Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sermon: Philippians 3: 1-11

Over recent times we’ve seen a lot of discussion in the news about profits and losses. Mostly, it has been losses, with some well known businesses and shops closing their doors, but even in the current climate, there are some profits to be made. Sometimes the very things that have been good at making profits for so long are found to be (in the long term) actually a liability, and a loss.

In Philippians 3, Paul uses the language of accountancy - profit and loss; gain and loss, to describe his own life, and particularly his spiritual life. As we’ll see, the very things that Paul thought were for his gain, he now sees them as a loss, indeed, describes them as rubbish.

Paul’s profit and loss comes in the context of a warning to the Philippian Christians. Let’s look at verse 2 together. ‘Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.’ These three terms are describing the same group of people, and are a strong warning against them.

But why is Paul so firmly against these people? What is it that Paul hates? They are the circumcision party - they put their confidence in the flesh (see verse 4). Basically, they were arguing that to be real true Christians, proper believers, the Gentile Christians would have to be circumcised to be saved. They were ultimately saying that Jesus wasn’t enough - that the only way you could be sure was this extra religious practice. (Jesus plus circumcision)

But Paul says that they have got it all wrong. Paul looks back at his days before conversion, when he was very religious, and says that if anyone has grounds to be sure of themselves, it was Paul. In verses 5-6 he gives his spiritual CV. In terms of religious practice, Paul had it made. He was part of the people of Israel, he was circumcised, he was a strict observer of the law (Pharisee), he went so far as to persecute the church (who he saw as false teachers back then), and he was regarded as blameless as regards to the law.

His profit is immense - he has stacked up all these things in his profit column. But it’s all about what he has done himself - all very religious. Yet in verse 7, there’s a remarkable turn around. In accounting terms its incredible - ‘But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.’ (7) Everything that he previously thought was for his gain, he now sees as a great loss. Nothing of that matters now compared to the one great gain that he has - the only thing of value given to him - the only thing that profits him.

And what is that? Verse 8: ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’ The one thing of value for Paul is to know Christ Jesus (as) Lord.

How can we know Christ Jesus as Lord? As Paul explains in verse 9, there are two competing confidences, two competing paths to righteousness. ‘not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.’

Paul has tried the righteousness that comes from the law - it was the basis of his spiritual CV - but what he thought was gain turned out to be a big loss. You see, no matter how impressive we look, none of us can meet the standards of the law. All of us fall short. Our achievements just aren’t good enough. We end up in pride at what we have done. It’s a dead end.

As Paul turns away from those and turns to Christ, he finds the only righteousness that counts - the only thing of surpassing worth - the righteousness that comes from God by faith in Christ. Not our achievements, but simply our trust - not in what we have done, but what Jesus has done. Believing the promise of God, and being given freely Christ’s righteousness.

This is how to be righteous. But I want to ask you today - as you come to church, as you come to the Lord’s Table, where is your confidence resting? Is it in your achievements, your religious performance? Do you think God accepts you because you’re a member of the Church of Ireland, or because you’ve been coming to church and never missed a Sunday for forty, fifty, sixty years? If our confidence is in ourselves, then we’ve put things in the wrong column - our confidence is misplaced.

Rather, Paul urges us to be trusting in Christ, to believe the promises that God gives us, and to receive the righteousness that comes by faith. Our confidence is in Jesus - not ourself!

Having looked at where our confidence should lie, and how our profit should come from the gain of Christ, Paul goes on to show some of the benefits of knowing Christ. Let’s look at verse 10 together. ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’

To know Christ and the power of his resurrection - who wouldn’t want to know these things? Rather than trusting in our own achievements, to know Christ is to receive the power of his resurrection - to receive the Holy Spirit who indwells us and helps us to live for God. Yet that’s where many of us stop. We only want to claim that half verse, but not the whole verse.

But Paul goes further, and says that to know Christ is also to share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. To be a Christian is to suffer - just look at Paul’s example of suffering for the gospel. Jesus promised as much - if they persecute me, they will persecute you. The servant is not greater than the Master. If the Lord Jesus endured the cross and its shame to win the crown for us, then how much more should we expect to share in suffering for him? We saw Christ’s path of suffering in chapter 2 - the cross before the crown. Paul says that the same path has been laid for us - to follow Christ’s example having been saved by him.

No cross, no crown. The world loves to boast about its achievements. Religious people love to boast about their goodness. But Paul says that it’s all rubbish, compared to knowing Christ (knowing Christ and his power, knowing Christ and his sufferings, and ultimately knowing Christ and sharing in his resurrection).

Are you trusting in yourself today? Are you listing all the things that you think guarantee you heaven? Do you have a list of reasons why God should love you? They’re all rubbish. Just come today and receive the grace offered to you in Jesus Christ - he has done all that is needed. His death on the cross removes your sins and gives you the perfect spotless righteousness of Jesus.

Where is your confidence today?

This sermon was preached in the Church of St John the Baptist, Upper Falls Parish on Sunday 6th June 2010.

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