Amplified: Though for myself I have [at least grounds] to rely on the flesh. If any other man considers that he has or seems to have reason to rely on the flesh and his physical and outward advantages, I have still more! (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Lightfoot: And yet, whatever be the value of this confidence in the flesh, I assert it as well. If any other man claims to put trust in the flesh, my claim is greater.
Phillips: If it were right to have such confidence, I could certainly have it, and if any of these men thinks he has grounds for such confidence I can assure him I have more. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: Although as for myself, I [as a Jew] could be having confidence also in the flesh. If, as is the case, anyone else presumes to have come to a settled persuasion, trusting in the flesh, I could occupy that place, and with more reason; (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: though I also have cause of trust in flesh. If any other one doth think to have trust in flesh, I more;
If the "false circumcision" could brag, how much more so could he!
Eadie - The apostle had declared of himself, that he belonged to those who have no confidence in the flesh; and lest his opponents should imagine that his want of confidence in the flesh was simply the absence of all foundation for it, and that he was making a virtue of necessity, he adds, that he had all the warrant any man ever had—nay, more warrant than most men ever had—to trust in the flesh. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Spurgeon - So that, if anybody could have boasted of what he was by birth, what he was by profession, what he was by the display of religious zeal, Paul could have boasted as boldly as anyone could, for in all those respects he was second to nobody. You know that it is a very easy thing, or it ought to be a very easy thing, for some people to be humble, for they have nothing to be proud of, but here is a man who had much of which he might have been proud. According to the letter of the law, he was a diamond of the first water; yet see what a different verdict he gives after grace has opened his eyes.
Has a mind (1380) (dokeo) may denote either to think or to seem and could be read "if any man thinks in himself".
Paul for the moment, places himself on the same ground as his antagonists to show that even according to their standards, he had superior ground for confidence. He then begins to take inventory of the human attainments and merits in which he might trust. These are Paul's "religious credentials". For argument's sake, Paul plays the part of his opponents so that he may show how much better he can play it than they.
I far more - Spurgeon notes that "If anybody might, Paul might. If birth, if education, or if external religiousness could have saved anybody in the world, it would have saved Saul of Tarsus."
Eadie - As his manner is, the apostle “goes off” in an allusion to his own history and experience. As he proceeds, the emotion deepens into vehemence, and while he muses for a moment on his own inner life, the thoughts welling “out of the abundance” of his heart arrange themselves into a lyrical modulation. He boasts of being a true son of Israel, not sprung from one of the tribes which had so early apostatized, but from the honoured tribe of Benjamin. He was also of untainted descent—an adherent of the “most straitest sect” —ardent in his profession, as evinced by his persecution of the church—performing with scrupulous exactness every rite of fasting, tithing, or sacrifice, so that had salvation been awarded to the fervent and punctual devotions of the chamber or the sanctuary, he might have died in confidence and peace. Therefore he now proceeds to enumerate the advantages which he possessed, in which he might have trusted, and in some of which he did once trust. The Judaizing fanatics could not say, that he made light of these privileges because he had none of them; for he had more than most of them, and yet he felt their utter insignificance. The persons whom the apostle had in his eye were in some respects behind him: at least he says—“I more.” Some of them might be proselytes circumcised in manhood; others might be of mixed blood; others may have been originally of Sadducean creed: while few of them had manifested that uniform obedience to the law which had distinguished him, and that downright devotedness to Judaism which had led him to seek the extirpation of its young and vigorous rival by violence and blood. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Amplified: Circumcised when I was eight days old, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew [and the son] of Hebrews; as to the observance of the Law I was of [the party of] the Pharisees, (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Lightfoot: I was circumcised on the eighth day, a child of believing parents. I am descended of an old Israelite stock. I belong to the loyal and renowned tribe of Benjamin. I am of a lineage which has never conformed to foreign usages, but has preserved throughout the language and the customs of the fathers. Thus much for my inherited privileges; and now for my personal career. Do they speak of law? I belong to the Pharisees, the strictest of all sects.
