David Jeremiah - The Joy of Humility
Paul was a prisoner under house arrest in Rome, and he was writing letters to the churches like the church in Philippi, which he had a very, very serious relationship with. He loved the Philippians. He had spent time with them, and they loved him, and he cared about what was happening in their lives. And word had come to him that something very serious was going on in the church. Sinister teachers of legalism had crept into the body. They were trying to tell the Philippians that in order for them to be true Christians, they also had to be, first of all, true Jews. They were saying that circumcision was necessary for salvation.
Paul warned against these intruders and explained that their premise was not sound, for if anyone could be recommended to God for something they did in terms of accomplishment, surely he would have been already accepted. He was a man of great stature. People will tell me as they study the history of the world that Paul was probably the greatest man to walk on this earth, apart from Jesus Christ. Paul argued that he would be the person, if you could be accepted on the basis of your own achievements, but that he was not that person. And if he couldn't be that person, no one else could be either.
So, he begins in this section of Scripture to address the problem that's in the church. He gives them a serious warning in verses 1 and 2. Here's what we read, "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation"! The opening command sets the tone for this entire chapter. First of all, Paul tells them right up front, "Rejoice in the Lord. Make sure you know who you're rejoicing in. Don't rejoice in what you do. Don't rejoice in who you are. Rejoice in the Lord".
And the Philippians were not to rejoice in anything else other than that. Jesus Christ and all that he had done was to be the focus of their rejoicing. And then Paul acknowledged that he was telling them something that he had told them before. He said to write the same things to you is not tedious. Paul had already talked about some of this earlier in this letter, and he's going to talk about it again. I think we all should recognize that sometimes repetition is necessary if we're going to get our point across. He had spoken of unity, of standing firm, of being in one spirit, of holding forth God's truth. He'd spoken about all of that, and we've heard it as we've studied these letters together.
And I need to tell you that Paul wasn't angry and he wasn't bitter, but he was bold and he was blunt. He had demonstrated a spirit of tolerance toward others who preached something that wasn't the gospel. If you remember in chapter 1 when Paul was confronting some of the issues, he said that there were others after he was arrested, others who were preachers who were preaching out of selfish ambition. They were trying to make a name for themself while Paul was out of circulation. Paul talked about some of them preached out of envy and strife. But he resolved that in his own mind, he said, "But they're preaching Christ, so I rejoice. They're preaching Christ, I rejoice and I will rejoice".
But Paul's not rejoicing now because these people from Jerusalem who had come with this Judaism doctrine, they weren't preaching Christ. They were preaching the covenant sign as a necessary requirement for salvation and Paul knew how very devastating that would be to the faith of these new believers. They were saying, in essence, that a person had to be circumcised after the manner of Moses, or he could not be a part of God's family. We read of such an invasion of the gospel in the 15th chapter of Acts, this sort of summarizes it. "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'"
This perversion of the gospel had Paul exercised in his spirit, and he uses the word "beware" three times in the first two verses, "Beware, beware, beware". First of all, he says beware of dogs. This uncomplimentary term is found in the Bible several times. 2 Peter 2:22 picks up on this, "But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'" The term dogs in this Philippians chapter describes the false teachers who were bringing legalism into the Christian gospel. They were like the false prophets that Isaiah warned about when he wrote these words, "His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yes, they are greedy dogs which never have enough. And they are shepherds who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his own territory".
Paul said beware of these guys, these people are dogs, and they want you to return, like a dog does, to its former time. Don't do it, beware of the dogs. Then he says beware of evil workers. The evil workers were those who wormed their way into the congregation and taught a form of teaching that was other than the gospel. They were aggressive and bringing their work salvation. They were working for their own redemption and teaching that everybody had to do that, that salvation wasn't by grace alone, but it was grace plus a few other things like the covenant sign of the Old Testament. They believe that their zeal in influencing others to follow them was a part of being accepted. And 2 Corinthians 11:13 describes them as false prophets, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. They become more aggressive about their additional rules than they do about the purity of the gospel.
Do you know that when the Ten Commandments were given, the Pharisees decided that that wasn't enough information, and so they constructed 660 additional commandments to sort of amplify the commandments. They had so many more commandments, that you wouldn't know what to do from one day to the other. They took all the joy out of their faith, and created instead this doctrine of things that had to be done in order for you to be accepted by God. How many of you know you can never do enough things to be accepted by God? You're not accepted by God because of the things you do, you're accepted by God through his Son Jesus Christ, by the virtue of his grace to you. So, trying to do all of these things is a futile effort, and it destroys the joy of your faith. We've had some of that in our culture.
