Good morning everyone! My name is Zeke Wettstein and I am grateful for the opportunity to open God’s word to you all this morning. I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. I figured Will Click would appreciate it if I make it two weeks in a row with a Tolkien reference. For those of you that fit into the former category, let me very briefly introduce myself. As I said, my name is Zeke. My wife, Cassie, is over there. We just celebrated our 1-year anniversary a few weeks ago. We are both on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and work with college students on campus at UW-Madison and have called Red Village Church our home since early in our time when we were students at the University here.
This is my first time preaching, and preparing to speak today has given me a much greater appreciation for the weight Pastor Aaron and the other church leaders bear. This has been a great learning experience for me, and I am very grateful and humbled to be here. Please give me grace today as I try to lead us faithfully through the text.
Please open your Bibles to Philippians Chapter 3. I will be leading us through verses one through 11 this morning.
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.
Over the last few weeks, we have been working through the book of Philippians. I want to recall a few things as we enter into the text today. Throughout the first 2 chapters, Paul continually reminds the church to rejoice in the Lord, something we will see again today. Paul also uses a lot of language in the eternal perspective, meaning he has his mind set on heaven and not just on earthly things. He talks about his desire that they would be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, about how for him to live is Christ and to die is gain, and he speaks of them working out their salvation. Knowing Christ and having that relationship be the basis of our salvation will be a theme we will see throughout this passage. And with that, let’s dive in.
Paul begins verse 1 by transitioning back to his theme of rejoicing in the Lord. Paul’s next words in verse one are understood to be emphasizing different things. One such understanding would be that he is saying it is no trouble for me to tell you again to rejoice in the Lord – like he did earlier in the letter. The other understanding is that this phrase applies to his warning against the false teachers he brings up in verse 2, and he is referencing his earlier conversations he had about this while he was still with them. Because both make sense, are things Paul emphasizes in other ways, and add to the introduction of this letter, I will share a bit on both.
In seeing this as a means of reminding the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord – and of the other 8 times he mentioned it in the first half of his letter – Paul uses this to introduce a section on the need for us to give up our self-righteousness in order to gain the righteousness of Christ and follow in Jesus’ example of a life of sacrifice. It is good and safe, as he says, to remind them to rejoice as he begins this more difficult call in their lives. And just as it is safe to remind the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, it is safe for us at Red Village Church to rejoice in the Lord as we hear this call to give up self-righteousness. Let us not take God’s call to our lives with a grieving heart, but with a heart of praise as we seek the righteousness of Christ.
In seeing this as a means of reminding the Philippians of his previous warnings against false teachers, we might remember that across Paul’s other epistles and the book of Acts – specifically chapter 15 – we can see the issue where some false teachers wanted to require circumcision and the following of the law of Moses for salvation. This was a continually addressed issue and a continued threat for both the Jews and Gentiles in the newly forming Christian Church. Paul is then using this to call the Philippians to remember all of the previous warnings and to reiterate how they need to be on guard against false teachers. This isn’t a minor issue; this is one of significant enough weight. Paul wants to ensure they remember that nothing should ever be added as requirements for salvation except faith alone.
Paul follows his short introduction to this section of topics by using some rather harsh and offensive language to describe the people who were trying to put extra requirements upon salvation. Now, Paul isn’t just trying to be mean when he uses this language, but rather he is seeking to show the depth of the depravity their false teachings cast upon them – it is all to paint a picture once again of the severity of this issue and the great weight it is to lead others astray. He first calls them “dogs” – but the Christians who first read this wouldn’t be thinking about your golden doodle or Daisy, but instead, their image would be something more of a hyena, prowling around, scaring kids away, and eating whatever scraps it could find. Self-righteous Jews would often describe pagan Gentiles as dogs, but Paul flips that on its head. As one commentator put it, “These people (the false teachers) were more deserving of the name than any Gentile because of the way that they liked to prowl around the Christian congregations seeking to win Gentile converts over to Judaism.” Paul continues his barrage with “evildoers” or, more accurately, evil workers. For they are not just doing evil, but working for the cause of evil – and adding works to salvation, which is evil.
