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Suffer Loss to Gain Christ

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Four days ago, Billy Graham died. 99 years old. And because of his faith in Jesus, we believe he was ushered into the presence of God. On Wednesday, Graham received the greatest longing of his heart: to be with Jesus Christ in glory forever and ever. The Apostle Paul said, “To die is gain.” “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” That’s what the Bible tells all who know Christ and love him.

What a life Graham led. Influencing millions and millions of people all over the world. Nations on every continent. He spoke to poor people. He spoke to Presidents of the United States. I have had great respect and admiration for Graham throughout my 39 years as a Christian.

Here’s a question for you: Was Billy Graham a better Christian than you are?
That’s an odd question. Perhaps I shouldn’t ask it. But I just did.

This is not a trick question.

If you say, “Yes, Graham was a better Christian than me,” on what do you base that assessment?
If you say, “No, Graham was not a better Christian than me,” on what do you base that assessment?

Really, to answer my question, we first need to define what I mean by, “Better Christian.” I deliberately phrased this in a vague way….because I want us to think about this.

But here is what I am really asking:
Is Billy Graham in a higher spiritual “class” than me?
Is Billy Graham loved more by God than I am?
Is he liked more by God than I am?
Does he have a more righteous standing with God than me?
When I stand before God, will I be more ashamed than he will be?

I am going to leave that question out there unanswered for now. It’s important we answer this question correctly. And for the right reason. We’ll get to it later.

We are in the middle of an 8-week series studying a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to a church in an ancient Roman city called Philippi.
In our passage today, Paul addresses a topic that relates to the questions I just asked you. On what basis…on what grounds….do we stand before the presence of God? Paul will help us answer that.

Philippians 3

On our passage today, we begin chapter 3. Paul clearly changes topics here, seemingly radically so…. so much that some students of the Bible cannot find connections between chapters 1-2 and 3-4. But there are connections, even if they are somewhat obscured.

So far in this letter he has spoken warmly and personally to this beloved church. He has encouraged them in their suffering in persecution. And he has called them to obedience in Christ. He has revealed himself as an example to follow as he follows Christ.

Now he changes topics, but some things remain from the earlier half of the letter. He is still Christ-centered– the person and name of Jesus is still pronounced. And Christ is still the center of Paul’s own life. And Paul continues to testify to his own life and story.

Vs. 1
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.

As a pastor, I can get in trouble when I say “Finally” but then I keep rambling on for 20 minutes. Paul says, “Finally”, but if you look at the pages in your Bible, you notice he’s only halfway through.
What Paul’s word in the Greek means is, “Furthermore,” or “As for the rest” of what I want to tell you.

What’s his command here? Simply stated: Rejoice. Be full of joy. Be joyful…not in circumstances….in the Lord.

The Christian life is to be a life of JOY. And joy in the Lord. I’ve been challenged by this.
Wednesday morning I was in a time of prayer, and I had been thinking about my LOW level of joy. Specifically, I had been noticing that often in the mornings when I would wake up, I would have a low grade of anxiety about my day. That anxiety was often not tied to some event or difficulty that day. I just felt restless.

So as I was praying about this, I sensed a simple thought from the Lord: “BE THANKFUL.” Be thankful. Simply start giving thanks to the Lord, for what he has done for you, for people in your life, for your friends, for your possessions.
I have to say as I’ve made that a focus, I have had more JOY. And less anxiety.

Paul stresses JOY throughout this letter. He uses the word “JOY” or “REJOICE” 14X in 100 verses. And do you remember what Paul’s circumstances are? He’s in prison for talking about Jesus. And there are Christian evangelists who are trying to cause more trouble for him.
He is rejoicing “IN THE LORD.” Not in circumstances. Not in his own abilities or accomplishments. His joy is founded upon the Lord. And pointed to the Lord.

Vs. 2-4a
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.

In vs. 2, Paul launches into some very strong language.
He has strong, even fierce, words against some people, calling them dogs, evildoers, and flesh-mutilators. John the Baptist called some of the Jewish leaders, “a brood of vipers.” Snakes. Jesus called some of them “hypocrites.”

Who is Paul talking about?
He’s talking about a group of people—probably Jews—who insist on adding requirements or changing requirements to true Christianity. To true faith in Jesus Christ.

Specifically, they want to add the requirement of circumcision. They insist that in order to be saved, you have to be circumcised. We see this problem in the book of Acts, in Romans, Galatians, and Philippians.

Paul gives three descriptions of the same group of people.
Dogs— Today we love dogs. But in those days, dogs were scavengers, not pets; despised, not beloved. Dogs were generally detested by Roman society and considered unclean by Jews.

