The podcast for this teaching was lost in internet land…sorry!
Hello everybody, welcome to Gospel Home Brew, a resource from River City Spokane. May the word of God brew in you as we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. My name is John Wolfe and I am one of the elders of River City. A few of you may know me but most probably don’t so a brief, very brief, intro. I was raised in Spokane and became a follower of Jesus when I was quite young and then went to one of the local high schools. I left the area after graduation and went to more schools in Southern California for 10 years before joining the Air Force and living in Ohio and Florida. After I got out of the service I moved to Rhode Island where I lived with my wife Ann and eventually our 4 children and worked starting gospel homes for the next 15 years. After moving back to Spokane in 2004 my wife and I have continued this work up to today.
When I joined the Air Force back in the mid 1980’s my first assignment was to a base that was in Dayton Ohio. Shortly after my wife and I arrived the state insurance company that backed the savings and loan banks failed and all of the credit unions went belly up – bankrupt – overnight and had to close. Thousands of people lost their life savings. The papers and the nightly news were filled with stories and pictures of people who had nothing left – everything that they had put aside for their retirement, to live on, to run businesses with – the money that they thought would be their security vanished. They were angry, scared, and had nothing and worse, no way to get it back. Ironically, a few years later when my wife and I moved to Rhode Island, the same thing happened. A banker embezzled money from a savings and loan to the point it failed, the deposit insurance company couldn’t cover the loss, and the whole credit union system went belly up and people lost their money. Same scenario all over again. In my line of work I have had chances to talk with people who have had serious medical illnesses. I recall talking with one man many years ago who had spent his entire life building up a very successful local business. He worked long hours, wasn’t around very much for his family, and in his mind he was doing this so he could leave his sons something that would help them so they wouldn’t have to work as hard as he did. Sadly, these boys, well young men really, hated each other and each wanted the entire business for themselves, and while their father was ill were in the process of suing each other with the end result that the business was failing. These events remind me of a TV commercial that has been running where all kinds of bad things happen to people but what saves them is the credit card they own and at the end the narrator says “what’s in your wallet?” I guess the idea is that this credit card is so secure that you don’t have to worry no matter what. But is that true? Can you really, I mean really, rely on a credit card company? What can you trust that won’t fail you? I suspect that most of us don’t think too much about it, but when life gets really hard, what do you trust to bail you out? What’s in your and I would add “spiritual” wallet?
Now I can imagine that some of you might say to yourself I’ve never had anything like that happen to me. Well maybe not, but I suspect that many of us, maybe most of us have something that we are counting on. Something that we say to ourselves well if everything else falls apart “at least I have _____.” Fill in the blank. At least if I have that I’ll be happy – I’ll be ok. What would you put there? Some people might put family – a spouse, a partner, kids – maybe even your parents. Some people might put their health and physical abilities. Some people like the man I just mentioned might put their job or a business. Some might say a sport or a hobby. Some might say their education, their friends, and on and on. In a way it reminds me of that ad where they ask “what’s in your wallet?”
Did you know that God has something to say about this? That he cares about what we put our trust in – what our security is in? Now I can imagine that some of you might say something like “so what?” or “it’s none of his business,” or some might say “He doesn’t really have my best interests in mind” or “He doesn’t really want me to be happy he just wants me to follow some crazy controlling rules.” But if we set aside those concerns and look at what He actually says, what we see that He doesn’t want us to put our trust, our hope, our confidence and security in things that will most likely fail us at some point – much as we don’t like to think that they might. He doesn’t want us to settle for second best, He wants us to get the first best, so let’s take a look at what He has to say. Let us read Philippians 3:1-11 together:
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 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: 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. 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 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— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Let’s unpack this a bit and look at a few of the main points here because I suspect that this many verses all at one time can be a bit of information overload.
In the first verse Paul puts the main point right out front. Rejoice in the Lord. Find your happiness and security in something that won’t change, that can’t be lost, that won’t fade, that doesn’t need bank insurance to prop it up. What is it? It’s Jesus Christ, God’s son. But before he fully explains this, he goes on to describe other things that people, including himself, have put their trust in and what’s in their spiritual wallet, but before we look at that, let’s finish this first thought. In verse 9 and 10 – jumping ahead a few verses – we see that Paul says that through Jesus we come into a right relationship with God. How do we “get” Jesus? Not through earning it or our behavior, something we try to do on our own – something that depends on ourselves and our own weakness and failure – but on the perfect and eternal gift of God. I know that if trying to be right with God is based on what I can do, I’m in deep trouble. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I don’t know everything, I can’t do everything, I make mistakes, I do wrong things and I suspect that most people if they were honest would say the same thing about themselves. But what God is saying in these verses is that our relationship with Him isn’t based on what we do, it’s based on what He has already done. And more specifically what has been done through Jesus. And unlike us He does know everything, He can do anything, nothing can change His mind, surprise Him, or make Him do anything He doesn’t want to. Our relationship with Him is not based on us and what we do but based on God and who He is and what He can do. In fact in verse 10 we learn that this is so powerful, it has the ability to resurrect from the dead. I know of no human power or source that can raise someone from the dead. So we see that God is offering something that we cannot gain in our own power – eternal life – and it comes with His personal guarantee based on Him and not on us. What a deal. Who wouldn’t take this kind of offer? So, again I ask you, what’s in your spiritual wallet? Is it Jesus or something else – something far weaker and likely to fail you?
