INTRODUCTION – Last Sunday Joshua finished preaching through the first two chapters of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. One of the unique things about those two chapters is how much Paul spoke of the work of the gospel, which simply stated is to help all the peoples of the world to know Christ and become His disciples. This talk of the mission of the church up front is very unusual in Paul’s letters to the churches he ministered to.
Often - such as in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, and to the church in Rome, he spent the first half or more building a doctrinal foundation of who Christ is, what He did on the cross and His resurrection and how that affects them and the world - before he ever told them how they were to live in light of those truths.
Sometimes he had to deal with significant problems like with his letters to the church in Galatia or in Corinth, so that he was unable to really focus on the work or mission before them until he dealt with the problems.
In Philippians, talk of the work is up front and central. For instance: In ch. 1 vs. 3-5 Paul tells them that one of the main reasons he thanks God for them and prays for them so often is because of their “participation in the gospel” with him from the very first day of his acquaintance with them until the day of his writing some 10 years later.
In vs. 12-20 Paul wanted them to know how God had used his adverse circumstances of being in prison for the furtherance of the gospel.
In ch. 2 vs. 15 he exhorts them to blamelessly carry out their call as lights in the dark world God had placed them in.
And in the latter half of ch. 2, as Josh spoke of last week, Paul wanted them to know of the great sacrifice and selflessness of Timothy and Epaphroditus for the sake of the gospel – two men who had poured out their lives for the church in Philippi.
I think it is very possible that after communicating all of those thoughts, the apostle realized - unless they really focus in on their greatest calling or their highest priority in life - - their ability to truly contribute to the mission is going to be greatly limited – possibly even corrupted.
Chapter three is somewhat of a timeout! It is a reminder of the dangers of getting so wrapped up in serving Jesus as Martha did, that we lose sight of savoring Jesus as Mary was able to do. It is Paul sensing a check in his spirit via the Holy Spirit, and thus he lays aside discussion of the advance of the kingdom, for something of even greater importance and that is – affection for, and pursuit of the King of this kingdom.
The church in Philippi was more mature than most. But even they needed occasional course corrections and reminders of what was ultimately important, and what must come first.
While I pray that those of us connected to The Well will be ever more fruitful in helping our neighbors and friends and co-workers and fellow students come to know Jesus, as well as supporting those who are doing this to the ends of the earth, …in that quest – we are always going to be in danger of losing our passion for the Savior Himself.
As we jump into chapter 3, we are going to look at three aspects or practices of our relationship with the King of this kingdom. Three aspects or practices of our highest calling in life, two of which I hope to deal with today. And here’s the first one. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to
Rejoice in the Lord alone vs. 1-6 three truths about this practice
First this practice is a safeguard for disciples of Jesus as we see in vs. 1 And it is a safeguard for us corporately as a congregation. As we here at The Well get more and more engaged in the work of the kingdom, our need to be focused on Christ is also ever greater. As we learn to lay our lives down for the brethren and for those who do not yet know our Lord and Savior, there are many potential snares along the way. Diversions, dissensions, disappointments,……People that we have invested our time and energy in and prayers for, people whom we thought were tracking with the Lord, all of a sudden we discover aren’t tracking with Him at all. Those of us in the older generation find ourselves more and more having to deal with health issues and the inevitable deterioration of our bodies. Some of you in the younger generation are slugging it out in the marketplace trying to provide for your families without losing intimacy with your families. Sometimes we pray for and reach out to individuals for many years who do not yet know our Lord and Savior, and years later they seem no closer than they were years ago.
Rejoicing in the Lord – learning to come to Him daily as our primary source of satisfaction and comfort and identity and solace; learning to stand on His truth and promises regardless of what our circumstances look like - - this practice will guard our hearts and minds and emotions - - and protect us from all the fiery darts of the evil one, and the people that the devil uses for his purposes.
When we rejoice in the Lord, and especially the fact that He is Lord over all, and that He will faithfully deal with every injustice and every word of gossip or slander and every evil act toward us or towards His people, our spirit is released from the temptation to take some of these things into our own hands. When we rejoice in the Lord for His utter faithfulness to His promises including answering our prayers for those we long to come to know Him, we can persevere with faith - never doubting He is going to come through. When we rejoice in the Lord and His commitment to heal our sicknesses and injuries; and provide for our every need – we can calm down, and focus on the things He has given us to focus on.
