of “all things.” By this time in his ministry, Paul had suffered all kinds of loss. He reflected on a lot of it in 2 Corinthians 11:22-28 where he said he had suffered…
“far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
And think about this. Paul wrote that second letter to the Corinthians at least six years before he wrote Philippians, from a prison cell. By the time he writes this letter, imagine how much more loss Paul had endured. And yet, what does he do?
He counts everything he has lost as rubbish. He had lost sleep, freedom, health, possessions, food and water, warmth, security, clothing, safe travel, comfort, friendship – but those things are not as valuable to Paul as they once were.
So, what is Paul doing? He is counting everything that once brought him confidence and pride as loss, and he is counting all the securities he once had as rubbish.
Now, why is he doing it? Remember, Paul is not just giving us the what, but also the why. And we want to know. Why Paul? Why would you count everything that once brought you confidence and pride as loss? Why would you count all the securities you once had as rubbish? Why would you do that?
No one counts that as loss. Everyone counts that as gain. That’s what everyone is after: success, security, freedom, health, possessions, comfort, and friendship. Paul, what else is there?
Why is Paul counting life this way? Why is he thinking like this?
Let’s look at the phrases that follow our linking words. Specifically, let’s look at the phrases that follow “because of” (that’s our preposition of causation) and “in order that” (that’s our purpose conjunction).
Back to v8a: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Question: What is causing Paul to count everything, all that once gave him pride and confidence, as loss? Answer: The surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
Paul has discovered something more valuable than his ancestry and his achievements. Knowing Christ. Knowing Christ has caused Paul to recalculate the value of everything in his life.
And then in v8b we have the other phrase, “in order that,” which means a purpose is coming up. Paul counts as rubbish all the things he has suffered the loss of. And he does that intentionally. He does that on purpose. He’s after something better. Let’s read.
(v8b-11) “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that (and so everything that follows here is the purpose behind counting everything he’s lost as rubbish; three verses of purpose follow here)
…in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Let me concentrate those verses for us. Paul is saying that he counts as rubbish all the things he has suffered the loss of in order that he may gain Christ, be found in Christ, and know Christ.
We have our full answers now. What is Paul doing? He is counting everything that once brought him confidence and pride as loss, and he is counting all the securities he once had as rubbish. And why is Paul doing that? To know Christ. He counts that way because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, and in order to know Christ more.
What is most valuable to you? What do you want most in life? Is it to know Christ?
Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord. (Packer)
Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. (Packer)
What is most important to you? What is precious to you? What are you proud of? What gives you reason for confidence? Success? Money? Reputation? Job? Grades? Neighborhood you live in? Possessions? Family? Children? Spouse? Athletic ability? Sense of humor? Theology? Church? Or knowing Christ?
In vv10-11 there are three ways by which Paul hopes to know Christ more. He hopes to know Christ by the power of his resurrection, by sharing in his sufferings, and by seeing him face to face.
First, Paul hopes to know Christ by the power of his resurrection.
(v10) “10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”
The “power of [Christ’s] resurrection is simply the power that raised Christ from the dead. Think about that power. What kind of power does it take to raise Jesus from the dead? Paul wants to know Christ through that power working in him.
He wanted the Ephesians to know this power, and he prayed in 1:19-20 that they would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”
In Ephesians 3:14-19 this resurrection power enables a Christian to “comprehend” and “know” God – “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
There is a lot of talk amongst modern Christians about power, and most of it is not the power Paul wanted. Paul didn’t want power to name it and claim it. He didn’t want power to perform miracles and do a healing service. He didn’t want power to make money, get the job, actualize his potential, or claim the success. He wanted resurrection power so that he could grasp Christ and know more.
Second, Paul hopes to know Christ by sharing in his sufferings.
(v10) that I “may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
We know people in a special way that we can identify with through mutual experience. Paul wants to know Christ this way. He is willing and ready to suffer like Jesus did, even dying the way Jesus did. He is desperate to know Christ. In his commentary on Philippians, Don Carson writes: “Paul understands that the Master was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isa. 53:3), and he feels that following him in this way is part of knowing that Master. It means “becoming like him in his death” (3:10); that is, just as Jesus had been crucified, so also Paul wants to take up his cross and follow him. For the privilege of knowing that Master better, no suffering is too great.”[i]
And third, Paul hopes to know Christ by seeing him face to face.
(v11) “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:14 that “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” And Jesus said in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
Thomas Brooks, in the 17th century, wrote: “A man that sees his propriety in God knows that death shall be the funeral of all his sins, sorrows, afflictions, temptations, desertions, oppositions, vexations, oppressions, and persecutions. And he knows that death shall be the resurrection of his hopes, joys, delights, comforts, and contentments, and that it shall bring him to a more clear, full, perfect, and constant enjoyment of God.”
In conclusion, let’s summarize what we’ve learned.
Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, and in order to know Christ more, Paul counts everything that once brought him confidence and pride as loss, and all the securities he once had as rubbish.
Some of you have misplaced confidence and pride, in who you are and what you’ve done. And some of you have endured great loss. You both need to hear the same things. You need to be reminded of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
I invite you to come up after service and speak with me if you’d like to talk more about the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
[i] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 88.