Rejoice in the Lord
Text: Philippians 3:1-11
Over the last 6 weeks we’ve been looking at what it means to ‘Live a Life of Joy.’ We learnt that the secret to living a life of joy was in serving Jesus Christ, praying for others, and proclaiming the gospel. We learnt that what makes our joy complete is living in unity. And we really shine with joy when we stand out for Christ even in the midst of suffering. And last week we looked at joyfully following the example of others. But the heart of living a life of joy is Jesus Christ. Paul makes that crystal clear in our text this morning when he commands us to ‘1 …rejoice in the Lord! (Phil 3:1b)’ Christians are people who find their joy in Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but there are many things that bring me joy in life. I find joy in my relationship with Alice. Contrary to what most people seem to think these days, I think being married is awesome. I find joy in my kids, I think my kids are awesome, we have a lot of fun together. I find joy in my work. I enjoy writing sermons and preaching. I enjoy visiting people and praying for them. I find joy in going on holidays, as a family we love to plan time away together and see new places. I find joy in all sorts of things. But ultimately I find joy in Jesus Christ. And for Paul it’s this joy in Jesus that eclipses everything else. Paul starts, ‘1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. (Phil 3:1)’ Before we get into the sermon proper I want to say a few things about that verse. When Paul says ‘finally,’ he doesn’t mean he’s about to finish his letter, in fact, he’s only just over halfway through it. What he means is that he has said a lot about joy, but this is the most important thing he’s going to say about it. It is the final or remaining piece. Secondly, the joy that Paul is talking about is only something that can be experienced by Christians. It’s the joy that comes from being a part of the family of God, which is why Paul addresses it to the brothers. Which makes sense, because only Christians rejoice in the Lord, that’s what we’re going to unpack this morning. But Paul also says it’s no trouble at all for him to write about how we should rejoice in Christ. And if it sounds like he’s repeating himself, it’s because he is and it’s worth repeating, and he’s going to keep repeating it. And the reason he repeats it is because it’s a safeguard for us. You see the danger is we can all too easily find our joy in the wrong things. They may not necessarily be bad things, but our ultimate joy, the pinnacle of our joy, should be found in Jesus Christ.
1) Watch out what you rejoice in
And Paul starts by looking at what we should not rejoice in. In verse 2 Paul says, ‘2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. (Phil 3:2)’ In the original Greek Paul uses the word ‘watch out’ three times. And he tells us to watch out for three things, ‘those dogs… those evil-doers… and those mutilators.’ In the Greek they all start with the letter k, it’s very dramatic. But even more Paul is talking about people who thought they were good people. They thought of themselves as God’s children, but Paul calls them dogs, and dogs back then weren’t cute and fluffy they were scavenging filthy mongrels. They thought of themselves as doers of good, but Paul calls them doers of evil. They thought of themselves as circumcised, but Paul calls them mutilators. The problem with these people is they rejoiced in the wrong thing. According to Paul they ‘put [their] confidence in the flesh. (Phil 3:4b)’
a) Paul’s List
And if you think Paul is a little harsh, what he says next is even more surprising. He says, ‘I was once like them. I used to rejoice in the wrong things, I was once a dog, an evil-doer and a mutilator.’ And Paul actually gives a list of the things that he once rejoiced in. Verse 5 and 6, ‘5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Phil 3:5-6)’
Firstly, Paul was circumcised. Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, it was the most important mark that you were one of God’s people. Gentiles who believed in God but refused to get circumcised were called God-fearers, but if they got circumcised they ceased being Gentiles and became Jews. Circumcision was the sign that you belonged to God’s covenant people.
ii) An Israelite
Secondly, Paul was an Israelite. He didn’t convert to Judaism, he was born one of God’s people, he was circumcised when he was 8 days old. Ever since his birth he belonged to God’s people, the Israelites.
Thirdly, he was a Benjamite. He wasn’t just an Israelite, he belonged to the Tribe of Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest and most loved son, the tribe that Israel’s first king came from, Paul’s namesake King Saul, the tribe that after the split between Israel and Judah remained loyal to David’s line.
Fourthly, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was raised in the language and traditions of the Jewish people. As far as his pedigree goes, Paul was right up there.
Paul didn’t do anything to contribute to these things, they were the result of his heritage. But these 3 next things really set Paul apart.
