Monday, March 13, 2006

Philippians 3:1-3 -- Safeguards for Christ's Servants

The grace of God is the most amazing force I know of. By it, not only are we rescued from our sins and reconciled to our Creator, but also by it we are empowered to serve Him. And we do not serve Him to gain His favor; we serve Him out of love for Him because He showed us His favor when we did not deserve it. That is what grace is. Now think about this grace – grace that was not content to let us perish eternally because of our sins; grace by which God would condescend to take upon Himself human flesh; grace by which this incarnate God – Jesus Christ – would receive our nails and our death; grace by which He would conquer our death through His resurrection; grace by which He would call us unto Himself for salvation, fill us with Himself for sanctification, and empower us to serve Him; grace that will lead us to our heavenly home when our task and time on earth are done. Anyone who thinks they deserved one speck of this because of their self-righteousness and pseudo-goodness is deranged. This is grace of an inestimable magnitude. And as recipients of that grace, we serve Him in love and gratitude, still dripping wet from the shower of blessings He has bestowed on us.

Now let me ask you, in light of this, why it is on two separate occasions Paul warns us not to grow weary in our well-doing? Once in Galatians and once in 2 Thessalonians Paul suggests that it is possible that blood-bought, Christ-following, Spirit-filled, God-loving people might become weary in the service of their magnificent Lord. Is this possible? How could our joy ever diminish? In light of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ, how on earth could we ever grow weary in serving this great God? Can it be? Oh yes, my friends, it is possible, and it is as near certain as any other thing I know. That is why in the passage before us today, just three short verses here in the third chapter of Philippians, Paul issues some safeguards for servants of Christ.

He says, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” In other words, this is a reminder of something they have heard before. Perhaps he had written them an earlier letter, or spoke to them about these concerns while he was with them. Certainly he has alluded to the issues earlier in this letter. But he says, it is no trouble for me to repeat it. This is not being redundant. Being redundant is repeating or elaborating on something beyond what is necessary. This is because it repeats or elaborates on something beyond what is necessary. (See that is redundant). But repetition is not always unnecessary. Sometimes repetition is needed for emphasis, for instruction, or for clarity. Paul says, “It doesn’t bother me at all to tell you this information again.” And the reason is that it is for their benefit – as a safeguard for them.

One reference defines “safeguards” as “a precautionary measure warding off impending danger or damage.” The Greek word used here means safety, security, certainty. That is what Paul wants for the Philippians. Not in a physical sense, but a spiritual one. He wants to make sure that their faith is anchored deep in the solid rock of Christ, and teetering on shifting sand. In fact, the writer of Hebrews uses this same term in Hebrews 6:19, where he says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.” That word sure is our word translated safeguard here in Philippians 3:1. So what are these safeguards which Paul reminds us of here—safeguards that keep our faith anchored in Christ, that prevent us from growing weary in well-doing?

I. Rejoice in the Lord (v1)

In 2:17-18, Paul urged the Philippians to share the joy that he had in the midst of his present circumstances and pending danger. Now, this reminder is issued as a safeguard for us: Rejoice in the Lord! We need to hear this very carefully, lest our soul anchor be uprooted, and we grow weary in well-doing for Jesus. All of us can understand this as a command to be joyful. But all of us would readily admit that nothing is more difficult in the midst of some dilemma, some tragedy, some heartaching disappointment, than to say, “OK, it is time to flip the joy switch and start rejoicing.” And this creates confusion, disillusion, and sometimes even depression in Christian people who know they ought to have joy, but who are unable to find any in the midst of their present situation. There are two things that need to be considered in this admonition.

A. The Source of Joy

Joy is not something that is manufactured by our own effort. The reason we grow frustrated trying to produce joy in our lives is that we are unable to do it. “Joy” is fruit of the Spirit. It is found in that list in Galatians 5:22-23 where Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are characteristics that the Holy Spirit produces in the lives of those whom He indwells. If you are born-again, God’s Spirit lives in you. And the evidence that He is in you is His production of these characteristics. You can’t create this fruit. You bear it. And you don’t bear it by effort. You bear it by abiding.

What did Jesus say in John 15? “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” And when you abide in Him, you realize that your life is in His hands, that He loves you, that He is big enough to handle anything that comes your way, and that He has spoken truth to you in His word. In fact, Jesus associates abiding in Him with His word abiding in you. And when you cease striving, and start abiding, resting in Him, He begins producing His fruit in you through His Spirit. And joy is part of that fruit.

