I had a great night last night at Northwest Baptist Church. I taught the Wednesday Bible study last night, had a meeting with our LifeGroup (Sunday School) Directors, and then had a divine appointment! As a result of a tweet I posted last night, I've had a few requests for my Bible study outline, so I'm posting it below.
Text: Philippians 3:1-11
vs 1 – Rejoice in the Lord! We sometimes forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, so for him to be rejoiceful is quite a feat! It's easy to rejoice when times are good, but it is a truer test for us when we can rejoice through trial and difficulty.
Character and faith are expressed when we can rejoice when facing difficulties. For many of us, the economy and temper of our nation is causing angst! Step back! God is in control, and things happen for a reason. Nothing that happens is a surprise to God!
vs 2 – Paul makes a politically incorrect statement and calls some people "dogs". Now dogs in the Jewish culture are not like the dogs we refer to today. You have probably seen the commercials from the humane society that feature some movie star talking about the horrible condition of abandoned pets. This commercial may touch the hearts of Americans, but it would not have been well received in the 1st century Roman world. Dogs were nothing! (I'm not sure about cats.) Bible scholars believe Paul is addressing one or both of these groups of people:
1. People who were Jewish Christians but wanted Gentile converts to adopt Jewish customs. Sincere people, but sincerely wrong!
Sincerity is not a yardstick for truth.
2. People who were pretenders, or infiltrating the church to intentionally deceive.
Paul is calling them "dogs" and "evildoers" because they are adding works to the gospel of Christ. Before we nod our heads in judgment, we need to be careful that we do not add our own pet peeves to the gospel as well. This can sometimes be seen in international missions where we impose American church culture in a non-American setting. Anything we pose as a way of salvation beyond the biblical standard becomes a "grace + works = salvation" formula, and it is wrong. Our fallen human nature wants to impose or add to the gospel of grace and leads us to think that some kind of additional work is needed.
vs 3 – Four Traits of a Believer
a. "real circumcision". Paul uses an Old Testament rite, circumcision, as way of saying that a believer in Christ is set apart, much like circumcision set apart Old Testament believers as God's people. Christ-followers are the real deal.
b. "worship by Spirit of God". This kind of worship is supernatural. Attendance at a worship service is no substitute for true worship. Again, Paul is describing the heart of worship, we might refer to Jesus' words in John 4:23. Illustration: Have you noticed NFL teams running onto the football field at the beginning of the game through "smoke"? A smoke machine is turned on so that it gives the entrance of the football team a mystical appearance. Are you kidding me? That is all contrived for appearance sake only. When we worship in God's Spirit, there is nothing false or contrived about it. We worship the real deal, not a manufactured imposter.
c. "Glory in Christ Jesus". Literally, we boast of Christ! We must be careful that we glory in Christ alone, and not in our good works, our wonderful church, our tremendous Bible study class, or our beloved pastor.
d. "Put no confidence in the flesh". Of all people, Christians should understand how weak the human flesh is, and how tempting it is to trust the flesh. We are fallen people. Illustration: I had a friend once who said that today, science and technology can solve any problem on earth. Really!? Try solving your sin problem with science and technology! This blind trust is nothing more than human ego.
vss 4-6 – Paul's resume. Paul gives us his resume.
- Circumcised on the 8th day (according to Hebrew tradition)
- Tribe of Benjamin (THE tribe that remained loyal to David and his heirs)
- Hebrew of Hebrews (Dare I say… Baptist of Baptists)
- A Pharisee
- A religious zealot: a church persecutor
- Blameless under the law
Paul's resume is impressive. Ultimately, why do we have a resume? Is it not to make us look good, and the more impressive my resume, the better I look and the worse everyone else looks, right? This is the danger of works righteousness. It forces us to build ourselves up and others down.
Works make us look down on others. Grace makes us look up to Christ. (Hebrews 12:2)
vss 7-9 – Paul's "profit-loss" statement. Businesses use a profit-loss statement to determine if they are getting ahead or falling behind. "Whatever I had, I count as loss". On spiritual scales, Paul is saying that his impressive resume acts against him when it comes to knowing Christ. So many things can work against us when it comes to our faith in Christ: our job, our family, our pedigree, our education, background, diplomas, even our zeal for ministry can be a hindrance.
vss 10-11 – If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, there are two guarantees coming your way.
Guarantee #1 – You will experience the power of His resurrection. Now that is a great deal!
Guarantee #2 – Until guarantee #1 is realized, you are going to share in His sufferings. Suffering is not an option, it is a guarantee. Many Christ-followers have SAS… Suffering Avoidance Syndrome. For some reason, many of us have been duped into thinking that following Jesus means easy street. Buckle up, and know that when you suffer, you are in the best of company!
The Message of Philippians, by J.A. Motter
Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, & Colossians, by Max Anders
The Expositors Bible Commentary: Ephesians, Philippans, etc.