Not only was he raised as a part of God’s family as an adult he became a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the most religiously conscientious of all the sects in Judaism. They not only obeyed the 10 Commandments, they obeyed the other 613 laws laid down by Moses, as well as the thousands of laws laid down by the elders and rabbis. To belong to the Pharisees was to belong to a religiously elite group.
But Paul wasn’t just a Pharisee he was a zealous Pharisee. He didn’t just follow the laws, he persecuted those who didn’t. In particular, he persecuted the church, those who went around calling Jesus the Christ, or the Messiah. As far as Paul was concerned Christians were blasphemers who thought Jesus was God.
v) Legally Faultless
Finally, Paul says in terms of legalistic righteousness, he was faultless. He’s not suggesting that he was perfect, but if he ever did the wrong thing he followed the correct sacrificial laws to make himself right with God again.
And it’s these things that Paul once put his confidence in. It’s these things that once Paul rejoiced in. Once what mattered most to Paul was his ethnic pedigree, his religious heritage, his social standing, his commitment to his cause, how good a person he was.
b) Our List
What things would be on your list? What things do we put our confidence in? What things do we rejoice in?
i) Our ethnicity (white, Dutch)
Maybe like Paul once did we rejoice in our ethnicity, the fact that we are Caucasian, white Europeans. Maybe like Paul we would even narrow it down further and rejoice in the fact that we’re Dutch, because if you’re not Dutch you’re not much.
ii) Our religious heritage (reformed, Calvinist)
Maybe like Paul once did we rejoice in our religious heritage. The fact that we’re reformed, or Baptist, or Pentecostal or whatever it may be. Maybe like Paul we narrow it down even further, we’re not just reformed, we’re Calvinists.
iii) Our social standing (law-abiding, wealth, education, job)
Maybe we rejoice in our social standing, the fact that we’re good law-abiding citizens. Maybe we rejoice in our wealth, or our education, or our job. What most matters to us is that we have a nice house, or a degree, or a high-paying job.
iv) Our flesh (food, leisure, sex, health)
Or maybe we rejoice in the flesh, probably not whether we’re circumcised or not, but in how Paul uses the word flesh elsewhere, the desires of our sinful nature. Maybe what we rejoice in is food, or physical beauty, or sex, or leisure. Maybe the thing that gives us confidence is our health. Maybe what matters most are holidays.
There’s nothing wrong with most of those things. In fact, most of those things are good, and should be a source of joy. But they’re not the things we should find our confidence in, they’re not the things we should really rejoice in, they’re not the things that will make us right with God. In fact, Paul says, ‘7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss… 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss... I consider them rubbish… (Phil 3:7a,8a,c)’ Paul doesn’t consider any of those things worth rejoicing in. In fact, he calls them rubbish, or more accurately, dung. In the scheme of things they won’t do you a scrap of good, in fact some scholars think Paul is making a reference to scraps for dogs. If you’re a dog then this is the crap you get excited about.
2) Why Rejoice in Jesus
So what does Paul rejoice in? And the answer isn’t a what, but a who! Paul rejoices in Jesus Christ. Once Paul rejoiced in his pedigree, and in his efforts, but one day all that changed. Once Paul persecuted people who followed Jesus, until the day Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and from that day on everything changed for Paul. So why does Paul now rejoice in Jesus? It’s simple, because Jesus makes him right with God. In verse 9 Paul talks about ‘9 …not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil 3:9)’ Notice in that verse that Paul mentions two kinds of righteousness.
a) Righteousness that comes from the law
The first is a righteousness that comes from obeying the law, it’s about what we do to make ourselves right with God. And according to Paul that righteousness is crap, it doesn’t stack up, it’s not enough to make us right with God. Being circumcised isn’t enough. Being a descendant of Abraham isn’t enough. Being a Benjamite isn’t enough. Even being a Hebrew of Hebrews isn’t enough. All the Pharisaic and legalistic law-following isn’t enough. Even getting all the sacrifices right isn’t enough, because the sacrifices were never intended to make us right with God, they were intended to point us towards the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And zealously persecuting the church actually had the opposite effect he wanted, he was persecuting God’s people. In fact, there’s nothing in this world that can make us right with God. All your efforts are nothing but a pile of horse dung in the sight of God. And yes that’s a picture of a pile of horse dung. And it’s amazing how many people rejoice in that! It’s amazing how many people put their confidence in that! Lovely isn’t it.
