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Philippians 3:1-21 Sermon Notes

By November 7, 2021November 10th, 2021Sermon Notes

Religion is the problem.

Religion is the solution.

What do you think?

Last week I was in some training in Germany with Military chaplains from 10 European nations…all former soviet satellite nations.

Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant.

The goal of these kinds of events,  is to build peace through country to country engagement.

Of course, it all starts at the level of trust…person to person…so we ate, we trained, we talked together.

The training was put on by the European Command chaplain…That region includes all of Europe, and Russia

It is a region of the planet with great tension and so many disputes that are religious in nature.

Border disputes, obviously…but the contested borders are often the result of religious differences.

Something I heard, that stood out…was…religion is the problem in the region…religion is the solution in the solution.

Which is true? Both.

Humans are are hard wired for faith…not by evolution but by God.

The Soviet Union spent 70 years trying to turn humans into non-believers…by, ironically, trying to make them believe  absolutely in the “state”

They threw people of various religious and ethnic backgrounds together and sort of randomly called them a country…like Yugoslavia.

The result was, when the iron fist of the Soviets was gone…that area descended into the most deadly conflict in Europe since World War II.

The Soviet attempt to stamp out faith…of course was a failure.

Ironically, tragically…atheism as a state sponsored “faith system” (Soviets, Chinese) has killed, by far, more people than the theistic religions, including Islam, ever have.

Humans are believers…we are built by design to believe.

Because there is a God and faith is in our design…faith isn’t going to be stamped out by force…it’s more likely to be strengthened by opposition.

But because we are sinful and often get things wrong….religion (faith practiced in community) can often become the problem…driving war, and other miseries.

Because God exists and we were made by him…when we get close to the truth of who he is…faith becomes the solution.

I am not saying, of course, that all faiths are equally true…that is not possible since they often believe opposite things.

I am saying that faith is in our design…we are built to believe…and to believe strongly.

So, religion is going to be the problem…when that faith is misguided and misapplied.

Religion is going to be the solution…when people live in line what is true about how God has made the world.

There are many ways in which “religion” can become a threat…the problem.

Many ways that it can be weaponized for harm.

But, the idea that the solution to the religion as a problem is no religion at all…is naïve, historically ignorant, and a misunderstanding of humanity at large.

Humans are religious…we are built to believe and worship…because God has made us that way.

No religion is no solution…true worship, true religion as James called it, is the solution…the gospel, is the solution.

Today, we are in Philippians chapter 3.

3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!

But this isn’t his “finally”…he has a lot more yet to say.

I doubt he was about to finish his letter, then suddenly changed his mind…if so, he would have told the person to whom he was dictating the letter… “Hey, strike that…I’m not actually done yet.”

So perhaps this is more of a point of emphasis… the word can be rendered…“furthermore” or “look here”…

Furthermore what?   “Rejoice in the Lord!”

He is about to offer some very serious warnings about threats to their faith.

But as he does, he wants to remind them of the fundamental approach to threats in life…all threats…the starting point mentally to think about and deal with threats…is “rejoice in the Lord.”

That perspective readies us for a proper approach to threats.

James wrote, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials(threats) of many kinds.”

We don’t tend to naturally respond to threats with “rejoice in the Lord”

We have to train ourselves to do that.

Threats, at the physical level bring about a “fight/flight/freeze” response.

But soldiers and others…can retrain their natural reflexes to respond differently to threats…but it takes intentional effort over time.

We can train ourselves…to respond different to threats…mentally, spiritually, relationally.

It seems that right now people live perpetually fighting, running, or just freezing in doubt/confusion in response to the many threats that swirl around them.

There are numerous “threats”…COVID,  crime, false ideas(hard to know what it true), supply chain issues, recession, China/Russia (military threats), social/spiritual threats of all flavors.

But as the foundation for thinking about and talking about threats…we are to…

“Rejoice in the Lord.”

This is not bumper sticker theology…this is training.

Training to find our joy, our hope, our perspective, find our reactions, our responses…in “rejoice in the Lord.”

Now…to the warnings…or threats.

Watch out, Paul wrote, for those:


-Evil doers

-Mutilators of the flesh

Wow…Paul…pretty harsh stuff…you having a bad day or what?

No, it is that the implications of what these men were teaching could be catastrophic if the warning were not taken seriously…so Paul is intentionally upping the threat level.

