Friday, October 18, 2013

What have you got to lose?


Philippians 3:8-11   "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord:  for whom I have suffered the loss of  all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith:  That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."

The Old English of the KJV sounds very formal to us.  Paul is beginning these verses (which are actually one long sentence) by making a contrast to the verses above.  We have looked at the descriptions of the human things that Paul had accomplished and could brag about.  In our casual English these verses set a tone of  "Oh, yeah?  Well if you think you're somebody special, let me just tell you who I AM!"  The contrast words that begin today's section could be interpreted "Yeah, well, whatever."  All of those great accomplishments really meant nothing to Paul.

Paul had listed all of the things he could glory in as a way of getting their attention.  It was sort of like him listing off a resume that validated his right to speak on this subject.  Here he gently turns their attention away from the razzle dazzle of his accomplishments and says "I count all of that as dung."

So, what is dung?  In the walls surrounding Jerusalem, there are gates that all have names based on what they were used for.  The Sheep Gate was near the section of town where the shepherds brought sheep into the city for sale or sacrifice.  The Eastern Gate faced the east and the rising sun.  It was all part of a system of organization.  The Dung Gate had its purpose too.  Outside of this gate was the landfill.  Imagine a city with no trash pickup, no garbage disposals in the sink, and no sewer.  If we had to collect all of our household's trash, garbage, and sewage for just one day think how that would stink!  There were no Pampers or Kotex products.  There was no refrigeration to keep food from spoiling if it was kept overnight and no garbage disposal to get rid of it before bedtime.  Most of the people who do not like camping would be shocked and overwhelmed if they were transported back to this time!

Not a single one of us would keep a dirty baby diaper around any longer than we had to.  There is no good use for it.  There is no value to it.  There is nothing enjoyable about it.  Especially a cloth diaper that the poo has been mashed into the fabric.  We're so proper in this day and age that even a  conversation about such things makes us squeamish and uncomfortable.  That is how Paul felt about his "great" accomplishments before his salvation.  Talking about them made him squeamish and uncomfortable.  He had no use for them and saw no value in them.

Paul counted all of his accomplishments as useless and vile compared to his new goal of knowing Christ.  He did not have the idea of just getting familiar with Christ in a casual friendship way.  He meant that he wanted to understand Christ and be a part of His glory.

Many people have speculated about Paul's marital situation.  Just as it is today, society expects people to be married and consider it a part of their success.  I do not claim to know the facts for sure, but if we consider for a moment that his Jewish heritage would value marriage and his Roman heritage would expect marriage, it seems logical that he was indeed married.  His wife would have been very respected in the social circles.  When we know of a man who has power and fame, we automatically wonder about his wife and she has "movie star" status.  But Paul never talks about a wife.  One thought on this topic is that Paul was indeed married, but when he became a Christian and embraced this new system of faith in Christ, that his wife left him.  Imagine her shame.  Imagine her anger.  She would have lost all of her social status as soon as word spread that he had converted.  There may have been pressures and threats for her to figure out what had happened to him.  There may have been accusations of guilt by association that she had converted also.  In my mind, I am afraid that if he were married that she would have felt betrayed and would have wasted no time whatsoever in getting as far away from Paul as possible.

And remember that he had military status.  He would have been at the top of his pay grade.  He maybe got bonuses for his brutality.  He was probably quite wealthy.  I suppose that the Roman government "froze his assets" when they heard he had converted.  He probably had an impressive home and collections of weapons or memorabilia.  What I understand of the Roman government, they probably went into his home and took back as many of this trophies of his conquests as they could because he was no longer worthy to keep them.  His citizenship in Rome gave him certain alienable rights, but I can't imagine anyone talking to him in public any more.  He was completely against the Christians one minute and completely against the government the next.  His friends wouldn't have wanted to be associated with even his name now.  The soldiers he had trained to persecute the Christians probably wanted to show him just how much they hated him for what they considered traitorous behavior.