b) Righteousness that comes from God
The second type of righteousness is the righteousness that comes from God. Only the righteousness that comes from God is enough to make us right with God. Let me give you an image that helps explain this. The Prophet Isaiah writes, ‘6 …all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Isa 64:6b)’ In Hebrew it’s even worse. Isaiah’s point is that everything we thing, say and do is tainted by sin and is defiled, or filthy in God’s sight. Zechariah talks about this problem in regards to Joshua the High-priest. According to Zechariah 3:3, ‘3 …Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes… (Zech 3:3a)’ Even as the High-priest Joshua wasn’t acceptable in God’s eyes. And God’s solution wasn’t to tell him to try harder, or sacrifice more, or to give up, instead God’s takes off his filthy clothes and says ‘4 …See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you. (Zech 3:4b)’ Zechariah doesn’t do anything to make himself right with God, instead God comes down and does it for him. God takes away his filthy clothes, his sin tainted efforts to be right with God, and replaces them with clean garments. God makes him righteous. God makes him right with himself. And God does the same for us. In Revelation we read that God’s people are those who, ‘14 …have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)’ Only God’s righteousness can make us clean. Only God’s righteousness can make us right with God.
c) Righteousness through faith
So how do we get this righteousness from God? According to our text this morning the only way to be made right with God is through faith in Jesus. And that’s the consistent teaching of Scripture. In Hebrews we read that ‘6 …without faith it is impossible to please God… (Heb 11:6a)’ And Paul says in Romans 1 that ‘17 …in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last… (Rom 1:17a)’ And Jesus says, ‘16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him (whoever puts their faith in him) shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)’ Faith is believing that Jesus died in your place. Faith is believing that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins. Faith is believing that what Jesus did on the cross makes you right with God. Faith is believing that when you put your faith in Jesus God takes off your dirty clothes and puts on the pure white clothes of Jesus’ perfect life. That’s what we rejoice in as Christians, that in Christ we have been made right with God. Our confidence is that in Christ we have received God’s righteousness. As Christians we don’t put our confidence in ourselves, we don’t rejoice in our own efforts. Rather we put our confidence in Jesus and what he’s done for us. We rejoice in Jesus and his death on the cross.
I want to ask you this morning: have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? Have you given up trying to earn your salvation, and instead trust in the fact that God has already provided it in Jesus Christ? Do you know what it’s like to have God has remove your filthy rags and dress you in white robes? If you haven’t put your faith in Jesus Christ then I invite you to do so this morning. Just pray this prayer with me, ‘Dear Heavenly Father, I have been putting my hope in my own efforts, I have been pursuing my own righteousness, but I know that there’s nothing I can do that can make me right with you. Lord, I confess my sin to you this morning, and I put my faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that he has taken away my sin by dying in my place on the cross. I believe that I have been washed clean and that Jesus has made me right with you. Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen. That pray is the beginning of a new life. And if you prayed that prayer this morning come and see me after the service so that I can pray for you as well.
3) What rejoicing in Christ looks like
So we’ve looked at what we shouldn’t rejoice in and why we should rejoice in Jesus Christ. But what does rejoicing in the Lord look like? How should you rejoice in Jesus? Should we hand out party blowers and balloons? Well Paul talks about it in two ways.
a) Boasting in Christ
Firstly, Paul talks about boasting in Christ. Verse 3, ‘3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus… (Phil 3:3a)’ That phrase ‘glory in Christ Jesus’ is literally ‘to boast in Christ Jesus.’ Paul loves to boast in Jesus. In his letter to the church in Galatia he says, ‘14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Gal 6:14a)’ And in his letter to the church in Corinth he quotes Jeremiah 9:24, ‘31 …Let him who boasts boast in the Lord. (1 Cor 1:31 cf: Jer 9:24)’ And in his letter to the church in Rome he uses this word three times in the space of a few verses, and it’s interesting but the NIV chose to translate this word as rejoice all three times. Romans 5, ‘2 …we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings… 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom 5:2b-3a,11)’ For Paul rejoicing in the Lord means boasting about what Jesus Christ has done for us. Rejoicing in the Lord means telling others about how awesome Jesus is. Rejoicing in the Lord means telling others about how Jesus died in our place. Rejoicing in the Lord means telling others how through faith in Jesus we are made right with God. For you kids here this morning, boasting is bad, unless it’s about Jesus. It’s not okay to tell other people about how good you are, but it is okay to tell them about how good Jesus is. Don’t tell people about what you have done, tell them about what Jesus has done on the cross for you. Rejoicing in the Lord is all about boasting in Christ Jesus.