Phillips: I was born a true Jew, I was circumcised on the eighth day, I was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, I was in fact a full-blooded Jew. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: eight days old in circumcision, my origin from Israelitish stock, belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew from true Hebrew parents [i.e., not a Hellenist], with reference to the law, a Pharisee, (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: circumcision on the eighth day! of the race of Israel! of the tribe of Benjamin! a Hebrew of Hebrews! according to law a Pharisee!
In circumcision an eighth–day man. Converts to Judaism were circumcised in maturity, Ishmaelites in their thirteenth year. But Paul was neither. He was no proselyte but was a pure-blooded Jew.
Eadie - Circumcision on the eighth day was according to divine enactment. Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3. The apostle was a born Jew, and on the appointed day had received the seal of the Abrahamic covenant. The rite was for no reason deferred, and if any merit accrued from strict compliance with the law, he had it. The apostle makes good his declaration not only of "I possess", but of "I more". The proselytes and Idumeans could not say so, for only in riper years could they be circumcised. Paul, therefore, left all such boasters behind him. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Not only was he not a proselyte, but he was not the son of proselytes. If any of his readers were Gentile proselytes to Judaism the things recorded in Ephesians would have been true of them…
Paul's pedigree is presented. Even the most stellar pedigree will not merit entry into heaven.
Nation (1085) (genos from ginomai = to become or come into being) refers to offspring or posterity and in this context refers to the entire nation of Israel.
Of (ek) means "out of" and here is used to denote origin, the class or country of Paul who was not out of Esau but out of Jacob and thus a member of God’s chosen earthly people.
Tribe (5443) (phule from phúlon = race, tribe, class <> phúo = generate, produce) means race, lineage, kindred. It describes a nation or people descended from a common ancestor (See Benjamin, The Tribe Of)
Paul belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe highly thought of, source of the first king of Israel (whose name - "Saul - he bore), the tribe that remained loyal to David (when 10 others revolted), and which formed with Judah the foundation for the restored nation after the captivities.
Eadie - The apostle means to derive some honour from his tribal lineage. It could scarcely be from this, that the first king of Israel belonged to this tribe, or that the apostle bore the royal name. Benjamin was a favourite son by a favourite wife, and the tribe is styled by Moses the “beloved of the Lord.” Deut. 33:12. That tribe also had the capital and temple in its canton, was long identified with the great tribe of Judah, and had returned with it to Palestine, while the more northern tribes had almost ceased to exist as distinct branches of the house of Israel. He could give his genealogy. Ro. 11:1.
Wuest says Paul "was the son of Hebrew parents who had retained their Hebrew language and customs, in contrast to the Hellenized Jews who read the Old Testament in the Greek language. (Philippians Commentary Online- Recommended)
In contrast with Greek-speaking Jews (Hellenists), Paul came from a family that had retained the original Hebrew language and customs.
Spurgeon - That is, one who observed all the minutiae and details of the ceremonial law,, and a good deal more, — the traditions of the elders which hung like moss about the old stone of Jewish ceremonialism. Paul had observed all that.
Eadie explains that…
First his pedigree and now his practice.
A Pharisee - Paul was a passionate adherent of the strictest religious tradition among the Jews. The Pharisees were noted for their strong attachment to the law—for their observance of all its ceremonial minutiae—and their determination, at all hazards, to uphold its validity.
Pharisee as described in Easton's Bible Dictionary were…
Eadie sums up noting that "Paul was not only a Pharisee, but “the son of a Pharisee” —brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous teacher of the sect. His mind had never been tainted by Sadducean unbelief, nor had he been fascinated by the ascetic theosophy of the Essene. If the apostle would not bind the law on the Gentile churches, it was not because he had not studied it or had not understood it, nor yet because he had either lived in indifference to its claims or been trained in prejudice against its venerable authority. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Amplified: As to my zeal, I was a persecutor of the church, and by the Law’s standard of righteousness (supposed justice, uprightness, and right standing with God) I was proven to be blameless and no fault was found with me. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Lightfoot: Of zeal? I persecuted the Church. This surely is enough! Of righteousness? In such righteousness as consists in obedience to the law, I have never been found a defaulter.
