Today we return to our Summer evening series on the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which we’re picking up again at the beginning of chapter 3. My title is ‘Profit and Loss’ and we’ll be looking at 3v1-11, so please have that open.
What’s the situation here? Paul is writing to a church that owed its very existence to his ministry. You can read about it in Acts 16. And now Paul is as good as on death row. He’s “in chains for Christ” as he says in 1:13. He doesn't know whether he’ll be released or executed.
As for the Philippians, they’re under all kinds of pressure too – from persecution, false teaching and disunity. Paul is worried.
But for all that, this is an overwhelmingly positive letter. Why? Because it’s saturated with Christ. It’s full of excitement about what God is doing in the lives of those Christians in Philippi. And we too should be excited about what God is doing among us. We’ve just seen Edd and Kathy being baptised, and we’ve heard about God’s work in Edd’s life – one example of so many more stories of God’s faithful work among us that could be told.
Take a look at 3:1:
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.
It’s noteworthy that Paul obviously believes in repetition as a teaching tool. And this call to joy is one he repeats for emphasis. So just look over to 4:4:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.
That we should rejoice in the Lord is obviously extremely important. Equally clearly, it’s something we have to work at. It’s not just a matter of a spontaneous and continuous outpouring. We have to work at rejoicing in the Lord. And key to that is being quite clear in our minds where the source of real joy lies. That’s what this passage, 3:1-11, is really all about.
We all want joy. If you ask anyone, ‘Do you want a life that’s full of reasons for rejoicing?’, no-one’s going to say, ‘No thanks.’ We all want joy. And joy comes not from all the things that the world tends to value, but from the spiritual wealth and privilege of knowing Christ.
Now if we’re really going to grasp that, we have to understand how to construct what we might call the balance sheet of our lives.
If you’ve ever had anything to do with accounts, you’ll know that a balance sheet is essentially a simple statement of all the assets and all the liabilities of some organisation or person. It’s a statement of all the pluses, balanced off against all the minuses. If your liabilities outweigh your assets, you’ve got problems. If your assets outweigh your liabilities, then things are looking good. But if you’re going to construct an accurate balance sheet, then you have to be able to assess the value of your assets accurately. If you list something as being worth a hundred times what it’s actually worth, then you’re going to get a very distorted picture of how you’re placed.
Now what Paul is doing here in 3:1-11 is asking us to construct the balance sheet of our lives. And he’s helping us to be clear about the value of our assets, particular where we often get the valuations radically wrong. We need to get it right, Paul is saying, because that’s the route to a life of rejoicing, even when we’re hard pressed by difficulties.
So I have three simple headings I want to use as we look at this passage and think about the balance sheet of our lives. First, how to identify virtual assets. Secondly, how to identify eternal assets. And thirdly, how to fill the balance sheet of our lives with eternal assets. So:
First, HOW TO IDENTIFY VIRTUAL ASSETS
What do I mean by virtual assets? I mean things that we tend to think of as substantial assets that will bring us joy, but which in fact have no substance at all. Paul describes what I’m calling these virtual assets here in verses 4-6. I haven’t forgotten verses 2-3 - we’ll come back to them later on.
Paul, of course, wouldn’t think in terms of ‘virtual assets’. He had no notion of the digital revolution, social media, computer gaming, and the virtual worlds created on the internet. What he talks about is ‘having confidence in the flesh’. At the end of verse 3 he says that Christians…
put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
And there is a certain irony in the fact that it’s our earthly, tangible assets which from the perspective of eternity turn out to be virtual assets with no substance at all. It turns out that what seems most solid to us, we can’t rely on at all. So what are these virtual assets? What are the potential reasons for confidence in the flesh, as Paul puts it? Verses 4-6:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless.
What’s he on about here? Paul has in his sights, as we’ll see, people who are misleading the young Christians of Philippi by telling them that their faith in Christ is not enough, and that they have to become, as it were, adopted Jews if they’re going to secure their salvation – they have to submit themselves to the Law of Moses and get circumcised like the Jews. They need, if you like, an adopted Jewish identity if they’re going to be saved.