But there is yet another point that needs to be considered about this joy:

B. The Sphere of Joy

Does Paul say “Rejoice in your circumstances?” Some of you know how it feels to gnaw away at your fingernails in anxiety as you wait for them to call your name, and you walk down that silent, sterile hallway to that cold and uncomfortable room where the doctor will walk in just a moment and tell you that the test results are in, and you have cancer. Does Paul suggest here that you rejoice in cancer? Fire breaks out in your kitchen and faster than you can imagine, engulfs your entire house. Does he say, “Rejoice in the flames!”? Tragedy strikes and a young child is killed. Rejoice in the death? No, a million times, NO! We are admonished to rejoice in the Lord!

Much of what we encounter in life is no cause for rejoicing. But what we must remember is that our lives are not defined or dictated by our circumstances. Our lives are in God’s hands. And He loves us! He is good! And though we may not be able to rejoice in our cancer, or in our tragedy, or whatever our circumstances are, we can treasure God so highly that our joy in Him overshadows our circumstances and sustains us through them.

You know Psalm 23? “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” David says, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Whatever might be in that valley, David says, God is with me, and He is bigger than anything in that valley, and because He is with me, I am not just walking into the valley, I am walking through it! That means I am going to come out on the other side! Even in the valley, I can rejoice in the Lord. Even in that MRI chamber, closed in, confined, that pounding sound in our ears, we can rejoice in the Lord. It doesn’t matter what they find there. It may be horrible news. We can rejoice in the Lord. With the smell of the smoke still in our nostrils from the blaze, we can rejoice in the Lord. At the graveside – you don’t rejoice in the tragic death. But you can rejoice in the Lord.

You see friends, this is a safeguard for us. Because in the midst of our service to the Lord, we will encounter difficulties on many levels in our lives. And we aren’t careful, we will begin to grow weary because we are trying to produce joy on our own in the midst of difficult circumstances. But if the anchor of our soul would be rooted deep in the rock of Christ we must heed this safeguard – Rejoice in the Lord! Allow Him to produce the joy in you as you abide in Him, and remember that no matter what life brings our way, He is the fuel and goal of our joy.

The first safeguard: Rejoice in the Lord. The second …

II. Beware of Spiritual Troublemakers (v2)

Paul uses three terms, to describe three aspects of the troublemakers that the Philippian church was dealing with. These three terms all refer to the same group of people. In fact, in the Greek text, all three terms begin with the same letter, giving a little alliteration to the description. These troublemakers were known as the Judaizers. Their basic premise was that in order for a Gentile to become a Christian, he had to first become a Jew. Their creed is found in Acts 15:1—“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Here are the terms Paul uses to describe them: dogs, evil workers, and false circumcision. With each of these terms is the repetition of blepete, translated “beware,” but also carrying the sense of “Look out for.” In other words this is not a warning of some unrealized potentiality. Paul is saying, “They are out there, and you better watch out!”

So these three terms, though initially all used to describe three aspects of one group, may for us point to some common troublemakers that we need to take safeguards against, and be “on the look out for.”

A. Beware of hypocrites (Dogs)

It was common for some Jewish people to look down their noses at Gentiles and refer to them as dogs. Now, we aren’t talking about cute little puppies here. Dogs were seen in the streets eating filth and scavenging out of garbage heaps. So this term was applied to those who did not follow Jewish dietary laws. They were dogs, they were wild beasts who needed to be kept outside of the friendly confines of God’s holy covenant. But notice the irony here, as Paul says it is the Judaizers who are dogs. They are the ones, in spite of their harsh judgment of others, who find themselves outside the covenant. And though they may practice perfect obedience to dietary laws, they are no more righteous or acceptable before God because of it. A dog that eats steak is no less a dog than one who eats garbage.

In our day, the same sort of religious hypocrisy can be found. Folks who boast of their abstinence from alcohol indulge in gluttony. Someone will judge a person for cheating on a spouse and think nothing of cheating on his or her taxes. Someone will lie about not being a liar so that they can tell lies about someone who is a liar. You get the idea. These judgmental comparisons are made which make the sins of others look big and our own look small. That is the kind of hypocrisy that Paul says we need to look out for. These are the dogs of our day. In the service of Christ, two dangers will confront us. First, that we will begin to grow weary in our well-doing and begin to condemn others who do not share our burdens and priorities. In that regard we may become “dogs,” hypocritically judging others. Second, in our service to Christ, someone somewhere at sometime may begin to lob judgmental allegations against us, and if we are not on the look out for such dogs, we will let them derail our service to Christ and steal our joy in the Lord. So, Paul reminds us – as a safeguard – to watch out for these troublemaking hypocritical dogs.

B. Beware of misguided religionists (evil workers)

The people with whom Paul and the Philippians were dealing were those who considered themselves very holy and righteous. They considered themselves part of the spiritual elite because of all the good work they did for God. All others who were not like them were considered evil. So, they set out to convert people to be like them. And Paul said the ironic thing is that they are the evil workers. They are like those Pharisees that Jesus said would travel around on land and sea to make one convert, but when they do he becomes twice as much a son of hell as they are.

