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Doug Van Meter - 24 April 2022

Knowing the Risen Christ (Philippians 3:1–11)

Paul was deeply offended by anyone who minimised the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived to glorify Christ, who rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. As he put it in Philippians 3:10, he was passionate to know Christ and the power of his resurrection—and passionate that others should share his passion.

Scripture References: Philippians 3:1-11

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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Every Lord’s Day is Resurrection Sunday. On the first day of the week, Christians around the globe gather to be reminded that Jesus Christ is risen. But the question is, what difference does it make? What difference should it make? I want to explore this in this study. Paul teaches us that it makes a radical difference, both for how we live, and for how we die.

The book of Philippians was a kind of “prayer letter” of Paul to a faithful supporting church. This church, alone of those in Macedonia, had contributed materially to meet Paul’s needs as he was imprisoned. He wrote to thank them for their gifts. He included in his thanks gratitude both for their material support as well as gratitude for Epaphroditus, who had ministered to him (4:15–20; 2:25). But this is more than a “thank you” letter; it comes from the heart of an apostle with a pastor’s heart. Paul, though imprisoned for the gospel (1:3–18), was more concerned about these believers in Philippi who were being inundated with false teachers, who preached another gospel, which was not the gospel. Paul was burdened to write to guard these precious believers from the Judaisers.

The Judaisers taught that salvation requires adherence to Jewish rituals, including, for males, circumcision. This was not Paul’s first “rodeo” with these enemies of the gospel, and it wouldn’t be his last. He was deeply offended by anyone who minimised the person and work of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Having been saved by the crucified and risen Saviour, he loved him and was passionate to protect his honour. He lived to glorify Jesus the Christ, the one who rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father.

The account of Paul’s conversion—of his encounter with the risen Lord—is found in several places in the book of Acts, beginning with 9:1–19. His famed Damascus Road experience is legendary. The risen Lord appeared to him and neither Saul (as he was then known, by his Hebrew name), nor the rest of the world, was ever the same. You see, Saul (who later adopted his Greek name, Paul) never got over the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He never got over the experience of meeting the risen Lord. In fact, once converted by the risen Lord, he could not rest until he was conformed to the risen Lord. As he put it in Philippians 3:10, he was passionate to “know him and the power of his resurrection.” He was passionate to know the risen Christ.

Brothers and sisters, this is to be our passion. It is to be our pursuit. It is to be our priority. It is essential for to once-for-all justification, to our ongoing sanctification, and to our ultimate glorification. This is Paul’s point in this passage. May this knowledge of the risen Christ be our passionate pursuit as well.

Our emphasis will be upon vv. 7–11 but, to properly appreciate that section, we need to grasp the context of vv. 1–6. So, let’s begin.

A Pastoral Reminder

Paul begins with a pastoral reminder:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

 

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

(Philippians 3:1–3)

By “finally,” Paul means “furthermore.” That is, having exhorted the church to be Christlike (chapter 2), he now cautions them against that which mitigates against Christlikeness: a wrong view of the gospel. Hence, He exhorts, “Rejoice in the Lord.” They were to continue to rejoice in the risen Lord, which means they needed to reject those teachings that minimise the person and powerful work of the risen Christ. As mentioned earlier, false teachers, who minimised the person and power of the risen Lord, had sought to unsettle this congregation.

From what Paul says in the opening verse, it is apparent that this was not the first time he had issued this warning. He assures them that the repetitive nature of his teaching was not irksome to him, primarily because, as a shepherd, he knew that this would “safeguard” them. He reminds them that being acceptable before God can only happen through the work of the risen Christ. He aims to make them more steadfast, more firm in the faith. As an important aside, the church constantly needs the reminder that our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The first step towards knowing the risen Lord is to know him as your justification before God. The Judaisers were threatening this essential knowledge.

Paul uses extraordinarily strong language when issuing his warning in v. 2. He refers to the Judaisers as “dogs” and “evildoers,” who “mutilate the flesh.”

