“Knowing Jesus Christ”
Lesson Text:Philippians 3:7-11
Background Scripture: Philippians 3:1-11
Devotional Reading:Luke 9:23-27
Philippians 3:1-11 (KJV)
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.
2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.
3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
To understand that knowing Jesus Christ as Lord is much more important than worldly accomplishments and status.
To count all things loss never outweighs the eternal gains of knowing Christ.
To examine your own life from God’s perspective, by weighing seriously the values that control your decisions and directions.
Time: A.D. 60-61
The Exhortation (Philippians 3:1-3). "Finally" at this point does not mean Paul is about to close the letter, because he keeps on going. The word means "For the rest," and introduces the new section. Paul began Philippians 3 with the exhortation to his readers to “rejoice in the Lord” (v. 1). Joy is a major theme that is stressed throughout the apostle’s letter. In this instance, Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to rejoice because they belonged to the Lord Jesus. Such an experience would aid in protecting the apostle’s readers from the legalism of his doctrinal enemies.
“Judaizers” is the term used to refer to the enemies of the Gospel proclaimed by the apostle. These were legalistic Jews who insisted that all believers, regardless of their ethnicity, had to observe the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament in order to gain and maintain salvation. Moreover, Paul called the legalists “the concision,” in which the Greek word translated “mutilators” (literally, “to cut down or off’) is an ironic play on the term rendered “circumcision” (literally, “to cut around”; v. 3). The apostle’s sarcasm was appropriate, for the religious frauds demanded that all Christians be physically circumcised as a prerequisite for becoming holy and acceptable to God. The apostle did not attack circumcision itself, but rather the significance that the Judaizers placed upon it. (Cook)
Paul transformed the meaning of circumcision from an external mutilation of the flesh, which could be done only to men, to the internal work of God’s Spirit that marks every believer’s union with the Father based on the Son’s redemptive work (see Col. 2: 11, 13), Paul declared that it is Jesus’ disciples-namely, everyone worshiping and serving God by the power of His Spirit (see John 4:23-24)-who are the true “circumcision” (Phil. 3:3) and the real people of God (see Gal. 3:6-4:7). This included both believing Jews and Gentiles. Instead of bragging about what they have attained, they exulted in what the Lord Jesus had accomplished on their behalf through His atoning sacrifice at Calvary, resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven. Expressed differently, believers did not put any trust in their pious observance of religious rituals, or any “confidence in” their own “flesh” (Phil. 3:3). Instead, they rejoiced in the fact that they had eternal life in spiritual union with the Redeemer (see 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17).
Counting Assets as Liabilities
It is easy for us to get wrapped up in "things," not only the tangible things that we can see, but also the intangibles such as reputation, fame, achievement. Paul writes about "what things were gain” to him (Phil. 3:7); he also mentions "things which are behind" and "things which are before" (Phil. 3:13). In Paul's case, some of these "things" were intangible, such as religious achievements (Gal. 1:14), a feeling of self-satisfaction, morality. We today can be snared both by tangibles and intangibles, and as a result lose our joy.
But even the tangible things are not in themselves sinful. God made things, and the Bible declares that these things are good (Gen. 1:31). God knows that we need certain things in order to live (Matt. 6:31-34). In fact, He “givethus richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). But Jesus warns us that our lives do not consist in the abundance of the things that we possess (Luke 12:15).
No Confidence in the Flesh (Philippians 3:1-6)
1. What does Paul say about the “flesh” and the true people of God (Philippians 3:3)?
Paul presents the true position of the Christian. We who believe in Christ have the true spiritual circumcision of the heart. True circumcision is spiritual, not physical; inward, not outward; reality, not a rite.
Flesh is an important term in this regard. Paul’s Jewish opponents hold their traditions and genealogical ties to be indicators of their status as the people of God. But elsewhere Paul notes that a person “is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter” (Romans 2:29).
Confidence in the flesh is still a problem today. Think of the achievements that fuel people’s sense of self-importance (compare Matthew 6:1, 2).
What Do You Think?
What events tend to shake people out of their “confidence in the flesh”? How can we be witnesses for Christ during such times?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Financial meltdowns | Loss of job | Health crisis | Family breakup | Natural disasters | Other
2. How does Paul describe his accomplishments and righteousness under the law? (vs. 4-6)
If Paul were to dismiss the credentials of his opponents while lacking those same credentials himself, then he might be accused of having a “sour grapes” attitude. But it’s another thing entirely for a critic to minimize the importance of certain credentials that the critic himself possesses.
If anyone has the pedigree according to Jewish law and tradition—confidence in the flesh—to be in right relationship with God, it is Paul! The Philippians are about to be reminded why.
