I am a packrat. Some may call it a hoarder, but that sounds so bad! I have moved 17 times since I graduated from college 16 years ago. Each time I move, I’m reminded about all of the excess stuff I am carrying around. While I have gotten better about most things, there are some items I just can’t part with. Isn’t it funny how our material possessions have such a grip on our hearts? I think the same can be said for our attempts to earn favor or right standing with God. It is hard for legalists to let go of their accomplishments, their checklists. But we must! Our attempts at holiness are worthless without Christ. Let go of your legalistic rules and follow the royal law: love! Praise God for the grace and mercy that is freely available through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Philippians 3:7: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.”
When I was a kid, I was a bully. There was one kid who lived in the neighborhood that I picked on relentlessly. I made fun of how he talked, the way he dressed, and even made fun of his dad. I was not a good neighbor. In today’s Scripture, we see the Apostle Paul admit to his bullying tactics. We learn from other parts of Scripture that his persecution of the church involved hunting people down and throwing them in jail. He was complicit in at least one murder. Yet, he would have maintained his bullying was just proving his zealous attitude toward the law. Even if we think we are right when we attack others, we are wrong. We must act with love towards all. Yes, that means we take a tough stance for truth, but some of the toughest people I know are the most loving. They have learned how to be tough and tender. Paul’s life and attitude changed when he encountered Christ. I hope mine has as well.
Philippians 3:6: “I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.”
Growing up in Nebraska, you don’t have a choice about your favorite college football team. GO BIG RED! You are born a fan. I’ve heard it is rare for anyone to ever live in Nebraska (even if you aren’t born there) without their blood changing to Husker red. The Huskers genuinely have the greatest fans in college football, even if we have been whining a bit more than usual this year. The Apostle Paul had an identity than ran deeper than Husker nation. He was a pure-blood citizen of Israel from the best stock the nation had to offer, and he strived to live a strict life in complete obedience to the law of God. He was the best legalist in the history of the Jewish nation! Or so he thought. What would drive this super Hebrew to declare his actions and zeal were worthless (Philippians 3:7)? It started with the realization that no amount of human effort could earn him favor with God. That is where we must begin too. We must realize our desperate need for the mercy and grace of God. Paul, the legalist, had to die to himself. We must also die to self-effort.
Philippians 3:5: “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.”
Legalists love to compare with others. Legalists are not only confident their works are going to earn them favor with God; they believe other people should be impressed with them. These types of legalists love to perform! Paul confronted legalists and said, “Look here, if anybody could be confident and boast about their work for the Lord, it is me. But guess what? I can’t.” In a few verses, Paul will recount his work for God and then call his actions worthless compared to Christ. Christ is who we should compare our life to. Legalists don’t like this because Christ is perfect, and no amount of human effort can stand up to that scrutiny. So, legalists instead compare with others they know they are better than. And that’s dangerous. It gives the legalist false hope. Please don’t place your confidence in anything you do. Place your faith in Christ and Christ alone. And please don’t compare your Christian living with anybody else.
Philippians 3:4: “though I could have confidence in my effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!”
Legalists make faith too complicated. They create a checklist that includes the essential of the faith: belief in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for sinners. But, they also include other requirements for salvation: baptism, speaking in tongues, correct political voting record, suit and tie for men, dresses for women, no tattoos, no hats in the church facility, a fish bumper sticker, proper Bible translation, music before 1980, and the list goes on and on and on. Faith becomes exhausting instead of life-giving. Faith becomes all about them instead of all about Jesus. Faith is about man-based works, not the finished work of Jesus. NO! Legalists ruin faith and fun. Don’t put your confidence in yourself or anyone other than Jesus Christ. Genuine faith and freedom can be found in Him and Him alone.
Philippians 3:3: “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”
I am a legalist. I like to add to God’s commands because it enables me to say with pride, “Look at what I did! Aren’t I special?” Eve, humanity’s first mother, was also the first legalist when she added to God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She said that we couldn’t even touch it. I used to think that legalism was the opposite of license (freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want), but that isn’t true. A good Bible teacher taught me that legalism and license are both sides of the same coin: working in the flesh. The opposite of legalism/license is walking in the Spirit. That is why most kids who grow up in a legalist house often turn to license when they get a bit of freedom. What we need to learn is how to walk in the Spirit. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. In today’s verse, Paul calls legalists dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh. They had perverted and added to the Word of God. I get it. I’m a legalist, but I don’t want to be. Thankfully, Jesus not only set me free from sin and death, but He continues to free m from the need to perform and earn favor with God and man.
Philippians 3:2: “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.”
As a parent, you sometimes get tired of telling your kids something over and over again. “Pick up your shoes.” “Eat your dinner.” “It’s time for bed.” “Don’t eat glue.” I’m sure you have similar experiences at your house. In Paul’s letter of joy, he never gets tired of encouraging people to rejoice in the Lord. Regardless of what your circumstances are, we are to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that we are still breathing, that we have an opportunity to love God and love others, that we have a chance to share the gospel of Jesus with the world. Christian, rejoice in the Lord.
Philippians 3:1: “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”
Other than the military and first responders, do any of you have a job for which you would be willing to die? What about people? Do you have anybody in your life for whom you’d risk it all? A “martyr” is someone who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of belief, principle, or cause. One of my favorite speeches is Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” where he said, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” For what or whom are you willing to give your last full measure of devotion? For Paul, he saw this commitment in the life of Epaphroditus (the pastor at Philippi). We also see this type of sacrifice in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world so that by believing in Him, we can experience true freedom from sin and death.
Philippians 2:30: “For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.”
Have you ever met someone famous? How did you respond? Were you “star-struck,” or did you try to play it cool like it was no big deal? When I was in the military, I was rarely in the room with a general. But, when they came to town, everybody acted differently. They stood a little taller, the uniforms were neatly pressed, and shoes were shined a bit more. It is almost as if we forgot that generals weren’t always generals. I also remember when President Clinton visited my hometown a few months before he left office. Our town went crazy! Streets were cleaned (which was an exercise in futility in Nebraska in the winter), buildings were painted, and the red carpet was rolled out. While Christians are encouraged not to show favoritism, some folks are worthy of honor because of who they are and the position they hold. When we esteem others, we show them the Lord’s love, which starts in humility.
Philippians 2:29: “Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve.”
“Don’t worry, be happy!” Anytime I hear these words, I start singing them. Why? Because everyone older than 15 hears it in Bobby McFerrin’s voice with the sweet reggae tone behind it. It makes you smile. Worry does just the opposite. It makes you sad, depressed, and sometimes angry. One of the Christian cliché’s is “worry less, pray more,” and I firmly believe in the power of prayer. But is there more to kicking worry to the curb? In today’s verse, Paul took action. He was worried about his friends, so he sent someone to them to cheer them up, and this, in turn, cheered Paul up! When we are worried about something, we need to not only pray but act! Reach out to who it is that is worrying you. Seek counsel from wise people if a situation has your stomach in knots. Pray and act!
Philippians 2:28: “So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you.”