Dogs were not typically considered family pets in the ancient world. “Dogs,” here, has reference to the rabid, feral dogs who wandered about as scavengers. It was a derogatory term (1 Samuel 17:43). Jews customarily viewed Gentiles as dogs. By Paul calling these Jewish teachers “dogs,” Paul was saying that they were not among God’s people (see Mark 7:26ff). They were certainly “workers” with a great zeal; nevertheless, because of the erroneous content of their message, they were “evil workers.” And though they assumed that, by carrying out and enforcing circumcision, they were doing something honourable, Paul says that, in fact, they were guilty of “mutilate[ing] the flesh.” Why? Because there was no need for circumcision. They were carrying out a ritual whose meaning they had completely missed, thereby doing more harm than good.

The church needed to be warned against such teaching and teachers. They needed to be reminded of how it was they stood justified (accepted before holy God). Paul reminds them that those who trust in the risen Lord alone for a right standing before God truly “the circumcision.” That is, those who trust and follow Christ have been circumcised in the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28–29). They are the ones who were truly in covenant with God. Further, since the Spirit of God had done this work of granting a new heart, they, and not the Judaisers, were true worshippers. They did not merely go through fleshly motions, but rather truly worshipped God from the heart. And finally, those circumcised in heart are those who glory in (boast in) Christ Jesus. Rather than putting confidence in outward rituals, they trust in Christ Jesus alone.

To summarise, those who believe in the risen Lord, and who know him as their Lord and Saviour, need not be shaken by those who try and complicate the gospel. We constantly need this reminder. We are frequently tempted to think our acceptance depends on us having a good and obedient day. We are tempted to trust in ritual or routine as a means of acceptance before God. We need to grow in our knowledge of the risen Jesus Christ as our justification (Romans 4:25).

A Personal Reflection

Paul follows his pastoral reminder with a personal reflection:

Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 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.

(Philippians 3:4–6)

Lest anyone, particularly the Judaisers, wanted to put their fleshly credentials on display to justify themselves before God, Paul presents himself as Exhibit A. He is making the point that if he could not make himself right before God by his Jewishness, no one could.

Paul assumes the role of an accountant, with a ledger with credit and debit columns. The results will be countercultural: Those things he thought were of profit would, in fact, prove to be major loss, and what he previously treated as gain was in fact of surpassing worth.

So, what was originally in Paul’s profit column? He lists a total of seven things: four that he inherited, and three that he accomplished himself.

First, he had been “circumcised on the eighth day” (see Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3). Literally, he was an “eighth dayer.” He began life under the covenant. Though some of the Judaisers were most likely proselytes of Gentile background, they would only have been circumcised as adults. But not Paul. He was “on schedule” from the start!

Second, he was “o the people of Israel.” He could trace his ethnicity back to Jacob and Isaac and Abraham. He was a “true Jew.” Surely this was religious gain (v. 7a)?

Third, he was “of the tribe of Benjamin.” Benjamin was the last son born to Jacob and of his beloved wife Rachel. This tribe had plenty of ignominy (see Judges) but it also could boast of issuing forth Israel’s first king. Jerusalem was situated in the land of Benjamin. Further, when the ten northern tribes apostatised, Benjamin alone with Judah remained steadfast. And Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, was a Benjamite hero.

But perhaps what Paul was particularly emphasising was the fact that he could actually identify which tribe he was from. By the days of the New Testament, most genealogical records had been lost or confused through intermarriage and most Jews did not know their tribal heritage. Paul did.

Fourth, he was “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” This implies that he was not a Jew only by lineage but also by choice. His family (and himself) chose to carry out the cultural practices of the Hebrews. He was Hebrew-speaking and, though born in Tarsus, would move to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of the great Hebrew teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Judaisers who were Gentile proselytes could not make such a confident claim.