Through the end of Verse 2 and in Verse 3, Paul uses circumcision, the sign of the covenant God made with His people, to emphasize his point. When God made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, He gave the sign of circumcision as a way of separating the people of Israel, who followed the one true God, from all other peoples. It was a symbol of them being a set-apart and holy people before God. But instead of being just a symbol of a promise for them to have faith in, circumcision in many ways became their hope and faith. No longer did they have an outward marking to show their inward faith, but they had an external sign that in itself accomplished nothing and was merely a mutilation of their flesh. Paul instead calls his largely uncircumcised Gentile Christian audience “the circumcision” because they are a marked and set-apart people, not by the mutilation of their flesh as an outward sign done by human hands, but they are marked and set apart by the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, a sign that can only be performed by God and is bound on a new and better covenant that is not dependent on the flesh. It is these true Christians who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus. It is these true Christians who don’t put their confidence in the deeds and markings and achievements of the flesh, but in Christ and Christ alone.
Paul then begins his elaboration on why we should not put our confidence in the flesh in Verse 4. Paul states that he himself has reason for confidence in the flesh also, and that if anyone else thinks they have reason for confidence in the flesh, Paul has more. By confidence in the flesh, Paul is talking about the things based on our abilities, achievements, or status that are our reasons for living, our cause for joy and fulfillment, or the basis of our actions and motivations in life. Paul gives his fleshly confidence resume, stating all the reasons the culture and the world around him tell him he is good enough to rely on himself and to show that his denunciation of the need to follow the laws of Moses is not due to his own lack of good standing under the Mosaic law. This is also the beginning of his call to “join in imitating me” that he gives in Chapter 3, Verse 17, which will be covered more next week.
So, here are the things that give Paul reason for confidence in the flesh in Verses 5 and 6. Paul is a covenant-following Jew – he is one who bears the sign of circumcision done on the 8th day, just as God commanded. He was born into the people of Israel; he isn’t a convert to Judaism but a chosen descendant of Abraham. He is a part of the tribe of Benjamin, the one tribe that remained faithful to the kingly line of David in Judah despite the rest revolting. He is a Hebrew of Hebrews: his parents were faithful Jews, so he was born into a family who raised him according to the law. Not only was he raised by faithful parents, but he was also taught by the best teachers so as to become a Pharisee. He wasn’t just any Pharisee; he was a zealous one whose desire to protect the law was so great that he was a persecutor of the early church. And in the eyes of all those around him, he was righteous under the law – he was a blameless Pharisee Zealot who sought to follow and defend the law of Moses no matter the cost.
But whatever gain Paul had from these things, he counted them as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, he counts everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. It is for Christ’s sake that Paul suffered the loss of all things, counting them as rubbish so that he could gain Christ. It is my hope, my brothers and sisters, that we might also be able to say this of ourselves with such confidence. Let’s break it down a bit more.
Considering all that Paul had going for himself, we get just a taste of the magnitude of the goodness of Christ when seeing how Paul counted all this as loss to follow Jesus. One wouldn’t give up something valuable for something of less value and rejoice. Paul uses the word “loss” here, and the only other context this word is used in is to describe valuable cargo on a ship that was thrown overboard in the midst of a murderous storm in an effort to lighten the ship and maybe survive. So Paul didn’t just push his fleshly accomplishments to the side to make room for Christ, but rather he cast his confidence in the flesh to the depths of the sea to give his all to Christ.
Paul goes on in verse 8 to say that not only did he count all this as lost at his conversion to Christ, but he continues to count everything as loss because of how valuable it is to know Jesus. He says that he suffered the loss of all things and counts them as rubbish because of the value of gaining Christ. One example of this in Paul’s story of how little he gained in earthly things when he threw his old life away to accept Christ is that on his first few attempts at gathering with other Christians, they didn’t believe that he was telling the truth about his conversion and tried to kill him – multiple times! Can you imagine if when you showed up to church for the first time, saying you were a believer, the congregation tried to kill you? It would have to be a truly compelling gospel to still draw you in when that is happening. So it isn’t exactly a life of status in the Christian world that Paul switched into. The way he continued pressing onward into a life with Christ shows that his gain is in Christ and Christ alone, and everything else, including social status, is rubbish to him – things to be thrown to the dogs.
In verse 9, Paul contrasts the righteousness that comes from the law with the righteousness that comes from God through faith. The law he refers to is the Old Testament law given by God to the people of Israel through Moses. This law contained numerous rules and regulations intended to guide God’s chosen people in righteous living. However, it was impossible for anyone to perfectly follow the law due to the presence of sin in the world.
