The Excellence of the Gospel (Phil. 3:1-11)

Publié le 17 mai 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Vincent Bourrel

In verse 1, Paul, who is in prison, addresses the Philippians who (as we know from reading 2 Corinthians 8) were very poor and were in great need. He said to them « Rejoice in the Lord » and to consider Christ as so precious, as such a great treasure, that although being in prison, in affliction or in poverty, to know and belong to him and to be with him forever gives you joy. ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, 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.’

In church, we need to remind one another of this truth. Paul never tires of repeating the same things, both for them and for us. But what exactly is he talking about? I believe he is introducing what is to follow, it is intimately linked to our joy. And these things are so important that he is willing to repeat them as often as needed because they are beneficial, because they are for our salvation.

As you know, Paul is not kidding when the gospel is threatened. His tone changes in v.2: ‘Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh’. Paul uses three expressions to refer to the same group of men, Judaizers (“Christians” of Jewish origin who mistakenly believe that in order to be saved, non-Jews must conform to the laws of the Old Testament and in particular to circumcision). Beware of « dogs » = Jews used this term to refer to pagans (non-Jews). Because the dogs back then were not doggies that were part of the family, but stray animals that roamed the streets. Paul uses the term to mean it is you who is outside the family, who is wandering.

« Bad workers » = Do you know the film « Construction site life » with Dany Boon? He hires bad workers to perform a renovation. They build badly, they damage the existing building, and when they leave, everything has to be rebuilt. Confidence in the flesh produces the same damage in the church.

« False circumcision » = here he uses a word which refers to the circumcision which is so dear to them, but in the sense « badly cut » because the circumcision as God instituted it, is only a reminder in the flesh of a reality of the heart (Deuteronomy 10.16 « Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. » Circumcision symbolizes the death of the flesh and the refusal to confide in the flesh. If you take away the spiritual reality, circumcision is nothing more than mutilation.

This is why Paul continues v. 3 « we are the true circumcision » who understood that the flesh is useless, that man cannot win the favor of God by his merits. The flesh is all that I trust outside of Christ. Self-righteousness (that which we derive from our efforts, from the capacities of our condition, religious practices …) which glorifies man, but the righteousness which comes from God through faith in Christ glorifies God.

True believers are those who worship God by the Spirit (because it is the Spirit who performs this circumcision of the heart), who glory in Christ (because it is Christ who produces the fruits in our hearts), and who do not trust the flesh (because the flesh is sinful and cannot please God).

In verses 4-6 Paul gives himself as an example: ‘If someone can trust the flesh, I can do so even more!’ His education, citizenship, family, heritage, orthodoxy, activity and morality. He could boast of his extraordinary pedigree and this is what he did before he met Christ:

« Circumcised on the 8th day » according to the law of Moses, which probably was not the case
with all Judaizers.
« Of the people of Israel » = chosen people.
« Of the tribe of Benjamin » from which came the first king of Israel and which remained faithful with that of Judah in the dynasty of David.
« Hebrew of Hebrews » he has remained attached to his Hebrew culture and tradition (speaking Hebrew, celebrating Jewish customs …)
« As to the law, a Pharisee » the party most strict and most faithful to all the prescriptions of the law.
« As for zeal, persecutor of the church » zeal was one of the greatest religious virtues. He loved Judaism so much he was ready to fight anything that threatened him.
« Irreproachable with regard to the law » he scrupulously respected the external prescriptions of the law. Of course his heart remained sinful, clean righteous, proud and lost.

v.7 But …
Three times in verses 7 and 8 Paul says that he looks at all that he has accomplished as a waste, as nothing, like mud because of the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. As long as he looked at these things as gain he could not grasp Christ. Accountancy vocabulary gains/losses.

It’s as if Thomas Pesquet was to say (by God’s grace, he may one day): I’m considering my diplomas in Supaero Toulouse, in Polytechnique in Montreal, airline pilot and instructor with Air France… as nothing. My two trips to space… as nothing compared to knowing Christ. Speaking French, English, Russian, Spanish, German and Mandarin… Playing the saxophone, squash, rugby and basketball, as well as a black belt in judo, with his passion for sailing, diving, parachuting… Being handsome, in good health and one of the favorite personalities of the French people… Considering all this and his salary, as nothing compared to knowing Jesus Christ, which is worth infinitely more than all that.

Why is the knowledge of Jesus Christ infinitely better than the best human condition there is? Jesus brings us the righteousness that we cannot give ourselves. v.9 Justice that comes from the law is that which we seek to demonstrate by our efforts, our religiousness, our rituals and our works … We must constantly demonstrate it, it is based on appearance, it is extremely precarious. It must be constantly compared to others to try to be better than others. It’s a bit like reality TV participants. Everything is watched and judged by millions of spectators who will decide if you continue the adventure or not. From getting up to going to bed, you have to be someone nice but with character, beautiful but not sophisticated, talented but without over-playing it, funny but not tedious… And every day you fear that the millions of judges will choose another … In reality you are not the ideal man or woman that you strive to be. There is
no rest, there is no real joy.

The righteousness that comes through faith in Christ is perfect. Jesus lived a perfect life, he fulfilled the law perfectly, according to the spiritual requirements, from the heart and not just in form. He doesn’t force his personality, he’s really like that. He is gentle, caring, courageous, loving, he is perfectly righteous, and holy in his thoughts, words and deeds, he is humble and almighty, wise, and joyful. And that perfect life was offered as a sacrifice for our sins. The one who was righteous paid for the unjust. And his perfect righteousness was credited to us (2 Co 5.21) ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’.