When I was in middle school my parents were away one summer afternoon and I was home in the basement watching TV.

Suddenly I heard the sound of a thunderstorm and the tornado siren went off…

I immediately left the relative safety of my basement and climbed to highest point of our roof to stand in a thunderstorm and see if I could spot a tornado…

After all that is the point of a tornado warning…to get you up on the roof to look around for a tornado.

I did not take the warning seriously.

Paul piles on the descriptors so they will do what we did… “Wow, Paul…really?”

Now, he has their full attention and ours…this is serious stuff…take this warning to heart.

These are not good guys, with their own “truth”…they are threats and what they teach is a real threat.

“Dog” was what Jews called Gentiles.

“Evil” likewise, what Gentiles were and did

“Mutilators of the flesh” was what Gentiles might have done in some pagan ritual…not at all what Jews thought of regarding the covenant sign of circumcision.

He is warning them of some people who were trying to talk these Gentile believers into putting confidence in the covenant ritual…circumcision.

He uses terms that turn the tables on these people…and it would have caught the attention of his readers.

We, he writes…in fact we are the true “circumcision”(our faith in Christ, Baptism…this is the sign of the New Covenant)…we worship the True God, we don’t put confidence in ritual or human effort.

It’s likely the folks at Philippi were intimidated and/or impressed by these out of towners who came in throwing around their Bible knowledge, and religious pedigrees.

So, Paul pulls out his own biography to settle them down.

In verses 4-6 he shows that he would have made the Jewish “all pro” team…he was a first rounder…no one had better stats than him.

But again, in verse 7 he flips the script.

7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 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 and is by faith.

He treats his “brag sheet” now as a liability…he doesn’t just dismiss these things that people often took pride in.

Paul is not neutral about his past…he is negative about it.

He considers all this “rubbish”…this word is literally “excrement”…again he is grabbing their attention, and ours.

In comparison to knowing Jesus…all these things that he used to hold dear and that the Philippians were impressed with…he counted as dung in comparison to the “surpassing greatness” of  Knowing…personal relationship with Christ.

This is Paul giving a profit and loss sheet that is upside down from his culture and ours.

All the things that he used to count as “profit”…he says,  now…they are “Loss”

There is only one thing in the “profit” column… “I know Jesus”

But it doesn’t mean that nothing matters at all, in any way…except “faith in Jesus”

“Who cares if I get a degree, have a job, mow my grass…work hard in my profession…it doesn’t matter.”

No, in fact It all matters, or at least it can…but it only matters ultimately if seen as a part of a life lived for the glory of God.

“Whatever you do…whether in word or deed…do it all for the glory of God.”

This is not about turning all of life into acts of vanity…unless they are somehow “spiritual” things.

This is about turning away from a life of vanity…a life based on anything other than the gospel as the foundation for meaning.

What matters the most is knowing Christ…now, everything else in your life must be filtered through that reality…that priority.

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Clearly Paul sees his own sufferings…as his participation in the sufferings of Christ.

Not just the general suffering of life as experienced by being a human in a body…but suffering he has experienced as a result of choosing to follow Christ.

This doesn’t mean that he believes he is any way “paying for his own sins”…

But that is sharing in the “fellowship” of Christ’s sufferings…by living his life committed to God the Father…even as Christ did.

But here again, Paul reframes threat as opportunity.

His own suffering is serving the greater purpose of making him more like Christ…and making Christ known to others.

In verse 11, when he writes, “somehow to attain the resurrection”, he is not indicating uncertainty regarding his eternal future…but that it is beyond his own ability to ensure that future.

God alone can do that…somehow, at a time and in God’s keeping…he will experience death…and then he will experience resurrection.

In verse 12, he begins to address a different threat.

The threat of “perfectionism”.

Not as in what we normally think of as “perfectionist”…someone who is overly attentive to details.

But as in a philosophical, or theological belief system that says we are able to become “spiritually/morally” perfect in this life.

12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, there were lines of thinking that perverted the gospel in several ways.

  1. We can do something to merit or ensure our own salvation

-Circumcision was never mean to be anything other than a “sign” of faith in the promise of God.

-It was not meant to persist as a required sign when Christ, the fulfillment of the covenant promise had come.

