Knowing Christ (Philippians 3:1-11)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Watch out

Sadly, we always need to be watching out for those who would try and take us in and rob us of what we have. More than ever we are being plagued by those who pretend to be who they aren’t to take from us what we have that they want.

  • Fake callers

Not that long ago I had an automated call claiming that the call was coming from the Department of Home Affairs, which they weren’t. In the call they spun a story making accusations saying that I needed to contact them.  This week I had someone claiming to be from Telstra telling me that they were going to shut down my internet unless I cooperated. We need to be ever vigilant these days because with modern communication anyone from anywhere can contact anyone and spin a story claiming to be someone that they aren’t. Sadly, often these sorts of people prey on the most vulnerable in society cleaning out the bank accounts of people who can least afford to lose what they’ve taken from them.

  • Fake followers

It might be more prevalent these days, however it isn’t new. We see this today in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In chapter 3 Paul strongly warned the Philippians to be watching out for people who he described as dogs, evil doers, and mutilators of the flesh (3v2).

Paul uses three explosive words to describe the false followers that were troubling many of the Gentile churches. He calls them dogs and when he says this don’t think of a labradoodle, a cute family pet but mangy street dogs that hung around townships causing trouble. These people hung around churches causing trouble and strife. They were not doing God’s work but they workers of evil. Lastly, he referred to them as mutilators of the flesh. It’s this last term and the start of the next verse that provides us with the clue as to who he was talking about. He was warning them about Judaizers. These were people (often Jewish believers) who were going around to the Gentile churches telling them that their faith in Jesus wasn’t enough and that they needed to follow the law and their men folk needed to be circumcised  if they were to really become God’s people.

This warning comes up just after Paul had exhorted his readers once again to ‘rejoice in the Lord”. Paul repeatedly called the Philippians to be joyful but here he has made it clear the ground of that joy is in the Lord. Our joy comes from knowing the Lord Jesus and having him in our lives as our Lord and Saviour. However, straight after exhorting them in this way Paul wrote of those who would rob them of this joy warning them to watch out for them. He wrote that reminding of them these things was no trouble for him, but it was a safeguard for them. It reminds us that so much of Christian teaching and encouragement is about reminding one another of what we ought to know but so easily forget.

  • A strong warning

The warning in verse 2 is put in the strongest terms. The verb “to watch out” or “to look out for” is repeated 3 times. Sadly, the translators of the NIV have dropped out the repetition from their translation. But listen to the CSB that has retrained the repetition.

Philippians 3:2

Watch out for the dogs,
watch out for the evil workers,
watch out for those who mutilate the flesh.

The repetition is there to highlight the danger that these Judaizers posed to the believers in Philippi. If you tell your son to do something and repeat it two further times in the one breath it stresses the seriousness of what you are telling them. If you say to them “Clean up your room, clean up your stuff, clean up that mess” all in the one breath they ought to pick up the fact that your very serious about what they ought to be doing. The apostle Paul was serious about the need for the believers in Philippi (and all believers in general) to watch out for those who would rob them of the joy of knowing Christ and being found in him by promoting confidence in something else.

  • We are the circumcision (not them)

Paul explains why they needed to watch out for them in verse 3.

Philippians 3:3

3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.[1]

Like a lot of people that you need to watch out for these evil workers were claiming to be the real deal, the people of God, who worshipping and serving the Lord. They were claiming to be “the circumcision” which was a way of talking about God’s OT covenant people. However, Paul wrote in verse 3 that “it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit”. Paul was saying that it was him and the Philippians who were the genuine people of God and not these mutilators of the flesh.

Circumcision was a procedure that God had given to Abraham and his descendants as sign of the covenant that he had made between God and Abraham and his physical descendants (Gen 17:10-11). But for the apostle those who were God’s people were not those who had physically been circumcised, but those who now “serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus (put their confidence in him) and who put no confidence in the flesh.”

  • Circumcision is a matter of the heart

Paul makes it clear in Romans chapter 2 that what mattered was an inward spiritual reality, a circumcision of the heart.