Phillips: As far as keeping the Law is concerned I was a Pharisee, and you can judge my enthusiasm for the Jewish faith by my active persecution of the Church. As far as the Law's righteousness is concerned, I don't think anyone could have found fault with me. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: with regard to zeal, persecuting the Church, with reference to that kind of righteousness which is in the law, become blameless (Eerdmans)
Young's Literal: according to zeal persecuting the assembly! according to righteousness that is in law becoming blameless!
|as to zeal a persecutor of the church: kata zelos diokon (PAPMSN) ten ekklesian: (2Sa 21:2; 2 Ki 10:16; Acts 21:20; Ro 10:2; Gal 1:13,14) (Acts 8:3; 9:1-19; 22:3,4; 26:9,10; Co 15:9; 1Ti 1:13)
Zeal (2205) (zelos from zeo = to be hot or fervent) describes an eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something and can have a good sense but in context (and as used most often in NT) here zelos has an evil sense, meaning envy, jealousy, anger.
Persecutor (1377) (dioko from dio = pursue, prosecute, persecute) is a verb meaning to follow or press hard after, pursue with earnestness and diligence in order to obtain, go after with the desire of obtaining. In context dioko means to pursue with repeated acts of enmity. It means to systematically organize a program to oppress and harass people.
Spurgeon writes that Paul…
Eadie - The apostle had been no passive supporter of the law. While he upheld it, he upheld it with his might. And when the supremacy of that law seemed to be endangered by the growth of Christianity, with characteristic ardour and impetuosity he flung himself into the contest. He could not be a supine and listless spectator. The question was to him one of conscience and submission to divine authority, and therefore he deemed it his duty to imprison, torture, and kill the abettors of the infant faith, whose most malignant feature, as he thought, was its antagonism to Moses. Others might stand aloof, fold their hands in indifference, and yield a facile acquiescence in events as they occurred. But the disciple of Gamaliel was in terrible earnest. Believing that in speaking “words against Moses” there was open blasphemy, and that the glory of God and the spiritual interests of his country were in imminent hazard, he felt himself doing God service when he resolved to hunt down and extirpate the rising heresy, and “breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord.” Foremost among the zealots stood Saul of Tarsus. Had his adversaries ever shown a similar fervour—had they so openly committed themselves? His zeal for the law outstripped theirs. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
as to the righteousness which is in the Law found blameless: kat a dikaiosunen ten en nomo genomenos (AMPMSN) amemptos: (Mt 5:20; 23:25; Mk 10:20,21; aLk 1:6; Acts 26:5; Ro 7:9; 9:31,32; 10:2, 3, 4, 5)
Righteousness which is in the Law - This refers not to God's righteousness imputed or credited to man by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead this represents man's righteousness, often referred to as self-righteousness as was exemplified by the pride filled Pharisees in Jesus' and Paul's day. As a Pharisee Paul was one of an elite corps of 6,000 Pharisees who believed that they could attain salvation by keeping the Law, basically a list of "do's and don'ts". This righteousness which is based on self effort and external obedience to rules and regulations is unacceptable to God. Self righteousness can never bring a sinner into right relationship with God. This is the righteousness that Paul is describing in this passage.
Which is in the Law - Means having its source in obedience to the law.
Eadie adds that this righteousness "does not signify either equity or fair dealing between man and man, but depicts that aspect of state or relation to the Divine law, which secures, or is believed to secure, acceptance with God. It is here characterized as being found in the law, or having its source in obedience to the law. With respect to such righteousness, he was perfect. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Spurgeon comments that…
Righteousness (1343) (dikaiosune from dikaios = being proper or right in the sense of being fully justified and in accordance with what God requires) is the character or quality of being right and thus conveys the idea of conforming to a standard or norm. The righteousness of God is all that God is, all that He commands, all that He demands, all that He approves and all that He provides (thru Christ). God is totally righteous because He is totally as He should be.