The second truth about this practice or spiritual discipline of rejoicing in the Lord is
This practice requires avoidance of those seemingly in the kingdom who do not rejoice in the Lord – vs. 2 These people are usually very religious, persuasive, pushy, passionate, and deceptive; they may use Christian lingo, they may attend our worship services, they may pastor churches, but they do not truly love the Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimately they love themselves. Paul describes them in three ways:
Dogs – obviously not a reference to service or comfort or companion dogs that many of us have enjoyed; but rather a reference to those who attack and devour like the packs of scavenger dogs that ran wild in those days.
evil workers – speaks to the fact that they can be found serving and working in the kingdom, but their motives are evil.
false circumcision – speaks of how they were obsessed with outward form, rather than Jesus’s call to cleansing of the heart.
(I posted a study of all of these kinds of warning passages in the N.T. on my website recently if you are interested in studying this very real danger further).
Paul doesn’t choose to explain these terms in vs. 2, but instead he goes on to paint the opposite picture. He tells us what true disciples of Jesus look and live like in verse 3.
This practice of Rejoicing in the Lord has three components –
The first one is “worshipping in the Spirit of God” - - Disciples are worshippers! Disciples are daily growing in the revelation of the glory and majesty of Jesus – and as our revelation grows and expands - so does our desire to worship such a great God and Savior. All of this is brought about in our hearts and minds by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit as we learn to hear His voice and respond to His leading, revealing, convicting and sanctifying work. Joshua has often reminded us as a congregation of Jesus’s words that the Father is seeking worshippers whose focus is not a place or a form, but who worship Him in spirit and in truth – daily meditating on all that has been revealed to us about Jesus, and responding with hearts of worship and devotion.
The second one is “glorying in Christ Jesus” – this means we find our full identity in Him, not in our works or performance. It means we are quick to exult in Him and boast only in Him. It means we never lose sight of the fact that it is solely by His grace that we are saved; and it is solely by His grace that we can be daily sanctified and conformed to His image; and it is solely by His grace that we will some day soon see Him as He is when this earthly life is over, and we will be forever in His glorious presence.
And finally in vs. 3, “putting no confidence in the flesh” – means that we agree with Jesus that “apart from Him we can do nothing” of worth in His eyes as He said to His disciples when explaining the abiding in the Vine principle. We readily agree with Paul as he stated in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;” Only that which is birthed and breathed and inspired by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives can be found pleasing to God. Only that righteousness which is imparted to us through Christ by faith is acceptable in God’s sight.
To hammer that truth home Paul now in vs. 4-6 uses his own religious attainments as an example. Perhaps because the Judaizers had for so long and so loudly pushed their man made religion of performance and self righteousness, Paul now sees fit to remind everyone that if anyone could possibly attain the pleasure and righteousness of God through such – he would be that person. Paul was the Lebron James or Steph Curry or Bill Gates of Judaism. He was a Jew of Jews; few had ever reached the heights of Jewish and Pharisaaic stature that he had.
So the first aspect or practice of our highest calling and highest priority in the kingdom is to rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ. The second one that the first and third rides on is that we ever more give ourselves to Knowing Jesus – vs. 7-11
Let’s dive in and see what we can learn from Paul’s example. Here’s the first principle:
The things that were gain for me before Christ saved me must be laid at the cross for the sake or pursuit of knowing Christ – vs. 7 For Paul - one of the things this meant was never ever referring back to his religious attainments as a Pharisee for the purpose of impressing others or patting himself on the back. Paul never ever allowed himself to find any shred of identity or worth from those attainments.
The second principle goes a little deeper:
All things in life must be laid at the cross and must be counted as garbage if we want to know and gain Christ. – vs. 8
For Paul, everything – every relationship, every enjoyment, every comfort, every hobby, every schedule, every routine, every right and entitlement – even those other church leaders enjoyed and expected - - everything was on the table when it came to knowing Christ Jesus intimately and experientially.
