Rubbish, Righteousness, and Reward

Some portions of scripture are memorable because they powerfully condense into a few key phrases the core message of the Bible; Philippians 1.2-11 is one of these texts. Please read the scripture here.

In this passage of scripture, Paul raises important questions and provides dramatic answers. What is it that makes a person righteous? What is it that gives us right standing with God? Our relationship with God depends on getting the right answer to this.

1. Paul's Problem

v2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

Look out for dogs and evildoers! The problem Paul faced is that some Jewish Christians were coming into churches he planted and teaching that circumcision was necessary for right standing with God. To be fair, these folk believed in Jesus – but it was Jesus +. They believed that in addition to Jesus, to be a genuine Christian you had to keep the Mosaic law, and this included circumcision. The reason Paul addresses this is that it doesn’t work. It’s Jesus, not Jesus+, that is the basis of righteousness.

2. Paul's CV

vv. 5-6 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

If anyone should have confidence in the flesh, it was Paul. By confidence in the flesh we mean trusting in our ability to be pleasing to God through our own human effort, through good works, through trying to keep God’s law. Paul’s spiritual CV is impressive. Everything a good Jew should be expected to do … and it still wasn’t enough.

3. Paul's Loss

vv. 7-8: But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss … I count everything as loss … I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish.

Imagine going for a job interview and handing your prospective employer your CV. They look at, read through, and then pull out a box of matches and light it on fire, saying, ‘Absolutely nothing you have done qualifies you to work here’. This is essentially what Paul does with his own spiritual CV. Remember, the question is how can we be righteous before God? Paul looks at his CV, his own personal accomplishments, and says ‘It’s a pile of dung’.

Here’s the point: nothing we do qualifies us to know God and be part of his family.

4. Paul's Passion

vv. 7, 8, 9: for the sake of Christ … the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake … in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him … that I may know him.

Paul had one singular focus in life – knowing Christ. There is no higher privilege offered humans other than knowing Christ; this is the pinnacle of human existence. Understanding this is what makes it easy to discount everything that doesn’t work.

If you cannot say with Paul, ‘I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’, you do not yet understand the glory of what is available in Christ.

5. Paul's Righteousness

v. 9: I will be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

So if Paul had a CV that amounted to nothing, why continue to live with the passion of knowing Christ, something that is impossible for people without divine intervention? This is precisely the issue – God has intervened. And that is the gospel.

Righteousness – right standing with God – is a gift from God (Rom. 5.17) that comes not from the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. We are given this gift – we are given right standing with God – not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done.

This is really a topic for another blog, but I’ll mention here it: the gift of righteousness comes to us through imputation. In short, our sin is counted to Christ who bears the penalty for it on the cross. His righteousness is counted to us through faith. That is, we believe the promise of forgiveness through his death on the cross, and we are given the gift of righteousness – right standing with God.

6. Paul's Longing

vv. 10-11: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The reason Paul yearned for the resurrection wasn’t so that he could live forever but so that he could be with Christ. Eternal life is not simply the state of ‘living eternally’ and not dying; rather, eternal life is knowing, enjoying, and fellowshipping with God in great intimacy, forever.

Though Paul knew and walked with Christ on planet earth, he longed for the day when he could do this in person.  

7. Wrapping It Up

We all have confidence in something, but often in ourselves, not Christ. We all cling to some kind of righteousness, but often not that of Christ. What about about you? What do you trust in? What is the source of your confidence? Can you say, with Paul, that you have counted all things – including the good stuff – rubbish? Is your passion, like Paul’s, to know Christ?

The good news is that if we will turn to Christ whole heartedly, we can experience more of God than we ever thought possible. Not because we’re good, but because He is good, and in Christ, He has given us more goodness than we can understand.

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