The "right" kind of righteousness is rightness of character before God and rightness of actions before men. This right kind of righteousness (which comes by grace through faith in the Gospel) stands in opposition to the righteousness which is of the Law and involves self-effort.
Paul referred to this kind of righteousness in his other epistles…
Men are born into Adam and inherit his sinful nature which is opposed to God and at enmity with Him. Unregenerate (not born again by grace through faith) man attempts to construct his own set of standards by which he defines his own righteousness. Obedience to such standards can never satisfy God because His standard is absolute perfect obedience and sinlessness, qualities not possible for men born with Adam's proclivity to commit sins. God’s righteousness is imputed (credited, reckoned to one's account) as a gift to man and not earned.
Found blameless - Eadie explains this as follows "He thought himself, and others thought him, without a flaw. He did whatever the law had enjoined; abstained from whatever the law had forbidden; omitted no duty, and committed no violation of legal precept. In form at least, and in external compliance, his obedience was exemplary, without occasional lapse or visible inconsistency… Such, then, is the record of the apostle's grounds of confidence in the flesh, and who of those opposed to him could boast of more of them? He had no confidence in the flesh, or mere externalism; and yet, if any man was ever warranted to have such confidence, it was he who had more of it than most, but who now with changed views so vehemently decried it, as opposed to the spirituality of the gospel and fatal to salvation. (Philippians 3 Commentary - Online)
Blameless (273) (amemptos [words study] from a = negates following word + mémphomai = find fault) means irreproachable, faultless, without defect or blemish and thus describes not being able to find fault in someone or some thing (cf use in He 8:7 [note] regarding the Old Covenant). The idea is that the person is such that he or she is without the possibility of rightful charge being brought against them. Paul's desire for the Philippian saints is that there be no legitimate ground for accusation when the Lord returns to judge (see discussion of the bema or Judgment Seat of Christ for believers) (1Th 3:13-note for Paul's similar desire and prayer for the saints at Thessalonica).
This adjective was often used to characterize someone who is flawless in the sight of other people. The related adverb amémptōs (differs by mark over the "o") is the very word archeologists have found on Christian tombs from ancient Thessalonica. When people wanted to identify a deceased friend or loved one as a Christian, they inscribed "amémptōs" or "blameless" on his or her grave, such behavioral blamelessness (not just the imputed and forensic) is the Lord’s desire for His church.
Barclay adds that amemptos…
That Paul was blameless (in regard to the Law) is indeed a remarkable claim when one considers the minutiae of Pharisaic legislation. But more importantly Paul did not keep the Law perfectly in God's eyes (Ro 7:9, 10-note), but only in the eyes of men.
At this point you might ask “How could a sincere man like Saul of Tarsus be so wrong?” The answer is that he was using the wrong measuring stick! His standard of measure was human and not divine.
Like the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17-22) and the Pharisee in Christ’s parable (Lk 18:10, 11, 12, 13, 14), Saul of Tarsus was looking at the outside and not the inside. He was comparing himself with standards set by men, not by God. As far as obeying outwardly the demands of the Law, Paul was a success, but he did not grasp the gravity of the inward sins he was committing.
When he looked at himself or looked at others, Saul of Tarsus considered himself to be righteous. But one day he saw himself compared with the risen Lord Jesus Christ! It was then that this heart was genuinely "circumcised" and he forsook “works righteousness” accepting by faith the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon sums up Paul's "self" description remarking that…
The longest sermon on record was preached by Clinton Lacy in February of 1955. It took 58 hours and 18 minutes to deliver it. It was after suffering through this sermonic soliloquy that someone remarked: “Blessed is the preacher whose train of thought has a caboose.”
Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, likes to say to his preaching class: “If you can’t strike oil in 30 minutes, stop boring.” That reminds me of the preacher who announced after a long, dry sermon, that he wished to meet with the church board following the close of the service. The first man to arrive was a visitor. The minister turned to him and said, “You misunderstood my announcement. This is a meeting of the board.” The man replied, “I know, but if there’s anyone here more bored than I am, I’d like to meet him.”
