Summary: Performance-driven stress is overcome by a clearer focus on Christ. Not pressure to perform, but passion to take hold of the prize.


As we read Philippians, we have been focusing on how to handle stress.

One of the biggest sources of stress is pressure to perform.

It starts with children: “Be a good boy.” “Be a nice girl.” “Make Dad proud.” “Don’t make us look bad.”

As kids get older, the peer group becomes more important. Young people feel like they need to measure up to the standards of the group, to be worthy of being invited to the parties, or sitting with the cool kids at lunch. Social media creates even greater pressure to be recognized and affirmed, and many find it hard to compete.

By college age, the pressure to perform in school ramps up, along with everything else. Anxiety is the scourge of many college students, because future success seems to depend upon performance in school as well as social competency.

The pressure carries on into adulthood, aggravated by performance reviews at work, along with the same pressures as before: “Be nice.” “Be worthy of our company.” “Be a good parent.”

Some of that stress is unavoidable, but how does faith fit in?

Some faith actually adds to stress. Some of you may have come from a religious background with a lot of pressure to perform, or to measure up to certain standards. You felt like you had to be “a good Christian,” conforming to superficial expectations. If you ever failed to perform as expected, you were humiliated and ostracized.

Or maybe your religious experience was in a group where full acceptance was hard to come by. People who didn’t belong to the right families, or who weren’t “cool enough,” or didn’t grow up with others in the group could never really be admitted to the “in group.”

The Philippian church was dealing with some of those issues, and Paul felt compelled to confront the situation head-on.

Read Philippians 3:1-6.

Circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of being included in God’s covenant promise. For the Jews, circumcision indicated a privileged position in the world. Jews WERE privileged, as God’s chosen people. Paul says of the people of Israel in Romans 9:4-5, “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

When Messiah—Jesus Messiah (Christ)—came, all believers, not just Jews, became children of God. Yet there was a lot of debate in the church about whether gentiles should be circumcised, as a sign of their inclusion in God’s original covenant with his people. After serious discussion, the apostles decided that gentiles did not need to be circumcised.

From what Paul says, it seems that there were some people in Philippi who were trying to convince gentiles to undergo circumcision. They were probably not saying that circumcision was necessary for salvation, but that it was a symbol of being “a better Christian.”

There might have been tinges of racism or cultural superiority in that as well. Some Jews looked down on gentiles, calling them “gentile dogs.” Paul turned that around, when he said in rather graphic language, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators (lit. “cutters”) of the flesh.”

But circumcision was about more than status; a man who was circumcised was then obligated to religiously obey every command of the Jewish law. He could not eat pork, and he had to scrupulously keep hundreds of Jewish laws. He would be under tremendous pressure to perform, because only by keeping Jewish laws could he have confidence that he was living as “a good Christian.”

Paul had no tolerance for the toxic faith the circumcisers were bringing into the church. Their faith was based on cultural pride, superficial self-righteousness, and a performance mentality.

Paul could play the superiority game with the best of them, since he had superior status as a born-and-bred Jew, a scrupulous Pharisee, a legalistic moralist, and a zealous defender of Judaism. Yet his testimony was that none of that had any value at all. In fact, it was “rubbish.” What had once been a source of pride to him had drained his joy, made him less righteous, and left him without hope.

Read Philippians 3:7-11.

Paul had found a better faith, which revealed how toxic his self-righteous faith had been. Let’s look at it in detail:

-Paul’s righteousness was not based upon performance, but upon accepting the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In verse 9, he says it is to “be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

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