  1. In addition to the belief that we have the ability to merit God’s favor, they also believed that we can become people who are free from sin altogether.

-There have always been groups of Christians, or other religions, or even those who are not religious…who believe they can or have reached a state of sinless perfection.

A heard of a man who held this view and believed he had in fact grown beyond sin…was talking to another man and describing how he reached place of sinless perfection…he just didn’t sin anymore.

Meanwhile, just behind him the “perfect man” stood his wife silently shaking her head “no!”

We are not going to reach sinless perfection in this life…and yet we are, as Jesus said, to “aim for it.”

Paul gives the balanced approach to how we are to look at this:

  1. I don’t think of myself as having been perfected (we remain sinners in need of a savior)
  1. I do one thing (which looks like two, but it is a single two part “movement”)
  2. I turn from what is behind…good and bad…pride and shame
  3. I turn towards Christ

We can see that this perfectionism was a real problem for the church in the next verse.

15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

There were people who thought this way…and clearly, they were wrong.

Paul said, if you think differently…God will help see the truth.

This isn’t arrogance…it is based on the reality of truth…not just my truth vs your truth.

This is the truth of God.

It is interesting that he contrasts those who believe they have become morally/spiritually perfected with those who know they are not perfect.

And those how know they are not perfected are “mature” in their faith.

Those who believe they are somehow perfected…are the immature.

It’s not a contradiction to say “we are not perfected but we are mature”…maturity is a relative not an absolute thing.

To say someone is a mature doesn’t mean you think they are perfect…just that they are no longer immature.

The mature knows the truth and is growing up in it…but will they will not reach sinless perfection.

The mature person lives/thinks with humility.  “I am not all knowing, I can be wrong, I should listen carefully to others, I do make mistakes…I need forgiveness…lots of it.”

See the irony?

The immature in the church thought themselves to be perfect…fully mature.

In verse 16 his challenge is be faithful with what we already know for sure.

16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

This is what the mature do…they thrive to live faithfully with what they do know.

Be faithful with what God has revealed, with what you know is true…walk in the light you have been given and God will give more light.

Like what?

Like what Aaron talked about last week: The triumph of humility.

Like:  “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

This is the way of maturity…not perfection but this Christ-like, others-centric direction.

The most basic thing to do is…look to the interests of others not just self…Aarons simple, single, powerful application…go serve.

The immature are fascinated by the pursuit of the extraordinary…the new super cool ideas…the mature…they are too busy serving.

In the next verse he provides an important point of practical balance in not thinking too highly of yourself and yet taking the responsibility of leadership.

17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

Here’s how it works:

First the truth:  “No one is perfect, we can all be wrong at times, we  need to be humble and keep growing…not think too highly of self.”

Then there is a potential imbalance that might flow from this truth: “Then, who am I to lead others, who I am to try and set the pace, or pretend to know how others should believe, love, and live?”

Mis-applied humility can lead to leadership apathy

So, he gives the balancing truth:  “Imitate me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to our example.”

-Implied here is 1 Cor. 11:1 “Follow me AS I follow Christ.”

*If this “humility” were taken out of balance to imply… “Since I am not perfect…then who am I to think I can help others?”  “Who am I to tell others what is true?”  “Who am I to lead others.”

The results would be devastating…because leaders are essential, absolutely essential…home, church, work, society at large.

We need examples of how to live this life of faith…but we need balanced examples.

  1. We don’t need people who think they are perfected already.

-arrogant and foolish.

  1. We do need people who are faithfully walking this life of faith…who are a couple of steps, or more…out in front of us.

It is important that they see Paul and others…as imperfect but yet guides for living out the faith.

WE all look to human examples to help us understand how to live faithful, fruitful lives”

-This is normal and useful…to have mentors, role models, examples.

-The problem is when people begin to think too highly of themselves…as if they are perfect examples to be followed.

-Or when the one looking to a human example…expects perfection from them and becomes disillusioned and feels betrayed when the human example proves to be human.

-But God has called us to be examples…to set the example for others (here he was speaking to young people)…in speech, life, love, faith and purity.

We must not shrink back from our responsibility to be examples…for the glory of God and the good of others.

**DO not shrink back from leading because of insecurity, or failure…to do so is frankly selfish….because leadership, example…is service to others.

-And in some ways, it is not humility but a kind of pride that makes us so afraid of failure that we don’t even try to lead others.