Fifth, “as to the law,” he was “a Pharisee.” His father was a Pharisee and perhaps his forbears were as well (Acts 23:6). There was a relatively small number of Pharisees among the Jews (around six thousand, perhaps) whose origin was perhaps in Ezra’s day. The word “Pharisee” means “separate.” They were separated to the study and practice of the law. “Law” perhaps refers to the many additional traditions they added. Nevertheless, it was quite a religious CV that Paul originally saw as gain.

Sixth, “as to zeal,” he was “a persecutor of the church.” He had been so devoted to the Jewish way of life that, when the church and its message—of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—began to “invade” Palestine, he had zealously sought to stamp it out. He often mentions this part of his testimony (Acts 22:4, 7–8; 26:11, 14–15; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13). He was deeply grieved about this. Nevertheless, he mentions this here to emphasise how zealously devoted he was to God.

Seventh, he was “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He is not saying that he was sinless but that he was punctilious about keeping the externals of the law. When it came to self-righteousness, he was squeaky clean.

In short, before he met the risen Christ, he boasted in his status and in himself. He assumed that, when the Lord looked at his CV, his credits would far outweigh any debits (if he had any!). Yet it was well-known that he had turned away from such self-justification. This man who was very Jewish had happily traded in “Saul” to be known by his alternate name “Paul.” He wasn’t ashamed of his Jewishness (Romans 3:1–2) but neither was he any longer depending on it to be accepted by God. This is where knowing Christ, as we will see, begins. So, what made the difference? He tells us in v. 7.

A Powerful Revelation

Paul speaks, in v. 7, of a powerful revelation he had come to embrace: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7).

For years, Paul had merrily and self-righteously sauntered along his religious path. He thought he was doing God service by imprisoning and persecuting, to death, Christians to shut down the church. As he walked along the Damascus Road, boasting in his heritage and his religious accomplishments, his profit column looked pretty healthy. But then he was awakened to the true condition of his accounts. And he realised that he was a debtor who had nothing to pay.

As Luke records in Acts 9, Paul had a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ. His life would never be the same. He came to know the risen Christ as his justification.

Verse 7 records what happened at that encounter. His life and worldview were radically transformed. All those things that he had boasted in—his status and self-righteousness—were revealed to be “loss.” The word translated “loss” literally means “damage.” It is used to describe the results of a shipwreck (Acts 27:10–11).

Paul’s experience with the risen Lord completely transformed his value system. This is what knowing the risen Lord does (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those things in which he once prided himself were re-evaluated when he met the risen Lord. Of course, none of the things he mentions were wrong or bad in and of themselves, but his reliance on them as a means of being accepted before God had corrupted them. These badges of self-righteousness had cut him off from the true knowledge of God.

When such things become objects of one’s trust, spiritual security, and identity, then they are destructive, damaging, and damning. To trust in externals is to eventually experience shipwreck. Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord resulted in an immediate realisation that status, race, religion, and heritage could do nothingto make him right with God. When the risen Lord confronted Paul, he was brought to the end of himself and to the beginning of his new life in Christ. That which, prior to his encounter, was of such value to him became as rubbish in comparison to gaining Christ. He came to see that to have Christ is true gain and everything else was but loss.

When we are in the midst of self-congratulation, we are unable to make right judgements about our relationship with God. Like Paul, it takes an encounter with the risen Lord to open our eyes and to put us in a right frame of mind.

I recently experienced a drastic setback in health, which left me languishing in hospital for a couple of months. A few days after being in ICU, I came to appreciate how some things just are not really all that important, not compared to one’s life.

The morning after a surgical procedure, a nurse came to my room with a wash bowl and announced that it was time for my bath. I realised that I was about to receive my first sponge bath since infanthood. Later, I told one of the ICU doctors that this was a first for me, along with some other less-than-dignified experiences I was undergoing. Pointing to two hooks on the wall next to my bed, he said, “I forgot to tell you. This is where you hang your dignity when admitted to ICU.”

I often thought about that in the following days. I realised that things that once were so important to me lost their importance when my life hung in the balance. When you are sick, and weak, and sore, and just grateful to be alive, those things that once were so important lose their lustre. Losing some things for the gain of health was worth it. More so when it comes to believing on the risen Jesus Christ.

