We are on our third week of the series “Perspective” looking at the Book of Philippians and so if you have your Bibles, open to the Book of Philippians. We're in the third chapter as Paul talks to us about seeing things from a different perspective. This is important, because I see things that many of you don’t see, and many of you see things that I don’t see, because what you have experienced in life determines in a great way what you see or how you see things.
Now Paul had experienced more of the sinfulness of man than most people alive, but also more of the goodness of God because of what he had experienced, and so therefore as he’s writing this letter to this church that he loved dearly he saw things they didn’t see. And so he was encouraging them to see things they wouldn’t otherwise see, to surround themselves with people who would inspire them to live according to the pattern of Christ; people who could see things beyond what they could see, and who could help them to stay focused on moving in the right direction.
The book of Proverbs says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
And so if you want to know joy, to have a positive perspective, you need to spend time with and learn to walk with the wise. To zero in on those who have it together, to follow the example of those whose lives are productive and fruitful and full of joy.
Some time ago the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” became very popular. Yet quite often I find myself wondering, and I believe most people are not exactly sure, what Jesus would do in a given situation. You know, some situations can be very complicated, but one thing I know, I do have a pretty good idea of where to turn.
David wrote in Psalms 119:105… “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
So we turn to the word of God, we turn to those who are a positive influence, those who are living according to the pattern of the good news that is found in Jesus Christ. I assume that we’ve all heard the term “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s found in the Declaration of Independence, but it is kind of a twist of reality, because you don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness. You find happiness when you devote your life to pursuing a relationship with Jesus Christ.
And we know that because of the testimony of the apostle Paul, a man who in the early years of his life actually persecuted and even killed Christians. He knew exactly what it was to have a twisted perspective of reality. He knew just how wicked the darkness of man’s sinful heart could be. As a matter of fact he said it this way in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.”
It was as he was traveling down a road on the way to Damascus to round up some more of these followers of this guy named Jesus, whom they claimed was the Christ, that a light from heaven blinded him. He had a supernatural encounter with the very real presence of Jesus, heard the audible voice of Jesus, experienced the revelation of Jesus, and came to the stark realization that he was the chief of sinners. The Holy Spirit stirred his heart. Jesus called him, healed him of his blindness, and empowered him to be a minister of the Gospel. We’re even told that he was called up into another realm, the third heaven, a place that was beyond what anybody has ever seen, and he was given special revelation from God.
It was because of this revelation that he was beaten again and again. He was stoned, and I’m not talking about recreational use, but he was left for dead under a pile of stones. He was whipped again and again and again, and now he’s imprisoned in Rome for preaching the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. So he had experienced the depths of the darkness of man’s sinful, wicked, religious heart. And at the same time God brought him through that and he experienced the goodness of God in a way that many people never will. Therefore because of what he’d experienced, because of what he saw and knew, he wanted to help the Philippians to see things that they otherwise wouldn’t see.
Now if you remember, Paul is writing this from a Roman prison, but he’s not living his days like many people who have what you could call a roller coaster type of existence. For Paul, he’s not up one day and down the next, happy one day and sad the next, enthusiastic one day and lethargic the next. Because Paul’s looking at this from a different perspective, he’s going to see some things that, in the natural, we might miss. And so, Paul begins chapter 3 saying, “Finally, my brothers…” And honestly I don’t know where that came from, because he’s not wrapping it up, he’s not closing his message, because he’s only halfway through the letter, but he says,
“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1).
And so when he says “finally” it doesn’t mean that it’s time for you to close your Bible and put on your coat. Paul says it, to emphasize these points, to drive these things home, because he’s repeating the things as “a safeguard for you.” And this is really what this chapter is about as Paul gives us three safeguards to protect the believers from the dangers that he sees and make sure they are headed in the right direction. You see, because of what he’d experienced, Paul saw three dangers that they didn’t see, three dangers that the Church could unknowingly slip into, and he wanted to share these things with them again as a safeguard to protect them.
Now I know those are harsh words. You know, it’s not often that you find yourself in a situation where you need to call people dogs. As a matter of fact, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve had to use such strong language. But I remember many years ago, vacationing with my family on a beach in North Carolina, when this young couple laid out their beach towels about 20 feet from us. Everything was fine until they had consumed quite a few alcoholic beverages and began to be sexually intimate with one another. Now let me remind you that this was on a public beach, no more than 20 feet from my children who were at that time building sand castles. And right there on their beach blanket this guy was acting like a dog and therefore I told him so, and we left.
Now here, Paul says, “Watch out for those dogs” but he was warning them of a different type of behavior, the danger of legalism. What he was talking about was legalistic believers, and back in his day they used the term “Judaizers”. They were Jewish believers who would follow behind Paul and try to say that what Paul said was good, but there’s more, you still need to follow the Jewish laws to be truly saved. And so for those people who weren’t Jewish, people they called Gentiles, this was a very involved or maybe I should say a very painful set of rules. And maybe they could be Biblical rules, it could be Jewish rules, maybe man-made rules, or even rules from your church, but they were substituting what should be a relationship with Christ for rules that we follow. And so this is what he said in verse two:
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:2-6).
Paul says, as believers we are those who worship by the Spirit of God and who glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to be perfect for God to love us and we don’t even have to like ourselves. Saving faith isn’t about a bunch of rules and dos or don’ts. Paul says, “It’s not even about being more intelligent, more spiritual, or more affluent than others. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh,” he says, “I have more.” Look at verse four, to re-phrase this in our language he was saying, “I was born in the right church; I was the elite of the elite. My Dad was Billy Graham and my Mother was a godly as Mother Theresa! I was dedicated as a baby, I was baptized as a believer. I grew up in a Christian school, got my Masters of Divinity from such and such! I love the Christian liturgy. I speak in tongues! I've got this whole thing covered because I was born in the right place, I behave the right way, and I am a Hebrew of Hebrews.