Paul now describes his own Jewish heritage (v. 5). The requirement for male Israelite infants to be circumcised on the eighth day is found in Leviticus 12:3 (compare Luke 1:59; 2:21). Paul was not exempted from this requirement.
Paul’s ancestry is purely Jewish, as he also makes clear in Acts 22:3 and 2 Corinthians 11:22. The tribe of Benjamin is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament. Paul announced his status as a Pharisee publicly on the occasions noted in Acts 23:6 and 26:5; the Pharisees are notable for their strict adherence to the Law of Moses.
To the Jews of Paul's day, a Pharisee had reached the very summit of religious experience, the highest ideal a Jew could ever hope to attain. If anybody was going to heaven, it was the Pharisee! He held to orthodox doctrine (see Acts 23:6-9) and tried to fulfill the religious duties faithfully (Luke 18:10-14). While we today are accustomed to use the word "Pharisee" as the equivalent of "hypocrite," this usage was not prevalent in Paul's day. Measured by the righteousness of the Law, Paul was blameless. He kept the Law and the traditions perfectly.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you still tend to “rest on your laurels” of personal achievement? What is the danger in this?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Educational credentials | Size of bank account | Involvement at church | Other
3. What did Paul believe about himself that bolstered his zealousness in persecuting the church (v. 6)?
This verse reflects Galatians 1:14, where Paul says he “profited in the Jews’ above many equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” All of us have parts of our personal histories that we are ashamed of, and Paul’s zeal in persecuting the church fits this category. He assisted at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), and after that he led the attack against the church in general (Acts 8:1-3). Even in later years, Paul admitted his role in persecuting the church (Acts 22:1-5; 26:1-11; see also 1 Tim. 1:12-16). Every Jew could boast of his own blood heritage (though he certainly could not take any credit for it). Some Jews could boast of their faithfulness to the Jewish religion. But Paul could boast of those things plus his zeal in persecuting the church.
VALUE OF KNOWING CHRIST (Philippians 3:7-11)
4. What did Paul realize about the things that he had once put confidence in? (v. 7)
At this point we might ask: "How could a sincere man like Saul of Tarsus be so wrong?" The answer is: he was using the wrong measuring stick! Like the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the Pharisee in Christ's parable (Luke 18:10-14), Saul of Tarsus was looking at the outside and not the inside. He was comparing himself with standards set by men, not by God. As far as obeying outwardly the demands of the Law, Paul was a success, but he did not stop to consider the inward sins he was committing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear that there are sinful attitudes and appetites as well as sinful actions (Matt. 5:21-48).
When he looked at himself or looked at others, Saul of Tarsus considered himself to be righteous. Paul thought for many years that his accomplishments and privileges as a Jew would allow him to be found blameless before God on Judgment Day. But one day when Jesus intervened in Paul's life on the road to Damascus, when he was still known as Saul, he began the journey toward realizing that the accomplishments, pedigrees, and privileges of the flesh hold no sway with God. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Society teaches that self-worth is based on our accomplishments in this world. Various status symbols help us “keep score” in this regard: the houses we own, the organizations we belong to, the size of our retirement accounts, etc. But such achievements hold no more weight with God than Paul's own heritage did. “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Christians are to find their self-worth in the fact that God sees us as worth saving and that He has taken the action necessary to bring that salvation about. The grace of God through the work of Christ is what we need for eternal life.
5. Why does Paul view his past achievements as “loss” in order to “win Christ” (v. 8)?
Paul now saw himself as compared with Jesus Christ! It was then that he changed his evaluations and values. Paul now examines his own life. He becomes an "auditor" who opens the books to see what wealth he has, and he discovers that he is bankrupt! Paul has come to realize as “loss” (compare Matthew 13:44-46; Mark 10:28, 29; Luke 14:33). The word loss here means “detriment.” Paul realized that those things he had once put confidence in were detrimental (damaging) to him because they were keeping Him away from Christ.
Paul’s affirmation of his loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus exhibits his understanding of what is truly valuable. Since Paul’s ongoing desire is to know Christ Jesus in his life, all things in Paul’s life must therefore fall in line with that desire. Just as our own accomplishments in this world are not necessarily evil in and of themselves, neither were the elements of Paul’s Jewish upbringing. What was faulty was the way he put them to use (Acts 8:3; 9:1, 2). God gifts us in various ways, but how will we use our gifts and abilities? Counting all things as loss for Christ doesn’t necessarily mean giving up what we’re good at doing. It does mean, however, placing ourselves at God’s disposal as we use those gifts and abilities.