Romans 2:28-29

28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

The circumcision that mattered was a circumcision of the heart. It wasn’t a matter of just a cutting away some external flesh, it was a matter of the heart and a cutting away the old life through being united with Christ in his death and resurrection by the Spirit of God (see Colossians 2:11-12).

What these Judaizers were offering the Philippians was something that the Philippians already enjoyed but which they would end up losing if they listened to them and started putting their confidence in other things. Paul wrote that they already were “the circumcision”. They didn’t need to be physically circumcised because they already were God’s covenant people, who worship or serve [Him] by the Spirit of God. We who boast in Christ alone and put no confidence in the flesh are the people of God.

2. False Confidence

Confidence in the flesh (in ourselves and what we might do or achieve in life) is false confidence when it comes to standing before God. Paul in verse 4 to 7 explains that if anyone had reason to have that sort of confidence that it was him, but in the end all the things that he used to put his confidence in were worthless in God’s sight. In fact, they were worse than worthless for they were losses.

  • Paul’s privileges and achievements

Paul provides a list of both his privileges and his achievements in life that many would have thought were a good reason to have confidence.

Philippians 3:4b-6

4bIf someone else thinks they have reasons to put 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; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Paul listed out his own privileges and achievements which these evil doers would have been tempted to boast in. He was circumcised on the eighth day just as the descendants of Abraham were meant to have been (see Gen. 17:12). He secondly was an Israelite, a member of God’s people who had been entrusted with the promises and the Word of God. He was of the tribe of Benjamin from which Israel’s first king had come. It was also a tribe that had remained loyal to the Davidic king. These were the privileges that he had been born into.

Paul then describes himself as Hebrew of Hebrews. He was saying that he was an exemplary Jew not just one with a good pedigree but also one who had done all the right things as a Jew. With regards to the law, he was a Pharisee which was a strict religious sect devoted to the study of the law and that sought to live it out in minutia of life. He was so zealous for the law that he had persecuted the church. As far as legalistic righteousness he said that he was blameless. This didn’t mean that he was perfect, but as far as anyone was expected to keep the law he had done so.

  • Paul considered them loss for the sake of Christ (v7)

Paul had more reason than any of these evildoers to have confidence in the flesh, but he wrote that what he used to consider as profit he now considered loss for the sake of Christ. Paul is using the language from the accounting world to make his point.

At one time he would have considered these things to have provided him with some sort of credit in his account with God, but they were in reality debits. At one time he regarded them as real gains, but now he considered them as losses for the sake of Christ.

Knowing the Lord Jesus caused him to re-evaluate all those things that at one time he’d thought had been so important. He now not only realised that these things were worthless in God’s sight, but they were worse than that because he’d proudly put his confidence in them instead of looking to God and his promise in Christ. His privileges and personal achievements had been preventing him from doing the only thing that really did matter which was to put his faith in Christ.

  • We must humble ourselves

What we regard as our achievements in life can never earn us credit with God and balance out the ledger. The Bible tell us that we all are sinners who fall far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the only way that we can come to God is to humble ourselves and renounce our own sense of righteousness for what it is garbage. Until we let go of what we so proudly want to hold on to we can’t take hold of Christ and what he has done for us through Christ. As the old song, Rock of Ages says, “nothing in my hand I bring simply to the cross I cling”.

It was only when Paul came to know Christ that he came to reassess everything and realised that all the things that he had been so proud of weren’t the wonderful gains that he’d thought they’d been. He had to let go of his sense of privilege and achievement and consider them as rubbish when compared with knowing Christ so that he might gain Christ. Paul wants you and I to be careful, for those things that we are tempted to hold on to cannot ever compare with the surpassing value of knowing Christ.

3. Nothing compares

Paul makes this point in verses 8 to 9 where he says that nothing compares with knowing Jesus Christ. Paul talks about the surpassing value of knowing Christ in verses 8 to 9.

Philippians 3:8-9

8What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 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 on the basis of faith.