So what do people trust in, what did Paul trust before he became a follower of Jesus? In verse two Paul uses some very colorful and almost offensive language to describe some people he is warning the Philippians to stay away from. He calls them dogs, evil doers, mutilators of the flesh. What does this mean? I suspect to most people it sounds a bit – well, crazy. But to the people that Paul wrote to they most likely immediately recognized what he meant, but 2000 years later, to us it seems bizarre. He was referring to some people who were teaching that you couldn’t just put your trust in Jesus for your security. That wasn’t enough. You also had to follow the Jewish law and in particular, at least for men, that you had to be circumcised. To be right with God, to have Him in your “wallet” so to speak, you had to have faith and follow the rules – the Old Testament Jewish law. This external behavior, following the rules, getting circumcised and things like that would put you into the family of God according to these false teachers. Basically saying I can be good enough on my own to please God. I suspect a lot of people believe this. They say, well I’m basically a good person, at least I’m in the top 50 % so God will like me and I’ll get into heaven. Paul knows this to be false, first because of his own personal experience, and also because no one, not one single person can follow the rules – the law perfectly. If that’s what’s in your wallet – it will fail you.
In verse 3 Paul uses the word “circumcision” as a shorthand to make a point. These people who he is referring to thought that they were the “circumcised” or the ones that God truly loved and approved of. So he takes this term that they used to describe themselves and says that no, as a matter of fact, they aren’t the circumcised accepted group – the Philippians are – because they have put their confidence in Jesus not in their own abilities and efforts – something he calls the “flesh.” He contrasts faith in what God does to what we can do in our own effort.
In the next few verses, Paul gives a short personal biography – a testimony if you will – of his own personal spiritual journey and how if there was anyone who could put their trust in their own efforts – the flesh – it would be him. He says that he was circumcised on the 8th day as the Jewish law required, he came from the right family background, he went to the right schools and became a Pharisee a top scholar of the day. He wasn’t just an armchair theologian either. He describes himself as being so zealous he actively pursued and persecuted those he thought were God’s enemies. In other parts of the New Testament we learn that he threw them in jail and may have even been a participant in killing some who were followers of Jesus. If there was some rule or regulation that he thought you needed to do, he had been there and done that. But he knew that it fell short – no one, can be good enough to earn God’s favor because the standard isn’t “good enough” but absolute and complete 100% perfection. Ironically it’s a standard so high that no one can reach it, and the price to do so is so costly no one can afford it. You can only get it as a gift from God through His son Jesus.
In verses 7 and 8 we see that we can only trust in the goodness and graciousness of God. That is that we have faith in who God is and what He’s done. In fact, Paul now says that when he looks back on his life and sees what he had put his confidence in – what he’d put in his spiritual wallet – he now sees it was actually not a gain but a “loss,” rubbish, trash. In fact everything except for Christ, Paul now sees as ultimately failing. Paul says this decision was not exactly easy either – it cost him – at least from the perspective of this world – it cost him a lot. But on the other side of the balance sheet – the benefits so to speak – what is the gain? Paul says that the gain is the power in his life that brings a resurrection from the dead. Now theologians have had various opinions on what Paul specifically meant in verses 11 and 12. Some believe that he really means is a resurrection from the dead that occurs at the end of time. But if that view is true, why does he go on to say that he is still working to obtain it when his main point is that as a Christian we already have this through faith. Others think that he may be referring to fully becoming the person God intended us to be. A new creation in Christ, a new person who lives in the light of transformation that occurs when we become Christians, that is a work in progress throughout our lives and only fully realized when we finally enter into God’s heavenly kingdom at the end of our life. Regardless of the best understanding, Paul is clearly stating that ultimately it is God’s power over death that is our ultimate benefit. A power that surpasses anything we yet know – life instead of death. Is that what you have in your wallet? Or is it something else.
So let me ask you again. What’s in your spiritual wallet? What is it that when push comes to shove you trust more than anything else. Is it a job that you have? A place where you’ve worked at for a long time and have seniority? Is it your education or degree? Something that enables you to get a certain type of job? Is it your health? Being able to work and do things for yourself? Is it your family or your family background? Is it a person like a spouse or a boyfriend or girlfriend? What is it that you say “I am secure because I have that,” or “If the worst happens then they, or it, will take care of me?” or whatever. Think about it for a second. Is it anything else besides Christ alone? If it is it will almost certainly fail you. Your looks and your health can be gone in one tragic instant. Money can be lost overnight. People can betray you and fail to live up to your expectations. Everything – Everything with the exception of Christ alone will fail you. What is in your spiritual wallet? Is it Christ? Or is it something else?
Paul’s encouragement to us is to put our trust in the thing that won’t fail. Christ. Are you willing to consider this? Are you willing to seriously look at what you put your trust in? I know for myself I tend to cruise through life. One day pretty much looks like another. I have work, I have hobbies – mine happens to be running or biking – I spend time with my wife and family – I go to church. One day pretty much looks like another and it’s easy to not think about what’s really important. Easy to say one thing – “oh sure I have my security in God” when in fact how I actually live my day to day life would suggest something different. I – We need to wake up – take a minute – get out your spiritual wallet – open it and look at what’s inside – what is it? Is it Christ or something else. If it’s something else be honest and acknowledge it. Are you willing to change? Am I willing to make changes? As you let God’s word in this passage brew in your heart let me challenge you to consider some questions.
- As I look around at myself, my friends, my family, what do I see them putting their trust in?
- How trustworthy, I mean really rock solid reliable, are those things?
- What am I putting my trust in? How rock solid reliable is that?
- Am I willing to fully put my trust in God and not something else? What if He wanted me to make some changes in things that I have had my confidence in? Like Paul would I do it?
Jim Elliott, a missionary who was killed many years ago said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose?” My prayer is that you too would have that same conviction. Thanks for listening to Gospel Home Brew this week.