Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 09 (“Prerequisites for Knowing Christ”)
[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 26 May 2019)]
The past couple of years, the synod of the largest Afrikaans church in South Africa went astray and became more and more liberal. Last weekend, their synod in the Western Cape started talks on allowing cohabitation amongst church members. This is what happens when, as Paul calls them, dogs and evildoers are allowed in the bosom of a church denomination or individual church - such a church becomes rotten to its core and if the Lord does not intervene, such a church or denomination will become totally corrupt and Biblically alienated from the Word of God and will “mutilate the flesh” as Paul calls it in Phil.3.
This tendency is however nothing new and happened all over the world, even since the time of Paul and we must be vigilant and on the lookout for similar influences amongst ourselves.
- SCRIPTURE READING:
Phil.3:1-10 (ESV) ~ “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
We will be looking at our passage for today under the following three headings:
- Paul’s Warning (3:1-2):
- Paul’s Credentials (3:3-6):
- Paul’s Advice (3:7-11)
3.1PAUL’S WARNING (3:1-2):In this last part of Paul’s letter to his beloved brothers in Philippi, he begins by saying that he realises that they are familiar with the things that he is about to say.
He also knew that they will not mind hearing it again, on the contrary they should be glad to be warned about devilish threats and be reminded of the Truth of the Gospel on a regular basis. This reminds us of the words in 2 Pet.1:12 where Peter said the same thing to the recipients of his letter ~ “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”The apostle clearly felt it necessary to repeat some of his teachings and some of his previous warnings, because his brothers were confronted on a constant basis with all kinds of misleading messages by all sorts of people.
Paul knew that there were people with devious (Afrikaans: onderduimse) and clandestine (Afrikaans: agterbakse) messages (Afrikaans: verdraaïïngs) about the Truth of the Gospel. In our day we will call it Post-modern and Liberal theological viewpoints. He warns his friends in Philippi against these people and he calls them “dogs.” Unlike today’s domesticated pets, dogs in first century Philippi were generally wild pack animals (almost like our African Wild dogs). They were aggressive scavengers, thieves and devoured whatever food they could find (Matt.7:6). False teachers, like those Paul describes, are looking for their own interests. They are not truly part of the family of faith, but are seeking to take whatever they can get from others.
One particular group that Paul cautioned against were the “Judaizers” (2 Cor.11:13). They were teachers who claimed that faith in Christ was not enough for salvation. These people added the requirements of the Old Testament law on top of the Gospel.
They insisted that Christ’s kingdom could be entered only through the gate of Judaism. Only circumcised converts were fully accepted by God. They appeared quite early in the history of the Church, and are those referred to in Acts 15:1 ~ “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Paul was the object of their special hatred and abuse. They challenged his birth, his authority, and his motives.
You may say that it is harsh and inappropriate to call other people “dogs,” but even the prophet Isaiah referred to Israel’s irresponsible leaders as “dogs” in Is.56:10-11 ~ “…His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.”
Paul also warns the Philippians against “evil workers,” but that is just another name that Paul gave to the Judaizers ~ “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”(2 Cor 11:13).
3.2PAUL’S CREDENTIALS (3:3-6):With an interesting twist to his warning, Paul starts talking about himself. He does this in order to drive home a specific point and we will get to that point in a moment.
He tells his brothers that they (together with him) “are the circumcision.”In order to understand this expression or title, we must look at Rom.2:29 ~ “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
The word “circumcision” means “cutting around.”This rite was appointed by God to be the special badge of his chosen people, an abiding sign of their consecration to Him. Circumcision was adopted by God as a physical sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Gen.17:10–14). Thus, all descendants of Abraham became known as “the circumcision”(Acts 10:45). Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision”(Eph.2:11). It is also the sign and seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Rom.4:5).
In compliance (agreement/accordance) with the divine command, Abraham, though ninety-nine years of age, was circumcised on the same day with Ishmael, who was thirteen years old (Gen.17:10 -27). Slaves, whether home-born or purchased, were circumcised (Gen.17:12-13). And foreigners had to circumcise their males before they could enjoy the privileges of Jewish citizenship (Ex.12:48).
According to Jewish custom, our Lord was circumcised at the age of eight days. It was usually performed by a “mohel”(a Jewtrained in the practice of the “covenant of circumcision” or circumcision)in a ceremony called a“brit milah”(or “bris milah”), which means “Covenant of circumcision“in Hebrew. According to Jewish law, the foreskin should be buried after a “brit milah.”
The circumcision is something that every good Jewish family does with their new born son. In spite of the fact that circumcision ceased as a rite (ritual) amongst the Christians, when the New Testament times began (Gal.6:15; Col.3:11),Jesus’ circumcision is significant to every Christian for many reasons. I just want to mention three reasons why He was circumcised:
- It reminds us that our Lord is a Child of the Covenant
- It reminds us that our Lord is fully human.
- The circumcision was a foreshadowing of our Lord’s sacrifice. That is why we read in Col.2:11 ~ “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”Christ’s circumcision therefore,refers to His death on the cross.
Believers are now circumcised through their identification with Christ; Paul speaks of it as “the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”(Col.2:11).This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer. It should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col.3:5). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil.3:3).