This message will be shorter than usual not because I don’t want to have a meeting of the bored after the service, but because we want to allow ample time for communion and then a commissioning for Kathy Marley and Sue Shavers as they leave for Kenya this week.
Let’s jump into our text by turning to Philippians 3 where we will learn that a relationship with Christ, not religion, is what makes us righteous. In this extremely autobiographical section, filled with strong speech and vivid word pictures, Paul begins in verse 1 with a preacher’s favorite phrase: “Finally…” Now those of you who have listened to sermons for awhile should know that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the message is almost over. Paul still has two more chapters in the book! This literally means, “As for the rest.” He’s addressed a number of topics and now wants to tackle a few more.
True to form, he once again focuses on the need to “rejoice in the Lord.” Notice that we are to rejoice in the Lord, meaning that joy comes only from Jesus. I love how Paul works this theme into every seam of Philippians. It seems whenever he changes subjects in this letter, he interjects the responsibility we have to rejoice. Notice that it is “no trouble” for him to repeat the need for rejoicing, referring to it as a “safeguard” for them. This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.” Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure. His concern is three-fold as he establishes that we are made righteous through a relationship with Christ, not by being religious.
1. Watch out for the expectations of others (2-3). Verse 2 begins with a warning: “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” Using strident speech, Paul moves from some sweet words to several strong warnings. Let me give some background. In the opening seven chapters in the Book of Acts, the Gospel message was preached to those with a Jewish background. But when you come to chapter ten, Peter goes to the Gentiles with the gospel, and this causes some concern and conflict for those who believed that a person needed to become Jewish first. At the end of chapter eleven, it seems like the matter is settled. Notice Acts 11:18: “‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”
Now that the door had been opened, Paul was sent out to the Gentiles in Acts 13, but it didn’t take long for the “Judaizers,” men who taught that people had to submit to Jewish rules, to come along and cause the church to have its first doctrinal disagreement in Acts 15. The conclusion of this conference was that Gentiles did not have to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. James summarized their decision in Acts 15:19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it more difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” They concluded that grace always trumps the Law. But the dissenters were not happy with this decision so they followed Paul wherever he went, stirring up the churches and pulling people away from the gospel of grace.
The Philippians were to “watch out,” or perceive with their eyes, by paying close attention to these men. They were to constantly look out for dangers that were coming their way. Paul describes these false teachers in three strong terms:
• They are “dogs.” We need to get the lap dog or the nap dog out of our minds. These were not pampered pets or docile dogs, but rather dirty, despised and diseased scavengers. I wanted to sing the song, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” but all of you would be out of here if I did! They often traveled in packs, intruding where they were not wanted and barking all the time. I saw a lot of these cantankerous canines when we lived in Mexico and during the summer I was in Zimbabwe. Paul is really asking, “Who Let the Dogs In?” The Jewish people often referred to Gentiles in a derogatory way as “dogs.” The Judaizers had become just like those they had been trying to avoid.
• They are “men who do evil.” Paul is picking up on the declaration of Jesus in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” They may come across as sincere but they are really sinister.
• They are “mutilators of the flesh.” Paul is using a play on words here to show that these men, who have been preaching that circumcision is a requirement for redemption, are actually mutilating the message of the Gospel. Circumcision is taught in Genesis 17 and other passages and did distinguish God’s people from the pagans around them, but when the spiritual meaning is lost, it is nothing more than a mutilation. Paul used even stronger words than this in Galatians 5:12 when he stated: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”
In contrast to these false charlatans, Paul describes real religion using four terms.
• Christians are “the circumcision.” In a spiritual sense, every Christian has been circumcised in his heart.
• A Christian “worships by the Spirit of God.” Instead of exalting the externals, a true believer, as Jesus said in John 4:24, worships in “spirit and truth.”
• A Christian “glories in Christ.” Our confidence is to be in Christ alone. 1 Corinthians 1:31: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Our focus should always be on extending the fame of Christ’s name.
• A Christian “puts no confidence in the flesh.” This literally means, “And not in flesh having confidence.” As Paul does an inventory of his life, he knows he could make a case for putting confidence in his accomplishments.
