Losing Rubbish, Gaining Christ (Philippians 3)
It is no small secret in my family that you want to avoid being behind me in line or even associated with me at all when we go to the ice creams shop. I can tend to be slow to order at restaurants, but there is something about selecting ice cream that paralyzes me. There are so many delicious-looking choices-aren't there?!" Dark chocolate with brownies, or creamy vanilla with cookie dough? Or buttered pecan. No! Chocolate oreo. Ah, but that is so sweet, and the toppings take away from the favor of the ice cream. I should just get chocolate. But that does have graham cracker and chocolate in it... and no one these days gets ice cream without toppings." I inevitably end up with one scoop of something I like and one scoop of something I didn't really want but couldn't stand not having.
Clearly, I have an unhealthy obsession with food. I have a fear that I am going to miss out on the perfect ice cream experience. I have major FOMO for icecream. But, you know, that's not the only area of my life where I am like that. In fact, I think it is part of Adam and Eve in us. And it is a dangerous fear that can get us killed. But there is a way to combat this with different desires, with a different FOMO. In Philippians 3, Paul tells us of the disciplined race he is in and of his intense focus to know Christ, be perfected, and attain the resurrection of the dead. He tells us how he developed a Homo- if you will-of the goal and prize God has called us to.
To see this in the right light though, we need to see the whole text. Notice verses 1-6.
No Confidence in the Flesh (3:1-6)
The Bible often speaks of "the flesh" in different symbolic ways. Based on the context, flesh here takes the meaning of human strength, accomplishments, and identity-the ability to gain something by human might. Human might versus God's right. "Flesh" also has a little double meaning here with circumcision. Some put confidence in human work-like cutting off some flesh.
And Paul tells these Philippians: you rejoice in and put confidence in the Lord. Why? Because there are all sorts of people who rejoice and put confidence in the flesh. They are always putting confidence in what they have done and can do. They are going around undermining people's confidence in the Lord by circumcising and mutilating their flesh to give them confidence that now they are the real deal-now they really are part of God's people and will inherit his promises. Paul says, "I want you to know in advance that you are the real deal, you are already "circumcised," you worship God by the Spirit, you glory in Christ. You don't need any extra human accomplishments or "flesh!”
In fact, Paul says he has all sorts of ways he could take confidence in his own human identity and accomplishments — but he does not rejoice in or take confidence in them one bit. In fact, if anyone could point to who they were and what they had done to have confidence that they were part of God's people, it would be Paul. He was circumcised the 8th day like a good Israelite; he was more Hebrew than any Hebrew around,' he was
a Pharisee; he was so zealous for God that he persecuted the church and you'd be hard-pressed to find any sin on him with the law. But Paul says, “I put no confidence in that stuff. It doesn't matter.” In fact, he takes it one step further. Notice verses 7-11.
Christ Is Everything, All Else Is Rubbish (3:7-11)
Let this text sink in deep. Not only does Paul not take confidence in his human identity or accomplishments, but he also counts every single perceived gain or good thing he has as rubbish, as a lost. Why? To know Jesus has surpassing worth. In fact, he feels as though he has lost everything in the pursuit of knowing Christ Jesus. It didn't matter what stood in the way, he was happy to be rid of it to know Jesus and share in his sufferings.
Keep in mind, Paul is referencing his identity, nationality, righteousness, his life's work, and everything he owned here. No small thing. This is his life. This is who he is. And notice how he describes it all in verse 8'. rubbish.. Some translations say," garbage," "filth," and "dung." The NET says this word was often used as a vulgar term for fecal matter and that there was probably some shock valve in Paul's use of this word. He wants everyone to understand: anything that stands between me and knowing Jesus, being declared righteous by faith in him, being transformed, sharing in his sufferings, and attaining the resurrection frown the dead is garbage, filth, rubbish, fecal matter to me. He will do anything and lose anything to know Jesus and gain the prize. He has a fear of missing out on knowing Jesus. He has a fear of missing out on the prize, the resurrection. So you know what else he does? Notice verses 12-16.
Forget the Past, Strain Forward (3:12-16)
One of the most annoying things to see in football is when a guy thinks he has everyone beat, so he starts a celebratory slow trot to the endzone. It's my favorite when someone actually catches up with him and unexpectedly takes him out before he gets there.
The apostle Paul, who so many are intimidated by because of his intense devotion never says, "I have been perfected," or "I have the prize in the bag." He doesn't slow trot. For Paul, his past had terrible evils. It had great righteousness. It had wonderful joys. But he forgot it all so he could strain ahead. He was never, ever satisfied.
What Should You Do About This? (3:17-4:1)
1. Imitate Paul and others like him (3:17).
As Paul listed all the things he could take confidence in, we must recognize that at one point in his life these would have been valuable to him and devastating to lose. And yet he looked at this life and called it loss", "rubbish," "fecal matter," because he learned to see far greater value in Jesus, and he feared missing out on knowing him.
