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4. The Transformation Of The Cross: Turning Losses Into Gains (Phil. 3:1-14)

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The theme of this epistle is harmony through humility. That is why so much of the epistle deals with the Christian life and relationships. Evidently, the Philippians were not united in thought, purpose, and action. To be united they needed a heavy dose of humility in their relationships with each other (Phil. 2:1-4).

In order to impress the need for humility on them, Paul cites two examples for them to follow. The first example is that of Christ himself, who humbled himself in his incarnation (Phil. 2:1-16), as we noticed in our last study in this series. Now, in this message (Phil. 3:1-14), we will see the second example of the apostle Paul himself, who was humbled at his conversion such that his whole worldview changed (Phil. 3:1-14). Such humility is what is needed among the people of God in order for them to enjoy and practice true unity.

The point of this passage is that genuine conversion produces genuine change so that we trust Christ and not self. The Philippians were being tempted to not trust Christ fully. Their enemies were persuading them to think that earthly achievements can merit salvation, that they should trust their own religious deeds in addition to Christ’s work on the cross, that somehow they could earn God’s favor, that salvation is by the cross plus works (such as being circumcised). Of course, this is not biblical - you can’t earn God’s favor; salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Trying to earn God’s favor is based on pride because you won’t accept God’s free gift.

Paul is insisting that believers should not allow the enemies of the cross of Christ to disrupt their relationship with Christ, to weaken their trust in him, or to damage their unity in him. He knew what the Philippians were facing because he himself was facing these same enemies. He was being opposed by people we call “Judaizers,” those who preached that God’s grace alone in Christ alone was not sufficient for salvation. Hence his warnings…

1. “Watch out for the dogs” (3:2a) – savage, dirty scavengers that feed on people’s fear.

2. “Watch out for the evildoers” (3:2b) – wicked men who preached a corrupt gospel.

3. “Watch out for those who mutilate the flesh” (3:2c) – enemies of the cross of Christ who insisted on external circumcision (of the body), not internal circumcision (of the heart).

These enemies were preaching a perverted the gospel. They weren’t “the circumcision” at all as they claimed. No, “We are the circumcision,” Paul says, “the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh” (3:3). This is true circumcision, not physical but spiritual, not the circumcision of the flesh but the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 5:2-6; Col. 2:11-12). Those who are spiritually circumcised do not trust in their works for salvation but in the work of Christ alone by faith alone.

Paul himself had formerly put his confidence in the flesh, that is, in himself and not in Christ: “Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also” (3:4a). He had spent his former life trying to please God by striving to meet the law on his own. Prior to becoming a Christian, he was a prime example of self-sufficiency: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more (3:4b). By “anyone else” of course he means these Judaizers, whose confidence was in their religious works and family hereditary, their religious fervor and heritage. “If they think they have something to trust in the flesh,” Paul says, “I have more to be confident in the flesh than them all.”

But notice the four significant changes that take place when we trust in Christ …

I. When We Trust Christ Alone Our Priorities Change (3:5-6)

1. When we trust Christ we give up confidence in our hereditary advantages (3:5a). Look at the list of Paul’s natural, hereditary advantages: (a) He was “circumcised the eighth day” in strict accordance with the Law. Thus he bore the mark of God's chosen people, the mark that the Judaizers placed such great value on. (b) He was “of the nation of Israel.” He was not from mixed stock like so many others, but a member of the people who had a covenant relationship with God. (c) He was “of the tribe of Benjamin.” Of all the tribes none were more Israelitish than Benjamin. Benjamin was not only a son of Israel but also of Israel’s beloved wife, Rachel. A Benjamite was considered the most authentic Israelite. (d) He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” - a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents, the purest of the pure, a perfect pedigree.

From this list you can see how Paul’s confidence in the flesh had been in his hereditary advantages, but when we trust Christ we give up confidence in such claims.

2. When we trust Christ we give up confidence in our religious activities (3:5b-6). Paul’s confidence in the flesh had previously been in his religious activities: (a) “As to the law, a Pharisee,” one of the “separated” ones dedicated to keeping the law. Paul, in his pre-Christian days, prided himself on his position and practices as a Pharisee (see Gal. 1:14; Acts 26:5). According to the law, Saul of Tarsus was a model Pharisee. (b) “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” In his religious zeal Paul had been one of the most bitter enemies of the early Christians by enforcing the law on them. The Judaizers had proselytized them but Paul had persecuted them. (c) “As to the righteousness according to the law, blameless.” In his pursuit of legal rectitude, Paul was blameless as far as human judgment was concerned. His outward conduct had been irreproachable as far as a religious Jew was concerned.

But, Paul’s self-confidence was dramatically changed by his conversion. He came face to face with Christ in the heavenly vision. He saw the risen Christ in glory and, instantly, his sense of values and priorities changed! Instead of confidence in the flesh, his confidence was in Christ.

