By Sam E. Stone
This month’s lessons are all taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. His message to them centered in Jesus Christ, just as his other letters did. Evidently some false teachers were afoot in Philippi, as well as in Galatia (Galatians 3:1-5).
They were causing some believers to have misplaced confidence. They taught that salvation could come from what they could do—not by depending on God. We see similar errors today. Paul reaffirmed his previous message to them.
Put Your Confidence in Christ
After once more commanding them to rejoice in the Lord, Paul cautioned his readers about the dangerous false teachers who threatened the church. People like the Judaizers placed all their confidence in keeping every Old Testament command, such as circumcision. While Paul affirmed the practice of circumcision, they were making it into something different (compare Galatians 5:12). It is far more important that one be part of the true
circumcision. Elsewhere Paul explained this is “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2:29).
To quiet his opponents, he listed all the things he could brag about if he wanted to: the right procedure—circumcision; the right time—the eighth day; the right race—Hebrew; the right tribe—Benjamin; the right friends—Pharisees; the right ambition—zealous; the right action—faultless. With all of this, Paul was saying, “I don’t place my confidence in those things now!” If any person might have been saved by his works, it would be Paul; but on the Damascus Road he met Jesus Christ. Then he discovered that all the good things he had done had not brought him a step closer to Heaven. Only when we admit our need and turn to Christ can we be saved. Now the apostle could say, I . . .
boast in Christ Jesus, and . . . put no confidence in the flesh.
Count All Loss for Christ
Paul’s value system changed completely. He traded wealth for poverty, good clothes for prison rags, and protection as a Roman citizen for physical abuse as a citizen of Heaven. Things men count valuable no longer mattered to him. Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. He learned that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). His life answered the question Jesus posed, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). James Nicholson sang, “I give up myself and whatever I know; Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Knowing Jesus is what matters. Nothing else. No one but God can provide what is necessary for a person’s salvation. Some people think if they do enough good things, they will get into Heaven. They are wrong. Everyone, no matter how good, still has failures and sins that must be punished. The only way by which one can stand forgiven before God is if the death of Jesus on the cross atones for his sins (see Romans 3:9-31). God imputes Christ’s righteousness for ours.
Know the Power of Christ
I want to know Christ, Paul affirmed. For the Greek, knowledge was seen as intellectual and detached. For the Jew, it was direct and experiential. It is the difference in knowing about and knowing. Paul wanted to experience having Jesus as his Lord. This is the great need in the church today. Seth Wilson once bemoaned those who flock to church on Easter “to sing about a Lord they will not serve, think about a cross they will not bear, to find a Heaven they will not know.” The apostle’s strongest desire was to really know Christ. This includes the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings.
Scripture teaches that believers appropriate this power by faith at the time of their baptism. That moment pictures our sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection (Colossians 2:12, 13; Romans 6:3-5). The same power that raised Jesus from the garden tomb will one day raise us. William Barclay wrote, “To know Christ is to become so one with him that we share his every experience. It means that we share the way he walked; that we share the cross he bore; that we share the death he died; and that finally we share the life he lives forevermore.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.