  • It was all garbage compared to knowing Christ

Paul makes it clear that nothing compares with knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. In verse 8 he has broadened what he was talking about from the privileges and achievements that he had just mentioned to included anything in life that one might be tempted to put our confidence in. He wrote that he considered everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

This knowledge of Christ that he is talking about isn’t just a head knowledge that merely knows about Christ. He isn’t just talking about knowing more information about Jesus, but a personal knowledge of Jesus who had become his Lord and Saviour. He wrote that compared to gaining Christ everything that he had lost in life was merely garbage or refuse or as they old King James put it “dung”. I think you probably get the idea.

All his so-called privileges and achievements that he’d once prized so highly could only be thought of as garbage in comparison. Being circumcised on the eighth day, garbage in comparison to knowing and gaining Christ! Being of the people of Israel, garbage in comparison to gaining Christ. Being Pharisee, nothing but garbage in comparison to knowing Christ.

  • In Christ we have a righteousness from God (v9)

Nothing can compare with gaining Christ and be found in him. For when we know Christ and are found in him, we don’t rely on a righteousness of our own that comes from observing the law, but we receive a righteousness (a right standing with God) that comes from God on the basis of our faith in Jesus.

If the Philippians listened to these Judaizers this is what they would be giving up  – a righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ. We receive his right standing before God, because he took our sins on himself and paid for them on the cross (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). If they were taken in by these Judaizers they would stand before God one day relying on their own righteousness, the sort of legalistic righteousness that comes from obeying the law. But as Paul explained to the Romans, “no-one will be declared righteous in the sight of God by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20). What the law does is it makes us conscious of just how sinful we really are and how far we fall short of God’s glory. What we all need is for God to forgive us and acquit us declare us to be right with him on account of what Jesus has done for us.

What Paul wanted the Philippians to understand was the surpassing value of what they have in Christ. People are more prone to losing or giving up what they have been given when they don’t realise just how valuable what it is that they’ve got. Sadly sometimes we don’t appreciate just how valuable what we have is.

I think it was probably a couple of years ago now that an old woman selling her house in France discovered that for probably more than 50 years she had been overlooking the value of what she had. The woman had a painting that sat over the hotplate in her kitchen for most of her life without ever realising its’ great worth. In her 90s the time came for her to sell her house and downsize and she might have given it away or thrown it out except that she got someone in to see if she had anything worth selling. The painting in the kitchen caught the valuer’s eye and it turned out to be a medieval painting from the 13 century called “Christ Mocked” that eventually sold for more than 24 million Euros in 2019. This painting could have easily ended up being thrown out or sold in a garage sale had it not been for someone seeing its true value or worth.

Here Paul wanted the Philippians to understand the true value of what they already have in Christ so that they might not give it away for the rubbish that these workers of evil were offering them in return. He reminded them of these things as a safeguard for them. The things that the Judaizers were offering the believers were the very things that Paul had given up as garbage so that he might know Christ and be found in him.

We all need to appreciate the value of what we have in Christ. Nothing in this world can compare with what we have in Jesus. In comparison to what we have the things that this world offers us, and what it values is rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

4. I want to know Christ

Paul’s goal in life was therefore to know Christ better – to know the riches of what it meant to be found in him. This is what he describes in the final two verses that we are looking at today.

Philippians 3:10-11

10I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

  • We ought to want to know him better and to be more like him

All Paul wanted was to know Christ better. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the Lord Jesus already, but knowing him meant that he hungered to know him better and to grow deeper in his relationship with him becoming more like him. He wanted to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering. He wanted to share in the work of Christ which would inevitably bring opposition and suffering which strengthened by the power of God he would be able to bear. Paul said later in chapter 4 that he could do everything through him who strengthened him. This was all part of knowing and having fellowship with Christ and becoming like him in his death. Paul wasn’t saying that he wanted to die, but that his goal was to be more and more like the Lord Jesus who loved us and gave himself up for us (Eph. 5:2).

Here is the goal of the believer who understands the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ and being found in him. We want to know him better, and we want to become more like him while we wait for his coming and the resurrection of the dead when he “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”(3:21).

  • We find our joy in knowing him

And the more that we know him and experience his power at work in our lives, the more reason that we have to rejoice and be glad. We find our joy in knowing and growing in him better. Like the apostle Paul hopefully our desire will be to know him better so that we might rejoice in the Lord, as says later in chapter 4, always.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture references are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.