When we trust Christ alone, first our priorities change. Second…

II. When We Trust Christ Alone Our Perspective Changes (3:7-8b)

1. What once meant everything now means nothing (3:7). “Everything that was gain to me, I have considered to be loss for Christ.” The things that once meant everything to him were (a) his natural and religious advantages, which had no eternal value; (b) the accolades of men - the victories, applause, awards, recognition; (c) those works that once formed the basis of his self-righteousness.

But when Paul became a Christian everything changed. He viewed life differently then. He viewed everything in a new light, from an eternal perspective. Things that once were important priorities to him became insignificant. He concluded that there was no profit in them at all. As Jesus said, “What will it profit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul” (Matt. 16:26). What gain is there in acquiring temporal, material possessions or religious prestige if the price you pay to obtain them is your very life?

What was formerly “gain” is now “loss” to him. All his self-righteous achievements became like dirty rags in God's sight (Isa. 64:6). All his previous “confidence in the flesh” (3:4) became “rubbish” (3:8). His pride was changed to humility. His works were replaced by grace. His self was lost in Christ.

This-worldly advantages don’t earn you eternal life. Some people count on church attendance for righteousness. Others put trust in their money, position, power, or pride – pride of tradition, of ancestry, of orthodoxy, of outward conformity with religious rituals. All these apparent advantages become disadvantages when viewed as the basis for eternal security. All such helps become hindrances. “Such stepping-stones turn into stumbling blocks, if wrongly used” (Hendriksen, 162). We need to examine those things we take pride in. What value are they in the sight of God? They are worthless!

So, what once meant everything now means nothing. And...

2. What once meant nothing now means everything (3:8a-b). “I consider everything to be loss in view of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord” (3:8a). Knowing Christ once meant nothing to him but now means everything; now it eclipses everything else. At one time he hated Christ but now loved him. At one time he persecuted the people of God but now he loves them. Old Testament Scriptures that he knew before now took on a new meaning and significance. Now, he has a personal relationship with “Christ Jesus, my Lord.” Notice the significance of the title Paul uses here - “Christ,” the anointed One, the Messiah. “Jesus,” the one who saves his people from their sins, the one whose name is above every name, the name to whom every knee will one day bow, the name he had once reviled but which is now precious to him. “My Lord,” the one who had taken possession of him, mastered him, his personal Lord, “for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things and (now) count them as dung” (3:8b). The initial loss of “things” became the eternal gain of Christ.

Counting all things loss is a radical change in perspective. Material things don’t suddenly lose their present power when we come to Christ. This requires an eternal perspective, so that what was gain is now loss, so that what was worthless is now invaluable, so that temporal things lose their attraction in the light of eternal things.

I read the story of a man who was riding the subway with his children who were being quite rowdy. I guess some of the other passengers were looking at them and at him, wondering why he didn't quieten them down. After a while, he said: “I’m sorry that my children are so rowdy. But we’ve just come from the hospital where their mother has just died and I don't know what to do with them.” All of a sudden the other passengers’ opinion of the children and their father changed when they gained this very important knowledge. That’s a change of perspective, isn't it? Knowledge changes our perspective, our view of things.

Paul’s perspective changed when he came to know Christ personally, when he became a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). His thoughts of himself, his fellow human beings, and God all changed. All that he had boasted in was now only bait to draw him away from Christ and he considers it as worthless as “dung.”

When we trust Christ alone our priorities change. When we trust Christ alone our perspective changes. And…

III. When We Trust Christ Alone Our Purpose Changes (3:8c-12)

Thoughts, desires, and goals that are transformed by the cross not only change our priorities and perspective, they also change our purpose in life.

1. Our life-long purpose is to become like Christ (3:8c-10). There are four aspects to this life-long purpose of becoming like Christ…

(1a) ... to gain Christ (3:8c). Everything that once was of supreme value to him he now considers to be of no value at all “in order that I may gain Christ” (3:8c). Gaining things in this world is replaced by gaining the things of Christ and, more importantly, of gaining Christ himself. Now it’s not just hereditary and religious advantages that he casts aside as worthless, but “everything…all things” (3:8). Now it’s not a matter of fleshly gain but of spiritual gain. That’s how you turn losses into gains.

What’s important to you that you can’t give up? Moses chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:25-26). He gave up in order to gain. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, wouldn’t give up his wealth and, as a result, forfeited his relationship with Christ.

Our life-long purpose is to become like Christ, “to gain Christ” and...

(1b) ... to be found in him (3:9). “To be found in him” is to relinquish one’s self-righteousness - “... not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” This is what it means to be found in him,” to be fully identified with Christ by being declared righteous by God (Rom. 3:21-22); to have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; to be justified by God through faith in Christ’s redemptive work (Rom. 3:24), so that legal righteous is replaced with the righteousness from God, confidence in the flesh is replaced by confidence in God, gain in worldly things is replaced by gain in spiritual things. Chuck Swindoll once said: “Trusting in your own achievements brings glory now but spiritual bankruptcy forever; trusting in Christ’s accomplishments gives him glory now and results in your righteousness forever.”

