Summary: We either believe that Jesus Christ alone is sufficient for a life of faith or He is not.
“Living a Joy-Full Life: Know Your Profits and Losses”
I recall a conversation that took place during a Consistory meeting of another church I served. It was about requirements for who should serve on Consistory. Some wanted to add guidelines to what the Scriptures have already laid out. One of the deacons, who was a tither, expressed that only tithers should serve on Consistory. Knowing this gentleman only attended morning worship services, I chimed in (somewhat facetiously) and said that only those who attended worship both morning and evening should serve. After a few more such requirements were suggested – most of which were offered tongue-in-cheek – the point became clear: we cannot pick and choose ‘laws’ to add to our faith. We either believe that Jesus Christ alone is sufficient or we do not.
That’s precisely the issue Paul dealt with in his letter to the Philippian Church. There was a persistent group that was trying to add required works to faith; they were trying to pile up profits by which they could then gain salvation and blessing. But with Paul as the leader and mentor of this young church, this group was barking up the wrong tree. Listen again to verses 2-4 (NLT): “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!” Paul tells them they are wrong – he knows because he’s been there and done that.
To prove his point, Paul talks about his life of PERSONAL PROFITS. Paul had built a profit of RITUALS. (5) He said he was ‘…circumcised on the eighth day…” Circumcision had been established as the mark of belonging to the Jewish nation. So the devout Jew believed that PEOPLE HAD TO BECOME JEWISH before they could become Christian - that God’s approval could only be gained by being Jewish. Belief in Jesus Christ had to be supplemented with a Jewish rite in order to be accepted by God.
We tend to shake our heads and wonder how in the world these Christians could ever start adding requirements to faith. Yet OUR RITUALS TOO EASILY BECOME REQUIREMENTS. Baptism easily becomes more than something that’s just important to faith – it’s soon a requirement. We start to believe that someone must be baptized to be saved – and not only baptized but baptized in a certain way and perhaps even at a certain age. The Lord’s Supper quickly becomes more than just a meaningful celebration – it must be celebrated a certain number of times and in a certain way – and those who don’t follow suit are not as ‘Christian’ as they should be. For some it’s the order or content of worship - it must be a certain way to be acceptable. Our rituals too easily become requirements for faith. Paul said rituals are easy to pile up as profit.
Paul’s next profit was RANK. He said (5) he was “…of the people of Israel…” He was born and bred an Israelite, part of God’s special, chosen family. Paul had the RIGHT ANCESTRY, which was critically important – he was from the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had the right heritage, the right parents, the right family relationships. It’s not too different from those who claim profit because their family has been “part of such and such church for generations,” or “I’ve been part of this church for 50 years…” The implication is that it brings special benefits.
Paul adds that he was not just an Israelite, but he was “…of the tribe of Benjamin…” Paul was originally named Saul, after the first king of Israel – who was a Benjamite. Paul came from the best of the best. He had THE RIGHT PEDIGREE. He was AK registered. Benjamites were just a little better, a little higher, a little purer than the rest. It’s a little like “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much” – or “If you’re not white, you’re not right.”
And Paul was not only a Benjamite, he said he was also “…a Hebrew of Hebrews…” He had THE RIGHT ORTHODOXY. He was a strict orthodox Jew, as opposed to the more liberal Jews. It’s a little like “Oh, you’re not reformed?” which means “Our denomination is the right and pure one.” It’s the attitude of “I don’t believe in denominations or doctrine – we just follow the Bible.” Paul said it’s easy to pile up rank as profit.
Another profit Paul claimed was RULES. (5-6) “…in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” Paul followed the law strictly – even ADDED LAWS TO THE LAW. No one, he claimed, kept the Law better than he did; no one was more zealous in defending and promoting the law. When Barb and I went to the Holy Land years ago, we were on the plane for the return flight. Our take-off was delayed because there were strict, orthodox Jews who refused to sit down and get buckled-up for takeoff. It was the hour to face Jerusalem and pray and they insisted on doing so. It created quite a stir. But they would not