Sometimes you find yourself in a passage of scripture that is both inspiring and very challenging. Philippians 3:1-11 might be that one. It’s inspiring because of the passion Paul exudes about his faith in Jesus; how he gives up everything for the sake of the gospel. What’s challenging about it is the language he uses to communicate it, mainly because it’s so contextual and there’s a fear that we, 2000 years removed from it, won’t totally get it. I guess we can say that about all of scripture and any ancient text.
In the first 11 verses of Philippians 3, Paul shows us his best accounting skills as well as what he comes to see as valuable confidence builders. Both of which are not what you expect, but then again, come to expect from Paul.
Up until now we’ve be encouraged from Philippians to be abounding in love, gracious in humility, patient during struggles, and live a life full of joy. This all in the context of a loving biblical Jesus community.
Another layer is added to this letter in 3:1-11. First: Confidence & Status. Second: Relationship. All of which intertwine with the other.
When Paul talks about confidence, he uses his own list of accomplishments and credentials to make his point. He is worried that some ‘religious’ Jewish leaders will come and try to dismantle all the work he’s done in Philippi. Up until now, the philippian church knows that their status as children of God comes from one place only, Jesus (death and resurrection). This young church has faithfully followed Paul’s teaching, that salvation is God’s initiative, not ours – that God does the work in us, and we simply must accept his invitation to love him back. Paul is evidently concerned that some religious Jews will come and tell them that they must add external symbols to make their faith authentic, mainly, circumcision. To show them that this isn’t the case, he lists off all his credentials (circumcised on the 8th day, born a jew, from the elite tribe of Benjamin, a pharisee, a faultless law-abider). Paul says that even though this used to be his gauge for confidence, it is no longer the case. Only one thing gives him confidence, his relationship with Jesus.
The conversation switches to the language of accounting, adding up gains and losses. Saying the same thing, with different words, Paul tells us that what used to be a gain for him is now a loss, what used to be usable to him is now garbage, what used to be valuable is now nothing. He goes so far as saying that it’s all ‘CRAP’ (yes I said crap, only because I didn’t feel to use the other, more appropriate 4 letter word here). Definitely some strong language here to get a point a across, but one that Paul is so passionate about: What he thought to be so important before, means absolutely nothing to him now. But why? Well, Paul is convinced that more than anything, knowing Jesus is what he wants. Knowing the power of Jesus resurrection and the pain of Jesus’ suffering is worth more to Paul than any of his other accomplishments, career or religious.
How can I apply this text for me, for us, here, now, today?
Where do you get your confidence? Is it your bank account? Your new car? Your new position at work? Your nice home? We can get caught up in these things, but in the end, they don’t mean much and they certainly don’t have any long lasting (eternal) value.
How do you or your friends view spiritual religious status? What do you think you have to do for God’s approval in your life (assuming you’re looking for that). The religious answer would be to work as hard as you can, be as good as you can be, add up the chores and external symbols at the end of the day and hope you come out on top. But that won’t last too long either. Actually, it didn’t. Jesus came to change all that; to remove all that; to redeem all that.
When we start drawing a line to keep people out (like the religious pharisees of the 1st century did) we must know that Jesus will cross that line and be with the people we’ve left out. Paul warns the Philippians that some will come and want to draw a line, but they must be on the side of Jesus who stands at the door and knocks, hoping that we will let him in.
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small(er) group questions:
What are some things in our society that can give us false confidence? Why should be we careful of those kinds of things?
Have you ever struggled with trying to achieve certain things only to realize they wouldn’t satisfy in the end?
Why do you think some religious types (past and present) want so badly to fit us into a perfect box when God’s mercy and love is all about breaking down walls?
Philippians 3 has two (C) words that can cause a problem to some: Circumcision & Crap (garbage/rubbish). What do you do with texts like this? Are they a breath of fresh air or a something you’d rather skim over? How about being a woman and approaching this text and theme (eg. ‘we are the circumcision…those who serve God by his spirit’)?
How have you come to Paul’s conclusion in your own life, that everything else is ‘nothing’ in comparison to knowing Jesus? Or…where are you in that process, and is it a difficult place to arrive to?
What does ‘being found in Jesus’ & ‘knowing Jesus’ mean to you? How would you describe Paul’s words in verses 9 & 10 to your experience?
(Thanks for taking time to be community together on Mondays & Thursdays. Maybe plan some kind of summer event to be together (which won’t be too hard for you guys;) or even a serving event that your group can creatively think of. No pressure, just a suggestion.)