Evildoers—Paul labels them as evil. Not righteous.

Mutilators of the flesh— Since circumcision is the cutting of the flesh of the male genitalia, Paul is using a descriptive word. They are mutilating and hacking the flesh.

Paul had dealt with such people for years in various churches, and his words against them were full of fire. He is telling the church, “Beware of such people. Be on guard.” What is ultimately at stake is the gospel message, and also to live in accordance with the gospel as citizens of heaven, like we looked at in Chapter 2 the past 2 Sundays.

So here and throughout Paul’s letters, we find that he will not allow us to add to or subtract from the gospel message and how to live according to that. He will not put up with it.
I’m a peacemaker at heart, and I can think, “Oh, come on, Paul. Let’s get along. What’s a little change going to hurt. It’s not that big of a deal.” But what we find is that eternity is at stake. Salvation is at stake. God’s honor and his love are at stake.

Vs. 3
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—

Instead of having a false belief that is contrary to the gospel, Paul lays out who the Christian really is.

We are the circumcision.
In the OT, Israel was given circumcision as a sign of the covenant relationship God has with his chosen people.
It was an external, physical sign. But both OT and NT make it clear, that the HEART was ultimately important. Israel could have physical circumcision, but if their hearts were fighting against God, it was as if they hadn’t been circumcised at all.

So in several places in his letters, Paul says that anyone—Jew or Gentile—who believes in Christ…. is the TRUE circumcision group. Even if they have never been physically circumcised, they have been circumcised in their hearts….the SIGN of the covenant relationship with God through Jesus.

So believers in Jesus– who add nothing to that– are the TRUE ones of circumcision.

We worship by the Spirit of God.
Paul’s worship was not primarily in externals. Certain rituals. Certain words. As Jesus told us in John 4, we worship in spirit and in truth. And Paul says we worship by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

We glory in Christ.
We place no confidence in the flesh.
I want to camp on these two phrases for a moment.

FIRST, the word “glory” can also be translated as “boast.” We GLORY or BOAST in Jesus.

What I found remarkable this week as I studied was how often Paul uses this word in his letters: 35X.

One of the more fascinating usages is in Ephesians 2:9.
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The word “boast” here is the same word as in Philippians 3. Paul insists that our salvation is by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus. And then in the negative, he says, “This salvation is not your own doing.” God graciously gives you the gift of salvation. And he emphasizes the point again by saying, “You are not saved by works, so that no one may boast.” So that no one may GLORY in themselves, in their great works.
When we glory in self, we are setting ourselves up as God. And we cannot be saved from our sins by attempting to be God.

So rather than boasting or glorying in our own works, our own human efforts to gain right standing before God, Paul says back in Philippians that we glory in Christ. We boast in Christ. In who he is and what he has done for us.

Let me talk for a minute about “glorying” or “boasting.” To glory in something or boast in something is not inherently evil.
The problem is when we glory in inappropriate things. We glory in things that really don’t deserve glory. And such glorying them becomes prideful. Arrogant. Deceived.
To glory in self is a mockery. The height of arrogance.
To glory in God is fully appropriate.

Then Paul adds, “We place no confidence in the flesh.”
What does that mean? He’s getting at a similar point. We don’t GLORY in….place confidence in… the flesh—that is, our human heritage. Our human accomplishments.

Paul continues to explain.
Vs. 4b-6
4b “…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
Paul uses an interesting phrase: “confidence in the flesh.”
What does he mean?
These Jews who insist on requiring circumcision in order to be saved are placing confidence in the flesh. They are placing confidence for salvation in human effort. Human pedigree. Human performance. Their confidence is NOT in the spiritual. In the heavenly. Specifically, their confidence is not in Jesus Christ and in him alone. They are ADDING something to the gospel.
So Paul is saying, “OK, if you want to play this game, I will win. If anyone can have confidence in their human endeavors to be saved, I have more than they do.”

Then he gives us his resume.
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.

He lists 7 things.
Some of them are his heritage that he was born into.
Some of them are his religious accomplishments.

He was circumcised on the 8th day of his new life. Just like Moses commanded in the law. He’s a true Jew. Check the box on that one.
He is a member of Israel. They are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who received a covenant and promises from God. They are God’s chosen people. Check box number two.
He is a member of Benjamin, one of the 12 tribes of Israel, a tribe that had some esteem. Check again.
He is a Hebrew of Hebrews….probably meaning, he is the Hebrew son of Hebrew parents. He knows the language. Heart and soul, he belongs to God’s chosen people. Check
As for the law of Moses, Paul is a Pharisee…a group of Jews who are very studious of the law. Very religious. Check.
As for being zealous for God? Oh, he has that one down. He actually persecuted these Jesus followers who were all crazy, so he defended God. Surely Jesus died on the cross because God cursed him, right? Check.
Finally, as for being righteous by following the law of Moses, oh, he’s very good. I doubt Paul thinks he had lived it perfectly. But quite good. Blameless.

