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Real Righteousness

Date: Jul. 19, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

Philippians 3:1-14

Key Verse: Philippians 3:9

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 on the basis of faith.

From groceries to clothes to electronics, millions of people shop online. No long lines. No hunting for a parking space and super-fast delivery. They want convenience, but what people might be getting instead are dangerous counterfeit products. One person purchased a “Genuine Apple MacBook Pro refurbished charger.” When his wife plugged it in to her MacBook, it didn't appear to be charging, so he tried it on his own computer.

What happened next horrified him. It fried the computer, not just one but both. The $24.99 charger he bought online rendered both MacBook’s useless. Apple told him repairs would cost more than $1200. The charger he purchased was counterfeit. The difference between something being real and counterfeit, can be a small matter, just a few dollars, but it can also be life threatening. Such is the case in our passage this morning which deals with righteousness.

Our passage starts today in verses 1-2 of chapter 3, “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.Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” Paul loved the people in the church at Philippi. Not because they supported him financially, but because they were his brothers and sisters in Christ. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to them this caused him to worry about them. He wanted to help them to keep their faith, so he built in safeguards for them by encouraging them to remember their joy. When we have joy in the Lord, it’s easier to keep our faith than when we don’t. Especially if we’re being harassed by legalists and persecuted because of our faith in Jesus like the Philippians were.

We catch a glimpse of who is harassing the Philippians in verse 2. Paul refers to them so affectionately as dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Those are some pretty harsh words. If you were to refer to someone in those terms today, on social media, you would probably receive quite a backlash from the community. Paul warned the church at Philippi about the Judaizers, who were a group of Jewish Christians, who were following Paul around going to the church plants he started. They were telling people that Paul wasn’t an authentic apostle (Gal) like they were. They were the ones with spiritual pedigrees not Paul. They even went as far as claiming that Paul altered the gospel by removing certain legal requirements because he wanted to make the message more appealing to the Gentiles. The Judaizers were even trying to force Gentile Christians to follow certain Old Testament Jewish laws, specifically circumcision. In addition to this, the Judaizers continued to remind Paul, and new believers, of Paul’s past and how he used to persecute Jesus’ followers in his zealousness to be right before God as he followed the laws of the Torah. On the surface, it looks like the Judaizers really cared about the Gentile Christians and were trying to protect them from the fake news of their time, but in truth, they were not truly concerned for the people but more interested in outward appearances and wanting to make sure everyone was following the rules. Endlessly following a list of rules with a taskmaster standing over you would get old rather quickly, Paul understood this, so he frequently encouraged the Philippians to rejoice in Jesus.

So, if these Judaizers weren’t the true followers of Jesus then who were? Take a look at verse 3. “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…” Here Paul refers to the real believers as “the circumcision”. Paul turns the focus from the ACT of circumcision to the PERSON whom it’s performed upon. Paul explained circumcision to the Roman’s like this: “Circumcision, the surgical ritual that marks you as a Jew, is great if you live in accord with God’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being circumcised. The reverse is also true: The uncircumcised who keep God’s ways are as good as the circumcised—in fact, better. Better to keep God’s law uncircumcised than break it circumcised. It’s not the cut of a knife that makes you a Jew. You become a Jew by WHO you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics.” (Rom 25-29) Therefore, circumcision of the flesh was no longer required as it was with Abraham. Now, we are to circumcise our heart so that it’s not merely an outward action, done in the flesh, but an inward action, a decision of our heart before God. So, the true followers of Jesus are the ones that love God and love his people. They are the ones that serve God’s ministry as the Holy Spirit leads them. They are humble before God and listen to what God has to say and serve the way He requires all the while understanding that they can’t do it by their own human strength, they need God’s help to carry it out. True followers of Jesus don’t need to go around boasting about themselves or their accomplishments, because the proof is found in the history of their life. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Because the Judaizers kept following Paul from city to city harassing him and the new believers  waving their Jewish credentials around as if that gave them authority while claiming that Paul was a fraud, Paul decides to flex’s his own Jewish heritage in verses 4-6. “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.” Paul had every reason to consider his status. He was on the fast track to prominence in Jewish society. He had the privilege of being a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28) which was a powerful thing at the time. He was also raised with an outstanding education. I read that by the time he was 21 he had earned the equivalent of two advanced academic degrees. He studied in Jerusalem and trained under the famous and highly respected Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3 cf. Acts 5:4). As a young protégé of one of the greatest Pharisaic leaders, he had privileges that regular people didn’t. He was wealthy and had access to power, prestige, and influence. So, if anyone had the right to flex about their heritage, it was Paul. Let’s take a look at some of his credentials

 

circumcised on the eighth day: This meant that Paul was considered a proper Jew, with a legitimate birth. The fact that he was circumcised on the eighth day indicates that he came from a family that kept the Jewish traditions even though they were not living in Israel but in the (modern day) Turkish city of Tarsus.

