I have a friend who moved here several years ago from New York, and we have had some interesting conversations about which state is better, New York or Texas (the correct answer is Texas, by the way). We’ve talked about everything from people to weather, from traffic to food to scenery, and we both believe wholeheartedly that we are right. It’s led to some interesting debates, but it’s also led to a realization that it really depends on your perspective. You see, I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, and while I’ve traveled quite a bit, and seen plenty of other places, I am convinced that there’s no place like Texas. That belief is influenced heavily by my point of view. Despite my longing to travel, I’m perfectly content to live where I’ve always lived, if that is God’s will. C.S. Lewis once said “The very nature of joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.” I want to travel. In fact, it is a very strong desire of mine, but I also find joy in being close to friends and family.
This week, we are continuing our series Experiencing Joy by looking at joy through faith. To give a little bit of context, Paul has written this letter to the church in Philippi from prison. In it, he has talked about having joy because of the partnership he has with them in spreading the gospel, and he has expressed his desire for them to have the attitude of Christ in their daily lives and in their work, that they should be humble and not complain about their jobs. This week, we are going to walk through Philippians 3. This is where Paul shifts his tone a little bit. He shows his concern that the people are in danger of adding unnecessary religious rules to the good news of the gospel, and he encourages them to put their faith in Jesus alone.
Philippians 3:1 (NIV) says “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” What is true joy? We often mistake happiness for joy, but the two are very different. Happiness is a result of pleasant circumstances, while joy is inward, and it comes from knowing and trusting the Lord. Happiness is temporary because it is based on external circumstances, while joy is lasting. We can feel joy, even in the midst of despair. Paul was able to rejoice despite his circumstances because he knew and trusted God. He did not let his circumstances determine his level of joy. This brings me to my first point.
1. To Remain Joyful, We Should Remind Ourselves Daily of God’s Love For Us
Paul never got tired of reminding the believers in Philippi to rejoice, because he considered to be for their own good. He wanted the believers there to have joy to safeguard them against things like dissension, grumbling, and attitudes of spiritual superiority. Paul was also reminding them to rejoice because he didn’t want them to get depressed over the fact that he was in prison, the possible persecution of the church, or despondency. I love what Billy Sunday says about joy. He says “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” Our faith should be the thing that brings us the most joy. Those of us who are in Christ have every reason to be joyful. We have been given a clean slate, a fresh start. That’s what grace does. It makes everything new again. Dave Stone is the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. He says it this way: “Grace is not a license to do what is wrong. It is the liberty to do what is right.”
Romans 5:3 – 5 (NLT) says “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trails, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment, for we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Paul is reminding us of what the benefits of joy are, and why we can have it, no matter our circumstances.
Philippians 3:2 – 6 (NIV) says “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 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; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” This brings me to my second point.
2. Joy Is Under Attack When We Put Our Focus On Our Spiritual Resume
This is the difference between Christianity and religion, and it’s why Paul was so adamant that Christianity is not a religion. Religion says “Do more.”, but Christianity says “It’s already been done.” Religion focuses on the outward, while Christianity focuses on the inward. Religion is all about rules, while Christianity is about a relationship. Paul uses three different derogatory terms to describe the people he is warning the church about. He calls them dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. The Jews regarded dogs as filthy, unclean, and despised creatures, and they commonly referred to the Gentiles as dogs. He also refers to them as evildoers. The Jews regarded themselves as holy, not evil, because their focus was on the fact that they kept the law, but they were more reliant on the law than they were on Christ. The last thing he called them was mutilators of the flesh. The Jews still believed that you had to do all these things before you could come to Jesus, and they didn’t believe that the Gentiles were part of the club because they had not been circumcised, and they had not performed all the other rituals that the Jews associated with being a Christian. Paul is telling the church in Philippi that these things are not necessary.