What do we fear missing out on? Let's be honest about where we are at this morning. Paul wrote this to the Philippians for a reason-they needed to learn this. When Jesus comes to us and asks for more of us-what do we fear we will lose? What do we fear we will miss out on?
There is so much to miss out on, isn't there? One of the subtle, insidious dangers of not just having wealth but living in a culture of wealth, liberty, and opportunity is we are surrounded by a mindset of endless possibilities. And everything we want is just within reach. We see the lives, experiences, families, friends, and experiences of others and we know that if we just know enough and work hard enough that this experience, this life, this possession, this accomplishment can be ours. That's the American Dream, right? The pursuit of happiness. I fear missing out on a happy life. I fear not having enough resources to meet my desires and accumulate happy experiences.
The result is that my fear of missing out becomes my master, my treasure, while I count Jesus Christ as rubbish. We try serving two masters and we begin to despise the good one. And yet, Paul says knowing Christ has surpassing worth. If we want to be motivated to serve just one master, we need to be able to see his surpassing worth.
So, let’s remember the surpassing worth of this Jesus. Though we don’t want to admit it, through our sin we have dishonored our Creator, made ourselves less than human, and made others the same too. We have received God’s gifts, spit in his face, and demanded more. But Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count his equality with God as worth holding onto because he feared not getting to have you. So, this Jesus emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, and was humbly executed on a cross for you. He did it so you could have life. He did it so you could see what real living looks like. He did it so we could see how much he loves us. He lost everything so we would rip our eyes off of everything we fear losing. He lost everything so we would choose to lose everything and instead choose him. He emptied himself because we - Jesus and the church - belong together.
What stands in the way of us and knowing and seeing the surpassing worth of Jesus? What do we - like Paul - need to count as garbage? Nothing is too small.
Let’s not only imitate Paul’s counting of everything as trash but let’s also imitate his humble endurance. Let’s not slow trot or think we have already gained the prize. We can have confidence in salvation by grace through faith without being so foolish as to declare to ourselves "Well done, good and faithful servant" before the time. If we do that, we very well may hear instead, “Depart from me, I don’t know who you are or where you come from.” What you and I did a day or year ago is in the past — whether sin or righteousness — is in the past. Let’s stop letting our sin depress us so we don’t focus our eyes and strain forward. Let’s stop letting our righteousness continue putting us in the Lazyboy. Those who are mature, Paul says, think this way. They continue living life on the cross counting all as loss for the prize.
2. Recognize enemies of the cross for who they are (3:18-19).
When I think of enemies of the cross, I think of persecutors who ridicule Christians and policymakers who work against us. But Paul tells us with tears about enemies because they are far more subtle and pervasive than this." Their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."
The cross is the place where we see that real life and glory is emptying ourselves for others and for the God of Heaven. But we need to see enemies of this way of thinking and living or else we will unknowingly become them. Do you know who enemies of the cross are? Those who buy a dozen donuts and eat them all. Those who stuff their cart on Black Friday with every sale item because they can't miss out. Those who can't stop clicking and adding to their basket every beautiful, better thing they see. Those who yell at customer service agents-because their stuff arrived two days late. They feed their sexual appetite with whatever they can get their eyes on. They can't stop thinking about more square footage and better stuff to fill it with. They obsess over every ice cream experience because their belly, their appetite can't miss out. (Solve their hunger with a fork and a bottle; with binges and credit cards.
We need to identify the life that is at enmity with the cross — life against Jesus’ self-giving love — or else we will become or remain the enemy ourselves.
3. Be steadfast because of your citizenship and the hope it carries (3:20-4:1).
The Philippians had a tremendous privilege: Philippi was considered a colony of Rome and its people were considered Roman citizens. Philippi was called “Little Rome” in the past. It wasn’t Rome. They didn’t live in Rome. And yet they were a little pocket of Roman culture. And they knew that if any enemy came against them, they would be protected with the full force of Roman authority.
Paul tells these Christians to make a clear distinction: they are not enemies of the cross whose end is destruction, they are citizens of Heaven whose future is a transformation into the likeness of Jesus’ glorious body. Like the Philippians, we do not live in heaven, but that is where our citizenship is. We are a little colony representing the authority and culture of heaven right here on earth. And we must be steadfast because if our citizenship is in heaven, we have absolute confidence that salvation will come for us from heaven. And that future transformation of our bodies, that future salvation from heaven, that opportunity to hear “well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master,” that future opportunity to see and know Christ forever — that is worth losing everything for.
There is so much glamor and glitz that distracts us. There is so much we fear missing out on. What a shame if that FOMO would take our eyes off of Jesus so that we miss out on that day. Brothers and sisters, do not consider yourselves as having attained the prize. Count all as garbage so you can know Jesus more and share in his sufferings. If we don’t, we will eternally regret it. As Dee Bowman has often said, “If you miss heaven, you just missed everything there is.”