 

of the people of Israel: Paul’s reference to being a member of Israel connects him to the covenant as a member of Abraham’s family. Paul was not a Jew pretending to be a Greek while living in Tarsus, but rather a Jew who was well aware of his heritage as a child of Abraham. He was proud of the fact that he was of the nation of Israel, and thus privy to all the benefits that ethnicity and culture had to offer.

of the tribe of Benjamin: Benjamin’s tribe was a fierce fighting tribe that had a special place in Israel’s history. One of only two sons descending from Jacob’s beloved Rebecca. Jerusalem, the nation’s capital was located in the heart of Benjamin’s territory. And at least four great historical leaders came from Benjamin’s tribe, even though it was the smallest of the twelve tribes (1 Sam 9:21). Ehud, a great warrior who delivered Israel from Moab (Jud 3:12–30). Saul Israel’s first king (1 Samuel 9:15–27). Mordecai and Esther, who delivered the Jews from death when they lived in Persia (Esther 2:5–7). So, when Paul states here that he is from the elite tribe of Benjamin, this is a significant claim since not every Jew in the first century could know they were from a particular tribe because of the exile. Paul was even named Saul after his fellow Benjamite the first king of Israel.

Hebrew of Hebrews: This phrase meant that Paul was born entirely of true Jewish blood. He wasn’t half bred for there was no Gentile blood in his linage. Even though his family lived outside of Israel, they still maintained their Jewish culture. Paul could speak Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and possibly some Latin (Acts 21:40, 22:2-3). Not all Jews spoke Hebrew, especially in the home, but Paul was from an extremely Jewish family, one that still spoke the language at home. A convert to Judaism could be circumcised, someone with some Gentile blood in their linage might be able to claim a tribal affiliation, but Paul was a pure-bred true Jew! No one can control their DNA, so to have that and back it up with his cultural upbringing, gave him legitimacy and a strong foundation to stand on.

in regard to the law, a Pharisee: Paul was a strict and extremely devout adherent to God’s law while being an enthusiastic member of the Pharisees (Acts 22:3, 23:6, 26:5). The word Pharisees means “separated ones.” Paul had devoted his life, and separated himself, to practice the rigorous observance of the Old Testament Law just like his father did (Acts 23:6). Paul was proud to follow in his father’s footsteps.

as for zeal, persecuting the church: Paul was a fiery defender of the purity of his religion, even to the point of persecuting others. Not many could compare with Paul’s passion. When he uses the word zeal here, he’s referring to violence. He wasn’t afraid to use violence to enforce the law in fact I think relished in it. He persecuted Christians because he thought they were blasphemers. Paul had seen Christianity as a heretical Jewish sect so he zealously searched for Christians, and had them arrested and imprisoned, hoping to root out and destroy the church (Acts 8:3, 9:14; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13 & 23; 1 Tim 1:13). He approved of the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1) and was on his way to Damascus to capture more Christians when Jesus met him on the road (Acts 9:1-5). (Many years later, standing before Herod Agrippa, Paul explained his fanatical attempts to persecute Christians: On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.  (Acts 26:10-11). Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of the church was well-known. To the church in Galatia, he wrote: For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. (Gal 1:13).)

as for righteousness based on the law, faultless: As an earnest Pharisee, Paul paid METICULOUS attention to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. This was the most important thing in his life, everything depended upon it. Before he became a Christian, Paul truly believed this was the right way to live. And if it was the right way, he wasn’t going to do it halfhearted. So, he was all in and followed the law completely according to the law’s standards. He offered the proper sacrifices at the proper times, he studied the Torah, he lived by all the purity laws, and he even forced those purity laws on others.

The very credentials the Judaizers were waving around as something special, Paul was tearing them up and throwing them out with the trash, along with everything else he used to take credit for. Take a look at verses 7-11. “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. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Why does Paul give up everything in his life that he worked so long and hard to achieve? The average PhD takes more than twice as long as a bachelor's degree to complete. The average student takes 8.2 years to slog through a PhD program and is around 33 years old before earning that top diploma. Imagine you’re born to a prominent family in Chicago, and your parents, on the day you are born, sign you up for the best day school because the list to get in is so long. And then working so hard in grammar school, just so that you could get into [Walter Payton] the best high school. Then working so hard in high school to become valedictorian so that you’d get admitted into [Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Northwestern] the best college. Then devoting your undergraduate life to studying so that you could graduate Summa Cum Laude and get into the best grad school where you’d spend the next 8.2 years under your advisor’s beckoning call and microscopic scrutiny just so that you could complete your PhD at the top of your class. Then you land your dream job and it’s all that you’ve ever imagined. Your supervisor is a well-connected, highly respected professional and your whole career is planned out as he’s going to lead you right to the top. Your twenty-five years of dedication and hard work is paying off. You are living the life that your peers can only dream about. One of the select few. Now imagine throwing it all away. WHAT COULD MAKE A PERSON DO SUCH A THING? Do you think that someone comes to that point, and makes that decision lightly? For someone to do THAT, it HAS to be a LIFE CHANGING MOMENT. There is no other way because of the time and effort that had been invested. No one throws all that away unless their life is drastically changed.

