Most of us can come up with an overflowing bucket of examples for the old adage – One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. One example is the spring and summer tradition of garage sales. Someone, or perhaps a whole neighborhood, puts their no longer needed or wanted clothes, toys, furniture, and what-not up for sale. For a couple of bucks, one family’s junk becomes a useful treasure for someone else. While Paul doesn’t repeat the old saying or reference garage sales, he does revalue his faith, determining some things to be useless junk and other things as priceless treasures.
Welcome to the seventh installment of our walk through Philippians. Having provided his readers with the meat of his message, Paul began a series of reminders; things that he has taught them before but wanted to underscore again. Paul writes, “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.” (Philippians 3:1, NLT) So, maybe you’ve gotten this far and figured that what comes next will be the same old stuff. I’m hoping that you’ll stick with Paul and me, perhaps you’ll see walking with Jesus in a new light or become even more confident in your faith.
There are three movements in the verses we are going to cover. In Philippians 3:1-7 Paul encourages his readers to avoid man-made righteousness. In 3:8-9 Paul talks about authentic righteousness. And lastly, Paul looks both at today and eternity as he considers the reward of righteousness in 3:10-11. So let’s dig in.
Avoid Man-made Righteousness
Paul writes, “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us.” (Philippians 3:2-3) Throughout Paul’s ministry to non-Jewish believers he was dogged by other teachers that demanded the necessity of circumcision for salvation. For instance, the reason Paul wrote to the Galatians was that they had fallen into this wrong-headed teaching. Those teachers of circumcision were essentially saying that to be a follower of Jesus you must first become Jewish. Paul insisted in Romans that, “No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” (Romans 2:29, NLT) It was difficult for the Jewish believers, steeped in the demands of the first covenant to understand that Jesus had fulfilled those demands for them.
Paul then lays out his own credentials of faith. “We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.” (Philippians 3:4–7, NLT) Perhaps you have the same kind of spiritual resume or maybe you don’t. You see, that is Paul’s point. Righteous faith does not rely on our heritage, our actions, our obedient list-keeping, or even our zealous passions. Paul looked back on all his efforts, all the man-made things he did in the name of God and revalued them as junk. Not because they were necessarily bad or corrupt but because what Jesus Christ had given him was exceedingly better. It would be like driving around in a rusty twelve-year-old high mileage Ford. It still works, it still gets you from point a to point b. You may even be happy with it and work hard to keep it running and looking, well, kind of good. But then someone comes along and gives you an expensive brand new car. Suddenly that old car becomes just so much junk. In comparison, the righteousness given to us by Christ should make anything else we try to do to earn God’s favor just another pile of junk.
Now, Paul just doesn’t denounce something and leave it at that. Paul goes on to say, Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. Maybe you’ve heard this before – Paul values all his own self-righteous attempts to reach God right up there with cow poo and animal dung (just to keep this “G” rated). Paul gives up all of that for the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ and nothing else. This doesn’t mean that Paul felt free to do whatever he wanted, there were still boundaries, but they were there for new reasons. This kind of righteousness is authentic because it comes from God and not through anything man-made. This is righteousness God’s way.
Some, having a different value system, have discounted righteousness by faith. It’s too cheap. It’s too easy. Where’s the sacrifice? Where’s the discipline of body, mind, and soul? Where’s the pain or the cost? Our walk with Jesus is founded on grace. He paid the price so that we could receive His righteousness as a free gift through believing in Him. Sacrifice, discipline, and obedience are joyously grown in us as we take each step with Christ. The gulf can be seen in these two compound words. We are either self-sufficient or God-dependent. We are either trying to scratch, claw, and earn our way into God’s favor on our own merits, or we are open-handedly relying on God to reach towards us and draw us to Himself.
Paul writes of that because of this righteousness founded on faith in Christ, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Paul highlights five things, knowing Christ, experiencing God’s power, suffering with Christ, sharing His death, and participating in the final resurrection of the dead. Knowing Christ. Think about it this way. Most religions of man are aimed at appeasing their god. Often unknowable, somewhere up there or out there or sometimes even just an idea. Followers of Jesus are not just walking towards something but walking with someone. Jesus invites us and wants us to abide in Him, to get to know Him personally. Not only does Jesus want to know us, but He also wants to work through us with the same power that raised Him from the dead. But with power also comes suffering with Christ, demonstrating His compassion and sacrifice for the sake of others. This extends to the point of being willing to lay down our lives for others. Sometimes this means physical death, more often than not it means putting to death our own wants, passions, and goals for the sake of another.
Paul’s last statement, “so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead” can cause some confusion. In some English translations, it almost sounds as if Paul is unsure about salvation or ultimately being in heaven. I like the way the New Living Translation put it above. Throughout the letter, Paul’s ultimate sentence from Caesar is on his mind. Will he live and be released or will Caesar decide to put him to death? I think a better understanding is that Paul is saying something along the lines of “see you there or in the air.” Or to put Paul’s thought into something more formal, because of righteousness by faith in Christ he will either be resurrected from the dead or translated as he wrote about in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18. The only doubt in Paul’s statement is which way it will be for him.
It’s easy to get off-track and account for our righteousness on things other than Christ. Take a moment and ask Jesus to show you anything that you have or do to gain His favor. Consider things like your heritage, church attendance, religious traditions, avoiding certain sins, doing or giving certain things. There’s nothing wrong with those, and they can be God honoring. But none of them will be enough to open the gates of heaven or earn points with God so that our prayers are answered. Our prayers, our worship, our fellowship, our sacrifice, our giving, our loving, and our living is all because of Jesus Christ. When our prayers are answered, it’s not because God thinks we’re special or that we’ve learned some secret formula but because of God’s power working through Christ’s righteousness which we have learned to value above everything else. Lord, please keep us laser-beam focused on You and keep us from putting our trust in anyone or anything else.