Genuine Joy: Philippians 3
About seven or eight years ago, I was in a men’s morning Bible study and prayer group. Weekly, we would meet and discuss a Bible passage or read a book together and then share our thoughts, struggles and insights with each other and then end with prayer.
One morning one of the guys said, “I think we should all run a 5k together.” He proceeded to give his reasons as to why he thought we should do it. He said, “it will be fun” … “it will build comradery” … “it will be healthy” … blah, blah, blah.
The other guys nodded their heads in agreement and I heartily shook my head NO! I said, “This all sounds great and all, but I am not a runner! I have never run more than one country block in the past 20 plus years and quite frankly, I don’t plan on starting… So, I am out.” The man responded, “Before you say no, I know of a realistic and attainable running program called ‘From the Couch to 5k’ that I think might work for you. Would you at least consider it?” I thought for a moment and agreed to consider it.
He gave me the outline and as I read it, I thought, hmm I can do this. Yes, it was going to be a challenge and a huge commitment on my part, but I agreed to do it. So, I contacted another friend who was one of the local high school football coaches and I asked if I could join him in his morning workouts at the school workout room. He agreed. I started the program and after the first day I thought I was going to die. But I committed to staying the course. I determined that instead of thinking negatively towards running, I was now going to embrace it. Yes, it was hard work. It was not fun. I could have thought of 195 things that I would rather do on any given morning at 6 am other than running.
I started by run/walking 1 mile, then 1.25, then 1.5 and so on… after 4 months I was running 3 miles every other day. As time passed running became easier AND I was enjoying it. This did not entail that it was easy… No, it was tiresome, it was exhausting, it took discipline. There were times I ran, and I would be halfway into my run and I wanted to quit, turn around and go home. But I kept pressing forward and enduring to completion.
Finally, I was ready. That following summer I ran four 5ks. It was an accomplishment I would never have achieved had I not endured hardship and press forward. Unfortunately, over the years I have stopped running. I don’t have a good excuse other than I don’t have time, but really it is not a great excuse. I know that if I started back up again it wouldn’t take much time to get back to running 3 to 3 ½ miles. Some days I think I should start back up but then the memories flood back and I let my attitude defeat me, because I know running is hard and I don’t like hard. I prefer easy. Sitting home on the couch is much easier for me than running. It is tiresome, sweaty and I get thirsty, but in the long run (pun intended) pressing forward and shooting for a goal is the right thing to do.
This leads us into today’s message in Philippians 3 where Paul talks about doing the hard things to attain the prize. He equates the Christian life to pressing forward (like running) so we may receive the prize which is the upward call of Jesus Christ.
Rejoice in the Lord
Philippians 3:1 - 9
Vs 1: “Finally…” Some Pastors and bible readers get a little chuckle out of teaching Paul’s opening statement in chapter 3. It is similar to the story where a little boy who is in church says to his father, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’? To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing.” This is true with the Apostle Paul concluding by saying, “finally” and then continuing to write for two more chapters… I know… typical pastor.
He encourages his readers once again to “rejoice in the Lord.” He mentions that he does not grow tired of telling the Philippians this because the Lord himself is both the point and source of joy. There is safety in rejoicing. The joy of the Lord will keep us safe and guarded when our spiritual foes try to take us down and destroy us.
Vs 2: Paul abruptly turns from calling for joy to the Philippians to issuing a warning to certain people, most likely Jewish Christians who insisted Gentile Christians should observe and submit to the Mosaic law, including circumcision. According to former Pastor and commentator R. Kent Hughes, “Paul here engages in searing rhetoric with three alliterated insults that all begin with the letter kappa (k): ‘Look out for dogs’ (kunas), ‘Look out for evil doers’ (kakous ergatos), ‘Look out for those who mutilate the flesh’ (katatome).” But what is more than the alliteration is the ironic sarcasm that is meant to be insults to the Judaizers.
He starts by calling them “dogs”. Ancient Israelites did not have pets. In fact, dogs were considered scavengers who ate garbage, carcasses, and were despised street animals. Dogs were images for what was unclean. To call a person a dog was neither a compliment nor flattery. He warns the Philippians to stay away from Judaizers because they were dogs. Yes, this was intended to be an insult to them.
Next, he calls them “evildoers”, and this is a retort on the Judaizers because they claim to keep the law and thus do what is right in God’s eyes. Paul was literally saying they were not righteous, instead they were evildoers. The reality is that instead of their legalistic demands to keeping the law to make them more righteous, they were driving themselves away from righteousness
Lastly, he calls them mutilators of the flesh. This is a sarcastic wordplay on circumcision. For the Jew circumcision was the greatest source of pride and Paul is saying their circumcision is a mutilation of the flesh, thus showing them that they have no part in God’s people.
Vs 3: “For we are the real circumcision” Paul declares that those who worship by the Spirit of God are the true circumcised. He says those who rely on their circumcision for their righteousness are putting their confidence in the flesh and not in Jesus. If your boast is in Christ, your confidence cannot be in yourself. The Christian has no room to boast in his works of the flesh.
Vs 4 – 6: Paul now says that if our boast is in the works of the flesh then he has every reason to boast. He was…
Vs 7 – 9: “Whatever gain I had…” It did not matter what Paul thought he had gained from all of his righteousness because it was counted as loss. In fact, Paul counts everything that he considered useful and productive as rubbish, dung, or excrement. Everything he thought (before meeting Christ) that was drawing him closer to God was in fact keeping or pushing him from Christ.
In Paul’s economy everything was considered loss because in comparison to what he received from Christ; all of his human accomplishments were added up to a dung heap. However, his relationship with Christ was the greater investment. In reality there was no loss on Paul’s part. Everything he accomplished equaled nothing, and you cannot lose more than nothing. You can only gain when you have nothing at all. Paul’s gain was Christ and his righteousness. Paul went from giving up all HIS accomplishments (works and pride of the flesh) in exchange for righteousness from God that depends on faith.
Philippians 3:10 - 21
Vs 10 – 11: In gaining righteousness Paul’s desire is to know Jesus more and to know him in such a way that his life that would be identified with the Christ and that it would be radiated through his life. His desire is to…
Vs 12 – 21: Paul continues in humility to share that he is far from reaching the place he desires to be as a Christian. He admits he has not obtained the relationship he desires with Christ. He longed to know his savior more, and he longed to grow in Him. What we see in the first part of vs 12 is a type of holy discontent. Paul is not satisfied, he wants to know Jesus more and more, and this translates to a good thing. Paul’s holy discontent shows us that he has an active faith that is continually growing, and this is a blessing.
He then equates his journey to straining forward and pressing on toward the goal of the prize. He is not focusing on his past accomplishments. No, his journey is a forward moving journey like a marathon or race. He is so focused on the prize which is knowing Christ fully and experiencing perfect fellowship with him that no matter how difficult, exhausting, or tiresome this race is, he will keep pressing forward.
Vs 17: Paul invites his readers to join in imitating him by doing what he is doing. He is calling them to discipleship by saying, “Come, join me as we press on together in pursuing Christ.” Unfortunately, there are some who has taken the path of walking as enemies of Christ. They found the race is not worth running. They have chosen to invest in worldly affairs which leads to destruction and shame. But to those who pursue Jesus, we are citizens of heaven and we wait patiently for the day that we will become like Christ and we are transformed to our glorious bodies by the power of the Spirit.
So, FINALLY my dear friends how can we apply all this to us today individually and as a family of God? We can look at what I have just talked about and apply these three thoughts…
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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