Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Best Resume (Philippians 3:1-21)

 It is time that I wrap up these thoughts to you, my brothers and sisters. Rejoice in the Lord! (I don’t mind writing these things over and over to you, as I know it keeps you safe.) Watch out for the dogs—wicked workers who run in packs looking for someone to maul with their false circumcision. We are the true circumcision—those who worship God in Spirit and make our boast in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King—so we do not rely on what we have accomplished in the flesh. 

If any try to throw around their pedigrees to you, remember my résumé—which is more impressive than theirs.  I was circumcised on the eighth day—as the law prescribes—born of the nation of Israel, descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; I have observed the law according to the strict piety of the Pharisees, separate from those embracing a less rigorous kind of Judaism. Zealous? Yes. I ruthlessly pursued and persecuted the church. And when it comes to the righteousness required by the law, my record is spotless. 

But whatever I used to count as my greatest accomplishments, I’ve written them off as a loss because of the Anointed One. And more so, I now realize that all I gained and thought was important was nothing but yesterday’s garbage compared to knowing the Anointed Jesus my Lord. For Him I have thrown everything aside—it’s nothing but a pile of waste—so that I may gain Him. When it counts, I want to be found belonging to Him, not clinging to my own righteousness based on law, but actively relying on the faithfulness of the Anointed One. This is true righteousness, supplied by God, acquired by faith.  I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, 11 so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead. 

Not that already I have obtained it or already have been perfected, but I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed. 

All of us who are mature ought to think the same way about these matters. If you have a different attitude, then God will reveal this to you as well. For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. Imitate me, brothers and sisters, and look around to those already following the example we have set. 
I have warned you before (and now say again through my tears) that we have many enemies—people who reject the cross of the Anointed. They are ruled by their appetites, their glory comes by shame, and their minds are fixed on the things of this world. They are doomed. But we are citizens of heaven, exiles on earth waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come and transform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control. (The Voice)

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Apparently, those who meant Paul harm and undermined his ministry in Chapter 1 were insisting that Paul just wasn’t qualified to talk about the gospel because he didn’t have a good resume. Unfortunately for them, they chose a bad marker for qualification – circumcision. As odd as that sounds to us, it was a sign that as children they had been dedicated to God by their parents. It was a covenant ritual. The legacy of being one of God’s chosen people had continued through them because their bodies showed their commitment to the Law.

Paul just was not a good guy to challenge about carrying on the Law. If there were woodsheds in Philippi, he takes them there. “Are you kidding me? I am the man. I am blameless in following the Law. I killed people for the sake of the Law.” He’s also a Roman citizen using his Roman name, Paulus, to write to his Roman audience. By any external marker, by any sign of outward conformity, by any punch list of things good religious people do, Paul wins.

And Paul says, “I count it all as a pile of waste.”[1] The one other time the Bible records Paul using this word for ‘waste’ is in Acts 27, when his ship is going down: "Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also."

In other words, if his past record of accomplishments is what made him a righteous person, Paul’s life and his faith were a shipwreck, and he would take those around him with him as he went under. [2] What matters to Paul is knowing Christ. So my focus today is how can we know Christ, and what might hinder us.

Paul warns them about two different groups of people who have the potential to cling to their own resume – and is so doing shipwreck their faith. The first group is the Judaizers (verses 2-3); the second group (v. 18-19) is probably the Epicureans. They represent two badly distorted understanding of both salvation and ongoing life in Christ.[3] If I had to summarize a fairly complex discussion, I would condense their views in this way:
  • Your salvation is earned by the sacrifices you make for God (the legalism of the Judaizers)
  • Your salvation is confirmed by the goodies you get from God (the self-indulgence of the Epicureans)
These are not outward dangers. This is a call to discernment within the body of Christ to make sure that we are not following voices from within the church that will shipwreck our faith.

THE JUDAIZERS

When Paul talks about the Judaizers he uses three Greek words that begin with the letter ‘k’.
  • Kunas - ‘dogs’. Dogs were scavengers, predators, feeding on garbage and roamign the streets in packs. It was the name by which Jews sometimes spoke about Gentiles. Homer used it to imply shamelessness in women and recklessness in men.
  • Kakous - ‘evil workers’. Paul echoes what Jesus said: “"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15)
  • Katatomen - ‘those who cause injury’.[4] Paul makes a pun with two similar Greek words. Instead of ‘cutting round’ (circumcision), they were ‘cutting to pieces.’ (In Galatians, Paul encouraged them just to castrate themselves if they thought cutting away skin was the path to holiness. (If cutting a little bit off makes you holy, why not be super holy?)
They thought they were earning God’s favor and deserving the applause of others; because of the state of their hearts, the very thing that God ordained for them as a sign of covenant was shipwrecking their faith.