Next, he goes to the third threat:

What we have so far in regard to the “threats”

  1. I can earn God’s favor through my actions

-Sometimes called “legalism”

  1. I can reach sinless perfection in this life.

-Sometimes called “perfectionism”

  1. We are above sin altogether…since we are forgiven and free, nothing we do with this physical body matters.

-Sometimes called “antinomianism”…lawless.

Look at verse 18-19

18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

The thinking was…since God had forgiven them, since this physical body is not going to last…nothing we do with our bodies matters at all.

We are free to do whatever we want on the physical level…we are forgiven, we are free from all earning…and free from all need to expend EFFORT to bring our desires under the control of the Spirit.

This same error was there at Corinth…Paul countered it expertly in his letter to them.

God, he wrote, did not make your body to indulge yourself  but to honor him and serve others with it.

Here he is dealing with the same kind of wrong thinking…many who claimed to be followers of Christ actually lived as enemies of the cross (the place where Jesus said “Not my will but yours be done”)

They were saying the opposite…my will is my priority.

Aaron addressed this sin when he spoke of the “Triumph of autonomy”…which has been in fact, the “Tragedy of autonomy”

Paul said four things about them:

  1. Their destiny is destruction (they are not actually Christ followers)
  1. Their god is their stomach (they serve, worship, the purely physical)

*Which by the way means they did not fully enjoy the physical life God gave them…you cannot enjoy what you are addicted to.

*People addicted to sex, food, sleep, exercise…whatever…don’t actually enjoy those things…not in the truest and most consistent sense.

  1. Their glory is in their shame (they are devoted to, proud of, things that are in fact shameful)
  1. Their mind is on earthly things (they are NOT setting their minds above…their perspective is skewed because looking to what is merely temporary not eternal)

But…here comes the corrective power of the gospel…to our thoughts, values, behaviors…

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Paul was writing to citizens of Rome who lived in a military colony called Philippi.

-lots of active and retired Roman soldiers lived there.

Reminds me of the Florida panhandle…a number of active military bases and tons of retirees…enjoying the weather.

But Destin, Pensacola, Panama City…these are American cities IN America.

The folks in Philippi lived in a separate place…but were citizens of mother Rome.

We, Paul wrote… are citizens of heaven…living in earth colony.

Heaven is the return to life as God originally designed it.

We are living now in the earth colony of heaven…heaven is the kingdom of God…a kingdom is a rule…a place where what the King wants done is done.

On colony earth…we are learning to live, in these bodies, in ways that honor God

We are experiencing him in part now as we do…but in full then.

We want his kingdom to come, his will to be done in our lives now…as it is fully done in heaven.

We are actively waiting to go to the commonwealth of Heaven.

We live in this already/not yet tension…living now in imperfection…looking forward to full transformation.

This kind of thinking…changes our living…for the better.

Ps. 90:12…teach us to number our days so we will gain a heart of wisdom.

This is rather heady stuff…but he is trying to push their minds from “earthly” thinking to “heavenly” thinking.

As goes our thinking…so goes our hearts…as goes our hearts…so goes our lives.

To live as citizens of heaven…completely transforms for the better how we live on earth


Let’s conclude with a focus on reframing threats through the gospel and how that impacts how we live in our minds and bodies in community.

Remember the three threats Paul addressed here:

  1. Legalism
  2. Perfectionism
  3. Antinomianism

All three are tied up in human pride: which is the opposite of Phil. 2

-I can earn my own salvation

-I can perfect myself

-I can rise above the mere physical…so it doesn’t matter what I do in my body

These threats are threats to the power and freedom of humility, the gospel.

These threats, rooted in pride…are threats most dangerously to our relationship with God…and then to our relationships with each other.

Pride is devastating for relationship with God and others…humility is essential for  it.

In truth: We are as dependent on grace as we are on air

-By grace we are saved…we cannot earn salvation.

-By grace we are continually restored as we continue to fail…we will not reach perfection

-By grace we are empowered to not become slaves to our desire…it does matter what we do in our bodies.

So, now with the threats in mind…let’s go back to verse 1.

“Rejoice in the Lord!”…this is to become our ready response, and our training response to threats of all kinds.

He will repeat this in 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

How does rejoicing in the Lord form the basis for reframing and responding and training threats?

