Preached at: Welland, Hanley Swan 15/10/17 Upton 26/11/17 Hanley Castle 28/1/18
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
The last few times I’ve preached here, we’ve been working our way through a short book of the Bible called Philippians – its a letter written by a guy in a prison cell, we’d call him a prisoner of conscience now, and he’s writing to the church he’d founded in Philippi, to help them grow as Christians. And in the bit of the letter we’re looking at today, he’s warning them about some of the things Christians can do to sabotage their faith. But before we get to that, let’s pray
Right, true, story, I had it from the man who talked to the vet, and he’s a vicar so it must be true.
A man turns up at a vets and asks for his two Alsatian puppies to be immunised. And, the vet asks him how old the puppies are.
“4 weeks” he says.
“And did you buy them from a registered breeder?” Asks the vet?
“No, from a guy in a pub,
“How much did you pay him?”
“£200 for each puppy.” Replies the man with the puppies.
“I see” says the vet, and he lifts them out of the box, has a good look and says to the owner, “Well the good news is they’re healthy. And the bad news is, your Alsatians are Guinea Pigs.”
Our Bible passage today is all about how people can sometimes do something similar with God. We can think we’ve got the real thing, when really we’ve got a fake. So let’s start with the fake.
Did you notice how Paul got a bit angry during that reading?
“Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” (v2)
When a preacher calls another preacher a dog, that’s not a compliment, even today when we like dogs. And in 1st century Greece, they didn’t like dogs.
So why does Paul get so angry? Well while he was in prison in Rome some people came and infiltrated the Philippian church, and tried to convince the Christians there that being a Christian wasn’t about having a relationship with Jesus, and having your sins forgiven through trusting in his death on the cross. Instead what they wanted you to do was to try to get God to like you, by following a load of Jewish rules and regulations. I imagine they’d say things like:
“You can’t be authentically Christian unless you properly embrace Jewish traditions”
And so on.
And this gets Paul so angry he actually swears! Do you see that in v8?
It’s just the good people who translate our bibles, are sensitive sorts who sometimes want to spare you the details. The King James translation gets closer with “Dung”. So what does Paul call a load of manure? What’s the fake here? It’s basically any attempt we might make to impress God by doing religious-sounding things. And just to prove the point, Paul list of religious sounding things that in the past he’s trusted, but which Jesus has made worthless.
- V5, he was circumcised on the 8th day: so he came from a proper Jewish family.
- “Of the people of Israel” – so he has the right ethnic identity.
- And the right tribe – “Of the tribe of Benjamin” – the best ones. Jerusalem’s in their patch.
- “in regard to the law, a Pharisee.” Now all Jews tried to earn God’s favour by keeping the law. But the Pharisees tried even harder.
- “As for zeal persecuting the church. “ So Paul had done all rituals and good works and traditions. Had all the right friends, and all the right enemies, and what’s his conclusion about the benefit of his spiritual CV?
v8, it’s a load of garbage. Just like that guinea pig in the story earlier. And that should be a warning for us, because we all have religious traditions and practices don’t we? Our service this morning is traditional, ritual-based service. And like the Jews, we also have a distinctive religious identity: most of us here would probably call ourselves Anglicans. Now I need you to hear me very carefully on this, I’m not against Anglicanism, or against rituals or traditions. Everything we do becomes a tradition. Whether it’s a new tradition like Messy Church or an old tradition like the Prayer Book doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we are sure in ourselves, that a relationship with Jesus is what defines us, rather than a religious tradition. And that’s why from v8 onwards, Paul shifts his focus from tradition, to the real thing, to Jesus.
2)the real thing : which is all about Jesus.
And in v9, Paul says something remarkable about him: He talks about being “found in him” It’s a bit of strange phrase… And it has a similar meaning to some other strange phrases you find elsewhere in the Bible. Things like:
- being “united” with him.
- “adopted” by him as his Sons and Daughter.
- Jesus himself talked about us “abiding in him.”
Those verses paint us a picture of the possibility of a deep personal relationship between us and Jesus. So how do we get it? How can we be found in him. How we can be united with him adopted by him. Abide in him. How does that happen? Well v9 tells us that the key word to understand is RIGHTEOUSNESS. It’s a word that means “good enough for God.”
So the question we need to answer is how can we become good enough for God? Good enough so that we can be found in him, adopted by him, abide in him? How can we do it? Well v9 first of all tells us that it’s not about having “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law”
So it’s saying we can never become good enough for God by keeping religious rules and rituals and laws. In other words, all that stuff that we’ve been critiquing so far. It can’t get us to God. No matter how good we are at it, it can’t get us to God. Even someone as good at rules and ritual as Paul was, couldn’t get to God by it. We can’t self-improve ourselves enough to be good enough for God. And that’s pretty frightening when you think about it! Because if self-improvement isn’t the answer then I’m helpless. Left to my own devices I have no hope of relationship with God.
But thankfully that’s not the end of the story,.God loves us too much to leave us cut off from him, and in despair. So he takes the initiative. Rather than making us work our way up to him, hHe comes down to us. And through the death of Jesus on the cross, he makes us righteous. He gives us, v9,
“The righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
I remember when I discovered that for myself, I’d gone through a period in my life of doing wrong, and feeling shame over it, and wanting to do better, and not being very good at it, and I couldn’t overcome the guilt of what I’d done. There was no way I could make myself righteous.
But then someone explained to me that because of Jesus, And his death on the cross, I didn’t have to. And it was like having an enormous burden lifted, The guilt and shame, gone. And all I had to do was recognise Jesus for who he is: God’s Chosen King, My king, The Messiah
- Just like Simeon and Anna did in our gospel reading.
- And thank him for dying for me,
- And ask to be part of his family.
And when I did that, he gave it all to me as a gift. Just as he has, or will, to you: The righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Not earned by doing tradition, But received as a gift. So will you receive it? Are you certain you have the real Christianity. Which is not principally about what I do for God, but is instead about what God has done for us, through Jesus.