Our pastor gave a very thought provoking sermon this week from Philippians that got me thinking (you can listen to the sermon here). In Philippians 3:1-11, Paul is essentially posing the question: where do we place our confidence? He starts this passage with some pretty harsh words – “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” That’s a pretty abrupt way to begin discussing something. But that is how serious and how detrimental Paul considers those that preach false doctrine to be. So what false doctrine were they preaching? They were boasting in the flesh. They were placing their confidence in what they could do themselves, how well they could follow the rules and obey the law. Paul takes all the words that the Judaizers (those still wanting to rely on following the Jewish laws for salvation) would hold dear when describing themselves and turns it on its head. He calls them “dogs,” where they considered themselves above the “dogs,” a term they reserved for Gentiles. He called them evil workers, where they thought their deeds made them so righteous. And he referred to their mutilation, where their circumcision was in the flesh only and not of their heart in the spiritual sense. The Judaizers were placing their confidence in their fleshly works as Jews, obeying the law, under circumcision.
But Paul says that’s not what it’s about. And he would know. In the flesh, Paul could have outdone all of these men. And he lists all the ways that he does. He says that he was of the finest stock of the nation of Israel, born into the tribe of Benjamin, one of the elite tribes from the second beloved son of Rachel. He was training to be a Pharisee under the most respected and elite Pharisees. His works showed his zealous fervor for promoting Judaism as he was persecuting those following Christ. And he was blameless according to the law. So Paul had three main places from where he could boast in the flesh:
Of course we understand all that when we read it in the Scripture’s context. The battle he was fighting was against the idea of Judaism and works-based salvation being a false doctrine infiltrating the churches. He was pointing out things like tribes of Israel and circumcision and Levitical law. But what if we put this in a modern day context? What are we placing our confidence in? Is it in the flesh or in the power of Christ? Are you bragging in the flesh on:
But just like Paul said, those things don’t save us. Though some of those things may seem good and harmless, they are rubbish when compared to Christ’s work on the cross. Having a good and steady job doesn’t save you. Having a nice and lovely family doesn’t save you. Being a law abiding citizen doesn’t save you. Settling down in a good neighborhood doesn’t save you. Abstaining from the worldly activities doesn't save you. Hanging out at church doesn’t save you. Being baptized doesn’t save you. Having only morally upright friends doesn’t save you. Those are all like rubbish. Those do not make us righteous – those do not make us have a right standing before God.
Besides, what happens when those things are gone? What happens when you lose your job, your family falls apart, and your nice house is in disarray? What happens when those morally upright friends betray you? Because that’s what happens with fleshly things. They change; they fall apart; they decay. Paul said he lost all those fleshly things to gain Christ and indeed he did. He abandoned his profession as a Pharisee. He turned away from the family name. He embraced the Gentiles. But he did it all for the knowledge of Christ. He knew those fleshly things weren’t worth anything anyway, and for that reason he was willing to part with them to gain the knowledge and righteousness from Christ. We cannot achieve righteousness on our own. Nothing in this world can amount to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
So where is your confidence? Is it in the things of the flesh or the righteousness of Christ?