Philippians chapter 3 begins with the word “finally.” Finally, to sum up all he has just instructed his beloved church from his jail cell, Paul risks redundancy for the sake of emphasis. His uniform plea is this, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Rejoice in the Lord, not the religious works and ways others are so violently demanding from you.
Paul goes on with some repeated warnings and exhortations meant to deter false confidences gained by submission to false teachers who were infiltrating the church. He magnifies the sole source of true confidence as Christ alone. He insists that this is the only real reason to rejoice. The life we live here on earth is shifting, unsafe, unjust, and unpredictable. Though it may temporarily boost our assurance in self, mere religious piety and adherence to strict, overbearing teachers only hinders our assurance of faith. Why? Because we fail.
It seems that the best way he knows to convey these truths is by telling them what does not offer confidence in the eternal – the stumbling blocks for many a pious person, if you will.
His warning begins with a call to vigilance concerning false teachers who were demanding physical acts as rites of passage into the faith. Apparently the church in Philippi was oppressed by Judaizers and the like who would insist upon circumcision and other obediences to the Old Testament law before recognizing one into the faith.
Paul debunks these heresies by referring to “the circumcision” as those who simply “worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ, and put no confidence in the flesh.” He taught that membership within the body of Christ was not related to fleshly acts of religious show in the least. He cites his own weighty past profile and refers to his prestigious religious resume, in its entirety, as dung.
All he’d worked for to be recognized as a leader in the religious community. Dung. All he’d sacrificed to obtain power and position among the most learned Jews of his day. Dung. Everything he had fought with blood, sweat, tears, and study to prove that he was a pedigree person of piety. Dung. His point? A righteousness that a man can obtain in self-reliance and self-sufficiency – a righteousness that he, if anyone at all, would most certainly be worthy of receiving, is not a righteousness that God accepts. We need a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith. We need a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9) With that, any other “righteousness” is not only useless and unnecessary, but contemptible to those who have been graciously given the former. These things compete with Christ for our obedience and service which makes them repulsive. It’s like inheriting a fortune and then being told by the bankrupt what you must do to get rich. Absurd.
Why did Paul renounce his debonair distinctions? Verses 9-11 tell us.
To gain Christ. The only thing saved by works of the law is pride. God opposes the proud. We must throw off pride’s vices if we are sincere about obtaining a real relationship with Jesus Christ.
To be found in Him. We cannot be found in Christ when we are lost in self-promoting works.
To have a real righteousness. Works righteousness blocks the gate to real righteousness because it demands impossible human perfection. Because only Christ was perfectly righteous, to project any righteousness apart from him requires pretense and falsifying our identity in place of confessing our sin and trusting in God.
To depend on faith. Depending on self is the foolish, godless product of works righteousness. If we cannot depend on self, we must depend on our faith in Jesus Christ.
To know Him and the power of His resurrection. We do not feel a need to know Christ or rely on his salvation if we believe we are self-sufficient. Therefore, we cannot know Him if we are self-reliant.
To share his sufferings and become like him in his death. Esteemed law keepers of the world do not look, act, or get treated like Christ. His children, on the other hand, look, act, and are treated just like he was.
To attain resurrection from the dead. Because this is only possible when we recognize our desperate need of Christ alone – not religion alone. Not religion plus Christ. Christ alone.
Paul makes it crystal clear for the Philippians and for us. Joy in all circumstances is only possible when Christ is the only card we’re playing. When we bank on him, our righteousness and salvation is secure. Therefore, rejoice in the Lord. Again I say, rejoice!