In our latest sermon in the series, Pete preaches from Philippians 3; 1-11. The passage urges the christians in Philippi to beware of those who would lead them away from the gospel through self-righteous acts. Pete discusses what implications this has for us today.
Could you ever imagine paying an income tax debt to the inland revenue using Monopoly money! Of course not! Monopoly money has value only in a board game. Nowhere else! And if we really thought it had value to pay our tax debt, it shows how much we have misunderstood both the seriousness of our debt, and what our real problem is.
We live in a society which effectively uses ‘Monopoly Money’ to solve the world’s problems i.e. it tries to give us answers which make no real difference. We live in a world which is violent and divided; a world full of injustice; a world where people hate and distrust each other on the basis of skin colour, accent, political views and many other reasons. We live in a world where even demonstrations in the cause of justice and peace often only result in anger, and unjust reprisals.
So, the world has many ways of responding to this problem of evil in the world, but all of them fail repeatedly to get to the root cause.
The problem is that the world views the human condition as a tiny, controllable thing which can be improved by actions of different kinds: by acts of kindness or generosity, by demonstrations in support of causes, by acts of parliament, or public statements showing outrage at injustice. All of these, however, send the message ‘If you don’t follow in my footsteps you will wallow in the guilt.’
This is just ‘Monopoly money’. The problem goes much deeper than we think. The world believes that we are born either neutral, or on the ‘good’ side, and that it is later that something causes us to turn towards evil or ‘teaches’ us evil. But that is not what the Bible says.
The Bible tells us that we begin our lives as soldiers in the army of darkness waging war against God who is just and righteous. We are spiritually dead to the God of justice, love peace, and creation.
Until that fundamental problem is sorted out, all our human efforts will create more division, because they inevitably want to put ourselves first.
If my behaviour follows the way society thinks righteousness should be shown, i.e. by my speaking out and challenging the wrongs in the world, but you don’t show the same outrage, and don’t go along with my actions then I can’t help but feel better than you, or at least feel pity for you. And the result is self-righteousness and division.
Taking it further, if a group can shout loud enough, it can get others on the band waggon, because companies and organisations will want to appear righteous too. This is how the concept of Virtual Signalling has come to our attention. If big corporations take our side in an issue, via social media, if not in actual action, the result is that we feel morally superior to all those who have not spoken up too, and we feel justified in taking the moral high ground.
But whether it’s virtual signalling or a deeper-seated belief against injustice itself, in the end it’s all ‘Monopoly money’. An aspirin for a dead man. It has no comprehension of the exact nature of the problem that lies behind these evil acts, and only distracts our attention away from it.
Rejoice in the Lord.
In verse 1 of chapter 3 Paul exhorts the Philippian church to ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ and later in verse 3 he declares we’ boast in Christ Jesus’
Paul writes as a servant of Christ, to those who are in Christ, urging them to have the same mind as Christ; to work out their salvation before Christ, as God works it in their life. The central theme is all about Jesus. Whilst it is a glorious truth that authentic Christian joyfulness comes only from rejoicing in the Lord, inevitably there will be things around us and within us who will try to stop that joy. So Paul’s teaching very quickly leads on to the subject of how we can safeguard our authentic Christian joy in the face of the enemy, those who would destroy our faith in Christ.
Watch Out, there’s a Mutilator about.
In verse 2 Paul warns, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh”
On one level it might seem straightforward to safeguard against such vicious, violent people as Paul is describing in this verse. But life isn’t as clear cut as that. You’re not likely to meet someone with a chainsaw, but you might meet someone with a Bible in their hands. You’re not likely to meet someone with snarling teeth, but you might meet someone with a winning smile. You’re not likely to meet someone with blood-stained clothes but you might meet someone wearing religious garb.
Paul knows that our enemy, the devil comes as an angel of light. He is a master confidence-trickster and liar. Don’t be tricked by these people. They want us to have confidence in the wrong thing. They are spiritual confidence tricksters selling Monopoly money as the answer to life’s problems. They are calling us to put our confidence in something other than the Lord. They will move us from rejoicing in the Lord and serving him, to placing all our confidence and rejoicing in the self. It is a blasphemous insult against Christ to think that a few good works can change the human condition.
