NOTE: Transcript below contains more than the sound file. The message was modified on the fly due to a very large number of visitors.
Philippians 3:1-11 “The Gospel”
In the text we are about to read, Paul is going to use some very strong language. When words are misused, we call them bad words. What makes a word a bad word is that it defiles something sacred. For example, when we take God’s name in vain, the name itself is very good, but using it flippantly is disrespectful of Almighty God. When we warn a sinner that their sin is taking them to hell, we are using the word hell appropriately, but when we use the word to describe everyday situations, we reduce its meaning and denigrate God’s holiness. Words can also tear down people. Words can be used to defile the body, to create dirty images in the mind. But words of disgust are appropriate in some settings. For there are unholy things which we ought to name and warn others to reject. Paul does this very thing in our text today. Listen for the word rubbish. It would be better translated stinky poop, for the greek word literally means repugnant human feces. Try to understand Paul’s intense hatred for the thing he refers to as stinky poop. And remember, this is the inspired word of God, the use of this strong language is not only intentional, it is necessary to show us the depths of our sins and the glory of the gospel.
Follow along with me as I read Philippians 3:1-11 from the English Standard Version:
“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.”
This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…
Today we need to examine two things, the insufficiency of our works and the sufficiency of Christ’ work. For beloved, our best works cannot earn us anything, they are filthy. But the work of Christ is sufficient for all our needs and desires!
- The Insufficiency of our works.
There were teachers in Philippi who were of the most vile nature. They probably thought they had good intentions, but Paul calls them dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Someone will ask, how could a Christian call elders in the church of God dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh? I hope that by the end of this message you will be able to answer that question clearly from this text!
These evil elders were misreading the Bible. They read the Old Testament and thought it was a guidebook for living a moral life pleasing to God. They thought that the ten commandments were given that we might learn to obey them and in that way earn our righteous standing before God. They taught that believers in Christ must follow the teachings of Christ, but also submit to circumcision and promise to keep all of the Old Testament laws. They were moralists, legalists, and proponents of doing good works for the favor of God.
This may all sound good to you. Many people spend years in churches hearing moralistic messages, that is, hearing about what we should and should not do in order to earn God’s favor and blessings. After all, doesn’t the Bible teach us to live moral lives? Isn’t the law good? Is not God more likely to bless our lives if we are good people? And once we have been saved and forgiven of our sins, aren’t we given a clean slate, a fresh start, an opportunity to do what is right and not feel guilty about the past?
No, beloved! These are perversions of the gospel! Paul wants us to understand something about the error of this moralistic Jesus plus works thinking! And so he calls teachers of such things dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh!
Now these terms are harsh. And some of us may have a problem with God for using them. But hopefully our fear of the Lord will lead us to be silent before him and consider what God is teaching us this morning.
Paul addresses this party of moralistic evildoers. He calls them evildoers because they think they are moral yet they deceive themselves. Following their own understanding of the law, they wash the outside of their cups while all sorts of stinky poop lies in their hearts. They have no true repentance, for true repentance is not deciding to do what is right in our own strength, for our own glory, and to sooth our conscience, rather, true repentance is turning to God in humility, agreeing with him that our hearts and tongues spew forth all sorts of stinky poop, that we need God’s salvation not only the day we first believe, but every moment of every day!
Paul engaged the party of the circumcision, for they taught that one needed to perform this ritual of cutting off the foreskin in order to renew the Old Testament covenant, to make a fresh commitment to perfectly obey the Ten Commandments. Paul refuses to make such a promise, for he understands the lesson of the Israelites who were actively breaking every one of the Ten Commandments the day Moses brought them down from the mountain, for they were committing adultery, calling a golden statue God, and engaging in utterly immoral behavior! And those who think they are better than the Israelites need to listen carefully to the remainder of Paul’s teaching!
Paul argues that Christians who reject circumcision after Christ was revealed are the ones who truly understand and live according to the Old Testament teachings about circumcision and the Ten Commandments. Those who wish to renew the Old Testament Covenant have rejected the fulfillment of that covenant, Christ Jesus himself! For those who take circumcision in order to try in their own power to obey the moral law fundamentally reject the teaching of Christ that since the fall of man we are evil by nature and unable to do any good work.
Paul argues that he knows what he is talking about. For if anyone could get to heaven or earn God’s favor by good works, it was Paul. He then lists his worldly, worthless, stinky poop resume.
“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.”
There was no one with a better religious or moral resume than Paul. Who else had served more time in the church of his day? Who else was better educated? He went to the best seminary of his day and received high marks in his PhD as it were! Who could be found more moral than one blameless as to the law? Paul was as good a man as it gets. But lest we strive to be like him in his near-perfect outward morality, Paul continues:
“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”
Paul calls his great works, his deep learning, his morality stinky poop. His passion is honest. While the writing is intended to shock us, it is not an exaggeration. Why would Paul consider his great moral and religious achievements as stinky poop?