And Paul says, in effect, that if Jewish identity is the issue, he can out-score anyone. He has the ultimate Jewish pedigree.
Now the obvious difficulty for us here is that we don’t have people telling us that we have to get circumcised and become adopted Jews. So is this relevant for us at all? The answer is it is, and that’s for two reasons.
It’s relevant because of the positive principle that Paul is teaching through this. That principle is that the only thing that counts in the end is knowing Christ by faith. And we’ll come to that.
But what he’s saying here about those who put confidence in the flesh is relevant also because in different non-Jewish ways we can still be strongly tempted to do a similar kind of thing. That’s the secondary application of this when we look past the Jewish aspect.
So take another look at verses 4-6, and let’s see what the equivalent might be for us.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, …
… That’s like relying on religious ritual, like the fact that you were baptised as an infant …
of the people of Israel,…
… That’s like making your ethnicity a source of pride and confidence – perhaps glorying in the fact of that you’re Chinese, or Anglo-Saxon …
of the tribe of Benjamin,…
… perhaps we could relate that to regional identity, like the elite amongst us who are actually Geordie, unlike the majority of incomers…
a Hebrew of Hebrews;…
… We can think there of nationality as a source of confidence, if you’re from one of the many nations that can be inclined to think of themselves as God’s chosen people. If the cap fits, wear it.
in regard to the law, a Pharisee; …
… This is taking confidence from religious identity, like saying to yourself that because you’re from a Christian family and you grew up through the church that gives you a secure place in heaven; or because you’re C of E, or Roman Catholic, or whatever is your favoured religious identity.
as for zeal, persecuting the church; …
… That’s regarding the fervour of your faith as the basis of your acceptability to God. The trouble with zeal, as Paul so painfully discovered in his own experience, is that you can be zealously, fervently, absolutely, wrong.
as for legalistic righteousness, faultless...
… This is morality; that is, thinking that our good behaviour puts us in credit with God. “I’ve never hurt anyone,” is the kind of thing we think when we’re taking this line.
When we’re making up the balance sheet of our lives that we’re going to present to God when we meet him face to face, it’s easy for us to think that all of these kinds of things are our major assets – in whatever particular combination we’re inclined towards. Religious ritual, ethnic background, regional identity, nationality, religious heritage, religious zeal, morality.
If we’re relying on any or all of that, that’s what Paul calls putting confidence in the flesh. And his point is this. Not one of these things is a real asset at all. These are virtual assets. We might be persuaded to think that they’re real, but they amount to nothing. They have no eternal worth. Paul had the lot. Where did he put them on the balance sheet of his life? Verses 7-8:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 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 …
For Paul, it’s not just that all these things are worthless in comparison to Christ and to knowing Christ. They’re worse than worthless. He doesn’t list them under assets at all. He puts them down as liabilities. They are loss. They are rubbish. In fact in comparison to Christ, he says, everything is loss. Whatever it might be, when you set it against Jesus, it’s just a virtual asset, of no value at all beside him.
That’s the first point: how to identify virtual assets.
Secondly, HOW TO IDENTIFY ETERNAL ASSETS
In verses 7-11, as we’ve already begun to see, Paul identifies the eternal assets that matter. These are the assets that we can put down on the balance sheet of our lives with real confidence that they will last for ever, and that they will be the engine of joy in our lives. They all come under one head, and that’s Jesus Christ. They’re all connected directly to him in some way.
Here is Paul, in chains, his life at risk, his social standing in ruins, his reputation with his peers and his people wrecked, all the advantages of his education, upbringing and background shattered and lying in pieces. And yet he is overflowing with joy, and urging joy on the hard-pressed Philippian believers. Why? Because he knew what were his eternal assets. He knew what really mattered – or rather, who really mattered: Christ Jesus. He knew that in the crucified and risen Christ, who had confronted him that day on the Damascus Road and completely turned his life upside down, he had found eternal assets that filled up the balance sheet of his life and gave him riches beyond compare.