The Judaizers were shipwrecking the faith of new Christians and those who were interested in Christianity by undermining the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith. Rather than teaching that in order to be acceptable before God, one had to accept Jesus’ death as the payment for his or her sins and the gift of God’s forgiveness and new life, the Judaizers were teaching that they had to be circumcised and follow ceremonial laws. Were they sincere and devout? Absolutely, but they were absolutely wrong. And rather than ushering people into God’s kingdom, they were leading them farther and farther away.

We have no shortage of those who claim to speak for God today who have a list of simple steps a person must take to be religiously in the right. They are not all crooks and liars (but some are). Some are sincerely committed to their teachings. However, they are sincerely misguided, and they are performing a great evil by leading people away from the open arms of God and directing straight toward the open gates of hell through their false teaching. We must be careful not to depart from biblical teaching ourselves, and we must keep an eye out for others who do. This is a safeguard for us, to prevent us from growing weary in our well-doing and keep us secure in our service to Christ.

C. Beware of false believers (false circumcision)

Now he says they are mutilators, sometimes translated as concision or false circumcision. Now, the thing about this term, false circumcision, is that it is not based on the Greek word for circumcision (peritome, which is used in v3), but on a word that means mutilation or cutting against (katatome). They cut themselves just like the law required, sure enough. But the Law never claimed that circumcision would make anybody righteous. So, if they were lost when they started cutting, they were just as lost when they finished. All they did was mutilate themselves without drawing one inch closer to God. They looked like true believers, they had been through the same ritual anyway. But there was never a transaction of grace whereby they received the righteousness of God by His grace. They were trying to become righteous on their own, a feat none of us can accomplish, and they were disregarding the righteousness that God desires to give to those who come to Him by faith. If they were of the “true circumcision,” Paul says they would worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Rather, these mutilators worshiped, not in the Spirit of God, but according to the letter of the Law. Their glory was not in Christ Jesus, but in their own self-righteousness. They put all their faith, hope, and trust in their flesh, rather than in the promises of God.

My friends if there is a greater danger before us in our day, I don’t know what it is. There are so many who have been baptized. So many who have joined a church. So many who regularly attend church. And so many who believe that by doing these things they are going to become right with God. But friends, if you never hear me say another word – hear this please: The doing of any of these things will by no means make you right with God. So how do we become right with God, and why do we do these things? First, we can ONLY become right with God by receiving His grace through faith. Believe that Jesus died for your sins, and that if you receive Him, you will be forgiven, and you will be given a righteousness that you cannot attain to on your own. Nothing you do – God has done it all and He offers it to you freely for you to receive. Why then do we baptize, and why do we attend church, and why do these things that are associated with our Christian faith? We do them not in order to be made right with God, but because we have already been made right with God, and we do them to help us grow in our understanding of what it means to live for Him. But beware! Churches are full of false believers. Denominations are full of false believers. You ask, “Even Immanuel?” I would say that Immanuel is by no means exempt from being home to some who think that the doing of religious things will make them right with God. And if that is the case, then they are false believers, whether they be members, deacons, Sunday School teachers, or pastors. True believers are those who worship in the spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Oh, Paul says, let me remind you of something here, it is a safeguard for you – beware of these troublemakers who are false believers, who are hypocrites, who are misguided religionists.

I know I’m too late for some of you. You have already been thrown off track by a chronic loss of joy or some attack from a troublemaker. But I am here today to remind you that this is always going to be a danger for those who follow Christ. So we need to just take these warnings to heart as safeguards. When the time comes and we have lost our joy, we need to take a refreshing step back and say, “OK, am I trying to manufacture this joy on my own? Or do I need to abide in Christ and let the Holy Spirit manifest this joy in me?” And when we are in the midst of discouragement or pain or suffering, we need to remember that it is not in those circumstances that we rejoice; it is in the Lord. And when the troublemakers come, don’t be alarmed. You were expecting them, right? If not, then you let your guard down. You forgot about the safeguards. Learn your lesson and keep moving forward for Jesus. We’re always going to have hypocrites, misguided religionists, and false believers. But we have to make sure that those descriptions don’t apply to ourselves, and that we don’t let them stand between us and God. Remember this simple lesson of spiritual geography: when a hypocrite is standing between you and God, the hypocrite is closer to God than you are.


Rich said...

If you get this let me know. I am trying to learn how to do this. Thanks,

Richard Hardin

Russ Reaves said...

Got it! Keep on reading and posting. Glad you are here.