Title: Safeguarding Your Joy
Series: Philippians (16/20)
Reference: Philippians 3:1-16
If you have a Bible, I want invite you to open up to the New Testament book of Philippians. As you’re doing that, we’ll take a moment and dismiss the kids to Children’s Worship. So all the little boys & girls, you can make your way to the back of the Sanctuary, and from there you’ll be escorted off to another great Bible adventure.
We’ve been studying through the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. We are just beginning chapter 3. The title of today’s message is, “Safeguarding Your Joy.” I’ll begin reading with verse 1, and I’m going to ask if you’re physically able, let’s all stand in honor & reverence for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The Word of God says in Philippians 3, beginning with verse 1:
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Father, would You add Your blessing upon the proclamation of Your Word. And it’s in the strong name of Jesus we pray, amen. You may be seated.
Safeguarding your joy– That’s important because (although we don’t always think about “joy” like this), it can be lost. David prayed in Psalm 51 that God would restore back to him the joy of his salvation. Joy can be lost! And you know that. You have likely seen that played out. I mean, we all can probably think of folks who claim to be a Christian, and yet it seems as though they have lost their joy.
You know what I’m talking about, right! People who come to church, and rather than seeing a smile on their face, and a skip in their step–it just kind-of looks like they’ve been sucking on a lemon or something! You know what I mean, don’t you (don’t point any fingers or anything like that)! We all know people, and it’s like: “If there is any joy of the Lord in your heart, if there is any reason in your life to be joyful, you might want to notify your face because it doesn’t seem to be getting the message!”
Paul is going to give us some safeguards here (that’s what he says in verse 1): Finally, my brethren… I’ve always thought it was funny that Paul says “finally”, and then he spends two chapters trying to wrap it all up! So typical of a preacher!
It’s like that story of this little boy who was in big-boy church (like adult church) for the very first time, and he was just so curious about everything.
The preacher got up and put on his glasses. The little boy said, “Daddy, what does that mean?” The father said, “Son, that means the preacher is getting ready to read the Bible.” Later in the message the preacher was getting fired up, and he took off his coat. The little boy said, “Daddy, what does that mean?” The father said, “Son, that means the preacher is really preaching!”
A few minutes later, the preacher took off his watch and laid it right there on the pulpit. The little boy said, “Daddy, what does that mean?” The father said, “Not a thing, son; not a thing!”
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. The write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. If you’re taking notes, this morning, let me point out & share with you three safeguards, three preventive measures we can take to help protect the joy that we know & experience in Jesus.
Number one, we must resist legalism.
Legalism may, or may not, be a new word for you, so let’s make sure we’re all on the same page when we talk about legalism. Legalism is substituting rules for relationship. Legalism is relating to God on the basis of rules (what we do or do not do)–rather than on the basis of relationship through Jesus.
Now here at the beginning of Philippians 3, Paul calls out a group of false teachers, known as the Judaizers. These guys had worked their way into the church, and they were teaching legalism. They were teaching that “Yea, Paul was right because you do need to trust Jesus, but that’s not really the whole message. It is Jesus, but it’s also _______ “–(and today, we might be tempted to fill in that blank with baptism / church membership / making good decisions).” They said (in the historical context, the Judaizers said, “If you really want to be right with God, you need Jesus (for sure)–but you also need to do this ritual act of circumcision.”
So Paul begins to call out these false teachers because the gospel matters. Nothing matters like the gospel matters, and nothing will steal your joy faster than a belief system that puts the weight of the work that needs to be done for your salvation on you.
Paul calls these men out, and in verse 2 he identifies them with three different phrases. 2 Beware of the dogs… That was actually the term the self-righteous Jew used of the Gentile (the one, they believed, who was separated from God). So Paul picks up on their own word, and he says these guys go around calling everyone who doesn’t conform to their teaching “dogs”– But the reality is, they are the dogs; they are the ones separated from God because they’re trying to get to God on the basis of what they do (rules), rather than through relationship with Jesus!
2 …beware of the evil workers… These religious-but-lost folks thought they were doing this great service for God, but Paul says in reality– They are evil workers!
2 …beware of the false circumcision… Paul calls it “false circumcision” because circumcision was always meant to be about the heart. Now it’s true that in the OT, God’s covenant sign with His people was circumcision–but even in the OT, passages like Jeremiah 4:4; 9:26– You can go over to Romans 2:28-29 and it’s very clear)– Even in the OT, the outward & physical act of circumcision was meant to be symbolic of an inner & spiritual reality.