• Christ was treated as if he were guilty of all the sins committed by all believers, even though he had not committed any. The wrath of God was poured out on him.
• And he who believes in Christ is treated as if he were like Christ, perfectly righteous.

If I am declared righteous by faith in Christ:
1) I can no longer be condemned by God for my faults (Since Christ received my condemnation, he served my sentence). This truth creates in me deep joy, complete security and infinite gratitude.
2) I can do nothing to be more just, more accepted (since I have received the righteousness of Christ). What can I add to the righteousness of Christ? This second truth creates in me a deep rest, a perfect peace, a burning love.

This is why Paul regards as loss the confidence he previously had in the flesh, in his diplomas, in his family, in his religious practice … Jesus gave 2 parables to illustrate this in Mt 13: 44-46. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. » In both cases the discovery of treasure, the pearl (= Jesus Christ) is so precious that they are ready to leave everything to possess it.

Concretely what does it mean to regard everything as loss? Should I stop my work, to do good works, to serve in the church …? Should I give up my nationality, my origins, my history, my heritage, my fame, my talents? No, but:
• It means that whenever I am called to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
• It means that I treat the things of this world in a way that brings me closer to Christ, not further from him.
• It means that I always treat the things of this world in a way that shows that they are not my treasure, but rather that Christ is my treasure.
• It means that if I lose any or all of the things this world has to offer, I will not lose my joy, my treasure, or my life, for Christ is everything.

Jesus transforms us into his likeness by the power of his resurrection and by the communion of his sufferings. v.10
Are there any aspects of your character, of how your heart works, that you don’t like, that you would like to see changed? It is possible in Christ. The law and the flesh are incapable of fundamentally changing the human heart. We do not have the capacity on our own to overcome sin and serve God.

Paul wants to know Christ even better (the verb is in the future). We know that he already knows Christ, v. 8 « the excellence of the knowledge of Christ » but it is now the project of his life, to know him always more intimately and to be even more like him. And this is possible by two elements that work together: the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering.

The Bible speaks of the resurrection of Christ as the greatest manifestation of God’s power (Ephesians 1: 19-20) « and his incomparably great power toward us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. » And that power is that which is available to believers to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. It is already operating in our hearts through the Holy
Spirit… This should encourage us so much in our struggles against our own flesh.

Paul adds to that, the communion of his suffering. We cannot be like Christ without knowing his suffering, and we do not need to seek it out, it will come to us: Jesus knew injustice, he knew rejection, mourning, persecution, and death … We know how the Lord Jesus bore fruit: not only by carrying his cross but by dying on it. And he urges us to follow him. To know Christ is to follow this path.

This is good news for those who are suffering right now, Christ has been there and is accompanying them, they are getting to know Christ, and this is how they are made like him.

– Job was a man of integrity and righteousness and he feared God, but after having suffered, Job said « once my ear had heard of you but now my eye has seen you ».

– Stephen (1st martyr) saw Jesus while being stoned and he resembled him in his words.

Suffering is losing or being deprived of things (good or bad) that the world offers for our pleasure: reputation, work, money, a spouse, sex life, children, friends, health, success … When these things are taken from us (by force or by circumstance or by choice), we suffer. But if we have followed Paul and the teaching of Jesus and have already counted all that as loss for the higher value of gaining Christ, then we are able to suffer without losing our joy. The whole aging process is the loss of everything we have: work, strength, alertness, memory, loved ones, sight, hearing, independence … and ultimately life. If we have looked at these things as ultimate then it is a constant heartbreak, but if Jesus is ultimate then each loss reminds us that he alone is sufficient and our joy is preserved.

Jesus will share his glory with us for all eternity. v.11
This is another benefit of being IN Christ. We will share the glory of Christ for all eternity. There is nothing more desirable. When Paul says « I may » he is not expressing doubt, but rather humility. He is aware that all of this is by grace, he is quite unworthy of such a destiny. Paul knows that his body and his flesh are weak, he has a few physical infirmities which cause him pain, he has flesh which is still a slave to sin (Romans 7:18-19). But the resurrection from the dead will definitely rid him of this mortal body and the weakness of the flesh.

Romans 7:18-19 says: « For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Some might say that in this text Paul speaks of himself, he is an apostle of Christ, it is not for us. But his example serves to inspire us. Look at verse17. ‘Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do’.

We have everything in Christ, this is the excellence of knowing him. This is why Paul began his message by saying « Rejoice in the Lord » What degree, what fortune, what heritage, what skill can provide and guarantee such a treasure?

In Matthew 19 we find a rich young man who meets Christ and asks him how to obtain eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the law. The young man replied, « I have observed all these things what am I still missing?’ And Jesus said to him ‘if you want to be perfect, go and sell what you have, give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me”. He’s telling him all you are all you have, consider it a loss because of me. But unlike Paul and Jesus he regarded all he had as gain and rejected Christ and went away very sad on account of his possessions. Each of us stands at a crossroads. We can hold on to all that we are and have (in the flesh) and follow the rich young man in his sadness, his pride and experience eternal perdition. Or we can reject all that we valued to appear good in favor of the excellence of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and follow him joyfully with Paul, to know Christ and share his eternal glory.