Circumcision is not really a hot spiritual topic in our lives. However, thee broader principle here is that of legalism – keeping the law in order to gain salvation or to make a name for yourself rather than god. This can happen in a lot of ways, so I am offering three questions to ask to see if you are being lead toward this kind of legalism and away from Christ.
  1. Are you becoming more or less aware of your sinful brokenness apart from Christ? Legalism wants us to rely on our own power in spite of that fact that we need God to give us the desire and enable us to do His will. Legalism wants to be seen and applauded, to have others admire how strong we are. And that’s the problem. How strong WE are. On the other hand, as we become aware of our need for Christ in everything we do, we rely more and more on God’s power, and we love when others see God’s power at work in our lives.
  1. Are you becoming more or less flexible on non-essential issues?[5] Keller wrote, “A ministry that’s energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart from the gospel.” Legalistic people don’t try to reach others or serve others by becoming like them; they pressure them to become like them. Since a legalist finds their identity in believing they have figured out all the details and are justified by how precisely they keep the law in every minute detail, they can’t acknowledge or appreciate the legitimacy of someone else’s perspective or experience. This could be:
  • Particulars in the Creation debate
  • End Times speculation
  • Can you lose your salvation?
  • How often should we do Communion?
  • What should a church service look like?
  • What are the details of Heaven?
  • How involved should Christians be in politics?
A classic line in Christian circles is, ““In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Do you find this perspective increasing or decreasing in your life?
  1. Is your heart becoming increasingly broken for or hardened toward others? Legalism encourages us to increasingly withdraw, and point, and judge, and pray that the world finally sees God’s wrath rather than his grace. When we understand the grace we have received, we will find that we have the heart of Christ towards others. We will weep for those far from Christ; our hearts will be broken by the sin in us and around us. We will pray for the spiritual healing of even those whose sins and failures bother us the most.
THE EPICUREANS

The Epicureans focused on physical comfort and earthly satisfaction.They wanted to get everything that makes them feel good. They wanted to be successful and admired and maybe even envied because they have so much good stuff –and not by heaven’s standards.
If the Judaizers denied the flesh (literally) thinking that self-denial and pain would earn their place in the Kingdom of God, the Epicurians indulged the flesh thinking that having their best life now – on their terms, which turned out to be remarkably earthly - was clearly a sign that they were in the Kingdom.

The Epicureans were probably full of passion and desire for what looked like God but was in reality a passion for God’s stuff. Paul says of those claiming to be Christian that “there god is their appetites…they are fixated on this world.”

The broader principle of Christian epicureanism is following Christ in order to get stuff that makes your life more comfortable. Money, power, prestige, mansions, toys, and self-satisfaction are markers of God’s favor. And at some point their appetites become their god. I am offering several questions to ask to see if you are being lead toward Epicureanism and away from Christ.
  • Are you increasingly praying that Christ increases while you decrease (John 3:30), or are you praying that your things increase?
  • Are you looking for secrets that will get you an inside track with God as a means to instant maturity or riches?
  • Are you gauging the spiritual maturity or faith of others based on how outwardly successful they are?
  • Are you inspired to know and love Christ more in a way that overflows in a sacrificial expression of love in the lives of those around you, or are you inspired to spend your time and energy pursing people or programs that promise you everything you want?
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So that’s the distortions Paul warns against. He also shows how to center ourselves in Christ.
We worship by the Holy Spirit and ‘boast’ in Jesus. True worship means ‘a humble heart’ (Psalm 51:17). The Holy Spirit gives the power to offer sincere worship to God (John 4:24). Worship has to do with the attitude of the heart as expressed in the actions of our life. In genuine worship, at least three things happen.
  • First, we decrease while Christ increases. Our self-powered resume is not important. God’s glory overwhelms ours, and His strength is put on display in the midst of our weakness. Nobody looks at us and says we are awesome. They look at us and say, “Wow. God really is good. Look what He has been able to do with you.”
  • Second, our heart and our hands align. We obey God’s laws for us not to earn our salvation but as a deliberate response of gratitude. “Oh, you are that kind of God. Awesome. I offer you my life.”
  • Third, we recognize that our righteousness is entirely dependent on a God who has enabled us to will and to do. It’s never about our own power. It’s about the power of Christ within us. It’s a radical dependence on God’s work, and a genuine humility and grace that flows from that. None of us can be the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. None of us can generate on our own what we need. It is God who enables us to will and do, and He gets all the glory.
We don’t trust our ability to be good enough by trying harder. We’ve already established that we aren’t worthy. Paul made clear in Romans, "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." (Romans 2:28, 29) 

Centuries earlier God declared through His prophet Jeremiah...

Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 and referenced by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1: 29-31)
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[1]By the way, this does not mean your good deeds are worthless and that you shouldn’t seek to do as much good as you can. The biblical criticism of worthless works has to do with the attitude of the heart. (‘God Does Not View Your Labors as ‘Filthy Rags,’ http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ministry-god-does-not-view-your-labors-as-filthy-rags)
[2] See 1 Timothy 1:9 where Paul uses this analogy again.
[3] http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=6104. “Probably those who practiced the Epicurean philosophy, which promoted indulgence in the pleasure of eating and drinking and encouraged self-gratification in other things, all of which are contrary to the cross of Christ. Verse 2 shows that the Judaizers were a damage to the Philippian believers, and this verse, that the Epicureans were another kind of damage to them. The former was of Jewish origin; the latter, of a heathen source.”
[4] Moses records that the holy people, Israel, "shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts (katatemno) in their flesh." (Lev 21:5). In first Kings we read that the idolatrous pagan priests...cried with a loud voice and cut (katatemno) themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. (1Kings 18:28)
[5] Here’s a pretty good overview of how to make distinctions between essentials and non-essentials. I’m not saying it’s perfect! It's a starting point from which to think about it. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/essentials-and-non-essentials-in-a-nutshell/.

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