What is it to have confidence in the flesh?
Philippians 3:3 “For 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 “–
To place our confidence in the flesh means that we are constantly searching for ways to make ourselves righteous. It is anything that we can procure from within ourselves. Ironically, having confidence in self can make use of a bit of help from religion. To talk about Jesus and the Bible, and to show some religious piety helps the self to look humble.
Placing confidence in the flesh can be illustrated as a kind of spiritual Account book.
In the credit column can be written things like our family background, our life’s achievements, our generosity, our reputation, our passion for causes, or our outrage at immorality.
The other side of the same coin is that love of self will encourage us to beat ourselves up about our privileged background or it will call out others about theirs, in the name of being righteous.
Some people actually believe that this is true Christianity, which shows just how confident and competent these tricksters are.
Here is a simple test. Finish off these sentences:
I believe I am a just and righteous person because...
If your next word here is ‘I’, you’ve been conned.
I believe you are a just and righteous person if....
If your next words mention some worthy cause, or moral stand you’ve made, you’ve been conned.
The world is divided into 2 groups: those who have confidence in the flesh, but no confidence in Jesus Christ, and those with no confidence in the flesh, but every confidence in Jesus Christ.
The flesh merchants in Philippi were the Judaizers. They had a belief in Jesus Christ. But this was purely to increase their ‘credit balance’. And, in addition, they insisted that ‘salvation’ could only be assured by strictly following the laws of Moses and by being circumcised.
Paul’s story, before his conversion, is the story of a man such as this. He was eminently qualified for religious leadership. Morally, he was faultless in his righteousness. No one could have more confidence in the flesh than he. As he describes in these verses:
“If 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; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
His background was second to none. He came from an impeccable family line, he had achieved outstanding qualifications, and his religious zeal had earned him the prestigious right to become a Pharisee. He was devout and zealous for the Church. As for righteousness based on the law, faultless. He was a moral activist and protestor, and gladly oversaw the persecution of many believers. He was a ‘mutilator of the flesh, controlled by flesh and self.’ There was no one who could have more confidence in the self than he.
Then, at the peak of his ‘righteousness’ he encountered Jesus, and at that point he realised his life was all ‘Monopoly money’. He had met ground zero. And then his eyes were opened to the truth of the human condition: As it states in verses 7-8
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What 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”
The meaning of the word garbage in verse 7 is excrement, and that is how he regards his ‘righteousness’ before he met with Jesus. Now Christ is everything to him, and he has a new relationship with the living God.
An authentic encounter with Jesus humbles you. You cannot think you are better than anyone else when you meet Jesus. No race is better than any other. We are all equally bad!
An encounter with Jesus Christ means death to the ego and all our claims to righteousness. Paul cannot boast in anything except in the gift of new life in Jesus Christ.
Now, in verse 9, his reason to rejoice is found in “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.”
And this new-found righteousness in Christ has brought him into a new relationship.
Verse 10 says: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.
The word ‘know’ in this verse is a word of deep relationship. When we truly know Jesus it makes us want to die to self and to show real love to others.
When we boast in Christ Jesus alone, and put no confidence in the flesh, we are all in Christ. Black, white, rich, poor, good, bad, we will all stand together.
Works says I’m better than everyone. Grace says I’m as bad as, or even worse than everyone else. I’m only in this place of safety because of what Jesus has done. So we’re united together
Be on your guard against anyone who wants to take you back to the flesh; against anyone who hints at a ‘righteousness by works’ ideology. Verse 18 calls such people enemies of the cross. They are unclean dogs eating old food. They don’t refresh the soul and bring new life. That is why the world needs to hear about Jesus Christ.
The greatest act of injustice ever, that should make us cry out for mercy, is that when Jesus came to this world, we crucified him. That is the abomination that causes desolation.
If you want to know the love of God, you will see it most clearly in that act of crucifixion-injustice, which God turned round in order to bring forgiveness and reconciliation; to bring a new resurrection life based on grace not works. God has done something about our problem by forgiving us, and by bringing us into new birth and into the family of God.
Will you proclaim that truth?
Philippians 3:1 - 3:11
3:1 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, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.