Let’s be very practical…so first…let’s define the term.

To make practical application you have to make sure you are using words in the same way.

What does it mean to “rejoice?”

It means to “re-joy”

“Re” means “again, or anew”

Regain, renew, refurbish.

The second part of the word just means to experience joy.

“Return to joy”…rejoice.

“Okay, what is joy”

We first hear that word in the NT when the angels announce “good news of great Joy…Christ has been born.”

Joy in Scriptures follows the experience of deliverance of God and the anticipation of God’s salvation.

Hundreds of years, God’s people suffered terribly under Egyptian oppression…their joy, at times would have seemed like a dream…but they kept going…believing in God’s deliverance.

One day…it happened…they were filled joy.

Joy is a deep inward feeling of gladness, anticipation, happiness, hope…

Joy in the bible is often independent of current circumstances and based rather on the promise of what God will do…based on the knowledge of what God has done.

Joy, for us, is a present tense experience based on a full future reality.

Our joy is already (at least some of the time) and not yet (all the time).

Our joy now…must be nurtured, cared for…tended to…like a tender young tree.

As we care for it…its roots grow deep and it can thrive through droughts…difficult times…threats.

But it must be nurtured…it must be practiced.

That is what Paul is saying “Rejoice”…re-joy, over and over.

Keep the gospel front and center.

So…the key to reframing threats…is to continually return to “Joy” but joy of a certain kind.

“Joy in the Lord”…to intentionally choose to find my hope, my satisfaction, my sense of well-being in my relationship with Christ.

What is ironic about the three threats is that they are things humans tend to see as points of pride:

  1. I am strong…I can save myself
  1. I am good…I can change myself wherever needed
  1. I am free…I can do whatever I want with my own body

But, look around…do we look strong, good or free?

To rejoice in the Lord…to put our hope in his salvation, is to say continually.

I am not that strong

I am not that good

I am not free on my own…it is my unchecked desires that are ruining or have ruined my life and have limited my freedom.

If we continually “return” to the joy of the Lord…rejoice in his grace…we can reframe and respond to these threats differently.

Paul used various forms of the word Joy 16 times in this short, 4 chapter,  letter.

Joy is key to reframing life to see it as it actually is.

A joy-centric life does not make light of threats…it just doesn’t give threat the power to make us people who live perpetually in a state of:

Fight, flight, or freeze.

I’m not now talking about physical response…my wife will always go to fight or flight if she sees a spider.

I’m talking about spiritual, emotional, relational…we do not have to live in this reactive response…at least we can continually grow in living proactively.

To rejoice is to proactively live by faith.

Fight, flight, freeze is reactive living in regards to threats..

Rejoicing in the Lord…what he has done, what he is doing, what he ultimately will do.

This is the continual proactive choice we can make to retrain ourselves so that we do not live in a reactive state.

Threats abound…rejoice!

Keep returning to joy in the Lord.

Threats abound…they are real, they are serious, they are not to be taken lightly.

But they must not be allowed to keep us living reactively…

We don’t have to live…

-Continually being pushed to: anger and the desire to fight on another

-Continually being pushed to: fear and the impulse to run from all challenge

-Continually be frozen in place: apathy and a loss of desire or direction

Rejoice is a word that describes a proactive lifestyle in the face of real threats.

We continually…all day long…can find ourselves going to fight, flight, freeze mode.

But we can…all day long…choose to “re” “Joy” in the Lord.

Everything is shaping us…threats are…how we respond to them are…how we think about them.

Our responses are shaping our hearts and making us into certain kinds of people

**I listened last week to a classified briefing…it made me feel afraid, the world felt overwhelming in that moment, my mind was trying to take in all the information.

*Then I turned my thoughts to the joy of the Lord… quietely, internally…“I re-joyed” my mind.

*I gained, in just minutes…a very different perspective on what I was hearing in that moment…the facts didn’t change…they just were better aligned with the truth of God as I rejoiced in him.

We have the opportunity to be shaped by joy…to continually return to the Joy of the Lord.

Last week the application was simple…serve

The application again is simple…it is “rejoice”.

When you feel the sweat of threat…you know that fear, that anger, that sense of hopelessness.

Train yourself to return to the joy of the Lord.

Do it…a hundred times, do it a thousand times…do it until it shapes your mind, your heart, and your actions.

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