Summary: All this leads me to an important subject I have been wanting to address. What is it? It is the temptation to believe that earthly honors will automatically result in heavenly rewards.



Philippians 3:1-11

A while ago I talked with a man who said that he needed to work harder at being happier. That got my attention. He said he’d been raised in an ultraserious home. He said, My parents taught us that we could achieve whatever we wanted in life if we just worked hard enough and long enough.

He went on to say, it’s funny, in my sixty-plus years I have achieved about everything I dreamed of doing and I have been awarded for it. My problem is that I don’t know how to have fun and enjoy all these things hard work has brought me. I cannot remember the last time I laughed.

The last line caught me attention, I suppose I now need to work harder at being happier. I’m not sure anything I said got through, only the Lord knows. Most likely this high achiever is up and at it, pursuing a game plan to earn happiness. It’s not going to happen that way.

The problem is that human achievement results in earthly rewards, which fuels the fire for more achievement leading to greater rewards. There is something within all of us that warms up to human strokes. We are motivated to do more when our efforts are noticed and rewarded. That is why they make things like trophies and silver platters and bronze plaques and gold medals.

All this leads me to an important subject I have been wanting to address. What is it? It is the temptation to believe that earthly honors will automatically result in heavenly rewards.

This kind of thinking is at the root of a philosophy that says, by working hard and accomplishing more than most, I will earn God’s favor and receive his approval. This subtle, heretical philosophy is universally accepted as true! Even in parts of the Church.

The tragedy of this philosophy is that enough is never enough. Life is reduced to work, tasks, effort and endless list of do’s and don’ts. Why does this happen? One word answer, Pride.

The hidden message is I can gain righteousness all on my own, by my effort, ingenuity, and energy. Why is this wrong? Because this philosophy says, 1st I really won’t need divine righteousness, and 2nd I will find lasting joy in my own accomplishments. This will bring me ultimate satisfaction. The truth is that it is a dead-end road.

So, how do you know if you’re going down this road? There is always one telltale sign when pride takes charge: the fun leaves.

One of the countries I grew up in is Colombia and it is 95%+ Catholic. They are Christians. The problem is they have been taught that they can do things to merit their salvation. What I just mentioned about gaining righteousness on our own.

Bogota is a beautiful city in the Andes mountains. On one of the hills surrounding the city is the Santuario de Monserrate.

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Every year during the holy days people go up this hill to find favor with God. Some will carry a cross on their shoulders and climb the hill on their knees, just to seek God’s blessings. Others will light candles and pray at each station of the cross. Somehow, they think, by doing more God will look kindly on them.

All this brings us back to the letter to the Philippians. Paul was very close to these believers, so he wasn’t afraid to be honest and allow them to see the dark side of his past. Before going there, he emphasizes the theme of his letter.


Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is not trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 3:1

Paul is about to delve into his past, those intense years of his own existence when he worked so hard to impress God. Just before he does, he wants the believers to hear again the importance of being people of outrageous joy. Paul calls it a safeguard.

Not only are the pressures of life enough to steal one’s joy, there are the ever present legalists, grace stealers, joy suckers, on the loose. Nobody can rob one’s joy quicker than a narrow minded legalist.

Paul’s great concern here is that his Philippian friends continue to enjoy their freedom in Christ. Not to let anyone or anything get the best of them. He never got tired of telling them that.

A strong warning

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. 3:2-3

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