Summary: Philippians 3 challenges us with the truth that everything else in our lives is rubbish compared to what we have in Christ.
In the end, nothing else matters except God. In the end, nothing else matters except God. What do you think when you hear that? In my year seven classes at school we’ve started the Christian Studies programme by looking at the theme, "What’s important in my life", and ultimately seeing where God needs to fit into our lives. We did this exercise where I wrote on the board a whole list of different things that kids might consider part of their lives – food, family, sport, computer games, music, etc – and, of course, I put God up there as well. Then I told the kids to prioritise them, list them in order from most to least important to them. Of course there were lots of individual responses, but there were some general themes I could identify. Most of the girls put family at the top while most boys put either playstation or sport. After they had completed the exercise, one of the more thoughtful students asked me, "where should God go on the list?" A few other kids became interested in the question, so I said, "let’s see what Jesus says about – what sort of priority does he say we should give to him?" We looked up Luke 14: 26-27 and we read this: (Jesus says), "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple". After we had talked about what that actually meant, one of the kids exclaimed, but that’s ridiculous! And when we read Luke 14, or we read of Paul’s attitude in Philippians, I think that’s our sort of reaction. When Paul says that he considers everything else rubbish so that he may gain Christ, many of us might be tempted to think that they are just the words of a specially-chosen, freakishly religious man. But surely the rest of us mere mortals can’t expect to be as singularly committed as he is. That’s not to say Christ isn’t incredibly important to us. He is, but we’ve got other things in our life as well that, we’ve got responsibilities too. I remember my parents once saying to me, "It’s right that God is important to you, James, but don’t forget that there are other things in life as well." What does Philippians 3 say in response to that sort of attitude?
Paul begins by reminding them of a warning. He wants to safeguard them against a certain false teaching. The particular false teaching he’s referring to is that from the circumcision group, most likely the same teaching referred to in Galatians, Titus and other letters. Most of the early Christians were Jews and they had a difficult time accepting that Gentiles could also now be part of God’s people. Some were insisting that people had to be circumcised to be saved. But Paul condemns such thoughts. Those who teach such things are dogs, they are men who do evil, they are mutilators of the flesh, from vs 2. The use of the term dogs is significant, because this was the way Jews often referred to Gentiles, but instead here Paul is turning the insult around. It is not them who are the true circumcised people, the true people of God are those with circumcised hearts – in others words, people who put their hope in Christ and follow him rather than trusting in [how much of their genitals they still have] the flesh – and as I’ve heard said before, it’s an awfully small bit of flesh to put your confidence in..
Paul doesn’t put his confidence in the flesh, and he’s got more reason than anyone to do so. He lists them in vss 5-6: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" These were all the things he used to pride himself in. He used to put his confidence in the fact that he was a Jew, and a zealous, righteous Jew at that. But since Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul has known that it’s not about circumcision or legalism or birthright. It’s about Jesus dying and rising again, and granting his Spirit to those who put their faith in him – whatever their background.
I’d be very surprised if there was anyone here today who was constantly troubled by the temptation to put their confidence in the fact that they are circumcised or a Pharisee or of the Tribe of Benjamin. But that doesn’t mean that this passage can’t be a warning for us as well.