2. Weigh your accomplishments against Christ (5-8). In this section, Paul opens up his soul as he describes his spiritual resume. He lists seven achievements, some that were inherited and others that were earned. I’m grateful to Wil Pounds for this helpful outline. Here then is Paul’s pedigree. He had the…
• Right Ritual. Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day.” He was a Jew by birth, not a convert later in life. This literally means, “In circumcision an eighth-day man.”
• Right Relationship. He was “of the people of Israel.” He was from the spiritual stock that can be traced through Jacob. When the Jewish people wanted to stress their special relationship to God, they used the word “Israelite.”
• Right Respectability. Paul came from one of the most highly esteemed tribes: “of the tribe of Benjamin.” Benjamin was the child of Rachael, the well-loved wife of Jacob. This patriotic tribe remained loyal to Judah when the other ten revolted.
• Right Race. Paul declared that he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” meaning that both of his parents were Jewish. He was a pure Jew, growing up speaking the language and practicing all the customs.
• Right Religion. Paul stated, “in regard to the law, a Pharisee.” Over time, the word “Pharisee” has come to be synonymous with hypocrite or legalist, but back then, a Pharisee was the highest level one could attain to.
• Right Reputation. No one could question Paul’s passion for the things of God. He was so sold on doing what he thought was right that, “as for zeal, [he was] persecuting the church.”
• Right Righteousness. Amazingly, Paul could take a look at his external actions and declare, “As for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” He could say with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:20: “…all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Do you remember the Flonase commercial where there are a bunch of guys standing next to each other? All of them are using different medications and when various allergens are introduced, one by one, they all fall over until only the guy using Flonase is left. That’s kind of like what Paul is saying here. Let’s demonstrate by having you all stand. I’m going to ask different groups of you to sit down until only one person is left standing.
I’m reading a book right now called, Blue Like Jazz that several guys in the church have encouraged me to read. I can’t recommend it yet because I’ve just started but I was struck by the author’s autobiographical summary of his spiritual life, because it reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s testimony: “I believe the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man’s mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God. I was into habit.” (Donald Miller, Thomas Nelson, 2003, Page 13).
Paul had a bunch of holy habits and high spiritual scores until he met Christ on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. As good as he was, when he comes to verse 7, he writes: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” That word “but” serves as a contrast and the word “profit” is actually in the plural, meaning that all the “right” things he had going for him were like credits on a profit/loss statement. That is, until he took the time to “consider” or count what he really had. This is a mathematical term, meaning to carefully add things up. When he did that, he recognized that all those things that he thought were gain were actually a “loss” when compared to knowing Christ.
Let me demonstrate by writing the word “profit” on the left side of this paper and the word “loss” on the right side. Let’s compare Paul’s life both before he met Christ and after.
Profit Loss Profit Loss
Ritual Christ Christ Ritual
We could say that Paul is basically stamping the word “loss” across all those things he thought were profits. His credits have become debits. Weighed against the weightiness of Christ, nothing stands up. Verse 8 begins with an unusually strong phrase, “What is more,” which in the Greek contains five particles that reads this way, “But indeed therefore at least even.” And then he again uses the present tense of “consider” or count, to say that he concludes that “everything” is a loss compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.” He’s basically saying that a relationship with Christ is much more important than religious activities.
The word “loss” is used in Acts 27 of the cargo that was thrown overboard in a storm. They had to get rid of stuff in order to save their lives. It was valuable but it had quickly become worthless when the sailors were faced with a crisis. The cargo had to go if they wanted to go on. This is similar to what Jesus taught in Matthew 13:44-46 when he said that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man gave up everything for, or like the merchant who, when finding a pearl of great value, “went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Both of these men had accumulated much but saw everything as worthless when compared to the surpassing treasure of Christ.