Paul’s self-righteousness, pride, and arrogance stank to high heaven. For while he was outwardly obeying the commandments as far as the people of God could see, he was worshipping himself rather than the creator of the universe. He did his works in his own strength, for he did not have the Spirit of God residing within. And while he may have done a good job of rejecting the temptation to cheat on his seminary exams, or look wrongfully at a woman, his outward righteousness was rooted in his determination to be righteous apart from God. And this rejection of God as God is idolatry. It is the most heinous and evil hatred known to man. For the first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before me”. But all moralists place their faith not in Jesus Christ our creator and Savior, but in their own goodness. They set themselves up as god, and are deceived by the very lie of Satan which tripped up Adam and Eve. For he told them that they could have life apart from God’s Word, if they would only trust in themselves, their own works, their own wisdom. Such rebellion against God reeks like stinky poop in the nostrils of our Creator.
Paul came to understand his error when he was on the way to Damascus. He went there to oppose the people introducing a new gospel to his faith. He was a traditionalist who zealously defended what he thought was the truth. He went to murder those he thought were heretics, those who were teaching and preaching Christ as Lord and Savior. But on the way, he encountered Christ in a vision. And in a moment his perspective was transformed.
All Paul’s self-righteous works led him to oppose Christ, to persecute the God whom he thought he was serving. Beloved this is exactly what we do when we stop relying upon God moment by moment for personal and daily holiness and attempt to be and do good in our own power and strength. This is why every sermon, every Sunday school lesson, and every devotional which teaches us to obey the moral law or be good people without pointing us to repentance and dependance upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to give us good works is demonic. For moralism is Satan’s primary tool. Most people destined for hell believe that they are going to heaven because of their good works.
So Paul implores us not to listen to moralists or legalists, lest we encounter Christ on the last day and realize to our horror that instead of serving him, we were serving ourselves and persecuting him!
So what do we do when we come to understand that our attempts to conquer our sin, to do good deeds, and to be moral people are stinky poopy acts?
We cry out to Jesus for salvation! Which leads us to the second point:
2. Jesus Christ is sufficient.
Beloved, Christ went to the cross for you. He didn’t merely die that you might be forgiven of your sins one time and then live a perfect life in your own strength. He didn’t lay down his life so that you would strive to be holy moment by moment, only coming to Christ in prayer when you felt you had messed up again and were in need of another clean slate. No beloved, the gospel is much bigger than that! You are not on your own! You do not need to strive to be holy! The pursuit of holiness is not the pursuit of self perfection, but the pursuit of the God who is perfection!
We cannot reject our own good works without despairing unless we cling to the good works of Jesus Christ as our own. We must cling to 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”
Paul clung to Jesus Christ! All his works were stinky poop, but the works of Christ are glorious, perfect, holy, and sufficient! They are the true treasure! And since our poopy works stink to high heaven, the only way to have Christ is to reject our self-righteous not-so-good-works!
Paul’s aim in life was to gain Christ and his righteousness which comes not by trying to obey the Ten Commandments, but by faith in Jesus Christ! I am getting to heaven not because I try to be a good person and obey the Ten Commandments, I am going to heaven because Jesus Christ lived a perfect sinless life and then died in my place, taking my sins upon Himself and giving me his righteousness. Beloved, strive only to cling to Christ and to put on His righteousness by 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.”
This should be our aim in life! We should not worry so much about this life, nor should we suppose that those who are successful in the world’s eyes are the righteous ones. Rather, we should seek our beloved Christ Jesus with all our hearts. We should place our faith in Him alone and not in our works. We should reject the teaching of anyone who presents to us the not-so-good-news that we need to live moral lives to be blessed by God.
Someone will ask, Pastor Joshua, if all I need to be righteous is faith in Jesus Christ, then what will motivate me to love others? Of what use are the Ten Commandments if not to tell us how we may be right with God? Were they not given for our welfare that we by obeying them may enjoy a happier and more blessed life?
These are good questions. The Christian who clings to Christ by faith, who pursues Christ with all their heart, who seeks to wear the righteousness of Christ given to them by faith, does not treat Christ’s Word lightly. The mature Christian does not read the Ten Commandments to learn to obey them in their own strength, but rather, reads them to see anew how far short of God’s glory we fall that he or she may ask God for forgiveness for their failures, and for Holy Spirit power to love God and others from the heart, and to thank God for forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Beloved, Jesus’ works for you are sufficient. His good works are sufficient to get you to heaven. His love for you and others is sufficient motivation, more than that it is sufficient within us to change our hearts that we may love God and others and in so doing, obey the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ work is sufficient not merely for your forgiveness, but also for your day to day living. Jesus Christ is enough! Cling to Him!
Let us pray…