Faith, having once apprehended the righteousness of God, can no longer put up with the righteousness of man that trusts in self and our own works. The cross puts an end to self-righteousness such that we have no confidence in self. Instead, we experience a complete change in our whole moral being. Genuine conversion produces genuine change, so that we trust Christ and not self.

Our life-long purpose is to become like Christ – to gain Christ, to be found in him. And...

(1c) ... to know him (3:10a-c). This is the goal and desire of one who has been redeemed out of darkness and brought into Christ’s marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). This is the faith-appropriation of “the righteousness from God.” This is the yearning of a saved soul, to be wrapped up in Christ, “to know him” (3:10a) personally and intimately in all aspects of who he is.

To know him is “to know… the power of his resurrection” (3:10b). The same power which raised Christ from the dead is operative in the believer for his justification (Rom. 4:25) and for the power to walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

To know him means “to share in his sufferings” (3:10c). The identification of the believer with Christ leads to reproach (1 Pet. 4:14). Paul suffered for Christ (2 Cor. 11:24-28). He so represented Christ that his sufferings were regarded as “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:10).

The life-long purpose of the believer is to become like Christ – to gain him, to be found in him, to know him, and...

(1d) ... to be conformed to his death (3:10d): “… becoming like him in his death.” This is not a death-wish, but the desire to be wholly identified with everything he died for, to be one with him in his redemptive work. This is to become “dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom 6:11), to become more holy through the death of the flesh (Rom. 6:6), “to be raised completely above sin and selfishness, so that he can be a most effective agent for the salvation of men to the glory of God.” (Hendricksen, 170; cf. Rom. 6:4, 5, 11; 7;24; 1 Cor. 9:22-24).

Paul wants to follow Christ in his sufferings, though it may mean death, in order to partake with him in his glory. It’s not that he seeks suffering but, he says, that “I will be more like Christ. I have a life in Christ that is beyond death.” His life in Christ is his object. Even if it cost him his life that is what he wants.

This is the example that Paul is urging us to follow. Are you feeling defeated in your attempts to follow this same goal of dying to sin and self and living for God? Then, focus on obedience rather than victory; focus on Christ not on self.

The life-long purpose, then, of every believer is to become like Christ, and …

2. Our life-long purpose is to be with Christ (3:11-12). To share in Christ’s sufferings, while it may lead to death down here, it has as its ultimate purpose our participation in his resurrection: “…that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). “Any means” includes even death itself, for death in this world leads to resurrection life in the world to come. This is an earnest striving – “by any means possible.” This is what he wants above all else. This is the expression of a heart which so prized being with Christ as to disregard any suffering that might intervene.

Only in the resurrection will full conformity to Christ be achieved. Thus, Paul’s ultimate goal is resurrection and likeness to Christ in glory. As yet, he had not “reached the goal” – he had not yet attained the resurrection from the dead; he had not yet been made “perfect” (3:12a). Like us, he was still on the journey. The struggle against sin, fear, and doubt is far from over, but, he says, “I press on to make it (resurrection, perfection) my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12b). Christ had made him his own on the Damascus Road with the goal of his being eventually fully like him in resurrection.

Apparently, a friend called on the famous artist, Michael Angelo, as he was finishing a statue. Later, he called again and the sculptor was still at work. His friend said: “Haven’t you done anything since I was last here?” “Of course,” replied Angelo, “I have touched this part and polished that; I have softened this feature and brought out this muscle; I have given more expression to this lip, and more energy to this limb.” “Well,” answered the friend, “those things are all trifles.” “May be,” responded Angelo, “but trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.” Michael Angelo’s purpose was different from his friend’s – he was striving for perfection. We also should strive for ultimate perfection, knowing that it will only be attained at our resurrection when we will be with and fully like Christ.

When we trust Christ alone our priorities change, our perspective changes, our purpose changes, and ...

IV. When We Trust Christ Alone Our Pursuit Changes (3:13-14)

“Brothers, I do not consider myself to have attained this” (3:13a). Paul did not claim perfection and we certainly cannot claim it either. But, like him, when we trust Christ our pursuit changes so that we have a single, all-absorbing focus: “one thing I do” (3:13b). Like a runner in a race, we concentrate on a new pursuit, which has two aspects – one negative and one positive. From the negative aspect…

1. We need to put away what is past (3:13c). “Forgetting what is behind...” There were many things in Paul’s past that he needed to put away. And we too have things that we need to put behind us and move on, such as…

(1a) …past accomplishments. Paul had achieved many advances in the things of God. But glorying in past victories only makes us proud. Past accomplishments only feed self-complacency.

