October 5 – How Hard Do I Have to Try?

Chapter 3 is a ‘teaching chapter’, a chapter where Paul wants us to think about what we believe – more officially called a chapter on church doctrine.

What we believe influences what we do. For example, if we believe the coronavirus transmits easily, we won’t be out and about in the community the way we used. We’ll be sure to wear our masks when we head to the store.  If we don’t believe the virus is a threat here in Windsor, we’ll meet with friends as usual, and take minimal precautions when we are in public. What we believe definitely influences what we do.

Philippians 3: 1 – 11    (NLT)

  1. As you read these first verses, figure out what Paul is warning the Christ followers about?  If you were to modernize this warning, what would you say Paul is cautioning us about?

“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.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 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, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

  1. Read the next few verses. If Paul were to be introduced in the synagogue in Jerusalem, what would the priests include in his introduction?

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. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

  1. Now that Paul is a Christ follower, what would he have to say about his qualifications?
  2. What does Paul depend upon for his relationship with God?

Do you ever wonder if you have done enough to please God?  Do you think you are basically a good person, and hope that God recognizes that as well?  Were you raised in a church where you got the message that you needed to do certain things to be accepted by God and avoid other things that would displease Him?  These questions have been around for literally ages.  

In this chapter of Philippians, Paul is addressing some people who are claiming that it was necessary to be circumcised to be a Christian, to be accepted by God.  The Old Testament established circumcision as a necessary part of the Jewish nation and religious laws.  Other nations didn’t follow that practice, so when Gentiles became Christians, Jewish believers thought they should be circumcised. Those new Christians from a Jewish background were having problems with separating their old customs from the new life in Jesus Christ. That issue came up in Acts 10 and 11 when God convinced Peter (who was the lead pastor of the church in Jerusalem) that Gentiles were accepted on faith, not on previous Jewish law, and the church in Jerusalem debated the topic and agreed that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.  But it takes a while for everyone to hear about what happened, and to agree with the new ways of doing things.  Paul is very adamant about not falling for that requirement; in fact, he calls the people who proposed that idea, “evil mutilators”.

Among Christians, it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what we do is required for our salvation.  I think we get caught in the crossfire between thinking Christians should behave in a way honouring to God, and thinking that certain types of behaviour are necessary for God to accept us.  My husband came from a very conservative Mennonite background, and it was interesting to talk with his family and church friends about their practices.  Many of them fully believed that faith alone in Christ’s death and resurrection was the basis of God’s acceptance, but some got that all mixed up with their social customs – wearing a prayer bonnet, wearing no jewellery at all – not even a wedding ring, wearing black clothes without adornment, staying away from modern inventions such as cars, electricity, etc.. Some felt you couldn’t possibly be a true Christian and adapt to the modern way of life.  I’ve also met Christians who get very upset if you are OK with drinking any kind of alcohol, or going to movies and secular concerts, or if you don’t attend church services every single week.  Again, these folks are sincere and not bad people, but they miss the wonderful news that our behaviour is not what God requires.

Listen again to what Paul says, “We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort” (verse 3).  Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 2: 4 – 9. 

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”   (NLT)

Paul goes through a list of all the things he did with enthusiasm and conviction to be accepted by God prior to coming to know God personally through Christ. It’s quite the list.  But Paul also says firmly that all those things he did faithfully were actually “worthless garbage”. Paul has talked earlier in the book of Philippians about behaviour honouring to God, but he doesn’t want you to mix that up with knowing you are accepted by God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1  NASB)

Truly understanding this brings me to tears.  I have a tendency to measure myself by how much I’m living up to the expectations I’ve set for myself, or the expectations others have of me.  I want to do well.  I want to be a good person, a good Christian, a good mom. But I also know I don’t always live up to those expectations.  But the fact that God accepts me just as I am ‘blows me away’.  It is such a solid basis on which to build my life being forgiven, accepted, and loved by God.  That unconditional acceptance and forgiveness is so amazing there are no words to express it adequately.  

And this acceptance can be yours too.  All you have to do is believe that Jesus’ death covered your personal sins and ask God to accept you as His child as a result of that faith. If you’re not sure you are accepted by God, talk to someone at LSA.  Call the church office and ask to speak to one of the staff.  We’d love to see you confident of your place in God’s family.

Our song for today is Just As I Am by Jason Crabb

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