Rejoice in the Lord
Scripture: Philippians 3:1–3:11
Good morning! We are walking our way through Paul’s letter to the Philippian church and today we begin chapter three where Paul begins by reinforcing the main point of the whole book: Joy. Paul says, Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.
So, why would Paul sound like he’s finishing up this letter and then go on for two more chapters? Some say, “Well, he’s a preacher! And that’s what preachers do.” I don’t know for certain, but I actually think he was finishing up and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, decided he had some more to say.
Regardless, though, of whether Paul is consciously in the middle of the letter or the end, he is wanting to come back to the main point of the letter: joy. There is joy to be had in any circumstance if we understand some things about the nature of joy.
As most of you probably know, I grew up in Orlando, left for about 20 years and have just recently returned. And I’m going to have to confess something to you about my return. I have everyone’s attention now:) I have had the chance to reconnect with friends from high school, friends from college, friends from church and other places and it’s been really hard not to play the game of comparison. I don’t want to do it. I don’t mean to do it. But, again and again, I catch myself trying to find one area of my life that going better than theirs.
Now, my hunch is I’m not alone in this. All of us have been in similar situations whether going back home, going to a family reunion or a class reunion and we catch ourselves thinking things like, “Well, I have a better job than that person. I make more money. Whoa, she has really let herself go. My kids seem better behaved.” And you know you are really getting desperate when you start comparing who has more hair left on their head.
Why do we play this game of comparison? Because we think it will give us joy. But, do you know what it really does? It wears us out and robs us of the joy we think we are going to get. We wear ourselves posturing. We wear ourselves out trying to find our worth in things that do not have eternal value. We wear ourselves out believing the lie that we matter more, we are of more value if we have something someone else doesn’t.
When we engage in this game, we are looking to our own accomplishments to bring us the joy that only God can. And, instead of joy, we find only exhaustion, pride and despair.
And this is exactly what Paul is saying in our text this morning. It’s why this series is called “The Joy of The Gospel.” And if we want to experience that joy, Paul says that we need to know two things. We need to know 1) the enemy of joy and 2) the source of joy.
- The Enemy of Joy
The enemy of joy is confidence in the flesh. Look at verse 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…
Ok, so we need to know something about circumcision to understand exactly what Paul is saying here. And I realized that there are some children in the room who might not know what circumcision is. But, it’s important that you do…..so, I’m going to tell you to ask your parents after the service:)
What exactly does Paul mean when he says “For we are the circumcision”? We need to understand the point of circumcision in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it marked the males who were apart of God’s people. And how did you become a part of God’s people in the Old Covenant? You were born. So, that sign was generally applied at birth.
But, clearly there was a problem with the Old Covenant or God would have never given us a new one. The problem, as laid out in Romans 9-11, is that you had a bunch of Israelites who had the external mark of the community of God, but their hearts were far from him. This is why Jeremiah says, Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds." - Jeremiah 4:4
So, God says He is going to fix this problem by making sure His people are marked in a different way. By circumcising their hearts. Which makes sense. If the heart is the issue, let’s deal with that. The whole picture of Old Testament circumcision is pointing forward to a people of God marked by changed hearts. This is why Paul says to the Romans, But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. - Romans 2:29
Ok, this has to be clear for our passage to make sense. The problem with the Old Covenant is that you had a remnant of believers inside a larger group of unbelievers and they all carried the same mark. And God didn’t like that a people carrying His mark was made up of both believers and unbelievers. And nowhere is this more clear than Jeremiah 31:
31 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. ...for they shall all know me, and I will remember their sin no more. - Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Highly edited)
So, now we live in the New Covenant where God’s people are marked by the circumcision of our hearts. And we apply baptism as our mark when this happens. In the Old Covenant, you were born into God’s people and the sign was applied. In the New Covenant, you are reborn into God’s people and the sign is applied. I know this is some heavy lifting, but it has to be clear to understand this passage.
That’s a Biblical picture of circumcision, God’s plan has always been about our hearts. And until our hearts are dealt with we will always be looking to external things for the joy we lack. We will continually be locked in this game of comparison. A game that will emotionally exhaust us and spiritually destroy us.
Paul says that if the game of comparison were going to work for anyone, it would be him. He says, “Ok, let’s play this game! Let’s do this! You want to talk confidence in the flesh? You want to compare accomplishments? Let’s go!” That’s a paraphrase by the way. What he actually says is this: 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: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Phil. 3:4-6
Spiritually speaking, Paul is the guy at the class reunion with everything. He has the great job, the vacation home, the beautiful sweet wife, the 2.5 well-behaved and accomplished kids and the family name that will always insure that life will be easier for him.
And in these two verses, Paul is giving us six ways he might be tempted to take confidence in the flesh. Yes, this two point sermon just turned into an 8 point sermon:) It’s ok, we are going to move fast through these six things. And I do need to give John McArthur credits for helping me to see all six of these things.
