Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Christ Alone

Philippians 3:4-11

 What do you trust in for your security before God?  On what basis do you think you are “right with God?”  

 For some people, it might be their birth.  “I was born in a Christian family or a Christian nation.  Therefore, I’m a Christian.”

 For others, it might be their associations.  “I’ve been a member of such and such church for 50 years.”  

 For still others, it might be their achievements:  “I go to church every week.  I give so much to charity.  I make good choices.  I never do anything really bad.  I’ve been very successful in life.”  

 One of my fears about our society is that I think many people trust in some of these kinds of things.  Statisticians will tell you that America is 78% Christian.  I think a lot of those people are Christian because “they were born to Christian parents” or baptized or used to belong to a church or simply because they aren’t any other religion.  And I think a lot of people would answer the question, “Are you going to heaven?” with something along the lines of “I think so.  I’m a pretty good person.  I’ve never killed anyone or anything like that.”  

 The Scriptures make it pretty clear that these things are not a source of security before God.  But that doesn’t stop people from looking to them for just that reason.  

 In our lesson this morning, we see part of Paul’s debate with a group called the Judaizers.  These were Jewish Christians who were very proud of their Jewish heritage and insisted that other people must also become Jews first in order to become Christians second.  But if you teach that something else, in addition to faith in Christ, is necessary for salvation, then you are really teaching that it’s necessary to trust in things other than Christ.  

 Paul himself had been in that very boat at one time.  In these verses, he sets out to undermine the argument of his opponents.  He begins by following in their steps.  If they could take pride in their identity as Hebrews, then he could too.  He lays out his credentials.  If these things are a source of security before God, then if anyone could boast about them, it was Paul.

 He had been circumcised on the 8th day.  That was the custom of the Hebrew people.  It means that Paul had been born a Jew. He was not a later convert to Judaism.  In first century Hebrew culture, converts from other nations were always regarded as “second-class Hebrews.”  The culture had a very “exclusive” understanding of God and his grace.  They believed that everyone else was excluded from grace; it was their privilege alone.

 Paul goes on, “I am a pure blooded Israelite.”  By this time, most Hebrew people had mixed ancestry.  At some point along the way, one of their ancestors had married a Gentile, so they were no longer “pure.”  But those who were of pure blood were very proud of it.

 “Of the tribe of Benjamin.”  Benjamites were apparently proud of their heritage, and maybe with good reason.  Benjamin was the only patriarch born in the Promised Land.  He was one of two patriarchs born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel.  Jacob had four wives, so not of all the patriarchs had the same mother.  The first king of Israel, Saul, came from the tribe of Benjamin.  And most likely Paul’s Hebrew name, Saul, came from that famous Benjamite.  And finally, the tribe of Benjamin was one of only two tribes that stayed loyal to David’s throne.  

 “A Hebrew of Hebrews if there ever was one.”  This phrase is debatable as to its meaning, but the best guess is that it means that Paul spoke fluent Hebrew or Aramaic.  By this time, many Hebrew families born outside Judea or Galilee had lost their ancestral tongue and spoke Greek like everyone else.  Paul was born in Tarsus, but he was educated in Jerusalem, and he spoke Hebrew.  

 “I was a member of the Pharisees.”  We are quick to criticize the Pharisees, but when it came to devotion to the Law, they were really devoted.  And they were a small group, too, only about 6000 of them.  So it was an “exclusive club” within Judaism.

 “I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church.”  Many Jews considered zeal to be the most important religious virtue, not love or faithfulness, but zeal.  The model of zeal to many was Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first high priest of the nation.  Numbers 25 tells how when Phinehas saw a fellow Israelite taking a foreign woman home to be his wife, he arose without a word and killed both of them.  To some, that was the essence of zeal:  a willingness even to kill those

who deviated from strict obedience to God.  Paul did that very thing by persecuting the Church.

 The irony, of course, is that in his quest to be right with God, he persecuted to death the very people who were proclaiming a message from God about how to be right with God.  

 “And as for righteousness, I obeyed the Law so strictly that no one accused me of a fault.”  

 Paul could beat these Judaizers at their own game.  If they could point to their identity and their accomplishments as reasons for security before God, so could he, and even more so.  He could beat them at their own game, but it was the wrong game.  

 These things that Paul once considered to be so important that he would stake his life on them, he now considered to be worthless.  Paul uses the language of the marketplace here.  He once thought these things to be credits, gains.  Now he considers them to be losses, debits.  Rather than bringing him closer to God, they were keeping him away from God because they took his attention away from the one thing that could make him right with God:  Faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.  

 Compared to the immeasurable treasure of knowing Christ, all these things are “garbage.”  Not just these things, not just his accomplishments, but all things period.  Knowing Jesus is so good that by comparison, everything else is no better than garbage. 

 The word Paul uses there is SKUBULUS.  It would either be used to refer to garbage in the sense of rotten food unfit for consumption, or it could also be used to refer to “human waste.”  In either case, these things were taken to the town dump, where the dogs would eat them.

 By the way, Paul had something else to say about his opponents earlier in this chapter.  He calls them dogs in verse 2.  The implication is that the very things they were feasting on, their birth, national identity, accomplishments, were the things that should be thrown out so that we can have faith in Christ alone.  We might be a little uncomfortable with Paul calling his opponents “dogs,” and I think with good reason, but there was actually a cultural reason for it.  Many strict Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs:  less than fully human, not deserving of God’s grace.  Certainly not the attitude we

should have; that God is ours and no one else’s.  Unfortunately, some Christians at various times have taken the very same attitude toward Jewish people.  

 All these things are tossed aside for the sake of the one truly great thing: Knowing Jesus.  The Greek word here is GINOSKO.  Greek had two different words for knowing.  One referred to knowing information.  The other word, GINOSKO, referred to knowing a person in a deeply personal and intimate way.  Trusting in Jesus and his provision for our salvation and knowing him in a covenant relationship and having intimate fellowship with him is God’s way of making us right with him, and the only way to have that security.  

 By knowing Christ, we know the power that set him free from death.  And we share in that same death to our former life and the beginning of a new life in Christ.

 By knowing Christ, we share in his suffering.  To be a disciple of Christ means that you will share in his suffering.  Even if not literal persecution, we share in the suffering Christ experiences when he looks upon the brokenness and pain of our world and grieves for it.  Do you grieve for the spiritually lost, for the broken and hurting around you?  Jesus does.  And so should we.

 By knowing Christ, in some way or another, we will experience the resurrection from the dead, whether that be by the resurrection at the last day or by his return.  

 But if we hope to experience these things, we must have faith in Christ.  But faith in Christ can only be ours if we are willing to renounce all the other things that we have faith in.  

 On what basis do you think you are right with God?  Is it because of your birth into a Christian family or a Christian nation? Is it because of your church membership?  Your Sunday School attendance?  Your check in the offering plate?  Is it because of how you live?  Your good life?  Your noble deeds?  

 If the answer is anything other than your faith in Christ and your personal, covenant relationship with him, then give up your trust in those things so that you can truly trust in Jesus Christ.  

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