The purpose of the law, as Paul explains in his letter to the Romans, was to increase awareness of sin and the need for a perfect righteousness that could not be achieved through human effort alone. Many Jews, particularly the Pharisees, like Paul before his conversion, had lost sight of their own imperfection and their need for a savior. They became focused on trying to be better than others and believed that their own righteousness would be sufficient for salvation. They failed to recognize their deep need for the Messiah to come and live a perfect life, as well as to die sacrificially for their sins so that through faith in him they could be saved.
The false teachers mentioned in verse 2, known as Judaisers, had similarly lost sight of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection as the only means of attaining salvation and the hope of resurrection. Pursuing righteousness through imperfectly following a law that demands perfection leads to a futile existence with no ultimate results beyond fleeting earthly gain. This is why Paul asserts that it cannot be added as a requirement for salvation because it accomplishes nothing.
At Red Village Church, we believe that the wooden cross and the empty tomb hold immense significance because they represent the means by which we can attain righteousness. We must count our own righteousness as worthless and instead embrace the righteousness of Christ through faith in him. This does not mean that we disregard good works or fail to pursue Christ-like living. Rather, it emphasizes that our salvation is not found in our own works but in our faith in Christ’s perfect sacrifice and righteousness.
In summary, Paul highlights the contrast between the righteousness that comes from the law, which humans are unable to fulfill perfectly, and the righteousness that comes from God through faith. Our salvation is not achieved through our own works or self-righteousness but through faith in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
In verses 10 and 11, Paul outlines his goals in putting his faith in Christ. Firstly, he desires to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. The word “know” here implies a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus, not just factual knowledge about him. Paul wants to experience the transformative power of Christ’s resurrection in his own life and have a profound understanding of its significance.
Secondly, Paul seeks to share in the sufferings of Christ and become like him in his death. When we embrace Christ, we accept his calling for our lives, which includes the reality of persecution and opposition from the world. Paul acknowledges that following Christ may involve suffering, but he rejoices in it because it allows him to identify with Christ and experience a closer fellowship with him.
Lastly, Paul’s ultimate goal is to attain the resurrection from the dead. He eagerly anticipates being united with Christ in heaven and spending eternity in his presence. Paul expresses his deep desire to attain this goal by any means necessary. He is willing to make any sacrifice, endure any suffering, and relinquish any earthly possessions or achievements if it means securing his salvation and being with Christ forever.
In summary, Paul’s goals in putting his faith in Christ are to know him intimately, experience the power of his resurrection, share in his sufferings, and attain the resurrection from the dead. He counts all things as rubbish in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and being united with him for eternity.
Throughout this section of the letter, we can see the warnings against false teachers who seek to add things to the Gospel, and how dangerous and evil it is to dabble in adding self-found righteousness to our lives, personal worth, and salvation. Paul uses this issue to transition into speaking another warning for the Church on the ways that we might try to add our own self-righteousness to salvation instead of counting it all as rubbish. As I try to wrap up this passage, I am going to break this idea down into 3 questions and speak a bit on each. I’ll have the main topics of each on the slides to help keep things organized.
What do we struggle to count as rubbish?
First, what are the things of the flesh that we take confidence in and struggle to count as rubbish? Paul’s resume of sorts in verses 5 and 6 of all the reasons he has for confidence in the flesh was very contextualized for the time he lived, and in some cases, I think it makes us forget that we, in many ways, are similar. Here are three images that serve as contextualizations to us of where we might be seeking to find our righteousness, worth, and purpose instead of in Christ. As I talk through them, I want to invite you to consider if any of these things, or something else that comes to mind, might be something you are finding your righteousness in instead of in Christ.
I will begin with what it might look like if we sought worldly self-righteousness. We might put our value in our social media appearance and make sure other people only see the perfect facade we put out. We might make our physical appearance and how attractive people find us a top priority and something that drives us to work out or try to lose weight. Or it could be that we let our popularity give us our value and be our main purpose in life. We might want people to think we are cool, confident, or that we know how to dress in style.
Another place we may seek self-righteousness is in our socioeconomic status. We may find that we are happy only when our finances are looking up or thinking we have more worth because we landed a good job or have a nice house. We might be seeking milestones such as being debt-free, becoming a millionaire, or having real estate as our own form of financial sanctification.