Paul wants to establish that he has more to boast about than any of these mutilators of the flesh, but it doesn’t bring him joy. And these are six categories that apply to all of us as well.
First is ritual. Circumcised on the 8th day. The Greek actually says, “as for the circumcision, I’m an 8th dayer.) Not only am I circumcised, but it was applied exactly when the law requires: day 8 of life. Rituals have value, but they don’t fix the massive problem of our rebellion against God. No mass, no baptism (infant or adult), no church service, walking an isle or special prayer can bridge the gap between us and God. The gap is too big and ritual is too small.
The second way we can put confidence in the flesh is cultural privilege. Of the nation of Israel. There is and has always been something called cultural privilege. And if anyone had cultural privilege in the context of this discussion, it was Paul. To the Romans he says, Then what advantage has the Jew? ...much in every way. But when you’re talking about reuniting us with our Creator, then, no, cultural privilege offers us nothing.
We should be proud of our cultures, we should celebrate our different cultures, but when it comes to the profound sickness in our hearts that the Bible calls sin, cutural privilege offers you nothing. If there was ever a culture that offered spiritual privilege, it was Paul’s. But Paul’s confidence was not founded in his culture and neither should ours.
The third way we can put confidence in the flesh is our rank in society. Paul says, “You want to talk rank? I am of the tribe of Benjamin. This was one of the most prominent tribes in Israel. Benjamin was the younger of the two sons born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. So, Paul is saying he’s not just an Israelite, he’s the Rockefeller of Israelites. He has a name that gives him rank in society.
I had a buddy in high school who had a very important last name in this city. One evening, he got pulled over and the officer asked for everyone’s ID. He pulled out his ID and flicked it right into the chest of the officer and said, “see what you think about the name on this ID.” The officer looked at the name and promptly let them all go. That might work on a police officer, but not with the God of this universe.
The fourth way we can put confidence in the flesh is tradition: a Hebrew of Hebrews. The first three ways Paul could have had confidence in the flesh he inherited. But the final three things are things he actually achieved. Unlike many Jews of Paul’s time dispersed all over the empire, he remained firmly committed to the language, the traditions and the customs. He studied under the best rabbis. He did his culture proud. He was the summa cum laude. He had his PHDs. Yet, as we will see, Paul found something of such infinitely more value that it made these accomplishments look like rubbish. Of no more spiritual value that the animal dung in the streets.
Fifth, Paul could have placed his confidence in religion. As to the law, a Pharisee...as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Paul has reached the pinnacle of devout legalistic Judaism. The word Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word ‘to separate.’ He had separated himself. He followed all these crazy little laws the Pharisees made up to feel better about themselves. He kept the Sabbath, he ate the right foods, he memorized the Law. If you’re tempted to boast in how much Bible you have memorized, Paul pretty much knew it all. Going through the motions of religious requirements was something Paul had mastered. But, again, it had no real value when it came to the problem of his sin.
And then, lastly, Paul could have found confidence in his zeal. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church. These Judaizers as Paul calls them, the people pushing circumcision onto Christians, they seemed very sincere in their work. And Paul says, “Really, you want to challenge me on zeal? I murdered Christians.” You can be sincere and be sincerely wrong. And misplaced zeal can often be worse than no zeal at all.
Why did these six accomplishments not bring Paul the joy he sought? Because our greatest problem, the sickness in our soul runs too deep. And we are so sick that we long for things that will only make us more sick. We think if we can compare ourselves with others and win, we will find joy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Comparison of the external without addressing the internal will crush our spirit.
That’s why Paul is so concerned about these Judaizers coming into Philippi focusing on the externals. Pauls says look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
These threedescriptions, dogs, evil doers and mutilators of the flesh are all referring to one group of people. This group of people who would follow Paul from city to city and tell the Christians that they weren’t really followers of Jesus unless they followed the Jewish law. And the main mark of a Jew was, of course, circumcision. And Paul says, “They are evil doers!! They are just as dangerous as the wild packs of dogs scavenging the empire.”
Joy is found in the heart, not the flesh. But, how exactly do we find that joy? How can we grow in that joy? Second point.
- The Source of Joy
The source of joy is knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. Our lives are hard. We have real problems. And I so appreciate that Paul isn’t saying stuff you feelings, ignore your problems or think positive thoughts. I’ll tell you that I have been guilty of giving Angela that advice in hard times and it doesn’t work. Paul is pointing us to a joy that is significant enough to carry us through our difficult times.
If you go to Walmart and look at the section of books that is supposed to help you through difficult times, the books that are supposed to make you a happier person, notice how many of them focus on fixing you. And, I don’t deny that there could be some short-term, short-lived success in that. But, if our problem is as deep seeded as the Bible says it is, and if all of our desires are warped, then trying to fix ourselves is like trying to find our way through a maze that is constantly shifting blindfolded.