So take a look at those verses – 7 to 11:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
Why was he so ready to abandon everything else for the sake of Christ?
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.
It was because he had discovered that knowing Jesus as his Saviour and Lord was by far the greatest possible privilege.
I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, …
He wanted to be found hidden in Christ, on the Day of Judgement that lay ahead, sheltered and protected by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for the sins of the world and for the sins of the greatest of all sinners, as Paul saw himself.
… 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.
Through Christ he had been put right with God, his sins had been forgiven, all his debts to God had been written off, past, present and future.
Jesus had given him through his Spirit the ability to live a holy life in the service of God’s kingdom, of a kind he’d never even dreamed of before.
I want to know Christ …
The future held out for him the wonderful prospect of getting to know Jesus better and better, and that was now his supreme ambition in life and in death.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection …
Through his living relationship with Jesus and through the ministry to which Jesus had called him he had experienced tremendous spiritual power at work in and through him. He recognised it as the same power of God, stronger even than death itself, that had raised Jesus bodily from death to the throne of heaven. And he wanted more and more of that resurrection power in his life.
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, …
Perhaps most remarkably of all, he was ready to suffer and even lay down his life in the service of Christ and for his sake, because he knew that would enable him to draw closer to Christ, and to understand him, even to the point, as he daringly puts it, of in some very small way sharing in his sufferings.
… and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul was ready to abandon everything else, even his very life, for Christ, because he knew that the struggles of this life would not be the end. He knew that beyond this life he would himself be raised from dead on the Day of Resurrection. He knew that he would come into his eternal inheritance, knowing Jesus face-to-face and for ever, in the new heaven and the new earth.
He knew that all these things were his eternal assets. He had found them all in Christ. They were all the free gifts of God through Christ. The balance sheet of his life was full with all this Christ-centred wealth and privilege. Nothing else mattered. No wonder he was rejoicing despite his chains. No wonder he wanted the Philippians to share his joy – and us too.
Where are eternal assets to be found? In Christ, and in Christ alone. That’s what Paul had found. That’s what Edd and Kathy are discovering. What about us?
Thirdly, HOW TO FILL THE BALANCE SHEET OF OUR LIVES WITH ETERNAL ASSETS
As we build the balance sheets of our lives, how are we going to make sure that that they’re full of eternal assets, and that we’re not relying on assets that turn out to be worthless? We are to do that in three ways.
First, we can make sure that the balance sheet of our lives is full of eternal assets by watching out for the miss-selling of worthless assets. That’s the message of verses 2-3:
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 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—
Jews sometimes used to refer to gentiles – non-Jews – as dogs. Paul is turning the tables on these Jews who were teaching that faith in Christ is not sufficient. He’s saying that the real people of God were those who put their faith in Christ alone – whatever their ethnic and religious background. That’s strong language that Paul is using of those who were telling the Philippians that they had to go back to Judaism and get circumcised like Jews to be saved – that knowing Christ was not enough. It’s strong language because Paul knew this was a matter of spiritual life and death.
Joy comes from the liberation of knowing that every aspect of our Christian lives is lived by grace. It’s all down to Christ. He is sufficient.
So watch out for the false teachers who want to miss-sell you worthless assets and drag you away from Christ. Don’t be taken in by them. That’s the first thing.
Secondly, write off all those assets that you used to rely on before you knew Jesus. Recognise that they’re worthless in comparison to knowing Jesus. Don’t be tempted again to think that our security really lies with those things after all. It doesn’t. Verse 8:
I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Then what’s the final thing to do if we’re going to make sure that the balance sheets of our lives are full of eternal assets?
Thirdly, take hold of Christ by faith. Believe in Jesus. Put your trust in him. Maybe you haven’t done that yet. Today is the day to start. Maybe like those who’ve been baptised this evening, you’ve recently started trusting Christ. Or perhaps you’ve been living by faith in Jesus for decades. No matter – what we need to do is the same for all of us. Take hold of Christ by faith today, tomorrow, and every day. Make your own Paul’s goal for his life:
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.