With this in mind and the threat of the Judaizers spreading misleading messages about circumcision and promoting adherence to the Torah [The Torah refers to the five books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Torah was written approximately 1400 BC. Traditionally, the Torah is handwritten on a scroll by a “sofer” or “scribe”]as part of Christianity in Philippi, Paul refers to faith in Christ as “the true circumcision.”
Paul reminds the Philippians that they are “the true circumcision”and don’t need circumcision as demanded by the Judaizers and therefore don’t have to trust in circumcision to be saved, because they, as we’ve previously seen in Rom.2:29, are circumcised in their hearts.
What Paul is saying, is that no-one has to expose himself to all kinds of outwardly-, fleshly things in order to be saved. If outwardly things were necessary, he would have been saved without a doubt. He was circumcised on the eighth day according to Jewish prescriptions.
Apart from Paul’s circumcision, he was also part of the “people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Jews belonging to the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. After the Assyrian conquest of 721 BC, they were known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” The Benjaminites however, in the southern kingdom of Judah, was part of the more powerful tribe of Judah.
Paul also says that he is “a Hebrew of Hebrews.”Biblical scholars use the term Hebrews to designate the descendants of the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)- i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (also called Israel [Genesis 33:28]).
A more thorough bred Jew, a Benjaminiteanda Hebrew could hardly be found amongst the Jews, than Paul.
He goes further and says that he is also a Pharisee (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”). The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety; their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the written Law, and their teaching that all Jews should observe all 600-plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.
Lastly, Paul tells them that he was, prior to his conversion, a persecutor of the church, which qualified him as an excellent Pharisee. To the Pharisees, Jesus could not be the Messiah, since He was crucified and therefore a curse, not salvation – they expected an earthly saviour and how could their earthly saviour be a dead saviour? Saul’s motivation for persecuting the church before his conversion, was to correct the “false teaching”of the Gospel within Judaism, using the synagogue punishment system itself. He most likely saw himself as a reformer, working for the high priest. Their goal was to deal sharply with the followers of a condemned Rabbi.
3.3PAUL’S ADVICE (3:7-11): When it comes to the Jewish law he was almost perfect and therefore blameless. BUT, Paul states it loud and clear in 3:7-11 that all his credentials won’t help him or anybody else for that matter, to be saved. He therefore, see all these credentials as rubbish – “as loss,”because none of these things from his past can be compared to what he gained when he was converted. In 3:9, he also stresses the fact that all these credentials did not save him – no good works in other words. Only God’s righteousness that was imputed into him through faith in Christ could save.
Paul’s salvation led to a desire to know Jesus better. He then explains what he means by “know Him.”Knowing Jesus means knowing “the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.”Paul does this by becoming like Him in His death. The only other place in Philippians where Paul urges the Philippians to become like Jesus in His death is in 2:5-11. Paul is saying that the way to know Jesus is by seeking the good of others with the same mindset that Jesus had in His incarnation and death. This is the same mindset that Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus had as they continue to work for the advance of the Gospel.
Phil.3:10 starts with the word “that”and the implication of that is that the rest of 3:10-11 is the result of something prior to 3:10. So let us briefly look at the result and then the prerequisite.
- The results:The results are clear:
- 3:8 ~ “…the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord;”
- 3:8 ~ “…in order that I may gain Christ.”
- The prerequisites:If we want to receive knowledge of Christ and gain Him, there are certain prerequisites that we must adhere too. Look carefully to the preceding versus of our paragraph (3:1-9), we see a repetition of a specific word(s) and/or idea, namely “loss,”or “counted it loss”:
- 3:7 ~ “…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss;”
- 3:8 ~ “I count everything as loss;”
- 3:8 ~ “For his sake I have suffered the lossof all things;”
- 3:8 ~ “…count them as rubbish.”
The only way that these “results”can become part of Paul (3:9) is… ~ “…through faith in Christ.”And we find the culmination of all these results in 3:10:
- 3:10 ~ “…(so) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Not only does this all result in knowing Christ as Person, but also knowing Him in the power of His resurrection and knowing Him in His sufferings.
- CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
Beloved, we cannot know Jesus Christ really, if we don’t share His sufferings and become like Him in His death. We must get new credentials.
Paul cautions us too. Evil workers are common in our day, but we hesitate to expose them.We must continue to keep in mind why Paul wrote this paragraph in his letter. The reason being that there were false teachers going around like dogs. In order to experience Christ’s righteousness, they had to focus on Jesus and not on material stuff. We as church should not focus on previous credentials; nor on status, or whatever may come between us and the Lord. If we persist in our faith in Christ and lay all these other things aside, we will know Him personally and this will include knowing “Him and the power of His resurrection.”
Where do you stand brother and sister when it comes to counting things rubbish for the sake of Christ?Once, Paul was confident that all his previous credentials would save him, but now he realises (through gaining knowledge of Christ), that the only way of salvation, is through the power that is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of His resurrection is the power of salvation. It has the power to deliver us from our sins and miseries and it is only in Christ and through Christ’s power that we can be saved – the power that was needed to raise Christ from the tomb of death – no other power is powerful enough to bring us out from our spiritual death than the merciful almighty power of God the Saviour.