When confronted by the risen Lord, we are brought to the end of ourselves, and we come to see what doesand does not matter. Like Paul, when the Holy Spirit brings us to a confrontation with the risen Jesus Christ, our value system is turned right side up. And, for the sake of having Christ, we gladly and willingly count any human achievement or claim to status as loss. This is what the Bible defines as saving faith. Like Paul, how we reckon upon meeting the risen Christ is a matter of life and death. We will all stand before the Lord one day. How we stand depends on in whom or on what we stand: the Lord Jesus Christ or our own efforts.

We should consider that what Paul is describing in v. 7 occurred instantaneously. That is, immediately upon being inexplicably and powerfully confronted by the Lord Jesus, his idea of profit and loss was transformed. It was inverted, we might say. With this experience, he embraced an entirely different accounting system. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25–26).

When Paul experientially met the risen Lord Jesus Christ, he placed his faith in him thereby being justified by and before holy God. But this was only the beginning of both his knowing the Lord and its consequences.

A Personal Relationship

In vv. 8–11, Paul describes his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and 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—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.

(Philippians 3:8–11)

If you read carefully, you will notice a shift in tenses between vv. 7–8. Whereas, in v. 7, he speaks of something that took place in his past, from v. 8 he speaks of something that is taking place in the present(and with an eye to the future). In v. 7 Paul says that he “counted” (past tense) and in v. 8 he says, “I count” (presence tense). This is significant and has much to teach us about knowing the risen Christ.

Paul’s radically changed values at conversion proved permanent as his new worldview was continually strengthened. Verses 8ff reveal that Paul continues to count everything as loss as he is conformed to Christ. That is, Paul not only knew Christ as his justification, but he continually grew to know him as his sanctification and his glorification. And this flowed out of a growing personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. He describes this relationship as “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” We can summarise: Paul’s conversion through the risen Lord Jesus Christ was proven to be a powerful work of regeneration by a subsequent personal relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He declares, “Not only was my self-righteousness and status placed in the loss column when I was converted, but since then I have learned that all kinds of stuff in my life is without profit compared to the inestimable privilege of knowing Jesus Christ.”

What was true of Paul is true of everyone who has truly gained Jesus Christ.

The words “surpassing worth” speak of that which is “supreme.” The word is used in Romans 13:1of “governing authorities.” Paul is saying that, when it comes to estimating what is important in life, “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” governs all else. In fact, in comparison to the personal relationship everything is as rubbish (rotting meat, waste, or dung).

The longer he walked with the risen Lord, the better he came to know the risen Lord, the less he valued the things of this world—even good things. We see the personal element of this relationship in the phrase “my Lord.” Paul often speaks of “our Lord” in his epistles but here, for the only time in his writings, he emphatically speaks of his personal relationship with “my Lord.” This is significant for our understanding of what it means to know Christ in a personal relationship. That is, not only must we know Christ as our justification (v. 7) but also for our sanctification (vv. 8–10) and for our ultimate glorification (v. 11). And it is as we pursue this knowledge that we increasingly experience satisfaction. Allow me a brief, implied, aside.

Satisfaction/Contentment

I have often thought about, and spoken and written about, anonymous church members that serve as model Christians to me. Their lives exude a fragrance of loving devotion coupled with confident contentment. It is evident that they have done the math and realise all they have gained in having Jesus Christ. They speak convincingly of “my Lord.” And what is true of many of these is that they have experienced—in the eyes of the world—much loss. They have perhaps experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of material goods, the loss of a dream, or the loss of health. But rather than wishing they were someone else or that they had something else or that they lived somewhere else, they have pursued that which is so much else: “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” their “Lord.” They properly evaluate their situation, wisely process their loss, and conclude that they have gained the privilege of a close walk with the one they confidently proclaim as “my Lord.” And this evaluation is one that is done continually.