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you seen people willingly suffer loss for the sake of Christ? How have things turned out for them?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Leaving a job for the mission field | Downsizing one’s lifestyle to give more to kingdom work
Being ostracized by family members for becoming a Christian | Other
6. Why is personal righteousness inadequate for salvation? (v. 9)
Only God can provide what is necessary for salvation. Paul understands, as we must, that we cannot stand before God and expect to be declared righteous because of our works of the flesh or our adherence to the Law of Moses. Paul has much more to say about this in his extended discussion in Romans 3:9-31.
“Righteousness was the great goal of Paul's life when he was a Pharisee, but it was a self-righteousness, a works righteousness, that he never really could attain. But when Paul trusted Christ, he lost his own self-righteousness and gained the righteousness of Christ. The technical word for this transaction is imputation (read Rom. 4:1-8 carefully). It means "to put to one's account." Paul looked at his own record and discovered that his own "treasures" brought glory to him personally, but they did not bring glory to God. He looked at Christ's record and saw that He was perfect. When Paul trusted Christ, he saw God put Christ's righteousness to his own account! More than that, Paul discovered that his sins had been put on Christ's account on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). And God promised Paul that He would never write his sins against him anymore. What a fantastic experience of God's grace!
Romans 9:30-10:13 is a parallel passage and you ought to read it carefully. What Paul says about the nation Israel was true in his own life before he was saved. And it is true in the lives of many religious people today; they refuse to abandon their own righteousness that they might receive the free gift of the righteousness of Christ. Many religious people will not even admit they need any righteousness. Like Saul of Tarsus, they are measuring themselves by themselves, or by the standards of the Ten Commandments, and they fail to see the inwardness of sin. Paul had to give up his religion to receive righteousness, but he did not consider it a sacrifice.”
7. What does it mean “to know” Christ? (vs. 10-11)
“This means much more than knowledge about Christ, because Paul had that kind of historical information before he was saved. To "know Christ" means to have a personal relationship with Him through faith.”
The journey to know him, and the power of his resurrection is ongoing. It continues throughout our lives. Much can be said about the power of Christ's resurrection, the event that proved Him to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). It is Christ's resurrection that guarantees our own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-34). We are made conformable unto his death initially in baptism (Romans 6:3, 4), but that conforming is also a daily process (see 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).
The more we mature spiritually, the greater our awareness of our sins and the frequency with which we commit them. The more we study Scripture, the more questions we tend to have about our maturity. The more we strive to live the Christian life, the more we recognize how far we have to go in the our daily lives to become more like Christ. Spiritual maturity is reflected in the understanding of how much we fall short of God's glory, how far we have to go in our journey, and how incredible God's grace truly is.
What Do You Think?
On a scale from 1 to 10, how does your desire and focus match that of Paul? What can you do to move your rating up?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
With regard to your personal walk with Christ | With regard to your witness to family and friends
With regard to your use of resources for the work of Christ
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Beware of teachings or attitudes that try to supplement the message of salvation because nothing needs to be added. Christ has done everything necessary. (Philippians 3:1-3)
2. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) (see Philippians 3:4-6).
3. We should turn our attention from worldly status to knowing and following Christ. (vs. 7-8)
4. We do not obtain righteousness through human efforts. It only comes by faith in Christ. (v. 9)
5. Knowing and following Jesus Christ requires some suffering, but this pales in comparison to His atoning work. (vs. 10-11)
What's Really Important?
Paul's message to the Philippian church holds great relevance for us today. Satan will continue to attack the church and its message in creative ways. This lesson helps us develop a sense of discernment of the danger and presence of false teachings. When we have that discernment, we are able to draw boundaries to separate what is right from what is wrong.
Paul was aware of this danger, and he addressed it in the text. The Philippians were not to accept a teaching just because those who were doing the teaching seemed to have credentials “of the flesh.” If the validity of a teaching is determined on the basis of who has more credentials of the flesh, then Paul had more than any of his opponents! His Jewish genealogy was without flaw. His Jewish education was beyond question. His zeal as a Pharisee was unmatched. If anyone was going to accept truth under the appeal to authority logic, then they should listen to Paul!
But Paul was quick to make clear that “what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). The fact that Paul was willing to abandon the perks that his pedigree and accomplishments could gain him within Judaism lends credence to his message even 2,000 years later. What will (or must) we count as loss for Christ so that we can serve Him best?
Heavenly Father, use Your Word to keep our perspective of life an eternal one. May we view our earthly accomplishments as Paul viewed his! Help us, Father, to discern biblical truth from error. We also pray that we would share Paul's passion and desire to come to know Christ and the power of His resurrection above all other things. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Nothing compares with the value of knowing Christ.