Knowing Christ

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Philippians 3:1-11

INTRODUCTION: We are working our way through the book of Philippians and learning what it means to be Partners in the Gospel. Christianity is not a spectator sport, nor is it a solitary endeavor, but rather it is a fellowship, and we are partners in the gospel together. We all have a role to play, and the body of Christ is only as strong as we all are together. In the passage before us Paul shares with us his focus as a Christian in hopes that we will join with him in this journey. And it is a breathtaking vision for life, it is a worthy focus, it is one that will completely turn your life upside down – but in a good way. (Read Philippians 3:1-11)

Complete the following sentence in your mind: “I want ____________.” That’s a pretty open-ended statement, isn’t it? If you’re single, you may have finished the statement with: “I want … to get married.” If you’re unhappy at work, you may have finished it with: “I want … a new job.” If you’re deep into loans, you may have finished it with: “I want … to get out of debt.” And if you’re a kid, you may have finished it with, “I want … an X-Box!”

Did you notice how Paul finished the statement in verse 10? “I want … to know Christ.” Now Paul already knew Christ. He had come to know Christ through a dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. But Paul’s overarching desire was to know Christ more fully and deeply in life.

There are many wonderful things in life, but knowing Christ is the greatest thing of all. Nothing can compare with knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And so Paul lays out his case for us here in Philippians 3:1-11. And as he does so he urges us to do three things. 1) Watch out for those who would draw your attention away from Christ. 2) Put your confidence in Christ, not in yourself. And 3) Make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life.

I. Watch out for those who would draw your attention away from Christ (1-3)

So first of all, watch out for those who would draw your attention away from Christ. There are many voices calling for your attention in life, but not all these voices have your best interest at heart. Most of them want your attention for their benefit, not for yours. And in verses 1-3 Paul warns you to watch out for anyone or anything that would draw your attention away from Christ.

   A. Rejoice in the Lord

First of all, he tells you to rejoice in the Lord. Look at verse 1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Philippians 3:1) The first step to keep your attention on Christ is to rejoice in him. Begin every day with praise to God and Christ. Rejoice in your salvation! Rejoice in God’s love for you in Christ! Rejoice in his promise to be with you always, never to leave or forsake you. When you are rejoicing in Christ, it is hard for anyone to pull your attention away from Christ.

Paul has already spoken a lot about rejoicing in this letter, but it is no trouble for him to repeat it again here, and he says it is a safeguard for you. A safeguard against what? Against anyone who would steal your joy by drawing your attention away from Christ.

   B. Watch out for false teachers

Which is why Paul immediately goes on to warn about false teachers. Look at verse 2: “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” (Philippians 3:2) It is clear from the context that these were false teachers whose focus was on circumcision and the law rather than on Jesus Christ. They may have been Jews who were completely opposed to Christ, or they may have been a group known as the “Judaizers” who preached the necessity of circumcision and keeping the Jewish law along with faith in Christ. But either way, they were drawing people’s attention away from Christ, and so Paul issues a harsh warning here.

Paul uses alliteration to make his point here. All three phrases begin with a hard “k” sound, which makes them spit out of the mouth in rapid succession. We can get the same effect if we translate, “Watch out for those canines, those corrupt workers, those cutters of the flesh.”

The words are laced with irony because Paul addresses these false teachers who were clinging to circumcision and the Jewish law as pagan Gentiles. Dogs were considered unclean animals; instead of good workers of the law Paul calls them men who do evil; and instead of those who practice circumcision Paul calls them mutilators of the flesh.

   C. Hold on to your identity in Christ

Paul says watch out for these false teachers who would draw your attention away from Christ. Hold on to your identity in Christ instead. Look at verse 3: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3) True circumcision isn’t circumcision of the flesh, but circumcision of the heart. These false teachers were focusing on circumcision and the law, and they were missing out on Christ! Paul identifies the true circumcision, the true people of God as those who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.

First of all we are those who worship by the Spirit of God. True worship is not by ceremony or ritual but by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Second, we are those who glory in Christ alone. Jeremiah 9 says this: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD.’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

And thirdly, we put no confidence in the flesh. There is a specific reference to circumcision here, but the phrase means much more than that. It means we don’t put our confidence in ourselves when it comes to our relationship with God, but once again in Christ alone.

And so that is Paul’s first instruction for us today. Watch out for those who would draw your attention away from Christ. Knowing Christ is the greatest thing of all, and so that is the first instruction. You need to guard against anyone or anything that would draw your attention away from Christ.

