Rejoice in the Lord

Please turn back to Philippians 3 (page 981 if you’re using a church Bible). Philippi is a city in Greece and was the first European city in Europe the apostle Paul visited on his travels. He helped start a new church and wrote this letter to the church from prison in Rome ten or so years later. He wrote to remind the church of the truth of the gospel and to help stop them being taking in by wrong teaching.

We’re looking at Philippians 3.1-11 and there are two direct instructions, two imperatives, they’re both in Philippians 3.1-2:

Finally, my brothers [and sisters], rejoice in the Lord [that’s number 1]. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out [that’s number 2] for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

So for the rest of our time we're going to look at those two instructions. First, Rejoice in the Lord! (Philippians 3.8-11) Then, Look out! (Philippians 3.3-7).

1. Rejoice in the Lord! (Philippians 3.8-11)

This letter of Paul is so full of joy. And that is despite being in prison and facing execution because of people don't like him talking about Jesus. Clearly, this joy does not depend on his circumstances. We tend to think: if I can win the lottery, change my job, make my house nicer, find a girlfriend or husband and so on then I'll be happy. Paul’s joy comes from knowing Jesus, being made acceptable to God and having a relationship with him. Something no one and no thing can take away from him. That is what gives him joy. Look at Philippians 3.8-9:

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 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

Paul has now realised that what he once considered gain is now loss or rubbish. What he once thought he could bring to God with pride (his performance) thinking God would accept him because of these things, he now realises they will not impress God at all.

The false teachers at Philippi were saying you need to be circumcised and obey the Law (in other words, do good things) and then God will accept you. Their confidence was in themselves and their performance. But they were wrong. We cannot be good on your own. Give me five minutes with a daughter having a tantrum and all my attempts to be a good person disappear and I see that I'm no way as patient as I thought I was! And Christianity is not (despite the common misunderstanding) about trying to be a good person or about getting into heaven by religious activity. The true Christian gospel says we should instead put our confidence in Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross and so took the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God. He as the only man who was ever pure and perfect – he alone is righteous and acceptable in God’s sight. He paid the price on our behalf and took away our filthy sin. That’s what we remember when we share communion together.

Not only did he take away our sin - he also gave us his righteousness. It’s the wonderful exchange – he took away our sin and in exchange gave us his righteousness. So now, Paul says (Philippians 3.9), we have that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. How wonderful that truth is – God has given us what is impossible to earn by our performance. We are now acceptable in his sight through faith in Christ and what he did at the cross. And that is why he could rejoice in the Lord whatever his current circumstances were.

It may be that you have never realised your need for forgiveness, that you have never accepted that you can't be righteous on your own. Then why now ask Jesus to forgive you? It maybe you want to know more about this – join Christianity explored? Read this booklet. What we do as Christians is not motivated by being good enough to earn the reward of forgiveness. Instead, it a grateful response to God’s kindness in making us his children. When my kids were born they were given a little wrist band 'baby of'. This shows they belong to us, later we got a birth certificate, and then a passport. Not any of these things made them any more ours than they already were. They belonged to us from the start, these other things show that they are ours but did not make them any more ours than they already were. And in the same way, when you understand and believe what Jesus did on the cross and say sorry to God for your sin, trusting in Jesus then are made acceptable to Him. You become his and nothing you can do can make you more his than you already are. And that is good news, isn't it? When we feel that we're not good enough, when we have done something wrong or we feel we've messed up we need to come back and remind ourselves of this truth. We need to remember what matters in terms of our acceptance to God: not what we do but what Christ has already done for us on the cross. We are to rejoice in the Lord!

2. Look out (Philippians 3.3-7)

As we have seen, Paul was confident that Jesus was all he needed. But he also knew that there were enemies of this truth. They were teaching the Philippians that it was not enough to depend on Jesus and insisted on certain religious traditions to ‘qualify’ as being acceptable by God. He was worried their influence would cause their faith to be compromised and their joy in Jesus to be robbed and he wanted them to watch out!

Let’s back up a bit so we can understand the details behind what’s going on here. The Bible tells us that God revealed himself to the world by starting with one particular group of people in one particular place. He didn't start with a great big empire or a powerful nation. He started with Israel and the Jewish people, a small, struggling people. The Old Testament is the story of God's dealings with Israel but all the way through the Old Testament, God made it clear that the truth about God was not just for the Jews but all of us - from all over the world, for every nation and every culture.