Basically, everything that Paul had ever dreamed of and that he had worked so hard for all of his life, and everyone that he had chosen to have around him and worked to gain the respect and dedication of, had all been flushed down the toilet . . . where it belonged.

What things are precious to you?  What positions in life or statuses do you value?  What are the associations or titles that you use to identify yourself?  What if it were all stripped away in a day? What if it were all stripped away in the name of Christ?  Would that make it any easier to bear?

If you lost all of these things, would you lose your joy?  Job said "Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him."  The spiritual mind is focused on the right things.

Song:  "There Is Joy In Serving Jesus"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who do you think you are?


Philippians 3:3-7  "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.  Though I might also have confidence in the flesh.  If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:  Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;  Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ."

Paul just warned us about the Judaisers who were making faith something of works.  They were weakening the value of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection by claiming it was not enough and needed to include certain works.  Verse 3 lists three things that Paul specified were the "new" marks of dedication to God.  Circumcision had been an outward evidence of an inward spiritual change.  The changes in worship that needed to come about (no more sacrificing, no more following the Law, living by grace) were the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  Paul continues to teach and reassure these Christians that the ceremonies they had been observing were no longer required to demonstrate their faith.

"We are the circumcision which . . . "  1. worship God in the spirit (no more rituals or ceremonies but faith in the heart) 2. rejoice in Christ Jesus recognize Christ as the Messiah and give Him the rightful honor that is due Him) 3. have no confidence in the flesh (do not depend on the Law to validate our faith).  There are movements today such as Messianic Judaism that still hold to many of the detailed rituals and laws of the Old Testament as part of their worship.  This verse clearly states that these practices are no longer essential and actually have been replaced.

The Dispensation of the Law was a time period where the people followed the letter of the Law as a demonstration of their faith in the coming Messiah and His work on Calvary.  Their actions and habits set them apart from the rest of the world and clearly marked them as peculiar.  Today our actions and habits set us apart from the rest of the world and clearly mark us as peculiar.

Paul goes on to remind them of just exactly who he is to be making such claims.  He states that if ANYONE has any right to claim confidence in the flesh, he does and here are his supporting statements:

Circumcised the eighth day              His parents had followed tradition ever since his birth
Of the stock of Israel                        He establishes his Jewish heritage not just culture
Of the tribe of Benjamin                   It is essential to Jews that they be able to prove their
                                                        lineage and identify which tribe they descend from
An Hebrew of the Hebrews               A Jew that could speak Hebrew AND Aramaic
Touching the Law                             A Pharisee  (pious sect that prided themselves on holding
                                                        every single part of the Law)
Concerning zeal                               Persecuting the church  (traditional Jews did not want to
                                                        accept the "new" form of worship and were judged for how
                                                        they stood up against it)
Touching the righteousness 
which is in the Law                          Blameless  (He knew the Law so well He didn't make                                                                   mistakes against it)

Of all people in the world at his time, Paul was someone who could brag on his accomplishments and his "Jewish-ness."  His whole life, from the time he was born, was focused on the Law, he knew the in's and out's of it, and he kept it.  BUT . . .

All of these credentials, which he had worked his entire life to earn, and that set him apart as a Jew to be revered and honored, he counted as empty and lost.  His past life as Saul where he persecuted the church was valued by how zealously he had worked to squash this "new" religion.  He went overboard to prove his dedication.  He was the equivalent of "working his way up the ladder" and was an over-achiever.  He didn't just do things rightly, he did things perfectly!  And all of that training and work and passion got him nowhere in the eyes of God.

I am a pastor's wife.  I have been saved 42 years.  I can go on and on, but just this much starts to make me sick and uncomfortable.  Who do I think I am?  I am nobody!  The only One Who makes me worthy to be in God's presence is Jesus Christ my Savior.  And we need to get a better grasp on that fact and be humbled by it.  "There is none righteous, no not one!"  Except through Christ.  Keeping the Law so perfectly and with such vigor did nothing to help Paul be accepted in the eyes of God.  It doesn't matter how many Bible verses I can quote, how perfectly my skirts are lengthened, how many casseroles I have made, how many specials I have sung, or diapers I have changed in the church nursery!  I have nothing to brag about . . . except what Christ did on Calvary.