II. Put your confidence in Christ, not in yourself (4-6)

The second instruction is this: Put your confidence in Christ, not in yourself. This instruction picks up from what Paul just said in verse three and now Paul develops this idea more fully here in verses 4-6. In verse three he said, “We … put no confidence in the flesh,” and now in verse four he continues, “though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.” (Philippians 3:4)

Is Paul boasting here? Yes, but only to make a point. If there was anyone who could have put their confidence in themselves as far as their relationship with God, it was Paul. Paul had more reasons than anyone to put his confidence in himself. And he is going to “boast” about them for a minute in order to show us all the things he used to put his confidence in before he came to Christ. And you know what? They are the exact same kinds of things people continue to put their confidence in today instead of Christ.

   A. Do not put confidence in your background

First of all, do not put confidence in your background. We see Paul’s background in verse 5: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” (Philippians 3:5) Paul is putting together his resume for God here, and he begins with his background.

First of all, he was circumcised on the eighth day. This means that Paul was no latecomer to the Jewish faith. His parents fulfilled the requirements of the law, and he was raised in the faith from infancy.

Second, he is of the people of Israel. This means he was of Jewish descent. His family was not Gentiles who converted to Judaism, but he was a full-fledged Jew by birth.

Thirdly, he is of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was a well-regarded tribe of Israel. Benjamin is the only one of Jacob’s sons who was born in the Promised Land. Saul, the first King of Israel, came from the tribe of Benjamin, and it is possible that Paul’s parents even named him after King Saul. Benjamin was also the only one of the twelve tribes that stayed with Judah when the northern tribes broke away from the south after King Solomon.

And then finally, Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews. There were both Hebrew-speaking Jews at this time and Greek-speaking Jews. Paul spoke Hebrew, his parents spoke Hebrew, he was raised speaking Hebrew – and this gave him just one more edge in his resume.

If anyone had reason to put confidence in his background it was Paul. His credentials were impeccable.

   B. Do not put confidence in your achievements

And then Paul goes on to list his achievements: “5 in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:5b-6)

So, you think you know the law? Paul was a Pharisee. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most widely known and respected Pharisees in all of Jerusalem. The Pharisees not only knew the law. They lived, breathed and ate the law for breakfast. You weren’t going to outdo Paul in this area.

As for zeal, persecuting the church. Others may have complained about the church, but Paul made it his sole mission to destroy it. Paul was so zealous for the law, and so outraged by these people who were proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, that he poured all his energies into persecuting them. He was there giving his approval when Stephen the first martyr for the church was stoned to death. Acts 8:3 tells us that all on his own he “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)

And then as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. Whatever the law said to do, Paul did it. He dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s. When it came to following even the minute details of the law, Paul had done it all.

Notice he says “legalistic righteousness” here. We will see why that is important in just a little bit. But for right now I want you to see how impressive Paul’s resume is. If anyone could have confidence before God, Paul’s the man. His background and record were flawless. He was the MVP in the game of righteousness.

   C. Count these things as loss for the sake of Christ

And yet what did Paul say about these things in verse 7? “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7) Paul is using accounting terms here, and we often think this way too. We think that all the good things we do count for us in God’s favor, and all the bad things we do count against us. Then we add up both columns and hope that the “good things” column outweighs the “bad things” column. That’s the way Paul used to look at it too. But when he met Christ, you know what he did? He took everything in the “good things” column, all those things he had been placing his confidence in, and he moved them over to the “bad things” column. Whatever was to his profit or gain, he now counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

The lesson from verses 4-7 is clear. Put your confidence in Christ, not in your background, not in your achievements. Christ is the only thing that matters. Put your confidence in Christ, not in yourself.

III. Make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life (8-11)

1) Watch out for those who would draw your attention away from Christ. 2) Put your confidence in Christ, not in yourself. And finally 3) Make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life.

   A. Consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ

So how do you do that? First of all, consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ. Look at verse 8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

You see, it’s not enough just to count those things that were to your profit as loss. You are to consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ – your background, your degrees, your accomplishments, your bank account, your possessions, the things you care most dearly about, your children, your spouse, your family. These are all good things in and of themselves, they are good gifts from God, but they pale in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

Knowing Christ personally is the greatest thing in all the world. Notice that Paul calls him, “Christ Jesus my Lord.” Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and that is amazing, but even more amazing, he wants to be your Lord. That is personal, and that is amazing. It is so amazing that Paul has willingly lost all things simply to know Christ.