But then he goes one step further, using graphically gross language: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” The word “rubbish” here is cleaned up a bit because it actually means manure or human waste. Paul is saying that all of his gains are garbage, his self-righteous deeds are like dung, what he thought was excellent is really excrement. Some of us are uncomfortable with these kinds of words in church but let me say it strongly. If you are trusting in religion to get you to heaven, you will never get there because compared to a relationship with Christ, religion is rubbish. We are made righteous through a relationship with Christ, not by being religious. Our good deeds are like a smoldering pile of garbage. Paul is echoing the words of Isaiah 64:6: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…”
Here’s the rub. Most of us have no trouble admitting that our sins are smelly but secretly many of us think that our “good” deeds help balance things out. One pastor put it this way: “It is not your attitude toward your sins that foul you up; it’s your attitude toward your own goodness.” Friend, take some time to calculate your credentials and it will not take long for you to admit that apart from Christ everything is rubbish. Notice that it’s only when we count those things as garbage that we will “gain Christ.” We need to tear up our religious resume and instead trust in a relationship with Christ. And when we realize that we have nothing left but Christ, we will find that Christ is everything we ever needed. Missionary martyr Jim Elliot said it best: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
A good thing can become a bad thing if it keeps us away from the best thing. As Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
It’s possible to be sincere and be sincerely wrong. When Paul compared himself with these seven measuring sticks, he thought he was fine but when compared with Christ, all his gains were garbage.
3. Widen your experiential knowledge of Christ (9-11). Verse 9 describes the amazing transaction that takes place when we refuse to trust in the refuse on our spiritual resumes and put our faith in Christ alone: “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.” This verse is really a summary of the Book of Romans. This passage hit John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress, as he walked through the cornfields one night, wondering how he could stand before God. Suddenly he saw himself – not just as a sinner, but as sin from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He realized that he had nothing, and that Christ had everything.
Believers are “in Christ,” a phrase that is used over 100 times in the epistles. We are inextricably united to Christ in an unbreakable bond. We could illustrate it this way. Imagine that this piece of paper represents your life and this open book (which I will be giving to our “Ten Tons of Love” collection project) represents Christ. As I put the paper into the book and then close it, the paper is completely covered. It is “in” Christ. When God looks at you, He sees Jesus because to be “in Christ” means that God imputes or counts the righteousness of Christ to your account. He becomes your gain as you get the credit for His perfect righteousness.
Verses 10-11 establish the two goals of the Christian life: To know Christ and to become like Him: “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.” The word “know” is experiential, not just intellectual and has the idea of “knowing absolutely.” Jesus described it this way in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Warren Wiersbe points out some helpful truths about knowing Christ from these two verses:
• It’s personal – “I” want to know Christ.
• It’s powerful – the “power” of his resurrection.
• It’s painful – the fellowship of sharing in his “sufferings.”
• It’s practical – “becoming” like him.
One day Paul came to realize that being good is not good enough. He could see himself standing before the doors of heaven with his long list of credentials.
I’ve done the right rituals – silence
I have the right relationship as part of the people of Israel – the angels yawn
I have the right kind of respectability being from the tribe of Benjamin – big deal
I’m of the right race and speak Hebrew – the doors don’t move
I’m one of the elite members of the religion – no sound of keys turning in the locks
I have the right reputation as one who is sincere and zealous – the words hang in the air
Then Paul plays his trump card, thinking that this for sure will get him in: I have the right kind of righteousness because I am faultless – he waits expectantly for a flurry of movement but nothing happens. Heaven’s gates are closed to him while Hell awaits him with open arms.
When Roy DeLamotte was the chaplain at Paine College in Georgia, he preached the shortest sermon in the college’s history. His sermon title was much longer than his message: “What Does Christ Answer When We Ask, ‘Lord, What’s in Religion for Me?’” Here’s his one-word sermon: “Nothing.” A relationship with Christ, not religion, is what makes us righteous.
Someone has said that many of us subscribe to the oldest religion in the world – the do-the-best-you-can religion. The problem with this is that our best is really a mound of smelly manure in the nostrils of Yahweh. Even the good things are garbage to God. Are you ready to put your faith in Him right now so that you will be found in Him? We could define faith this way.
It’s time to do a new accounting of your life so that you will forsake all and take Him right now.