As someone who works on campus, I encounter a lot of students who find their hope in their grades and major, and their ability to achieve success is where they find their meaning and purpose.
There are many other ways we may be seeking self-righteousness – I’ll give just one more example of how we might find ourselves seeking it in our religion. As Christians, we often find our worth and status in things other than in the life of Christ. We find it in our upbringing as a pastor’s kid or in that we have a ton of Bible verses memorized, even if it was only because we wanted candy at Awana. We find it in our knowledge of Scripture or in how crazy our testimonies are. We find our righteousness in that we go to church on Sunday, and that we don’t swear or we don’t vote for THAT immoral candidate. We might tell a friend we can’t come to their tailgate because we have church, but we would never try to share our faith with them because they might not like us as much. We find our righteousness in our actions that seem to make us live like a Christian, instead of finding our righteousness in Christ himself and in that new identity, live a life worthy of his calling. For me, this is the area I struggle with the most. I have had many seasons where I have found myself wanting to be seen as a wise spiritual figure by others more because it would make me feel valuable and important than because I actually wanted to serve people in that capacity. The latter was true. I wanted to serve others, but it is not always my primary motive.
Now, these aren’t necessarily bad things – to be popular or successful, to get good grades, have Bible verses memorized, or to go to church. But when we are finding our value in them and having our actions and accomplishments be the prime motivation for everything we do, it reveals a deep heart issue. It shows our distrust in Christ as our Lord and reveals our desire to depend on our abilities to gain worth and fulfillment instead of depending on Him to meet those needs for us.
Why should we count it all as rubbish?
Second, why should we count all these things as rubbish? One of the first steps in realizing why we should count it all as rubbish is to understand the value of knowing Christ. To know Christ is to know the Father and to be known by God. To know Christ is to be in an intimate relationship with the sovereign God who created the universe and everything in it. He is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and above every name that is named. When we know Him, we get to sit at His table, abide in His love, and never be snatched out of His hand. When we know Him, we have His living water that brings true fulfillment, and we will never be thirsty again.
God knew we could never be good enough on our own to join Him in paradise forever, so He sent His Son, Jesus, to live the perfect life we could never live on earth. He, in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. And God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He was handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged, and crucified, but He was raised on the third day. So if you put your faith in Him, it is by grace that 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.
In comparison to all this, anything we have gained from ourselves is truly less than worthless. It can get us nowhere and gain us nothing that satisfies for longer than even a moment in the perspective of eternity. If you are here today and have not yet put your faith in Christ, I urge you to consider doing so today. For to know Christ is of far greater value than anything else in this world. I or anyone else here would love to answer any questions you have and pray with you. We would love to count you as our brother or sister in Christ. But more than that, Jesus loves you and wants you to be with Him forever.
What does this look like for us to gain Christ?
I will give four ways that gaining Christ transforms our lives.
First, Christ becomes our source of fulfillment. One of the main reasons we hang onto our gains found in the flesh is because we think losing them will result in us feeling more empty. However, through knowing Christ, we find that the joy and fulfillment we had found outside of Him was shallow and empty. Only what comes from Him truly fulfills us to no end. He is the only way to have a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Second, Christ becomes our confidence. When we put our faith in Christ, we learn to know the power of His resurrection and His authority over all. Through this, we can have confidence in Him instead of trying to find confidence in our ever-failing selves. In the same way that the circumcision of the old covenant was done in the flesh and the promises were dependent on the flesh, there was a need for Jesus to bring a new covenant based on better promises. This new covenant is not dependent on the flesh but on faith in Christ. It is because of this new covenant that we can put our trust in Him, for Christ will never fail, even when we do. He will never let us be snatched out of His hand.
Third, Christ becomes our purpose and calling. When we gain Christ, we also gain His ministry and calling. Jesus calls us His friends because He has made known to us the calling His Father has given Him. He appoints us to go and bear fruit, to do the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to walk in, and to make disciples of all nations. We are no longer bound by the pointless purposes of the flesh but can find our purpose in a far greater calling—to serve the God of the universe in everything we do. As we live out this calling, we experience the joy of serving and suffering with Christ, which is something we can rejoice in when we count all else as rubbish.
Fourth and most importantly, Christ is our salvation. This not only permeates our lives and enables us to say that to live is Christ and to die is gain, but it also determines our eternity. To be saved is to spend eternity with Christ, and there is nothing we should strive for more than to attain this by any means possible.