Paul knows this and that’s why He doesn’t focus us on ourselves, but on Christ who changes the heart. Who restores our desires. 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.
Paul is saying that if we focus on Jesus everything comes into focus. All the things we used to boast in just don’t matter as much. They can even feel like a loss in comparison. During our move, I found an old Nokia flip phone in a bucket of kids toys. I remember how excited I was probably back in 1999 to have that phone. I felt so important. It flipped open like something from Star Trek. You could play at least three games on it. And it only cost a dollar a minute to call anywhere in the US. Now, though, I have an IPhone and that flip phone certainly looks more like a loss to me than an win.
Or, if you are a numbers person. If you put together budgets. You have a profit column and a loss column. Paul spent years putting all these things in the profit column. Then he meets Jesus and compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Him, all those things in the profit column begin to fit more naturally in the loss column because they never gave him what he sought: Joy.
So, how does Jesus bring joy? By restoring us from our sin. One of the great misunderstandings about the good news of Christianity all over the world is this idea that Jesus simply takes away God’s wrath toward us. Thinking that Jesus simply took the punishment we deserve (and He certainly did do that) is only half the gospel. Jesus didn’t halfway trade places with us, He fully traded places with us. Not only did He take on the punishment we all merit, we get the righteousness He merited.
To only see the gospel as letting us off the hook is to liken us to a Casey Anthony, a criminal walking out of jail with no reputation, no way forward, nothing but the clothes on our backs. That doesn’t sound very glorious. The Bible, though, says we are a prodigal son returning to an epic welcome home party fully restored in every way. Jesus fully restores us from our sin.
Angela and I used to watch NCIS faithfully and there is this scene where a WWII veteran was found guilty of murder. The final scene was in the NCIS office where the criminal was in a suit and tie, handcuffed and about to be taken away when Gibbs, the lead special officer, said, “Stop!” He walked over to the veteran, pulled back his tie and underneath the tie was the congressional Medal of Honor from WWII. And every person in that room snapped into formation and saluted.
Was that veteran a murderer? Yes, but he was legally entitled to all the rights and honors of the medal around his neck. And in a similar way, we are entitled to all the rights and honors earned by Jesus Christ’s perfect life on this earth. And I don’t pretend to know what all that entails, but it is a lot more than a good family name. Do you want a good family name? Try on son or daughter of the Most High God.
This is exactly what Paul is saying in verses 8 and 9 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.
Whatever it is that we desire, we have in spades in Jesus. You want an inheritance? In Jesus we have an eternal inheritance. Do you want a life that matters? In Jesus you are called into the greatest cause there will ever be. But, more than all the things we receive, because of Jesus, we get Jesus.
More than the gifts, we get the Giver. Paul’s longing is that I may know him… That’s the profound joy of the Christian life. We get to know Jesus. There was a woman named Eliza Hewitt and she was a school teacher until a crippling spine accident that would leave her bedridden for much of the rest of her life. And during that time in bed, in the midst of terrible suffering and loss, she began to understand the joy of knowing Jesus. And the more she knew Jesus, the more she wanted to know Him.
She famously wrote these words in that season: “More about Jesus would I know, more of his grace to others show; More of his saving faith to see, More of his love who died for me. More, more about Jesus, More more about Jesus, More of his saving fullness to see, more of his love who died for me”
That’s the source of joy. So, very practically, how do we know Jesus more? By dying to ourselves and living for Him. Verses 10 and 11: 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. - Philippians 3:10-11
This is the J curve we talked about two weeks ago. The whole of the Christian life is dying to ourselves, this is the sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death...and living for Him, this is the resurrection. The more we die to ourselves and live for Him, the more we know Him. And the more we know Him, the more we desire to die to ourselves and live for Christ. And the more we know Christ, the more we are full of joy.
There are so many shiny objects in our life enticing us, calling us, promising us joy, but they can’t provide what they promise. Jesus, however, can. And as we know him, those shiny objects become nothing more than fools gold. What used to be an allure becomes a repulsion.
It’s nice when we get the job we want. It’s great when our kids make us proud. It’s amazing when we are physically healthy. But, if we cling to these things for joy, if these are the things in our profit column, we will be let down. We will always be running the comparison treadmill. Working hard, but going nowhere. Run as fast as you want, put a tv in front of you to distract you, but you aren’t moving closer to your destination of joy.
But here is the crazy thing. When Jesus is the only thing in our profit column, then we are finally freed up to enjoy comparison. We can enjoy financial security without it ruling over us. We can enjoy our kids without needing them to perform for our emotional well-being. We can enjoy other people’s’ successes without being jealous. And we certainly won’t care who has more hair on their head at the high school reunion.
Jesus is the source of our joy. Let’s rejoice in Him!