Are you like Jews of Paul's day judging your spiritual worth by the number of things you do?  Or are you trusting in Christ and salvation through faith?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Law is not Faith

Philippians 3 - - The Spiritual Mind  or  Things Can Rob Joy

Phil 3:2-7   "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."

In these verses, Paul's warnings to the Philippian church are about some very interesting things that can rob joy and he uses some interesting words.  Paul, who was a Jew, warns these Christians to beware of dogs.  The Jews of his day referred to Gentiles as dogs in the most derogatory way.  Think of Hitler referring to the Jews as dogs also.  Paul has MY attention, but who exactly is Paul warning about here?

Judaizers taught that it was essential to be circumcised as a part of salvation.  They were clinging to the ritualism of Judaism instead of making the shift to salvation and grace. Salvation plus anything is not pure salvation any more.  If you have a glass of milk and you pour in some water, you no longer have milk or water!  Paul was very serious about his warnings.  He did not want the Philippian church to be swayed into diluting salvation by re-adding parts of the Old Testament Law to the finished work of atonement by Christ on the cross.  He called these fellow Jews "dogs" because they were causing division and changing salvation.  When he calls these Judaizers part of the "concision" he is actually calling them "mutilators."  What they were teaching no longer has any bearing  on our faith.  They were giving people false confidence in their works.

We must remember who Paul was as we examine this teaching of leaving the Law and following grace.  Do not forget that he was a living legend in his time.  He was educated to the highest level available in Jewish Law.  He had devoted his life to enforcing the traditions of Judaism.  He was an amazing authority on what the Law said and how it was lived and he was an enforcer of that Law.

When Christ died on the cross and rose again the "church" was established and God's instructions were to stop the sacrifices and rituals that had been put in place for the Children of Israel.  Christ had taught the apostles how they would live by a new perspective of faith.  The saints of the Old Testament had been watching for Messiah to come, which is forward-facing.  The Children of Israel had been given the Law to follow when they left Egypt and needed structure and rules to govern themselves.  The Law brings a curse.  The believer is delivered from that curse through Christ, Who was made a curse for us.  The crucifixion brought Him under the curse of the Law as explained in Deuteronomy 21:23 "He that is hanged (on a tree) is accursed of God."  When Christ paid the highest penalty possible in His death, He became the complete sacrifice.  A lamb or bullock offered in sacrifice was a symbol of the person who had committed sin.  When an actual, sinless human died in our place for our sin there is no higher fulfillment of the Law!  His resurrection proved His power over death and testified to His deity.

Once the Law had been fulfilled like that, it no longer had any power or authority.  Galatians 3:22-29 explains "But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.  but before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

It is impossible for any of us to keep every single part of the Law.  Galatians 3:10-11 says "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident for, The just shall live by faith."

It was hard for the Jews to accept this new backward-facing faith of trusting in the crucifixion and resurrection which were events of the past now.  And Paul understood the appeal of hanging onto the traditions and rules that allowed these early Christians to measure their obedience.  But of anyone, he was the one and only person whose resume, shall we say, qualified him to explain the restraints of the Law and the liberty of faith and grace.  

His warning is relevant to today.  We often find a measure of satisfaction in checking off our mental list of  "Christian" things to do.  We consider ourselves right with God if we are doing this and this and this.  There are commandments that we are to follow but what makes us right with God is our relationship with Him.  I am not happily married to my husband because I live in the same house and have children together or because I claim his name.  I am a happily married wife because I love my husband and I make choices to honor and please him.  We do things together that we both enjoy and we have the same purpose of serving our Lord.  It's not a list of things I do, but a relationship that I choose and nurture.  My faith is a choice that I make.  I chose long ago to forsake trying to behave according to the Law, and to instead live a life that is in Christ and trusting His sacrificial death to pay for my sins. Trying to live my life by a physical standard will rob me of the joy of a real relationship with God.