b) Knowing Christ
Secondly, rejoicing in the Lord is all about knowing Christ. In verse 8 Paul says, ‘8 …I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Phil 2:8a)’ Rejoicing in the Lord is all about understanding ‘the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.’ Paul isn’t saying he knows about Christ, he says he knows Christ. Paul has a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. You don’t rejoice in people you know about. I know about Tony Abbott, but I wouldn’t say I rejoice in that knowledge, but maybe if I knew Tony Abbott as a person, if I considered him my friend, if I enjoyed our discussions, I would feel a lot different… maybe. But the point is you rejoice in people you have a relationship with. I rejoice in my wife, I rejoice in my kids, I rejoice in my friends. We rejoice in the Lord when we live in an intimate relationship with him, when we wake up with him each morning, when we walk with him through each day, when we speak to him before we go to sleep. But Paul goes on to talk about knowing Christ in two further ways.
i) Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection
Firstly, he talks about knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection. In verse 10 and 11 he says, ‘10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11)’ Paul knows that Jesus rose from the dead, after all he met him on the road to Damascus. What he’s talking about here is knowing the transforming power of Christ’s resurrection in his daily life. He knows that it’s no longer what he does that matters, but what Christ has done for him on the cross, but even more than that, what Christ is doing through the Holy Spirit in this new life he has been given. It’s a little unfortunate that the NIV translated verse 11 with ‘somehow,’ as if Paul is uncertain whether he will attain the resurrection. What Paul is actually saying is that he wants Christ’s resurrection power to be so obvious in his life that people will see it. He wants people to be able to see that he’s no longer spiritually dead, but that he’s spiritually alive, that he’s living out this new life he has in Christ Jesus. You see rejoicing in Christ means living out the new life you have in Christ. Rejoicing in Christ means, not just knowing that he rose from the dead, but living out this new resurrection life that we have in Jesus. You can’t rejoice in Christ and be spiritually flat-lining. I want to ask you: can people see that you are spiritually alive? Can people see the power of Christ’s resurrection in your life? Can people see that you no longer rejoice in the things everyone else rejoices in, you rejoice in the Lord. People who have been spiritually raised with Christ rejoice.
ii) Knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings
Secondly, Paul talks about knowing the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. The rest of verse ten says, ‘10 I want to know Christ …and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Phil 3:10b)’ Paul wanted to share in the honour of suffering as Jesus suffered. Not like Jesus suffered on the cross for the sins of the world, only Jesus could do that, but suffering because he wants to be like Jesus. Paul wants to know what it’s like to give his life to Christ. Just like Jesus humbled himself even unto death on a cross, so Paul wants to share that same attitude, humbly giving his life in service to Christ. Paul wants to know Christ in such a way that he becomes less and Christ becomes more. That gives a bit of a different spin to Paul’s earlier words that to live is Christ and to die is gain. In fact, what Paul is saying here is that dying to myself is gain because it means living for Christ. Elsewhere Paul writes, ‘11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor 4:11)’ For Paul rejoicing in the Lord means giving your life completely and utterly to Jesus Christ. Rejoicing in the Lord means that your new life in Christ completely eclipses your old life. Rejoicing in the Lord means your highest joy is found in Christ, even if it means suffering for Christ. Do you want to follow Jesus even if it means suffering for him, even if it means dying for him?
There are a lot of things that bring us joy in life, but don’t get distracted by yourself and your own achievements, because in God’s eyes it’s all just dung. Instead rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the fact that he died in your place. Rejoice in the fact that he has washed you clean. Rejoice in the fact that he has made you right with God. In fact, get out there and boast in Jesus Christ, in what he has done for you. And rejoice in the fact that you know Jesus Christ, that he’s your friend, that he’s made you spiritually alive, that he’s worth giving your life to and giving your life for. My prayer is that you will rejoice in the Lord. Amen.