by Mike Ratliff
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NASB)
I was searching for topical references in the NT that dealt with how Christians are to remain properly focused during times of great pressure and confusion. I have always believed that God has given me a role in my ministry to see through the confusion and go the root of the issues and then point His people to the truth. Yes, there are times we get our eyes on issues that are obviously being caused by evil people trying to use lies and deceit to gain power over those they view as mere “serfs” in their economy. We can become overcome with anger or fear or whatever emotion our enemy is trying to use against us if we focus on these things instead of seeking the real goal of life knowing that our omnipotent God is fully in control of all things at all times.
1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. Philippians 3:1-6 (NASB)
In this passage Paul begins a section of his epistle to the Philippians dealing with how we are to approach this walk in this life at this time. He has been, in Chapter 2, encouraging the Philippians to be like Christ (Phil 2:1-18). Now he is adding to that some practical encouragement. In v2 he gives a warning. Who are these dogs, evil workers and the false circumcision he is telling the Philippians to beware of? These were probably akin to the Judaizers who attacked the churches in Galatia (cf. Gal 5:15). We can see this by their aggressive opposition to the gospel and the seriousness of their error and its destructive “devouring” results. Paul’s reference to the “false circumcision” is a strong, painfully vivid term referring to the false teachers, the Judaizers, who so distorted the meaning of circumcision (cf. v3) that it has become nothing more than a useless cutting of the body. Circumcision in its true, inner meaning is realized only in believers, who worship God with genuine spiritual worship and who glory in Christ as their Savior rather than trusting in their own human effort (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:12-13; Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26). Paul’s reference to Christian’s worship in the Spirit of God and glory in v3 is talking about boasting. Those who are all about their own works boast in themselves. Those who are truly in Christ boast in Him.
In v4 Paul talks about the flesh. Those who boast in their works are totally in their flesh which is useless, but Paul turns this around and uses his life before God had mercy on him on the road to Damascus to show that his life in the flesh as a Pharisee far outdid anything these Judaizers could ever do.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11 (NASB)
Now Paul turns things around and shows that all that he gained as a Pharisee he counted as loss for the sake of Christ. This is how we should look at all self-righteousness. Our works that we do in and of ourselves are rubbish or filthy rags. Paul said we need to even look at them as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. This is the key to being on the road to gaining the goal of life. Look at v9. I have been doing much research lately on the Law and the books of the Torah, etc. So many so-called Christians still hold to the same thing the Judaizers were doing, which is attempting to place the gospel under the Law. Our righteousness that justifies us does not come from our keeping the Law, but from the only one who ever kept the entire Law, our Lord Jesus Christ. We attain that righteousness on the basis of faith, no other way. The goal of life is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that we may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
So should we run around in fear and confusion when all the world is in a panic because of all the evil going on in the world? Not if we are in Christ and have this same hope Paul had.
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Philippians 3:12-16 (NASB)
Paul was a man. He was no different than we are. He had not obtained perfection yet, but he pressed on knowing that the prize awaited and that is what we must do as well. In v14 we are to “press on” toward the goal, which is for the price of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. What does that mean? The reward for the winner of the Greek races was a wreath of leaves and sometimes a cash award, but the Christian receives an award of everlasting glory. This glory that we are to “press on” for is for glory not in this world, but in heaven, because Christ is there (Col. 3:1-2). In v15 Paul uses the word perfect. Are any of us perfect? What does he mean? Those who have made reasonable progress in spiritual growth and stability are those he is talking about (1 Cor. 2:6: 3:1-3; Heb 5:14). The attitude we are to have is that which is expressed in vv12-14. There are heights yet to be scaled; do not become complacent. Then he says, “and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…” If those Paul is writing to accept the view set forth in vv 12-14 and yet fail to agree in some lesser point, God will clarify the matter for them. Then in v16 Paul tells us that we must put into practice the truth we have already comprehended. We are responsible for the truth we currently possess, that is, no backsliding allowed.
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:17-21 (NASB)
In v17 Paul uses himself as the example for the Philippians to follow. He can do this because his example is Christ. In vv18-19 Paul talks about those who once appeared to be on the right path, but now openly confess that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (Acts 20:19-31). These apostates are spiritually the exact opposite of the Apostle Paul. In our own day don’t we see Christian leaders who seem to start out so well then end up going the way of the world and they corrupt the gospel with all sorts of ideologies and heresies? These are the ones in Paul’s day he is talking about. In v20 Paul lays it out there for us plainly. Real Christians have their citizenship in heaven and their goal is there not in any thing that they could get here in this world that could possible bring them passing glory. In v21 Paul talks about what will happen at the Resurrection. What we are like now is not what we will be like then. We have been Justified and are being Sanctified and will be Glorified on that day.
My brethren, I started out to write something encouraging for you in order to help you deal with the lies and deceit and bad news that seems to be hitting us from every direction these days. Instead I found this passage in which Paul was encouraging one his most faithful church plants to stay focused on the path of the true goal of life. I can’t think of anything more encouraging than learning to live like that.
Soli Deo Gloria!