One of the greatest joys of serving this church as an elder is the privilege we have to listen to everyone share their testimony. Each story is unique, but they all have that familiar pattern. If someone has grown up in a Christian home, there still comes that point where the faith of their parents becomes personal.
Often times, the stories begin outside the church and it is not until a friend invited them to church that they heard and responded to the gospel. We never tire of hearing the various ways that God has worked in your lives. We encourage you to tell your testimonies to one another.
We’ve heard a lot of testimonies, and I will say that there is a bit of a learning curve. Some need to be coached through their testimony with questions, others seem pretty familiar with the concept. The main idea that we are looking for is fairly basic.
Do you understand your need salvation? Do you understand that apart from Christ you are without hope? Everyone who professes Christ as their Lord ought to recognize their need for him, whether they grew up inside or outside of the church. Then we are also looking to hear how you came to trust in Christ for your salvation.
Paul shares his testimony with the Philippians in this morning’s passage. He speaks of his experience in Judaism apart from Jesus, then he explains how Jesus changed his view of everything.
We have the tendency to create standards for ourselves that serve to assuage our guilty conscience. Or we base our salvation upon whether or not we possess a particular set of virtues. Christ may be a helpful means to achieving the real goal of self-justification.
But a true conversion is a supernatural transformation that is accomplished by God through faith. In Christ we gain a new identity and belong to a new community for all eternity.
Pray & Read Philippians 3:1-11.
I. The Loss of Tribal Identity (4-7)
Last week, we talked about Paul making an abrupt shift in tone at the start of this chapter. He issues a stern warning about those who are corrupting the truth. He takes another unexpected turn in the fourth verse.
Paul had just given several characteristics of the community of saints. “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.”
Paul recognizes that the community does not eradicate the individual. We must treasure Christ personally and individually. So Paul begins to explain how that took place in his own life. It begins, therefore, with a discussion of the things that used to define his life. What were things that he valued? What gave him purpose and meaning?
Paul’s pedigree gave him great confidence in the flesh, more even than his opponents (4). Anyone who assumes the need to meet a certain standard according to the flesh, will find Paul is more than qualified. They cannot find fault with his background. He belonged to the elite class of Israelites. He took his religion more seriously than anyone else he knew.
For those estimating one’s worth by resume, Paul’s was one few others could compete with (5-6). He rattles off everything that he once held up to God as his justification. The first five characteristics reflect the tribes Paul belonged to, while the latter two characteristics reflect the way in which those tribes influenced Paul’s life.
• “Circumcised on the eighth day” Paul meets the first qualification better than any circumcised Gentile.
• “of the people of Israel” Rom 9:3, 4; 11:1. This is not the typical word for “people” in Greek. γένος denotes “ancestral stock, common ancestry, nationality” (BDAG). Paul belonged to the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. He possessed all the privileges common to Israel…
Romans 9:4–5 ESV
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
• “of the tribe of Benjamin” Judah and Benjamin were the only tribes that remained faithful to David’s legacy (1 Kin 12:21). Paul possesses a lineage that would always be superior to a Gentile’s lineage. Once you accept the markers of tribal identity, you commit to the consequences of your station.
• “a Hebrew of Hebrews” Paul is saying that not only does he belong to the Hebrews based upon his family connection, but he remains culturally part of the Jewish people. He was raised Hebrew and continues to understand the Hebrew language. These Gentile believers could never become more Hebrew. They would always remain second-class citizens.
• “as to the law, a Pharisee” Pharisees sought to transform society through strict observance of the law. They were literally “the separate ones.” And Paul was an elite even among them. Having been trained under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; 26:5). He understood the law and his ability to teach and apply the law was held in high regard by the people.
• “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church” Paul had a sincerity of faith that set him apart from others. He enthusiastically lived out his faith. He was always amazed that the Lord would show him grace even though he persecuted the church. Paul would round up men and women—chasing them into foreign cities—and dragging them off to prison (Acts 22:4, 5; 26:9-11). At the time, he was under the impression that his zeal was pleasing to God. It was a misplaced zeal, but he could never be faulted for being indifferent about his faith.
• “as to righteousness under the law, blameless” This doesn’t mean perfection, but it is a common way of suggesting fidelity (Luke 1:6). He took God’s commandments seriously, and was an outwardly moral person.
Why does he list all of these attributes regarding his background? Because he knows where his opponents are coming from. He had earned his right to be heard. If this is the game you want to play—that you won’t listen to someone unless they meet certain physical qualification—then Paul had them beat at their own game. He had the same fleshly confidence that they argued was necessary. But Christ changed everything for him!