So Paul calls them “the false circumcision” because “true circumcision” is about the heart. True circumcision is about God doing this work in your heart, where He cuts out the old heart– He cuts out the old nature & the old desires–and He gives us a new heart, with a new nature that desires new things, and Romans 2:29 says that’s not a work we do in the flesh (that’s not a work we do by following certain rules)–but it’s a work God does through the Spirit!
I realize that’s a lot of historical context stuff, but you got it, right? This was Paul’s concern here in Philippians 3. False teachers had come into the church, and they were teaching that salvation was about what you do (rather than about what God has done through Jesus)! And so he warns the church– Watch out for the dogs. Watch out for the evil workers. Watch out for the false circumcision.
3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.
True children of God, listen beloved– We put no confidence in the flesh. We understand that we are made right with God, not because of what we are able to do, but because (and only because) of what God has done through Jesus!
So Paul says watch out for legalism. Be on your guard against that kind of thinking. Don’t slip into this kind of mentality where you think it’s all about what you do, and your heart is anchored in your work rather than in God’s work. Or– Another way we tend to drift into legalism is by thinking God loves you more or less based on how well you’re living for Him. And when you do the right things, He really loves You. And when you don’t do the right things, then His love is somewhat diminished– That kind of thinking will steal the joy, and the freedom, that God wants you to experience in Jesus!
We must watch out for legalism. Safeguard number two, we must refocus our ambitions.
Now beginning in verse 4, Paul does something really interesting. It’s like he says, “Okay– You want to play the whole external righteousness card, then I’ll play your game.”
4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more. Paul is saying if anyone has a reason to be confident in what they have done, then it’s me! Paul says “I far more”— He says, “I’ve got you all beat!” And then Paul goes into this long list of all the ways that he thought made him commendable to God.
5 circumcised the eighth day… Paul says I’ve been through the right rituals. 5 ….of the nation of Israel… Paul says I’m a member of God’s chosen people. 5 …of the tribe of Benjamin… Paul says I can trace my roots back to the noble tribe of Benjamin. 5 …a Hebrew of Hebrews… Paul says while many of the other Jewish families adopted traditions from the Romans and Greeks, not my family! We are Hebrew through & through. 5 …as to the Law, a Pharisee… Paul says I’m a champion of the Law. 5 …as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. Paul says in every way, my life has been the model of what we thought was pious and upright!
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
Paul says everything I thought was good– Everything I thought was religiously important (and this is what would make me right with God)– Paul says all those things that I thought were “gain to me (v.7), those things I have counted as loss…” That’s an accounting term that means “to evaluate” or “to assess.” And what does he conclude? In verse 7 he says I’ve counted it all as loss for the sake of Christ! 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value (This is better– This is of greater worth, more infinitely valuable for your soul)– What is it, Paul? It’s …knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…
The phrase “knowing Christ Jesus”– That speaks of knowing in the sense of intimacy. It speaks of knowing in a real, and intimate, and personal way. And listen, beloved– This is where many people who come to church miss it. Because a lot of people who faithfully come to church– They may know about Christ, but they don’t know Christ!
Salvation is so much more than just knowing about Jesus! James 2 says even the demons know about Jesus.
In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about a group of religious people who, on the Day of Judgement, will say, “But Lord” (and Jesus is Lord, so they were saying the right thing). We could take it a step further by saying they were also doing the right things)! In that passage, they’re say, “But Lord– Didn’t we speak in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name do all these great works.” These guys were saying the right things, and they were doing the right things– I mean, if they were in a Baptist church, we’d put them in charge of something! Yet Jesus says, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you!” Beyond knowing about Jesus– Beyond the things we say & the work we give ourselves to, salvation is about knowing Jesus (it’s about relationship with Jesus)!
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish…
That word “rubbish” means “waste”. It can be translated in two different ways. The first translation means waste (as in garbage waste), and the second means waste (as in body waste…as in dung, manure, do-do, the stuff you flush down the toilet every day)!
Talk about disgusting; this word is it! It’s a nasty, stinky, filthy word–but it’s the word Paul uses to talk about the value of all these rules people try and live by to make themselves right with God. And none of it amounts to anything! It can’t save you. It’s can’t even begin to save you. When it comes to making you right with God, Paul says it’s not worth anything (it’s like “dung” with a capital “D”–and you just as well as flush that junk down the toilet)!
Now– It’s easy for us to say “amen” that right! All these external things that people do to try and make themselves right with God– That doesn’t mean anything! It’s all rubbish; flush it all down the toilet. Amen!