But it even does deeper than that. Because not only does Paul throw it away, he considers all his life work, and all his life’s achievements as trash. And not like scraps of paper trash, but like a stinking, decomposing, maggot infested, piece of chicken trash. So, WHAT could change a person SO MUCH that what the sought with EVERY FIBER OF THEIR BEING AND EVERY OUNCE OF THEIR STRENGTH and effort they now consider garbage? It must be something important. Paul’s answer is that it was all because of Jesus. Paul was on the road to Damascus on one of his Christian hunting missions when the Risen Christ appeared to him. Paul’s experience with the Risen Christ drastically changed his life. Because of Jesus, all the things Paul once thought were so important were now gone from his life. Paul considered knowing Jesus personally as his Lord and Savior and the highest privilege there was. So much so, that everything else paled in comparison. Like holding a bar of gold in one hand and a steaming pile of dog poop in the other. The only thing dog poop is good for is throwing it in the trash.

Paul realized after his experience with Jesus, that everything that he had worked so hard for, was what gave value to his life. Paul thought that if he could only learn the law so well, learn it perfectly, then he’d be able to live his life according to it, he’d be able to perfect it, and that would make him right before God and everyone else. Paul thought that if he did enough good deeds, they would make him right. But from his experience those good deeds didn’t bring him joy. There would only be more good deeds to do tomorrow and the day after that and forever. There was an endless number of rules to be kept and good deeds that needed to be completed until the day he died. And the danger of messing up any one of those and ruining his record weighted heavily upon him. We all want to be perfect, to be right, do the right thing, so we strive for that, but in reality, we’re not perfect. All our good works amount to garbage. The prophet Isaiah may have said it best. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isa 64:6) Paul didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when he could get the genuine kind that comes from knowing Jesus. Paul wanted the righteousness that came from God, not somewhere else. Christ is perfect and everything Jesus does is perfect. We become right when we believe in Jesus and follow him. Because of Jesus’ righteousness we can become righteous. Jesus give us this righteousness by being taking all our mistakes and failures upon him. Jesus was treated as a sinner because of us, but God treats us as righteous because of what Jesus has done. Having real righteousness, is like having real gold instead of fool’s gold. So, Paul gave up all the inferior worldly stuff so he could know Jesus personally and experience Jesus’ resurrection power. Paul wanted to be a partner in Jesus’ suffering, and he was willing to go all the way to death if need be. He wasn’t afraid because he had faith that because of Jesus’ resurrection, he would also be raised.

Take a look at verses 12-14. “12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, 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.” In these verses Paul wasn’t saying that he had everything together, that he mastered all of it, but that he was trending in the right direction. He was on his way, reaching out for Jesus, who reached out for him. Paul didn’t think of himself as an expert in Christian living, but only that he was completely focused on reaching the end goal, which is entering Heaven and receiving eternal life. Paul was off and running for the finish line and he was never looking back.

In Conclusion, Paul had invested so many years and so much effort in following Pharisaical Judaism. However, Paul willingly gave up and forfeited all the advantages and privileges of his heritage and training. In fact, Paul saw the advantages as disadvantages and the privileges as liabilities. Paul had come to realize that following the traditions of Judaism, no matter how much human effort he gave, it was not going to be able to earn him salvation. What Jesus taught may have rung in his ears, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) What if Paul could somehow gain the whole world (which is an impossible task in itself) he would forfeit his own soul, and that struck Paul’s heart hard. The value of Christ, the reward of knowing Christ, is the most valuable thing. Jesus said that knowing God is eternal life itself. (Jn 17:3) Righteousness is linked to Christ. The more you know Christ, the more you become like him, righteous. The more you know Christ, changes the way you look at things.

Following Jesus Christ is a journey of sacrifice, participating in his sufferings, but through those sufferings, you can learn more about Jesus and from it your eyes will be opened to all the unrighteousness in the world. But the reward of suffering with Jesus, is the surpassing greatness of really knowing Christ Jesus our Lord! Anything that we give up, lose, or forfeit for the sake of a closer walk with Jesus, and a greater knowledge of him, will seem like garbage and it was no big deal to get rid of. To Paul, real righteousness was worth his weight in gold. Paul practiced what he preached. Indeed, he did lose all that he had worked for as a Pharisee.

How can we apply this to our lives, many times, earthly righteousness is not about you looking right, but making others looking worse than you? So, people can get ahead, by pushing others down. If you can point out others not right, and make them look worse, that makes you look better. That it is easier than doing it right ourselves. People who do this, don’t really want to help people get better, but only want to make themselves look better in front of people. They want to glorify themselves, instead of glorifying God. Also, we shouldn’t chase after things that bring fake righteous, like following rules only to look better, but have a sincere desire to know God.

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