(1b) …past failures. We can’t escape our imperfect humanity. We don’t suddenly become perfect when we become Christians. But we can’t dwell on past failures. Wrestling with past failures only makes us weak. Paul admitted to his own imperfections; he realized his own shortcomings. He could have been held back by memories of his mistreatment of Christians in his religious zeal for the law. He might never have been able to pursue the future if he had dwelt on his past - but he didn't.

(1c) …past wrongs done against us. Paul had experienced many wrongs done against him, together with many dangers and hardships with which he had to contend (2 Cor 11:24-27). These experiences could have crippled him for life.

When he was sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph also experienced enormous wrongs done against him - rejection, imprisonment, and false accusations. We need to have Joseph’s perspective: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). Notice the name Joseph gave to his first son Manasseh: “For God made me forget all my toil.” (Gen. 41:51). Forgetting past wrongs frees us from self.

Gilbert and Sullivan are famous for their musicals. But while their names are inextricably linked together for their music, they personally had a life-long animosity for each other. Apparently it had to do with the color of the carpet in one of the theaters where they performed, about which they strongly disagreed. They couldn’t seem to forget their past grudges.

As Christians, from the negative aspect we need to put away the past. From the positive aspect…

2. We need to pursue what is ahead (3:13d-14). It’s the future that is important now.

(2a) Don’t look back – it will only slow you down. When I was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodbridge, Ontario, we had a Christian school there. Across from my office was the junior kindergarten classroom. I will always remember how, when they were returning to their classroom, some of them would get distracted by looking at me in my office. In that moment of distraction, they forgot where they were going and some walked right into a wall! Looking back may cause us to walk into an obstacle or trip us up. So, don’t look back; it will only slow you down.

(2b) Keep your eye on the goal ahead. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). This pictures a runner straining every nerve and muscle in order to win the race. This is the final attainment of our pursuit, to be with and perfectly like Christ (1 John 3:1-3). So, reach forward to the prize of our eternal reward.

Final Remarks

It’s a paradox that our conversion turns previous gains into losses and previous losses into gains. The solution to this paradox is that genuine conversion produces genuine change so that we trust Christ and not self. When you count as loss all those things that you once thought were important in order to gain Christ, that’s a radical change. When our lives are so changed, it will be reflected in our own personal pursuits and goals as well as those of the church (which is what Paul is addressing in this epistle), which, in turn, will generate unity. We can only have unity in the church if our lives have been changed and we have a common pursuit.

Perhaps there is so much disunity in Christian churches today because some people have not been genuinely changed. In fact, I think a lot of church attenders and members are not Christians at all because there’s no apparent change in their lives, and no change means no conversion! What we need is…

1. A change of priorities – when hereditary and religious advantages are of no value.

2. A change of perspective – when what once meant everything now means nothing and vice-versa.

3. A change of purpose – when our life-long purpose is to become more like Christ and eventually to be with Christ

4. A change of pursuit – when we put away what is past and pursue what is ahead.

These changes only take place in the context of genuine conversion to Christ and a genuine sense of humility. And only when we have a genuine sense of humility can we expect unity in the church through common priorities, a common perspective, a common purpose, and a common pursuit - having the same mind, the same goal, striving for the same results; considering others better than yourself, looking out for the interests of others, not just your own (2:1-4).

We turn losses into gains when we renounce our self-righteousness and cling to Christ’s righteousness; when we turn our back on the past and look to the future; when the things of this life become worthless and things of the life-to-come priceless; when we heed the counsel of this old hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace” (Helen Howarth Lemmel, 1863-1961).

Our old life in the flesh boasts in our accomplishments, the good works we have done, the educational and professional goals we have attained, the religious righteousness we have pursued. But our new life in Christ boasts of his accomplishments at the cross. He has overcome death and the devil. He has purchased our redemption. God has imputed his righteousness to us. He has cleansed us from sin. He has given us the present possession of eternal life. He has ascended to glory to prepare a place for us. And, he is coming again to take us to be with him. This is our confidence in which we now boast, as Paul says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). This is the centrality of the cross in the believer’s life.

We can only achieve God’s purpose for our lives if we love the way of Jesus - his sufferings, his cross, his resurrection, his return in glory. William Barclay put it this way: “To know Christ is to become so one with him that we share his very experience. It means that we share the way he walked; share the cross he bore; share the death he died; and, that, finally, we share the life he lives forevermore.”

Perhaps you’ve never been genuinely converted, never fully committed yourself to Christ. Perhaps you live in fear of the past or fear of failure. Paul says: 13 Forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Remember, God’s grace is sufficient. Now is the time to resolve to show in our lives that God has wrought in us a genuine conversion that has produced a genuine and radical change for the glory of his name and the unity of his church.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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