Imagine this: someone comes along and tells you about the good news of Jesus, and you get excited, get baptized, and start telling all your friends what you’ve learned. Then, as you’re doing that, someone comes and tells you that you’re not really a Christian because you haven’t yet been circumcised, and you haven’t followed the Jewish law your whole life? How many of us would pack up and take off at that point? This is part of the problem we see in the church today. So many people in the church today believe those same things. They believe that their salvation is based on how they look, how they dress, the words they use, whether or not they drink or smoke, or how many times they’ve given to charity. The truth is, none of those things matter to Jesus. The only thing that He cares about is whether or not we have a relationship with Him. Basing our joy on how good we are is a great way to end up miserable.
Paul even goes so far as to say that, if anyone could default on their spiritual resume, it would be him. He lists all the ways that he qualifies himself as being righteous in the eyes of the religious, but then look at what he says in V. 7 – 9 (NIV). He says “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, 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.” Trusting in how good we are is not only killing our joy, but it is also hindering our mission.
The word garbage is actually not a strong enough word for what Paul is saying here. The Greek word for what he is trying to say is the word “skubala”, which actually translates better as “dung”. The Message actually gets closer to it when it says “dog dung.” Paul is saying he puts absolutely no faith at all in his spiritual resume, and that he considers it useless compared to the joy of knowing Christ. When Christ returned or when Paul died, he wanted to become one with Christ. He is saying that he wants to live in union with Christ, but he knows that his own goodness is not enough. The only way to be made right with God is through faith. We are made right by our faith in Jesus, and in His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Psalm 13:5 (NLT) says “But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” That brings me to my last point.
3. The Only Thing We Can Rely On To Save Us Is Christ’s Love For Us
Philippians 3:10 – 14 (NIV) says “I want to know Christ and the power of resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
The word for know here refers to having personal, experiential knowledge. To know Christ means more than just knowing facts or doctrine about Jesus. The goal of the Christian life is to know Christ personally. Paul wanted to experience the power that raised Christ from the dead. This is something that every believer can experience through baptism. When we are baptized, our old life ends when we are immersed, and our new life begins when we are raised up. It is symbolic of the death and resurrection of Christ Himself. When we are united with Christ by trusting in him, we experience the power that raised Him from the dead.
Paul saw the Christian life as a process. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves to experience life in Him. Walter J. Chantry said “Most of those who fail to experience the joy of the Lord have refused to take up a cross!” We can take great joy in dying to ourselves, and living for Christ. Paul admits that he has not reached this goal yet, but he presses on towards it. He is so determined to be connected to Christ in every way. This should be our goal as well.
Do you remember the excitement of a new relationship? You spend hours on the phone with each other, can’t wait to see each other again, and every thought about that person makes you smile. When I was in junior high, I remember staying up all night on the phone with a girl that I had a major crush on. I was so excited to actually be talking to her that I didn’t want to end our conversation, despite how tired I was. That’s the way Paul felt about getting to know Jesus. It was his obsession, and he was devoting everything to the pursuit. Nothing was good enough for Paul in his pursuit of Jesus. He went from a man who persecuted Christians to a man completely sold out for the cause of Christ. Philippians 3:17 (NIV) says “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” Paul challenged the Philippians to seek to be more like Christ by following his example and the examples of others who based their lives on Christ. How much focus do you put on Christ in your life? Is it your primary focus, or is it not a priority in your life at all? Do you find your joy through faith? If not, what would it take to do so? This is my challenge to you as we go through not just this next week, but all the weeks to follow.
Thank You for giving us joy in knowing Your Son. We pray that those who do not know the joy of knowing Him would have a desire burned into their hearts to come to know Him, and that their lives would be transformed by the process. Father, I pray that You continue to help each of us to long to grow closer to You as well, that we would make knowing You more our primary focus. Lord, we thank You that You were willing to give Your life that we could find ours in You. Be with each of us as we go through these coming weeks. It’s in Your Holy Name we pray.
Next week, we will be wrapping up our Experiencing Joy series. We will walk through chapter 4 of Philippians, and discuss finding joy in contentment. I pray that you have found encouragement through these messages. If you would like to speak to someone about what it means to find joy in your faith in Christ, or you would like to know what living for Christ is all about, please reach out to us. Have a blessed week!!!!!