Here’s the point: If you will grow in a meaningful relationship with the risen Lord, you need to do the work of evaluating and re-evaluating what matters. You need to daily do the math, concluding that to save your life is to lose it and to lose it is to save it. This is precisely what Paul means when he says “that I may gain Christ and 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 of faith.” Paul’s growing relationship with the risen Lord Jesus Christ is grounded in justification and this sense of judicial satisfaction drives Paul to know this satisfying Saviour so much more.

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! We say this often as we gather. It is good to do so. It is good to know that Christ is risen. But we also need to know the Christ who is risen. We need to know the risen Christ. To know that Christ is risen is a confession of the faith, to know the risen Christ is the purpose of the faith. Many make the profession but how many who do so pursue the knowledge of Christ?

The apostle both knew that Christ was risen—in fact, he saw the risen Christ!—and as wonderful as it was to know that Christ is risen, Paul was not content with merely a doctrinal affirmation. He was not even content with a miraculous affirmation of knowledge that Christ is risen. Rather, Paul was passionate about personally, experientially knowing the risen Christ. He calls this knowledge a thing of “surpassing worth” (v. 8).

Sanctification/Conformity

Having stated the first result of knowing the risen Lord—“that I may gain Christ” (justification), which is a possession of “surpassing worth,”—Paul concludes by highlighting the second result of knowing the risen Lord: “that I may know … the power of his resurrection” (sanctification). Paul is here pointing to an increasing growth in holiness, increasing conformity to the character and conduct of the risen Saviour, flowing, of course, from growth in his personal relationship with Christ.

Knowing the risen Lord is not only about conversion and communion but is ultimately about conformity to him (Romans 8:28–30). It is about ongoing sanctification (increasingly and practically set apart from sin) in this life (v.10), culminating in glorification at our resurrection (v. 11).

“The power of his resurrection” points to the power available to the Christian now, as well as for the future. It is the power we are provided with for our battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil (see Ephesians 1:19–20; Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Peter 1:3). As we grow in our experiential knowledge of our risen Lord, we become aware of both the power of indwelling sin as well as our more powerful Saviour. And as we seek to know him more intimately, we are empowered to grow in holiness. And this power is often associated with “the fellowship of his sufferings.”

The more we know Christ, the more we grow to be like Christ, and hence the more we will suffer for Christ (2 Timothy 3:12). Brothers and sisters, as painful as life can be, there is no comparison to that which we gain through it. It is wrong to avoid doing that which is righteous to avoid the pain. In other words, compromise of Christian duty interrupts conformity through the Christian’s devotion.

On the other hand, as we grow in our experiential knowledge of our risen Lord, we are strengthened in our devotion thus empowering us for duty. And this provides wonderful assurance for the Christian’s death.

Someone has candidly observed, “Many are willing to kill for Jesus who are not willing to die for him.” The internet is filled with such. And sadly, such also sit in local churches. They are the ones who are quick to “make a stand” against error—real or imagined—but also sit with arms crossed unwilling to serve the body of Christ. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot of this. It revealed the need for the church to pursue knowing the risen Christ.

Glorification/Conclusion

In this final verse of this section, it may seem that Paul is indicating uncertainty about his future resurrection, but this is not the case. In fact, he is demonstrating his humility and lack of confidence in the flesh. What he is saying is that his resurrection is certain, and this is always in the forefront of his perspective. Paul longs for the day when he will be perfectly conformed to his risen Lord; and this worldview drives him to increasingly know his risen Lord. He wants to know Christ ultimately in glorification. Paul knows that by the power of Christ’s resurrection he will one day also rise again, “saved to sin no more” and therefore saved to know Christ so much more.

Brothers and sisters, this too must be our perspective. There is nothing that compares to knowing the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us properly evaluate our “gain” column to see if perhaps it should be shifted to the “loss” column. As we grow in our estimation of the Lord Jesus Christ then “the things of this world will grow strangely dim.”

AMEN