I remember earlier days when the joke was if you haven't been shaved, you can't get saved. You remember that? And people used to stand at the door and check out how you were dressed before you were allowed into the church, how long your hair was, how long your skirt was, as if any of that had anything to do with the purity of the gospel. And it caused division and strife and ugliness and lack of unity and piety and arrogance. And Paul saw that getting into the church, and he loved this church. Why is he speaking so strongly? Because he doesn't want the church to be ruined by these people who've come into the assembly saying there's more to the gospel than grace. He calls them mutilation.
The gospel of grace preached by Paul declared that salvation came through Jesus Christ, and not through the works of the flesh. If the gospel was complete in the realm of faith, anything that would be added to that would be as nothing with God. And so, we have, first of all, the apostle's serious warning, and then we have the apostle's spiritual worship. Verse 3 gives us some great insight. He said, "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh". Everything you want to bring into our church that you think is gonna make it better, we already got it. And let me tell you what it is: it's worshiping God in the Spirit, it's rejoicing in Jesus Christ, and it's not having any confidence in the flesh.
In contrast to all that was being recommended by the Judizers, Paul describes the true worshiper. He says, "The true worshipers responds to God in the Spirit. Jesus taught God is spirit, and those who were him must worship him in spirit and in truth". True believers worship in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that worship takes place in their human spirit. They don't worship by the things they observe and the things they do and the liturgy that they follow. They worship God in the spirit. You can worship God anywhere because true worship happens in your spirit. The true worshiper responds to God in the spirit, and he rejoices in Christ alone. Paul taught that every true believer finds his joy, not in the observation of rules, but in the person of Jesus Christ. "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world".
Worship in the Spirit, worship only of Christ. And true worshipers refuse to trust in the flesh. Paul's threefold description concluded with a reaffirmation that the believer has no confidence in the flesh. A true believer knows he's not capable of earning God's favor through the deeds or the works that he does. In the story Jesus told of two men who came to pray, the one who recommended himself to the Lord on the basis of all that he had done was rejected. Remember that story? And the one who cried, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," he was received. Now, having done all of this, Paul is going to end this little short section with what I would call a very powerful apologetic, a very powerful defense of the gospel, a very powerful reminder that works don't have any part in salvation.
Some of you may have come through a church where you were told you had to do certain things in order to be accepted by God, and you had to go through certain rituals, and follow certain programs, and do certain things in order that God would accept you. I want you to listen carefully to Paul's own testimony about all the things that he did. If anyone had a legitimate right to justify himself before God, Paul was certainly that man. Listen to what he says in Philippians 3:4 through 6, "Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he could have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless". Paul said, "So here's my pedigree, check it out".
He mentions seven things. Let's just touch on each of them quickly. He said he was circumcised on the eighth day. Circumcision was given by God as the sign of his covenant with Abraham. Abraham was 99 years old and Ishmael was 13. And from that day on, every Jewish male had to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, Luke 2:21. Paul said, "I checked that box". He said he was of the stock of Israel. Paul's roots were traceable back to the patriarchs. He was not a convert to Judaism. He had been a Jew from the day he was born. On both sides, his genealogy was pure.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, he affirmed his Jewishness. He said, "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I". Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the last of the 12 sons born to Jacob. Out of the tribe of Benjamin came Israel's first king, King Saul. Some believe that Paul's parents named him after Saul. The Benjamites in Israel were the aristocracy of the nation. To be a Benjamite was to be truly an Israelite. Everybody loved to call themselves a Benjamite, if indeed they were. People looked up to them. They were considered at the top of the Israeli aristocracy.
Paul said he was also a Hebrew of the Hebrews. That's number four. This simply meant that he was a Hebrew boy born to Hebrew parents. He spoke the Hebrew language. He lived in control of the Hebrew customs. He was schooled in the Hebrew tradition under a very honored teacher whose name was Gamaliel. And in one of his sermons, Paul talks about his background. Acts 22:3 he said, "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today". Paul said that's who I was.
Now, all of these first four things that are on his list, they have to do with what Paul got through his ancestry, through his birth. The next items on this list are things that have to do with how he lived. Paul was not only born right, according to his testimony, he lived right. He not only had all the right things going on because of his heritage, he also followed through on those things to take it to the next level. So, we continue with the fact that, number five, he was a Pharisee. Paul claimed to be, not only a Jew, but also a Pharisee among the Jews. Even after his three missionary journeys, he still claimed, "I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee".
Now, the Pharisees were the strictest and most conservative of all the Jewish groups. When Paul stood before King Agrippa, he described himself this way. In Acts 26, he said, "My manner of life from my youth, was spent from the beginning among my own nation in Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee". Now, most of us today, when someone calls you a Pharisee, you wouldn't like that because usually what that means is you're a pious, self-appointed, spiritual guru or something, but Paul didn't understand it that way. He considered himself a Pharisee, but he boasted in the fact that he was one of the stricter Pharisees.
