Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Starting with Jesus

 Philippians 3:4-14

There’s a scene in the television show, “The Office,” where one of the characters is writing a resume. He is the warehouse manager at a paper company, and he’s applying to become the office manager. And he does what most people do when they write a resume. He doesn’t lie; he just puts the best spin on things. Under accomplishments, he lists something like, “Supervised and facilitated the delivery of over 10 trillion units of product.” When questioned he defines units of product as “individual pieces of paper.” Surely he’s not the only person to put the “best interpretation” on his resume.

Maybe Paul is doing it, too. “If anyone has reason for confidence in their own efforts, it is me.” Paul has an impressive “spiritual resume.” He was circumcised on the 8th day, meaning he was born Jewish to observant parents and did not convert later in life. He was “pure blooded,” meaning there were no Gentiles to be found in his family tree, a point of pride for a first century Jew. He was a “true Hebrew,” which probably means that he still spoke the Hebrews language in a time when many Jewish people had lost their ancestral tongue. He was a Pharisee. We often see them as the “bad guys” in the Gospels, but they really were devoted. There were only about 6000 Pharisees, since most people were unwilling to devote the amount of time and attention it took to obeying every single little piece of tradition. They were very the spiritual elites of first century Judaism. And he was zealous for the faith. Typically, zeal was defined by the willingness to shed blood to defend the true faith, such as the Old Testament priest, Phinehas, and the 2nd century freedom fighters, the Maccabees, had done. In Paul’s case, his zeal led him to persecute the Church.

He has quite the resume. A little suspect on at least one point. But why does Paul build up his resume? So he can tear it all down; to show how lacking he was.

In this passage, Paul is confronting what we call the Judaizers. These were Jews who became Christians who were convinced that it was necessary to be fully Jewish in order to be saved by Christ. In other words, Christ really didn’t really save. Jewishness did.

Paul calls them, “dogs.” You see, some Jews considered all Gentiles to be dogs, unclean, cut off from God, excluded from God’s love and concern. But the gospel is an inclusive message: All who look to Christ for salvation are saved.

So Paul builds up his resume just to turn around and tear it apart. It’s not that he lacks what they think is so important; it’s just that what they think is so important is lacking. These things are not all important. In fact, they’re worthless. He once thought

they were to his credit. Now he finds they are losses, because they kept him from knowing Christ.

A right relationship with God is something that can only be received, not something that can be achieved. It is received through faith in Christ. But in order to receive it, we must discard whatever else we hope will make us right with God. We must discard it like garbage. The Greek word Paul uses here is SKUBULA, which basically means, “that which is thrown to the dogs.” Some think it means dung or excrement, but of course, those things were thrown to the dogs. And again, Paul’s taking a jab at the Judaizers and their attitude toward Gentiles. If we want to know Christ, we must discard whatever else we are holding onto in the hopes that it will make us right with God. You can’t receive a gift when your hands are full.

Knowing Jesus must be at the forefront of our living. The Greek word here is GINOSKOW. There were two words for knowing in Greek. One meant to know information, but this one means to know a person. It means to know someone personally, in some cases even to have intimate knowledge. We must know Jesus. We must know his resurrection power. We must know his suffering and share in it. We must experience these in our lives.

And knowing him, then we must press on toward perfection. The Greek word for perfection here is TELEIOS. It doesn’t mean perfection in the sense of without any flaw. It’s the idea of maturity, completeness, becoming all that we are capable of becoming.

The effort of the Christian life is not to become worthy of salvation. That’s impossible. Rather, the effort is to live a life in Christ worthy of the salvation we have already received. We can’t save ourselves but we are trying to live a life worthy of what God has already done.

So we must keep our eyes forward. Paul uses the imagery of a footrace here. You can’t win a footrace looking over your shoulder. There was a famous race in 1954 where the guy who was winning looked over his shoulder and lost in the last seconds of the race. Instead, we must keep our focus forward and strain for the end of the race so we can be called up to receive our prize. In ancient games, the winner would be “called up” to receive their prize. It’s not that there is no effort in the Christian life; it’s that the effort comes after we are saved by Christ, not before.

To put this into relationship with the Lord’s Supper, we come to the table remembering what Christ has done for us. We are nourished and sustained by his grace. But we leave the table to go out into the world to live a life worthy of a Savior whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for us.

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