So here we have Paul’s pedigree. His heritage. His accomplishments. If anyone could get to heaven and be righteous before God based on heritage and performance, surely it’s Paul.

But in vs. 3 and 4, Paul says, “I put no confidence…no hope…in all of that.” I don’t glory in such things.
Instead, I glory in Jesus Christ.

Vs. 7-11
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.

In vs. 7-8:
Paul has just told us in vs. 4-6 that he has many good things to his credit, many things that seem to speak of a righteousness, a good standing before God.

But Paul realizes his list is not worth anything for that purpose. It’s all a loss. All rubbish. The word can mean TRASH. Dung…as in animal poop. In Paul’s attempt to be righteous and loved before God, all of his wonderful heritage as a religious, educated, scholarly, law-following Jew is not simply less. It is WORTHLESS. It’s like garbage. Like poop.

Not that the deeds or heritage were inherently evil or bad (except for persecution), but that such deeds had no partnership with God in making him righteous before God.

In vs. 9, Paul says this:
“I simply want to find myself in Christ. I don’t have….I cannot have….a righteousness of my own—a SELF-righteousness….a righteousness that comes through rigorously following the law of God.
“What I CAN have….what I really want….is to have the righteousness (the justification, the holy standing) that comes from God. And this comes by FAITH— by believing—in Jesus Christ.”
Paul was saying, “My faith is not in myself. My faith is in Jesus.”

In essence, Paul is saying that any attempt to be right with God by our performance, our upbringing, our accomplishments, or our heritage will not work. That attempt is PUNY and PATHETIC.

I like what one author said:
“Paul had to drop the notion that he and God were partners in the project of justification and to accept the means for righteousness that God alone provided.”
The means for righteousness God has provided is a PERSON. His name is Jesus.
Paul is saying, “It is not ME who saves me. It is not God and ME who saves me. It is God through his Son. Period.”
God is saying to us, “Just drop it. Drop it. Anything you are holding on to from your pedigree or your performance to make you righteous in God’s sight won’t work. It’s idolatry. It’s arrogance. Just drop it.”

Let me PAUSE here on vs. 9:
One implication of this is, there are no CLASSES of Christians.
We humans like to create classes of people. Economic classes. Skin color and ethnicity classes. Intellect classes. Hierarchies of people where some are better than others. Some are more important than others. Some are worth more than others.

In Christ, there are no classes.
All who come to him in faith are forgiven. Fully forgiven.
All who believe in Jesus are justified before God.
All who humble themselves are loved by God. The Apostle John in his Gospel described himself as, “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” All true Christians can describe themselves this way.

All are sealed with the Holy Spirit. God dwells in all.
All have spiritual gifts assigned by the Holy Spirit and valuable to the body of Christ.
All have been created in the image of God. Male and female. Black and white. Jew and Gentile.

All who embrace Christ have been adopted by God to be his sons and his daughters.

If you want to assign yourself to some human class, go ahead. But be warned. That is worthless….garbage, poop….compared to being a son and daughter of the living God. It cannot get better than that.

So is Billy Graham in a higher class than you? Is he a better Christian?
Absolutely not. In fact, I know Graham’s theology well enough that if he heard you say that he was a better Christian, he would be horrified. And he would lovingly rebuke you.

So there are no classes of Christians.

Another implication is that your performance as a Jesus follower does not affect your standing with God.
If I have a really good day—say I give an excellent sermon, a 5-Star sermon– I am not loved by God on Sunday afternoon any more than I already am.
If I have a really bad day—say a horrible sermon, a 1-Star…no, a 0-Star sermon— I am loved no less on Sunday afternoon.

If I have wonderful health and great talents, I am no better. How can I get any better than being God’s child?
If I have poor health that limits me severely and I have few talents, I am no less. I am a child of the King. My worth is shown by the payment God made to purchase me: the payment of his Son.

If I was brought up in a wonderful Christian home, I don’t have some special “in” with God simply because of that.
If I was shuffled around in foster care for 15 years and mistreated, I don’t somehow miss out on God because of some hole I started from.

What about occupation? Being a pastor is no more advantage to fellowship with God than any other occupation: student, engineer, stay-at-home mom. All have equal access to God through his Son, Jesus.