Galatians, 1:14, "And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers". For Paul, being a Pharisee was not the negative experience that we normally read into that term. Remember, that Paul's purpose in citing all this is to simply prove that if anyone had the right to boast in his flesh, he certainly did. The Judizers were trying to indoctrinate the Philippians claiming righteousness by means of self-effort, but they did not even measure up to Paul. He tells the Philippian believers that he was circumcised on the eighth day, he was of the stock of Israel. He came from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was a Pharisee, and then he says he was a zealous persecutor of the church.
Now, hear me, in Judaism, Christianity was not accepted and it was believed that it was a heresy that should be taken out. And so, a true Jewish patriot would not have looked at Christianity favorably. In fact, they would have considered it the right, and godly, and proper thing to do everything they could to punish, and sometimes even kill, those who claim that Jesus was the Messiah. And we're not left to wonder about Paul's religious zeal. He points, on several occasions, to his fanatical activity as a Pharisee. Before he met the Lord on the road to Damascus, he was as committed to persecuting Christians as he later came to be in teaching them. The word "persecute" is in the present tense, which tells us that Paul's persecution of Christians was not a once-in-a-while activity, but it was a lifetime pledge. As a strict Pharisee, he believed that killing Christians was a noble service to God. And according to his own statement, he took his gruesome assignment seriously.
In Acts 22:4 and 5 he said, "I persecuted this way," speaking of Christians, "to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished". In Acts 26, he says, "Many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; that when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities".
When Stephen was martyred, Paul consented to his death. And later on he would say, "And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him". Paul was such an aggressive persecutor that after he became a Christian and they wanted to introduce him as a Christian to some of the new Christian churches, they didn't want anything to do with him. They'd heard about this guy. What I'm trying to say to you, was he persecuting the Christians? Was that right? No, but he thought it was right. He thought that was a part of his role as a Jewish patriot to take out all of the Christians, and the evidence from the Bible is that he did it quite well. And he went after it aggressively, and he didn't just do it sometimes, he did it all the time. And then finally, he said he was blameless before the law.
Now we are told that Paul was blameless under the law, that didn't mean he was sinless, 'cause he surely was not. But what it meant was, he kept the outward rules of the law so meticulously that no one could point an accusing finger at him and blame him for not doing so. If anyone could be recommended to God on the basis of his self-merit, Paul qualified, but that was just the point he was trying to make. He was not acceptable to God because of his background or his religious acts. Before he could come to God, he had to turn his back on all these things and trust only in Jesus Christ. In verse 7, he says, "What things were gain to me became loss for the sake of Christ".
You see, this whole doctrine of trying to work your way to heaven is still very prevalent in our culture and in our religious culture. I don't have to be specific about it, you know it. And the idea is that somehow if you can climb up the ladder of good works and be a little better than most of those who are below you, you will get to heaven. I've had people actually say to me, "Dr. Jeremiah, I don't know if I believe all that stuff. I think I'm just gonna wait, and I'm gonna take my chances". You're gonna take your chances? You don't have a chance. There aren't any chances.
The Bible says, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life and no man comes to the Father except through me". There's just one way. You can't climb up to heaven on the ladder of your good works. Ladies and gentlemen, you can go to heaven, but you can't do it your way. You can spend eternity with a Father and with all of the loved ones who have trusted in Christ who have gone before you, but you have to go the way God tells you to go or you don't get to go. You don't get to make the rules. He makes the rules.
You say, "I don't think it's fair that there's one way". Has nothing to do with it. There is one way. God set it up that way. He said you can't do anything to recommend yourself to him, all you can do is say, "Lord God, I realize I have failed you. I'm a sinner, I need to be forgiven. I want to have your grace and mercy in my life. Please accept me as your son. I want to accept you as my Savior". You pray that prayer, you just punched your ticket to heaven. But apart from a pro like that, you can wear yourself out going to church, serving on boards, giving money, going to see people in the hospital, doing all the things that good people sometimes do, but if you don't accept Jesus Christ, you can't get to heaven.
What Paul is saying to us in this passage of Scripture, "I did everything right, and it was not worth anything when it comes to going to heaven". And he became the apostle of grace, teaching us what we love to celebrate. For by grace, we are saved through faith. Today, if you have not come to God in that way, if you are making a foolish bet that somehow you can amass enough good works that God'll let you slip under the wire, I want to tell you, I know the answer to that question right now. "There is none that doeth good, no not one. For we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God". Only way you can get to heaven is to ask God to forgive you and accept his wonderful plan of grace.