Perhaps the easiest way to identify what has been important in our lives, and what we may need to die to is what we find ourselves talking to people about when we are in any kind of conversation or social setting. Here’s a short list of the kinds of things we Americans tend to find our gain, identity or worth in: Usually they are our achievements in things like:
- Education -
- the marketplace or our careers/jobs
- our involvement in sports and/or perhaps our knowledge of collegiate and professional sports – scores, stats, trivia about star athletes, etc
- our hobbies such as going on long hikes or trips to exotic places or photography or…
- our service for the Lord, though if we talk about it all the time is it really for Him? Certainly wasn’t for the Pharisees as Paul could vouch for
- our fitness, our looks, our dress,
- our knowledge of the latest in politics or of current social issues
- our ability to keep a perfect house and landscaping around our house
- our knowledge of what’s happening with everyone in our community via constant surveillance on facebook and our passion to let them know we are approving of their every move by our ever present“likes”
- our kids and grandkids’ attainments
- our knowledge of the latest in technology re: our smart or I phones, or other techy things
So what was it that enabled Paul to totally die to all that his religious attainments had gained for him before he encountered Christ on the Damascus road, as well as everything else the Holy Spirit demanded? According to vs. 8 it was his taste or experience of the “surpassing value of knowing Christ”. Someone many years ago called this “the expulsive power of a new affection”.
You see as you and I daily meditate in the scriptures – looking to the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to us in greater and greater ways, and as we learn to obey His voice and His commandments in a relational daily way – our revelation of Him increases- -and His value as our Lord and Savior grows and increases; and as that value grows and increases – all the things that used to give us a sense of identity or worth or acceptance or enjoyment in society no longer have their grip on us. In fact as the value of knowing and walking with Christ grows in our lives, these things become more and more distasteful and disgusting to us - - to Paul they became as garbage or dung (the greek word here translated rubbish in the New American Standard version can be taken either way).
I want to read you this verse in the amplified Bible if I could: “Yes, furthermore I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege – the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth and supreme advantage – of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ, the Anointed One.” Philippians 3:8
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the World, the Creator of everything seen and unseen in the Universe, has invited you and me to know Him in ever greater depth and intimacy.
But it comes with a price.
When Paul says “so that I may gain Christ” he has learned that it is not a given. Many never attain to it. To gain an intimate knowledge of Christ will require a focus and a death to self in ever increasing measure. It will require a cleansing of all of our sin and the corruption and defilement it has caused in our innermost being in ever greater measure. It will require absolute death to anything and everything that could possibly distract me from this pursuit. And distractions are rife in 21st century America – as you well know.
Now if that sounds daunting, even hopeless, you need to know – we have a Helper in this pursuit. The Holy Spirit will faithfully and clearly help you and I know what has to go, so that we can gain Christ. And He will tell us how to get rid of it; how to get loosed from it; how to get out from under it – whatever it is. And He will help us see every step of the way – that the process, though painful at times - is way worth it!
OK – the third principle about the pursuit of knowing Christ from these verses is:
Our righteousness must be solely placed/grounded in Christ by faith – vs. 9 Our confidence in our right standing with God in terms of our initial salvation or justification; and our confidence that at any given moment we are pleasing in His sight must come through faith in what Christ has done for us on the cross and through His resurrection; and in what He is doing for us now by His blood and His Spirit, and in our participation and cooperation with what He is doing by the Holy Spirit’s power. It must never be in our performance or self effort or generated by our own flesh or will power or human wisdom. Paul’s growing passion was that wherever he was and whatever he was doing or experiencing that he would be found in Christ - -trusting in Christ, reveling in Christ, being fully satisfied in Christ; relying on Christ, looking to Christ, placing his hope in Christ; hanging on to every word of Christ, etc.
Please note - two times faith comes up in this verse. There are times and there will be times where you and I are going to be in intense battles of overcoming certain sin patterns, or just breaking out of seasons of funk that we don’t really understand. When we are in the midst of those battles, it is not our performance, but our faith that He is looking for.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him….” With faith, standing on and clinging to every word, truth and every promise He has ever made - - we can’t help but please Him - - even if we are still struggling to break free of the said sin pattern or struggle. I sometimes wonder if this was what Paul was speaking to, when he said to the Galatian church, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” We know it is coming! He has promised that He will complete what He has begun in us. He has promised that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled or satisfied with it.