And when he said that, what he was saying was, “Watch out for the dangers of legalism, because if you've experienced what I've experienced, you'd see what I see. There are false teachers who are going to take the good news of Jesus and add something to it that is going to hurt you.” And so he warns, “Don’t get sucked into that legalism that makes you feel guilty when there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Watch out because they’re trying to rob you of the pureness of what Jesus wants to give you. It’s all about Jesus; its Jesus plus nothing!
So Paul warns about the dangers of legalism. “Don’t let those dogs, those mutilators of the flesh, tell you that you can’t eat pork, you can’t go shopping on Saturday, you can’t mix cotton and wool clothing, or that you need to be circumcised.” You see, these legalistic believers were just trying to get people sidetracked by saying that they had to become Jewish in order to be truly Christian. And so, Paul reminds them that as believers our hearts have already been cut back, we’ve already been spiritually circumcised, and therefore we don’t need to put any confidence in the flesh.
Last week, I finished reading the book from John Bevere, titled “Driven by Eternity” and it was shocking to realize how easily I am distracted by things that don’t matter. I mean so many of us go through life missing the greatest opportunities to do something great for God or the people around us, because we’re distracted by things that don’t matter. The apostle warns us of the dangers of worldly distractions saying in verse seven:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
I love that. Do you know what the driving force behind Paul’s life was? It wasn’t to make money, it wasn’t to be a perfect Christian, it wasn’t even to grow churches; his purpose was to know Jesus, personally, intimately, and to be found in him. Everything else was secondary to knowing Jesus and serving him. He says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of what? ...of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He says, “I have lost all things, that I may gain Christ. I have lost all things and consider them rubbish.”
Paul says it’s nasty, I consider them rubbish, they’re dung, they’re waste, they’re pathetic. It’s all a loss. Everything that I thought was important is nothing in light of an eternity with Christ. And there are some of you here today who need to have a Damascus road experience like Paul had, to come face-to-face with Jesus, a near death experience, where everything comes into focus. To have that revelation that life is short, that it’s like a vapor, it’s a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Because when you realize just how short life is in the span of eternity, suddenly all of the worldly distractions don’t matter so much, its rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. And yet I’m afraid that some of you aren’t seeing what Paul saw, you’re not seeing what’s important, and you need to come to that place where you’ll say, “Jesus, I choose you above everything else. I won’t be sidetracked by legalism, the pursuit of worldly distractions, or any of the garbage of this world.”
Maybe you remember the story of Mary and Martha? One time, Jesus came to their house for a visit, and Martha busied herself with all the details surrounding his visit while Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to him teach. Martha objected and asked Jesus, in Luke 10:40:
“Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” Jesus said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..." (Luke 10:40-42).
Only one thing is needed, and that is to make sure that your relationship with Jesus Christ is priority one in your life. To make sure that you see what Paul saw and that knowing Christ personally, serving him intimately, and growing closer day by day is what’s important in your life.
He urges us to keep moving in the right direction, being aware of the danger of spiritual complacency. You see the problem in America is that most of us are not satisfied with what we have when we should be, and then we’re satisfied with what we’ve done for the glory of God when we shouldn’t be. I believe one of the most dangerous things in the
Church is spiritual complacency. We should never be content, never satisfied with serving, or using our gifts for the glory of the One who saved us.
That’s why Paul said, “I won’t be content.” In verse 12 he writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” (Philippians 3:12-13). And in Acts chapter 20 he says, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me…” (Acts 20:24).
He wants us to see the danger of spiritual complacency, because they’re the people who are spiritually complacent in their marriage and just don’t care. They’re raising spiritually complacent kids and more concerned about their performance on the sports field than they are about their spiritual development. He warns about the danger of being spiritually complacent in our giving, consuming more and more, and not even giving the standard 10% for the glory of God. It’s being spiritually flat-lined and not caring because we’re so discontent with what we have. And so Paul warns, “Watch out! Don’t become spiritually complacent.” And then he says in verse 13,
“…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
In other words, Paul said, put your past out to pasture. If you are harboring regrets let them go. If you’ve asked for forgiveness, know that God has forgiven you. He’s let it go and so can you. But you can’t move forward as long as you continue looking backward. Close the door on the past. Forget what is behind.
And then verse 14, Paul says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize, because if you experience what I’ve experienced, you’re going to see what I have seen, and I’ve seen the faithfulness of God when I was beaten and left for dead. I’ve seen the goodness of God when he lifted me to the third heaven. I’ve seen the unfaithfulness of men as they turned against me, and even though I’m a prisoner in chains, I’m pressing on, I’m straining toward what’s ahead, because you can lock me up but you can’t shut me up. You can chain me to four different guards a day, and one by one I’m going to lead them to Christ, because when you’ve experienced what I’ve experienced, you can’t be still. You might be satisfied with what you have, but you’re never satisfied with what you’ve done. Therefore, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.”
In closing, God is telling us not to get all wrapped up in what you do or what you don’t do. Don’t miss the power of knowing Christ personally. Don’t get distracted by a bunch of meaningless garbage and miss the glory of knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection. And don’t get comfortable spiritually, because if you’re not dead you’re not done. God has more that he wants to do through you. Press on to the goal, for those things that will last, to win the prize of glorifying Christ in everything you do. It’s time to see the opportunities to lay down our lives for the glory of God.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
November 27, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.