Summary: It is so easy to put the hope of our salvation onto our achievements as believers. Paul not only shows us the uselessness of such an exercise, he also points us to the only source of our hope which is the resurrection of Jesus.
Knowing The Power of the Resurrection
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
I want you to recall for a moment the transformations which took place in the lives of various people who witnessed the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Think about Mary Magdalene. Before the resurrection she is at the tomb with spices, ready to finish the burial process. She is grief-stricken. Someone has stolen the body of Jesus and deprived her of the last opportunity to say “goodbye”. Then Jesus comes. At His command she races off the first messenger of resurrection hope.
Think about the disciples hiding behind locked doors in fear of the authorities. They look more like cowards then the apostolic foundations of the church. Then Jesus stands among them and soon they become fearless as they face opposition from the Jewish leaders.
Transformation. Resurrection transformation. But that was then - when people witnessed the resurrection of Jesus with their eyes. Can such a transformation continue to take place today? Even though our Lord has ascended? Even when faith cannot be confirmed by sight? Can such a transformation take place?
Indeed it can
In fact it must.
Every true believer must make this transformation – a transformation which is based on the power of the resurrection. That power is the same power which is behind Philippians 3:1-11. Now, if you had been listening carefully, you would have picked up the fact that this passage is full of passion. Paul is fired-up as he deals with matters that are at the heart of the Gospel. Paul is laying down the gauntlet. Let’s see if you really realise what it means to know Christ as the foundation of your life.
To see how Paul brings across this fired-up passion we need to remember a significant historical difference between ourselves and the members of the church in Philippi. Today we have God’s Word collected; all the books bound together. And we can read them at our leisure at home. But originally there was only one letter – a letter from the hand of Paul which was meant to be read out to the whole congregation. Philippians 1:1 opens this letter, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi”. This is not a confidential document to be put into the archives of the church. It is to be heard and absorbed by all members.
Now I I suspect that, if the leadership of our church was to receive a letter like this today - and if it were asked to be read out in church - the leadership would probably have a lengthy discussion to decide whether it should be read out in church or not. Why would the passage cause so much difficulty? Because it contains language which is so harsh; so confrontational, so strong. Paul uses words that cut like a knife as he seeks to open the heart of the Gospel.
He starts by condemning a religious group called the Judaizers. In simple terms Judaizers were people who accepted Christ as Saviour but who also insisted that circumcision was still necessary to be a real member of God’s family. Many in the early church would classify them as being part of the Christian family – and a fanatical part at that. To such people Paul applies a few choice descriptive words in Phil.3:2. He says, “watch out for those dogs”. In our culture such a word is usually applied to those who are worthless and vulgar. But the Jews would pick up a distinctly religious jibe. To be a dog was to be equated with a Gentile – the Gentile dogs. They were the people outside the covenant community. They were in a constant state of ritual uncleanness. Far from being part of the Christian family, Paul is saying that these Judaizers are unwelcome foreigners in the Christian family.
Paul goes on in the same verse, “Watch out … for those men who do evil”. The phrase cannot be limited to those who merely do bad things – were such the case it could be applied to every member of the church. The original behind this phrase literally refers to “those who continue to do bad works”. The Judaizers were proud of the fact that they were upholding the works of the law – and it was their mission to make sure all Christians did the same instead of following Paul’s dubious teaching about grace. Paul is having a bit of a sarcastic prod at the Judaizers. ”Sure they work, but their works are taking them into spiritual darkness – they are working their way into hell”.
To add insult to injury Paul goes on and says, “watch out … for those mutilators of the flesh”. Such words are an attack on one of the greatest source of pride for a Jew – his circumcision. It meant you were part of the inner circle. It was a mark which gave you guaranteed access to the temple. It was a sure sign of your share among God’s people. And Paul takes that whole picture and turns it around. This is not circumcision, it is mutilation. The fact that you are missing the right part of your body is not proof that you are a member of the covenant community. It has no more significance then any other pagan body-mutilating practice. In body you are a Jew. In spirit you are a Gentile.