“The terrible condition of man’s heart will never be recognized by people who assess it only in relation to other men. Romans 14:23 makes plain that depravity is our condition in relation to God primarily, and only secondarily in relation to man. Unless we start here we will never grasp the totality of our natural depravity…Religion is one of the chief ways that man conceals his unwillingness to forsake self-reliance and bank all his hopes on the unmerited mercy of God (Luke 18:9-14; Colossians 2:20-23).
Paul takes us from one glorious thought back to another; Rejoicing! And at the heart of Paul’s joy is the gospel! Only in the gospel story are we truly set free from the plethora of self-saving mechanisms that end in frustration and pride.
Big Picture: “Rejoice in the Lord” because, “It is a safeguard for you.” Verse 1 is more than a transition; it’s a connection connecting what Paul has said, to what he is going to say. To “Rejoice” is a major theme of this letter.
So in a way, Paul is coming back to a theme he began in 1:18-19. Paul has been showing the Philippians that joy comes through being “in Christ,” it is practically played out by working through our bitterness and tension and humbly serving one another.
In our passage today Paul’s shows the Philippians how to rejoice in spite of further intrusions and roadblocks to their peace and joy. Let’s take a look at Three Pathways to Rejoicing
From the Head…
Rejoice In The Lord (Philippians 3:1)
Isn’t this the point? How can we rejoice by rejoicing? Because rejoicing is an action, not a result! Now that leads to 2 potential dangers; the First, is trying to produce Joy/Rejoicing by manipulating our emotions, and even using other means to find that joy and pass it off as spiritual. A Second, danger is people showing up as “posers.” Simply pretending to have joy with fake smiles, knowing all along there are being hypocritical. But a true joy is a realization of a truth; that we are “In Christ.” A true joy does not short our emotions, and create a false contentment based on denial. It’s an attitude that stems from knowledge of truth. The “Same Things Again” for Paul either means that he is talking about Rejoicing again, or the fact that he’s going to repeat himself three times in the next verse. Either way, Paul is explicit in his point, and it is going to be “Safe” or it’s going to be a safeguard for their spiritual/emotional condition.
Lose Your Religion (Philippians 3:2-6)
One of the greatest robbers of joy is religious people. They flash their self-righteous behavior before everyone in order to be seen and commended, and are often quite judgmental toward those around them. In these verses Paul uses a rather lyrical irony. First he uses an alliteration to make his point. “Dogs” (Kuon), “Evil” (Kakos) and “Mutilators” (Katatome) all start with the letter K in the Greek. The he uses “Watch Out” (Blepo) three times in an ironic sense. He calls them dogs, which is the term the Jews often used for the gentiles. He called them “Evil” (Bad Works), which is contrary to how they felt about their own works of the law, and lastly he refers to them as “Mutilators.”
Then he contrasts the behavior of the religious, with those that know Jesus, and worship Him in Spirit, and trust in Him and His work, rather than putting any “Confidence in the flesh.” Religion is in its core unbelief! It shapes its own rules and self-saving mechanisms. As theologian Karl Barth said, “Faith is never identical with piety.” Piety is a work; faith is a confident trust in something other than yourself, or your work.
Paul himself, gives ample testimony to his own accomplishment, but he counts them as a “loss” for the sake of “Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It is important here to stop for a moment and take a look at what “Circumcision” meant, and what was its significance. Genesis 17 gives us a clear picture that circumcision was a sign of the covenant that God was going to bless Abraham’s offspring, and subsequently bless the nations too (See Genesis 12). The Jews (Or Judaizers) were nationalists. They made two errors; first they mistook the sign or the means, and secondly, they failed to realize the blessing wasn’t exclusive, but very inclusive. Religion, by nature is extremely exclusive. It has many barriers, and rules in order to belong, but true religion is based on grace and confidence in someone or something other than you. It is recognition that your way isn’t the right way, and that trusting in God because of your own inability to be god is the beginning of worship.
Come To Know Jesus (Philippians 7-11)
Coming to know Jesus begins with losing the things you thought were gain. Worship begins here, when we know Jesus, and know what He did for us, and place our confidence in His work, not in our own work and righteousness. Knowing Christ produces joy and as one author said, “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” Our joy and contentment is an indictment of the empty joy of religious piety. Coming to “Know” Jesus involves receiving the righteousness that comes from him (Not our own Self Righteousness). The righteousness we gain from religion is our own, but the righteousness we gain from God (See 2 Corinthians 5:21) comes from faith in His work and person. This righteousness not only causes God to see Christ when He looks at us, and exchange our guilt for Christ’s innocence, but it declares us truly innocent, and like the Father in the Prodigal Son, He runs to be with us! At the heart of our faith is a relationship with God the father through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
To know Christ however has more than a relational and/or emotional bent to it; To Know Christ means faithfully obeying Him. We do so because we trust Him, it’s a by-product of faith (See Romans 1:5). In spite of the fact that Christ’s suffering is often part of the deal here on earth. We can do so because of future grace and the fact that Christ was exalted to the right hand of God.
…to the Heart
At the heart of Paul’s message is the reality that any attempt to impose religious activity on His grace for salvation is a perversion of His “good News!” Biblical faith is a confident trust in the person and work of Christ, which leads to obedience and the work of righteousness (See Ephesians 2:8-10).
Therefore, we need to be aware and wary of religious systems that rob us of joy by making ethics the heart of the gospel.
A secondary point is clear that trying to find God and His joy in other means and religious paradigms are empty, as witnessed by Paul’s resume of righteousness. This passage destroys the notion that “Good Works” are what make you right with God. Good works are the heart of every religious and ethical system, and the reason why many people can rightfully argue that Christianity doesn’t make you any better than anyone else; because it doesn’t!! The fact is our own righteousness most often lead to self righteousness and frustration with God for not “Coming through.”
A last reality is that it is easy to shift our eyes away from Christ and His work, and on to the world’s system of salvation; variegated as it often is. The world finds salvation in religion, sex, fantasy, money, hard work, substance abuse, family, accomplishments, etc. All of which end as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.”
Further Questions to Ponder
- What does it mean to “Know” Christ?
- What does it mean to know His sufferings?
- Why do humans choose piety over grace?
- What does Paul mean that he wants to “Know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?”
For Further Reading
Philippians: The NIV Application Commentary, Frank Theilman
Commentary on Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, John Calvin
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the NT), Gordon Fee
Philippians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the NT), Moises Silva
Paul For Everyone: The Prison Letters, Tom Wright
The Letter to the Philippians (Pillar NT Commentary), G. Walter Hansen
Life Lessons Study Guide: Philippians, Max Lucado
Philippians (Reformed Expository Commentary), Dennis Johnson
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