Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:1-14 ESV)
The Apostle Paul was a gifted writer and a great arguer of logic. When he got wrapped up in an idea, he could convince anyone of the validity of what he was saying. Fortunately, Paul spent most of his later adult life arguing for what he called “the truth as it is in Jesus.” Paul is first and foremost an interpreter of Jesus to the early church. Though his writings are astoundingly clear and fairly concise, he does not lay out a single new idea about God that isn’t already present in the life, the ministry, the teaching, the healing, the person of Jesus himself. You might say Paul only had one gun to shoot and shot it several different ways through the course of his ministry.
Philippians is a good example of this. Beginning at chapter 2, verse 12, Paul gives five examples of his opening assertion: for the Christian disciple, to live IS Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).
First, by way of instructing the Philippian church very briefly, he says, “work out your own salvation…for God is at work in you.” (2:1-18) He tells them to be completely humble in their attitude toward one another, giving of themselves sacrificially in the same way Christ did. Even if it means pouring out their own life blood, that’s the kind of service they ought to render, because that’s the kind of service their Master rendered.
Next, he gives the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was his protégé and fellow planting pastor. Timothy looked after the interests of Jesus, and not merely his own. Epaphroditus nearly gave his life serving Christ by serving Paul.
Finally, in chapter 3 Paul says look, don’t get upset about this, but it is safe for you if I repeat myself. Look out for people who are preaching something other than Jesus and calling it the Gospel. That’s what he had already said in chapter 1. Next he does something you wouldn’t expect. He lumps himself in with the very people he seems to be speaking against! He says he was, “a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” In Galatians 1:14 Paul affirms, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” He was the worst kind of sinner: a religious sinner. He was the kind of person any disciple of Christ would do well to stay clear of.
But once again the message of Christ rings out: you have to die in order that you may live. That is the good news. That is what Christ did as he pioneered Salvation for all who believe.
The message comes with a warning though. This is not some game you play when the mood strikes. Being a Christian is about you taking whatever time Jesus gives you and spending it progressively dying to self and progressively living to him. No, you’ll never become perfect in this life. Paul attests to that here in this passage. But the challenge is clear. No one who desires to go back to “status quo” after meeting Jesus should expect to gain anything from the Lord. In fact, they are in no position to call him Lord if they spend their remaining days, whether they live for one day more or fifty years more, as long as they have said no to his call to die.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 ESV) I am that grain of wheat.
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23 ESV) WE are part of “all”.
“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38 ESV) YOU are whoever!
What else could Jesus possibly have meant when he said these things? Raising the dead is easy. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all did it. But attaining the resurrection from the dead is about obedience to Christ. Paul writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of these things.”
And so… I am reminding you.