That’s all true, but when Paul says “all things” in verse 8– He’s talking about all things. He’s not just talking about the external acts of righteousness that people do to try and make themselves right with God– He’s talking about all things! Every priority of your heart– Every pursuit you give yourself to– Everything– Paul says “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
So listen, church– We’ve got to refocus our ambitions. The greatest priority I can give my attention to, is to know Jesus. The greatest pursuit I can give my heart to, is to know Jesus. You want to talk about a joy-killer– You want to talk about a vampire (something that will suck the life right out of you)– It’s religious activity that doesn’t drive us into deeper relationship with Jesus!
Check your focus, church! Check your attention–because if your Bible study time isn’t leading you to know Jesus more, then it’s rubbish and it’s not worth anything. If your time in prayer isn’t leading you into a more intimate relationship with Jesus, it’s not worth anything. If all your service & your sacrifice & everything you do in the name of Jesus– If it’s not actually leading you into a deeper relationship with Jesus, then it’s rubbish & it’s not worth anything!
Safeguard one– We need to watch out for legalism. Safeguard two– We must refocus our ambitions. Then very quickly, let me give you one more. Safeguard number three, we must reject complacency.
We must reject the temptation to be satisfied– To be content– To be complacent in our walk of faith. The moment we become complacent is the moment we become vulnerable. The moment we are satisfied with things the way they are, that’s the moment we stop seeking to learn, and grow, and develop (and unless you’re name is “Jesus,” there is a need in your heart to continually learn and grow and develop as a believer)!
Look at how Paul expresses this in our text:
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on… Paul is comparing the Christian life to a race here, and he says “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet…”
Paul is saying, “I haven’t arrived! I haven’t finished learning, and growing– I haven’t finished running this race!” So Paul says, “I’m not going to stay here. I’m not going to be a “stand-still Christian– I’m not going to allow myself to be satisfied & complacent with where I am spiritually”–but he says in verse 12, …I press on…(do you hear the determination & focus in a statement like that? Paul says I don’t have time to give myself to a thousand perhaps “good pursuits”–when God has called me to this one surpassing thing: to know Jesus)…I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
If you & I are going to have that kind of attitude, we need to do two things. Number one, you need to forget your failures.
You need to forget your failures. You need to leave them behind! Many of God’s people can’t have victory today because they’re still licking their wounds of yesterday, or last week, or last month or whatever! Listen beloved– The truth of God’s Word would teach us that if you’ve confessed it (agreed with God about it) & repented of that sin, God has forgiven you–so the question is: Why are you not forgiving yourself? Why are you holding yourself hostage to an impossible standard of sinless perfection that God hasn’t place upon you?
You’ve got to forget your failures!
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind… That’s what some of you need to do! You say, “But you don’t know how bad it was?” Well think about what Paul did? He killed innocent Christians & tore families apart–and he did it all in the name of religion!
You say, “But you don’t know how much I’ve screwed up?” Well, join the club! We’ve got a church full of a bunch of screw-ups! We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all done things, and said things, and given our heart to things that we regret–but don’t live there! Don’t just give up & quit. You are forgiven & free in Christ– That’s not a license to sin, but it’s grace to get up from your sin & follow Jesus (in all of your imperfections)!
You need to forget your failures, and then number two, you need to forget your successes.
Whatever you’ve done, or however you’ve served or sacrificed, and you think that commends you to God– Write that down, cross it out and write “DUNG” over it. All of our attempts to please God, it is all rubbish (it’s not worth anything)! And all this other stuff that we get focused on, and it steals our joy & consumes so much of our emotional & spiritual focus– None of it is anything compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus!
That’s where true joy is found. It’s in knowing Jesus. It’s in truly, passionately, intimately, knowing Christ Jesus. Paul says compared to Him, everything else is a loss– Everything else is like rubbish (it’s like waste)–and so Paul says I press on. I’m not complacent. I’m not satisfied, but I’m always forgetting what lies behind & I’m pressing forward in this race of following Jesus!
There’s an old hymn that, I think, captures the cry of Paul’s heart here. Listen to these words, and I want you to ask yourself this question: “Is my heart like that?”
I’m pressing on the up-ward way, new heights I’m gaining every day; still praying as I on-ward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
My heart has no desire to stay, where doubts arise and fears dismay; through some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
I want to live above the world, though Satan’s darts at me are hurled; for faith has caught the joyful sound, the song of saints on higher ground.
I want to scale the utmost height, and catch a gleam of glory bright; but still I pray till heaven I’ve found, Lord, lead me on to higher ground.
Let me pray for us…