We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
Today, in Philippians 3:1-11 Paul turns to another threat that is facing the Philippians. This one, however, isn’t internal, but external.
Clement – After Paul’s commendation of Timothy and Epaphroditus the tone changed. Epaphroditus, who was reading the letter aloud for us, made it clear in his delivery that this was a deadly serious issue. While we were to warmly embrace and emulate people like Timothy and Epaphroditus there were some people we shouldn’t welcome.
Read Philippians 3:1-4a
Paul – Ever since the Gentiles were incorporated into the people of God many Jewish followers of The Way have struggled to come to grips with their inclusion. If their inclusion was merely a human invention that would be different but it was anything but! The inclusion of the Gentiles had been accompanied by startling and amazing scenes.
Peter never tired of telling the story of when it became clear that the Lord had intended to include the Gentiles. On more than one occasion I have heard him recount the vision he had just as Cornelius’ servants had come looking for him. Neither party really knew what was happening – Cornelius had been commanded to send for Peter and Peter had been commanded to go to Cornelius’ house. When Peter arrived and began to speak the Holy Spirit was poured out in a mini, Gentile Pentecost! This was such a startling and amazing event!
After I had encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus a disciples named Ananias had prayed for me and told me that the Lord had chosen me to proclaim the good news to the Gentiles. For a Hebrew of Hebrews like myself this was radical! However, the Holy Spirit showed me in Scripture where this had been proclaimed and I came to see the amazing grace of God in Christ in a whole new light!
Clement – One of the things I distinctly remember Paul teaching us was that God’s plan had, from the beginning, been for all nations to be joined together with the people of Israel in one, new community. He cited many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that indicated this and even some of Jesus’ own teaching that pointed to the time when we would be included. This wasn’t just a Jewish thing but good news for the whole world!
Paul – But some of my Jewish brothers couldn’t make easy sense of the inclusion of the nations. And, at some level, I understand. Jesus is the fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures, the people of the covenants and the promises. At one level it makes sense that Gentiles should become Jews first. The problem is that as Jews we weren’t saved by obedience to the law any more that the Gentiles. All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God; Jews and Gentiles.
Clement – The coming of Jesus, Paul said, was for the world and brought about something new. We, along with Jews, were caught up in something completely different in which all the old categories of Jew and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, were done away with in Christ.
Paul – Especially after the council in Jerusalem I have had to correct and reprove those who teach that Gentiles must submit to the Law of Moses before coming to Christ. This isn’t an area where I am willing to compromise. A bad motivation with the good news is better than a good motivation with more bad news; and that’s what these Judaizers were!
Clement – The vehemence of Paul’s warning caught us off-guard a bit! First there was a call to rejoice in the Lord – Jesus, not Caesar – as a safeguard to us.
Paul – Rejoicing in the Lord, isn’t a new idea. Nehemiah, in the midst of national repentance called the people to find their joy in the Lord, rather than in the Law and Habakkuk, waiting for God’s justice declared that he would rejoice in the Lord. If the Philippians will rejoice in the Lord; keep him in the forefront of their minds, this will keep them focused on what is important.
Clement – We have a few Jews in our community; remember that Paul and Silas first brought the message to them by the river. Even though they have embraced us Gentiles, they still winced a little when Paul described circumcision as mere flesh cutting. They see it as a sign of the covenant with God and as a mark that separates them from the world.
Of course, they weren’t the only ones who had to reconsider what mattered. As a Roman I never had much time for Jews. Their belligerence always struck me as sheer stubbornness; their one, invisible God of whom no images were to be made, was odd. The food regulations never made any sense to me. More than that, however, I was used to being in a position of authority and honour. I have had an education and I rarely had anything to do with slaves beyond giving them orders. Now, one of the people that is most often an encouragement to our community is a slave girl. She prophesies among us and has been given the gift of healing. She is an absolute blessing to us but it sure took some getting used to!
Paul – One of the most mind-warping things about the good news of Jesus Christ is that we have been brought into a new community where the values of our world are emptied by the cross. Humility, obedience, suffering are all transposed to a new key in Christ.
I too have grappled with this new reality. T here were a whole bunch of things that I used to put great stock in.
Read Philippians 3:4b-6
Whatever these Judaizers might bring as their credentials, they’d be hard pressed to match that! But all these things are no longer important to me; nor is that fact that I am imprisoned, have faced sufferings and more to come. Neither the world’s honour or the world’s shame matters to me!
Clement – I’d never heard Paul talk much about his past apart from telling us of his former persecution of the church and his encounter with Christ. The list of “credentials” was really interesting. He never spoke much of it. I didn’t even know he was from the tribe of Benjamin; named after the first king of Israel. I also didn’t know he was trained as a Pharisee.
Have to admit that a lot of it made sense; he was such a learned man with a profound understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. It was clear he had received some education and training, but this was very interesting.
He could go toe-to-toe with any Jew who wanted to. And yet, his disregard of his so-called credential was nothing short of astonishing!
Paul – I don’t often talk about my past “accomplishments”; they really don’t matter much to me anymore. But I wanted to make this clear!
Read Philippians 3:7-11
Clement – All that he could have claimed for his honour and merit he considered nothing. Well, actually less than nothing. Trash. Dung. Rubbish. They weren’t even things that had some value that he didn’t talk about. These weren’t old trophies that no longer had as much significance for him, but were considered trash – stuff you wouldn’t keep but would distance yourself from!
Paul – In the end, what matters is God’s righteousness, not my own. All my righteousness was ultimately flawed. What I have found in Christ; or rather the righteousness in which I am found, is sooo much more valuable. The security of a righteousness not dependent on my own human attempts to live up to the holy standard of God is so liberating; liberating enough to enable me to live without the honour that I might have gained otherwise!
Clement – In a funny way, of course, this was another example of setting aside privileges and benefits for the good of others. All the accolades that Paul had won, all the things he could have boasted in, he didn’t. He didn’t go lording his past over any one else but for the sake of Christ wanted all to know the gospel as he did. No wonder he was so cranky about the Judaizers!
To think about
The good news of the gospel not only changes our future, but also our past. It casts it all in a very different light. Paul considered all his past “works” as rubbish; stuff to be thrown out because it was useless to him. It’s very easy to rely on our good works and past accomplishments, but discipleship must always be in the present.
Consider your own list of reasons to put confidence in the flesh – if you had to come up with one what would it include – and then pray that your attitude might match Paul’s. Perhaps you might want to list them down and then throw the list away!