Saturday, July 02, 2005

THE SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON.

PHILIPPIANS 3

3:1 (Rejoice In The Lord)

Paul says “finally”, but he is not quite finished. He says to rejoice in the Lord. He will return to this theme before he is finished. Calvin said Paul was saying to divest yourself of all anxiety and be of good courage.

He points out that sometimes we need to hear things more than once. The same applies to us when we hear the repeat of a sermon or a sermon on the same scripture. Sometimes we need to hear truths repeated to keep them fresh in our minds and hearts. Paul said it is a safeguard for us.

He is now going to set out some of these truths, or doctrines, for the Philippians, and now us, to hear again. He is telling us these things so we can rejoice in the Lord.

3:2 (Beware The Legalists)

Paul continually fought the Judaizers, those who taught that Gentiles must become Jews and observe Jewish laws before they could be Christians. This was the cause of the first council in Jerusalem, as recorded by Luke in Acts 15. The Jews who had been Pharisees said in verse 5 “the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The Apostles rejected this contention.

Much of the book of Galatians is a rebuttal to the contentions of the Judaizers. In Galatians 5:2, Paul said “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

Here in Philippians, Paul warns them of the Judaizers, calling them dogs, men who do evil, and mutilators of the flesh (NIV). This is strong language, so we see it is something Paul was very concerned about. He wanted them to see that the only way to salvation was faith in Christ and no one would be through the law.

In Romans 2:28, Paul taught that circumcision was no longer the cutting of flesh, but the remaking and renewal of the heart. He also said the real Jew is the one whose heart has been changed. (I think this is also further evidence that there is only one people of God, not two.) In Ezekiel 36:26, God promised that he would give his people a new heart and put a new spirit in them. In Colossians 2:11, Paul says circumcision is the putting off of the sin nature. By continuing to insist on physical circumcision, the Judaizers were now just mutilators, like pagans who cut themselves to please their gods.

3:3 (Who Are The Circumcised?)

Paul said it is we who are now of the circumcision, which is a way of saying we are God’s people, or Israel.

He describes who these people are:
1. they worship by the Spirit of God;
2. they glory in Christ Jesus; and
3. they put no confidence in the flesh.

Jesus gave a lesson on worship to the Samaritan woman at the well. She was concerned about the location of worship, another outward sign. Jesus, however, said in John 4:23-34 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

We are often concerned about the physical, even in the area of worship. We are concerned about what kind of building we have, what kind of clothes we wear, and what rituals we will observe. God is concerned that we worship him as spirit, in our spirit, through the Holy Spirit.

Further, we only glory in Christ. We do not glory in ourselves. God said only he had glory and he will not share that glory with man.

We put no confidence in the flesh. This is one we must watch, because men and women want to have confidence in their flesh. It is always tempting to build the tower of Babel.

3:4-6 (Paul’s Pedigree)

Paul said, if anyone could have confidence in the flesh, he could. He had the ultimate Jewish pedigree. He had an inherited pedigree in that he was born a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the two tribes that stayed loyal to God. He was circumcised as required by the law. He was a member of the covenant nation of Israel.

Paul also had a performance pedigree. He had become a Pharisee, rigidly obeying the law. He was zealous, so much so that he persecuted the church. He was also faultless in his observance of the law and Jewish regulations. Interestingly, he would change his description of himself from faultless Pharisee to the chief of sinners.

You may feel you have a pedigree, or superiority or status. These are all part of the flesh, in which believers put no confidence. Look what Paul thought of his pedigree.

3:7-11 (All Is Loss Except Christ)

Paul considered all his pedigree, status and fleshly glory as loss for the sake of Christ. Once he came into contact with the glory of the Lord, he let go of the flesh and its supposed glories, for they meant nothing to him. In comparison to the knowledge of Christ, all earthly things were worthless and even hindrances. He counted all human effort as loss.

He is using an accounting metaphor here. In the loss column, he has placed everything he had in the flesh. In the gain column, he placed only his relationship with Jesus.

What did mean something to him was knowing Christ, being found in him and receiving righteousness because of faith in Christ. This was so much true that what Paul wanted most was to know Christ, to share in his sufferings, to be like him in death and to attain the resurrection. He was not interested in material blessings, but in having the deepest possible relationship with Christ, one that included joyful suffering and viewed death as the way to become closer to God. Jesus himself said, in John 17:3, that eternal life is knowing the Father and Jesus, whom he sent.

Moses came to a similar place. He asked God, in Exodus 33:13, to teach him God’s ways so he could know him and continue to find favor with him, or please him. The old hymn said “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. Rock of Ages, Cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.

God blesses us with material goods. Yet, we must hold them loosely and be willing to part with them for his sake, or else we will not be able to enter into this type of deep relationship that Paul has. Remember that Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to give up all his worldly goods to come to Christ. I suspect it was because the RYR trusted his riches and Jesus demanded that he trust only Jesus.

How does all this help us rejoice in the Lord? It is because the one who puts confidence in the flesh does not rejoice in the Lord. When things are going well, the fleshly person rejoices in his own strength, or wisdom or even his “luck”. When things are going bad, he is insecure, doubtful and afraid.

But the one who puts confidence in the Lord rejoices, knowing that God is working in his or her life, and they he is growing in his relationship with God, worshipping and enjoying God.
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