The Jews however had over 600 rules that they needed to follow. Some of them still apply today such as do not murder. Others don't apply in quite the same way to us now. One of the rules the Jews observed was that in order to be identified as God's people all men and boys had to be circumcised. So anyone who was a Jew or who wanted to become part of the people of God (if they were male) had to be circumcised. It was a sign of belonging, a sign of being clean and acceptable to God. We don't have that today. Instead, we have baptism (for both men and women), which is a sign that we belong and have been made clean and acceptable to God through our faith in what Jesus has done on the cross. But back then these Jewish teachers were teaching Greek and Roman believers that they needed to be circumcised. Have a look at Philippians 3.3-4:

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. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

He uses here the phrase having confidence in the flesh to refer to those who were teaching that to be acceptable to God you need to be circumcised. In other words, they were saying you need to trust or put your confidence in what you and I do and in what you and I have. That is what makes us right and acceptable to God and that is what really counts. As we've already seen, that is not real Christianity. Philippians 3.3 says we put no confidence in the flesh. Sometimes people who can't have something try and convince themselves and others that it's not worth having anyway. Paul says “Look I'm not saying that it's not worth putting your confidence in these things because I wasn't good enough to have them. In fact, I was top of the class! You think being religious is worth anything? Then look at what I had, and I still think it's all a total waste of time. So don't let them try and make you feel that you're missing out”. Philippians 3.4-6:

…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day [as the law required], of the people of Israel, [from God's original chosen people] of the tribe of Benjamin, [the best tribe -tribe that produced the first King of Israel and one that had remained faithful when others had not] a Hebrew of Hebrews; [genetically, culturally, purely Jewish. as Jewish as they get]; as to the law, a Pharisee; [faultless in obeying the law] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; [passionate to the point of fanaticism] as to righteousness under the law, blameless. [I ticked all the boxes].

The turning point for Paul was meeting Jesus and learning that only Jesus could make him acceptable to God. Everything he had relied on to impressed God he now realised was loss. The only thing that was worth anything was knowing Christ. Look at Philippians 3.7-8:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 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

He's using financial language here and you don’t need to be an accountant to understand him. It is like thinking you had £50 in your bank account and next time you checked your balance instead of it saying you had £50 it said you were £50 overdrawn instead. That's what's happened with Paul. What was gain has now become loss. What was profit is now rubbish. Paul had thought his balance sheet looked like this. See all those things he thought might impress God? He says actually they don't. What does your list look like? Is it full of things, are you sure of yourself like Paul was? Or do you worry that if truth be known you're just not good enough to be one of God's people? In either case, the point is you should not rely on your own efforts to make you right with God. Those things don't impress God.

This is what his balance sheet really looked like: Paul says - it's not that I didn't have those things. I did! I just know now that they don't count for anything. So ignore anyone who tries to tell you they do and who tries to convince you to get circumcised (or whatever our equivalent might be) in order to impress God! It may not sound like it, but Paul didn't despise his upbringing. The point is he no longer trusts in it. When we become Christians we don't need to stop being Arabs or Chinese or Geordies. We should value and love our background. But we should no longer trust in what our cultural or religious background tells us will impress God, as we once did. Only the Bible can tell us how the world that God made works and what things really look like. This is what Paul came to see.

Paul’s Spiritual CV had it all: the right background, the right achievements, the right reputation. But on Paul’s balance sheet, all these were nothing compared to knowing Jesus. He learned not to confuse what really matters and what really doesn’t. Paul wants the Philippians to avoid the false teachings of the group who base their confidence in the flesh because if they don’t, they would lose the gospel message. We too need to hear the warning and watch out for similar dangers today. We need to avoid the same sort of false teaching and hold closely to the truth of the gospel message. We need to watch out for the danger of failing to trust him completely and those whose teaching encourages that. So let me end with Philippians 3.2 again:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

You can see how strongly he feels about them. Dogs were not family pets but dirty and dangerous wild animals. It's also how the false teachers described those they looked down on. So Paul calls them the same name to point out their teaching was dirty and dangerous, and their work evil. We are to be on our guard against the false teaching that robs our confidence in Jesus and his work on the cross (and that alone) for our acceptance before God. Let me pray.

Back to top