And notice he has no regrets. He hasn’t put all these things aside, and then sits there thinking about them and pining for them. No, he says, “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”

You know what our problem is? We want to gain Christ without losing anything. It doesn’t work that way. When you get married, you stop dating other people. When you get traded as an athlete, you don’t play for both teams. Nothing compares to knowing Christ. He is the pearl of great price, he is the one thing necessary, he is the supremely valuable one. As Thomas A Kempis wrote: “Love all things for Jesus’ sake, but love Jesus for his own sake.” (Book 2, Chapter 8, “Of Intimate Friendship with Jesus”) How do you make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life? First of all, consider all things loss compared to knowing Christ.

   B. Be found in Christ having the righteousness that comes by faith

Secondly, be found in Christ having the righteousness that comes by faith. Look at verse 9: “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.” (Philippians 3:9)

Let me tell you a tale of two righteousnesses. There is the righteousness of your own that comes from the law and is by works. And there is the righteousness outside of yourself that comes from God and is by faith. The righteousness of your own is based on your own compliance or non-compliance with God’s law. The righteousness from God is based on the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Which righteousness would you rather have? When you stand before God on the day of judgment, do you want to have your own righteousness or would you like the righteousness that comes from God? God offers you the righteousness of Christ as a free gift when you place your faith in Christ who died for you on the cross.

You know everybody talks about finding themselves. I don’t want to find myself. I want to be found in Christ. On that final day I want to be found in Christ, clothed in his righteousness alone. How do you make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life? First of all, consider all things loss compared to knowing Christ. Secondly be found in Christ having the righteousness that comes by faith.

   C. Become like Christ in his death and resurrection

And then finally, become like Christ in his death and resurrection. Look at verses 10-11: “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.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

Here is Paul’s testimony, and here is the model for us to follow. Paul says, “I want to know Christ.” Now Paul already knows Christ. He has known Christ for nearly thirty years when he writes these words. He knows him better now than he did the year before. But he wants to know Christ more. He wants to know him more fully and deeply with each passing day.

Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” Ephesians 1:20 says that God exerted his mighty power in raising Christ from the dead. There is power in the resurrection of Christ. And that power is available to you as you live for Christ. It doesn’t come from you. It comes from God through the Holy Spirit. When you are weak, then you are strong. Why? Because then you are depending on God rather than yourself.

But Paul doesn’t only want to know Christ’s power. He also wants to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. There’s that fellowship word again, that word that means partnership, that word that our whole series in Philippians is based on. Paul wants to know Christ more than anything, and that means knowing it all, knowing the sufferings as well as the power.

There is power available for living the Christian life, but too many of us never take hold of it. Do you know why? We want resurrection power, but you can’t have resurrection without dying first. It’s the age-old story: everyone wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die. We want power for Christian living, but we are not willing to die to ourselves and our own agendas.

Not Paul. Paul says, “I want to know Christ … becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11) Now Paul knows that he will share in the resurrection of the dead. He just doesn’t know how it will happen yet. Will he be martyred? Will he die of old age? Will Christ come back for him before he dies? Paul doesn’t know the details of how he will get there, but he knows how to get there. It is by knowing Christ.

It is the same way for us. There is no greater thing than knowing Christ. Will you make knowing Christ the supreme desire of your life?

CONCLUSION: This is a penetrating passage when it comes to examining your own life before God. And so as we close this morning, I would like to ask you some penetrating questions.

1) First of all, is there anything in your life that is drawing your attention away from Christ? For the Philippians it was the threat of false teachers, but for us it could be anything. It could be a present relationship, it could be something you are holding on to from the past, it could be worry or fear about the future. Whatever it is, let me encourage you to fix your eyes firmly on Jesus, and guard against anyone or anything that would draw your attention away from Christ.

2) Secondly, when it comes to acceptance before God, in what are you placing your confidence? It basically comes down to two options. Are you trusting yourself, or are you trusting Jesus? Are you trusting your background and achievements, or are you trusting Jesus who died for you on the cross? Are you trusting in your own righteousness, or are you trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ? Our righteousness is a mixed bag of half-successes and total failures, sin that runs deep, and outright rebellion against God. The Bible says that even our best actions are as filthy rags before God. Why would you trust in your own righteousness when you can have the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith in Jesus Christ?

3) And then thirdly, do you want to know Christ more than anything else? Do you want to know the power of his resurrection in your life? Do you want to share in the fellowship of his sufferings so you can get there? Knowing Christ is the greatest thing of all. Why be satisfied with anything else? Can you say with Paul: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

© Ray Fowler

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