You see, as hard as we try to improve our status with God by our heritage or performance, it’s irrelevant.
Simple, childlike faith in the death and resurrection of Christ brings us into a standing of glory and joy and righteousness..

vs. 10-11:
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.

What does Paul mean by “knowing Christ”?
Perhaps it is twofold.
First, he has rejected all his “confidence in the flesh” in order to truly know Christ by being declared righteous (justified) by God.
Then second, he wants to go deeper in this knowledge of Christ.
He wants to know his love, grace, holiness,.
He wants to know his mercy, justice, righteousness
He wants to even know Jesus’ suffering on the cross and the power he displayed in the resurrection.

The riches bound up in Christ are unending.
All this knowledge is of “surpassing worth” (like in vs. 8). So we see Paul is not content to simply sit idly and say, “Oh, good, I’m saved now. I’ll just take it easy.” No, he wants to know better and better his Lord who died for him and rose from the dead.

What does Paul mean by knowing “the power of his resurrection”?
He wants to understand the power of God that was exerted to raise his Son from the dead (Eph 1:19).
That same power is at work in us in every way, such as to know his love more (Eph 3:14-19), and to have all endurance and patience with joy in our trials (Col 1:11). This power of God displayed in the resurrection is the same power that transforms us and conforms us to do his will.

Then Paul says he wants to “share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
What does that mean? Paul is not some masochist who loves suffering in some perverted way.
Nor is he interested in suffering as some form of penance or mistreatment of the body (Col 2:18).

He is speaking of suffering that comes as a result of proclaiming Christ.
And such suffering helps to understand Christ better, this one who was a man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering (Isaiah 53:3). Carson says, “For the privilege of knowing that Master better, no suffering is too great.”

What does Paul mean by “attaining to the resurrection from the dead”?
This sounds very odd. Perhaps confusing.
Perhaps in fashion with his earlier words in chapter 1, he is saying whether he lives for a while or dies soon, he wants be resurrected. He wants the fully glorified life in heaven with Christ for eternity, in the presence of the King of kings on his throne.
This is why Paul said in Chapter 1, “To die and be with Christ is better than anything.”
That is why Paul says at the end of Chapter 3 here that, “He longs for Christ to return, because Jesus will give him a glorified body, and he will be in the presence of God forever and ever.”

This really is our ultimate desire: To be in the presence of God and all his glory, and in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings. And to be in resurrected bodies forever and ever. Nothing else in life or in death can compare with this.

So in summary what is Paul saying in these last couple of verses?
In a way, he is saying that even though Christ has already saved him, he wants to go deeper and deeper into Christ.
He wants to know him more intimately, knowing experientially his resurrection power, and knowing him better through sufferings. And by any means, whether he has continued fruitful life or whether he dies in martyrdom, he longs for the final resurrection of the body.

Let me offer you two action points for us this morning.

Glory in Christ, not in self
Relinquish your hold on performance or pedigree to put you in better standing with God.
Christ is enough.
He saves you. He loves you. He is near to you….all because of his grace through his Son.
The work is complete.

If you have a bad day, glory in Christ. Let go of any and all attempts to glory in yourself.
If you have a good day, glory in Christ. You are not in any better standing with God than you were on the bad day.

For the past several months I have been impacted by something Jesus told his disciples. In Luke 10, he sent out 72 disciples to preach and heal the sick. When they returned, they were ecstatic. Overjoyed. Why?? Because they had cast out demons. They set people free from demonic oppression. Wow! What a display of power.
What did Jesus tell them? He said, “Don’t rejoice in that. Instead, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
This is remarkable. And it gives us perspective. We might do great works for God…even casting out demons.
But that cannot compare to the joy and glory of God’s salvation, that by his grace he would write your name in heaven.
So glory in Christ, not in self.

Seek to know Christ better
Don’t be passive in your Christian life, particularly as it relates to knowing the Person of Jesus. You might be active in coming to church or other activities. But are you active in knowing the PERSON??

There is no formula here. I cannot give you a formula for better relationships with other humans. Neither can I give you a formula for a deeper knowledge of Jesus.

Abide in him.
Obey him.
Read about him.
Pray to him.
Ask him to help you know him better.
Sing about him.
Be willing to suffer for him.

Believe his grace is enough. Believe he loves you.
Believe that his blood has cleansed you from all sin…..from everything that kept you from God.
If you are holding back from Jesus in some way….in some facet of your life…. let go. Yield to him. Tell him he is Lord….and you are not.

Don’t passively go through life seeking only religious activity….even coming to a Sunday morning service. Seek the PERSON. Seek Christ.