The “more” that he possessed (cf 4), the more he now counts as loss because of Christ (7). None of the items on his list matter in comparison to Christ. They are worthless in gaining favor with God, even if they are valuable in and of themselves. Paul is not suggesting that Christ had made him ashamed of his heritage. He wasn’t expected to repent of his privileged heritage and work toward evening the playing field.
But, what he was forced to recognize when he met Jesus, was that his heritage could not save him.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
We must relinquish our dependence upon cultural and tribal attributes “for the sake of Christ”. My allegiance to God takes precedence over any earthly or worldly tribe. We can appreciate our background without relying upon it for our justification.
The first point of our testimony is to recognize that apart from Christ we had nothing to offer to God. We could not earn a right standing with him. We don’t despise our heritage, but neither do we depend upon it for our salvation.
Are you a good person? Are you good enough to go to heaven? When we ask a question like that, the vast majority of professing Christians answer poorly. They consider their deeds to be good enough. Even after showing them how they have broken the standard of perfection provided by the ten commandments, many of them have no clue how they can be forgiven.
You must get this right. There is no hope of salvation apart from Christ. Even if you could reach the pinnacle of fallen humanity—like Paul—you would still be at enmity with God. Jesus would say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” None of the righteousness Saul had accumulated meant anything without Christ. That’s what he realized when Christ blinded him on that road to Damascus (Acts 9).
We too must turn away from ourselves and the various tribal identities we possess, and turn to Jesus Christ by faith.
› Only through the loss of tribal identity will we understand…
II. The Gain of Christian Identity (8-11)
Once again Paul makes an important shift in this letter. He transitions from reflecting upon the past, to the present. What he “counted” as loss, he continues to “count”—but now it is “everything” that might compete with the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ”.
What we have gained in Christ makes everything else a loss by comparison (8). Paul counts it all as dung, refuse, excrement “in order that” he “may gain Christ.” In order to “gain Christ”, Paul had to let go of his justifying pedigree. Faith in Christ replaced everything else for him.
To be clear, this was not how it was for all old covenant believers. Paul’s Pharisaic legalism led him to misappropriate the law. He did not use the law to point out his weakness and need for a Messiah. He used the law to point to his goodness and justification. His obedience gave him a misplaced confidence.
Now, he sees his righteousness from the law as nothing more than a participation ribbon. When he stands before God in judgment, that participation ribbon is not going to provide him with much confidence. His self-righteous pedigree contributed nothing but “σκύβαλον” to his standing with God.
Paul understood the destructive nature of elevating tribal identities above (or even alongside) Christian identity. In comparison to Christ, his heritage was rubbish. In fact, all of his righteousness was as useful as filthy rags (literally soiled menstrual cloths in Isa 64:6).
Several commentaries have noted the progression contained in verses 9-11 (justification > sanctification > glorification). What justifies us before God is not any righteousness that I could gain “on my own…from the law.” Now that Paul is found in Christ, he recognizes that the righteousness that justifies him before God is the righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ” (9).
Jesus is the righteousness of God. He alone could serve as our substitute. Only Christ could satisfy the righteous requirements of the law. Therefore, if we are to be right with God, we must identify with Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Romans 5:19 ESV
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Now, life for Paul is not about building up his resume, but knowing Christ (10). He wants to know more of the power of the resurrection. He seeks to share in Christ’s sufferings. As he grows in this way, his life is being conformed into the likeness of Christ in his death.
And this union with Christ is what gives him the confidence that he too will participate in “the resurrection from the dead” (11). He knows the doctrine of the resurrection of believers that will take place upon Christ’s return (Phil 3:21). It is not a concept that he doubts, but a concept that he marvels over. He is dumbfounded that he too “might somehow attain” the resurrection from the dead.
That final resurrection ushers us into our glorification. For all eternity we will enjoy the glory of the New Heavens and New Earth. What are we doing here in corporate worship? We are receiving a taste of heavenly glory.
Jonathan Cruse, in his book What Happens When We Worship makes the case for regular corporate church attendance. He makes the point that many people believe they encounter God all over the place (due to His omnipresence), but he reminds us that running into your doctor at the market does not mean he will give you an exam on the spot.
Cruse steals a great illustration from T. David Gordon, who mentions that he went hiking on Mount Lafayette and found a dime on the trail. However, he says, if you were looking for dimes you wouldn’t start hiking Mount Lafayette, you would go where you are guaranteed to find dimes: the bank. So, too, we may meet God out in nature, but we are guaranteed to be in the presence of God if we gather with his people corporately, which is not only a great help to our souls, but a taste of what we were made to do, and as redeemed people will do for all eternity with hearts full of joy.