While meditating on this passage in Philippians 3 a few days ago, I sensed the Lord would have us observe communion together today. We have an amazing Savior who has provided for us through His blood and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and our placement in His body - everything we need to be restored to the image and likeness of God that He created us in before sin began to mar what God intended.
One of the ways He has given for us to participate with Him in His restoring, healing, and sanctifying work in our lives is coming to His table and meditating on all that transpired on that old rugged cross.
While Joshua and Will pass out the elements, I want to touch on the fourth principle found in verse 10, 11 and that is – Truly Knowing Jesus includes increasingly knowing and experiencing the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Our triune God happens to be quite secure. He is happy to share His resurrection power with us. In fact Paul regularly prayed this for those he ministered to as can be seen in his recorded prayers in Ephesians 1:15-21 and Ephesians 3:14-19 and Colossians 1:9-12. Hear me brothers and sisters - - we need power; we were meant to walk and minister in power; and God is glad to give us power - - as long as we also long for the privilege of sharing in His sufferings and being conformed to his death.
What does it mean to share or fellowship in His sufferings? A few things at least:
1. It means to continue to grow in all the spiritual blessings that are available to me because Jesus the Son of God shed His blood on the cross for me - - things like forgiveness of sins, cleansing from sin, power to overcome sin, restoration of intimacy with Him & to my original purpose and destiny in Him, as well as restoration with others, etc.
2. It means to embrace the way of suffering - - being willing every moment of every day to die to my own rights as Jesus did; being willing to be slandered and maligned and persecuted and lied about and unrighteously judged like Jesus experienced; being willing to do without – whether it be finances, or sleep, or a vacation, it means willingly going through periods of trial and testing, engaging in spiritual warfare, and sometimes seemingly standing alone in who He is calling you to be, and how He is calling you to live.
3. And I think it means experiencing as He did the disappointment of people you have prayed for and invested in making bad decisions; people you have witnessed to rejecting Christ and even you; living and ministering in and amongst the world system that so hated Jesus and will hate us - the more we follow Him and proclaim Him and His will and way;
And finally what does it mean to be conformed to His death?
Some commentators have stated that it means being martyred or willing to be martyred, and for sure it or the “fellowship of His sufferings” could include that. But since these things are necessary for us to know Him and attain to His highest good and will for us per vs. 11, I think He more likely has in mind the call to die to all of our rights and entitlements, to die to all of our old ways and thought patterns and dreams that were not of Him; I think it means embracing the way of the cross at every stage and season of life regardless of the cost - for the prize of knowing and experiencing oneness and intimacy with Christ. I believe it also means dying to every shred of the old man that still lies within us.
As we prepare to partake of communion together, I want to say to those of you who are new with us today that the primary requirement for you and I to come to this table is that we belong to Jesus. If you have never come to a place where you have stopped your busy life, and admitted that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior – now would be a wonderful time to do that. And if you do that, then you may partake with us.
My sense in having us all partake of communion together today came from a strong conviction while preparing this sermon that we are all in this together. I would remind you that Phil. 1:6 was written to a church, not to an individual. One of the means of God’s perfecting in each of us of what He began is our practice of encouraging and supporting one another – bearing one another’s burdens.
Paul wrote in I Cor. 10:16,17 “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.”
Let’s eat of the bread together now. Could a couple of you thank the Lord for His body given for us?
Our oneness is a precious gift made possible only by the cleansing blood of Jesus. Before we drink of the cup, I want to direct your attention to the people of Israel. When they were captives in the powerful nation of Babylon, God spoke these words to them,
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I [a]have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your [b]fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ Jeremiah 29:10-14
Please note that God is the initiator of our relationship with Him. He is the sustainer of our relationship with Him. And He is the finisher of our relationship with Him. He like Paul was very clear that it is not an easy road to knowing Him. But the emphasis in this passage and I believe in scripture is that our hope must lie in His commitment and faithfulness to the development of our relationship with Him, and not in our performance. All the “I will’s” in this passage are given for that purpose.
OK. Let’s drink together. Would a couple of you now thank the Lord for His precious blood that enables us to walk in intimacy with Him?
God bless you all!